INTERVIEW: Amelia Abraham's 'Queer Intentions' by Emma Hope Allwood
Illustration by Sam Russell Walker
Emma Hope Allwood is a writer, editor, and person who spends too much time on the internet. She's currently Head of Fashion at Dazed Digital.
“Ross’s ex wife on Friends. What’s her name? Her and my hockey teacher. It was a bit of a wasteland.”
Writer Amelia Abraham – whose book, Queer Intentions: A (Personal) Journey Through LGBTQ+ Culture, is out today – is trying to think of some identifiable lesbians growing up in the heady, pre-social media days of the late 90s and early 00s. It’s a struggle – where the guys had the (admittedly limited line up of) OG Queer Eye, Will & Grace, and Brokeback Mountain, we got Carol and Susan. In fact, Abraham admits that as a kid she had the camp tastes you might stereotypically associate with gay men. “My favourite episode of the Simpsons was the one with John Waters, although I didn’t even know who John Waters was. The first cassette I ever bought was Cher’s ‘Believe’,” she laughs. “My favourite film was Hocus Pocus with SJP and Bette Midler! All just deeply camp.”
While lesbian representation still lags, things have, over the last 15 or so years, come quite a long way for people who identify as LGBTQ+: we can get married, RuPaul’s Drag Race is viewed by approximately seventeen zillion people worldwide, and Pride is sponsored by Barclays. Being queer, at least if you’re lucky enough to be surrounded by tolerant people, is usually about as big of a conversation as whether you’d rather fuck Fleabag, the Hot Priest, or both (hi!). But despite this, it’s not all roses: gay clubs have been steadily dying, the British media is a transphobic Mumsnet clusterfuck, and the Minions (the fucking MINIONS!) had a float at Pride.
“The mainstreaming of queer culture was something I had been thinking about a lot,” Abraham says, reflecting on her motivations to write the book – which takes her from Britain’s first gay marriage to DragCon, Serbia’s much-policed Pride parade, and Sweden’s Centre for Radical Sexuality. “I was seeing the knock-on effects of the assimilation of LGBTQ+ people through things like the closure of gay bars, gay bars I really loved going to. The more people I talked to the more people were like, ‘Oh, gay people can get married now and have kids now and live like their quote-unquote straight neighbour, so why would we need to be ghettoised in gay only spaces?’”
Pulling on her experiences as a journalist for outlets like Dazed, Vice and Queer Bible, Queer Intentions is part memoir, part investigative journey into all the different ways there are to be LGBTQ+. Like most great works, it also came about after a break up. This one involved a dramatically lesbian U-Hauling to Iceland, where she lasted just ten days before packing up and returning to London. Still, the relationship made her think a lot about trading in a life of partying and relative non-monogamy for one of homo domesticity and child-rearing. “It was that first adult relationship where you think you might get married and have kids with someone,” she says. “When it ended I suddenly had a lot of free time on my hands, and I was like, why did I want to get married? Actually I’d always appreciated more alternative forms of living.”
The book, which might actually make you LOL on public transport (it would be remiss not to mention the drunken boat-top dance routine performed to “Lady Marmalade” with a sex workers’ group), is also thought-provoking, saddening, and ridiculously readable. At its heart, it seeks to explore the tensions of acceptance and difference that surround being LGBTQ+ today, posing a series of questions most queer people will have found themselves pondering, like: Why do we still need explicitly gay spaces? Is marriage really the great aim? If not nuclear, what might the families we have look like? What’s the point of (an increasingly commercial) Pride? How does better visibility for trans people square with the violence they continue to face?
Ultimately, the answers are never clear cut. “When I started writing the book I saw things in quite a binary way,” Abraham says. “You either live a really queer life or you live a really hetero-normie life.” As she wrote, she began to switch from an either-or point of view to seeing things on a spectrum. “Then by the end of the book, I didn’t even see it as a spectrum – I saw it as a complicated constellation of options.” In other words, there’s no single way to be LGBTQ+. Then again: a one-size-fits-all approach wouldn’t be very queer now, would it?
AMELIA’S QUEER HEROES
“Cookie Mueller – who I wrote about for Queer Bible. Somebody said about her that she couldn’t leave the house to buy a carton of milk without something completely wild happening to her – I love that as an idea of what your life could be like. Her writing reflects that – it’s darkly humorous; she finds joy in pain, finds fun out of nothing – I think that’s a very queer sensibility.”
“Sarah Schulman’s book The Gentrification of the Mind, which is about New York during and after the AIDS crisis, really influenced a lot of my thinking. It looks at the gentrification of the actual city alongside the kind of corporatisation, assimilation, and homogenisation of our thinking. When I read it I was quite blown away, I hadn’t really thought about gentrification on those terms. I’m really interested in how queer identity can be connected to geography and place.”
“In terms of people doing great things right now, I think King Princess is cool. She’s flying the flag. I wish I had seen people like that when I was younger – the way she talks about being gay has no shame in it. It’s fucking funny and confident. It took me a really long time to get there, so it’s really heartening to see someone so young doing that in a public arena. We need more soft butch style icons!”
"Jack Halberstam's books The Queer Art of Failure really influenced Queer Intentions, and me at a time when I was confused about what to do with my life. Jack writes about the pressures of heteronormativity and why we have ideas of "success" or right ways of living, that age old trajectory of good job, marriage, kids, make money, die. By unpicking where this comes from or why we have these ideas to begin with, he encourages us to consider alternatives, and frankly, to stop being so hard on ourselves."
“I’m lucky to have a lot of gay men in my personal life who grew up feeling isolated and so immersed themselves in very niche pockets of pop culture – Madonna's deepest back catalogue, old camp 80s cinema, every episode ever of America's Next Top Model etc. which I now get the benefit of learning about from them. Some have told me that they were trying to create their own worlds or access other ones because they didn’t feel like they fit into the world at large. Which I think is a true skill, the skill of invention. So really, I’d have to say my best friends are my queer heroes.”
Sam Russell Walker is an illustrator based in Glasgow. He graduated from the Glasgow School of Art in 2015 and his work is inspired by film, pop culture, the human form, plants and fashion. His process is also heavily influenced by the act of mark making and creating textures through this process.