At the risk of sounding like a broken record, I am here to talk about another lockdown related Queer experience. Coming out of lockdown, in some ways, felt like one big communal coming out of the closet. Everywhere I walked in each small glimpse of freedom that our mini hiatuses from the rolling lockdowns gave us, I saw more and more openly Queer people roaming about the place. It felt good. But why Keeva, why did it feel so good? Honestly, I’m not sure. Perhaps it was the opportunity for self-reflection that these lockdowns gave us. A chance to view ourselves in isolation from a society that determines a person’s identity and selfhood based on an assigned gender at birth. A chance to drop the act, so to speak.
As I tweeted myself at the height of our first lockdown, “Judith Butler really was onto something with this whole gender as performance thing heh...” The tongue in cheek tweet, self-aware in its simplicity, prompted several other tweets of such a nature, discussing the benefits (if we can call it that) of a lockdown on Queerness and one’s ability to determine their own selfhood. One such tweet of mine read: “turns out all it took was a global pandemic to rid me of my attraction to men!” And while such an isolation from wider society proved to free and be insightful for some, the extent to which being locked away from one’s culture, one’s chosen family and friends had an absolutely detrimental effect on Queer people’s ability to feel safe and to have access to vital supports and services and cultural moments necessary to our understanding and exploration of who we are.
At the risk of sounding like I believe that club and bar culture is the epitome of Queerness and Queer culture—something which I do not believe, in the sense that material safety and the means through which Queer people have access to security, is much more integral to Queerness in the current moment in which we live than clubbing is—I felt a certain coming home after returning to Queer spaces after lockdown. Significantly, as most Queer bars and clubs did not serve food before the pandemic hit, their ability to open when the government announced restrictions around bars and other social spaces opening only if they had the capacity to serve meals alongside alcohol, the hiatus from Queer bars and clubs was longer than for our straight counterparts. Walking into Street66 for the first time since before Covid-19 hit, felt so good. There really is no more eloquent or articulate way to phrase it for me; it just felt so good. As one friend said to me in passing after the bars opened back up, “Ugh! Going into a bathroom without being questioned on your gender on intent! What a feeling!”
Queer people had missed having a space in which they could feel safer perhaps, than usual. And what is at the crux of it, for me, is not necessarily a question of whether or not club and bar culture are significant to a sense of Queerness, of course, for many and historically, it has been. Rather, it comes down to one thing: we, as Queer people living in Ireland, do not have significant safe spaces to feel like ourselves in. Nor do we have a significant amount of spaces in which we can access services that are vital to our survival and sense of self. And while this is not to negate the significant work many people and organisations are doing in Ireland to support and create community for LGBTQ+ people across the island, it does come back to the same lack of prioritisation many people across the country are facing at the hands of the Irish government. A government that is more concerned with continuing to legitimise itself at the neoliberal table, with the Big Western boys of colonial capitalism, than it is concerned with the wellbeing and general sense of meaning and community of those living on the island.
So, while I consider the centrality of Queer clubs and bars to our sense of safety and belonging, especially in the face of yet another looming lockdown, I want the picture to be bigger than that. How can we come together as a community to ensure that we have safety in these spaces? How can we ensure that these spaces don’t become a pink-washed neoliberal facade of what might be considered a safe space? What can controversies around gay cafés fronting as community organising tell us about what we need to avoid? In enjoying the freedoms that lockdown has allowed for some Queer people to explore themselves, and the inevitable coming back out into Queer bars and clubs that has followed such an isolation, let us not fall into an assimilatory trap regarding our need for safety and access to necessary material conditions.