50 years on from the Sexual Offences Act, and LGBTQ people are protected by a plethora of rights that are enshrined in law. Legally, we are now permitted an existence without fear of arrest or worse—which granted—is a small prize, but one which was not afforded to queer people in the 60s, and indeed the centuries before that.
However, there is one fundamental thing that hasn’t changed since 1967: our restrictive cultural relationship with sexuality and gender. And this will be a harder battle to win. The patriarchy has had a lot of time to construct seemingly innate gender laws that are now ingrained into our cultural fabric; society still socialises children to emulate imaginary archetypes and punishes those who deviate. And for LGBTQ people, the punishment remains severe. A physical, violent threat has always existed—but often overlooked are the more silent sanctions of mental trauma and dysphoria, which often manifest after years of internalised shame, self-hatred, rejection, and confusion. In other words; growing up LGBTQ is hard. Which is why queer people continue to create environments away from the mainstream, where they can heal, nourish, and forget about the external reality. These ‘safe spaces’ often mean different things to different people, but perhaps most importantly, they provide a rare opportunity for people to be themselves around people who get it.
Ironically, even these spaces aren’t particularly ‘safe’ from outside intervention: the assault on the LGBTQ community has been escalated by the bigot wotsit et. al., who see safe spaces as politically-correct scams for a generation of snowflakes.
Historically too, these spaces have been ransacked and desecrated—even in the aftermath of 1967 (…we all remember Orlando). The 1987 police raid on the Royal Vauxhall Tavern is an infamous example of this; on a night when Lily Savage amazed the crowd, dozens of unwarranted arrests were made by rubber-glove-wearing officers who verbally and physically abused those detained at Kennington police station.
Thirty years on, and the RVT has survived as a queer hub thanks to the work of ‘Duckie’, an arts collective which has just celebrated its 21st year of residency at the venue. They have created an imaginative array of club nights with provocative themes such as gay shame, gross indecency, and border force; all united by a courageous reclaiming of a somewhat dark history, and an attempt to poke fun at the absurdity of themes such as gender, racism, and even colonialism. Though confronting historical realities in this way might seem macabre, it is this political-awareness which makes Duckie so necessary—not only for laughs—but for combative self-preservation; Simon Casson, a Duckie producer, put it like this: “Queer history is important for queer people as often our family history and mainstream history have erased us—we are usually hidden”. In its work, Duckie is not only mocking society, it is fighting back against a concerted attempt to blot out queerness entirely.
In considering safe spaces, it is also crucial to understand the diversity within the LGBTQ community itself, because how we experience queerness depends on a multiplicity of factors. Queer people of colour, for example, have to deal with the added component of race at the intersection of their identity and, as such, their personal struggle for liberation is often overlooked within the movement. This silencing of PoC voices makes it even more important that we can carve out spaces within the community, and work through the specific issues and experiences that affect us. Which is why Duckie’s latest initiative, family dinner, is so important; a world-apart from the club-scene, it offers a rare opportunity “for Black, queer and trans people to talk about their health, be with each other in low-key environments, care for each other and relax”. Organised by curators Travis Alabanza and Kayza Rose, the event comes in response to the deafly silence surrounding a mental health epidemic in the community—providing not only a place of solace but a sense of belonging: home. The LGBTQ community is often described as a family and there is a good reason for that; for many who have felt the pain of rejection or disownment, the family in Family Dinner could be literal. And this responsibility isn’t something that Duckie takes lightly; for Simon, events like this are a ‘service’ that allows Duckie ‘to be useful in [its] communities’. And you get a sense of this thoughtfulness in the Family Dinner agenda; with workshops including poetry and writing for mental health, Finding your voice, and even soap and lotion making; Travis and Kayza have created a sanctuary for creativity and just that little bit of TLC.
I have often wonder whether queer people will always have to live an existence on the outskirts of normality. Whether there will always be a demand for places like this, years from now. And although I think that the sensible answer to that is yes; I do envisage a future where many of the consequences of being queer don’t exist. Part of getting to that point is surely dependent on the importance we place in communion; knowing that it is easier together. And thankfully, the work being done by groups like Duckie places us safely on track.
Duckie Family Dinner – Sunday 17 September 13.00 – 18.00
Visit Duckie’s website for more information