Losing queer spaces is affecting my self-esteem

The mourning period for sweaty dancefloors and late-night ego boosts is over – creating new LBGT+ arenas is more important than ever

Gina Tonic
Friday 04 September 2020 12:41
Kate McKinnon says LGBT+ representation on screen stopped her feeling like an ‘alien’

There is nowhere I feel more comfortable with my body than in the village. If it’s Pride weekend, a casual day drink on Manchester's Canal Street or a too glam to give a damn drag queen club night, I am guaranteed to get at least one compliment on my aesthetic not just as a queer woman, but as a plus-size woman. The rolls of my flesh find adoration on the dancefloor, as shaking my tits and my tummy become a celebration of self, rather than an attempt at alluring the male gaze. Or, as has been the case for years, an image to be mocked by skinnier, straighter people.

When I move through straight spaces, I fear the treatment Sean O’Brien aka Dancing Man suffered five years ago. Queer spaces, however, have always championed those who choose to stand out, including those of bigger frames. From Divine to Latrice Royale, there’s a lot of body positivity to be found on the gay party scene.

But, once quarantine hit, those like me lost their safe spaces. Instead, we were left with our own thoughts and weight gain warnings in the form of memes and government guidelines.

While finding our self-worth from outside sources might not be the best route for our self-esteem, allowing ourselves to be supported by our communities should never be seen as a negative.

As queer spaces open up once more, under strict social distancing guidelines, there’s still the nagging self-doubt left behind from five months locked indoors at the back of my brain. Watching Manchester Pride’s live-stream – and even the inclusive Fat Pride takeover hour – my heart longed to be among the crowds in next to nothing, feeling confident and gaining support from my fellow fat queers and community alike.

Marilyn Misandry, a drag performer based in Manchester, agrees with me. She confides: “The vast majority of my self-confidence as a fat queer trans girl comes from performance, be it performing my gender in loud bright ways or performing on stage as a dancer. Obviously, with lockdown in place, the spaces in which I have the relative safety to do so are gone, and with them the feeling of confidence and self-love that existed, as a result, has slowly dissipated.”

Angel Rose, a queer artist based in Hastings who often travels to London for the queer nightlife scene, has written about this lockdown self-esteem struggle in her newest zine, Serious Fun 2, a collaboration with performer Oozing Gloop. Rose tells me via email that being unable to socialise is alienating to her in a different way. “The damaging effects of this for me have been less to do with my self-image, and more to do with my sense of belonging," she says. "Of course, for fat and queer bodies, exhibitionism is a form of empowerment, but we certainly are not lacking in opportunities to ‘exhibit’ ourselves online. The thing that troubles me more is the lack of communion with others. What I find most empowering is being amongst my tribe, and dancing together as an expression of bodily agency.”

I feel Rose is right, it isn’t the compliments from a crowd that I am missing out on – there are plenty of them online – but moving through space as a group from the outskirts of society, not just moving through spaces but creating our own and celebrating ourselves within them.

Far from allowing us to dwell on this disaster, however, Rose reminds me that now, more than ever, creating new queer spaces online and offline is more important than ever. “I am still mourning what has been lost, yet at the same time, I really think it's up to us as artists to create new forms of culture that will bring people together and uplift the outsiders. The suggestion I put forward in Serious Fun 2 is that we all start dancing in our bedroom mirrors as a self-affirming ritual. Dancing in the bedroom mirror is a seduction of the self. It can put us in touch with different sides of ourselves. In fact, my therapist the other day (who is definitely not a club kid) suggested to me that the world is experiencing collective trauma because we're not dancing.”

Rose continues: “The element of performance is what drew me into the scene in the first place, where larger-than-life figures like Leigh Bowery and Scottee inspired me in my own art practise. If anything, the internet and bedroom isolation is making more room for these types of performances.”

The mourning period for sweaty dance floors and late-night ego boosts is over. Just like Manchester Pride’s Fat Pride hour and Angel Rose’s dancing in the bedroom mirror zine manifesto, taking agency of our bodies and reflecting confidence in the world is how we not only inspire it in ourselves, but in others too.

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