Queer in Public vs. Queer in Private
I’m thinking a bit about how queers experience space differently, and I notice that so many of my experiences of being queer are intricately linked with the dichotomy of public vs. private, even now as an out queer adult.
When queer folks talk about growing up and early sexual experiences, it’s often about hiding or trying to find safe space. Few of us had a safe, private place for sexual exploration, though sometimes keeping our identity quiet can grant us such a place. I remember kicking myself for coming out to my mom as a teen when my peers told me about being able to hook up behind closed doors, free from suspicion, because a parent would never suspect a same-sex friend. Similar dynamics can also come up for queer adults, looking for privacy as an alternative to potential violence and/or sexual abuse.
In my first queer relationship at 17, I was pushed into public spaces because her parents didn’t know and were highly suspicious people. That meant that a lot of my very first romance was about running away from bullies and finding places to hide. Sexuality was linked very quickly with shame and embarrassment for me. While public space can certainly be eroticized, queer people don’t necessarily enact sexuality in public by choice, and it’s often looped in with violence. Of course, privilege matters quite a bit–while white queer kids might just get called the occasional name, black and brown queers are more likely to be beaten up or subject to state violence. A great illustration is the film Tangerine, where so much of the story is about violence and access to space.
When I was younger, my vision of an ideal place to live was all about having a private place where I could practice queer sexuality, a kind of safe queer enclave. As an adult, it seems that a lot of sexual community is about the same thing. Play parties, kink clubs, and other sexual spaces offer a safe haven where adults can be openly queer and sexual in a kind of semi-public space, a space that offers freedom from violence (though whether it delivers on that promise or not would be another post). Such spaces are a kind of intermediate zone, offering the safety of a private space but also the recognition and the social opportunities of a public space. But at the same time, privilege is a condition to entry for many of these spaces, which tend to be predominantly white and often have an entry fee. While I would’ve given anything for such a space as a teen, and am grateful to have access now, I wonder how such zones are simply replicating the privilege dynamics of broader society.