I text Marcus to ask, is Margaret Tait queer? His response is no LOL, ‘Why u ask?’ I guess it was something about what you choose to document, who you are addressing and how you are looking.
I’ve often thought about the long lazy cruising look and the outdoors. For a long time I followed a porn Tumblr that was short iPhone videos of people having sex in the outdoors, but all that was really visible was a shaking branch, or a mound of scrub.
A common narrative which seems to play over and over again in literature, films, and TV is the coming out story. It’s an origin story we are asked to repeat and perfect. I am aware at this point that the coming out story also has different importance for members of the queer community. I don’t want to present gay male sexuality as a vector for the whole of queerness. I’m not sure if asking why we have to come out is a useful project. The coming out feels less like a large revelation, then a focusing–a making visible of that which was often sensed, but on a periphery. The common narrative goes that after it has rendered itself legible, a queer body migrates to an urban centre. Que Bronski Beat’s Smalltown Boy.
Eternity Knocker by Andrew Black shows this tension of sites of rural labour and how they can be aestheticised, calling into question the taxonomy of industry and leisure. The work seeks to explore previous attempts by Marie Hartley, Ella Pontefract and Joan Ingillby to preserve a way of living through documentation; and trying itself to preserve or document something of a way of life through the conversation Andrew has with current farmers. The film feels like a development of Black’s earlier work Submerged Village, which explored his position as a queer in the rural landscape. In Eternity Knocker he asks questions about how the landscape was constructed, and what his role in it may be. There is a scene of tagging lambs ears—lambs have long been a beloved animal of mine, I made my first sculpture in memory of a lamb at Yorkshire Sculpture Park as a child, I always felt like some of the lamb was in me—and I can’t help but think of gay boys earrings. A single earring in one ear, one ear means you are gay, one ear does not.
Urban centres are historically places where queers can find community as well as opportunities for inter-class encounters, as discussed at length in Samuel R Delany’s Times Square Red, Times Square Blue. Proximity to others’ pent-up sexual desire is intoxicating through pheromones alone. I often think of being able to walk lit-up street after street late into the morning in the way Eileen Myles describes in Chelsea Girls. I tweeted in 2016 while visiting the city how thickly sex hung in the air in London, not just because the bodies that populate it are consciously maintained and presented, but because things are endlessly open and available. The off license doesn’t shut. Although in Scotland it does at 10pm. But I don’t want to get into queer futurity and the idea of youth.
I don’t disagree with this grounding, or the work that is made as a result of it. I live in a city and grew up in a town fantasising of living in London, Berlin or New York. I remember once talking to Jamie at a private view before a long drive down to my partner’s family’s farm, explaining my reliance on the convenience of urban living, a lack of knowing what to do with myself at the farm. In return, they exclaimed something along the lines of no, ‘just bathe me in manure‘.
I guess what I am actually talking about is language or semantics. It’s about legibility: which queer bodies are legible, who gets to identify as such, and who actually chooses not to? How is this complicated by place?
The windmill I was tilting at was the idea of trying to queer the rural. As constructed as I think the ‘rural’ is, it is for sure already queer. Animal husbandry feels queer, and when non-exploitative feels to me like something to do with radical mutual interdependence. In most conventional folk horror there’s something evil in the soil, in the carnal, the breeding, in the kids. That’s queerness. Faggy-ness. But how useful is it to continue to present ourselves as monsters?
Francis Lee’s film God’s Own Country is as much about shame and how to have conversations as it is about gay love on a farm. It’s not that Johnny doesn’t understand his own desire, it’s his shame and inability to vocalise this that causes the ensuing drama. Dealing with the shame is part of the coming out narrative. Do I really dream of some pastoral fantasy where one doesn’t have to come out? I imagine a dialect, a slang, similar to Polari , a secret queer language or slang, but of rural queers. Words for lambs, twinks and fisting.
The rural is magic and magic is gay so therefore the rural is gay. Not just for the radical faeries. I’ve stolen that. But gay is to steal. The gay faerie movement. Cats are magic, and gay, and rural, and lazy in the sun.
Mathew Parkin is an artist living and working in Glasgow.
‘Cottaging The Hedgerow’ is a chronicle unfolding over four weeks from 20 March 2020