Two women with bound feet having sex outdoors, silk painting, 1640
country that enters us through the language and tongue of a lovher
is a country that unites us. The country that enters into us
through the beauty of trees, the fragrance of flowers and the
shared night is a country that transforms us. The country that
enters into us through male politics is a country that divides us.
The country that enters into us like dreaming into life is a
country that invents itself.”
dream of another country, where we can be
homosexual. The name Lesbian carries this dream. We are citizens
of an imaginary country on the Mediterranean Sea, where love
between women exists in profusion, in the open air, sun-washed and
bright. Lesbians everywhere approximate this utopia with whatever
resources we can muster. From the Ladies of Llangollen[ii]
Michigan Womyn’s Music Festival, lesbians make lesbian space.
New rules of engagement; a different history and culture; a
transformation of temperature; the unimaginable opening of
possibility: another country “enters into us like dreaming into
country we are born into, or that Brossard says “enters into us
through history and its violence,”[iii]
has no space for these fabulous myths and meanings. Heterosexist
assumptions about gender and sexuality structure the physical
world. Every existing physical space is simultaneously an
ideological space that precludes the existence of gay and lesbian
people. Zoning bylaws enforce the difference between (men’s)
space for work –
the city with its phallic buildings – and (women’s) space for living – the suburban home with its cuntlike enclosures. It
is impossible to “be” gay in the ideological space of a house.
Private homes stink of family life, with all its prohibitions and
exclusions. The design of buildings enforces equivalence on all
family units, however structured. One cannot “be” gay at work,
where sex is not supposed to happen and sexual identity can at
best have no meaning or consequence. Nature is produced as an
ideological space that proves homosexuality is impossible. City
streets are redolent with past and present dangers. The soul of
the citizen –
worker, voter, universal soldier –
may include a predisposition to homosexuality, but there is no
space on earth where queer can come to characterize our lives.
another country, homosexuality is the heart of the matter. The
many projects and meanings we are called to –
from intergenerational passion to frivolity and innocence – need space to be. Space-making is a primary project
for gay and lesbian people. Without space, we cannot survive.
Ladies of Llangollen, (Sarah Ponsonby and Eleanor Butler),
engraving based on an oil painting by Mary Parker, c. 1795
is the only place where being gay is completely possible. This
picture of the Ladies of Llangollen, in their butch clothes, at
home in their library, evokes a world for women that can include
love of learning, freedom of movement, and a voluntary
relationship of equal partners. Walt Whitman writes:
“I dreamed of a
city where all the men were like bothers,
O I saw them
tenderly love each other –
I often saw them,
walking hand in
I dreamed that
was the city of robust friends –
greater than manly love –
it led the rest.”[iv]
evokes a world for men that can include tenderness, loyalty, and
open affection. These are utopian visions, homeless in the world
we know. Each time we represent ourselves and our desires in
public language, visual culture, personal space and social
relationships, we make an opening, a passageway that leads to
another country where there is space for us.
queer house can be such a passageway. From the outside, it looks
the same as any other single-family dwelling. Economically, it
functions just like any other. But inside the house where two men
or two women share their lives, the house holds densely-layered
meanings and utopian visions.
queer house is a sanctuary.
The walls of the house describe the limits of what enclosed,
controlled and private space we can wrest from a dangerous world.
Inside, we create a sacred space of permission and safety. Here,
wildlife can take refuge. We create home
in a profound sense, a place of belonging.
space is filled with conversation.
Design and atmosphere encourage talk. Gays and lesbians cannot
silently assume a place in a world that exists without them.
Conversation constructs identity, community, self-knowledge, and
personal space. Words create worlds.
queer home employs the metaphor of the closet.
Aaron Betsky writes, “The closet is the architectural equivalent
of the Freudian mind. It is the hidden interior where we construct
Heterosexist space represses this symbolism by inserting coherent
passages between inside and outside, an awful continuity between
private and public life. Queer space honors interiority with
difficult entryways, high thresholds, gradations of intimacy, the
judicious disclosure of secrets. The difficulty in representing
ourselves as queer in public language and social relationships
creates space and distance. Individuality can be refined in space
that hides an undisclosed self.
images, patterns and archetypes resonate through queer space.
