FESTIVAL OF THE FUTURE CITY: Right Turns
Kaja on the right to the city and how she found herself in the LGBT community of Bristol.
This essay was commissioned as part of a series in collaboration with Festival Of The Future City. Find out more about the festival here
Mum was the one who told me about this place, and that good music played there.
The first time I went to a gay bar, a drunk older lesbian tried to hit on my aunt by making fun of her for falling over. I was younger than I am now –17/18 – and I remember the venue was kind of sticky. I watched a drag queen lie down and sleep in one of the booths. Ahhh, memories. I went with a pocketful of ideas of what it would be like, the first physical space I’d see dedicated to the LGBT+ community. I’d wanted to go since after I first came out and my mum told me there were clubs and bars like this in Bristol. Mum was the one who told me about this place, and that good music played there. As I opened the door to the lights, the noise, the smell – I don’t think I was anticipating the feeling of excitement that washed over me. The thrill of knowing this was a place for me.
The sight of kissing lesbians slopping drinks over themselves and a policeman posing with laughing gay men, rooted me to the spot (that, and the sticky booze). I felt a certain vibe as I stood there, a sense of joyous acceptance and visible community. It was magical. Plus my first Malibu and coke wasn’t bad.
I remember my first Pride parade. I was 16, volunteering actually, and buzzing with anticipation. Me and my friend flung colourful ribbons all over Castle Park and then we were given a collection tin to shake at people.
We walked around for hours with that tin, and it was a good excuse for me to take in the leather queens shining in the sun, the lesbians with towering hair, the bikers, the drag queens, the couples that clung to each other, the friends that jostled and cheered together. It was overwhelming.
Community is also found in the little things.
Community is also found in the little things. It’s walking through town and seeing a lesbian couple holding hands, or a gay couple kissing, or non-binary people looking happy and comfortable in their outfits, and seeing all these people whilst smiling yourself like there’s a secret you share.
For minority groups, I think a city is one of the few places that can offer such a community. It’s bigger, so you’re more likely to find the people like you.
Cities offer this unique opportunity to find community, and I think Bristol is particularly good at it.
A documentary I watched a few years ago first got me thinking about this. It was called ‘Before Stonewall’ and it comprised interviews from LGBT+ people talking about what it was like to be LGBT+ in the past. In it was a particularly interesting older lesbian reminiscing about her youth. She told us how she moved to the city for work, as women had to do in World War Two, and something remarkable happened… before, in her village, she thought she’d been the only lesbian. Then, suddenly, while working in a city factory, she found she was surrounded by other lesbians just like her.
Imagine what it would be like to be this woman. To have felt so alone, to think there’s something wrong with you. And then to move to a city and meet others just like you, to know you’re not abnormal, that you have a right to exist; it is so important. Young people especially need to know this. They need to be validated and accepted so they don’t have to hide who they are and grow up thinking that is the only way to be. They need to feel welcomed into something more.
Cities offer this unique opportunity to find community, and I think Bristol is particularly good at it. Just walking round Bristol you can see it’s a really diverse place, and there are so many projects and events to promote inclusivity and to make everyone feel welcome. Of course, it’s not perfect, but when you compare it to some smaller places or the cities of the past, it seems pretty good.
This is what a city should offer. This is why people come to cities, for that opportunity to find people like themselves.
So what if this was taken away from us? In the current political climate, everyone seems on edge, and our city’s inclusive nature may be threatened.
This is why people come to cities, for that opportunity to find people like themselves.
I remember seeing in the news, not long ago, that a young man had been beaten up at the top of Park Street for being gay. I remember staring at this news for ages, unable to understand it. In my city? In this time? I was heartbroken.
We can’t let ourselves move backwards, to a time where visibility was unheard of and LGBT+ people were alone or targeted. I want lesbians to still be able to hold hands on the streets of Bristol, for gay men to kiss in public. Visibility makes a community stronger, and Bristol had been good at this in the past.
We have to teach young people the importance of acceptance, we have to cherish what we have and nurture it so we can become even more inclusive. This is what I’d like to see in the future.
We’d love to hear your thoughts on young people’s right to the city. Tweet us @rifemag and use the hashtag #futurecity17 or let us know in the comments.