Accessibility at queer events: It’s hard to have pride when you can’t access it
By: Sonya Krzywoszyja
I am often at the mercy of my brain. My mental illness tells me that I’m worthless, pointless and that it’s useless to try and get out of bed because no one wants to associate with me anyway. I’m constantly fighting my brain. It makes it hard to function when your brain won’t let you get a word in edgewise.
When I first realised I was a big, fat queerdo, my hectoring brain actually wasn’t too bad at first. In fact, I was dealing more with internalised fat and femme phobia than with homophobia or queerphobia. But as soon as I wanted to attend any queer events, be it an event at a venue or hanging at a mate’s place, my haranguing brain reared on up with a vengeance.
The first time I pushed through this and fought with my exhausted body against my brain, I was triggered into a panic attack.
My PTSD popped up at the venue, a nightclub exclusively for queers and those who love them.
It was dark. There were raised, drunken, male voices. The dance floor was a mass of writhing bodies, and the reek of cheap gin and smoke suffused the air.
I couldn’t find my friends; my facial blindness made any remotely familiar face look distorted. I couldn’t breathe and couldn’t remember how to get outside.
Eventually, I saw a sign for the toilets and clambered up the rickety structure, tripping over myself and hyperventilating.
Luckily there was no one in the toilets, because I hurled into the bowl before I could lock the door and I. Was. Mortified.
Leaving the safety of the toilets took more courage than I knew I had in me. That night, I pulled the introvert disappearing act and ghosted on my friends (making sure to text, I’m not an arsehole).
This isn’t the only venue or night out that I’ve had a panic attack, but it was one of the worst ones to have a panic attack in. It’s hard to have pride and want to be included in events celebrating it when those events aren’t accessible.
At that venue, the space is small and dark. The stairs up to the toilet are not only hard to find on a crowded dance floor but are especially inaccessible when you’re in Panic Mode, let alone if you use any type of assistive device.
The experience put me off going out for a long while and I isolated myself with my arsehole brain for company.
It made me appreciate venues who accommodate all people and recognise not only accessibility for physical disabilities but neurodivergent people too.
One night, after psyching myself into going out because I really wanted to see a particular performer, I had another panic attack.
I managed this one so much better than the other ones. This was largely due to the venue the event was held in and the organisers’ understanding of issues that may arise.
There were designated helpers, recognisable in their hi-vis vests. The venue had signs up everywhere about respectful interactions with people. The entrance and exits were clearly marked all one level and widely spaced. The toilets were gender-neutral and there were designated safe, quiet spaces.
When I became so overwhelmed that I started hyperventilating yet again, I knew that I could stumble over to these spaces, sit and try and regulate my breathing, all the while blinking glitter out of my eyes and wiping sweat off my face.
It doesn’t take much to ensure that a venue is accessible for all people. I recognise and acknowledge it can be hard to find venues that are affordable for organisers and make sure they meet all accessibility requirements. But these requirements are so incredibly important for those with accessibility issues.
We shouldn’t have to risk further isolation for speaking out or asking if an event is going to be able to cater to us. It should be a given that requirements are going to be met.
I want to be involved. I want to be able to leave my house and make new friends with similar interests.
I want to be able to exhibit my pride in being a part of the queer community.
I love dancing and dressing up. I should be able to do both of those things without worrying that I’m going to triggered into a panic attack yet again by a venue that hasn’t thought of these issues.
Sonya is a queer writer transplant from Brisbane to Melbourne. Her cat and her are very happy with the weather here and will never, ever leave.