- Dr James Agar
- Professor Ann Varley
Out of Soho, Back into the Closet: Re-Thinking the London Gay Community
Soho is internationally known as London’s gay district. It has functioned as a place where gay identities were made and as a place made by the performance of these identities. However, the growing visibility and inclusion of homosexuals into mainstream society and politics seem to have reduced the need for a gay place and for a distinctive sexual identity. To complicate the picture, the advent of online new media, available on mobile devices, has created a new Soho that exists just virtually and is visible to its members only.
Consequently, the performance of a gay identity has gradually become something to hide from the mainstream viewer and to be practiced in the anonymity of the Internet, suggesting a return into the closet that could compromise the community-making process. Considering the speed with which both physical and online spaces change, as well as our concepts of homosexuality and community, it is necessary to research their current (inter)relations in order to understand the future of the gay community and that of Soho as the place where gay identities and communities are formed.
The aim of my research is to reconsider the role of
Soho in the process of aggregation, moulding and promotion of a gay community.
What I argue is that Soho, once the symbol of the British gay life style, has
now lost its importance as the sense of its community failed under the pressure
of an increasingly heteronormative image of straight-acting homosexuality. It
is true that British society has legalised homosexuality and same-sex marriage,
but under what terms and with what consequences is this process happening for
the gay community? If places like Soho disappear, how can a gay culture be
preserved and passed on to future generations? Are online media really the answer
or are they a way to hide gay culture in a space that is not visible from the
Soho Spirit: Our Space or a Space in Our Minds?
20 February 2016, 10.30am-6pm. St Anne's Church & Community Centre, Soho.
Soho is often envisioned, at both a national and an international level, as London's gay district. Its role as a space where gay identities and communities were made has shaped the urban experience of many LGBT people in London. However, with the advent of online spaces, the increasing inclusion of LGBT people in British society, and the rise in popularity of different urban areas, Soho's role for the LGBT community of London must now be reconsidered.
This event will answer the following questions: Can Soho still be seen as London's gay district? Why are so many LGBT spaces disappearing from Soho? Is there still the need for such spaces? If gay Soho disappeared, how would LGBT people experience a sense of community? Are new types of LGBT spaces appearing somewhere else?
The first session will retrace the history of the district, from its creation in the seventeenth century to the gay 'takeover' of the area in the 1980s and 1990s. We will then proceed by examining contemporary Soho and what LGBT people really think of the area. In a final session, we will consider the recent disappearance of LGBT spaces from Soho and other areas of London and we will discuss possible solutions for the future.
Organised by Marco Venturi, Gender and Sexuality Studies (CMII), UCL. Supported by qUCL, Cities Imaginaries (UCL Urban Lab) and Joint Faculty Institute of Graduate Studies (JFIGS).
Further information can also be found at:
Urban Lab - http://www.ucl.ac.uk/urbanlab/latest