Book recommendation

Just a quick book recommendation:

Fellow, W. (2004) A Passion to Preserve: gay men as keepers of culture. Wisconsin: University of Wisconsin Press.

It’s a really interesting read, perhaps a bit reductive and stereotyped at times, but it’s basically a collection of case studies about collectors/preservationists who are gay men. He identifies patterns in the attributes his subjects possess, namely; gender atypicality, domophilia, romanticism, aestheticism, and connection-and-continuity-mindedness, all of which he explores at some length.

Definitely recommended (though to be read with a pinch of salt at times!)

LGBT History Month pre-launch at Bletchley Park

Yesterday I joined Jan Pimblett and others from the London Metropolitan Archives at the LGBT History Month pre-launch event at Bletchley Park. We peopled a stall during the day, and then attended the evening programme of events.

Speakers for the evening included Nigel Tart, who spoke about using LGBT themes in Maths lessons, Elly Barnes (No.1 on the IoS Pink List 2011!) who gave an empowering talk about making schools LGBT friendly and Kirsty Horrocks, a prison officer and member of GALIPS (Gays and Lesbians in the Prison Service), Norwich Pride Choir provided some beautiful entertainment, (including interpretations of coming out stories written in 140 characters!) and ended with a stirring speech by the nephew of Alan Turing, Sir John Dermot Turing.

It was a great day, and aside from the enjoyment and community that LGBT History Month provides, a key theme was that primarily, thanks to LGBT History Month, and Schools Out and some of the fantastic pioneers and activists that were present, young lives are being saved.

Help with research needed!

HELP NEEDED WITH RESEARCH: Hello friends. If you identify as Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender or Queer, and collect something (stamps, coins, magazines, jewellery etc. anything!) please take the time to fill out this form to help with my PhD research. There is more information if you follow the link. If not, please share to spread the word, I will be forever grateful!

Thanks to all who have taken part so far. This survey will be running until Friday 23rd November.

THIS SURVEY IS NOW CLOSED – huge thanks to everyone who took part. I will share the results, so keep your eyes on the blog!

Thank you!

LGBTQ History conference: LGBTQ Narrators and Oral Histories

I attended the What is LGBT(Q) History and Where do we stand? conference at Queen Mary, University of London on Wednesday 7th-Thursday 8th September. I decided to do a few blog posts, just to make it more digestible, and because my notetaking tends to be a bit scatter-brained and excessive.

My first question before even getting there was why the Q for Queer was in brackets…

Rather than going through each of the papers, I’m just going to pick out some of the points I found most interesting.

You can find out more about the conference here:

The first panel was about LGBTQ Narrators and Oral History(/ies)

Jane Traies, a PhD candidate from the University of Sussex spoke about her work with older lesbians and oral history. She said that older lesbians are overlooked in both academia and in popular culture, and the older queer generation is particularly hard to access. She managed to survey around 400 lesbians aged between 60 and 90, and then followed up with 50 indepth life story interviews. She referred to older queer people as “the closeted generation” which was a turn of phrase I like. Oral histories with older people, specifically marginalised people, is about restoring the historical record, and not only treating them as museum pieces with an interesting past, but capturing their experiences of today, the present. One of the questions asked was “do you consider yourself a feminist?”, a staggering 80% said yes, which is much higher than any other statistics for 3rd age populations, is it because they are older? is it because they are women? is it because they are lesbians? these are ideas she needs to unpack.Many of the younger women she interviewed (around their 60s) were young during the second wave feminist movement and thus may see feminism and lesbianism as inextricably linked. Those who formed their lesbian identities before the 1960s were less likelyto consider themselves feminists, she also found that those from working class backgrounds were also more likely to consider themselves feminists. Of the non-identifying-feminists, the adoption of butch/femme and mirrored heteronormal roles were more common. Jane’s research has confirmed for her that personal histories and identities and socio-political histories are linked and often in conflict. She also said it was important to disaggragate the LGBTQ acronym, but also to knit it back up again.

Of LGBTQ history, she said it was still troublesome to the academy, as it erodes traditional boundaries of histories and is interdisciplinary, and that LGBT histories are a political act and activism. She also identified that LGBTQ history is almost always researched by LGBTQ people, thus bias is unavoidable, and there are some academics that still believe that history can and should be completely unbiased.

She spoke of her methodology, which as an early stage researcher, was of great interest to me. She said that she feels she has a responsibility to the community that she is studying, and has been careful to include them at all stages and has co-produced their life histories and allowed them to choose their own psuedonyms and has consulted them with the transcripts. She also seeks feedback for her research with non-academic LGBT people, which she says is good practice for eliminating academic jargon.

