“Queering” is a verb that indicates that we actively participate in creating the notion of queer, rather than being passive consumers of mainstream stereotypes. It gives us agency to define our own existence and experiences, rather than subscribing to dominant hetero narratives.
QUEERING COMMON SPACE is a living archive of memories and experiences of queer people in the spaces of Tbilisi and Berlin. I found it intriguing that the website used the words “living archive” because archives typically refer to repositories of historical knowledge or historical accounts of places, people, institutions etc. But when they say living archives, I think of how history isn’t separate from us, we are actively creating history simply because we are alive. And I think it’s a wonderful idea to document present queer experiences, especially when queerness is forcefully demonised, or made to be invisible. It tells me that queer people are not just existing, but they are existing with proof and leaving their mark as well.
This online space becomes even more powerful when we take into account that Tbilisi is not exactly queer-friendly. Tbilisi is the capital of Georgia, a small country between Europe and West Asia, and a former Soviet republic which was annexed during WWI. As recently as in 2021, the Pride March in Tbilisi had to be canceled because the organizers were harassed multiple times, and even the Pride offices were raided and violated while the police barely offered any protection or support to the queer community. The mainstream ideology in Georgia is more pro-Russian, and isn’t too fond of the European liberal traditions. This could possibly be why there is still so much homophobia; it’s not that there’s particular hate towards queer people, rather it’s the whole European liberal, individualistic ideology that the larger society is against.
Berlin on the other hand, is a little more complicated. Historically, Berlin has a vibrant queer culture and subcultures. There is an open-minded attitude that the city projects towards sex and queerness. However, being the capital of Germany, we also see the remains of Hitler’s regime, whose fascistic notions of race and being caused a lot of trouble for a lot of groups. Even today, we note an uptick in hate crimes against the LGBTQ+ community, but the silver lining is also that at least queer people are visible enough to report these crimes. Same-sex marriages and adoptions are also made legal in Berlin.
Hate crimes and acceptance for the LGBTQ+ community are sort of going on parallel trajectories at the same time here, and what QUEERING COMMON SPACES does is provide a platform to express the gap between these trajectories. It is an online space that was started pretty recently by the Poligonal Office for Urban Communication in collaboration with Actors for Urban Change. The Poligonal office is situated in Berlin and communicates contemporary architecture and urban development in the city by organising city walks, workshops, seminars, etc. Actors for Urban Change is a Europe-wide program that trains interested teams made up of individuals from non-profit, private and public sectors to bring about change in their cities.
QUEERING COMMON SPACE takes us through various spaces that queer people experience. There is one video that says Welcome to the Closet. The “closet” is such a significant part of any queer person’s life. The entire video pretty much captures various angles of this closet. It’s dark on the inside and there is a broken mirror as well. I think the whole idea of “coming out” of a closet is so problematic, because these stereotypical notions dictate how a queer person should live; maybe in secret, maybe in fear. Hetero-norms force queer people to be queer only in a way that is acceptable to them, and one of these norms is the compulsory experience of being in a closet. Straight people never have to go through this because being cis-het is the norm. And it also says that a queer person is “queer enough” or valid only when they are out to the world. But this closet is not a constant or permanent thing. Queer people have the choice of whether or not they want to tell someone, how they want to do it, when they want to do it, etc.
This, I think, is one of my favourites on the website. This is a video of their MRI by a person called Mari. In the description, they write-
I had jaw pain.
I could not chew, talk or sleep normally.
I had jaw pain, because I would squeeze my teeth every time I was scared, nervous or angry.
This is the MRT of my head.
A picture of my fears, anxiety and anger.
Where I, myself search for the queer space.
A space for queer thoughts.
If there is such a space after all this 27 years of my existence in this system.
To me, this speaks volumes about internalised homophobia and surviving the trauma of systemic violence. It shapes the notions of what we think we deserve, and how we should be living and behaving. The word ‘space’ would instantly bring ideas of physical or virtual spaces to my mind, but the idea of my mind itself being a space for queer thoughts was so fascinating to me. How do I think of my self? What do I make of my own queerness? I think a large part of me was consumed with defining myself from an external perspective of who I should be, and what “queer” even looks like or feels like, that I never really paused to see what kind of meaning I make of it myself, inside my head. What colours I imagine for my flag, or what clothes I imagine for my body. For so many of us, having the space for queerness inside our own selves is extremely hard because of our external environments. Not everyone can face their queerness head on without having some external voice constantly trying to gatekeep it from us.
Common public spaces are ideally meant for all of us to access and experience without the fear of judgement and discrimination. But sadly, that’s not really the case. Many parts of the world seem to be moving towards increasingly right wing tendencies, and with that, there’s an increase in violence and hate towards those belonging to marginalised groups. QUEERING COMMON SPACE takes a bold initiative to not just exist, but exist loudly and visibly. It gives an opportunity for everyday people in Tbilisi and Berlin to proudly take up space on a virtual public platform.