The Queer


Words by Prishita Maheshwari-Aplin

Illustrations by Paola De La Cruz

Cover of Issue #16

This article is part of Issue #16

Buy Now


How queer ways of living and loving could provide realisable models for a pluriversal future.

Queer individuals within cis-heteropatriarchal and post-colonial societies have been imagining and creating alternative ways of living and loving for centuries. Driven by a search for safety, stability and connection in a world that continues to oppress and marginalise these communities, these innovations also have centred many of the values outlined in Pluriverse: A Post-Development Dictionary as features of a bio-civilisation.

From building mutual aid networks that centre solidarity and understanding our oneness with, and impact on, nature through the lens of queer ecology, to modelling non-hierarchy in grassroots activist groups, communes and non-monogamous relationships, queer communities have long been questioning the restrictive relational models prescribed by capitalist and heteronormative societies. Thus, queer history and lived experience in these environments have the foundations to provide realisable models for the construction of the idealised pluriversal future.

A collective ethics

There is a certain sense of common and collective ethics in considering queerness “not as being about who you’re having sex with (that can be a dimension of it); but queer as being about the self that is at odds with everything around it, and has to invent and create and find a place to speak and to thrive and to live” - as posited by writer and activist bell hooks in a 2014 conversation at The New School. This ethos not only spans borders, but breaks them, in how we provide solidarity to siblings across the world. Viewing queerness as a shared ethos in itself fosters collaboration, innovation and care outside of the bounds of described gender and sexuality - which, although inherent, are limited by language and context. This queer lens also helps grassroots community groups channel differing perspectives into advocating for shared goals.

One such group being the Gay Liberation Front. In 1970, students Bob Mellers and Aubrey Walter established the UK branch of the Gay Liberation Front (GLF). Originating in the US during a period of increasingly militant queer resistance following the 1969 Stonewall Uprising, GLF provided a home and a training ground for a new generation of radical liberationists. As such, it was a democratic and non-hierarchical group, rooted in anarchy. “GLF would not tolerate leaders, and this was upheld by calling out, parody, camp humour and speaking directly”, says original GLF member Stuart Feather.

Still, the group needed some overarching organisation. “Anyone could organise meetings, and there would often be several meetings at the same time. There were no leaders and no followers,” explains Ted Brown, who joined GLF in 1970. “But we knew that there were people who were [more] confident in speaking, [so] we developed a system whereby there was a jar on the table in which people could drop a note of their comments or ideas. We made sure that those were read at each meeting so that nobody felt left out.”

Smaller functional groups soon broke off - these included a Manifesto Group, Women’s Group, Street Theatre Group, Communes Group, The Youth Group and a Counter-Psychiatry Group. In this way, members were able to contribute to the overarching aims of GLF, and the broader movement, in ways that best aligned with their interests and skill-sets. Rather than fighting for power within a single sphere, members poured their energies into multiple interconnected streams; and these flowed into a singular force, driving towards the sea of queer liberation.

For GLF, queer advocacy was about more than just legal recognition or acceptance. It was about collective liberation for all marginalised people, and a deconstruction of a cis-heteropatriarchal system through questioning gender roles, homonormativity and assimilation. The Gay Liberation Front also proposed collective commune living through a shift in the personal queer consciousness. Their 1971 manifesto reads: “Our gay communes and collectives must not be mere convenient living arrangements or worse, just extensions of the gay ghetto. They must be a focus of consciousness-raising (i.e. raising or increasing our awareness of our real oppression) and of gay liberation activity, a new focal point for members of the gay community.” However, they were not naive. They knew that “it won’t be easy, because this society is hostile to communal living.” Yet, GLF communes formed from Brixton to Bounds Green.

Queer individuals have long explored alternate relationship structures, perhaps because queerness itself casts doubt on the societally-imposed notions of “acceptable” relationships.

