Capital Stories – local lives in the queer metropolis

Matt Cook, Birkbeck, University of London

There is a well-rehearsed story of queer men in London since the war, which importantly charts shifting scenes, activism and protest, scandals, court cases, and legal change. Oral history has been helpful in telling this story and in charting the impact of shifts and changes for some particular men. These personal narratives are often marshalled to support and flesh out the ‘bigger picture’, a historical trajectory already assumed or in place.

In this paper I take a different tack to see where the testimonies of two individuals (born in 1932 and 1964 respectively) take us in London and how they constituted their queer lives there. How, I ask, does their local and particular experience shape their sense of what the city might mean, offer and threaten? To what extent does it intersect with or decentre that better-known story of London’s queer past? And how significant might such individual voices be in complicating our sense of the queer metropolis since the war?

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Queer Women’s Care Relations in a Small Finnish City

Antu Sorainen, University of Helsinki

The non-metropolitan, the small place, is often presented as an anti-queer space by definition – the sole locus of isolation, suffering, anti-identity and exclusion. It appears as an unsecure space for lesbians, gays, trans* and other non-conforming sexualized bodies. The grand queer narrative describes the compulsory migration from spiteful small places to major cities such as Helsinki, London, St. Petersburg. However, queers do not always need ”bright lights to make their own lightning”. I will present a case study of the making and maintaining queer care and support relations in a small Finnish city. The study is based on in-depth interviews and drawings of two queer women, and on a small-scale fieldwork in January 2014.

What can an empirical small-scale research on small-city queer people contribute to the thinking of the normalizing aspects of the “queer flight story”? I will suggest that the bask in the quieter life in small place can be seen not only as a symptom of the increasing privatization of middle-class queer lives but also as a lesbian reflection of the certain Western ideal of autonomous individual who looks for sexual freedom in an anti-urban place – a rather complicated, conflictual and gendered ideal – but not without connection to a new regionality politics of the queer community which seeks to make queer bodies visible en masse also in small places.

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A queer view on Turku – Finding Our Way as Transgender Bodies

Sade Toivo Ilmari Kondelin, University of Turku

In my Master’s thesis on intra-active relations of gender and sexuality in non-heterosexual transgender embodiment, space and community emerge as important factors in the production and expression of transgender subjectivities. Interested in engaging these concepts on a local level, I want to investigate the queer geography of my hometown, Turku, from the perspective of transgender individuals and social networks. Turku has a relatively active transgender community for a city its size, including separate (though somewhat overlapping) peer support groups for transgender people in general and other-gender or non-binary transgender people in particular, and an activist group called Transtukiverkosto (“Trans support network”) that is currently in the process of establishing its organization, goals and methods.

I plan on conducting a survey on individual experiences concerning comfortable/safe and uncomfortable/unsafe areas, locations and events in Turku, accounting for differences within the transgender category in regards to for example gender performance, age, race/ethnicity and class. I analyze the resulting data employing Jack Halberstam’s concepts of queer time and place, as well as Sara Ahmed’s queer phenomenology, reading for general and particular patterns of producing, inhabiting and negotiating the cityscape as transgender bodies.

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Touches in the Dark. Space, Light and Attractiveness in Dark Rooms

Evgeny Manzhurin, European University at St Petersburg / Higher School of Economics St Petersburg

My work on dark rooms has primarily employed ethnography with some old-fashioned sociolinguistics, communication science, aesthetics and even semiotics. QBQC workshop promises an opportunity I cannot miss: a chance to discuss it with an audience that has a full-time interest in the themes it touches upon.

A dark room is an unlit or scarcely lit space, which is structurally segregated from lit areas and is used – primarily, but not solely – for (semi-) anonymous sexual interaction. The study has been conducted in the dark rooms of Saint Petersburg’s gay venues since 2010. Apart from interviews with dark room visitors and venue staff, two regulars have agreed to provide accounts of their visits.

The styles and genres of anonymous communication in the dark assume specific spatial characteristics. I will attempt to demonstrate how the former rely on spatial and lighting conditions and how spatial infrastructure ‘regulates’ the degree of anonymity and limits of appropriate (as judged by other visitors) behavior. Limited (or absent) visual input presents a challenging task to the assessment of attractiveness of potential partners, which is reformulated in tactile terms. I will discuss how the body is resemanticized and a shorthand for attractiveness is constructed through haptic perception. Although sexual intercourse as such is beyond the scope of the study, its findings translate into epidemiological terms are applicable to public health domain.

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Queer politics and the city: early queer movement in New York City

Jacek Kornak, University Of Helsinki / University of York

I analyze how activist in New York City at the end of the 1980s and the beginning of the 1990s developed new forms of urban political engagement. I claim that the term “queer” was mobilized in various actions to serve as a specific anarchic signifier. The activists organized manifestations, performances and posted posters and stickers in public spaces in New York City. Their confrontational and militant language effectively challenged the idea of neutral public space of the time.

In many of their political actions activists of the time used the term “queer”. I present how this term became a sign of alternative to the mainstream gay and lesbian politics. Also, I suggest that “queer” became a sign of new urban movement that developed its own culture.

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A nice place for women: the birth and demise of a lesbian bar in Tampere

Tuula Juvonen, University Of Tampere

This paper is my first attempt to understand the sexual politics of Nice Place, a commercial women’s/lesbian bar that was run for four years in the 1990s Tampere, Finland. Nice Place was the first of its kind in the city, and the most persistent one in the whole country ever since.

Nice Place was a place that was both a public commercial enterprise founded by three women, though not a very successful one, and a place that served almost a domestic function to its faithful patrons, who developed quite an intense relationship to the venue. I will discuss the reasons for founding the bar, and detail some of its distinguishing characters. Among them are its wide array of female patrons from all walks of life, the variety of events housed by it, and the particular measures taken up by the regulars in order to make it their “own”. I will also take up some of the tensions present with regard to public/secrecy surrounding the visits to that venue. Finally I consider the reasons for Nice Place’s eventual demise.

The data used for the paper consists of reminiscences of the former patrons of Nice Place (including both oral history interviews and textual anecdotes posted to the closed facebook site to commemorate Nice Place) and personal archives, such as photo albums, calendars, newspaper clippings of Tuula Juvonen.