LGBTQ+ Stories Project! 4. HR.
“Physical embodiment of whole hearted, blissful, magical, universal and very personal love.”
What’s the point of the LGBTQ+ Stories Project? Sharing people’s stories, increasing understanding, food for thought, busting myths, hearing individual voices, celebrating LGBTQ+ people.
So, the fourth in this series of LGBTQ+ Stories, is from me – eek! I thought I’d better put my two cents in since everyone else is being so brave too. I thought I’d be anonymous, but it’s so obvious from my answers who I am that I thought I’d better just jump in, and share boldly as HR!
Please note, I do mention a few tricky issues in this interview. I’m not sure what exactly to CW, as there are lots of topics touched on only briefly! Please also note, if I have presented my opinion anywhere as a fact, soz, it’s because I think I’m right. Do educate me, respectfully, on things you think I’ve got wrong / been blind-spot about!
Read on for my answers. If you’d like to take part in the LGBTQ+ Stories Project, email me on firstname.lastname@example.org Ta!
* Tell me something about yourself, besides your gender and sexual identity.
I have a chronic illness. I love cats and cuddly dogs. I value music and silence.
* What does Love mean to you?
Connection. Acceptance and cherishing of somebody as they are. Beauty of art and kindness. Care for self and other. Mutual support and enjoyment. Honesty and trust. Warmth. Tenacious care. Giving space and being close. Loving consensual touch with kind intent behind it. Wonderment and curiosity at the everyday beauty of another human, of one’s self, of nature, of all of it. The fabric of the Universe.
* What is the role of Love in your life?
Community. Arts. Family. Friends. Relationship with self. Acts of kindness. Attitude.
* 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 in this area)?
Mostly cisgender woman.
* What do you personally mean by these words?
Bisexual – I can experience romantic and sexual attraction to people of any gender, regardless of their gender. I personally have a slight preference towards relationships with other women, but my attractions and explorations and feelings of love are not limited to people of one gender.
Queer – umbrella term.
Mostly cisgender woman – I have had a slightly complex relationship with my femaleness. However I am not transgender, and would say that ‘mostly cisgender’ is the most accurate way to describe my gender.
* What do you wish people knew about what those words mean, in reference to you?
That ‘bisexual’ does not imply anything except that I experience attraction beyond one gender. Anything else people might think it means, isn’t coming from me, and if they want to get to know me they need to stop making assumptions, and ask me about myself instead! And listen!
* What myths/stereotypes about people who identify with those words, do you wish people knew were just myths/stereotypes?
Oh God, SO MANY OF THE MYTHS AND STEREOTYPES!
- Bisexual is a complete identity. Not half of anything.
- Bisexual people don’t necessarily want a threesome. We might, but we might not, so don’t assume.
- Bisexual people don’t need to be polyamorous with multiple genders in order to be happy – though some of us might like to / prefer to. Some of us are very happy with, and much prefer, monogamy.
- Bisexual people don’t ‘become straight’ when we date someone of a different gender/sex to ourselves, and we don’t ‘become gay’ when we date someone of the same gender/sex to ourselves. And we don’t ‘become unicorns’ when we date someone gender-queer, gender-fluid or Non Binary. If we identify as Bisexual, we are still Bisexual, regardless of who we are dating or not dating.
- Bisexual is not a ‘stepping stone’ on the way to gay, or a ‘bit of a wild college experiment.’ Bisexual is a valid sexual identity. Some people might explore themselves as bisexual at one point, including in some of the ways mentioned above, and later discover themselves to be gay/straight/something else, and that is fine. That does not mean that those who ARE bisexual, are less valid. Stop waiting for us to hop off that supposed “stepping stone” – because it’s a whole fucking island, not on the path to anywhere, and we’ve set up camp and we aren’t going anywhere!
- Sexuality can sometimes change in the other direction too – some people who label themselves as ‘lesbian’ or ‘gay’ or something else, for a while, may later discover themselves to be bisexual. None of these instances invalidate how somebody identifies. So basically, listen to people, and respect the language they currently use to identify their experience, and don’t dismiss their experiences or their existence.
- Bisexual people are not necessarily promiscuous or “oversexed.” There is a stereotype of bisexual people being “greedy” and “too sexual”. Bisexual people can have very little or very large or quite moderate sex drive, and can decide to act on it a lot or a little or not at all – just like anyone else who identifies any other way. Bisexuality does not imply promiscuity – nor does it condemn it. Having as much consensual sex as you want is a wonderful thing! And bisexual people might be having lots or very little of it – you don’t know this about them by knowing their identity, and you cannot assume to know (or judge).
