The Queer Brewing Manifesto
Lily Waite shares the Queer Brewing Projects' ambitions
Monday 18 May 2020
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People Like Us; beer for good
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It feels weird to sit and write a feature about myself. As a beer writer, I spend much of my time profiling exciting and interesting producers, exploring trends, and applying strange ideas to the realm of beer and brewing. I’m also somewhat familiar with being on the other side, answering questions and conducting interviews about my own non-profit, collaborative brewing initiative, The Queer Brewing Project. It’s a queer feeling (pun very much intended) to be asked to profile my own work.
Only two days ago (as I write), my phone alerted me to the first anniversary of brewing under the banner of the good ship Queer Brewing: on the 3rd April 2019, I headed down to Affinity Brew Co in Bermondsey, south London, to brew what would be the project’s first collaborative beer, Queer Royale. In the 12 months hence, the project’s taken me to places I never dreamed I’d be making beer, led me to people I now count as friends, and taught me a number of things—on top of going so much further than I thought possible on that first brew day. As I approach the official birthday of the project, now feels like a good time to think back on this first year.
When I try to think back to why I started The Queer Brewing Project, the marriage of a few years of flirting with LGBTQ activism and my love of beer, I always circle back to one moment. “This can still sits on my bedside table,” wrote Michael Deekin in a message to me on Twitter. “I'm reluctant to throw it away as it reminds me that LGBT people can make it in the beer industry and that there is a place for us.” Michael was talking about a can of Dinosaurs Will Die, a beer I brewed with Manchester’s Marble Brewery to celebrate my exhibition in one of their venues for Manchester Beer Week 2018. On the can’s label was a description of the exhibition’s focus on my experiences as a queer trans woman, perhaps the first time the words ‘queer’ and ‘trans’ were used on beer packaging. Michael’s message, alongside other positive responses from queer people, gave me pause for thought. There was clearly a need for visible queer representation in brewing. Why couldn’t I make that happen?
There was clearly a need for visible queer representation in brewing. Why couldn’t I make that happen?
I talk a lot, both in what I do with Queer Brewing and in my writing, about visible representation; this idea that you have to see it to be it. To my mind, it is, at least partially, a matter of safety. In a hostile environment, whether that’s a homogenous, predominantly cisgender (i.e. not transgender; your gender identity aligns with your sex assigned at birth) and heterosexual brewing industry or the more broadly transphobic society of the early 2000’s, seeing someone who looks, talks, and is like you can be both life-changing and -affirming, and seeing queer people like Jenn Merrick and Emma Inch—both people I’m now lucky enough to call friends—living open and thriving lives within beer, provided me with evidence that people like me can exist in a heteronormative, male-dominated industry.
That said, I’d grown tired of feeling like the only one—the only trans person, the only queer person. Of course, that’s not the case; there are other trans and queer people in our industry, but we are, of course, very much a minority. I can count the number of trans people I know who work in the beer world on both hands. The beer industry has, over the past few years, been addressing its gender issue, because a number of women worked fucking hard to make that happen, but women are still a minority. Diversity and inclusion—a term of which I’ve long grown tired—has been a hot topic for the past couple of years, though little has actually changed: people of colour, LGBTQ+ people, and disabled people are still vastly underrepresented not just in the main, but particularly in higher positions. I grew tired, too, of saying the same things, over and over, on diversity panels and discussions with a handful of the same people, and seeing little change.
I think every activist begins with grand plans of how they may impact the world. For me, I initially sought to use my artistic practice as a vehicle for social change, with visions of high-profile gallery shows and mainstream coverage with which I would progress queer and trans rights. As it became apparent that my career trajectory may focus more on beer than I once thought, my activism became more immediate, and local, using social media to accomplish this. There is certainly a case to be made for immediate, grassroots activism being more effective than that of the high-brow, intangible artwork, and as my platform—as a writer and queer voice—within beer began to grow, it became clear that beer is a harnessable vehicle for change.
The grand design of my activism remains much the same now as it was when I was an art student with lofty ambitions: I want to make the world a better place for people like me. The results may well vary: what I do may impact only those immediately around me in the beer industry, or it may reach beyond the beer world. The crux of my aim, though, is to use beer to reach society at large. If I help just a handful of people within the beer world to be more tolerant and ‘accepting’ of LGBTQ+ people, which in turn benefits only one or two queer or trans people, then I’m happy with that. I believe we have a moral obligation to improve the lives of others wherever possible, and if this whole project only achieves that for one or two people, fine. Job done.
But my hope is that, as one of the most popular drinks in the world, one known for fostering conviviality, community, and conversation, as something that people come together over, and relax and celebrate with, it can be used to impact real change. Whether that’s through prompting punters to speak the name of an important issue every time they order a pint of a certain beer, or by signposting important charities on the label of the beer they hold in their hand, beer has great, tangible potential to be used as a tool for good. And it works: at London Craft Beer Festival 2019, the official festival beer—brewed by myself as Queer Brewing and Brick Brewery—was named Preferred Pronouns, and throughout the festival I heard people discussing what pronouns are and what they mean to trans people. I can’t say how many people took those conversations further, or whether it helped them understand trans people, but it was something.
Activism doesn’t need to be huge gestures, or radical changes. Taking up space as a queer trans woman, brewing beer in an industry dominated by cisgender and heterosexual men, that in turn provides space for others, and provides representation.
The most amazing thing about Queer Brewing, that I certainly didn’t anticipate early on, is the number of breweries wanting to collaborate, and the number of people lending their support. The initial aim was to brew a beer a month, totalling 12 beers in the first year. The actual total, including next week’s remote collaboration, will be 27, which works out at a prospective total of just under £30,000 raised for amazing charities, doing work in anti-violence, asylum seekers, trans and non-binary youth, and numerous other areas within the LGBTQ communities.
From the start, the aim was never to work solely with breweries with queer brewers, or other members of staff. Doing so would only reinforce the idea that the responsibility for our social progression lies only at our feet; by brewing with everyone it illustrates that furthering queer and trans rights is everyone’s responsibility. Simultaneously, this leaves no restrictions—the worst thing for a project whose primary aim is social change would be for it to effectively say ‘no, you can’t support us’, right?
The angry, exhausted cynic in me says there’s been little to no change with regard to queer people within the beer world because it’s a homophobic and transphobic industry, and that people don’t give a shit. In reality, I think it’s more likely because there, for a long time were, few things for people to fall in and rally behind. I’ve come to see that people want to support activism in beer, but don’t know how. It’s been so amazing to see support coming flooding in.
I’ve come to see that people want to support activism in beer, but don’t know how
Despite that support, there’s still a long way to go. Despite a broadly progressive industry—in comparison to the rest of society—women, LGBTQ people, people of colour, and disabled people are still underrepresented and in some cases shut out of the industry, and are discriminated against. In broader society, hate crimes against trans people have been on the rise over the past year, and homophobia hasn’t gone away. We still need LGBTQ activism.
Ultimately, my aim for The Queer Brewing Project is for it to become irrelevant. The hope for any advocacy or activism is, I’m sure, obscelense; I’d like Queer Brewing to reach a point where it becomes unnecessary. That does, however, rely on societal change. Though my objective is to affect societal change through the medium of beer, I know for sure that we won’t get there on our own.
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