Transcript: To Queer Space
Exploring the queer experience and how queerness can (or should) change the spaces queer communities move through.
Christoph Lindner, Xan Xacobo Goetzee-Barral, Holly Buckle
Christoph Lindner 00:07
Hello, and welcome to Building Better, a podcast about the cities and human spaces we build worldwide that asks, how can we build better? My name is Christoph Lindner, and as well as being your host for this podcast, I'm the Dean here at UCL’s Bartlett Faculty of the Built Environment. In each episode, I sit down with experts from The Bartlett and from the built environment sector to explore new ideas and solutions for some of the big issues that affect our daily lives, our societies and our planet.
Christoph Lindner 00:49
In this episode, we're going to be talking about how to queer space. What does that mean? Is it even possible? It's a theme that we've touched on in our first ever episode, when I spoke to Lo Marshall about their research into LGBTQ+ nightlife. In today's conversation, I want to delve deeper into the question of what makes a space safe for LGBTQ+ people, and I want to really explore what it means to bring queerness into a space and our approach to building spaces. If you want to listen to the earlier interview with low or any of our previous episodes, you can find them on our website.
Today I am joined by Xan Xacobo Goetzee-Barral, who is a third-year student on the new MSci Architecture Program here at The Bartlett and an Urban Design Tutor at The Bartlett School of Planning. Xan has been researching the role of ephemerality in queer nightlife spaces, as well as the role of intimacy in creating queer spaces more generally. Xan received a Bartlet travel scholarship to research queer spaces in Athens last summer, where there is a burgeoning of queer organisations, events and collectives in the city that are becoming increasingly popular.
My second guest is Holly Buckle, a London based artists and the LGBTIQ+ Outreach Lead at The Outside Project, an LGBTIQ+ community shelter and center. Their practice is rooted in research from queer pasts, centering around queer bodies for action today, towards queer futures with an emphasis on collaborative group work and installation. Holly was selected for the 2021/22 Adrienne Carruthers Acme studio award and Henriques scholarship, in recognition of excellence and achievement on the fine art program at the Slade School of Fine Art here at UCL.
So queer is a word that means different things to different people. And I'd like to begin by asking each of you, what does the word queer mean to you? Xan?
Xan Goetzee-Barral 03:20
Yeah, I mean, I think how you've introduced that by saying that it means different things to different people as yet it's very important. And I think sort of the subjectivity of queer spaces of what I think consider probably one of the most important factors and sort of understanding what they are. And if we think of sort of more normative spaces, I think there's a tendency to sort of be – have a quite an objective view on what they aren't sort of defining them. And often, you know, whether objectivity means that, that's therefore defined by people that might have more power or more sort of more in charge, right? Whereas sort of queer spaces that have, you know, this element of subjectivity, where you can't sort of pin down what, what queer spaces, and I think that's to be honest, that's the sort of the beauty of it.
So, you know, you've sort of there's not, it's sort of, it's sort of paradoxical, because you're sort of trying to define what queer is, but actually, what I'm trying to say is “queer” is something that can't really be defined. And it's sort of maybe down to each person's experience to, to be able to define it. Because in defining the – in define trying to define queer, perhaps you're sort of, you're de-queering something.
Christoph Lindner 04:35
I think that's a very inviting way to think about the word queer, that it resists definition, that it has a sub, there's a subversive quality, and it's about not being in the box. That's fantastic. Holly, what about you, when you hear the word queer? What does it mean to you?
Holly Buckle 04:54
When I think of queer, I think of, queer as, I guess it was like a slur for a long time, wasn't it? It was used as something that was, you know, not a positive. And it's something that, the queer community has taken back. So I think queer for me is about that action, the taking back, the reclaiming a word as our own. And I think that's really what queerness or queer means to me, you know, taking something and reclaiming it, using it for our own purposes that don't fit the purposes of maybe, you know, the majority of people who aren't queer.
Christoph Lindner 05:36
That emphasis on reclaiming sounds really important when we think about queer. So for me, I'd love to jump straight into the relationship between queerness and space. And we're hearing more and more in in the field of urban studies, architecture design, a lot more interest and conversation around queer space. And from your experience, what makes a space queer?
