thoughts on being queer and british

I was talking to an American friend recently when she mentioned, in passing, that she’d been to the ‘gayborhood’ – an area in Philly where apparently the streets are paved in rainbow colours and queer people gather and for once, everything isn’t catered solely towards straight people. (When can I move to this wondrous place??)

I know most of the other writers for Queer Voices are American or based in the US, but I’m not. I was born and raised and live in England, and so I’m a little bit removed from the US-centrism of online queer activism. I don’t know if you guys have the pleasure of these big gay spaces, these gayborhoods, all over the place or if it’s a relatively small phenomenon. To be honest, most of what I hear about LGBTQIA+ issues from America are instances of gross and rampant homophobia. Either way, it’s kind of an alien concept to me that queerness can be considered with such excess, can receive so much hate but also create spaces of such joy.

It’s not like that here.

At least, that’s not what I’ve found. Maybe I’ve been looking in the wrong places, or maybe I’ve not been looking hard enough (both of which are entirely possible)… but maybe it’s a cultural thing.

It’s our national stereotype that we Brits are reserved, dignified, always keeping a stiff upper lip and never letting feelings run rampant. (I mean, it’s also a stereotype that we all drink tea and have terrible teeth and everyone knows the Queen, so I suppose it’s probably best not to put too much stock into that stuff, but still). By contrast, everything I’ve consumed about America, be it your television and films or your news and issues, has built up a stereotype of people who feel deeply, often to the very extreme, and aren’t afraid to show it.

Here, we don’t have gayborhoods. Where I’m originally from, queerness is something rather unspoken. Maybe it wasn’t something I picked up on because I was in the closet almost the entire time I was at home, but I didn’t know any openly queer people or see any evidence of queer events or anything like that. It’s a little different in the city where I attend university, in that there’s a slightly bigger community and that, being university students, we can all meet up under the banner of the LGBTQIA+ society and host a gay club night. Our London pride march seems a relatively tame affair compared to your various parades –  here, we have a leisurely stroll, lead by company sponsors and the youth branches of our various political parties.

Homophobia is a much quieter thing here, too, I suppose. Not so obvious. Not so violent. I think the most memorable instance of discrimination in recent years happened when a Christian bakery refused to frost a gay message onto a cake. I’m sure there are many more instances of homophobia every day, but I can’t remember any making the news since the bakery scandal.

It sometimes feels as though queerness is something swept under the collective national rug and kept out of sight. That queer spaces in England are predominantly based around drinking and hooking up, and that if you’re not into those things and don’t want to go to the gay club nights of the country, you don’t have a lot of options. Sometimes I think it’d be nice to have a gayborhood, or at least the same kind of celebratory queerness I regularly see in depictions of American pride.

Yeah, that’d be nice.

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Poppy is a queer person from Britain. She currently studies English at university and likes to talk at length about literary theory, sexuality and gender, body positivity, mental health, and her cats. She’s no fun at parties.