Af Andre Sanchez-Montoya
It was during my first week in Copenhagen when I asked a gay Danish colleague of mine what the gay bars were in the city and his response was, “well, every bar here is kind of a gay bar”.
I remember cocking my head to the side and pondering to myself, “huh, is that so?”
I became so interested in unpacking his statement and the underlying sentiment I felt it carried.
The way he said it was with such effortlessness and with such nonchalance, was he implying that there was such a widespread acceptance here that I could walk into any establishment in Copenhagen and feel comfortable and accepted?
Or maybe I, as a somewhat ethically ambiguous cisgender man, could, but would the same response be given if I were darker skinned, or trans or femme presenting? Or was my lens of American identity politics complicating my perspective of how the queer community navigates this reality?
In the months to come, as I explored the queer landscape more and more myself, I picked up on a prevailing atmosphere of contentment. The sense of ease that the Danish social welfare state extends to its citizens seems to permeate the social and demographic differences apparent on the surface. I began to ask myself, with the egalitarian nature of this society, is this what equality looks like for this queer community?
Or is it more a feeling of complacency for those that have been afforded the benefits of society’s current form?
As a foreigner in a new land, I pose these questions out of solidarity and in a quest for understanding the queer community here. I ask, not only out of curiosity but as an opportunity for critical reflection, as I know from experience what insights and magic can come from holding a mirror to our community.
In the years before moving to Copenhagen, I often found myself at the edge of the dance floor kiki-ing with a someone under the disco ball about how the party is that night, or how the DJ’s set is on point, and what drag performer just delivered 10s 10s, 10s across the board. If we were both lucky enough to hear each other over the bass and Donna Summer interludes, we would find ourselves talking about our queerness and what we loved about it, and how it intersected with so many different parts of our lives in the city.
This conversation replicated itself at drag shows, house parties, and the oh-so familiar grimy warehouses in the depths of the infinite and inviting night. Ultimately, these conversations connected me to some of my dearest Judys I have come to know. We saw the dialogue we were having between us as an opportunity to share our perspectives on how the queer community in Washington, DC could evolve, how it could become more inclusive and intergenerational, and how we could exist and operate in spaces that were not underscored by the nightlife. And do not get me wrong, I understand and value the importance the haven that nightlife culture provided LGBTI+ individuals pre-liberation (especially knowing that day drag can be a challenge for some queens, no shade.) but we also saw how many people we excluded from our vivacious community with so many of our gatherings happening at night, in bars, surrounded by alcohol and a community that places so much value on youth and aesthetics. These environments could deter members of our community that were older, disabled, economically disadvantaged, or felt “othered” in some way.
These talks always left me with some residual energy, a feeling that I could bridge these conversations and people into something more. So, I started small and reached out to some friends, some old and some new, and invited them over to my home for the first instalment of what would become, Let’s Have a Queerversation.
During our first gathering, we talked about the change of gay semiotics, observed recent installations of local queer artists, and used our imaginative capacity to think of where we could take the collective. A few months later, we convened again, inviting a few more friends of friends, and were walked through a friend’s research that examined queer desire in the modern-day erotic marketplace that pushed all of us to reflect and share how we intersected with it.
As the year continued, the LGBTI+ nightlife landscape in Washington, D.C. was shifting dramatically. There were closures of long-standing historic gay venues, and whether or not you were fans of these spaces, one thing became more and more clear – as a community we were losing spaces that were distinctly ours. So ahead of Pride month, I worked with the Queerversation collective to take our cozy intimate conversations and open them to the public.
With Washington, DC experiencing a loss of queer-centered and owned establishments, we found ourselves in a moment of nostalgia for the spaces and businesses that have had to close their doors. In the urban context, owning space is power, and who owns it or has the capital to achieve that ownership plays into what that space will be used for and who will have access to it.
Understanding that power dynamic, Let’s Have a Queerversation: Imagining Queer Utopias and the Future of Queer Spaces in DC, spoke to the importance and criticality of outlining the potential and possibilities of queer-centered spaces. This pause for reflection presented an opportunity to discuss and dream what the future of LGTBI+ spaces could look like in Washington, DC.
This was an opportunity for members of the DC LGBTI+ community to share what their vision of a queer utopia encompassed in the urban environment of Washington, DC. Specifically, what could queer-centric commercial development look and feel like as the city rapidly developed?
Our program featured perspectives panels and presentations from local queer entrepreneurs, performers, and researchers. Our “Queerversation” explored the elusive concept of queer utopia in an urban context, the LGBTI+ effect on gentrification, international case studies, and lessons on language and pronoun equity in designing spaces and building community. We challenged each other’s notions; we were critical of the event itself and how we could always do better to be more inclusive and felt more equipped to do so in the future.
Now, our Queerversation about queer utopia in the built environment was uniquely suited to the complex context of Washington, DC and the rugged cultural individualism that is found within the US. There was an emphasis on the importance of engaging in this dialogue because I felt and saw the spaces we had access to “exist” in, being cut, and limited in the name of commercial development and economic growth. This was compounded with the desire for the LGBTI+ community to rally together to create something intersectional and intergenerational.
And now, as I turn to you, dear reader, I ask what Queerversation you are having with your Judys? What conversations do you feel will benefit this queer community? How do you talk about it? Where can you? Is the idea of queer utopia one worth exploring in Copenhagen? What does it look like or how would you build and design it? Or to return to my earlier inquisition, are some of you already living in it? And, if so, how does that feel?
With an earnest curiosity, I am excited to learn from you and to expand my own understanding of our international queer community. If you feel moved to engage with the topics illustrated throughout the article or have been working with these types of themes, with your cooperation we can work together in launching the ongoing Let’s Have a Queerversation column, an ongoing dialogue that aims to engage the Copenhagen queer community to reflect on contemporary issues, canon, research, art, design and future-oriented perspectives.
Continue the Queerversation
Do you have thoughts about inclusive LGBTI+ spaces in Copenhagen, the effects of gentrification, privilege within our community or something completely different? We want to pass the baton to you. Contact the HeartCore editorial office by sending an email to [email protected] with your idea, and we will discuss the options of including it in a coming edition of the magazine.
The Queerversation is open to everyone and is a chance for us to listen to and learn from one another.
A lot of queer slang is becoming more mainstream, but if you’re not yet caught up, we’ve got your back!
Kiki: to kiki means to chat or gossip. Not to be confused with kai kai, which means sex between drag queens!
10s across the board: a reference to ballroom culture, where performers were scored on signs held up by the judges. 10 is the highest score!
Judy: your good Judy is your good friend. It refers to Judy Garland, who became an icon in the LGBTI+ community after playing Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz. When homosexuality was still illegal in the US, LGBTI+ people used the phrase “a friend of Dorothy” to identify one another.
Shade: to shade someone is to insult or belittle them – sometimes playfully, sometimes not!