The Kweens Haus: Queer Heritage and Camp at Kings Manor 

  • Post last modified:May 3, 2024

Image design and text by Fran Mahon

Intro: 

My original intentions for this post were to focus on the Queer history and heritage of Kings Manor, current home to the Heritage for Global Challenges Research Centre. But as I began to do research on the building I found the scope too big and the resources too little for a proper, well-rounded blog post. 

While plenty of material exists about the building’s storied, and presumably cis-hetero past, its name practically screams patriarchy after all, little documentation survives regarding its multiple Anne Listers and Campaigners for Homosexual Equality (Heyam, 2015). 

As someone who studies issues of colonisation and empire, and is a member of the LGBTQ+ community, historic erasure is nothing new. So instead of digging through the ciscentric and heteronormative halls of traditional archives and heritage institutions for shreds of Queer life, I took a turn towards camp. 

Camp: 

Over the last sixty or so years camp has been defined and redefined by cultural critics, academics, and tv hosts alike. It’s a style, a sensibility, an aesthetic, and a tool, a hand gesture, a walk, a wink, and a swagger (Babuscio, 1993; Harris, 1997; Sontag, 1999). Seemingly everyone and no one is an expert on what it is, and this fluidity is what makes it so important. 

For the purposes of today’s post I’d like to claim camp as a strategy and lens of Queer transgression. It is a locally produced sensibility that opposes the hegemony of cisgender, heterosexual, and patriarchal worldviews via an aesthetics of irony, theatricality, and extravagance (Babuscio, 1993, 20; Sontag, 1999, 62). Through its ostentatiousness, camp subverts cis-heteronormative ideals of what is considered normal, real, and attractive; think Clive Barker’s Hellraiser or Elsa Schiaperelli’s shoe hat. This commitment “to the bit” blurs the line between glamour and decay, and thus produces new spaces of being, knowing, and living beyond the constraints of cis-het patriarchy (Rebentisch, 2014). 

But what does this have to do with heritage? 

Heritage: 

As scholars of LGBTQ+ history have noted, the symbolic and real annihilation of Queer memories within heritage institutions has immediate and felt repercussions for sexual and gender diverse people today, especially if those people are not white, cisgender, or middle/upper class (Hartman, 2019; Snorton, 2017; Weismantel, 2013). Given the UK’s current culture of transphobia, it is pertinent now more than ever, that we concern ourselves with the silenced and missing histories of past and present trans people and other Queer kin. 

I am not, however, interested in scouring the annals of philosophical societies and museums to find evidence of these people. Annihilation is a hard process to reverse and the call to “find more sources” or “diversify,” but not deconstruct, our traditional heritage methodologies and records merely reinscribes these initial acts of erasure into the present and future (Fuentes, 2016, 6; Brown, 2020, 26). What I am concerned with is queering our past, present, and futures. Transforming historic, archival, and memory loss into a presence and future that is remembered now. 

Camp, with its fluid insistence on the gaudy and glamorous, provides us with a multitude of avenues to imagine and remember what the future looks like. The sensibility allows us to highlight our inherited knowledge gaps, whilst dwelling productively in them – building a Kween’s Haus beyond Kings Manor.   

Below is a short zine I have made in an attempt to reckon with Kings Manor’s absent Queer heritage. I have employed a camp sensibility and style to it that hopefully reads as an example for how the aesthetic can be used at other sites. As you take a look through the following pages please note that this zine is still very much a work in progress. I hope it inspires you to think about what Queer, real and imagined, past-futures the sites you dwell and work within might hold… 

Bibliography: 

Babuscio, J. 1993. “Camp and gay sensibility,” in Bergman, D. (ed.) Camp grounds: style and homosexuality. Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 19-37.

Brown, E.H. 2020. “Archival activism, symbolic annihilation, and the LGBTQ2+ community archive.” Archivaria: The Journal of the Association of Canadian Archivists, 89: 6-32. https://muse.jhu.edu/article/755767

Fuentes, M.J. 2016. Dispossessed lives: enslaved women, violence, and the archive. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press. 

Harris, D. 1997. The rise and fall of gay culture. New York: Hyperion.

Hartman, S. 2019. Wayward lives, beautiful experiments: intimate histories of social upheaval. New York: W.W. Norton & Company. 

Heyam, K. 2015. “Rainbow plaques: mapping York’s LGBT History.” 23 July. NOTCHES Blog. [Online]. https://notchesblog.com/2015/07/23/rainbow-plaques-mapping-yorks-lgbt-history/

Rebentisch, J. 2014. “Camp materialism.” Criticism, 56(2): 235-248. 

https://www.jstor.org/ stable/10.13110/criticism.56.2.0235

Snorton, C.R. 2017. Black on both sides: a racial history of trans identity. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press. 

Sontag, S. 1999. “Notes on camp,” in Cleto, F. (ed.) Camp: Queer aesthetics and the performing subject: a reader. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 53-65. 

Weismantel, M. 2013. “Towards a transgender archaeology: a Queer rampage through prehistory,” in Stryker, S & A.Z. Aizura (eds.) The transgender studies reader 2. New York: Routledge: 319-334.