The striking new photography project by Niamh Barry, which is only partly captured across the new few pages, came from a place of realising how something so private can suddenly become a thing the world feels it can comment on. “For example,” Niamh described, “loads of people looking at you just because you’re two girls holding hands walking down the street.”
While home may provide a safe space for some, many know all-to-well the pressures of family or housemates being critical, unwelcoming or hostile towards LGBTQ+ people. If no safe harbour is found there, where can we exist without fear? Queer individuals are often at risk of abuse and hyper-sexualisation merely by just taking up space, by being visible.
“This project came from people staring at me, and making a big deal about something that didn’t need to be a big deal,” Niamh continued. “It was about how queerness can be so polarised or made into a ‘thing’ and all of a sudden it becomes the public’s rather than your own.”
Niamh’s earlier project, Queer Hearts of Dublin, also focused on the thoughts and lives of young LGBTQ+ folk, so what for the artist was the impetus to continue highlighting LGBTQ+ experiences?
“It’s to do with my own identity as a queer woman,” Niamh explained, “it’s to do with dealing with repressions from society. You can sometimes think you’re the only one going through these things, so it’s really good to communicate what you’re going through because a lot of people end up actually relating to it.
“Where the ideas start is from my own experiences, whether that be positive or negative, and then sharing that experience with others. It’s comforting, because I feel like then I can overcome it, or be at peace with it.”
To see more from the series, you can follow Niamh Barry on Instagram at @Narryphotographyvids. All of the portraits are accompanied by the words of those involved.
Being queer is very different from ‘doing’ or ‘acting’ queer. The former is within us constantly and the latter is something we’ve got to learn. We’ve got to learn how to act queer, as growing up in a majorly cis-heteronormative society requires from us to ‘tame it down’ in order to be safe. This is true particularly at the most vulnerable period of our lives, growing up.
I discovered ‘being’ queer in Poland. I went to gay bars and clubs, spaces where I was able to feel like myself. However, all of that had to be folded back into me, as soon as the sun rose.
After moving to Dublin, I never got to learn the counterfactual, what it would have been if I never left Poland. I’ve fallen into a trap of demonising my queer experience in Poland, mostly through blaming the surroundings for not being welcoming. It’s true to a large extent, particularly in political terms, but the amount of love, support and acceptance I’ve received from most Polish people, including friends, family (particular shoutout to my amazing mom and aunt who I dreaded coming out to, who have shown me immense love) and strangers after I came out to them deserved some retrospection. The stereotype of Polish people being close-minded and unwelcoming to minorities is so widespread I believed in it myself.
For a few years whenever I visited Poland I used to hide my queerness. I’m writing this as I’m visiting my family in Poland and I no longer feel like I’ve got to hide parts of me. I’m in the same space where I was once terrified by the idea of someone finding out I was queer. The fear is gone now. It’s been replaced by pride, self-love and self-acceptance. I’m a gay Polish man, and there’s no ‘or’ in there anymore.
Growing up I didn’t know that being queer was an option. At 20, I realised that I had other options which did not include dating men. That I did not have to live out this traditional life that we have been conditioned to believe is our only way to be happy.
Figuring out my sexuality was confusing as I had to unlearn who I thought I was, who society expected me to be. I was able to see myself through a different lens, the person I thought I was, was someone I created as a coping mechanism, someone who appealed to those around me. I no longer felt comfortable in spaces which felt like ‘home’. The thought of coming out to family and friends was terrifying. I kept telling myself that it wasn’t that important, that it was a small fraction of who I am, and growing up in a Muslim household did not help with feeling isolated.
I had to find people/spaces where I felt comfortable to be me. My living room once felt like a safe space, where I felt comfortable to be me, but as I grew into my queerness, my house didn’t feel like ‘home’ anymore. I didn’t feel comfortable to watch tv shows with queer characters, listen to music or read any books which could potentially out me. My only option was to express my sexuality when I would leave my house.
I slowly realised that being a lesbian is a whole part of who I am. It’s my identity and something I never want to hide and shouldn’t have to hide. My queerness has allowed me to grow into someone I never thought existed, the last jigsaw puzzle piece I needed to truly be happy. So, I found comfort in other places, places that didn’t need to be the home I grew up in. I grew out of the person I thought I needed to be and I grew into someone I’m proud of.
JASMIN (words by Niamh)
Jasmin and I like being in the cinema. That space is somewhere we can go to clear our heads. Growing up, those cinema walls manifested a safe space where we could slowly see our queer selves represented over time. Obviously, it took some time for cinema to explore queerness authentically.
If you think about it, the cinema can be been considered a heteronormative space. Outings with the family unit. Straight couples going on dates. For straight individuals, they always saw themselves reflected on the screen, not being aware of how much of a privilege that was in itself.
As cinema became more inclusive, although it still has such a long way to go, queers can feel safe within that space to finally get a taste of real queer representation. At times, it was easy to feel uncomfortable watching queer content at home, fear of outing oneself. But the cinema is a safe haven. Consuming queer content without anything holding you back and really feeling it.
Growing up, that space certainly delivered the gift of being seen. And a point will be reached whereby, every individual in every cinema screen can all receive that gift. That gift of true comfort and belonging.
Safe spaces are, and always have been, a crucial element of queer growth. From gay clubs to bedrooms and other spaces in-between, our community has always relied on the shared expectation that certain spaces understood as queer allow us to pause, to put our guards down and allow us to grow. We create those spaces with respect and with the knowledge that we are protected by one and other, within those walls, as one.
Being queer sometimes feels like allowing everyone else space in your relationship.
ROISIN AND ANNA (words by Anna)
Strange to think of space as some polarising physical or non-physical thing which kept me in or out, it felt like I made it up sometimes. I thought if I didn’t speak I would live only in my body but my sexuality was never mine, even when it was hidden, wondered what it would feel like to kiss or be kissed in public, have this thing I’ve carried around inside be visible - how people might react, the first time my overt queerness a realm they can reach into, claim as their own what I hid from myself. Now this love, most sacred to me, is on display and open for discussion always. Being queer sometimes feels like allowing everyone else a space in your relationship.
I separated myself from overtly queer spaces before -I didn’t choose to be bi but I chose not to be. Then we sat on the couch for months and she told me of spaces we belonged to now, ones I had never heard of or only moved through silently, feeling a strange deep comfort in reclaiming my body, invisible again. We were cocooned in that space, able to find out how we would act around each other in private before ever being confronted with an external world - whether people would react how we feared or not.
I never wanted to be known as anything other than what I did, not what I was -I love Róisín and she loves me. Strangely comforting to know that I was right, that I did understand myself. Belief turned into doubt and back to belief.