To celebrate LGBTQ+ History month we are exploring Found Families, where people choose to love and support each other regardless of kinship or marriage.
These bonds often form to allow a place of safety and belonging in the face of societal prejudices. In our own collection we have Scottish artist Duncan Grant (1885 - 1978) who was gay. He was part of the Bloomsbury Group, a collective of writers and artists who were united by their liberal attitudes, including those on sexuality. They supported each other to develop their own ideas and lifestyles, creating a family-like bond.
We have invited guest contributor, Oskar Kirk Hansen, an Edinburgh-based multimedia artist and drag performer, to share what Found Families means to him.
My name is Oskar Kirk Hansen, I am a Danish and Scottish multimedia artist who was born in South-east Asia and grew up in Italy as a teenager. After studying film at the European Film College in Denmark, I moved to Edinburgh exactly five years ago.
Once here, I started working in meditative abstract painting, studying a part-time course at Leith School of Art, as well as performing in drag under the name Mystika Glamoor.
Mystika is the surrealist socialite of Edinburgh, mixing politics with campy humour and a vein of spiritual healing. For the past three years (including digital work during the pandemic), I have run a monthly cabaret called GLAMOOR and have travelled to perform internationally in Switzerland, Germany, and across the UK.
When asked for my thoughts on the theme of Found Families, my mind went ablaze, as they are a common occurrence within the queer community I live and work in.
Despite general changes and improvements within society at large, I still know so many people who come from unsupportive family backgrounds. Therefore they form their own special bonds with people who have either gone through similar traumas, or at least understand the pain that upbringing can cause. One of the wounds of bigotry is simply knowing that it could happen to you, even if you haven’t (yet) experienced it directly, so we automatically have profound empathy for those who do.
A drag show is a perfect space to encapsulate this feeling of a found community. Drag artists put on a veneer of perfection, glamour, and power, incarnating heightened versions of themselves on stage. In response, the audience applauds, often letting out a profound howling cheer that connects them to the performers and shows how much more is possible beyond the limits of our collective and personal pain.
It is a space of alchemical transformation and recognition of the self in the other. By seeing a heightened version of our ideal selves (and ideal communities), we can aspire to it.
I always try to tell people that, whether you’re getting dressed up in drag for the first time, or you’re simply sitting there in the audience, everything you want to achieve is on the other side of your pain. Break the shell of limitation that you were maybe taught at a young age, and realise how much more is out there, waiting for your highest self to reach out and grab.
When first starting to contemplate the idea of doing drag, I was terrified, mostly by the thought of someone on the street attacking me. But one day, as these thoughts ran through my head, someone yelled a slur at me anyway (not for the first time either). So, I realised I may as well be visibly ‘queer’, dress up as loudly as possible, and get paid doing it. And the love that has come my way from creating that version of myself far outweighs and outnumbers any hatred that may have come my way. And it can be this type of acceptance that creates strong, long-lasting found families.
I once read a quote that has stuck with me forever; ‘to be visibly queer is to choose your happiness over your safety’. By existing as visibly queer as possible, I hope we can keep teaching others that they deserve that same confidence, whether they’re straight, queer, or anything beyond those categories.
One thing that was instrumental for me in coming to terms with my queer identity was growing up with the internet. Social media platforms like Facebook and Tumblr helped me connect with other queer people with similar interests across the world.
This connection and sharing of ideals helps to forge variations of Found Families, and is undoubtedly part of why we are seeing a boom in people being more confident and secure in their identities today. New identities aren’t being invented, we are simply giving language to identities that for too long have existed in shame.
But sometimes these social platforms risk dividing us as much as they connect us, creating tribalism and echo chambers, including ones for people who fiercely oppose the mere existence of minorities.
As well as this, having relative ease in connecting to others can make some of those connections superficial. It’s easy to send emojis and supportive messages to your favourite drag queen or fellow queer person. But as these platforms become increasingly about who has the most likes and follows, are the connections we’re forming genuine attempts at unveiling truth and community, or forms of social-climbing? Perhaps, at the very least, they can be used for both.
What interests me in this and how it relates to the theme of Found Families is the balancing of our roles in modern society as individuals and as collectives.
We are forever pushed to assert our individuality and personal goals, yet as we connect to more people around the world and witness the disintegration of old systems, we need genuine community and connection now more than ever.
Having temporarily lost all performance opportunities at the beginning of the pandemic, I started a completely different type of project. A friend and I opened Kafe Kweer, a sober space in Edinburgh that sells and exhibits art by local queer creatives. It also offers the local community a chance to meet and socialise without the pressure of alcohol, as is so often the case within queer spaces such as nightclubs.
