Whose Space?

In 2005 I completed a Masters in Urban Regeneration, Research and Policy at the University of Birmingham in which I wrote a dissertation on the development and future of Birmingham's gay village. In the following short comment I note the idea of space and sexuality, a topic which I considered in my dissertation.

Whose Space?

We tend to think of space as being gender and sex neutral. How could it be otherwise when buildings and spaces are open to everyone and are made up of bricks and mortar and concrete. For the LGBT community space is anything but gender and sex neutral however. For instance a same sex couple holding hands or kissing in Soho in London would likely raise little attention whereas a same sex couple holding hands or kissing on a town high street would not likely have the same response.

There is no significant difference in the buildings, the street or the environment but the attitudes to such acts would be considerably different. In this example the space in Soho could be considered less heterosexual, the assumption being that Soho is known for being a gay ‘centre’ whereas a high street would not be considered as such. How can space be sexualised then?

Society has tended to assume that heterosexuality is the norm and the normative assumption is therefore everyone is heterosexual unless they declare otherwise or people perceive someone as being ‘different’ to this norm. In this sense a heterosexual couple kissing would not be considered to challenge the heteronormative view of the environment. A same sex couple kissing however challenges this assumption of the world as heteronormative.

Gay villages for example represent spaces where the heteronormative view of the world is weakened, where space is less dictated by gender and sex and there is no normative assumption. Many gay villages exist near transport interchanges and in areas that are post-industrial where space has lost its heteronormative assumption and has been abandoned or is less fixed on heteronormative assumptions.

We may consciously think whether a road or building is LGBT friendly when we visit, for example when we choose to hold hands with someone in a gay village but many decisions on behaviour may be subconscious and based on society’s heteronormative assumption of space as heterosexual and how far we want to challenge it.


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