At the end of May, my wife and I, had the pleasure of attending the inaugural in-person Queer The Shelves LGBT+ Book Fest, hosted by the wonderful Robyn Nyx and Brey Willows from over at Global Wordsmiths.
With comedian and author, Rosie Wilby, as the keynote speaker, it was bound to be a laughter filled weekend right from the start. And laughter as they say, is the best medicine.
In amongst the many conversations, panels and of course books, Global Wordsmiths were collating thoughts and experiences, by way of a series of questions, for their project with the National Justice Museum (more about that later).
One question asked: Tell us your thoughts about LGBT+ community-specific spaces and events. It’s a question which has stayed with me – just why are LGBT+ focused events so special, and more importantly, why do I, we, need them?
For me the answer lies in the past, so let’s rewind a little.
Where i grew up was devoid of any LGBT+ spaces or events, aside from one solitary club night, on a Tuesday no less. As a young adult accessing anything else meant a) first getting wind of it, and b) travelling – usually to nearby cities. As an adult i still live in the same town and the LGBT+ offerings believe it or not, are worse; the night club burnt down a few years ago… The difference nowadays, is that i have the means by which to travel, and the world of social media makes catching wind of events some what easier.
I have fond memories of those riotous Tuesday nights, but the most they taught me was how to avoid the drama! The feeling of being isolated and some what adrift from the rest of society remained. On reflection, i wish i’d had the opportunity to experience growing up with access to LGBT+ spaces and events. Safe places in which to explore the many facets of my identity, my presentation, my queerness, places in which to learn about LGBT+ history and other members of our community; with the space and support to accept that it’s okay to be exactly who you are.
That’s why events like Queer the Shelves, along with the members of the LGBT+ community who work tirelessly to provide them, are so meaningful to me. They are everything that was missing from my life as i stumbled along a path that i didn’t know how to navigate.
And whilst Queer the Shelves is, at it’s core, a literary event working to bring together a diverse range of LGBT+ authors and readers for a weekend of fabulous words, it’s also so, so, much more.
It’s a safe space. A place in which to just be. To exist in the moment, eyes open or closed, as words for and of our community wash over the room.
Secure in the knowledge that acceptance, inclusion and diversity are the bare minimum of what’s on offer at a Queer the Shelves event. At a time when it can feel like our sense of acceptance is slipping away, both inside and outside of our community, it’s important to pause and soak up those moments of peace, joy and laughter.
Our weekend was full of warmth, friendship and genuine words of support. There were wonderful opportunities to meet new authors and more importantly purchase more queer stories for my bookshelves! It doesn’t matter if you’re a social butterfly like my wife, or a hermit like myself, at Queer the Shelves all are welcome. The weekend was jam packed with something for everyone, from comedy to drag acts and after parties, readings and panels to author speed dating.
I’m immensely grateful for LGBT+ folks, like Robyn and Brey, who continue to create much needed content for our community and carve out the space and time to host such events. Queer the Shelves and the encompassing literature, represent the events and words that i wish i’d been experiencing for decades and not just years.
And after all those years, i have found the space and people with which i can finally, just be me.
Global Wordsmiths – National Justice Museum Project
As previously mentioned, during the Queer the Shelves weekend, Global Wordsmiths offered the opportunity for attendees to provide answers to a series of questions to help shape future LGBT+ exhibitions, at the National Justice Museum, Nottingham.
All too often LGBT+ people are denied a say in shaping what the world sees (and learns) of our community. Supporting those who work to further our visibility, both inside and outside of our own community, is a small step we should all aim to take.
If you’d like to be a part of what Global Wordsmiths are doing, check out the below:
We’re looking for people to talk to us about what they consider part of their history. What has had an impact on your life? What would you like to see preserved in a museum, so that LGBTQ+ generations to come know their history?