There is something very special in being able to see where my thousands-year-old ancestors lay to rest. Overlooking the sea, I see this pyramid, or what is left of it, and think back to the many generations who have lived on these lands and who are now inhabiting the earth and my blood. My name is Anna Soer. My mother comes from Brittany; from Finistère to be precise. This French department is situated to the very West of France, known for its rich mosaic of landscapes. My father, on the other hand, comes from the province of Drenthe, in the North-East of the Netherlands. Both my parents have lived nearly all their adult lives away from their birthplaces and their respective families. However, when my mother returned to live in her childhood town after nearly 40 years away, she said to me: “Finalement c’est comme le cercle de la vie, de revenir là d’où on vient. Une boucle qui se ferme” [Finally, it is like the circle of life, returning to where one is from. A circle finishing its loop]. Going back home; where is home though? At what point does a place become home?
Let’s keep this question in mind for a little bit to ponder it.
At the beginning of the pandemic, I was forced to move back in with my parents in their home in Brittany. Not only have I met my parents’ friends there, but I also rekindled a part of my heritage. While canoeing away on the Dourduff (Black Water in Britton) and walking through fields and forests in the Armoric national park, I listened to my mother’s stories of her childhood, describing the many things she saw: plants, birds, architectural remnants… She storied her home in a way that showed her attachment to and deep recognition of its beauty. Through her words, she narrated her life in connection to the lands.
Next to my mother’s words was my father’s passion for fishing. Whenever we saw a body of water, he would always ask a passerby if there was some fish in there and whether we could fish. My father is not from Brittany, yet he created a home there with his wife. And there I was, between my mother’s love for birds and my father’s love for fish. From the sky to the sea, I photographed what slowly became my home. I looked down to appreciate the multitude of greens in moss and looked up to contemplate time passing by through clouds. Home became where I shared space with fish and birds.
It remains unclear, however, how this ties into Problems of Place, which, in the end, is the name of the series for which I am writing this piece. Let me echo a phrase written by Ana Sekulić in a post for this same series: “My body finding ways to navigate spaces, both written and physical, made it clear to me that different bodies—and different communities and narratives—have also found different ways to exist in nature.” While photographing the geographical space that was slowly becoming my home, the lens needed to be flipped. Where did I stand in this home with whom I share blood and yet only a few memories? In between the fish and bird, where was my identity?
Though my body was indeed navigating the space in which my ancestors made their home, the physical narrative of my belonging in this place still needed to be written and felt. The pandemic allowed me to carve out time alone, to carve out time to reflect. Not being confronted by another made me meet myself again: what does my body actually look like? How does my body move? How does it feel? What are my mind and body attracted to? While walking through fields and forests, while listening to the soft songs of birds, while watching the elegant flow of fish, the sounds and images formed a contradictory silence and space in which my body took a shape that I never dared it to take.
I came out as queer in 2020; or rather, I dared to live the truth told by the 11 year-old-me who had the childhood audacity to live according to my own designs. The process of coming out was somehow entangled with my body’s connection to nature, as much as my mother’s life narrates around the beauty she finds in nature and as much as how my father has found passion in fish. The contradictory isolation from my peers allowed for me to make a deeply unpleasant social adaptation: physical isolation, which gave me space and time to reinsert myself into society through a rekindlement with the lands of my ancestors. While the birds are flying and the fish are swimming, the naturality of their existence, and thus identity, confronted the absurdity of the make-believe cis-heterosexuality I shaped my life around. Coming out was therefore more than a purely inward-facing sexual decision. It was by hearing the birds and watching the fish that the last remnants of performance crumbled; the final bricks of a strong wall of self-protection and self-delusion in a society that likes to think of itself as rigid. My queerness led me to redefine my relationship to my body, to my identity, to my soul. My queerness on the soil shared between my ancestors and all the living transformed into a work in progress where my identity is to be shaped by where I stand—a true problem of space.
In the middle of my room, scrolling away on my phone which became the intermediary to a world I had little knowledge of, the abstract knowledge of queerness was confronted with its experience: young women, men, and non-binary people living and displaying their lives proudly. Reality was divided into orderly realms for which each served a particular purpose of identity exploration. Physical home and virtual realms, each in connection to one another, became a building in which each room allowed me to explore both my body and mind in safe and secure ways. As such, how can the seemingly deeply dis-social phenomenon of a pandemic trigger the deeply social decision of coming out?
“Oh, that’s just the world that we’re playing in.
The old boys hold all the cards and they ain’t playin’ gin.
You dare to call me crazy, have you looked around this place?
I should walk away.
Oh, I should walk away.
But I think I’ll stay.
There are layers to this body.”
(Golden G String, Miley Cyrus)
Located in both physical and virtual layers of reality, “places” of coming out become intrinsically linked. That’s just the world that we’re playing in, a world where repeated lockdowns opened in more drastic ways spaces of virtual expression, and thus, spaces of coming out. A step-by-step coming out, from the virtual confrontation to the virtual expression to its physical expression. This dynamic of safe spaces of trial-and-error self-expression has allowed for the layers of the body (and the mind, how can both be truly separated?) to deploy themselves in a controlled and agentic manner. The back and forths of my body and mind between nature and virtuality have created a dynamic of self-expression where possibilities opened how I never thought I would be allowed to. Through the naturality of the bird, the fish, and my queerness, they somehow form a whole where the body and the mind express. Express what? Home. The “problem of place” morphed into a response of living my home. My body became home in a way it never was. I would like to continue the conversation on coming out and moving in-between spaces, from fish to virtuality, beyond this post by repeating my question: how can the seemingly deeply dis-social phenomenon of pandemic trigger the deeply social decision of coming out?
*Cover image: Photo by author.
[*Cover image description: Blurred picture of a women with shoulder-length hair looking at the camera with her head slightly tilted upward.]