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Queering space, both online and off

Queering space, both offline and on

Lucas LaRochelle is a designer based in Montreal and the initiator of Queering the Map, an online project that is attempting to explore what queer space means and what queering space can look like. Scott Neigh interviews them about the site, about the recent instance of it being hacked by a Trump supporter, and about the radical queer vision that underlies the project.

The spaces through which we move every day are more than just physical, but rather have social shape and meaning. For instance, the one we call "home" has a certain feel, certain rules, certain boundaries, certain meaning, while the one we call "work" is very different, and so on. And it is the people who exist in and move through different spaces whose presence, relationships, and activities shape them and give them meaning.

How this happens is not a simple thing, however. What gets experienced, perceived, and remembered about a given place often has a lot to do with power. This is perhaps most clearly evident in the foundational struggle over control and meaning of space on Turtle Island, that of settler colonialism and Indigenous resistance: Five centuries of settler violence has taken aim at Indigenous control of the land, including the diverse Indigenous meanings and shapes and names for that land, but Indigenous survival and resistance on all of those fronts continues to this day.

Though colonization and resistance underlies everything else, there are other ways that power shapes how space is experienced and remembered as well. What might it mean, for instance, to understand particular places as queer? Maybe once, that would most immediately have pointed towards that relatively small number of neighbourhoods in major metropolitan centres that were explicitly coded as "gay" or "queer." But the role of such neighbourhoods in collective queer life in North America is much less than it used to be, and was maybe never as all-encompassing as is sometimes imagined. So what might it look and feel like, to collectively notice and remember the queer moments, the queer stories, the queer lives, the queer histories that are part of constituting everything around us, all of the time?  Instead, these things are so often erased, silenced, and forced out of public visibility in a society that remains oppressively heteronormative and cisnormative– notwithstanding the important gains made by LGBTQ movements in recent decades.

Queering the Map allows anyone to describe some moment of queer significance – from the fleeting and private, to the collective and public – and to associate it with the place that it happened. It is built on the technology of Google Maps. It has Google Maps' capacity to show any place on earth, at any scale, and when you load it, you will see clusters of little black pins marking specific sites. When you hover your cursor over one of the pins, you will see the text – the moment, the memory, the history – associated with that place.

Lucas wrote on the site, "The intent of the Queering the Map project is to collectively document the spaces that hold queer memory, from park benches to parking garages, to mark moments of queerness wherever they occur. There are no guidelines to what constitutes an act of queering space. If it counts to you, then it counts for Queering the Map. Anything from direct action activism to a conversation expressing preferred pronouns, from flirtatious glances to weekend long sex parties, all are part of the project of queering space. ... Through mapping these ephemeral moments, Queering the Map aims to create a living archive of queer experience that reveals the ways in which we are intimately connected."

At the time of the interview, the site was actually offline. It had been hacked and, as a result, was down for a couple of months. But Lucas made a callout for support and a team of people with a range of coding skills came together to work on the site, and it is now back online with improved stability and security.

Image: Modified from an image that is used with the permission of Queering the Map.

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Talking Radical Radio brings you grassroots voices from across Canada, giving you the chance to hear many different people that are facing many different struggles talk about what they do, why they do it, and how they do it, in the belief that such listening is a crucial step in strengthening all of our efforts to change the world. To learn more about the show check out its website here. You can also follow them on FaceBook or Twitter, or contact scottneigh@talkingradical.ca to join our weekly email update list.

Talking Radical Radio is brought to you by Scott Neigh, a writer, media producer, and activist based in Hamilton (formerly Sudbury), Ontario, and the author of two books examining Canadian history through the stories of activists.

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