LGBTQ+ Stories Project! 1. Louise Tondeur.
“I don’t think self-identifying language matters as much as real connection to friends and to people who get you.”
What’s the point of the LGBTQ+ Stories Project? Sharing people’s stories, increasing understanding, food for thought, busting myths, celebrating LGBTQ+ people.
I really enjoyed reading Louise’s answers, and I’m thrilled that this is the first entry in my LGBTQ+ Stories Project. I don’t have anything particularly useful to say except, thank you Louise!
Please note that names may have been changed. Read on for Louise’s answers.
* What does Love mean to you?
I discovered an article on the Conversation blog about ‘14 different kinds of love’ and found it confirmed the feeling I’ve had for a long time that not only does love come in different varieties, but also that it’s ok.
Love has a practical side. Love is turning up for someone, being there for them, spending time with them. It’s also a sense of connection to someone.
* What is the role of Love in your life?
It connects me to my wife and my son, my friends and family. It’s also about showing compassion for other human beings and for the planet.
* What words would you currently use to identify yourself, on the LGBTQ+ spectrum, in terms of your sexuality and your gender identity, and anything else that’s important to you?
Lesbian and queer.
* What do you wish people knew about what those words mean, in reference to you?
1) They don’t sum me up 2) they’re complicated by when they are hidden and when they’re visible 3) they’re complicated by their intersection with other cultural phenomenon like disability and parenthood, for example 3) I take ‘queer’ to mean that I don’t fit cultural norms in other ways too.
* What myths/stereotypes about people who identify with those words, do you wish people knew were just myths/stereotypes?
Of course there are loads so I’ll simply say what I think of stereotypes: Stereotyping is about not going deep enough, not thinking hard enough, not being specific enough or respectful enough. For example, my Grannie was short and was 99 when she died, but she wasn’t a ‘little old woman’. She lived through two world wars, she took a cordon bleu cookery course, she read the bible at least twice a day. For me, stereotyping is about not seeing that level of detail – I wish people understood that more.
* How are these myths/stereotypes damaging/influential?
Related to what I say above, if we don’t see the specifics, we don’t see the whole person and we can’t really connect. Sometimes it’s about realising that every single person is carrying something with them.
Myths and stereotypes can clash too, and this is again to do with whether the particular cultural idiom at play is ‘visible’ or ‘hidden’. That visibility / hidden-ness can shift from day to day or hour to hour. If I use my crutches, I’m visibly disabled, and that tends to override everything else. If I’m out with my son on my own, I’m visibly a mum, but perhaps the stereotype of mum means I’m hidden as a lesbian, or if I’m holding hands with my wife sometimes all people can see is ‘gay person’ and nothing else.
Possibly off on a tangent, but I think micro-aggressions can be really damaging and they are often fuelled by stereotyping.
* What are some of the best, and worst, experiences you’ve had (that you’re happy to share) in relation to your gender and sexuality?
Best: falling in love with an amazing woman and getting to be with her.
Worst: Coming out after being brought up as an evangelical Christian.
* How long have you used the words you currently use to refer to yourself? How did this come about?
Since my early twenties. They seemed like the right fit!
* What impact did your experiences around finding/exploring your identifying language (or not finding/exploring it) have on you?
The language isn’t perfect, especially given its history. For that reason, I haven’t explored it too much. My favourite quotation about this is from Sally Munt’s Heroic Desire (1998): “For a lesbian to ‘be’ is still an insurgent statement and enactment of desire, a radical emplacement in a culture of effacement.” I don’t think self-identifying language matters as much as real connection to friends and to people who get you.
* How well do you think you understand the various terms that other people use to identify themselves?
Pretty well. The only real way to understand is to ask people who are happy to talk about it. I make an effort to understand my friends, but I can’t answer the question generally. Language has its limitations – making connections with people works better when it comes to understanding.
* And how well you do think you understand the variety of different experiences that may be meant by the same word?
Ditto the above.
* How much of an Ally do you see yourself as being for other people on the LGBTQ+ spectrum whose identities / experiences / identity-word-uses are different from yours?
I see myself as part of the LGBTQ+ community and part of the human community. I’m also aware of how disability and ‘hidden-ness’ intersect with and sometimes contradict cultural idioms to do with queerness.
* Could you think of anything you could do to be a better Ally to those mentioned above?
Sometimes doing what you can, where you are, with what you have is all that’s possible.
* Could you think of anything that people could do, to be a better Ally to you, and to those with similar experiences and identities to you?
I would like to use a wheelchair at Pride because the walk would be very painful, but I’m not a permanent wheelchair user, so have been reluctant to do it. I have noticed negative reactions to using a wheelchair whilst being able to walk. I guess it would be good if there were more awareness that a disability can fluctuant and that people use wheelchairs for different reasons – that would be good.
* What are your thoughts about and experiences of ‘coming out’?
