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Queer feminist map of London

The other day, somebody I know posted a question about our favourite places in London on a Polish feminist social media forum, and I decided (which I often avoid) to respond with my activist suggestions. This was partly inspired by the radical map of London produced by The Occupied Times some years ago that I have on my wall and in part, by my ongoing interest in and research on feminist and queer spaces in London and beyond. I have written about these before elsewhere, but I have not yet attempted to map this work in a more visual way (although I have been thinking about it for years!). But seeing how outdated The Occupied Times map has become by now - and then looking (and failing) to find this kind of map in an updated version online - I decided it was about time to embark on this long-percolating project!

After the series of moments of serendipity that morning, I got the jolt of inspiration that I needed for the task and I finally produced a queer feminist map of London of my own, one that includes some of the key spots that are missing from most queer maps of London (the activist hangouts) or from most activist maps (the places of queer joy that are not necessarily centred around drinking or partying), and that wouldn't be as male-centric as most gay maps of London tend to be. I knew it needed to be done. I needed an amalgam of my own: a queer feminist map of London

Before I move on to listing my favourite spots, a moment of much-needed acknowledgment: I know I am far from the first person to attempt such a task. Apart from a whole range of gay maps of London (which tend to, sadly, still be largely dominated by the focus on gay men) - easy for anyone to find online - I found several feminist maps and guides to London, which are all entertaining, but tend to mostly focus on sites of historical significance or mainstream spaces 'safe' to women, and often have very little focus on the more hidden, more activist (and, to me, more interesting) places*. And, of course, one must not forget about the numerous guides that exist in book form, like Queer London by Alim Kheraj. Similarly, gay bars, clubs, and the gay male gaze often predominate in these. And although these days there are frequent attempts at the inclusion of more diverse perspectives in these, there remains a stark imbalance. On the feminist side, similarly to the online guides, the 'great' historical women focus predominates these (see, for example, Women's London by Rachel Kolsky), while on the queer side - gay men's perspectives.

So, onwards to the presentation of my perspective on queer feminist London, which will hopefully provide at least a good attempt at addressing this problem. Here's a shortlist of my favourite spots:

  1. Triangle Deptford/Parlour Gallery/Gentleman Jack's Queer Social Club, Deptford. It is often difficult to choose what to put first on a list like this, but I absolutely love this little gem! Its gallery might be small, but it is mighty. The first time I visited, it made me feel warm inside and quite teary (in a good way), because its exhibition of Rachael House's 'Fats, Femmes, Bisexuals' was so queerly welcoming that it made me just want to sit there and bask in its affective power forever. The social club/bar space is at least as fun - what do you expect with a name like that?! - not to mention the gorgeous, sexy decor to match. If you need a queer haven in the often-maddening city that is London, this is it.

  2. The Common Press, Brick Lane. This fairly new addition to the London queer map is one of the sites of radical hope that have been popping up all over the map since the pandemic, following a mass realisation that we still very much need physical spaces to meet, organise, rest, recharge, and build community. As I was looking at the Occupied Times map, a sad realisation of how many spaces have closed in the last few years has, yet again, dawned on me. But this gorgeous new bookshop in the heart of London's East End, with a cafe and an event space situated in the basement, provides an important beacon of hope and a respite from London's largely still heteropatriarchal geography.

  3. London LGBTQ+ Community Centre, Southbank. I love it because they're inclusive of the diverse range of queer communities of London. As part of their amazing programme of events for queer people, they run, for example, a Polish language meetup, counseling, or Traveller Pride. We need more queer spaces like this - sensitive to the varied and complex needs of people in the community, instead of always focusing on the same old spaces, like bars and clubs, which just aren't for everyone.

  4. The Feminist Library, Peckham. It might seem like an unusual choice for a queer list of London, but I did underscore from the beginning that it was a queer feminist list. The Library has been my second 'home' for a long time - it includes not just a library, but an inclusive, intersectional meetings and events space. It also includes a large collection of lesbian - and increasingly more broadly defined queer - literature you could spend days browsing and immersing yourself in it. I write about the Library and its processes of queering over time at much more length, for example, here.

  5. Queer Britain, King's Cross. I admire QB because it has wholeheartedly taken on the project of reclaiming London for queer history. In the heart of London, it makes it seem possible that London could be truly and thoroughly queered at some point. It is the first LGBTQ+ history museum in Britain. It is beautiful and includes an exhibition space and meeting rooms, as well as a small but fabulous bookshop.

  6. Mimosa House, Holborn. I only recently discovered this brilliant little gallery in the heart of London and I really wish I'd known about it sooner. They have a focus on supporting women and queer artists. Its recent exhibition on transfeminisms was inspiring in more ways than one - it touched on themes close to my heart, such as reproduction and solidarity, and it was accompanied by an amazing walk on its last day, Queering Public Spaces by Pippa Catterall. I can't wait to see what else they have in store!

  7. Vagina Museum, Bethnal Green. Although it might not immediately strike you as a queer space, it is. From its earliest days, the Vagina Museum set out to be inclusive of queer bodies and voices, and I have learned a lot from them over the years. Their most recent space also has a fabulous shop and a cafe - brought to you by Kween Kream and Queer Brewing - and is just across the road from the Young V&A and around the corner from Pelican House (among many other attractions of the East End), so you could definitely make a day out of it if you wanted to.

  8. Queercircle, Greenwich. I have to admit, I have not made it down there yet, but their events and exhibitions programme sounds truly amazing. It is an arts, health, and social action space, built to provide a platform for and promote LGBTQ+ artists. It has an exhibition, rehearsal, and reader space.

  9. Gay's the Word, Bloomsbury. This iconic bookshop in London is a site of queer literature, as well as a monument to its history in terms of the space (as the oldest queer bookshop in the UK). It holds some of the most unmissable queer book events in London, such as the recent meeting with Sara Ahmed, talking about her fabulous The Feminist Killjoy Handbook, or with Jane Cholmeley, launching her brand new A Bookshop of One's Own (the story of another amazing, feminist, bookshop, Silver Moon**). It also has a fascinating history of its own - for example, it recently commemorated 40 years since a famous raid on the bookshop, which saw some 800 titles seized by the police and several members of staff charged with conspiracy to import indecent books! You can read more about the raid here and find out more about the books here.

  10. The Glitch, Waterloo. Yes, I had to have at least one bar on here! Although, to be honest, I know the place as more of a queer performance venue. It is relaxed, welcoming, and co-hosts the Vault festival, among other queerly creative events. And here's the map:

I must end with a note highlighting that this list/map is not exhaustive. This is an update on my ongoing work of tracking feminist and queer spaces in London, which I will continue treating as a work-in-progress. If you have any comments or additions to this list and map, please do not hesitate to get in touch with me.

*Although I have to admit that I am slightly obsessed with this gem of a map of key women's design/architectural sites across London.

**A few years ago, I also interviewed some of the members of another historically important feminist bookshop in London, Sisterwrite. You can read more about it here.

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