- Bisexual means having the ability to experience attraction beyond gender / to more than one gender. It has nothing to do with excluding transgender, genderqueer, genderfluid or non binary folk. [See article https://getbrightonsinging.com/2019/02/09/bi-pan-attraction-beyond-gender-consensual-non-consensual-personal-language-changes-lgbtq-community-supporting-each-other-not-bullying-each-other-and-stuff-like-that/].
- Bisexual people deserve to take up space in LGBTQ+ spaces. There’s a B in there for a reason. Bisexual people deserve our place in LGBTQ+ spaces, regardless of the gender / sex of our current partner.
- Millions more! Basically, listen to and respect individual people please, and don’t make assumptions about us. If someone tells you they are Bi, congratulations, and before you start throwing stereotypes at them, try listening to anything they have to say and want to share about their experience and who they are.
* How are these myths/stereotypes damaging/influential?
Hugely so, in so many ways. It took me years before I was comfortable labelling myself at all, because the word ‘bisexual’ comes with so much heavy baggage of stigma and biphobia. Despite loving, feeling attracted to, having sex with, and having meaningful romantic relationships with people of various genders and sexes since my early teens, I did not feel comfortable using the word bisexual until my early 30s. This had a really negative impact mentally, in terms of how people could relate to me, how I relate to myself, my sense of existence in the world, my ability to express my experience, my ability to find solidarity with others like me, my ability to call out problematic stereotypes and biphobia, my ability to ask for rights as a person who experiences attraction beyond gender, my ability to seek relevant help when needed, my ability to feel understood and respected, and in many other ways.
Many of the biphobic myths also contain other problematic things too – like sexism, transphobia, slut-shaming, general dismissiveness…
Decent Bi representation and education, widely available and accurate, would have been very much appreciated when I was a lot younger! Not just for me to understand myself, but for others to understand me too, and for all LGBTQ+ and Straight people to understand each other and themselves better. Decent LGBTQ+ relationships and identity education should definitely be part of “Sex Education” at school, in my opinion.
* 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?
Sexuality – Best – Cor! Physical embodiment of whole hearted, blissful, magical, universal and very personal love. Swimming naked in the black sea with a woman I had a huge crush on, singing from the black sea up to the stars with her beside me… feeling like I was living a poem. My first experience of love and sex with a woman, and our connection, her saying to me, “you’re like oxygen!” Finding exciting connections with people, with all their different qualities and beauties and expressions. Exploring myself in relation to others, intimately, and exploring others in relation to me, intimately. Expressing physically (and in word and action and art), the exquisiteness of existence, as embodied by some particularly beautiful / compelling people. Learning what I do and don’t like in bed, and becoming more assertive about it. Learning to undo the cultural training about how people of my gender&sex are supposed to be in relationships, and to begin to write my own rules, in cahoots with (or at odds with) the various lovers along the way. Playing music with a lover, as another means of connection and love. Tango dancing with a lover. Little daily expressions of love. Helping to showing other queer people that their queerness is okay, and wonderful. The transformational nature of some romantic and sexual relationships. Dancing and feeling powerful in my dancing body, and alive in connection with other dancers. The ex lovers with whom I am now a particular quality of good friend. Sense of meaning and beauty and exquisite joy. Opportunities to be deeply known, and to hugely grow.
Sexuality – Worst – Ugh. Non consensual behaviour, and lack of understanding about what consent really is, mostly from cis men. Stereotypes proliferated in ‘opposite gender’ relationships that I felt pushed into fulfilling. Controlling / judgey / traumatic / triggering / unpleasant / awkward / exhausting / disconnected / abusive / nasty sexual and psychological experiences. Bad communications in relationships, particularly with men. The social training that men and women receive about relationships, and the way that this got in the way of decent connection, and self advocacy, in my relationships with men. People who withhold pertinent information (on purpose or not) until after you’ve had sex (e.g. they aren’t actually separated from their husband yet, STDs, they are actually engaged to a man but wanted to experiment before they got married, they have a lover in another country… – all pretty important things to tell someone before getting into a sexual relationship with them!). Countless times being harassed because I apparently look like a lesbian. “Oy are you a lezzer?” “Oy, you fucking dyke!” etc. shouted at me in pubs / on night buses / in neighbourly conflict over a noisy party, etc. A girlfriend’s father, who was very religious and very homophobic and biphobic, fervently calling me a “child of Satan” to my face, and not allowing me and my then girlfriend to spend any time alone together. Continuous subtle (& unsubtle) put downs from a boyfriend. Anxiety about having to come out over and over again. A boyfriend leaving the relationship because I became ill. Receiving hate from LG(b)TQ+ communities that have not overcome their biphobia yet. Lack of representation, lack of use of the word Bisexual as a valid identity in media for years (still a long way to go).