Quite dramatic, looking back. I came out to my whole year group at university at the same time! (They were very supportive and lovely.) I then went and told my Christian friends who didn’t take it well at all. Later I spoke in a public debate on the topic of ‘being Christian and gay’ and one of them spoke against me. I’m no longer religious and this lack of support was a real turning point for me. Suddenly, I saw who my friends were.
We come out all the time, not only once, and also to ourselves. It’s probably harder when you’re younger and reliant on your family of origin. Some people come out about lots of things, especially if they appear ‘hidden’ in certain contexts. Sometimes compelling people to come out can be damaging. Not everyone is an extrovert and some people want to take their time, or wouldn’t be safe.
* Tell me something about yourself, besides your gender and sexual identity.
Maybe this should be the first question!?
I’m a writer and a tutor and I used to be a full-time university lecturer. I published two novels with Hodder Headline about fifteen years ago.
* What are some of your pet peeves?
Micro-aggressions. Religious hypocrisy.
* What are some of your daily joys?
Gratitude that I have somewhere to live and work and that I live in a country where I can be free to have a family and be myself. I hope I never take that for granted.
* What is a mistake you’ve made?
Mistakes are a daily occurrence. This morning my wife had to take over making the pancakes, for example.
It took me a while to realise it, but without mistakes you can’t get to the good stuff.
* What is something you’ve done really well?
I hope I’m a good mum and a good writer. I’m proud of my first novel, The Water’s Edge. My students have told me I’m a good teacher.
* What is something that surprised / amused you?
How amazing kids are at learning and being creative – they just get on with it.
* What do you struggle with / find really hard?
I’m dyslexic and dyspraxic. I find sequencing things – or anything that involves sequences – really hard.
* What could you ‘blow your own trumpet’ (in a positive way) about? For example, a top strength of yours that you could be quite proud of, something you did, etc.
Probably the best way for me to blow my own trumpet is to promote my two websites: www.louisetondeur.co.uk (where you’ll find my short story collection that came out last summer) and www.smallstepsguide.co.uk (where I blog about finding time to write).
* What is very important to you?
My family and my writing.
* What other words could describe you, at the moment (in any way at all)?
Beach-lover, cat-lover, writer, teacher, lecturer, mum.
* Tell me about your experiences of LGBTQ+ Community Groups, Scenes, and/or publications, positive and negative (negative comments may have names edited out).
I loved being in the Pink Singers when I lived in London. I value being part of Rainbow Families now I live in Hove.
* Has sexism had an impact on your life, that you are aware of? In what ways?
Yes, in the usual boring ways.
* Are you proud of your gender identity, your sexual identity, and/or any other aspects of your identity?
Yes, though I think identity can shift almost on a daily basis, but certainly over a life time.
* What are you grateful for in your life in general?
My family, my writing, my writing shed, having a home, the opportunity to be who I am.
* What things challenge you in your life and hold you back?
My hip problem, I’m neuro-atypical, I’m dyslexic and dyspraxic – those aren’t necessarily identities. Challenges are also something to be grateful for sometimes.
* What would you do differently if you could go back and re-do any moments in your life?
I’d probably try to get work in a bookshop when I was a student instead of washing up in a café. Otherwise, even the difficult stuff has meant I’ve learnt something.
* What would you like to prioritise in your future?
Finishing the novel I’m working on.
* Is there anything you’d like to say to other LGBTQ+ people who might be reading this?
Decide what you want to do and take a small step towards it, even if it’s the tiniest step you can imagine. Then keep taking small steps. Other people might not understand, but there are people out there who do. To co-opt a phrase: ‘find your tribe.’
* Is there anything you’d like to say to your Allies (of all identities, including straight and cisgender, and all the variety of the LGBTQ+ spectrum) who might be reading this?
* Is there anything you’d like to say to people who are not Allies to those of your identity yet, who might be reading this?
- Try to stand in other people’s shoes more often. It’s amazing what happens when you do.
- If you can, go travelling – it helps with number 1.
* Do you feel like you have Allies, who don’t identify in the same way as you, but who do support you?
I don’t really think about it. I guess I’d call them friends!
* If so, in what ways do they support you?
Being there for me when I need it.
* Do you have any thoughts on ways (local or global, small scale or large scale, right now or long term etc.) to make progress for LGBTQ+ people?
Wow. Big question. Think global, act local is a good one, I think. We need to develop all possible ways to find meeting points between apparently disparate groups.
* What’s been playing on your mind recently?
Stuff I can’t talk about. Another reason why compassion should extend to people whether they ‘come out’ about or ‘identify as’ whatever it is, or not.
* What makes you laugh?
Stupid 1980s sit coms, and stand-up comedians like Hannah Gadsby, Sue Perkins and Kate McKinnon. I also loved the remake of Ghostbusters. Melissa Macarthy is hilarious. Also, Caitlin Moran, Emma Kennedy, PG Wodehouse and Douglas Adams.
* How do you handle big emotions?
Crying, singing, talking to my wife.
* What does your support network look like, if you feel like you have one?
Mainly friends I’ve met through Rainbow Families, but no I’m not sure that I have one!
* How important is it to you that people know your gender/sexual identity?
