QUEER JOY CAN HAPPEN HERE
This is for you.
For our community in Barking and Dagenham.
I guess you could call it a love letter of sorts.
I really hope you find it
Or maybe it’ll find its way to you at a moment when you really need it.
You and I have something in common. We share something that unites us. We share this
A place that holds us. That holds our memories, good and bad. A place that we can call
home, or have in the past.
But let’s be honest we also share being the other in this place. That feeling of oddness…
not quite knowing where you fit. The fear that can come with that.
I know how hard that can be, trying to thrive in a place that can feel unsafe.
And there is goodness and care around but sometimes this place can make you question
your worth, so you might not have time to realise how wonderful that odd feeling really
makes you. How gorgeously you’re sifting through that trickiness. How strong you are.
Have you ever felt like our borough loves us with conditions? Where our acceptance
comes with caveats and how that can make everything feel a little too temporary.
Well, I’ve desperately wanted us to take up space, I’ve been exploring ways for us to be
together, because I know there’s so much value in finding your people.
Looking for a way to meet you on the corner outside the chippy and we find somewhere to
dance together where we don’t need to look over our shoulders. I wanted to give you that
kind of community.
To exist loudly. I wanted to welcome you home, into Barking and Dagenham and hold you
in this space.
There’s this vision…There’s this vision. A moment that I dream about, where I’m looking
through Barking market and it’s as loud as ever, drowning in its community spirit and there
I am standing in the centre, gleaming with queerness and holding your hand. Proud of us,
and we shout loudly ‘this place is ours!’
BUT we can’t do that just yet. So I guess this is starting smaller.
Here’s a few things we’d like you to know…
You might not be in a situation where you feel seen or heard, but we see you, the real you.
The person who you know you are.
The hand you hold in hiding
The mouth you kiss in secret
The love you share with your people.
And I promise you
There are others
There are families
There are queer people
And there is joy.
Queer joy can happen here.
Our joy doesn’t have to live somewhere else.
WE CAN’T HOLD HANDS HERE
I’ve brought the person I love to this place and I’m showing them where Woolworths
used to be, just along the Barking market and I don’t dare to hold their hand.
That feeling of fear as I attempt to exist, isn’t new or unusual in this place. I’ve gotten
off the district line one stop early, two stops early, three stops early to avoid any trouble
with that bloke who is glaring at me.
I cross roads to avoid being close, and I’ve left pubs without ordering a drink because
of the whispers, the nudges and the looks.
I’ve tried to shrink into these pavements, to avoid eye contact, to walk with my head
down and to always walk fast. And I have a scar in the top left corner of my lip from
where they stitched my mouth back together. Stitched back together after he landed
his punches and shouted his hate.
Barking and Dagenham is my home, it’s full to it’s edges with communities. I speak
about it constantly and I love this place.
I’ve defended this place and wiped the floor with posh boys who thought they could
embarrass me and belittle us.
I’m proud to be from here but sometimes, sometimes it’s exhausting loving a place
when it feels like it don’t love you back.
I left at 18 with a plan to never return because for all its good points, all its good
people my beloved borough mistreated me, it othered me. It screamed at me that
survival was only possible through assimilation, be miserable, live miserably.
Well it’s not as bad as it used to be
Things are better
You can get married now
These things take time
Well my patience has run out and I really hate to spoil the narrative but it’s not getting
better. It’s getting worse.
Bigotry is emboldened, so what are you gonna do?
Now you might be hearing these words and want me to pause because you feel
uncomfortable and you really want to tell me that you have gay friends. You watch
RuPaul and you hang a rainbow flag in your window in June. That you don’t have a
problem because you believe that love is love. So surely it’s not you who needs to do
Well my wealth of gratitude is long in its overdraft, it’s not enough. If you’re not calling
out the bigotry dressed up as banter. If you’re still buying the newspapers that vilify the
trans community, listening to the voices who still try to paint us as perverts, it’s not
If you laugh at the jokes, hide our existence from your children, stay silent when grown
men shout abuse at us in the street. It’s not enough.
Don’t question it, don’t doubt me, don’t for a second think that because you don’t see
the threat means that it’s not there. I don’t want your sympathy. I want your rage.
I want you to take some of the rage that I’m holding, the rage that has been thrown at
me, that I’ve been left to carry. Take it back, use it, use that energy to love me, to care
for us, to welcome us home.
Because I keep turning, we keep turning, all this rage onto ourselves. The diminished
self-worth, worn down but not quite out. I’ve been carrying this shame for so long, so
now I’m giving it to you, I’m returning it to you. This shame isn’t mine; this shame
belongs to you. Do with it what you will.