“The cool thing about history is that it’s so much about looking toward the future.” — Lindsay Amer
We’ve taken a look at queer experiences from the Fifth Dynasty of Egypt to 17th Century Sweden and beyond. It’s important to remind ourselves that we have as vast and colourful a history as human history itself. We must look not only to the past but the future as well.
October is LGBTQ+ History Month, and we took this opportunity to explore some of the great queer creators, thinkers, and movers making history now. We’ve previously explored what it means to make queer history; from living openly and authentically, to fighting for policy change, to creating work that inspires others. The ways people can connect queerness and their experiences are endless and wonderful. This month we were able to speak with several folks, including Lindsay Amer of Queer Kid Stuff, Kyle Fairall of Queerflex, Georgia Mannion-Krase of Queer Book Box, Sophie Labelle of Assigned Male Comics, Eli and Krista Coughlin-Galbraith of Shapeshifters, and Ash Hardell.
So few queer folks had role models growing up, and these creators have become that for many kids and adults alike. They’ve put themselves out there and found their niches where they could make a difference. Amer discussed their start in theatre and finding their groove in queer children’s media. “I just kind of felt like I wanted to keep doing that work and finding the spaces where people would let me—and they don’t let me but I make them.” Eli Coughlin-Galbraith admitted that being vulnerable on the internet can be difficult—and dangerous at times—but worth it. “It's so worth it if you find a place where you can be vulnerable, where you can go out and find someone to make you feel less alone. That is so worth it. It is 100% worth it to feel less alone. I promise.”
When you don’t see people like you being visible on TV or in books or movies, you tend to find role models where you can. Amer talked about finding a role model in Peter Pan. So often, we are each other’s role models. About their own role models today, Hardell said: “Now, it’s my friends, people I know, like Pidgeon [Pagonis] and Annie Elainey.” That’s a huge part of community building and making queer history; this work is rarely done alone.
That’s why things like queer representation in media matter. Fairall believes “queer representation is essential to our survival as queer people.” Many, including Amer, attribute the current cultural shift towards “acceptance” in part to an increase in media representation. The more these stories are told, particularly by queer storytellers, the more change we can hope for. Representation humanizes queer people. Though it shouldn’t take an episode of Queer Eye to thin of queer folks as people, we can appreciate the change it might bring. Perhaps more importantly though, it gives queer kids a chance to have those role models many older queer folks didn’t have. “I always think back from when I was a kid myself. A young trans girl just trying to find representation, trying to see myself in characters. It was nearly impossible back then,” said Labelle “[...] It was hard to imagine a future being myself. Fiction allows people to project themselves through society’s imagery.”
We can look at most of the work being done for queer people, today, tomorrow, and long ago, and there’s a common thread. We begin this work for ourselves. We can connect through our work, encourage and teach each other, and find community doing what we do, but we still do it in part for ourselves. And that’s not a bad thing. Through making queer history, we learn about ourselves. “I’ve learned that there’s always more to learn; as soon as you think you know it all you start getting it wrong,” said Hardell. We have to put ourselves first if we want to make a difference for anyone else. That means not only educating ourselves but centring ourselves in our own work. In discussing the glorification of burnout that surrounds activism, Fairall said: “Rest is a form of resistance.” It’s a good piece of advice for everyone, but particularly for those just getting into activism.
Amer also had advice for queer folks considering becoming creators.
“Find your thing and persist […] It’s a labour of love and you have to really, really believe in it. And if you don’t, do something else. Be an activist in some other way. There are many many ways to be an activist, you don’t have to just be a creator. You can be an educator. You can… there are so many things you can do, and you can use the skillsets you have.”
Beyond today, we must continue to work for a better future. These creators and activists are doing that work now, and a few shared their hopes for the future. Some, like Amer and Fairall, had hopes for the future of queer media. Amer said: “I’d love to see a nonbinary kid character […] There’s something to be said for alienating your audience, but there’s also something to be said for challenging your audience.” And refreshingly bluntly, Fairall said: “Wouldn’t it be great if they stopped killing off the queer characters in everything?”
Labelle, on the other hand, has high hopes for trans and GNC folks that really resonated with us.
“My biggest hope is that gender diversity gets to be celebrated and not just tolerated. That’s a big issue for me. Especially in trans communities where we often conflate invisibility with tolerance. I think society needs to learn to celebrate gender diversity rather than to make laws to make sure we’re integrated into existing structures. We talk a lot about trans acceptance and about bow trans people are a part of all layers of society, but I have yet to see that being celebrated. It still allows that discourse that says trans people are useless to society.
This supremacist discourse about bodies being useful or useless is all entangled in white supremacy and transphobia and racism and antisemitism.”
Lindsay Amer said it best: “The cool thing about history is that it’s so much about looking toward the future.” The people doing this work in terms of representation, education, and policy change, including those we didn’t speak with this month, are the people we will look back on in the future. They are the ones making queer history.