Amelia Abraham shares an exclusive extract from her upcoming book, Queer Intentions: A (Personal) Journey Through LGBTQ+ Culture.
When it comes to LGBTQ+ culture, we are living in strange and complicated times. Same-sex marriage is widely legalised in the West, RuPaul’s Drag Race is shown in more than 70 countries, gay bars are closing down rapidly because some gay people feel like they no longer need to go to them, trans models are walking down runways and Pride is sponsored by big banks. On the surface, it might look like, in more progressive countries at least, LGBTQ+ culture has never been so mainstream, queer people so accepted. However, at the same time, most gay people in the UK still feel uncomfortable holding hands in public, in the US Donald Trump is rapidly rolling back transgender rights and some countries in the Middle East are clamping down on homosexuality anew.
Queer Intentions: A (Personal) Journey through LGBTQ+ Culture, is a response to this unprecedented moment we’re living in. In it, I explore all of the topics above, visiting ten cities over the course of a year. I met a lesbian family with kids for the first time in my life, visited the world’s biggest drag convention in LA, partied on canal boats with sex workers at Amsterdam Pride and marched with riot police at Pride in Serbia. I wanted to find out for myself how far so-called progress really extends, and why it only extends to some types of LGBTQ+ people. Below is an excerpt from towards the end of my journey, after I had just visited Istanbul to meet LGBTQ+ refugees from Syria, where homosexuality is still criminalised.
They say you never really ‘come out’ because it’s a continuous process. Every time you find yourself in a new situation, with new people who assume that straight or cisgender is the default setting, you have to go through the rigmarole of coming out again. Each occasion comes with a new, unspoken requirement to push against the ‘norm’. For some people, whose bodies are perceived as queer or genderqueer, there’s a risk attached: you might not have control over your ability to come out, or over other people’s reactions. For others, whose bodies are not, there can be a quiet pressure to say something. To ‘own up’.
It was in Turkey that I had most starkly been reminded of this. It was the place that I had visited where there was the least scope to deviate from what was thought of as acceptable within the heteronormative or patriarchal culture, and the friends I had met and the stories they had told me reminded me of the weight that is placed on the coming out process, the schism between life ‘in the closet’ and outside it. Members of Tea and Talk, the support group for LGBTQ+ migrants from Syria, Kurdistan, Iraq and beyond had been rejected by their families for being LGBTQ+ and travelled to Istanbul, where they hoped they could live more openly. And yet, many of them were still closeted when they got there, forced to hide the fact that they were gay or trans- gender for fear of contempt, violence, or even death.
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