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Response to Review of Sex, Time and Place: Queer Histories of London c.1850 to the Present

Queer theory is a complex and lively theoretical and political model with an almost 30-year long history. That complexity is mirrored in the different uses to which our contributors put the term. As Harry Cocks notes, queer started as a point of resistance to seemingly binary categories but over the last two decades has moved rapidly to raise questions about monolithic structures and thinking more widely. Essential to this, of course, has been an increasing awareness of intersectionality, something which the individual contributors to this book repeatedly draw attention. Queer here does not limit itself to questions of sexuality per se – as complex and fundamental as these are – but to the intersections between sexualities and desire with gender, class, race and nationality. As such, the notion of queer is complex and layered, and excitingly uncontainable. Indeed, this layering and complication gives voice to those erased by the seeming simplicity of terms like lesbian and gay, for which Cocks seems to advocate almost nostalgically in the opening lines of the review.

One fascinating thing about an edited collection is that the individual essays are, by necessity, not unified in their theoretical and methodological framework nor in their subject matter. Rather than this being seen as a limitation or challenge, however, we can read it as representing an exciting awareness about the potential of queer to analyse a diverse range of moments, issues and categories. As we argue in the section entitled ‘Mapping this volume’, the essays ‘are arranged in order to facilitate dialogue across disciplines, spaces and times, in ways that create synergies between the chapters and their topics, both thematically and ideologically’ (p. 41). For us, the foregrounding of these synergies was central to the project of complicating what queer London might mean and the making visible of those excluded and erased by previous engagements with the topic. This is not to suggest that this particular project is completed – there are still more marginalised and silenced bodies to be found in London’s queer pasts. For us, queer – despite its slipperiness, or more rightly, probably because of it – offers the only frame through which those voices can be accessed.

Linked to this is the commitment to interdisciplinary approaches, which we theorise in the introduction (pp. 17–18). As Cocks notes, the contributors to this book are not ‘historians per se’ (however that position may be defined), but they nevertheless take as their starting points an engaging range of disciplinary backgrounds and approaches in order to address and complicate our historical understanding of queer London(s). As we note, ‘the contributors have made visible previously ignored or marginalised historical moments and figures, asking us to revisit what a notion of queer London might actually mean and what is actually at stake when we make that inquiry’ (p. 45). As the volume as a whole demonstrates, what is at stake is nothing less than some previously cherished notions of historical inquiry and method as the range of essays celebrate how queer might offer new ways of reading our pasts, our presents and our futures.