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Yvette Taylor's take on queer, class and intersections of identity, inequality and community.

Yvette Taylor is Professor of Education at the University of Strathclyde, and previously worked at Newcastle University (2005-2011) and at London South Bank University (2011-2015). As a queer feminist sociologist, Yvette has worked with the Scottish Government researching LGBTQ+ lives in the pandemic, and with Scottish Ballet on Safe to be Me, exploring inclusive curriculum in schools.

Yvette’s most recent book is Working-Class Queers. Time, Place and Politics (Pluto, 2023), and the question of ‘Where are you from?’ is posed as one of meaning and value, implicating us as classed subjects. Yvette talks about being from a working-class background and feeling that as strength and stigma – including via welfare and schooling structures as well as interpersonally, including in LGBTQ+ venues. Yvette runs a Queer and the Cost of Living Crisis Seminar Series as part of a project on Queer Social Justice, which continues with questions of class, community and care in, through and beyond crises times. RECLAIM caught up with Yvette to ask some questions about queer, class and the intersections of identity, inequality and community, detailed in Working-Class Queers which covers the crises of austerity, recession, Brexit and (post) pandemic times.

1. What do you think defines the working class for you? 

I’d say I’ve spent my ‘academic life’ so far thinking about this question! Along with others of course, but sometimes it is and has been a lonely journey, especially being concerned with class and sexuality equally. And my equal interest is part of my personal biography which is embedded into what I do, and who I am, including in higher education. I think I’d be more easily recognised as a sexualities scholar, rather than as a class ‘expert’, which is interesting. Queer and class studies have typically been positioned as different concerns or academic disciplines, and while the language of intersectionality proliferates popularly as well as in academia, and in policy, I think this is sometimes mis-understood as just a benign listing of difference or protected characteristics, rather than something that’s socially structured and through key institutions.

I think working-class studies still needs to think harder beyond reproducing working-classness as national, white, masculine or straight, to queer that story, and as one beyond UK borders, challenged and remade in light of Brexit, for example. And I think queer studies needs to think about its own elitism and reproduction, in re-engaging with class issues. For me, defining class has always been about this back and forth, maybe re-using or re-purposing, between disciplines, or communities, to think about the possibilities and limits of definition, and for working-class queers themselves. Sometimes definitions and certainties matter and declaring a working-class background, factual reality. And it’s also one that can be questioned, or denied, especially in middle-class space.

So, I don’t think there’s one definition of working class, but there are ongoing, and likely increasing, classed processes. I’d reject a simple, unchanging definition, or the idea of an authentic, or politicised or romanticised working-class that we can easily recuperate or ever get back to. And I think questions of definition don’t stand static or alone – I’m less interested in a particular or precise economic scale or bracket, than about how class is lived in our everyday existence, including as deflection or refusal of middle-classness, or as a normalisation of capitalism.

2. Do you think it's important to recognise the unique differences when being working class and part of the LGBTQ+ community? What unique differences are they?

So, I think the ‘out’ or visible, or mainstreamed, representation of LGBTQ+ people is often quite middle-class, as ‘acceptable’ or ‘good’ subjects claiming their increasingly rights as citizens, consumers and as part of now state-recognised families. There’s been a lot of research on how LGBTQ+ scene spaces have been wrapped up in gentrification of urban areas, or how middle-class queers are now able to access – and pay – for a broad range of services and supports. Of course, part of that story is referring back to a time when LGBTQ+ scene space was marginalised or criminalised, and parents faced prosecution in court. I’m not necessarily saying that being middle-class is always easy or, conversely, that being working-class is always hard. I think there are varied and multiple ways that working-class queers feel ambivalent about, or refuse, middle-classness. Just as there’s critique of straight lives, or heteronormativity, many working-class queers, spoke about value of

being working-class, even if they were also realistic about the limitations, including of financial restrictions. And the fact that the working-class is not one big happy or homogenous group. We might think of working-classes as already queer, as varied, politicised, subversive, as well as exhausted, disappointed, and divided. I’m not sure I’d say there are unique differences, as that depends on who and what the point of comparison is – I think it’d want to mix-up the question andthink about where we are starting from when we think about, measure, or include LGBTQ+ life. I’d also want to resist the story of risk alone; while there were and are many stories of unemployment, underemployment, poor health care, inadequate housing, educational drop-out, and criminalisation, I think the commonality that I’d want to point to is the sense of complication, and a real pragmatism in getting-by in a world that’s still not really made for, with or by working-class queers.

