As you may or may not know, February is LGBT History Month, with the theme this year being of ‘Peace, Activism and Reconciliation’. Marking 50 years since the Stonewall Riots, a pivotal moment in LGBT+ history, it’s an important reminder of the struggles and fights of others who have paved the way for the lives we have today.
To coincide with LGBT History Month, Inkbrew Productions will tour a new play across venues in Lancashire, Manchester and Salford from 9th February to 31st May. Directed by multi-award winning playwright Stephen M Hornby, ‘The Adhesion of Love’ tells the extraordinary true story of how an architect’s assistant from Bolton crossed the Atlantic in 1891 to meet the visionary queer poet Walt Whitman.
In 1885, John W Wallace, a working-class man from Bolton, set up the Eagle Street ‘College’, a book group that celebrates a love for Walt Whitman’s poetry. Attracting a small group of like-minded men, Wallace embarks on a journey of spiritual and sexual self-discovery through Whitman’s words.
When Wallace arrives in America six years later and meets his literary hero face-to-face, he is forced to confront the true nature of the intimacy the college members are seeking. On his return to Bolton, Wallace is unsure how to express his new sexual and spiritual awakening within in the conservative confines of Victorian England.
Below, Stephen M Hornby, writer and director of ‘The Adhesion of Love’ and LGBT History Month playwright in residence, talks about the importance of queer history and how plays can help.
We have a past that is mostly unknown to us.
Many of us won’t have children, so when we die the records of our queer lives will end up in landfill. We have been taught a self-erasing history by a society that is only just getting round to seeing us as vaguely equal humans.
From the literary executors of Lord Byron who gathered to burn his sex diary down through the decades, the centuries, what little record there has been of us has often been similarly destroyed, or censored, or ignored, or wilfully misinterpreted.
And then I read this. From Bob Katter. An MP in Australia. He says of being gay, ‘It’s just like a fashion trend – tomorrow they’ll be another fashion. I just don’t want to waste any time on it.’ Unsurprisingly, Bob opposes equal marriage.
The link between seeing anything un-heterosexual as a “lifestyle choice” and denying basic rights to a people who make that “choice” is very real. And not just with Bob. It’s an argument used all over the world, and it’s always used by people who see the “choice” as a negative one and who want to persecute and oppress us.
One of the most powerful arguments against this queerness as “lifestyle choice” hate talk is to persuasively and repeatedly assert, prove and demonstrate that we have always been here. The words, identities, social rituals and cultural expressions may have changed and will keep changing, but we have always been here.
The historian requires proof to make an assertion about the past. But we know that a lot of our proof has been destroyed.
So, how do we prove ourselves?
The historian’s position is, of course, usually heteronormative. Why not flip the model and start from the equally valid position that the past was queer and ask for proof of cis heterosexuality?
I think playwriting about the past is part of the answer. It’s a way of creating that queer assumption as a narrative, of filling in the historical record, and of testing it to see it fits the facts.
I think plays can be restorative acts, acts of restitution to a misinterpreted past, to an absent lover, to the great queer ghosts who never got to howl in the night.
I take pleasure in revivifying that howl. That howl is the one that men like Bob can hear deep in darkest moments of their nightmares. And it terrifies them.