They can’t really know me without.
* What does a supportive, welcoming environment for people of your identity, look like to you?
Listening, finding real connections, not assuming I’m able bodied, kid-friendly, chairs. It’s more about lived experience and finding out what people have got in common than identity though. And forget about ‘tolerance’ – that suggests there’s something wrong with me!
* What experiences of discrimination have been formative for you?
Early experiences of discrimination because of the particular brand of Christianity I was involved with. Apart from that, everything from having stones thrown at me to name calling. In fact, I’m thinking of writing a blog post about it so you have just encouraged me to do it.
* What experiences of celebration and validation have been formative for you?
Acceptance by my friends at university. Being able to get married. Having a baby was lesbian-friendly experience, too.
* What do you wish the world knew (in relation to LGBTQ+ people, or other things)?
- Most queer people have experienced judgement and prejudice – it’s boring.
- Micro-aggressions are horrible – and we notice them!
- The things that connect us are far more numerous than the things that divide us.
- Finding ways to be creative is one of the best things you can do.
* How do you think things have changed for LGBTQ+ people in the last 5 years, 10 years, 20 years, 50 years, century, and beyond?
I grew up under section 28. I can remember (as a child) listening to the Thatcher ‘pretended families’ speech. Obviously being able to get married and be open about having children has been a massive change from my point of view. Outside of the hubs – Brighton, Manchester, London – my wife and I still experience open prejudice, although it’s of the passive aggressive kind, rather than name calling. There are still plenty of places in the world where LGBTQ+ people are waiting for basic human rights.
* Who are your LGBTQ+ heroes, if you have any?
I don’t know about heroes, but I really admire Jeanette Winterson, Ellen Degeneres, Martina Navratilova and Sue Perkins because they came out when it was more difficult to do so. Kate McKinnon is amazing. Ian Mckellen has done a lot for gay rights. And I thought Rebecca Root was great in Boy Meets Girl. I’d probably have to include the characters from Dykes to Watch Out For, too, even though they are fictional. They were role models when I didn’t have any role models.
* How would you rate your LGBTQ+ history awareness?
OK I think.
* Where do you / would you go to look for information about those whose work has paved the way for some of your more positive experiences as an LGBTQ+ person today?
Gay’s The Word
* In what year or decade were you born?
* In what way do you think that your age and the social/cultural timeline you’ve been part of, have influenced your experience of being an LGBTQ+ person, and your life in general?
Too hard to answer!
* In what way do you think other aspects of your identity have influenced your experience of being an LGBTQ+ person, and your life in general? (For example, race, class, sex, disability, privilege, and any other aspects of who you are and what’s been going on around you in relation to it).
I think I’ve answered this above.
* What brings you comfort?
A big arm chair and a murder mystery book from the 1930s.
* What does hope feel like to you?
My dad died three years ago, though in a way it still feels like yesterday, and it’s hard to think about narratives of hope at the moment.
* What does home mean to you?
Being with my wife and son.
* Do you consent to me sharing your interview answers on my blog?
Thank you so much, Louise Tondeur, for taking the time to answer these questions, and to be part of my LGBTQ+ Stories Project! And the FIRST entry, no less!
If you are an LGBTQ+ person reading this, and you would like to take part, please email email@example.com If you’re not sure whether LGBTQ+ includes you, but you think that it might/should, and you’d like to take part, please do contact me too!
If you have been affected by any of the issues covered here, please do reach out to the relevant professionals for support. You can see a list of some relevant organisations at the bottom of this document.
If you think any organisations should be added to or taken off this document, or their listings edited, please let me know!
Here is the Stonewall Glossary of Terminology, incase that is helpful or of interest: https://www.stonewall.org.uk/help-advice/glossary-terms
Organisations for Support:
Samaritans UK and ROI. Phone 116 123. Urgent phone support 24/7 and other services. https://www.samaritans.org/
MindOut https://www.mindout.org.uk/ LGBTQ+ Mental Health Support. Counselling, online support, and other services.
Mind, Mental Health Charity. https://www.mind.org.uk/
Albert Kennedy Trust https://www.akt.org.uk/ Supports young LGBT people between the ages of 16 and 25.
The Clare Project, http://www.clareproject.org.uk/ A self-supporting transgender support and social group based in Brighton and Hove, open to anyone wishing to explore issues around gender identity.
My Genderation, http://www.mygenderation.com – Film projects created by trans people, about trans people, for a much wider audience.
LGBT Switchboard. https://switchboard.lgbt/ Helpline 0300 330 0630, open 10:00-22:00 every day. Other services too.
Bi Pride UK. https://biprideuk.org/about/ Not a mental health service at present, but a charity which champions those who experience attraction beyond gender, and works to make Prides more inclusive, and more.
Mind’s Guide To Crisis Support and Planning in case of Crisis. https://www.mind.org.uk/information-support/guides-to-support-and-services/crisis-services/accident-emergency-ae/#.XH0n7dHgrBI
GrassRoots Suicide Prevention. https://www.prevent-suicide.org.uk/