About two years ago, I decided to change my life: moving from London to Lisbon and focusing on more on creating a different life all together, from leaving the “rat race” behind to spending more time listening to my inner self. One of the things I kept constant though was the environment in which I live: a fairly big, capital city.
Since being a teenager, I had tacitly accepted the idea that, as a gay man, living your life freely was only possible in a big city. I’m not sure I ever gave this postulate much though, I just accepted it as truth and let it guide some crucial decisions I made: For example, when choosing a place at university, I decided against an offer I had from a really nice university in Wales, and instead opted to study in London. Not so much because I liked the university in London more, or was more into the subject, but simply because I assumed happiness and fulfillment as a gay man was definitely to be found somewhere where the lights of the city sparkled.
Of course, that was then and now is now. And over the last year or so, I have increasingly looked into setting up a place where LGBTQ+ folks can connect on many different levels. Of course, my first intuition was to look for a space somewhere in a big city. Again, the assumption being that, in a big city where queer folk are more numerous, there would be more space to build such a community.
Eventually, however, I looked beyond the gay community and found that alternative living and social communities are not confined to the big cities. Instead, many seem to thrive away from the city, in the very places I would have expected to “outcast them”. On the contrary, with only a few exceptions, many spaces that try and create community beyond commercial interests, seem to struggle in urban environments. Not because there is a scarcity of attempts to create them, but often simple economic realities, such as sky high property prices, make such attempts not viable.
On the other side, even with many places, apps, clubs and other offerings to connect, especially for gay guys, gay loneliness is a big part of reality. Especially, among gay men living in urban environments. Discussing the many reasons for this phenomenon would probably fill more than a couple of books, but in short, it seems having 200 gay guys in a 500m radius around you looking at their smartphone, twenty gay bars to choose from or even the possibility to attend several “social” groups. Ironically, all this choice seems to make us lonelier.
This thinking let me to develop the idea of the Quinta Project (‘quinta’ is Portuguese for farm). In short, a sort of rural, residential “community centre”. A place I envisage to be inclusive for all queer folk, where the focus is on creating real, social connections – away from the city. The Quinta Project website contains some more information about it, but I will also come back to some of the thinking behind the project in later posts here.
Of course, this means actually moving to a farm, transforming the farm into a place where the project events can take place… but also, and importantly, running the farm around the project. In other words, my future plan doesn’t just involve me setting up and running the “community centre”, but also looking after over a thousand olive trees, reviving several currently unused fields, caring for a mature fruit orchard and creating a vegetable “garden” that can supply produce for the Quinta. In short, transiting from the “urban gay” man, with no idea of how to prune a fruit tree, to becoming a “gay farmer”.
How will it all work? Or indeed, will it work at all? I have no idea. At the moment I have more sleepless nights thinking about what it will be like. And other moments, where I just can’t wait to wake up every morning and hear bird, rather than buses. Will it be great? I don’t know. But I know it will definitely be an exciting journey! And I’m really glad that I can share this adventure with you!