The queer crowd has always been and always will be. Their visibility was just swept under the rug by the heteronormative dogmas propelled into strict mass normality by the years that followed the classical golden ages. As with any community throughout history, the queer faction always had spaces to call their own, crafted in the brilliant vibrance that we have now come to recognize as being synonymous with being different, being just as eligible to have a voice as any other, and being proud of and true to oneself.
In the 21st century, where it is still a struggle to accept a narrative that isn’t cis-gendered and heterosexual, with communal violence and immense anger towards their fellow beings, it is of utmost interest to re-think and re-write our spaces. As with the rampant spread of inclusive design, spaces accommodating EVERYONE is not a thought that is a far cry. And this is where queer spaces and awareness regarding them come into play.
Let’s discuss because it is high time!
What is a Queer Space?
Often described elegantly as the architecture of desire, a queer space can be simply put as a space or strategy that intrinsically connects or ties in architecture with a person’s sexuality and gender identity. Queer spaces are designed for one’s body to be, defining the need to iterate one’s true identity, sexuality, and need to connect—be it sexually or communally.
Throughout history, the queer individual has profoundly struggled with living a life that was not ostracized. With having to hide their quiddity, queer individuals were often forced to fit into the binary-heterosexual mold. Even with their identities out in the open, these individuals have had to deal with exiles, social exclusion, and violence. Queer spaces, thus began to fill in as safe places for the self, places for gathering, places for entertainment, and even community housing.
Out of the Closet and to the Washroom
Perhaps no two nouns have been used more fervently than the “closet” and the “washroom” in descriptions of the queer community. The phrase “coming out of the closet” was used extensively since the 60s to describe a queer individual explicitly making their identity and preferences known.
The architectural construct of the closet described the person’s deepest desires, their wishes, the clothes that they wore when they were in the company of their friends and confidants. Thus began the closely guarded trend of secluded individuals crafting the finest of spaces for themselves, according to their specific tastes, as far back as the 17th century. With rich exotic blues and vibrant reds, the closeted connoisseurs such as William Beckford and Oscar Wilde laid the cornerstone of what would become the stylistic representation of the present-day queer community.
The washroom too has been symbolic to the queer individual since the popularization of the modern plumbing system by prominent architects like Le Corbusier and Adolf Loos. With the disparity that most trans individuals deal with in the face of the modern binary public toilet systems, change is the need of the hour. When the function of “plumbing” is applied to humans, it shows the iron-hold of the normative ideas that have been reinstated regarding ability, gender, race, and sex—a tale of why there has to be such discrimination over the basic need to relieve oneself.
Stalled!—a project by transgender historian Susan Stryker, architect Joel Sanders and professor Terry Kogan—illustrate the metaphorical connotations of “plumbing” and the drawback of the modern toilet systems; calling out the numerous places around the world with laws that dictate that an individual has to use a restroom or a toilet that is assigned to their gender which punishes the queer individual by default. A queer space thus puts forth the possibility of a universal scheme concerning public spaces and basic amenities.
A Past with Positive Queer Spaces?
Numerous instances in mythology and ancient text point to a certain normalization in connection to homosexuality and queer individuals. The initiation ceremonies in many ancient civilizations encouraged queer practices as seen with the tribes of New Guinea and the Adonia rite of the Ancient Greek.
In addition to residential quarters, most ancient societies facilitated mens’ and womens’ houses; private gardens and rooftop gatherings were exclusive to women in the more orthodox Greek society. These may have been some of the first instances of queer spaces in history. Spaces such as these encouraged courtships and same-sex love albeit with a stance that individuals must also uphold a heterosexual relationship for societal statuses. Same-sex relationships were a publicly accepted phenomenon in the ancient societies of Japan and Greece.
The ancient societies encouraged such relationships on grounds of consent and respect. Public spaces such as the gymnasium facilitated these interactions wherein an older partner sought and mentored the younger, maintaining a fruitful engagement that was publicly acceptable.
Although Ancient Rome that came much later had laws discouraging same-sex relationships, it had facilitated grandiose spaces of interactions for same-sex and all genders such as the famous Roman baths. These were the thresholds of queer spaces that encouraged body positivity and the acceptance of nakedness at a societal and communal level.
Much later with the Arts and Crafts and the Aesthetic Movement pioneered by renowned queer individuals and activists such as Edward Carpenter and Oscar Wilde, there was a wider acceptance of decorating houses according to one’s taste and desire, showcasing a loud expression of individuality. This period was a turning point in history wherein the tastes of the closeted connoisseur were made available to the rest of society through handicrafts and mass production.
Here are a few examples of Queer Spaces:
- The Dance Clubs
Despite being a phenomenon unique to first-world countries, the queer dance clubs and bars are iconic pieces of architecture that facilitated the meeting of lovers, the gathering of activists, and the “round table” for political discussions. These spaces used to symbolize freedom and safety until recently, with incidents involving mass shootings, police brutality, and the complications of COVID-19. With unknown architects and the lack of documentation, some of these iconic queer spaces are lost to history books but have had their impact on the community.
- The Houses
With many a youngster and elderly rendered homeless owing to the lack of social acceptance in addition to the scope of being subjected to violence, there is an all-time need to facilitate safe queer spaces by redefining the nature of the existing public spaces and implementing inclusive strategies around the globe.
American neighborhoods like Harlem paved the way to the idea of “houses” where queer individuals lived together and formed bonds that they lacked from their biological families. Initiatives such as G.H.A.R (Gay Housing Assistance Resource) have provided housing to numerous queer individuals within India.
The queer community has endured so many hardships as far as human records can attest. With the rise and fall of many a civilization and with the indulgence of numerous religions, man’s ability to love and be loved has only gotten more complicated. To come out as queer is a courage-driven decision that has to be accepted and seen by the rest of society.
As time moves forward, it is insensible to live by archaic principles. Queer spaces and the all-inclusive universal design are the ways to go by in this world that has seen way too many vile acts from man towards man. With a sense of safety, understanding, and acceptance, let’s all try a little harder to stand by the fact that “love is love” and love deserves a space to thrive in.
- Betsky, Aaron (1997). Queer Spaces: Architecture and Same-Sex Desire. Available at: <https://archive.org/details/queerspacearchit00bets> [Accessed 10 June 2021].
- Pavka, Evan | Azure Magazine (2020). What Do You Mean By Queer Space?. (Last updated: Jun 29, 2020). Available at: <https://www.azuremagazine.com/article/what-do-we-mean-by-queer-space/> [Accessed 11 June 2021].
- Wikipedia (2021). Sexuality and space. (Last updated: 17 January 2021). Available at: <https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sexuality_and_space> [Accessed 11 June , 2021].