queering the map is connecting queer moments in life 💕💕💕
The user submitted project was founded by a young queer Canadian whose connection to a tree where they’d meet their partner grew into an idea big enough to connect the world.
Image via Queering the Map.
Around a year ago, Lucas Larochelle was on their usual journey to school when they had an idea for a new activist history project that could connect queer people through space and time. They called it Queering the Map, and created an interactive website that takes a Google Map, turns it pink (of course!) and allows you to leave pins anywhere in the world that you’ve had a queer experience. The interpretation of “queer experience” is deliberately loose; users of Queering the Map write about first times (sex, a kiss, a realisation), coming out stories, valuable connections made, moments that saved their lives and places that made them who they are.
When I first started browsing the website, it immediately made me rethink how we demarcate queer space. It’s not just limited to a gay bar, or an LGBT centre, but can be anywhere. And it isn’t necessarily somewhere you turn up at, that pre-exists, but something you have to create or produce. The second thing that struck me about the map was how incredibly beautiful and vulnerable some of the posts were. Sure, they’re anonymous, which might be a factor that facilitates such unbridled honesty, but the anonymity has a universalising effect. Whether or not you directly relate to a post, chances are that if you’re a queer person, you’ll empathise.
Below, we talked to Lucas about the project’s importance and its future.
Where did the idea for Queering the Map come from?
There’s a tree I would bike by every day. It’s where I met one of my long term partners and where we’d had a series of significant conversations there, one in particular around my gender identity. When I passed that tree there was always a feeling of a queer relationship to that space. But it wasn’t legible; it’s not like we carved our initials into it. One day, when I passed the tree, it made me think of other places where that’s the case for me, and I plotted them out in my mind on a map. Then I got bored of thinking about my own experiences and imagined what it could look like and feel like to be moving through a space where other queer bodies have existed over time. Then came the idea for Queering the Map.
Can you explain a little more about what the user does when they visit the site?
You can go onto Queering the Map and click and find a place where your queer experience occurred, and if you’re compelled, click on that point on the map and add your text to the collective memory bank. There’s no strict definition of what you can and can’t include; Queering the Map is making the claim that everything counts; the stories people post are from different subject positions, different definitions of queerness, different age brackets.
One of my favourite things about the site, is that there’s no real way of knowing whether the stories in the posts are true. Does it even matter?
I think that’s a huge part of the project, in terms of queering historical validity. There are a lot of posts on the map that are totally speculative fiction. There’s one in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean! It says something to the effect of, ‘Rose, I saw you on the Titanic and I fell in love with you at first site, but unfortunately it seemed like you were really into that Jack guy.” It’s this queer read of Titanic and I think it’s just the most fabulous addition to the map. There’s a lot of intense and devastating experiences on there and total hilarity at the same time. I think it’s important to have that spectrum of experience.
You don’t have date stamps on the posts. Why did you decide to design it that way?
People log experiences for the most part, which are being recollected and therefore are memories. But there’s something that feels very live about it. All of these things are happening, have happened, will happen in the future. There are actually quite a few points on the map that are like “I’m going to kiss my partner for the very first time here.” You can add a date and some people do, but it’s not a linear history project. It would be interesting to go that route of ‘what happened during this time period or that time period’. But I was coming from a queer theoretical approach to history where the past, present and future are all in conversation with each other all the same time.
Can you give me an example of this?
Sure. There’s a bar in Montreal called The Drugstore that’s no longer in operation but was the longest running lesbian bar in the city. It closed in 2013. But it’s a really interesting place on the map in terms of seeing how people’s histories exist simultaneously. There’s a point that explains ‘this is The Drugstore and this is what it did’. Then some points like ‘I remember The Drugstore, it was like the first place where I was an out woman in public’. Then, because The Drugstore still exists as a building, you have people saying ‘I went into the abandoned building and kissed this person’. You have this 20 to 30 year period of experiences, all informing one another.
Sadly, at one point, I hear Queering the Map got spammed. What happened?
What is the moderation process like now?
Now there’s a group of about 10 moderators, all within my network. We work together on a Slack group incase posts come up where we’re not sure what to do with them. The guidelines are no hate, no racist garbage -- even from within the community because it exists there too, no spam, and no sensitive information like exact addresses, phone numbers, or full names -- unless it’s a public figure. The next step is keeping it as community generated as possible, so that if people see something on the map they don’t feel should be there, they can alert us. We have a lot to moderate -- we got 3500 new posts this week!
That’s a lot! Why do you think a site like this politically important right now?
I think we’re living in a moment where queerness is being commodified and sold back to us, especially if we look at things like Pride or gay neighbourhoods. It’s a concerning place to be. If we go back to the beginning of queer theory as a term, it’s very much predicated on being a coalitional politic, not a politic that tries to squash out difference but one that tries to keep difference in tact as it moves towards similar political aims. I was interested in how participatory design could be used to get back to that feeling or that ethos.
Another thing I’ve been thinking about is the map’s importance in a moment where there is so much political polarisation. There's so much work being done trying to splinter left leaning communities. Storytelling is a really valuable way to bridge those divides, a place to unite against the catastrophe that is the current state of the world. It’s about reinvesting in collectivity. Evidently the site is totally anonymous, but the impact of this project isn’t predicated on an individual being present or located as the person we’re supposed to care for, it’s more about extending our care to every queer person.
Finally, what’s next for Queering the Map? How are you developing it?
My dream is to secure funding so it can develop and exist as a living archive for queer experience. I’ve started a GoFundMe to try to gather funds to pay for hosting, new features, the people helping me develop the project and to pay moderators even small amounts of money. I’m working to make it sustainable rather than a blip in internet time, because I think the emotional work it’s doing is really valuable. I love the idea of it being a space that people come back to and add experiences to as they happen. I’d really like to see it be taken up in different languages and in more places around the world, where it’s not necessarily as safe to be a queer person.