Communal living

Across the Atlantic Ocean, just 15 minutes south of Ithaca, New York, Lavender Hill was established as one of the few gay and lesbian communes in the Back to the Land movement. Over the 1970s, a motley group of creatives and activists - including Larry Mitchell, David Hirsch and Yvonne Fisher, among others - fostered this space for collaboration, gender exploration and socio-political innovation. As Larry Mitchell writes in The Faggots & Their Friends Between Revolutions, “Although the men have divided all the city spaces up and given each space a name so it could be used for only one purpose, the faggots turn everything they can get into spaces to live in and eat in and to love in.”

GLF’s proposition for collective living was also realised by a group of radical lesbians in 1980s London. The Rebel Dykes found one another at Greenham Common Women’s Peace Camp, the female-only camp protesting US nuclear weapons, and created a home in the squats of Brixton and Hackney. They depended on one another for everything - from food to safety - and shared everything, sometimes with 18 lesbians and a “menagerie of animals” crammed into a six-person house. In the 2021 documentary about their lives, one of the Rebel Dykes, Maj, says: “Our birth families had rejected us, basically, so we would get together at Christmas…. This one Christmas I think we had 26 women for Christmas dinner.” Another Rebel Dyke Seija shares: “They became my family… that was something that was lasting; they were people that loved me and that I loved.”

Rooted in interdependence, solidarity and reciprocity, these networks draw attention to the political landscape that creates need and vulnerability, strengthening communities from within.

Non-hierarchy in relationships and community-building

The Rebel Dykes modelled non-hierarchy not only in their community-building and living dynamics, but also in their interpersonal relationships - finding familial security in the platonic, and divorcing sexual and romantic connection from ownership. “Everybody was sleeping with everybody else”, says a voice on the documentary. Maj adds: “We loved each other, and then we loved people who loved our lovers, so wouldn’t we want to shag them as well?”

Relationship anarchy is a philosophy that draws on the tenets of political anarchy, centring three main values: non-hierarchy (i.e. no relationship is ranked as more important than another, whether romantic or platonic), anti-prescriptionist (i.e. each relationship is allowed to develop structures and boundaries based on individual needs, rather than predetermined rules), and non-monogamy. Queer individuals have long explored alternate relationship structures, perhaps because queerness itself casts doubt on the societally-imposed notions of “acceptable” relationships. Once we are already functioning on the margins of society, there are fewer barriers to breaking down other preconceived notions. This, in turn, offers room for creating expansive solutions that challenge the learned behaviours driving societal inequalities - for living and loving in novel ways that loosen the chokehold of capitalism, colonialism and the cis-heteropatriarchy.

Experiencing love as abundant challenges a capitalist scarcity mindset, where individuals are driven to compete for “limited” resources - such as job security, material wealth, social status or moral worth. The GLF challenged “compulsive monogamy” in their 1971 manifesto, highlighting its misogynistic reliance on “ownership”, and promoting a more equitable approach in a society that did, and still continues to, place romantic relationships on a pedestal. They wrote: “People need a variety of relationships in order to develop and grow, and to learn about other things.”

Solidarity and reciprocity

Aligning with relationship anarchy fosters community and a sense of shared responsibility. Although driven by social inequalities, this practice has undoubtedly strengthened the queer tradition of mutual aid - where community care is enacted via voluntary and collaborative exchanges of resources and services, such as housing, food, healthcare and transportation. Rooted in interdependence, solidarity and reciprocity, these networks draw attention to the political landscape that creates need and vulnerability, strengthening communities from within.

Unprotected, unsupported and exploited by systems, queer people have long needed each other to survive. Mutual aid was a life-line for the queer community during the 1980s AIDS crisis in the UK and the US. Ostracised by their families, and neglected and demonised by the government, many patients were cared for primarily by their friends. Care systems in North America, for example, were largely started by gay and/or trans Black and Brown AIDS patients. Lesbians, as sociologist Judith Stacey described in a 2005 paper published in the journal Signs, also undertook “herculean levels of caretaking outside default family form”, volunteering at hospitals, donating blood and advocating in solidarity with HIV-positive community members.

