What my queer journey taught me about love

After a painful split, Amelia Abraham set off around the world, meeting sex workers, trans activists and a nonbinary family to see how LGBTQ+ culture has changed the way we can live together

On an easyJet flight in November 2016, I wondered whether it was possible to die of heartbreak. It felt like I was cracking down the middle, a gorge opening up. Id met my girlfriend on Tinder and instantly fallen in love. She was in the UK for a holiday from the small Icelandic town where she lived, so we embarked on a long distance relationship, until we decided we should be together properly. I dropped everything. I quit my job, moved out of my flat and moved to Iceland. Ten days later I was single and crying on the plane home.

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We had fallen very hard and fast in the beginning, mutually convinced for six months at least that we would marry one another and have adorable Icelandic gaybies. When the relationship ended, I wasnt just experiencing the hurt or the embarrassment, but mourning the grand narrative of a life together: marriage, kids, old age. But the pain was made greater because this was a narrative that, as an LGBTQ+ person, I had not, until now, ever believed to be available to me.

I was born in London in 1991. Id had two decades of being raised in a country where gay people were not equal by law. When I came out as bisexual at 18 (later, gay) we were still in the dark-ish ages: before tabloid pictures of A-list power lesbians kissing, before gay men could legally walk down the aisle in Britain. If society didnt believe 2.4 children was for me, why should I? As I moaned to my friends about the breakup, I explained I was seeing it through not just a personal prism, but a political one, how I felt conflicted about my newfound dream of living a more conventional life. Quickly, I learned I was not alone. The more conversations I had with friends, the more it felt as if our feelings of ambivalence were linked to this wider moment we were living in as LGBTQ+ people in the west a moment of unprecedented acceptance in which queer culture had never been so mainstream and where there were more life options than ever. But at what cost, I wondered, had this progress come?

I resolved I would go and investigate what this moment meant for LGBTQ+ people. I would take a year to travel around the world talking to queer people about their lives. I hoped that, along the way, it would tell me something about how to live mine.

Sean and Sinclair welcomed me on to the rooftop of their apartment in LA. Wed first met in 2014 when Id attended their wedding one of the very first same-sex marriages in the UK. The queer theorist Lisa Duggan has described the legalisation of marriage as a political sedative first we get marriage then we go home and cook dinner forever. Was decrying marriage something queer people only do until they find The One? Sinclair, the younger of the pair, told me about his closeted upbringing and how watching Queer as Folk had made him believe gay culture was all about wild, casual sex.

Partygoers
Rainbow nation: partygoers at Amsterdams annual Pride parade. Its the biggest in Europe with up 100 boats sailing through the citys canals. Photograph: Robin Utrecht/EPA

Growing up, the whole experience felt really lonely, he said. He was so depressed by the thought of gay male life that at times he contemplated suicide. Sean explained he married Sinclair so publicly to send out a message that marriage that a serious boring relationship was possible for young gay men.

While same-sex marriage still might not have felt that radical to me, it did feel radically important for us to at least have the choice. But still, I wanted to explore the alternative. I visited Sweden and met Zafire, who lived in a nonbinary, polyamorous three-parent family raising five-year-old Rio, outside the gender binary. In their colourful Stockholm flat, they all used the Swedish gender neutral pronoun hen, avoided gender stereotypes and dated whoever they wanted. Their family felt more secure than mine had, as someone whose parents were not together.

Speaking to Zafire, a sex educator and activist, it became clear the conversations with the married couples I had met in LA threw up a complicated issue: they no longer engaged in activism and rarely went to gay bars. They jokingly described their married lives as boring. Suddenly, Id stopped thinking so much about the ethics of gay marriage and started worrying about what would happen to queer culture if every LGBTQ+ person settled down.

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Would what was once subversive fade away? Would we lose what makes us varied and vibrant? Would we still be a community? These questions, I understand now, were the niggling feelings that had sat in my stomach as I arrived in Iceland, and were one of the reasons things didnt work out. Because while I worried what these questions meant for our culture, I also worried about what they meant for me, individually. Would I stop fighting for other LGBTQ+ rights and stop hanging out with other queer people?

As I began to look for answers, I found myself in increasingly un-boring places; leather-fetish shops, a trans model agency, Ru Pauls DragCon the worlds biggest drag convention. On its pink-carpeted runways I discovered entire families dressed in drag among the 45,000 guests. It was a world away from where I had first discovered drag in the seedy bars in London that had gradually closed over the past 10 years, partly due to the fact that, with increased acceptance, many LGBTQ+ people feel they no longer need to be ghettoised in queer spaces.

