When it comes to the portrayal of queer love in pop culture, the prevalent connective tissue is either unrequited yearning or desire as spirit-detonation.
You can see this depiction of queer love in films like Carol, Weekend, Moonlight or Call Me By Your Name, and in books by James Baldwin, Colm Tóibín, Bryan Washington and many others. Granted, some of these cultural lodestars were conceived during periods of profound homophobia – which one could argue is once more the case today, as we bear witness to LGBTQ+ rights being rolled back in real time in states across the world, whether it is the UK, with its government’s ambivalent and inconsistent stance on conversion therapy and virulent anti-trans agenda, or the regressive and oppressive anti-LGBTQ+ legislation being passed in countries as divergent as Ghana, Uganda, Somalia, Poland and Russia, and across many parts of the US. But what we if imagined a world where LGBTQ+ folks could love freely without fearing phobic intrusion? What if LGBTQ+ folks could be publicly tender with their paramours without being abused on the street or at the workplace or in schools and colleges across the globe? What then? Would we love differently? This is the question I try to answer in my latest collection of interlinked stories, The Butterfly Jungle. The narratives, which focus on an all-queer Black British community in South London led by a bolshy, plus-sized, gay Somali man in his mid-twenties called Migil, are about love as resistance and communal restoration. This book is not a fantasy, but the reality of myself and many of the people in my orbit. Migil is granted the grace to make mistakes galore and find love and kinship again and again. This is not a world stripped of stressors, but it is a world where queer desire deepens into the glow of connected kinship and care. In The Butterfly Jungle, I wanted all my characters, whether they are genderqueer or trans or gay or bisexual, to feel seen and valued without fear or judgement, and the result is a text that I think feels radical and sincere within the context of its modest scope. I want this world to exist not only for myself and my community, but for everyone who has ever felt the sting of discourtesy and rejection. I created this universe for my readers to find comfort and solace amidst the tyranny of daily living with its endlessly inventive ways of pulverising our most intimate dreams and differences. I created this book in order for the queer reader to feel homed within its pages. I hope I have realized this vision.
DIRIYE OSMAN'S new book, The Butterfly Jungle, is out now and can be ordered via these global retailers: https://bit.ly/3L9SLR4
Song of the moment: 'Honey Really Matters' by MARIAH CAREY x JANET JACKSON.