Gender/sex – bit long and complicated for here. Stuff to do with sexism, dysmorphia, anorexia, periods, the pill, sexuality, stereotypes of sexuality, health, weakness&strength, patriarchy, stereotypes of gender, trauma, sexual abuse, and lots more. There’s way too much to go into, but these days I am a mostly cisgender woman, who loves her body, bleeds regularly (finally – it’s been a long road), doesn’t hold with gender stereotypes she’s expected to keep to but has no inclination to, has to stomach the fact that some gender stereotypes match her experience, has gloriously hairy legs and armpits, and very much enjoys her juicy boobs and fat bum.
* How long have you used the words you currently use to refer to yourself? How did this come about?
Bisexual – only the last few years. I think this came about due to increased visibility of and awareness of bisexuality as a valid option. And also possibly due to moving to Brighton where more in depth and respectful discussions of sexual identity are more commonplace than elsewhere, in my experience. And maybe it was just finally time.
Woman – since not being a girl or a teenager anymore
Mostly cisgender – only learnt what cisgender means in the last few years. And I am not completely it, but am mostly it.
* What impact did your experiences around finding/exploring your identifying language (or not finding/exploring it) have on you?
A lot of stress and displacement. Followed by personal pride. Followed by various kinds of painful harassment and biphobia. Followed by, eventually, more personal pride again.
* Have you used different self-identifying words previously? And do you think you might use other self-identifying words in the future?
Yeah. Let’s see… for a while I said things like “I’M JUST ME! I’M JUST ME LOVING PEOPLE! STOP TRYING TO PUT ME IN A BOX!” Then for a while I said nothing and just got on with loving people regardless of gender/sex. Then for a while I said things like, “mostly lesbian, 80% lesbian” etc (a bit problematic, perhaps, I know). Then for a while, in a long term relationship with a straight man with whom I did not feel comfortable to express and discuss my bisexuality, I had, “I’m gay, the opera,” running in my head. Then for a while I think I probably said “bisexual” but with lots of quantifiers and question marks and upward tones and bracing myself for the onslaught of biphobia and stereotypes – which came in their hoardes. Then, finally, “Bi and proud.” With a brief coda of “NO, BISEXUAL DOES NOT MEAN THAT!” when people tried to change what Bi means, to be something transphobic / anti-genderqueer. And then another, proud, “STILL BISEXUAL!” with a cadenza.
* How well do you think you understand the various terms that other people use to identify themselves?
Quite well, with lots more to learn! I’m always researching, listening, reading and doing my best to understand.
* And how well you do think you understand the variety of different experiences that may be meant by the same word?
I think my personal experiences, and ways of thinking, equip me quite well to understand the potential for variety in this context. However that doesn’t stop me being curiously surprised sometimes when hearing different people’s experiences that I’ve not heard before!
* 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?
100%. I do my very best to support, respect, understand and celebrate everybody in their uniqueness.
* Could you think of anything you could do to be a better Ally to those mentioned above?
I’m always thinking of / researching / learning / being told new ways to do this, and I make every effort to do them as best I can! And I doubt I’ll ever cease to learn and improve as an Ally.
* 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?
Learn about biphobia; check your assumptions; respect people’s differences and people’s choices; listen to understand, not to argue.
* What are your thoughts about and experiences of ‘coming out’?
* Do you need to take a breather before answering the rest of the questions? If so, please do! Otherwise, carry on!
Yeah, cuppatime. [Note – I did not stop and have a cuppa. Bad pacing, HR!]
* What are some of your pet peeves?
Rudeness, insensitivity, unkindness, cruelty, bullying, bulldozery behaviour, pushiness, teasing (it’s basically another word for bullying), people playing nasty mindgames. Also, the symptoms of my chronic illness. And the weather being too hot. And insects that bite me. And when I want to do something, but can’t. Being misunderstood.
* What are some of your daily joys?