Holly Buckle 06:05
So there's a quote from Sara Ahmed that I think puts it from queer from Queer Phenomenology that, I think puts it really well. She's a legend as well. Just big shout out to Sarah Akhmad – a really good writer. But yeah, she says, “The queer body is not alone. Queer does not reside in a body or object and is dependent on the mutuality of support.” So for me, that's kind of thinking about, yeah, queer queer spaces rely solely on support that there wouldn't exist if we didn't fundamentally support each other and work together to build them.
Christoph Lindner 06:44
What about Xan for you? What makes a space queer in your experience?
Xan Goetzee-Barral 06:51
Yeah, I think for me, some because coming from an architecture background, we're often sort of when you're talking about types of spaces, they can be defined either by the materiality or sort of their how they use for what for what function or by whom. But I think when we talk about queer spaces, sort of that sort of categorization doesn't quite apply. And for me, queer spaces are those that are sort of they're formed by people and how people relate, and sort of the values that might have being open and engaging with other people and sort of, you know, being essentially engaging in sort of ways of relating that aren't perhaps normative. But I think in - essentially queer spaces allow people to feel comfortable and excited. And I think, if you're someone that you identify as queer, and you're in a space where you feel excited, then that you can become a queer space, because it's encouraged encouraging you to sort of express your identity, and to question, you know, your own identity and expand it. There's a really good book that came out, I think, in the last few years, called Queer Spaces, by Adam Nathaniel Furman and Joshua Mardell, I think it's published by the RIBAand it's really interesting, it's sort of like an atlas of queer spaces. One of them that I really liked, it was a train carriage. And it was someone talking about their experience of going into the city and sort of getting ready putting on a makeup putting on their outfit. And for them, that was their experience of a queer space, you know, and in that they were probably alone, or there might have been other people around them, but they sort of created this little world, that was always a different train carriage, and it was always a different time of day. But that was important in them sort of defining their identity.
Christoph Lindner 08:35
So I wonder if the phrase “queering space” has relevance in our conversation, because for me, it sort of suggests the idea that that any space could be transformed into having queer qualities or experiences, conditions. What are your thoughts on clearing space? Is that is that is that is that a helpful way to think about the potential of a space?
Holly Buckle 08:58
I think, you know, what is a really good example of this is The Outside Project where I work. And so we used to occupy a fire station. It was the first ever purpose built fire station in London. And so obviously, it was built very much for the purpose of being a fire station. Um, and we had a community center and shelter upstairs in that building. So what happened there was very much like kind of what I was saying about, like, the meaning of the word queer. For me, it's like we took this space that you know, was used for and designed for a completely different purpose. And I guess you could say we queered it, but we, you know, it didn't look like a fire station from the inside. It looked like a shelter. And it looked like a kind of an LGBT center, we had a library, we had a grand piano and a giant velour pink bed that Travis Alabanza gave us that kind of set the scene for downstairs, and flags. Yeah, it felt very much like if if you could clear a space, that's how you do it. There were placards and paint, and it was often a mess. But it was yeah, it felt very much like even though there were not people in it all of the time, particularly when we were there. During lockdown, the remnants of the people who had made it the space that it was, kind of remained in in items, and the arrangement of how we'd made it our own.
Christoph Lindner 10:32
That sounds like an amazing transformation. And it reminds me of the first ever episode of this podcast, where we were talking about a research project that Lo Marshall and others were involved in studying and mapping the queer spaces at night in in the City of London, and their research showing that those spaces are disappearing at a very alarming rate. So in today's conversation, I'm already picking up from from both of you that there's lots of ways and possibilities to queer space. But at the same time, we know that in many cities, and London is one example, there's also a lot of pressure on those spaces, that makes them sometimes quite vulnerable, or difficult to sustain. And so I'm wondering if you've come across in your own experience, whether it's in London or elsewhere, efforts to queer space that have not been successful? Are there other reasons why certain spaces don't survive or thrive as queer spaces?
