“I don’t like the title of this book,” my date said as he held up a copy of ‘Die Transgender-Frage’ to me in the gift shop of contemporary photography gallery C/O Berlin in Charlottenburg. “It reminds me too much of Die Judenfrage.” “Ich auch,” I heard a German woman approve. Turning around, I spied a young woman and her boyfriend nodding in agreement. It’s not that I disagree with the sentiment – I’m sure the title was picked to be appropriately provocative if it was being sold there – but it was funny to engage with a straight couple at C/O’s highly praised Queerness in Photography exhibition.The exhibition had come highly recommended through press and personal impressions of friends: it included a section curated by Tilda Swinton on her experience in Sally Potter’s seminal 1992 film Orlando – definitely something the queers I know would flock to. When we visited on a crisp autumn Sunday, I was surprised at how packed it was for a queer exhibition… with seemingly straight couples.
Eight years ago, it seemed unimaginable that straights would love a queer thing so much.
Every time I turned around, I bumped into (at least from first appearances) happy heterosexuals holding hands. That’s fine. They have a right to that, of course. I just didn’t expect so many of them at this exhibition. It made me consider an equally impressive exhibition, 2015’s Homosexualität_en at the Deutsches Historisches Museum. It featured a stunning photo of queer performance artist and body builder Cassils on the exhibition’s posters, programmes and press material. I remember how excited I was to see a show like that in a huge state institution. And it was quite something. But the audience compared to Queerness in Photography – at least from my own anecdotal evidence – was definitely smaller and definitely queerer. Eight years ago, it seemed unimaginable that straights would love a queer thing so much.
It’s not just exhibitions where you find queer culture-loving straights in Berlin. Queer Kotti watering hole Möbel Olfe isn’t known as one of underground Berlin’s best-kept secrets; it’s packed to the gay gills practically every night. Still, it was funny to bump into the star of one of German auteur Fatih Akin’s internationally recognisable films hanging there with what appeared to be his girlfriend. I don’t have a problem with straights in a queer bar (to a point), but it’s amusing to see famous people on heterosexual dates there.
Queer services, too, have started receiving extra attention recently. I’m astounded but also happy for businesses like Driller Queens, the popular queer handyperson service. It’s become so popular, in fact, that wait times can take weeks (Get that money, girl!). I have lots of straight friends who are keen to support queer businesses (and not just this one) in solidarity… it’s just ironic to think there may be some queers backlogged in a queue behind well-intentioned straights. I don’t want to appear like I’m complaining because no one wants to regress, but my lesbian friend Lara summed it up best when she said, “It’s really cute that so many straights were there, but it does feel like some of the danger, that once made it so exciting, is lost.” In Berlin, we’re at a point where it feels like every other straight couple you meet wants to be queer in some way. But if everyone’s queer nowadays, is anyone anymore?