“Queer Hearts of Dublin is a project which explores one’s comfort within their queerness and the area around them. It was inspired by the desire for self-love and discovery,” Niamh Barry explains. “This project has been my most personal yet and provided me with the encouragement to finally tell my family I am queer.”
The planned project hit the ground running due to the limited timeframe in which Niamh had to both source and photograph her subjects. The pandemic obviously introduced an added set of problems. She elaborates, “Because I was only in Dublin for 10 days during July and had only that exact amount of time to shoot everything, I resorted to Instagram and Twitter to get the word out there about looking for people to be in the project. I had over 40-50 responses which was insane!
“But I made sure that people were aware that I was trying to shoot a range of faces from the community and not the same white cis male identity which we always associate with the queer community in Ireland.
“I also made it clear in the post that there would be social distancing as I have vulnerable people at home in Cork. It was never an issue with anyone. There was a mutual understanding there, safety-wise. And because most of the photos were taken outside, it was easy to be at a distance. If it was in someone’s home, I asked for their permission and made sure to sanitise and keep my distance. I then wore a mask where it was necessary. Safety and comfort was my number one priority.”
Niamh discussed the pressures involved in creating such intimate portraits of her subjects. “I felt such responsibility in terms of telling these individuals’ stories because they all put their trust in me.
“I learned so much from each of them. If we take intersectionality into account, we just need to listen to people and take something from each other’s stories. I think overall, intersectionality and practicing it is key when doing such projects. Although I am queer, I am a white cis woman and I have privileges that others don’t. Therefore, I feel it is always essential for me to use the skills I have to project the voices of others through my platform.”
Niamh shared how the project inspired her own coming out journey; “The entire experience was a lot more personal and special to me than I had imagined. I always had a vision with this project but I think I was just so surprised with the entire outcome. I always tell the stories of others through my work but ending the project on a self-portrait finally made it that more personal to me. I was finally telling my story which I think I held back on for quite some time.
“When I wrapped up this project after a beautiful day by Dublin’s coast, I was with my friends who also featured in the project. We were talking about queerness and the idea of coming out. I always found coming out to be such an essentialist way of looking at queerness in the sense, homogeny is telling you, ‘hey you can be queer but you have to come out and tell everyone about your sexuality!’ And of course, that’s coming from such a privileged point of view because sometimes hiding in the closet is the only means of survival for some. But I also came to realize how natural queerness really is. It’s just all these crazy social constructs that are built around us which make us feel like we are wrong and not right.
“The idea of ending on a self-portrait came to me on that Dart ride home when I finished shooting. I knew something was missing and I knew I had to do it. And I knew it would push me to finally tell my family.”
Niamh is planning an upcoming physical exhibition of Queer Hearts of Dublin in Hens Teeth, Dublin, when current pandemic regulations are relaxed. Keep up to date with those plans and check out the rest of her work on Instagram @narryphotographyvids
It is difficult to understand you are treated wrong until you are treated right. Growing up in Poland while being gay felt like I was not allowed to be fully myself. Acting straight and trying to pass was a sort of survival technique that I became so good at, that the amount of internalised homophobia I have to deal with now is overwhelming at times.
I only came out to two people in my secondary school, and the majority of people I knew thought I was straight. My sort of official coming out happened when I started posting about the situation of the LGBT+ people and presidential elections in Poland on social media. I was able to do it, because I am not afraid anymore, because I am lucky enough to live in Dublin - a city that is generally very tolerant and accepting.
Thousands of Polish LGBT+ people do not have this privilege, they cannot be out, they cannot talk and fight for their rights, as this could pose an actual threat to their lives.
Moving to Dublin was a fresh start, I could finally be myself and share all aspects of my life with my friends. In the past four years I have been able to express and explore my queerness freely. When I go back to Poland I cannot do that, I am back to when I was 18 and I have to constantly check myself, make sure I am passing.
It’s going to nightclubs and getting high-fived by strange men when I kiss another woman. It’s being chuckled at by a gay friend when I tell him that I’m bisexual because that’s ‘cute’ and not the real deal. It’s when a friend of a friend asked me where I got my Asian magic. It’s when I was 14, and a boy in my class tried to shove my face into another girl’s while screaming ‘shift!’ It’s when someone asked me for a lighter and followed with ‘do you have to be a lesbian to get into this place?’
I’ve been incredibly fortunate to have known my sexuality from a very young age and to have never seen it as a negative. However, I haven’t always known how people would or should treat me because of it.
When I was younger, I couldn’t tell if I should laugh or not when people made underhanded jokes. I receive negative comments about my ethnicity and my sexuality, but they often come in the form of fetishism, not threats. High-fives, not punches.