Xan Goetzee-Barral 11:31
That's sort of a prime example of how gentrification is sort of pushing, pushing sort of a lot of people, including vulnerable community communities out of cities. And I think it's, I mentioned this before, there's sort of, there's one side of looking at it, where you sort of think, okay, these kind of queer spaces, this is sort of element of survival, almost of appropriating spaces, because you are constantly, you know, you are not in sort of a normative fit in the box, community, therefore, you will always be the system. So, if you took, sort of, neoliberal system, where it sort of encourages gentrification, you will never be sort of almost like the winner in that, therefore, you're always gonna have to keep on moving and appropriating new spaces to sort of survive. But saying that it almost feels the sort of, and I've experienced that myself, you know, sort of in East London, you can see there's a lot of clubs, a lot of bars closing down. But I wonder if there's a sort of a more, I guess, a more utopian, maybe wave of imagining queer spaces where they're not, I guess, on the backfoot of the sort of the, you know, this system, sort of society that we live in, and then they're not always having to sort of adapt even though that's sort of the beauty of them. But I wonder if there's, can you have a space that is inherently queer without having without reacting? You know, to sort of its outside or perhaps that is the definition of queer.
Holly Buckle 12:53
Yeah, I don't know. I think a bit of both. Really, I think that there is room for us. Like, I feel like, of course, designing a building, with a purpose in mind is like the ideal situation. But often, like we inherit buildings that have been built for a different purpose for for all sorts of reasons, you know. And I think that, of course, like, that is something that we can we can kind of mold ourselves into whatever space, we have, out of necessity. But I also think that the importance of building by and for communities, like with that in mind, is really important and possible. But it's about kind of keeping the conversation with a wide kind of section of the community, it can't just be for one person or one model, or the assumed model of a community like it has to be built with the community. And that, and that's, I guess, the way that it would work. I'd love to see more government funded, queer purpose-built buildings, with, with the community kind of being consulted on it the whole way through the process. And I think that, that that could be something that that would, you know, change queer space or, I don't know, keep keeping people in, in the conversation.
Christoph Lindner 14:26
Let's stay really optimistic for a moment. Let's imagine that I, you know, I work for the GLA and I'm coming along and saying, You know what, we have a whole pot of money. We want to begin by creating a queer space of some sort. What, what would be a starting place? If you could design a space? From a community grassroots kind of starting place, to be a queer space, what qualities would it need? What would that look like? How would that work? Do you have any ideas to advise me, as this government official with lots of money?
Holly Buckle 15:01
I think you need to pay everyone properly. That's how, that's how we start this. And yeah, everyone gets paid. Every consultant gets paid properly. And I think you know, that that was a logistic, but that helps things to, to work. So that's the top of the list. And then I think, beyond that, it's, you know, I'm one member of the community, so I couldn't possibly answer. But for me, it would be that it was permanent, that it was safe, that it had an element of housing. That that wasn't just affordable as a buzzword. It was it was actually affordable. There'd be space for people who are in crisis. There would be you know, the the essentials that we need: water, clean running water and, you know, places we can cook, but do that in a way that is something that we can do together. You know, it's not it's like, you're in a in an isolated studio and you're cooking on your own, like, it's something that can, I guess the space would have a space that we could mutually cook and be together.
Christoph Lindner 16:00
What I'm hearing in that that sounds really important to you, and that I find really compelling is you're putting a lot of emphasis on community. That's the starting place for your vision, but it's also what the space needs to create and sustain. A lot of togetherness, a lot of mutual support a lot of community. And that seems like something that is increasingly desperately needed in our cities, where the kind of atomizing forces of contemporary development keep pulling us apart. And weaponizing space, weaponizing housing, and it sounds like what you're describing Holly is, is is kind of undoing those, those dynamics, and re centering, you know, putting community back at the center again. Xan, what about you anything that you would you would recommend for designing a queer space from the ground up?
Xan Goetzee-Barral 16:43
Yeah, I mean, firstly, I echo everything Holly Holly said, and definitely pay over on properly. Because that just allows people, you know, even people that might be more vulnerable to sort of to take part in these things. Because often my experience with community work, it's that the loudest voices are the ones that are heard. And in that there's a problem, you know, because perhaps your voice is important, if it's just a bit, it might just not be as loud for whatever reason. So I think it's important, there's community and diversity at every aspect of the design process. So in the designing of it, in the regulating of it and the planning in leading it. And then hopefully, if, you know, there's queer people and people that are representative of the community where that building might be, it means that that will be then translated into sort of the outputs, you know, the sort of materiality, the layout of the building, how it sort of managed the contracts, the management. So I think it's sort of being sort of quite open to the process of producing the built environment, and really considering it a product of the community and not something which is, you know, sort of the heroic vision of an architect or a council.