3. What did you enjoy most about writing Working Class Queers or are there any chapters that you just loved? 

I’d say first that writing a book is hard. I say that as a reminder to myself too ’cause once it’s out, and bound nicely with a colourful cover, a couple of nice reviews maybe, then it’s easy to forget that, and forget the RSI, the tears, the sense of failure, the questioning if you’ll ever meet the – extended - deadline. Which, I hope to an extent, I’ve conveyed and written with and through in the book. It’s a book that was written through times of hope and hopelessness, whether in the early promise of the New Labour government, or in the midst of pandemic restrictions, when the data of the day was literally about life and death. In that context I interviewed queer ‘key workers’, who as migrants to the UK were often subject to visa restrictions while working to save the UK’s NHS. I feel like I could speak of the highs and lows in every interviewee account, and I interviewed over 250 people over time, but then that would just be a set of really long transcribed pages. One of the joys – as well as

challenges – is selecting accounts, or cases, or quotes, which reflect shared experiences and commonalities, or which represent a crucial difference, and a distinction from go-to-stories. At a time of increasing UK and international transphobia and right-wing activism, it was important for me to convey the stories of trans interviewees, including those identified in ways which challenged some of the stereotypical and often false binaries. I really appreciate and value Nneka’s contribution as someone who identified as a mixed-race pansexual trans lesbian, critical too of the very white rural place she lives. Interviewees’ accounts confound easy acronyms, or categories, and stories of class are always also stories about race.

4. Do you think society currently has a place for working-class queer people? Do they get the

recognition they deserve? 

I think society has working-class people, groups and communities – even if the word ‘working-class’ might not be used either externally or internally, by people themselves. And I think that’s around classed reasons which continues to see working-classness as something wrong, at fault, not of value, as failed and failing - who would want to associate with such a term?! I think some people are able to claim and mobilise a connection to working-classness, including their history. Again, this might be through a connection to masculinised hard labour, such as shipbuilding or mining, or through domestic labour and caring. My granda worked in the shipyards as a boilermaker, moving there when the old steam engine trains were replaced, to then find himself replaced in another wave of de-industrialisation that hit shipbuilding in Glasgow. My granny worked as a cleaner all her life. I recognise and feel this story, and I certainly don’t think they got the recognition or material comfort

they deserved. And that’s a story that connects through globalisation, colonialism and patriarchy. I grew up in a single-parent family in the same council estate as my granny and granda: in their day it had been imagined as a cure to urban ills and slum clearance. That promise failed and the estate ‘sunk’. I don’t think my mum – or her kids – got the recognition they deserved, including from within the working-class community, pitted against each other via anti-welfare cutbacks and moral stigma from Thatcher onwards. Claiming benefits then or now is still stigmatising and insufficient, and over- again I heard stories of eating or heating, or the awfulness of pay-as-you-go meters. I don’t think we do enough to value the circumstances in which people do exist and get by, including with a lot of hope and care.

5. Does working-class queerness resonate with you and your lived experience? 

Yes, I think I’ve already said so. And I have repeated that over a long-term of writing, thinking, being, doing ‘working-class queer’. I do have a story, but the book, and my research generally, is never just about me, it’s not just my story, and I think I’ve got a responsibility to share across differences,commonalities and divisions. I’d also probably share that I think and hope that there’s lived experiences, meanings and challenges which can connect and resonate with middle-class queers, and even middle-class straights! I think that’s the challenge to think with and through categories, and the ways that we are all implicated in class, and, in thinking intersectionally, we’re all implicated in the making of gender, sexuality, race and so on. With that said, we can unmake these inequalities.

6. Do you plan on doing any more projects related to working-class issues/ LGBTQ+ rights? We hope so! 

The ‘what next?’ question always makes me laugh, or sigh. There’s so much to do. And I find myself looping back to what are forever questions to do with class and queerness. I remember someone asking when I was going to stop researching class and sexuality, as if that concern has been exhausted as a ‘niche’. I think until we all realise the impossibility or absurdity of that push, I’ll keep doing more projects about working-class queer issues, including my current project on Queer Social Justice.

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