More about her fascinating research can be found here:
Elizabeth Young (Uni of Lethbridge, Alberta, Canada) and Alva Traebert (Uni of Edinburgh) were both looking at place in their research, Elizabeth at the ‘Bible Belt’ of Canada, Lethbridge, and Alva in Scotland from 1980-2000. Ideas that cropped up included; the importance of geography on shaping and informing sexual identities, how this geographic influence impacts oral methodology, the importance of preserving voices, issues of labelling and terminology (which was a theme that cropped up throughout the day and a particular anxiety in my research), the importance of being reflexive researchers who are mindful of ourselves and our own influence and interpretations of the stories that are told.

Alva was looking at AIDs/HIV and how young queer people in Scotland would have educated themselves during the AIDs/HIV crisis without the internet or access to formal education on the subject due to Section 2A (Scotland’s version of Section 28 which was repealed three years before the rest of the UK repealed Section 28), the absence of women in queer AIDs/HIV research, apart from as care-givers, how the “scene venues” as viewed by mainstream society are mainly very gendered places (ie: gay bars, parks etc.), the importance of acknowledging the tensions within the community and who polices the boundaries of community membership, the difficulties some lesbians find in being part of the lesbian community due to their femininity (which some of my friends have experienced first hand). She spoke of how she was using queer as an umbrella term for all LGBT people and their allies (which is what I plan to do in my research), but is mindful that it’s not a widely embraced term. She sees her role as not giving voices to queer people, but as facilitating queer people to find their own.

She finished by saying that being a queer researcher, working on a queer research project in a traditional university is still a challenge (I have recently faced a sea of blank faces when describing my research to some fellow PhD students at a university that is primarily education and social sciences) and that we need to start thinking about what it means to be a queer researcher.

Some good points cropped up in the Q & A which followed:

-“community” should perhaps be viewed as what we are not, rather than what we are.
– there is a queer generational gap, older queers believe firmly in identity politics (and therefore labels) whereas younger people are more inclined to think of identity as fluid. Jane said that she felt the LGBTQ were not great at intergenerational relationships.
– when doing oral histories, there is no truth. You get the stories that people want to/are prepared to tell and you become the co-producer and the storytelling becomes a conversation.

I’ll do a follow up blog post with more from the conference soon.

Horace Walpole’s Strawberry Hill

There are two potential strands of LGBT interest that could be developed at Strawberry Hill, taking advantage of the lightness and the weight that this audience group can be approached with.

The LGBT and queer heritage of the house is intangible; the challenge is to bring this heritage to the surface. The National Trust, for example, is slowly beginning to embrace more daring ventures to include this audience group, with recent developments at Nyman’s House, where an artist and curator was invited to perform interventions to uncover the story of a gay former resident, and the ‘Soho Stories’ smartphone app, which is a guided audio tour around the popular LGBT-friendly streets of Soho, London.

The first strand is around the idea of social justice. Richard Sandell and others have looked with some depth at the potential museums, galleries and country houses have in reaching out to marginalised or “difficult-to-reach” groups. The Museums Association are currently looking at the idea of the ‘just’ museum, considering social justice at the very core of all institutions do. They are also looking ahead to ‘the museum in 2020’ and at how museum professionals can strive to reach the goal of being inclusive by that time.

There is great value in Strawberry Hill House as place, or as a safe space. In my MA dissertation I looked at how women’s collections in archives can be used for outreach and education and found, through looking at other institutions, particularly at the Women’s Art Library at Goldsmiths, that the library is valued as a space for women, with many groups using it as a base for discussion, workshops and debate. Strawberry Hill could become such a space for LGBT groups. It could be the venue for conferences looking at Horace Walpole’s sexuality (on which George Haggerty, Timothy Mowl and others have written about), queer identity in the 18th century, the queer gothic and queer aesthetic. It could also play home to LGBT books clubs, discussion groups and study days looking at, for example, the potentially homoerotic content of Walpole’s correspondence. Strawberry Hill could celebrate LGBT Pride over summer, sending a strong message that this is an audience group worthy of acknowledging and worthy of celebrating.

While we cannot assume to know of Walpole’s sexuality, his life and his home unpack and undo notions of heteronormativity and resist normative sexual values, this discussion is one that is worth exploring further.

