As part of Eurovision in Liverpool, what a thing to be able to write, there are photography exhibitions springing up around the city. One of which is ‘Stay Queer. No matter war’ presented by UKRAINEPRIDE X Homotopia.
“Sometimes, being queer is not about colours. Being queer is about freedom.”
I attended the launch of this exhibition in my non-binary finery with punk styled Ukrainian flag colour tights and fishnets on. The walk there, on a beautiful sunny spring evening, was nerve wracking. Outside a Pride event, I think I’ve only seen someone like me walking around once, maybe twice. I do not see myself in the world, and visibility is important. Speaking to a member of First Take at the event, she reminded me of the phrase “You can’t be what you can’t see.” While I rarely see myself in the world, I hope my visibility helps others see themselves in me.
That said, I saw myself in this photography exhibition. The anxiety, complexity, stress, and joy of being queer. I’ve felt those feelings. That fear of being accepted. Not even asking for it because it should be a given. I feel that daily. These stories from nearly 1,500 miles (ca. 2,414 km) away are not just something happening in a foreign country. They’re universal. These are simply people living from day to day, fighting for their rights to be who they are and love who they love.
They’re doing this with a war going on. A war destroying cities. People often talk about erasing voices. This is it. This is the ultimate version of that. A man with power violently telling a group of people who identify one way that they are wrong. That they should conform to his beliefs on what the world should be. The war risks, seriously risks the erasure of queer voices in Ukraine. How many people will grow up there in a post-war environment, not seeing themselves on the street? That opportunity for queer joy will be lost for a generation at least.
Adding a layer to this erasure of culture and identity were comments by the queer people involved about whether they were born Ukrainian or came to identify as Ukrainian. What is identity? It is who a people say they are and when they do you listen. You don’t use your voice to say otherwise.
The exhibition featured work by a local photographer and a trans model that brought the war on identity home with their project ’Here n Queer’. They were attacked on the streets of Liverpool for being themselves. The Ukrainian queer people in the exhibition face that same fear on the street from bigotry and, and an invading army. The defiant message, “Stay queer. No matter war.” is present in an exhibition where there are photos from of queer people dancing in a daytime club as curfew is too early to party at night. The response to the Liverpool person being attacked was to revisit the scene the next day and make a series of photos in defiance of their attackers.
“Ukrainians keep on dancing and kissing, despite all the unbearable pain in souls, which is so relentless. They continue to shout to the world how strong, brave, free, and independent they are.
And they will not be stopped.”
It’s a powerful exhibition, crossing the complexity of a language and cultural barrier through the accessible medium of photography. If you are in Liverpool, please go and spend some time at this exhibition. It’s on until 18th May at Lush Spa, 38-46 Church St.
It also smells well lush.