A bisexual’s guide to queer history through the lens of Queer The Pier in an exclusive look into the brand new pier-themed queer exhibition at Brighton Museum
BY ZOE SMITH
As a community curator for Brighton Museum’s new exhibition Queer The Pier, it has been incredible to be able to see the LGBTQI history that has been collected and the stories of Sussex’s queer lives unfold in front of me. It has been a privilege to discover the extraordinary things that our queer ancestors have achieved to pave the way for us today. As a bisexual/queer woman, I believe that learning about queer history is a vital part of LGBTQI education, as it’s integral to understanding how far we have come as a community.
Being on the co-curation team for Queer The Pier, I have had the fortune of gaining insight into how a queer history exhibition is formed. It has also been important to understand the challenges faced when trying to collect and preserve the lives of queer people. Historically delving into the lives of specifically queer women is not an easy task, as much of queer history, and even women’s history, is too often censored and erased. As bisexual erasure is still prevalent in today’s society, it’s easy to imagine the difficulties of recording the lives of queer and non-heterosexual women. These stories may fall through cracks in archives, art, and history, as they’ll often be overlooked or ignored, this perhaps could be due to long-standing accepted notions of heteronormativity. The intersecting difficulties of recording queer women’s lives specifically unfortunately proves challenging when recording accurate historic accounts.
It certainly isn’t the case that the history doesn’t exist. For instance, notable writer Virginia Woolf, whose experience of having relationships with other women, has fortunately not been lost. She was the sister of Vanessa Bell, who resided at Sussex’s Charleston house, where she often visited. Additionally, Woolf was part of the Bloomsbury group, whose members’ evident queerness is fascinating. Virginia Woolf, although having a husband, had a decade-long affair with Vita Sackville-West who was also married, and both respective partners knew of the pair’s relationship. It is said that Woolf’s book Orlando is a love letter to Vita, as she is said to be the book’s inspiration. Published in 1928, Woolf’s writing explores ideas of gender fluidity, sexual identities and defies notions of gender norms and heteronormativity—definitely noteworthy for its time of writing.
Being a bisexual woman myself, I know how important it is to educate others on our experience and to educate against misconceptions. One way to achieve this is to provide historic representations within museums and the cultural sector. This means that collectively, we must keep researching and look at history through a queer lens. We also must keep collecting, archiving and providing a voice for queer women’s experiences which aims to celebrate us, and combat against further erasure.
Please find us on social media for our latest updates! Instagram: @queerthepierbtn, Facebook: @queerthepier, or check the website for more information here. Queer The Pier will run from 17 October until February 2022.
Writer Zoe Smith is an MA Curating Collections and Heritage Student, Community Curator for Queer the Pier at Brighton Museum