Friday was pretty full on, including having to deliver my own paper, but I had a really great time and learned lots. Here are some highlights from day 2 of the conference.
Louise Pawley from Brighton told us about an amazing protest against Section 28. It was a year that the Tory party was having its annual conference on the south coast. One day the Brighton queer community gathered on the beach and gazed out to sea. At the exact time the tide was due to turn they lit torches and turned around to face the building where the conference was being held, symbolizing the tide turning against homophobia. I have no idea how many of the politicians saw this, but it was a magnificent gesture.
My own session included American historian, Susan Ferentinos, who told us all about a range of LGBT+ exhibitions that have been staged in the heart of Red State territory. It is good to know that even in the most conservative parts of the USA people still find ways to celebrate queer culture.
My thanks go to my colleague, Julian Warren, who expertly co-presented with me. It was a pleasure to tell the conference about several of the great LGBT+ history projects we have done in Bristol. It is also, as always, a pleasure to share a platform with Surat-Shaan Knan who was there talking about his Rainbow Pilgrims project.
Probably my favorite paper of the day was Jenny Marsden introducing us to the remarkable photographic archive of the trans community in Cape Town in the 1950s and 60s. Everyone was taken with the idea of the “salon crawl” where visitors would sample all of the various hairdressing salons where the queer community of District 6 worked and hung out.
The final session of the day included three remarkable papers, starting with Anne Balay on the subject of queer truckers in the USA. Truck driving is an awful job, with truckers generally working 14 hour days almost every day of the year. With the advent of “spy in the cab” technology it has also become one of the most intensely micro-managed jobs in the world. As a result, white men have moved out of the business, leaving it to people of color, women and queers (and in many cases people who are all three). Anne learned to drive a truck and worked in the industry for a while to do her research. I’m looking forward to the book when it comes out.
Zhenzhong Mu told us all about the tradition of yue opera in China. Officially these performances are done by women, but there is a sizeable subculture of men who gather together for weekends to stage their own amateur performances in drag, and to have sex with each other, before going home to their wives and jobs.
Rebecca Jennings gave a paper about lesbian separatist communities in Australia and Wales in the 1970s. There was much talk of essentialist views of femininity, and some rather naive ideas about setting up self-sufficient communities far from civilization while remaining defiantly vegan and eschewing all modern technology. “No one told me about wallabies,” complained one European visitor to an Australian site. The cute little creatures would destroy crops and keep people awake with their enthusiastic nocturnal bounding. Goodness only knows what they would have done if the camp had been attacked by drop bears. Thankfully modern feminism is far more about bringing down the patriarchy rather than trying to leave it and setting up an equally authoritarian matriarchy.
My thanks to Justin Bengry and Alison Oram for putting on the conference, and to Katy Pettit for her flawless admin (and the cake).
Now I need to go write a bunch of emails to new friends I have made.