Singing. Animals. Trees, grass, sky, flowers, green. Rain. I love rain! Rainbows are pretty good too. Fresh water. Connection to friends. My work, which I love. My yoga practice. Playing my flute / other musical instruments. Writing. Reading. Laughing with friends. Improv comedy with Short&Girlies. People who ‘get’ me. Expressions of love well received. Consensual hugs. Boundaries. People you can be frank with. Learning. Sense of achievement. Fresh air. Warm bath. Managing to do a thing. Chuckling to myself about nice memories.
* What is a mistake you’ve made?
Hmm… I once posted on facebook when I had taken my Mum to A&E. In hindsight, I should not have posted about it, as Mum wasn’t awake for me to ask if she minded people knowing she was in hospital. It was a selfish move – I wanted sympathy/support. I also once said no to a flatshare with somebody for a very, very shallow reason. There were other reasons too in the end, but reflecting on it I feel guilty and sad about my kneejerk response back then – and glad I’ve come so far that it would be the last thing on my mind now!
* What is something you’ve done really well?
I’ve set up and continued to hold a really beautiful community space, amidst very trying health issues, which I’m very proud of and nourished by.
* What is something that surprised / amused you?
Musical improv with the Short&Girlies. Surprised and amused at all of it – the stuff that came out of me, and the stuff that came out of others!
* What do you struggle with / find really hard?
Saying no, setting boundaries and keeping them. I’m doing quite well at this now but it’s an effort and something I still have to work on – especially as my energy resources are much lower these days.
* 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.
I think I’m quite good on emotional intelligence, and communication. It takes two though, for good communication!
* What is very important to you?
Respect, love, honesty, kindness. And a space to retreat to when it’s all too much.
* What other words could describe you, at the moment (in any way at all)?
Still wearing my coat inside, because it’s cold but also because I got caught up in writing this and haven’t bothered to rearrange myself for comfort. I’ll sort that out now.
…. Now, a bit more comfortable. Listening to music. A bit on edge – channeling that energy into answering this. Grateful for friends, family, a space to call my own for a while, work I love, and support in managing my health condition and having a good enough life. Listening to and loving and imbibing and outpouring music, at all turns! Except when being quiet / too exhausted.
* Tell me about your experiences of LGBTQ+ Community Groups, Scenes, and/or publications, positive and negative (negative comments may have names edited out).
I sang with an LGBT choir in London for a while. The music was epic and a fun challenge; but I did not feel safe/welcome to be ‘out’ there as a bi person. If I had been dating an opposite/different gender person, I would have felt even less so. I was also hoping to meet a partner there, and did find that most people were a good 20 years older than me! Which is fine, but not what I was looking for, partner-wise.
There was an LGBT society at Uni. I found it quite heavily oriented around drinking, a specific type of partying, and aimed more towards gay men then lesbian or bi women. I didn’t enjoy it much.
I got involved with the LGBT Forum at a town I lived in for a while, which felt like a quite productive and socially responsible space, but was very small, and almost entirely made up of gay men, so not very balanced in terms of the spectrum of LGBTQ+ people. The Forum was a very good thing (we even went to London Pride together, and I think I met with some of them at an LGBT Rights for Russia March too if I remember rightly), but I wanted to spend meaningful time with more queer women and couldn’t find them at the very male-dominated LGBT Forum.
I frequented a vibrant queer pub in London for a while, which was an epically decadent and wonderfully “anything goes” type space, in which lots of great performances happened and queer camaraderie occurred. I found the levels of overt sexualisation at this pub a bit overwhelming/forward though; receiving texts from women I’d just met, saying, “I want to have sex with you,” or people doing cunnilingus mimes at me across the room, was not the sort of dating life I was really after. I’d rather have had a dance, and a great chat over a cuppa (somewhere I can hear what someone is saying helps too!), and gradually move onto the aforementioned sexy things after that, once a real connection has been made. So the scene there was very sex-centred and unabashedly forward, and I found it hard to engage with when I wasn’t in the mood for that sort of vibe. I wanted to engage with an LGBTQ+ scene, which wasn’t all about drinking and immediate sex and such, and was finding it hard to find the right place for this. I would say that my later move to Brighton, and participation in and running of queer community activity groups, has now very much ticked that box, and I can spend lots of time with lots of wonderful queer people, without feeling pressured to get drunk or have sex that I’m not into / sure about.