The second strand is a lighter one, and would explore the kitsch and the camp that is abundant at Strawberry Hill House. Kensington Palace has begun to embrace a more kitsch line of interpretation to complement its kitsch aesthetic, evident in the recent Enchanted Palace exhibition. The theatrical and performative nature of the décor would lend itself to hosting gay youth groups and gay drama performances, as well as short running exhibitions examining the gay themes that currently reside only subliminally in the house. The empty and unfurnished rooms could be interpreted by queer contemporary artists, and the bold and unusual lighting created by the gothic windows and stained glass mean that it would require little to transform the rooms into breathtaking gallery spaces. There is also scope for a queer artist in residence, to help facilitate LGBT community groups (and others) to explore these themes for themselves. Similarly, these themes and ideas could be exploited with fashion and design students, who could look at masculinities, men and fashion and interior design.

The financial implications of welcoming and embracing an LGBT audience go way beyond the entry charge that new LGBT visitors would bring with them. If an LGBT audience sees that their narratives are valued by Strawberry Hill, the number of Civil Partnerships that the House currently caters for could increase considerably.

For those concerned with the idea that these proposals include the “outing” of Horace Walpole, this is not the case. It is instead a matter of interrogating undercurrent themes and using them to inform a new kind of conversation. Queering a space can be a retrospective form of interpreting that opens up innovative discourses and a reassessment of how inclusive Strawberry House can become.

The pictures were taken by me (with the help of the Instagram app).

Women’s Library update

Just flagging up some articles about recent developments in the ongoing Women’s Library saga.

LSE have been named as the new custodian of the WL.

This article is telling as they refer to the Library as “collections” as opposed to just a Library. This is far from an ideal solution, and it would be interesting to know what the other bidders were proposing.

This is the Guardian piece about the “saviour” of the WL by LSE.

And here is a dissatisfied retort, which captures the voices of many.

It’s good to see that London Met will continue to fight for this, but I fear it may be fruitless.

“not meeting the needs of the space” or censorship?

Just a very quick post today, it’s my last day of working at the IOE Library, my PhD starts officially next week – it’s all very exciting!

I thought I would just flag up this article on the Huffington Post Gay Voices site (which is well worth following, it’s great for LGBT news- specifically in the US).

Jeff Larson’s ‘Men In Living Rooms’ Photography Exhibition Pulled From LGBT Stonewall Museum

I suppose I should also prefix this with a “NSFW” (not safe for work) though I don’t think it’s in any way inappropriate. It’s a particularly interesting article in light of what I said about the Hunterian Museum in my last blog post.

I’ll post some thoughts about this when I have more time.

Comment books and penises at the Hunterian

I can’t believe it’s taken me three years to get around to visiting the fantastic Hunterian Museum at the Royal College of Surgeons, which is only about 15 minutes away from the Institute.

For those of you who aren’t familiar, the museum very much takes a cabinet-of-curiosities approach and contains hundreds and hundreds of specimen jars containing animal and human parts, including a wide array of diseased innards, human skulls, and perhaps most shockingly, several preserved foetuses. Not only is it fascinating in content, but the Hunterian also offers a commentary of sorts about the changing nature of museums as well.

I visited the temporary exhibition, which is about the anatomy of an athlete to tie in with London 2012, and aside from an interesting model of a paralympian wearing running blades, I found the actual exhibition pretty unremarkable. There was a comments book, which I had a flick through. The people who had written in the books were largely responding to the permanent displays and were fairly unanimously positive, they also seemed to be mainly written by children. One particular comment stood out to me, initially because it made me laugh:

I couldn’t get a great picture (there was a tour group right behind me and there was no photography allowed so it was a bit stealthy/rushed), but it says ‘the penises were disgusting’ followed by what appears to be a name crossed out. Initially I didn’t think much about this, but on my way home it got me thinking. While I agreed they were fairly disgusting, they were no more so than the specimens of diseased teeth, or tumorous organs or the vast hernia collection. The penises were also far from the most alarming exhibits, the foetuses and the child’s face with smallpox were far more controversial and potentially distressing.

So, perhaps I’m reading too deeply into this, but who is likely to have singled out the penises as the most offensive exhibits? I’d like to surmise that it was a stuffy and prudish conservative with nothing better to do, but it’s far more likely to have been penned by a child, probably on a school trip, and- let’s face it- probably a boy.