Wherever possible, gay and lesbian homes seem to confirm and evoke
the power and meaning of the
elements. Fireplaces and candles bring sacred fire into our
living rooms. Beds – symbolizing fire while heterosexual beds
symbolize breeding – are shrines. Rich and abiding contact with water –
in pools, ponds, elaborate bathrooms, views, tubs, drinking water – brings unconscious life, and our kinship with all
life, on site. Connections with the earth are created by gardens,
indoor flowers and plants, decks, entryways and openings that
bring the outside in and the inside out. Personal decoration,
artifice, and the pleasure we take in making things beautiful,
give us air to breathe, just as conversation does. Heterosexist
space boxes in and flushes away the world’s elemental rhythms.
Living queer, we find the wild world confirms and creates us.
Making space for intimate and repeated contact with the elements,
we are invited to the full dimensions of our lives.
mural, Florence, 2002
queer space opens into the
community. The utopian dream of a beloved community is the
heart of queer space. House opens to neighbourhood, watershed,
ecosystem, globe – and a universe governed by the great gay principles of unity,
diversity, equality, celebration, unconditional acceptance, joy. The
community is marked on a mental map carried by every lesbian
and gay person. Interconnected maps chart a vast network of places
where we are welcome, where we have the power to participate in
community affairs, where we can hold hands with our lovers, where
we can dance. The territory goes around the world: in any city, in
any country, there will be places where we are welcome because
of our sexual orientation. Being gay, we have the right and
the responsibility to enter the community, to dream it and to
build it into our homes, our friendships, and our public life.
houses provide home, a
space of belonging. They encourage conversation
and friendship. Engaging the metaphor of the
closet, they support rich and complex individualities. They
put us in touch with the
elements, connecting us with nature and magic. Opening to the
community, they fill us with possibility and love. Queer space
challenges and empowers us.
houses impose a superficial order and conformity on the gender
drama seething beneath the surface. These houses repress change.
They render individual difference meaningless. Men and women
relating to one another in the heterosexist space of the
single-family dwelling are boxed in, isolated, silenced, held
apart from nature and community. Whatever change they can achieve
in private space is without consequence in social space and public
life, where the institutions and customs that regulate gender
subsume their voices and their identities. They lack a door and a
pathway to another country.
space creates this opening to another country. Envisioning and
approximating a comfortable, gracious, healing and connected
world, our homes can suggest Utopia. Another country “enters
into us like dreaming into life,” challenging the prevailing
order in our hearts and imaginations. If another country is unimaginable,
we can have no coherent view of the changes we desire. However
dissatisfied we are with the state of things, we stay stuck in
self-interest, or we seek small improvements and parochial reforms
at great cost, with little benefit. Queer homes –
tiny city apartments, lesbian communes, spacious country estates,
even jail cells –
can help us find and hold an alternate world view. Another country
is a place where women ride wild horses. Men can be soft and
pliant. Nature looks like us. Houses are opened to multiple
meanings and functions, intersexual and intergenerational. Cities
are magic concentrations of energy and light. Work and love are
connected, intricately and intimately, when what we make is not
severed from who we are, or can become. The world we envision – with candlelight, a meal for friends, photographs on
a wall, a secret cherished – involves gigantic change, the broad social and economic reorganization
List, Ostee, 1933
envisioning requires space and place. When we hold a sense of the
world we want, we can begin to let go of the world we know,
despite its demands and urgencies. In small ways, limited and
constrained by virtually everything, each gay and lesbian person
can make a home, or an image of home, that empowers broad social
change. Entering queer space, we are guided to find, claim, and at
last to create a world that is sweet and bold enough for us.
(sic). Nicole Brossard, “Green Night of Labyrinth Park,”
trans. Lou Nelson, in Betsy Warland, ed., 1991, (197).
Lady Eleanor Butler and Sarah Ponsonby set up house together
in Wales in 1778. They lived together in Llangollen for fifty
years, hosting many distinguished guests and becoming famous
in England for their independent life, their manly attire, and
their devotion to one another.
Walt Whitman, 1860, Bowers, ed., (114)
Aaron Betsky, 1997, (59).