Opinion

London's Queer, Sex-Positive Spaces: How They Lift Us Up, And Let Us Down

London's Queer, Sex-Positive Spaces: How They Lift Us Up, And Let Us Down
A hand reaches into a rainbow of club lights
"After emerging from the lockdowns, I made it a personal goal to explore this scene". Image: iStock/Eduardo Ribas

Queer and sex-positive communities have always been a big part of London’s social scene, and many new groups and events have popped up in the last few years.

After emerging from the lockdowns, I made it a personal goal to explore this scene, trying to find a community I could relate to and feel celebrated and safe in, but also have a good old-fashioned good time. In many ways, it was a complicated time to be starting on such a mission: many venues had closed during the pandemic, but there was also a significant emergence of new events, starting in the fresh, post-Covid climate. I imagine many of the new organisers, like me, had developed a strong community-seeking impulse over the long period of social isolation, and were proactive in taking matters into their own hands.

One of the first events that I tried out was Crossbreed, which — despite having been founded in 2019 — really started to take off as restrictions started to lift. Initially hosted in various clubs throughout London, they eventually took on a permanent venue, and upped their frequency from monthly to weekly. Crossbreed was a queer, sex-positive rave, with a dance floor and a play space. If you haven't heard this story before, you might already be taking note of the past tense here. Put a pin in that, for now.

A headshot of the author
Rosen Pitman-Wallace only had positive experiences at Crossbreed, but not everyone did.

According to one attendee I spoke to about it, Crossbreed was "body-positive, inclusive, and more trans-friendly than most places". That description resonates with me, and I only had good experiences with the event (I suppose I should feel lucky, but again, we'll come to that). One thing that particular stood out about Crossbreed was how big it was, and how many people attended. There was something special about a space on that scale which tried to centre queer people and queer pleasure. Many people found what they wanted there, I even knew some who attended weekly, every Sunday, like their own queer church service. The weekly schedule was pretty unique too: a lot of similar events only run monthly, or bi-monthly, or even less — and knowing this space existed every weekend meant something for a lot of people, myself included.

"Too good to be true"

A partier holds their arm aloft at a rave
"One person I spoke to even said that they weren't entirely surprised by what happened ". Image: iStock/Biserka Stojanovic

So, back to the past tense: after three years (including a period of online only parties during lockdowns), Crossbreed's founder resigned in mid-November, and it was recently confirmed that the remaining team wouldn't continue running the event without him. This occurred after a variety of allegations, many of the most serious surrounding the aforementioned founder Alex Warren (a.k.a. Kiwi), were shared by an anonymous Instagram account. I witnessed an outpouring of grief from the community, and I felt a real sense of disappointment.

While the scale of Crossbreed's rise and the suddenness of its fall might be unique, for many people in the scene the disappointment it provokes is all too familiar. One person I spoke to even said that they weren't entirely surprised by what happened because the event "seemed too good to be true". Sadly, there are a lot of similar, smaller scale stories like this one. An unrelated party, specifically geared towards lesbian pet-players, was mentioned by a couple of my sources and shut down earlier this year due to abuse by one of its founders coming to light. Some of the largest parties in the London kink scene still go on despite a low hum of allegations that has followed them for years. In other cases, the disappointment doesn't rise to the level of abuse, but might be a micro-aggression or even just a less than welcoming vibe. Speaking for myself, at one queer-women's focused event I got hassled by a group of women asking about my gender presentation, and whether I was "transitioning to a man". Meanwhile, one of my interviewees described a different LGBTQ+ kink event as "not overtly racist…but certainly not welcoming".

These experiences might not be universal, but they're certainly pervasive.

"It's complicated to love something that'll probably hurt you again"

A person in a pup mask
"Just being surrounded by the sight and sound and smell of other queer people, queer bodies, is meaningful." Image: iStock/Craig Strachan

So why do we keep returning to these spaces, when so many have disappointed us? In fact, we don’t just return to them, we fight for them. Earlier this year, London's kink community came together to show solidarity with Klub Verboten after they were threatened with shutdown by Tower Hamlets council. I think the answer lies in the very impulse that propelled me out of lockdown and into them in the first place. As one of my interviewees told me, queer people "need each other". Just being surrounded by the sight and sound and smell of other queer people, queer bodies, is meaningful, especially when so many of us have at one time or another felt like we might be the only freak like us in the whole world. For my own part, the rare places where I can be my full queer self in its weird, unpalatable messiness are precious, and I'm grateful for them.

It's not an easy time to be a queer or trans person, and the spaces, or just nights that allow us to 'let loose' as one of my sources put it, are vital. No wonder we fight to protect them.

Of course, it's complicated to love something and know that it'll probably hurt you again. But community is, as one scenester told me, "a love/hate thing". We need better spaces, but we definitely need spaces. It's often easier to demolish than to rebuild, but I hope in the wake of Crossbreed's decline, we can find ways to come back together, and give community-building another go — even if we know it might fail us again.

Last Updated 19 December 2022

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