I’m really interested in the issues around displaying the nude in art galleries especially where it concerns children, I find it strange that children aren’t shielded from classical nude paintings and statues but that parents (and Daily Mail readers) are funny when it comes to their child being confronted with contemporary nudes. I’d never thought about the ethics and potential controversies of showing actual physical genitalia in specimen jars without including age warning signs. I suppose it’s a similar sort of thing with the classical paintings. When vaginas, breasts and penises are displayed as scientific, labelled specimens they become just artefacts, detached from anything human, detached from anything sexual. But if a photographic exhibition including nudity were shown, the gallery or museum would have to be extremely careful about informing parents of young children about the content in advance.

Personally, (and I’m sure some will be horrified at the thought of this), I think children should be exposed to naked imagery in art and in science from a young age. I imagine the main cause of the comment above was shame. From a young age, being sheltered from anything remotely sexual or to do with sexuality makes us feel that the nude body, and genitalia are something to be hidden, or to be ashamed of. It’s common sense that this promotion of embarrassment and shame is destructive, and only serves to perpetuate the intensely poor self-body-images that almost everyone these days seems to have. If a young boy, out of curiosity, spends a long time staring at a row of jars containing penises, even if they are detached from a human and severely deformed, perhaps he feels the only way he can explain this is with disgust, because God forbid someone should find this interesting, like I did. And even I to some extent felt a bit of shame looking at them, even though I didn’t spend any longer looking at them than I did at the foetuses or the disemboweled lizards or the cat with rickets, but because I too am a product of the cloud of shame that hangs over our sexual organs. It’s something that really desperately needs to be challenged.

Aside from my ponderings about the nature of a (potentially meaningless) comment in a comment book, I thought I’d recommend comment books as a great source for research to Museum Studies students, they’re a great way of seeing what the people who matter think works/doesn’t work. And, as above, a throwaway comment can make you laugh, and make you think more widely around an issue.

Yesterday I visited the Superhuman exhibition at the Wellcome, it seemed smaller than their usual exhibitions, but aside from the brevity it is, as always, well worth checking out, though it ends in mid October, so get there soon. One thing I found funny; there were a group of disinterested looking school students there, aged maybe 16 or so, and I overheard several of them saying things such as ‘Have you chosen what you’re going to research?’, ‘I can’t find anything I want to research’, ‘Stop messing about, I need to find something to research!’ and so on, which struck me as the worst possible way to get a school group to engage with an exhibition: ‘go in there and find something to research’, I imagine that laziness will have come from the teachers, rather than the museum staff. Another hint for Museum Studies students- eavesdrop on other museum visitors, nosiness is an endlessly fascinating resource- use it wisely!

LGBTQ and Friends at the Institute of Education

A small group of LGBTQ staff and students from the Institute of Education (IOE) met in July 2012 and decided to set up a LBGTQ and Friends Network. When I started here three years ago as a Library Assistant I was stunned that there was no LGBT group at all, and after various failed attempts to get something off the ground we have finally managed with the help of the new Equalities Manager Ammara Khan.

Initially we will be a signposting service and a social network. We figured it was best to merge staff and students together, since the IOE is mainly a research university, the lines between the two are often blurred anyway and with few undergraduates it would be difficult to get a student-only group off the ground.

We are currently developing some basic webpages to announce our presence, we have been included in the new staff handbook and have an official email address, and I have been responsible for setting up a twitter feed @IOELGBTQ.

It’s really great to see so much progress in such a short space of time, and along with the Race Equality Network, we are contributing to the Institute’s equality agenda and making sure that everyone is represented.

Feel free to follow us on twitter, particularly if you are a London based student, but everyone is welcome! I also recommend to students from other institutions to look at what is offered for LGBTQ students and staff, and to look at how you can contribute, or if there isn’t anything offered, how you can help to develop something.

Free LGBT films at the British Museum

This saturday (22nd September), there will be four FREE showings of LGBT films at the British Museum.

11.00–12.30 Queen of the gypsies: a Portrait of Carmen Amaya
Biopic of the great flamenco dancer Carmen Amaya.
81 mins, 2004, Cert E

13.15–14.40 Shinjuku Boys
Set in a Tokyo nightclub where the hosts are women who live as men.
Followed by a Q&A with director Kim Longinotto
53 mins, 1996, Cert E

14.45–16.25 Call me Kuchu
The story of activist David Kato’s fight against Uganda’s Anti-Homosexuality Bill
87 mins, 2012, Cert E

16.30–18.00 The Angelic Conversation
Judi Dench recites the Shakespeare sonnets that were written to a man, as two men explore their own desires.
78 mins, 1985, Cert E

They are all free, but booking is recommended. For more information and to book go here.