Spread
Spread the word: after a series of tweets by President Donald Trump, which proposed to ban transgender people from military service, thousands of New Yorkers took the streets in opposition in July 2017 in New York City. Photograph: Barcroft Images

A few months later, under the blazing summer sun, I danced with sex workers on the first ever LGBTQ+ sex worker canal float in front of half a million onlookers at Amsterdams annual Pride parade the biggest in Europe. Lyle, a young gay male escort, told me hed never felt so accepted and seen by society as in that moment but later, when we got off the float, the immigrant and trans sex workers I met told me about the homophobia and transphobia they experienced daily.

Here, I was forced to consider that while, yes, were in the midst of a drastic mainstreaming of both LGBTQ+ culture and politics, this doesnt apply to everybody. As gay people get married so donor money to LGBTQ+ charities dries up, as Pride becomes corporatised it stops being so overtly political and as some queer people find visibility, others remain invisible.

The worst part of my job is when I come to work and a trans woman has been killed. Nine times out of 10, I know them. I was sitting in the tiny offices of the Anti-Violence Project (AVP) in Manhattan. LaLa Zannell, an African American trans woman, is one of the projects community organisers. We dont all want to be on a magazine, she said. Some of us just want to be a doctor, or parents. This middle ground was what we rarely saw, LaLa argued. We see trans celebrities, or else the deaths of trans people on the news.

I had visited LaLa to discuss the spike in hate crimes in America in 2017, the year Donald Trump became president. Of 52 LGBTQ+ people killed, 37 were people of colour, and of those 27 were trans. Although less extreme, the same spike in homophobia, transphobia and racism had occurred in the UK after the vote for Brexit. In the time since, things have not improved, with the UK recently debating whether LGBTQ+ relationships should be taught in schools and Trump banning trans people from the military.

People blame Trump. But these things have existed; he just opened up the door on permission to be more hateful, explained LaLa. We have a culture where you can do something to a trans person and theres no recourse. The convictions are rare and the turnaround is high. She told me that trans deaths arent tracked by law enforcement in America, many states still dont have hate crime laws for them, and many people who die are misgendered.

After everything I had witnessed about the joys and benefits of LGBTQ+ equality, this hatred seemed to disconnect with that so-called progress. While I have the privilege of contemplating a life with a wife and kids, there are still only certain kinds of LGBTQ+ identities deemed worthy of acceptance. The trans women I spoke to explained that because of transphobia, finding work can be difficult and a cycle of poverty can lead to substance abuse, sex work and homelessness, all of which increase the already high risk of violence they face.

People wear the word ally like a badge, LaLa said. What does being an ally actually mean? How do you know youre privileged if youre not testing the limits of what youre able to do with it?

On the plane home, I reflected on my journey: after everywhere Id been, rather than fading away, it felt like our culture had come alive for me in technicolour. I had discovered a global LGBTQ+ family who were willing to welcome me into their spaces strangers who felt connected to me because we were both queer. This felt important. In 2019, I understand why some LGBTQ+ people might not want their sexuality to define them, partly because it might no longer have to, but also because this can seriously jeopardise their safety. But our difference is what makes us LGBTQ+ in the first place and, vitally, what makes us connected. It is how we will find and help one another, when progress inevitably fails us.

A few months after my trip, I started seeing someone, an English lawyer named Emily, and four months later we moved in together. Unlike when I had left for Iceland, it didnt feel as if I was sacrificing anything. My journey had put me at ease with the idea of settling down, of becoming a part of an institution, that for such a long time, had rejected people like me. I could now see that queer people deserve all the happiness that straight people have. But I had also witnessed the many forms that happiness could take for queer people. It was in that commune in Sweden that it really struck: the joy of being queer is about fashioning your own alternative ways of living, living by your desires rather than the boxes society hands you.

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I realised my new relationship could be whatever I wanted it to be and it was naive of me to see settling down or not as my only options. In fact, it was precisely that kind of thinking that was boring.

Queer Intentions: A (Personal) Journey Through LGBTQ+ Culture by Amelia Abraham is published by Picador at 14.99. Order it for 13.19 from guardianbookshop.com

Original Article : HERE ; This post was curated & posted using : RealSpecific

This post was curated & Posted using : RealSpecific

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