Christoph Lindner 18:08
Again, very compelling vision. I guess I'm wondering, is there a version of the future where queer space could be a financially exploitable space? So you know, how if we really want to keep community at the core at the center of queer spaces that we might build, how do we protect them? Or do we need to protect them from their financialization, their exploitation?
Holly Buckle 18:31
Well, yeah, I mean, if we can find a formula that that, you know, these spaces don't become monetised, that would be ideal, because like, if you find that let me know, you know, like, I just have no idea how in this city in this climate, you could build anything and not be monetized. I think, you know, you can do things to some degree. What we've built here is not, you know, it's not something that is going to be monetised. But that's because the same people are going to be at the helm of it, so it's having people who are not going to be bought out, they're here, if for the community to provide a service that we wish that we had. Without those kinds of people, or without the set of circumstances where you can continue to do something like The Outside Project, then, you know, it, everything's open to monetisation, isn't it? It's like, that's the sad reality of it. Property, and buildings are big business, their money, you know, so...
Christoph Lindner 19:45
We've talked about queer community space. And I'm wondering, just to shift that a little bit, whether there can be such a thing as queer public space. Does that exist? What would that look like? How would that feel?
Xan Goetzee-Barral 20:00
Yeah, so when you say queer public space, I think the first question that anyone needs to ask themselves is like, what is public? As an example, I was recently in Mexico, and then there's this sort of this market, that is on most evenings, in the city center, sort of formed by lots of stalls. But then this is sort of, to there's one particular corner of it, which is sort of it's I guess it's become queered, right? There's queer, trans people, gay people, they're sort of buying, selling. And then if there's a sort of a whole community, so if you go there for a few nights in a row, you will sort of recognize people there. And there's an element of publicness, in that, in that it's, it's an open space, I can only assume it belongs to sort of the council. But when you go in, you're, you're almost sort of like you're entering, if you are queer, you're you're entering a space that sort of feels sort of protected. It's almost like you're entering a room, right? You sort of you feel safe, you feel protected there, the language that you might use to sort of interact with people. There's a sort of a shared sense of commonality.
Christoph Lindner 21:09
That's a great question that you started with, you know, what is public space today. We also kind of live in an era of pseudo public space where you have private spaces which tried to present themselves as open In public, but you also have public spaces that look very closed off and privatised, but they're not. And what all of these things have in common is the difficulty of reading space, you know, the legibility of space is increasingly complex. Holly, what do you think on the question of whether we can create or there's value in trying to create more queer public space?
Holly Buckle 21:50
If queer public spaces is space, where, you know, we can open up this kind of queer space for mutual support, then, of course, public spaces, can hold that. And I think if it's a public space that works towards, like, a common goal for, like, the majority of queer people, and that that space is like, centered around our most vulnerable, or, you know, for people who, like the writing table, I guess, is most far away. So like centering, centering, access, but not in a kind of bare minimum, “we have a disabled toilet, and you can come here” kind of way, like, then yeah, sure. Any public space can can be queer.
Christoph Lindner 22:41
And is there value in trying to keep that process of reclaiming some version transformation? You know, going in a sort of iterative way. So queering space is not something you do once, it's something that maybe we do multiple times, across many places.
Holly Buckle 22:57
Yeah, I think so. I think, you know, there's going to be space that comes up and is available. And, so an artwork that I made with resident at The Outside Project, over lockdown included a podcast, actually. A podcast talking about podcast in a podcast, I know. But it one of the guests in in that podcast, put it really well about queer people are like, I'm kind of quoting this, this isn't verbatim. So I'm really sorry to the person who actually said this, but queer people, or queerness is like, little plants. And we'll kind of make our way into the cracks or whatever spaces that there is available and grow and grow and grow. And that kind of resonated really well with me that… wherever the space is, and if it's, you know, somewhere that we can occupy, then I think, yeah, of course, of course, we can do that time and time again. But I think that we should actually be pushing for more. There should be spaces built for us with us in mind, you know, and we've asked in the conversation, like I'm gonna go back to that again. And I feel like, it is part of it's another thing that they said in this podcast is that it's part of the job description of a queer person is that you know, adaptability. Adaptability is part of our job description. But actually, I think the world needs to adapt to our needs. And we've spent a long time adapting. So the world needs to start to adapt with us in the conversation.
