This new book is vital reading for queer Londoners
From book shops to saunas, popstars to pub owners, author Alim Kheraj has created a detailed map of the city's LGBTQ+ scene.
Alim Kheraj is an author, freelance journalist and i-D contributor based in London. His new book, Queer London – A Guide to the City’s LGBTQ+ Past and Present, takes an expansive look at the different spaces, institutions and personalities that make up the city’s rich and diverse LGBTQ+ scene. Written throughout lockdown, a period that has intensified threats to the existence of so many queer venues, the book is both a call to action to support your local gay bar as much a tribute to the spirit of queer London that will prevail come what may. With the book out on next month (we recommend pre-ordering it from Gay’s the Word, the UK's oldest LGBTQ+ bookshop) here Alim writes about the process of creating it.
When I was approached to write a guide to queer London, I think the publisher imagined that it would be a simple collation of bar, club and club night listings, with additional titbits thrown in for additional colour. That’s what I thought it might be at first. I imagined it to be a book that served anyone interested in exploring London’s somewhat disparate LGBTQ+ scene.
But it soon became apparent to me as I put together spreadsheets and dived into the literature about the queerness of a city like London, that my book Queer London couldn’t just be souped-up version of Time Out magazine, providing useful information and a little commentary about which bars might suit a what clientele (although it certainly has elements of that). Instead, Queer London needed to encompass as many things as possible in order to accurately guide someone to the LGBTQ+ fabric of the city. That’s because queer London is a lot more than the physical spaces that exist, although those are incredibly significant and extremely vital. This meant looking beyond just nightlife and leisure to the political and activist groups, charities, art collectives, health services and community organisations that are essential to the city’s LGBTQ+ population.
It also meant looking backwards. While I don’t claim to be an expert historian, Queer London does dig into the past. It felt important, not only for posterity, but because examining the histories of venues, organisations and areas you can understand more about where things are headed. The pandemic will only accelerate London’s decimation of physical queer spaces, but by examining past and the present, the cyclical nature of this rise and fall of queer spaces in London becomes apparent; it’s been happening for decades. What’s hopeful is that more community led and grass roots organisations and spaces will open to provide an antidote to the homogenised (read cis white gay male) spaces that dominate. Given the type of organisations and spaces that have sprouted roots in the ruins of the city’s LGBTQ+ scene, it very much looks that way, although more can always be done.
The final piece of the puzzle was to incorporate people. There is no queer London without people. For this I wrote profiles of just a few of the individuals who have left their mark on me and who continue to influence the landscape of the city’s queer present. I only wish I’d been given more space to include more people. Unfortunately, the manuscript I turned into the publisher was already twice the length they commissioned.
The book also includes original photography by Tim Boddy, whose work centres around the LGBTQ+ community. Tim’s pictures bring the people, politics and places of queer London to life, and capture the city in the summer as it awoke from the first lockdown of 2020. In my opinion, they make the book.
I hope that Queer London is of service to people, but not just as a compendium of bars and clubs that they may or may not have known about. I hope that it serves as a snapshot of the city at an integral period in its history, and reminds people that queer London is not just one thing. Because of that it will survive.
‘Queer London – A Guide to the City’s LGBTQ+ Past and Present’ is published by ACC Art Books and is out 22 March
Photography Tim Boddy