I’m incredibly grateful that my experience of being queer has never placed me in danger or caused sorrow. However, that’s resulting in allowing myself to sometimes be mistreated by others, when I haven’t taken the step to educate or inform someone that their comment was discriminatory. It’s taken me a while to understand the importance of being a killjoy. While Dublin seems to be Ireland’s liberal capital, this kind of behaviour is still everywhere. It’s important for all of us to understand that we share the continuing burden to protect one another.
When this photo was taken, Niamh caught me at a particularly femme moment, and I think she captured exactly how I like to think of my style, in how it queers femininity. My hair is long, but it’s longer than average, which to me brings it into this queer space. I wear a lot of makeup, and yet I wear it in a way that for me is both an artistic and a queer expression.
Saying I wear drag in my everyday life does not mean I am acting as something other than myself. How I present is me, and it’s being aware of how my expression and gender expression interact with expectation and why perhaps I like what I like. And yes, I want to elevate it further and perform as a queen as well.
As a non binary person there can be a pressure to dress or perform in whatever is conventionally considered ‘the opposite’ of what your assigned gender is, and yet that idea is entirely reliant on the binary, and not a useful one for me.
Being non-binary is a natural part of my experience and I love being femme. As I said before, I do like to interrogate why I like being femme, but that doesn’t change the fact that I do. Femme with an edge of masculinity. And that isn’t to say that won’t, or hasn’t, changed before or will again. Sometimes within my femme-ness I do feel like a girl, but mostly I feel like something else entirely that I have created for myself, and that’s Ren.
Being a person of colour in Ireland, you don’t see a lot of people who look like you. Even more so if you’re queer. Dublin is one of few exceptions to that. I don’t feel stifled by the small town mentality in Dublin and I don’t feel judged by a tightly knit religious black community. It’s the first place I didn’t feel watched and no one cared about those differences. Instead, I was embraced for them. Before, the idea of kissing girls in public was a foreign concept for me. And now, it’s something I don’t even bat an eyelid at.
However, Dublin isn’t perfect and I know that my experience does not reflect everyone else’s. But having Dublin as an option of a safe space is a privilege for me and I’m so thankful for that privilege because Dublin is where I fully discovered myself. It made me realise I am different from who I’ve been led to believe I should be, whether that’s the stereotype of black women or the cultural expectations of being Nigerian, which is a country with tightly held religious values.
Overall, I have grown so much because of it and confronted a lot of internalised homophobia. Most importantly, I have also realised the fetishisation is not a compliment and micro aggressions do occur quite a bit within Dublin.
I think for the most part, I now live a shameless life with the utmost honesty and I will continue to make strides in that direction.
I feel like I came into my queerness through moving country. Back in America everything seemed so polarised, like I couldn’t come out without it representing the entirety of my personality, and being known as ‘the queer kid’.
Coming to Dublin was freeing in a lot of ways. There was still this sense of uncomfortable familiarity, everyone knowing your business and the people you were seeing, but the physical aspect of rooting myself in a new place provided me with a lot of comfort. There wasn’t this need to gradually ‘out’ myself; no one had known me prior to moving, so I didn’t feel the need to ‘come clean’ about my sexuality to my friends.
I think I left a lot of my emotional and mental trauma back in the states, so living in Dublin and being myself came very easily. I’m so incredibly lucky to have such supportive and loving friends that accepting my own queerness and ridding myself of my internalised homophobia felt natural. Before, I would have never dreamed of coming out to my family; I always separated my American self from my Dublin self. But it’s been through a (rather long) period of learning to love myself that I’ve only recently merged the two identities.
Being queer has meant different things to me at different times; it’s been a target on my back, and a jewel in my ear, sometimes simultaneously. Queerness doesn’t always feel like something intrinsic, or empowering to me, because I don’t yet feel secure that my queerness belongs to me.
Queerness is something identified in us by others. It marked me out early on as a deviation from the abstract standard, like an overbite. I became an orthodontist, making myself braces so the world wouldn’t break my jaw and reset it. Obviously useless, inevitably a waste of energy.
Like any perceptible element of myself, my queerness didn’t belong to me; it was something identified in me by others. Queerness made me an object rather than a subject, something inert, gazed at, studied, fixed, maybe punished.
How to become a queer subject then? I dunno. I think it involves reimagining queerness beyond a label affixed to an object, thereby placing it within some broader taxonomy of social other.
A queer subjectivity is the inhabiting of that label, of internal rather than external definition of its meaning, and embodying that meaning in a mode that disrupts gender, sexuality and capitalism, probably. We should all work on that. Take off our braces, throw away our retainers, and let our teeth get crooked.