Urban Gay Life: Is it really the Elysium?

The Quinta Project

From Queer as Folk, to Torchsong Trilogy, from Paris is Burning to Taxi zum Klo, My Beautiful Launderette to Looking and Tales of the City. If you look at the majority of representation of queer lives in the media, queer lives and urban environments are nearly always inseparably intertwined. The common narrative is that urban space offers the freedom and tolerance to “be yourself”, while rural spaces are portrayed as a realm of social conservatism and conformity with only very limited opportunities for culture, sex or socialising outside of heteronormative relationships: see Brokeback Mountain.

Some of this narrative is, of course, not without reason: Especially in the past, the countryside often was a recluse of socially conservative norms and behaviours. But, even in the deepest countryside, things are changing – slowly. An interesting snapshot of the chane is the, by now somewhat outdated but still interesting, documentary: “Talk straight – The rural world of Queers”. The movie shows the often lonely existence in terms of limited interaction with other gay men. However, it also reveals a society that is slowly opening up and embracing others. Not always embracing “the other” comfortably, but attempting to emphasise. Of course, that movie is nearly 15 years old – and much has changed in that time. Also, it seems for rural queer folk.

How did this change came about? I recently had an interesting discussion with several guys who moved from the city to the countryside. All emphasised that while they anticipated social isolation, the opposite occurred. They found that overall they were welcome in a rural setting and that “country folk” were much more tolerant towards them than they had expected. They put the change down to two factors: more visibility of queer lives in general (and greater self-confidence of themselves and others to be “out”) – and economic and social change, especially a focus on sustainable practices. The latter, in particular, because sustainable practices often emphasise a more holistic approach to life, with emphasis on a more progressive view of social norms, including gender, identity and sexual orientation.

I was really intrigued by this, not at least because of the Quinta Project, of course. But also because it often seems to me that much of urban queer reality has moved away from the urban space as a form of tolerant, welcoming and social Elysium. While, of course, it is true that urban spaces offer more opportunities for sexual, cultural and social interaction with other queer folk. However, opportunities do not necessarily equate with lived experiences, and loneliness is as much an urban phenomena amongst queer folk as it is amongst straight people. And possibly more so than for people living in rural areas. In a similar vain, mainstream (urban) LGBT culture hardly places much emphasis on holistic human relationships or sustainable practices. Rather, it gives prominence to quick, shallow and numerous relationships over deep and meaningful encounters and strong social bonds. So while it is undeniably true that urban spaces provide opportunities for more frequent interactions and multitudes of encounters, rural spaces may well have the upper hand when it comes to more holistic and deeper relationships. What do you think?

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