I remember when I used to buy magazines for lesbian and bi women (regular magazines, not porn, although they sometimes got put in with the porn mags, despite mostly being about politics and cats and musicians in tweed) in my local WH Smiths in London; the people on the desks would usually give me some filthy remark with it, and I would blush and keep my eyes down. In the year that same sex marriage became legal in England, I remember thinking, “fuck it, the law’s on my side now, I’m gonna look these fuckers in the eye,” and not taking any shit when I bought my Queer mags from then on.
I remember singing with GLOW (Gay Lesbian Or Whatever) choir at Unicorn voice camp, and loving the experience of it, whilst also essentially coming out to hundreds of my colleagues in the Natural Voice Network in doing so (whilst I have always dated people of varied genders/sexes, I had only ever happened to bring men to Unicorn camp, and had not been vocal about being Bi, so people had assumed I was straight, I think, and seemed surprised when I started singing with the GLOW choir).
I lead an LGBTQ+ & Allies community choir in Brighton now (also GLOW – in homage to my experiences at Unicorn, and with permission & blessing from the wonderful GLOW Unicorn leaders, founders, and bringers of the GLOW to other places!). Holding this space, and keeping my place within it as a Bi person, and learning about the people in it and how best to serve them, is an honour, a wonderful learning curve, and something I believe deeply in, and am wholly committed to.
One of my teen relationships was with an American girl from Boston, and when I was visiting her, I attended some Gay-Straight-Alliance sessions at her school. These were quite illuminating, and not something I could have imagined happening at any of the schools I had attended in the UK at that time. It was also quite striking alongside some extreme homophobia and biphobia I experienced on that visit.
I could go on but I think that’ll do for now!
* Has sexism had an impact on your life, that you are aware of? In what ways?
Yes. Of course. Too many ways to number. Too tired of dealing with them all to put many here. But, recently, things like, being touched-up on the arse by a male electrician, in my own home. Not being believed when I reported this to the company he worked for, and he then denied it. Police not being any help in that matter, and in fact being pretty stressful to deal with rather than helpful. Being hollered at and creepy-chatted-at in the street, by men, on many occasions when I’m out walking alone or with other female presenting people (not when I’m with a male presenting person – nobody generally harasses me then). All the money that has to go on menstrual products – a nightmare for many cis women, as well as other people who menstruate. Being harassed aggressively in the street if I show my legs / armpits, unshaven, in public. Having to dress in ways that hide my body hair, and hide enough of my cleavage, because if I don’t it will be read as wrong / gross / a sexual statement / a reason to be harassed. Being taught culturally that, due to my sex, I ought to be skinny, small, agreeable, nice about awful things, and generally not take up space or look like an adult. Being talked down to. Dismissiveness from the police when reporting harassment. Dismissiveness from doctors when discussing my chronic illness symptoms. Many things.
* Are you proud of your gender identity, your sexual identity, and/or any other aspects of your identity?
Hmm. I’m proud to have come this far, to where I’m at today, in terms of self love and self acceptance.
* What other things do you feel about your identity?
I feel proud to have come to place where I know and accept who I am and what I want and don’t want, and in which I take less shit for being who I am. I also feel like a lot of my identity has been changed for me against my will, by chronic illness and hormones. I learn to go with the flow with that, as much as I can, and it’s a strong teacher.
* What are you grateful for about your identity?
Variety of experience. And perspectives.
* What else are you grateful for in your life in general?
Music, community, friends, family, skills I’ve learnt that I can develop and use for the good with integrity, support, kindness, love, progress. Places to express.
* What things challenge you in your life and hold you back?
Illness. Fear. Illness.
* What would you do differently if you could go back and re-do any moments in your life?
Any times that I have said or done things that caused people harm, and that did not serve some good purpose in doing so, I would go back and change those.
* What would you like to prioritise in your future?
Love. Kindness. Arts projects. Community. Music. Space to reflect. Health. Those people who lift me up.
* Is there anything you’d like to say to other LGBTQ+ people who might be reading this?
You deserve to be respected and accepted and celebrated, for who you are, as you are, right now.
* 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?
Thank you for listening, doing your best to understand, and for any and all acts of support and respect and celebration!
* 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?
There may be a reason you find it hard to understand people like me.
Maybe you’ve had a bad experience – for example, someone who identifies as Bi and who treated you poorly. No-one should be treated badly, sorry if you went through something like that. However, know that their poor treatment, is not a trait that is to do with being Bisexual, or what all Bisexual people are like, it’s to do with being that individual person.