Today, queer people continue to build and draw on mutual aid networks, with many around the world experiencing rejection, abuse and housing instability - unsupported by their families or the government. This is especially true for trans, non-binary and gender-nonconforming (trans+) people. With rising rates of transphobic hate crime, and increased transphobic rhetoric in the media and in politics, mutual aid networks provide a small safety net for trans+ people to think beyond survival; they create space for the community to make mistakes, to dream.

“We have to be friends and family because, ultimately, we’re the only people we can really count on,” says Cara, founder and coordinator of fiveforfive, a transfem and trans women collective fund.

Although traditionally modelled by intersectional marginalised communities - including mixed-status immigrant Latinx families, working-class or poor communities, and Black and Brown communities - mutual aid has the potential to radically transform how we all relate to one another. It has the power to be more than a band-aid on the gaping wound of systemic inequality.

Neighbourhood support networks began to be recognised and practised in response to multiple governments’ failures during the Covid-19 pandemic. However, these were temporary measures, explained by Natalia Quiroga Díaz in her essay on the popular solidarity economy in Pluriverse: A Post-Development Dictionary as activities “carried out only until the crisis is overcome and a return to the ‘modern’ economy becomes feasible”, which, thus, do not have the aforementioned “transformational potential”. For mutual aid networks to be truly impactful in a diverse Western society, we must first acknowledge our relative privileges, and expand the definition of family - and even community - to act with a sense of responsibility for the wellbeing of all. We must shape an environment that allows for the understanding of reciprocity without expectation.

To create a pluriversal future requires this imagination, innovation and persistence - qualities modelled by trans communities worldwide. In resistance to the lethargic tyranny of a heavily prescriptive and binary-gendered society, trans+ individuals vibrate with the energy of potential and self-creation.

The trans pluriverse

Political activist and academic Angela Davis famously said during a 2014 lecture at Southern Illinois University: “You have to act as if it were possible to radically transform the world. And you have to do it all the time.” To create a pluriversal future requires this imagination, innovation and persistence - qualities modelled by trans communities worldwide. In resistance to the lethargic tyranny of a heavily prescriptive and binary-gendered society, trans+ individuals vibrate with the energy of potential and self-creation. It could be said that the trans experience - as defined within a post-colonial context - is in itself a lesson in the creation of alternative futures. That non-binary existence is, simply, proof of the plural.

For many Indigenous communities across the world, gender plurality traditionally has not only been accepted, but often revered. Rooting their understanding of self in spirituality, some Indigenous American people have viewed “two-spirit” people not as “transsexuals” seeking to change their gender from birth, but rather as individuals gifted with the spirits of both a man and a woman. Thus, they have upheld such individuals as religious leaders and teachers. They also have placed value not only in the religious and spiritual blessings of gender nonconformity, but also in the practical benefits these individuals offer a community.

In the Diné (Navajo) group, for example, a family was traditionally believed to be economically benefited by having a nádleehi (literally translated as “one who is transformed”). The nádleehi, a male-bodied person with a feminine nature, often would undertake community care and solidarity - alloparenting siblings’ children, caring for elderly relatives and adopting homeless children. Similarly, in many North American Indigenous communities, two-spirit people would regularly marry others depending on their preferred roles, i.e. male or female individuals who preferred doing ‘women’s work’ (gathering and farming) would marry and cohabit with a masculine individual of either sex who preferred doing ‘men’s work’ (hunting and warfare). Traditionally, this framework was led by the need for balanced and complementary family dynamics, as opposed to prescriptive sex or gender combinations. As such, it could be supposed that the gender non-conforming spouses of two-spirit people did not see themselves as “homosexual” or as anything other than “normal”.

