Queer Home-Making with SHY Collective
Home means different things to all of us. For some, it means the ‘ends’ you live in and knowing where all your favourite shops are. For others, it’s a particular sound, song or smell which reminds them of something or somewhere familiar. For Queer folks, the idea of ‘Home’ can mean so much more: it’s safety, care, chosen family, and being able to exist in a space authentically.
We will be exploring the idea of where Home is and what Home feels like, informed by the essay "Queer Home-Making and Black Britain: Claiming, Ageing and Living" by Caroline Koegler, an exploration of the notion of Queerness - as well as some other novels. Having a home in the Black British diaspora, as young Queer people, we feel it’s important to acknowledge and be informed by our Queer ancestors, as we continue navigating our own journeys of Queer home-making.
Home can be a haven but also a site of resistance, a place where identities and vulnerabilities can safely be expressed, and where community and love can be fostered.
Koegler creates a metaphor for a campfire which represents belonging, safety and comfort. Gathering around the campfire is recognised as a way of bringing together a community, where there can be experiences of sharing joy and learning. The concept of Home is reimagined as this campfire bringing together those who share a familial bond. This concept is then used by Koegler to express the process that Queerness is still undergoing, to find a proper 'house' or 'home' in Black-British scholarship.
Although Home is commonly envisioned as a safe space, Koegler notes that the Home can also be a site of contention and disempowerment, which is why some individuals seek new warmth from the outside, i.e the campfire. The home and the family are traditionally read and understood through heteronormativity. In understanding Queer theory and the 'making of a Queer world', it is essential to deconstruct the domestic heteronormative space of the home. For many Queer folks, home is something that has to be 'remade' in order to find a safe, less hetero-sexist environment.
Gathering around the campfire is recognised as a way of bringing together a community, where there can be experiences of sharing joy and learning. The concept of Home is reimagined as this campfire bringing together those who share a familial bond.
"These empowering potentials of home-making should, however, not eclipse the suffering of those who remain systematically excluded despite attempts at making a home. This applies to Queer diaspora insofar as homophobia easily travels from one place to another, either in the form of internalised self-harm or as part of the culture of a diasporic community." Through interviews with Queer Caribbeans, Koegler presents the complexity of diasporic connections to ideas of home that also accept Queerness. As explored in Bernadine Evaristo's Mr Loverman (2013), Barry’s home had to be remade away from his ancestral home for him to live more authentically. It is this which often brings Queer home-making into a Black-British context.
Koegler then begins to look at Jackie Kay’s Trumpet (1998), examining Queer home-making amongst heteronormativity and the significance of home as a safe space, and how these characters come to feel a sense of belonging.
In Trumpet, Home is symbolic for Joss Moody. Home is where Joss can escape from gender conventions, living happily and intimately with his family. As the novel unfolds, the home represents a place of freedom that enables Joss to live authentically. However, this degree of safety is juxtaposed with the reality of hostile spaces outside the home. Whilst the novel explores the freeing potential of a safe space and how heteronormative familial structures can be re-made, it also sheds light upon the impact of transphobia in society. Homes are not only safe spaces, but shelters, forcing us to look at how society disenfranchise the marginalised and their access to care, survival, and safety.
Being able to read and share these stories, whether they be fictional or not, helps us to narrate our own experiences of Queerness. They are validating, and bring us all to the campfire.
In Mr Loverman, Barry moves from Antigua to London during the Windrush era with his close friend Morris, with whom he shares a secret romance. Both men adapt to life in London through fulfilling heteronormative masculine norms. What compounds the relationship of these two men and their inability to embrace their relationship together is in part connected to internalised homophobia, as well as hegemonic Black Masculinity. A theme of this novel is looking at ageing Queer love and how this is experienced intersectionally. Through the novel, Barry navigates the discomfort he feels in his current home whilst also reckoning with the fear of undoing the life he has constructed for himself, which is framed as "dismantling and re-mantling”. Within his 'Home', Barry has built up an identity that correlates with the norms of the space. To come out of this space and live authentically is a challenge, but one which ultimately re-homes him.
By drawing attention to these narratives and the process of homemaking and Queer ageing, we broaden our concept of Home by considering the perspective of the Black British Queer ageing population and diaspora, realising how important it is to have one which affirms you. Being able to read and share these stories, whether they be fictional or not, helps us to narrate our own experiences of Queerness. They are validating, and bring us all to the campfire.
Queer Home-making is about the safe space we create for ourselves away from the internalised bias and fears about not being ‘Queer enough’.
For us, navigating our own Queer identity has also created a similar shift of re-mantling. Through our own journeys of Queer ageing, and as we grow as people, there are constant processes of discovery that we go through. In Barry’s story, we see that these changes are ongoing, but they will never negate our Queerness.
Queerness is not measured by the experiences you’ve had, the relationships you’ve been in or how you present. Queer Home-making is about the safe space we create for ourselves away from the internalised bias and fears about not being ‘Queer enough’. For our ancestors, their challenges were also juxtaposed with the reality of having to build identities under structures of racism and discrimination, with their Queerness challenged under colonialism’s imported homophobia. We acknowledge how their journeys allowed us to begin our own, and how their spaces became ours and inspired others.
The home can be read in a multitude of ways. Making homes outside of constraints is also a complex process. Home can be a haven but also a site of resistance, a place where identities and vulnerabilities can safely be expressed, and where community and love can be fostered. This strength is evident amongst all the sites, virtual and physical, where Queer Black British identity has found space for itself today. Koegler notes the transformation through which these 'campfires' are becoming "more permanent forms of dwelling". Below we’ve listed some Queer Black spaces and communities/campfires:
Our Naked Truths
Black Girls Camping Trip
Holly & Fez - SHY Collective