5 March 2024

The Art of Belonging: building LGBTQIA+ communities through creative expression

by Amy Anshaw-Nye

Amy Anshaw-Nye is a queer writer and essayist living and working on unceded Darug land.

Content note: This post mentions the impacts of isolation on queer individuals

Picture this: I’m in my early 20s, standing in a queue with hundreds of queer people. We’re all either wearing a plaid shirt or a trench coat. Inside the venue are two actors who, if their characters kissed, would send us into a collective swoon that’d send us clacking down like a line of dominos. I’m at a Supernatural convention.

Content creators were the beating heart of any fandom. My wheelhouse was fanfiction, and the Supernatural fandom was my first real-life foray into the queer arts community. I didn’t recognise it as such at the time. Only now I look back do I realise how sharing my passion for storytelling with other queer writers was a valuable and formative experience. As a young queer person, I had found that thing always touted as being essential for good mental health: belonging. By joining this group of queer creatives and self-proclaimed misfits, I’d emerged from the decade-long isolation that had saturated my queer experience so far.

The impacts of isolation on queer individuals and communities:

Social isolation is an issue for the LGBTQIA+ community. According to this study published on NLM (1), “isolation is often the main source of pain and suffering for young LGBTQ[IA+] individuals”; this isolation is, in part, because of social “othering”, which makes it harder for queer people to access basic needs such as housing, healthcare, and employment.

Art as self-care and community care:

Creating and enjoying art are often recommended as powerful methods of self-care but are not as often endorsed as valuable avenues of community care. Community care and self-care are in constant dialogue with each other; for us, community care encompasses all the things queer community members can do for each other. Many artforms we might practice are solitary pursuits, and it’s easy to overlook the pathways they provide to connection; but whether you create or pour yourself into the works of others, art is a conduit for connection between souls: the artist(s) and the person(s) interacting with the art. We don’t have to be in the same room, the same place, or even in the same time-period. When we read Virginia Woolf; listen to The Runaways; or watch The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert, we are reaching across time, deepening our understanding of the queer experience, and making our community that much wider.

As queer people, the arts are a platform for our personal expression, and to express ourselves through art is an invitation for others to understand. This why we have drag performance. This is why queer zinesters shared printed versions of their hearts and minds with their communities(2). It’s why we flock to each other and create our own niche arts communities online. It’s why we laugh and cry when we watch a movie or read a book, and why it hits even harder when that story is queer. It’s why we rage against the Bury Your Gays trope. It’s why Tumblr was a massive hit with queer fandoms (and why the fanfiction writers of those fandoms queered every piece of media they enjoyed, no matter how “straight” it was). Expressing ourselves and relating to each other through art is a profound act of healing: for the self, for our communities.

From the time I stood with fellow queer creatives at that Supernatural convention to when I stood with my current fellow queer creatives at a writers’ event I attended just last week, I had a feeling of coming home. For me, existing inside queer arts communities means home-coming, over and over again. This is why I create art, it’s why I consume art, it’s why the arts have saved my life.

So, how do I participate?

You really don’t need to be an arts prodigy to participate. Most of us aren’t. You don’t even have to be “good”. All you need is a desire to create. Whether you approach things as creator or a supporter, engagement in the arts (with a veritable candy shop of artforms to choose from) is an act of self-care, of community care, of connecting with other queer people. It’s a way of understanding and sharing the stories scrawled across our souls.

Here are a few ideas to get started:

Join a queer writing group or book club.

Attend zine fairs and zine-making workshops.

Take arts workshops and classes.

Search for queer arts communities online using tags.

Check to see if there’s a queer bookshop in your nearest city.

Keep an eye on the Say it Out Loud events calendar(3) for upcoming arts events.





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