Shocking Treatment – Queerness in the mental health system

On the 8th October 2022, at the Wellcome Collection, as part of my Unlimited Commission ‘Birdsong from Inobservable Worlds, I presented SHOCKING TREATMENT. There were two elements to this.

One was a display of pussy prints from people of different sexualities and genders and it was a guessing game to see which one was the heterosexual one. The idea behind this that people can’t tell from the pussy prints who would be executed, discriminated against, privileged, or alienated.

The second part was a performance about the history of how psychiatry has hurt Queer people in the guise of ‘treatment’, from my research of the Wellcome archives.

I opened with this paragraph:

I am Queer in the head.

I was a teenager in the 1980s, the decade Margaret Thatcher said I couldn’t be gay, or understand what was happening to me, thanks to Section 28. The law is named after Section 28 of the Local Government Act 1988. Enacted on 24 May 1988, the amendment stated that a local authority ‘shall not intentionally promote homosexuality or publish material with the intention of promoting homosexuality.’ This meant that I didn’t see any people who were similar to me and I didn’t have any role models. Heterosexuality was compulsory. The world was heteronormative. Heteronormativity means that heterosexuality is the preferred and privileged sexual orientation in the world. You don’t believe that? Aw, look at your engagement ring? Do you want a white wedding? How many children do you want? Straights in love everywhere, on TV, cinema, theatre, ad posters, art, holding hands without death threats, sparkly, glittery, parental pride at weddings, engagements.

Us Queer kids? Silence…