When considering romance, love and community, I never thought I’d one day think of a map. A sandy beach, a train or a ferris wheel, maybe, but not a map. For me, maps have always been associated with dog walks, pirate films and aggravated middle-aged men marching their families across the coastline.
Now, however, there’s one truly changing the map game by accumulating and gathering queer and trans stories from across the globe. And in a time where the rights of LGBTQIA+ individuals are being eroded bit by bit, Queering the Map is providing the community with a much-needed space of comfort and visibility.
I stumbled across Queering the Map completely accidentally. I was doing research for a different article and found myself in a bubblegum pink online maze that makes Google Maps look deathly boring in comparison. I started to navigate my way through the map, going from country to country, reading snippets of narratives touching upon every facet of connection: love, lust, forgiveness, loss, betrayal, and hope.
“I hope you know I’d swim this whole way over to you if I could.”
As stated on its site, “Queering the Map is a community generated counter-mapping platform for digitally archiving LGBTQ2IA+ experience in relation to physical space. The platform provides an interface to collaboratively record the cartography of queer life—from park benches to the middle of the ocean—in order to preserve our histories and unfolding realities, which continue to be invalidated, contested, and erased.”
It continues: “From collective action to stories of coming out, encounters with violence to moments of rapturous love, Queering the Map functions as a living archive of queer life. If it counts to you, then it counts for Queering the Map.”
“I was 14 and wrote the name of the girl I loved in the sand as the tide came in, I was closeted and hoped my feelings would wash away too.”
I needed to know more about this project and so I reached out to Lucas LaRochelle, the creator behind the impressive project. Fast forward to a few weeks later and I was dialling into Mexico City to have a Zoom call with LaRochelle themself.
Instantly charming, they began to share their story. I wanted to know more about how the map came about and what exactly it was LaRochelle hoped to gain out of this extensive, beautiful and complicated online venture.
Starting from the very beginning, they explained: “I started Queering the Map in 2017, and the story goes that I was biking home from school and passed by the tree that I had met someone who I would eventually fall in love with, which was also the place where I had first expressed myself as trans non-binary.”
They went on to comment on how that site had held “multiple overlapping scenes of queerness and transness,” and as they continued the bike ride they “began to think about all of the other places that held that lingering significance to [them], noting that they were predominantly outside of what would be traditionally thought of as queer spaces.”
“They were in-between spaces, microspaces, alleyways, corners of parks, a shipping container in [their] childhood town, etc” LaRochelle listed. Ultimately, they got “bored” of considering simply their own experiences and decided to create a place where others could collaborate.
“The caravan park my family was living in when I cut off all my hair at 15—my first major step away from identifying as a girl.”
Trained as a designer and web developer, LaRochelle used those tools to build an online infrastructure and ask LGBTQIA+ individuals this question: “How is my expanded community thinking about queer and trans space?” And moreover, “what would it feel like to move through a world that was animated by the experiences of queer and trans people, and what kinds of futures might be made possible through the amalgamation of this kind of embodied knowledge?”
It might seem simple on the surface, but what LaRochelle has ultimately done is create an online space for queer and trans people, by queer and trans people. And with so little space for these communities to experience and document their love, Queering the Map is truly a revolutionary creation.
Five years later and that online community now consists of over 386,000 submissions. And what’s so special about this platform is the fact that it captures the complete array of queer and trans experiences.
One of the things LaRochelle and I spoke about was how “the range of story [within the map] is much more varied than seen in dominant representations that play to a binary opposition of hyper-trauma or hyper-joy.” The archive “moves away from the representational bind that positions queer and trans people’s experience as existing in a binary of extreme trauma or ecstatic joy, and towards a space of nuance.”
One of the most entertaining aspects of these submissions has to be the level of humour people have brought to the site. Some of my favourites include a pin in the middle of the ocean which reads “gay penguins” and a pin in what appears to be outer space which reads “us gay aliens exist too.”
LaRochelle themself finds the playful nature of Queering the Map to be one of its most endearing qualities, noting: “It’s extremely serious and it’s extremely absurd all at once.” And it’s clear that the map, like so much of queer and trans humour, speaks to the early 2000s internet culture of platforms such as Tumblr. For so many members of the LGBTQIA+ community, the internet was the first place they saw representation of themselves.
One of the most significant aspects of the platform is its land acknowledgement sidebar. It reads: “Queering the Map was initiated on the unceded traditional lands of the Kanien’kehá:ka Nation. The island currently called “Montreal” is known as Tiohtia:ke in the language of the Kanien’kehá:ka, and it has historically been a meeting place for other Indigenous nations.”
LaRochelle wanted to make sure that Queering the Map recognises this and educates visitors about the importance in acknowledging colonial pasts. They explained to me: “Queer politics has to emerge from the understanding that homophobia and transphobia are colonial constructions. Any politics that calls itself queer must contend with the histories and presents of colonisation, with particular attention to how LGBTQ+ politics are increasingly mobilised by the state to further exploitation and violence, for example the pink-washing of Israel.”
“If you’re a queer native child, just know your ancestors are proud of you. You’re loved, stay strong.”
They continued: “Specifically, with a project that’s posing questions about queer and trans space, that negotiation of space is never neutral. In the case of Montreal, which is the land of the Kanien’kehá:ka people, it’s necessary that that is the starting point. Queerness and transness are one of the many intersections of identity that inform how a space is experienced.”
