I move from one to the other and the transition is perceptible. The streets of Brighton I do not think as particularly straight or lesbian. They are British and they are difficult: waves of cars come and go from unexpected sides (constant surprise is what you pay for being non-british) and the waves of pedestrians do not conform. In the centre, pedestrians move disorderly, along the pavement which is wider or cross, almost never vertically and almost never after pausing. Of course this is a brutal generalisation. But it is the effect of moving mostly on wheels (even if that is a bicycle) where the expectation is that a crowd moves as one entity. The bicycle does not allow for eye contacts, perhaps only for angry looks to car drivers who trespass bicycle territory. But there is no time for flirting as in the sense of the lesbian flaneur(1).
My sense of campus has been that of a negotiated space, mostly because it is a place where people come to experiment, intellectually and sexually. As I am helping out at the Queer Spirituality Spaces conference yesterday, and moving around floors and common rooms, I see a girl I know kissing her girlfriend, on the sofa. I try to remember when the last time I saw a straight couple kissing on campus was. Earlier, Sally Munt, introducing the building to the conference participants, explains the heteronormativity of its construction pointing to separate toilet rooms for women and men. The normativity of campus goes beyond the placement of tables and chairs in the classroom. Apart from the Library Square and Bramber House (where all the commercial activity goes on), there are very limitted places to sit. Social activity is guided to these spaces of enormous visibility. Eating, hugging, campaigning, talking has to happen in the middle of everybody. Eventually, I remember seeing straight people kissing at the Library square.
Even though the conference seemingly has nothing spiritual about it except for the themes, there is a certain series of rituals that are followed upstairs and I am helping for them to happen. The coffee break, the lunch but perhaps most importantly the wine reception. People gather around food and alchool and talk about spirituality and the meaning of queer. Larger circles, smaller circles, ambivalent duos and celibate drinkers, multiple dynamic centres in motion. Lesbian circles, queer circles and spiritual straight celibates. I discuss the L-word and child sexuality.
I move from this diverse space to a severely straight space-the taxi cab. In Athens the taxi-cab leaves hefty marks on the asphalt and dominates by means of absurd driving habits and general loudness. Here there are issues of class in the division of front-back seats and the machoism of the driver is coming through when he overhears a private discussion and when he curses the pedestrian who talks to his mobile phone.
When I move again, it is from a lesbian space to a straight space and it feels like a slap on the face- and this is Brighton still. I go by feet, I walk the stairs and enter. After taking my shoes off, I notice that eveyone has shoes on. This observation makes me sense this is a straight space but I have difficulty spotting down the differences and making an argument about it. Girls and boys, boys and girls-and the distance between them, this is the only argument I can make. A woman talks about tidying up her boyfriend’s mess and two dead animals are in the story. While she narrates she turns her head and smiles at him. I introduce myself to a man who just comes in and within minutes he crosses the room and I see him standing alone again on another corner, soon with other men. There is discussion about marriage and long-term relationship but there are no stories about kissing or any touching going on. There is an emphasis on procedures and doing things right. Ownership and negotiations of power are constantly going on.
I move to the nonhuman space late at night and this less complicated, the cat defines the space as a place of food, play, rest and affection. The cat sits on the keyboard because it is warm and she purrs-she falls in love with the spine of certain books and the sole of my boot. I look at the cat and I go online and I feel comfortable again.
(1) Munt, S. (1995) ‘The Lesbian Flaneur’ in David Bell, Gill Valentine ‘Mapping desire: geographies of sexualities’