As the owner of a visibly queer space, I have long feared the risk of bigots smashing our windows, confronting us, etc. But all we have received is love, support, and curiosity.
People need real-life spaces to be seen as they truly are, and to push across their fear and into a place of comfort and control. For the most part, those who aren’t part of the queer community have recognised the need for spaces like this and have used them as a place to build bridges of empathy and understanding.
Now more than ever within the queer community, it is easy to believe that anyone who isn’t with us is against us. We have more representation than ever on TV and social media, yet the number of hate crimes has tripled. Transphobes have a prime position with people in power, and right-wing movements are gaining traction around the world. Representation does not necessarily equal liberation and can even provoke more hate crimes.
But I think it’s important to recognise that those hateful voices are the dying, desperate gasp of an ancient ideological dinosaur that deserves to be put out of its misery. It’s a last, scrambling attempt at holding onto power, and those with empathy for all human life far outnumber them.
Having moved to Edinburgh, I was reconnected with parts of my ancestry, from memories of my family’s role as doctors in the city, to the artwork of my great-great-great aunt, Phoebe Anna Traquair.
Like all good artists, I supported myself in my early days by working in hospitality. Completely by chance, I got a job as a waiter for the catering company that works in Mansfield Traquair, the church that Phoebe painted which is now predominantly used for events.
When I was exhausted from working a twelve-hour shift serving drunken wedding guests, I could look up at her work, and gain power from imagining how long it took her to complete it, especially as a woman in the 1890s. This inspired me to push through all the obstacles I was facing as an upcoming queer artist, empowering me to come to the place I find myself in today.
Phoebe has remained a sort of guardian angel and inspiration for the last five years of making Edinburgh my home.
The church features angels, Bible scenes, plants, animals, and even pagan symbolism. The amount of detail seems enough to be a life’s work, and yet Phoebe also managed to create so many other intricate pieces of art in various different fields at the same time.
One of such works, which I and many others consider to be her masterpiece, is ‘The Progress of a Soul’, an ornate series of embroidery panels depicting the human spiritual journey from innocence to despair to salvation.
The series is made up of four panels. ‘The Entrance’, symbolising joyful innocence. ‘The Stress’, darker times, obstacles, anxiety. ‘Despair’, symbolising the utter loss of hope, inertia, resignation, even death. And finally, ‘The Victory’, ascension into a higher state, the rising sun of hope after the darkness of the previous panel. Which stage are you in now? Which stage are we in as a community? As a society?
Too often minorities are asked to provide the answers to their own struggles. Queer people are expected to do all the work in fighting against homophobia, and people of colour are expected to solve racism, when ultimately these are issues for white / cishet (cisgender and heterosexual) people to work on within themselves, to ensure that they are not participating in systems of oppression that ultimately benefit them.
I don’t have all the answers. None of us do. What I do have are questions that I hope we can all ponder and carry within ourselves, together.
After the globally traumatic events of the last two years how do we create spaces of collective community care rather than the isolated focus of self-care?
How do we create a world with more empathy for all the different shades of human experience?
How do we advance the progress of our collective soul from one phase to the next?
How do we create meaningful relationships with those close to us and in our wider communities, in ways that allow us to fully be ourselves, scars and all?
Ultimately, how can we create, or find, a new definition of what it means to be a human, worldwide family during our limited time on this planet?
The acronym for lesbian, gay, bi, trans, queer, questioning and ace.
Refers to a man who has a romantic and/or sexual orientation towards men. Also a generic term for lesbian and gay sexuality - some women define themselves as gay rather than lesbian. Some non-binary people may also identify with this term.
The term "drag" refers to the performance of masculinity, femininity or other forms of gender expression. A drag queen is someone who performs femininity and a drag king is someone who performs masculinity. The term may be used as a noun as in the expression in drag or as an adjective as in drag show.
Queer is a term used by those wanting to reject specific labels of romantic orientation, sexual orientation and/or gender identity. It can also be a way of rejecting the perceived norms of the LGBT community (racism, sizeism, ableism etc). Although some LGBT people view the word as a slur, it was reclaimed in the late 80s by the queer community who have embraced it.
The fear or dislike of someone based on the fact they are trans, including denying their gender identity or refusing to accept it. Transphobia may be targeted at people who are, or who are perceived to be, trans.
The fear or dislike of someone, based on prejudice or negative attitudes, beliefs or views about lesbian, gay or bi people. Homophobic bullying may be targeted at people who are, or who are perceived to be, lesbian, gay or bi.
Means someone is both cisgender and heterosexual. It could also mean both cisgender and heteroromantic. In other words, a cishet person identifies as the gender they were assigned at birth, and they're attracted to people of the opposite gender.