Sometimes, it's just a cigar

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Hiraeth and queerness

Hiraeth is a kind of Welsh nostalgia, a longing for things that are so lost in the past they are only legends, or fragments of ideas. Add in a touch of melancholy, and a touch of sentimentality, and you have hiraeth. The following quote exemplifies all ofthis.

Hiraeth – the link with the long-forgotten past, the language of the soul, the call from the inner self. Half forgotten – fraction remembered. It speaks from the rocks, from the earth, from the trees and in the waves. It’s always there.

I grew up, intellectually, reading the works of the great, and too often neglected Welsh historian Gwyn Alf Williams.

His Euro Communist approach to history should be required reading for anyone trying to understand Britain in the 21st century. His emphasis again and again was on the Marxist formulation about people making history in circumstances that they do not choose. For him Wales was not a place, or a dragon, or a flag (invented in the twentieth century) but an intellectual  creation of a marginalized people seeking to keep their culture alive. In the process, much of Welsh history was fabricated or synthesized out of the facts, not all of them accurately remembered, to create a past to which all of the Welsh could belong. Indeed, part of my revulsion to present day Welsh nationalist politics is because it has never resolved the tension between those who seek an inclusive Welshness, and those who would create an exclusive Welshness around language, chapel and an agricultural culture that looks backwards to a time and place before the dominance of iron and coal.

In such a culture, in such a place, hiraeth, the longing for a past that may never have even existed, an attachment to a place that is already being changed out of all recognition by the people who live there now, is part of the bedrock of the national fiction. A nation that has never existed except in the heads of the people who call themselves Welsh is almost inevitably going to give birth to an emotion that is uniquely Welsh, and uniquely rooted in a sense of place, even if that place has never quite been the way you imagine it. It’s often said of childhood holiday locations that you should never go back, because your memories will not fit the present, but what of the imagined holidays of the past, the happy memories of events that never happened?

The person I am is the result of the death of all the people I could have been. They may live on in imaginary universes, in places only physicists can describe, but I am who I am because they are not. The communities I inhabit are created for me by my choices, as well as by my involvement.

Somehow, I hope you can see, the idea of queerness is also an attempt to create a place for people on the margins of the LGBT movement. In the process those who choose to be queer shape that community. If, like me, you see the rise of the mainstream LGBT movement as being shaped by gatekeepers as well as facilitators, by those who would define and rationalize what being L, or G, or B orT is and isn’t, then you’ll have to ask if being Q needs consciously to be about the margins, the people who feel they don’t fit. In the process though hiraeth needs to be avoided; there is no homeland to go back to, and as boundaries and communties shift and migrate, the margins will shift and migrate with them. Queerness, if it is to be different to what has gone before, has to always be the community of the margins, wherever they might be,and always conscious that the past is only that; passed. Those rivers have flowed,and the new margins are to be found where the river is now, not where it sprang from the ground.


2 comments on “Hiraeth and queerness

  1. jemima2013
    October 11, 2015

    This is the piece that prompted the tears, which came and went like clouds on an autumn day reading it you will see why i do believe u read my mind 🙂

    “If gender is a binary and that binary is false, might other binaries be as false and we go – oh what about transgender and cisgender as a binary? What about queer and straight as a binary? OK, how about this one, what about democratic and republican as a binary? ”

    I think you will like the interview, a lot 😉


  2. Pingback: As queer as? | Sometimes, it's just a cigar

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This entry was posted on October 11, 2015 by in Uncategorized.

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