Xan Goetzee-Barral 24:20
And I think the world isn't quite sort of, it's definitely not there yet, in how we view this, you know you think about it, you talked before about protecting queer spaces. And, you know, for example, our view on heritage is quite static, really, if you want to protect a space, okay, has to be listed, it goes through a process, and it's listed, but how do queer spaces fit into that, spaces that sort of shift and, you know, become queer, then they're not they, you know, then that might have a big influx years later for queer people that are using it. How, how do sort of systems or, or policies that we have to protect spaces? How can they adapt to how queer people use them? Because I think at the moment they don't. And I think another issue that it raises is about sort of queerness being commercialised is what we said before, and, you know, you see now with sort of parts of Soho, you get a lot of rainbow flags, and you know, gay pride, it's become this like, huge commercial enterprise. And it's just yeah, I think it's just a very important consideration. You have this sort of this dynamism that doesn't let the sort of the what made space on error beautiful, sort of let it consume itself.
Christoph Lindner 25:51
So with that word, dynamism in mind, let me come to my my last question, because we always end each episode by asking our guests the key question, and I'd like to ask you looking towards the future, what do you think we need to do to build better?
Holly Buckle 26:11
I'm gonna go back to the paying people properly. Thing and yeah, that's the most important thing. So pay people fairly and properly, and without huge disparity. And I think that is the most important thing, right? We, you know, we can't avoid the monetisation of of, of kind of building or any of these things but to pay people properly to stop asking people to work for free or do things for free. I think we need as a given like, at the top of the list is for everybody to have somewhere that is safe and reliable to live that is actually affordable. I think that's the fundamental. Right. That's what we need. We need to tackle kind of housing as the big, big thing. I think if if anything as a takeaway from this to build back better is that we need to kind of put that to the forefront. Queer spaces are important, but houses and homes for queer people that are secure, and places that they would choose and want to live are the most fundamental things in the future that I would want to see.
Christoph Lindner 27:22
And, Xan, what are your thoughts on, “How do we build better?”
Xan Goetzee-Barral 27:28
Often you know, we talk about sustainability and that’s very much just seen environmentally, and you know relating to sort of the built form of things, but we often don't take into account the so the social sustainability of an area, you know, we're thinking, how will the people that live there today, how will they be able to grow there? And how will successive generations be able to sort of flourish? And, you know, make sure that their identity is protected in a space where they feel sort of feel comfortable and excited to be there? But I think something that I've always thought is that I think we need more diversity in at local government level, you know. This is often in like an area that sort of, it's not talked about much, but there's an incredible amount of power that sort of determines the sort of the success, not a success, it, it determines the sort of the livelihood of queer people and of marginalised communities Look government, they're determined where houses are built, the licensing hours of bars of clubs, or community centers are built the opening times that kind of thing. And often, the people involved at that level aren't fully representative of the communities that they serve. Because, you know, there's I think maybe, again, what Holly is saying to be, you know, a local councillor. You require an extra paid position, but you'd need a certain amount of time and connections. And if we had people with more diversity involved in local government, I think that could make a huge amount of difference.
Christoph Lindner 28:56
Thank you to both of my guests for joining me today. You have been listening to Building Better: The Bartlett Podcast. This podcast was presented by myself, Christoph Lindner, and brought to you by The Bartlett, UCL’s Faculty of the Built Environment. It was edited by Cerys Bradley and featured music from Blue Dot sessions. I was joined today by Xan Chocobo Goetze Burrell and Holly Buckle. If you would like to hear more of these podcasts, subscribe wherever you download your podcasts or visit ucl.ac.uk/bartlett/buildingbetter. And of course, you can follow us @TheBartlettUCL. See you next time.