Community, for citizens of nowhere

I wrote this for the good people of Craft. They put on great events. You should go!

Jack asked me to write about “community”, and I’m finding it difficult. It shouldn’t be: I write for a living, and have done for years. It’s the subject I find tricky. The person I’m in love with wouldn’t find it hard at all. We live within a mile of where all four of his grandparents were born. He’s wholeheartedly, if critically, involved in the tech and design communities in the UK, too.

I see the value in his rootedness, but it’s not mine.

See, I’m not FROM anywhere. For many years, I deliberately chose to not really have a place to live (sofas, short-term lets). I don’t have an obvious first language. Most of my friends are similar. We’re not the 1%. Most of us are from middle class or lower middle class backgrounds (one of those painfully British distinctions I’m slowly learning to spot). We’re just the remnants of a politics that has gone out of fashion: anti-business internationalist lefties. Some of us, like me, are from generations of people who have lived like this. Others picked it at a weirdly early age, skipping out of hometowns with the hope of living differently, somewhere else.

Mainly, we’re good at visa rules in different countries, at meeting new people and at finding places to live. We’re those who leave, not those who stay, as Ferrante says. We’re class queer, nation queer and (often) sexually queer too. We tend to speak a smattering of languages, mainly not very well, and will never win a pub quiz because we’ve never lived in any one country long enough. We really do run into each other at airports, and none of us would vote for a right wing candidate, because we’ve all been in love with at least one person who is part of whatever happens to be the most hated minority at the time.

We look an awful lot like a shoal of mini-Nick Cleggs when you write it out like that. The eurocrats and global capitalism have subsumed how we talk about ourselves, so our community echoes their complicity in exploitation. What to do? We’ve lost and we know it. So we continue to refer to ourselves as “Benetton people”, order another drink and ask which country we’ll have to move to next.

Which is why nobody regrets our loss. It’s fine to vote to remove us, to tax us punitively for living in different countries, for imposing quotas on how many of us should be hired. Because surely, those who are FROM a country, who have always lived and worked in their communities, should benefit from the wealth it can create?

Perhaps they should. But I think something’s lost when we’re gone, when communities and justice are tied too closely to place and heritage. In the tension between leaving and staying, you’re forced to develop a tolerance for not knowing who we are or who we should be. There’s community there too, if you look for it. It just looks a bit different.