Illustration: Chloé Stephenson / @chloartee

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Through conversations with LGBTQ+ creatives in the city, Mary Olive explores wellbeing, allyship and inclusivity. Here, she speaks to poet and arts facilitator Bea about opening up welcoming spaces and creating art that resonates.

As the aftershock of the recent queerphobic attacks in our city continue, I want to use this space to reflect on the experiences queer folk share within these streets. In art spaces and all avenues of social life, I began to question our allyship as a city, the safety of our openly queer people and the visibility of representation.

Historically, queer folk have had to push out into spaces they’ve built for themselves to find opportunities for expression and acceptance. Still, these spaces are often waved to the corners of our culture, reserved for the ‘underground scene’ and existing unseen by the mainstream.

It is time for queer folk to take the spotlight. Venues, promoters, managers, events organisers across the board can help make this happen. Allyship needs to shine brighter than the voices of the queerphobic. The LGBTQ+ community is owed the energy of traditionally non-queer spaces to make more room for them.

In this regular column, I will explore the different ways in which queer expression thrives, weaving the stories of queer artists into topics which will uncover how we can ensure the wellbeing of Liverpool’s LGBTQ+ community.

You start with a story and it opens up a conversation.

So, we are sitting. The air is warm with the memory of the early summer heat and the stool beneath me wooden. A parasol is standing still, propped up against a blue sky to protect us from a rain which isn’t coming. Beneath it we are wrapped up in its pink light and she holds me with her smile.

You start with a story and it opens up a conversation.

Bea speaks slowly. She talks to me about love poetry and sips on an oat milk cappuccino. “I think poetry is a form of storytelling,” she says. “At open mic nights the stories you don’t usually hear have been the ones to impact me the most.” She wraps her scarf around her hand as she speaks, the material lingering in the breeze as she lets go. “I’d love to say that a love poem is a love poem, and that if it’s a good poem you will be able to resonate with it,” she continues. “But queer poetry does connect in a different way for me. When I hear a queer woman talk about love in poetry it is validating for me; it opens up a channel from me to that poet. It inspires me.”

Working as a poet, an artist, a storyteller and a climate change activist in Liverpool, Bea focuses on wellbeing, self-healing and LGBTQ+ expression within her creative and social life.

“Queer spaces are really important. Especially making spaces for queer voices within spaces not generally queer,” She explains. “Over the past year or so, isolation has played a massive part in people’s lives. And I think people will have experienced it in such a different way, maybe making them think a lot more about it. But in a way, lockdown is an analogy for the queer experience.”

“At open mic nights the stories you don’t usually hear have been the ones to impact me the most”

Poetry opens up a channel of experiences between people, creating intimate and powerful connections. Representation within poetic spaces is invaluable, as it gives people more to connect with. These connections play a huge role in the journey of self-discovery, acceptance and love. “People from minority groups, including queer people and trans people, haven’t seen that freedom of story, of community, that freedom of expression,” Bea explains to me as she reflects on how, for many queer people, the majority of art spaces can feel reserved for white, cis, male, straight experiences.

Dismantling this formula can feel overwhelming even on a good day, but this work cannot be ignored. Stories are how we preserve ourselves, so what happens when we don’t give space for all people to tell theirs?

You start with a story and it opens up a conversation.

“Activism needs to be done in a caring way,” Bea continues. “I generally avoid all types of angry activism. There’s plenty of people just trying to survive who don’t need more guilt put on them. That will just push them further away.”

Tackling queerphobia doesn’t have to come from a place of hurt or anger. “I understand that people are pushed into corners sometimes and you have to fight back,” Bea acknowledges. “Personally, I come at it from a place of kindness. I think a lot of these wider issues could be tackled by people being kinder to themselves first.”

There is space for softness, too. To really eradicate our city’s violence against queer people we should tap into all avenues of activism, focusing not only on fighting back against queerphobia, but ensuring the needs of queer folk are also met.

Creating openly queer spaces is vital in this transition and shows a powerful sign of allyship. “When your daily existence is questioned, contested and has so much anger being thrown around it in the news… you can’t help but take some of that in,” Bea shares. “You don’t know who has been exposed to that. You do worry about whether you’ve walked past the wrong person.” Physical signs within a space which show that the existence of queer folk is valued, welcomed and accepted can help remove this innate fear the majority of queer people experience day to day.

This allyship is valuable not just in art spaces, but in all spaces. FRI-GAY is the new LGBTQ+ climbing group taking place each Friday at The Climbing Hangar in Sandhills, run by the beautiful Bea. Since she hung her LGBTQ+ flag at the entrance, the energy of the space has opened even deeper, with the conditioned caution carried by queer folk easing some upon their arrival.

“The reason I wanted to create this group is because exercise spaces are often seen as male, as cis, as very straight, even very white spaces. So, I never went to the gym or was particularly athletic, but then I started climbing. And the climbing community was one of the first groups of people who I came out as trans to,” Bea says, stacking chips on top of sourdough toast as she talks me through her tale. “I think queer people are probably intimidated into exercise spaces because they feel they won’t see themselves represented there. And there’s always a fear of abuse. The Climbing Hangar has given me a space to take care of my mental and physical health. I just really wanted to create a space for the queer community, especially trans people, to do the same.”

It seems so simple. As people, we need to absorb stories and see ourselves in others. We need connection. Maybe we are still unsure as to why, but we need each other. When there is no space offered for people to express their authentic self, they are severed from making these invaluable connections. When people operate from a place of fear, we quickly slip into division and anger. We quickly lose track of whose stories we care about.

“People need to find their own way of activism and expressing their voice,” Bea continues. And I hope, as we hug each other goodbye and I leave her among the flowers surrounding her, that maybe we can steer ourselves into a new place where all stories are heard, and all souls valued.

You start with a story, and it opens up a conversation.

Mary Olive is a queer poet, spoken word artist and music journalist currently based in Liverpool. Her work is inspired by nature, mysticism and human connection.

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