The internet did not invent being queer.
It seems these days that some, particularly of certain generations, look at the recent explosion of awareness of LGBTQ+ people and their lived experiences, as a new trend, some fashionable fad – or at worse, a “social contagion” (to use a truly hateful term that I’ve seen more than enough times now).
Of course, this is simply not true.
What the internet, and changing culture, and young people, have done is provide language for identities that have always existed, but did not have the words to express themselves. They have provided platforms for the voices of people to be heard who were in the past ignored. They have pushed for change, acceptance, and not merely tolerance but celebration of LGBTQ+ diversity.
And this is a good thing. We have a long way to go but we have come a long way too.
We, that is LGBTQ+ people in all our wonder, brilliance, power and love, have always been here.
And we always will be.
I went on a tour of Cambridge’s Fitzwilliam Museum this weekend, part of the “Bridging Binaries” series of museum tours around the city, which aim to discover stories of “non-normative gender and sexual identities through a range of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer-related objects”.
Our tour group was comprised of people across the LGBTQ+ spectrum and interested allies, and our tour guide was knowledgeable, funny and friendly. What struck me most, as we looked at 20th century ceramics, Victorian miniatures, royal commemorations, ancient Indian Buddhas, Chinese deities and Middle-Eastern coins, was the simple and unambiguous fact that queer people have always been here.
Queer people have existed in every culture in the world, at every point of human history.
None of today’s amazing gender and sexual diversity is new. Our language may be new, our freedom may (in some lucky parts of the world, for some people at some times) be new, our options for self-expression may be new. But we are not.
LGBTQ+ people are part of the great tapestry of human history as much as anyone else, and are connected to a vast and ancient legacy of which we can be justly proud. Being queer is not a new trend, not some fashion, not something which emerged from Tumblr. It is a deep, ancient and sacred aspect of the human experience itself.
In Queer Magic: LGBT+ Spirituality and Culture from Around the World, Tomas Prower writes: “Throughout history, our voices have been silenced, our people ignored, and our gods and practices normalised to fit the social mores of times gone by”.
It both gladdened my heart to learn about the constant presence of queer people around the world and across history, and saddened me to learn how, in most of the situations our guide discussed, these same queer people had to hide themselves and their loves, with coded details in art or poetry, with sham marriages to other (most likely also queer) people of the socially accepted (i.e. “opposite”) gender, and with a veil of shame and secrecy.
Thankfully, through events like these tours and talks, through books and histories, and through the lives of queer people everywhere, light is at last being cast on the LGBTQ+ individuals whose lives, loves and stories are part of our story, part of the shared story of humanity.
We have always been here.
We are here.
We will always be here.