Queer ecology and oneness with nature

Viewing trans+ identities through the lens of Indigenous history, we can understand gender plurality as not only “normal”, but also as a crucial facet of a pluriverse that considers the human, spiritual and natural worlds to be interconnected. Aside from the notion that trans+ people embody the spirits of multiple genders, they are also simply a manifestation of a broad diversity that exists throughout nature. Building on the eco-feminist movements, a queer ecology framework questions the binary in all its forms - i.e. human versus non-human, man versus woman, mind versus body, etc. - and highlights the commonality of homosexuality (found in at least 1,500 species), and sex and gender fluidity, across the natural world. Clownfish can transition sex to maintain reproductive capacity and a social order in their discrete residential groups; intersexuality has been reported in mammals, fish, nematodes, and crustaceans; and gynandromorphs (individuals with bodies where one side presents completely as male and the other as female) are also found in many species of birds (e.g. chickens and finches), insects (e.g. butterflies, moths and leaf insects), and crustaceans (e.g. lobsters).

Queer ecology questions the colonial separation of humans and nature, an ideology that validates extractive practices. Rather than viewing the non-human world as a resource to be exploited for human gain, a queer ecology lens allows us to view non-human species as “a family and community” - as proposed by Professor Catriona Sandilands, one of the first to write about queer ecology in depth in 1994. Ultimately, this outlook has the power to significantly transform how we live alongside one another and the natural world.

From reimagining farming spaces to centre regenerative agriculture and slow-growing practices, to building housing cooperatives that reduce individual climate impact, queer communities have long found ways to build healthier and more sustainable relationships with non-human nature. They are now also seeking personal and community healing through connecting with the natural environment – collectives such as misery in London offer regular guided sessions in which participants can engage with nature in collaborative ways, such as through foraging medicinal herbs and workshopping sustainable artistic practices, like cyanotype.

Queer ecology questions the colonial separation of humans and nature, an ideology that validates extractive practices.

A queer pluriverse

A queer ecology outlook challenges the idea that “destabilisation of identity as a political construct and the creation of liveable stories for the future are mutually exclusive projects,” as suggested by Catriona Sandilands in her 1997 article, Mother Earth, the Cyborg, and the Queer: Ecofeminism and (More) Questions of Identity. A future where queer identity can be personal without being political is entirely possible, and perhaps a necessary aspect of a bio-civilisation. Not only are we interconnected, with one another as humans and with the non-human world, but so are the values outlined above. Just as cooperative and communal living models interdependence and reciprocity, so does it support ecological sustainability. Challenging heteronormativity and compulsory monogamy not only breaks down hierarchy but also strengthens common and collective ethics. Understanding that all our oppressions are linked and that creating a fairer future requires an intersectional approach with one another, and with non-human nature, is central to realising the pluriverse.

At a time when the far-right is gaining traction worldwide, with increased demonisation and scapegoating of already marginalised communities - and we face a looming climate crisis - it’s more urgent than ever to find realisable models for living that challenge this exploitative and unjust system. While Pluriverse: A Post-Development Dictionary, and other works, are powerful and transformational, they are limited in their acknowledgement of queer innovation. Queer and trans+ ways of living and loving - in radical defiance of a cis-heteronormative, colonial and capitalist society - demonstrate that sustainable and equitable futures are not only possible, but achievable; and, when deconstructed and analysed, can provide realisable models for all.

Share this article

Words by

Prishita Maheshwari-Aplin

Prishita Maheshwari-Aplin has a degree in Biological Anthropology from the University of Cambridge, and a background in both computational and lab-… Learn more

Illustrations by

Paola De La Cruz

Paola De La Cruz is a second-generation Dominican artist and community organiser, who navigates the intersection of art, advocacy and lived experie… Learn more

This article is part of Issue #16

Cover of  Issue #16
Pluriverse Confluence Alliance

A critique of the prevailing narratives that shape our lives: challenging oppressive systems, revitalising cultural narratives, unveiling obscured …

Buy Issue #16
Explore Issue #16

Explore Related Pieces