As LaRochelle sees it, Queering the Map is “celebrating history with a lowercase ‘h’, rather than a capital ‘H’.” And it’s reflective of the fact that people are beginning to move away from the highly westernised perspective that queer and trans history began at Stonewall in New York.
So, what does the future look like for the creator behind his important piece of archival history? For LaRochelle, it’s all about building upon the foundation of Queering the Map in different ways and continuing to find pathways to tell queer and trans stories. They explain: “Queering the Map has been at the centre of my practice in the years following it’s launch because it’s grown so rapidly. Most of the projects I’m working on now are furthering my initial aim to build infrastructures for queer and trans people to tell our stories on our own terms.”
They’re currently working on an immersive environment and a three-part documentary that’ll explore the intersections of race, gender, sexuality, and place. The designer also told me that they have plans to create a podcast iteration of Queering the Map. Get your tissues ready.
What started as a personal journey has now completely transformed into a global community. And it’s comforting to know that the meaningful, varied, exciting, difficult, and salient lives of queer and trans individuals will be kept safe in this personal archive forever.
“We are everywhere. You are not alone. You have family, friends, supporters all over the world, even if you haven’t met them yet.”
The Scottish Gender Recognition Reform bill spent three long days being debated in the Scottish Parliament and an additional six long years being argued over elsewhere. On 22 December 2022, it finally passed with a supermajority of 88 to 33 votes, only to quickly prompt what many have described as an attack on the country’s democracy by the unelected UK Prime Minister, Rishi Sunak.
The UK’s recent Census 2021 data showed that trans people (at least those of us willing to be identified to this government as trans people) are a tiny minority of the population. Despite that, reform pertaining to a law that concerns our birth certificates has become controversial for many—particularly, as is always the case, those outside of the LGBTQIA+ community.
Understandably, when moving from ‘trans people’s birth certificates’ to ‘the collapse of the United Kingdom at the hands of an unelected Prime Minister’, it can be difficult to see exactly how we got here. Truth be told, even I’m a little bit lost for words and that’s bad news for me: a writer.
First Minister of Scotland Nicola Sturgeon has stated that there are no grounds for the UK to take what many are describing as the “nuclear option”—with the bill having been specifically designed knowing that the UK would attempt to block it if it did overstep into a reserved matter, such as equality law.
The UK quite famously ignored the results of its own Gender Recognition Act (GRA) reform consultation and backpedalled on promises made under former Prime Minister Theresa May to bring in self-ID South of Scotland. So Scottish politicians were very careful about what they could and could not do with their reform, and across three days in Holyrood, we heard them give evidence to that fact.
The proposed reforms do not alter the GRA itself, they merely alter the process for applying for it—a task which currently requires a medical diagnosis that can be hard to get due to NHS waitlists which have a tendency to span decades at a time. The most prominent feature of these reforms is removing this requirement for medical diagnosis.
The UK government recently threatened to trigger the section 35 order as part of the Scotland act which, in short, gives the UK the right to veto legislation passed in the Scottish Parliament if it’s incompatible with the UK’s international obligations or if it adversely affects how UK law operates. It has now been confirmed that Sunak and Alister Jack, British Secretary of State for Scotland, have laid down section 35—thereby blocking the bill.
The UK government has made specific mention of the alleged conflict between the Equality Act and a sprinkling of fear-mongering surrounding the idea of fraudulent Gender Recognition Certificate (GRC) applications. This was an issue that opposition to the bill pushed hard during debate in Holyrood, but failed to secure amendments supporting their claims.
This is consistent with moves made by Equalities Minister Kemi Badenoch, who recently announced her Government Equalities Office would be looking into whether it would accept birth certificates from other countries that use a self-ID system, such as the Republic of Ireland—with the aim being to force those trans people to reapply through the UK system if they move here.
It should be highlighted that it isn’t particularly clear how Badenoch intends to tell which foreign birth certificates belong to transgender people or not. Trans birth certificates usually look identical to every other birth certificate, and without other governments providing the UK with a record of change, there is no actual way to tell. And why would they help the British government after it has called into question their legitimacy on this issue?
A quick reminder: this is the same UK government (a few have swapped seats, but it’s mostly the same people at the top) who only last year had their international LGBTQIA+ conference collapse. The intention behind the #SafeToBeMe conference was to highlight how progressive and forward-thinking the country was in regard to LGBTQIA+ rights. Instead, over 100 groups within the community pulled out after the government retracted its promise to ban conversion therapy.
A trans-inclusive ban has since been announced but it’s all a little bit too late, isn’t it? Hate crimes against LGBTQIA+ people are still rising consistently with each passing year, sometimes by upwards of 80 per cent. The media is still pumping out thousands of fear-mongering articles and commentary pieces filled with misinformation. And the government is still obsessed with pandering to those afraid of what’s written on less than 1 per cent of the population’s birth certificates.
I expect Scotland is going to win this fight. Honestly, it’s shocking to me that lawyers have even advised Sunak and Jack to push forward with the move given that they are risking an already fraught union with Scotland and the rest of the UK, just to maintain control over an aspect of the lives of such a tiny percentage of the population. The arguments for doing so, as provided by the UK government, don’t hold up either given that tax, pensions and pay are all supposedly equal between the sexes anyway.
None of this is real and instead amounts to just another example of performative outrage created to pander to and rile up a highly bigoted audience. They want to be angry and oppose trans people so they will, even if they don’t have a good reason to.
If Scotland ends up independent because of all of this, good for them—I am happy for anyone who can put distance between themselves and the current UK government. I only wish I could join them.