Maybe it’s ignorance – which can be remedied by listening to understand, rather than listening to reply/argue. Try listening to a Bisexual person describe their experience – and really listen. And remember we are all different. Try doing some reading about Bisexuality, written by Bisexual people. Bisexual people are all different, and are all unified in having some experience of attraction beyond gender / to more than one gender. Traits beyond that are individual – not collective.
Important things to remember if you experience prejudice / blind spots (which I think we probably all do, in one way or another):
- Somebody with a different experience to you is not a threat.
- Different people mean different things by the same words.
- There is no right/wrong way to identify.
- Everyone has a right to exist without harassment, and to be acknowledged as who they are.
- Everybody deserves respect, including you, and including those you may find it hard to understand or respect.
* Do you feel like you have Allies, who don’t identify in the same way as you, but who do support you?
Definitely! I’m lucky to know some wonderful folks, who don’t identify as bi and who are supportive and celebratory of this bisexual person here!
* If so, in what ways do they support you?
Words of affirmation; body language and energy when discussing sexuality; warm smiles; general positive engagement with me about life in general; engage without dismissiveness/judginess when bisexuality is discussed; probably more ways too that I can’t think of right now.
* And are there other ways that you’d like support from them?
Kindness and respect are always appreciated!
And in relation to my chronic illness, learning about it is highly appreciated!
As are offers of physical help/sensitivity – e.g. thinking about triggers like temperature / noise / bright light / physical exertion; e.g. offering physical help with practical stuff; e.g. allowing short rest breaks when socialising; e.g. being understanding and supportive when I need to bow out of things due to health; e.g. learning about the nature of the illness I have, and how awful it feels when some inappropriate/dismissive things are said!
* 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?
The situation is so strikingly different in different parts of the world. There needs to be safety, rights and equality for LGBTQ+ people worldwide, but there are still places around the world where LGBTQ+ folk can currently be killed, imprisoned, or treated appallingly in various other ways, due to who they are. I don’t know how to tackle this as individuals, but I think looking to organisations who might work in this area could be a good start, and supporting them.
In the parts of the world where physical violence and prejudice against LGBTQ+ people is a bit less systemic and comes more from individuals, such as in parts of the UK, the issues that need addressing can sometimes seem subtler or differently complex. E.g. respect within LGBTQ+ communities for the variety of people wanting to take their space in them; the importance of intersectionality; occurrences of racism and ableism in queer scenes/communities; championing rights for everybody alongside each other, not against each other; transphobia and biphobia in LGBTQ+ communities; continuing to fight for gender equality for everybody of all genders and sexes… There’s a lot to be done!
For me personally, I do my best to listen and learn and act accordingly, and proactively, day by day; in both my personal and professional life.
Globally, I think supporting human rights organisations is probably helpful. I’m not sure how much power we have from different countries to influence other countries for the wellbeing of their LGBTQ+ people, but I expect something is probably better than nothing. There are lots of online petitions and donation-based projects and open letters to leaders and such that people can participate in. It’s hard to see whether these make a difference. Various organisations are doing their bit – here’s a starting point from Stonewall https://www.stonewall.org.uk/get-involved/get-involved-international/international-work
* What’s been playing on your mind recently?
Tunes to play on the flute. Which people and activities/tasks to prioritise. Future.
* What makes you laugh?
Improv; friends; animals; tv; books; memories; daily domestic funnies.
* How do you handle big emotions?
Breathing, writing, walking, lying down and being with them, yoga, dance, sing, play music, talk to someone, engage with it, distract from it, crying, air, grounding.
* What does your support network look like, if you feel like you have one?
Lovely friends and family, community around group activities, and online community.
* How important is it to you that people know your gender/sexual identity?
Quite important that that know and respect it.
* What does a supportive, welcoming environment for people of your identity, look like to you?
Freedom from stereotypical tropes and assumptions. Bi people not being an afterthought, but an equal part of the conversation.
Re disability, low not-bright lighting, not too hot, source of fresh air, chairs, place to lean head, place to lie down and have breaks, understanding that closing eyes and zoning out for a minute is part of managing energy and functioning well, understanding that what is visible is not the whole picture at all. Toilets and water source within easy reach (eg not ‘miles away’ upstairs).
* What experiences of discrimination have been formative for you?
They have taught me, in painful and draining ways, how to find and stay connected to my sense of integrity, even when it feels like I’m shouting on my own into the wind.
* What experiences of celebration and validation have been formative for you?
Friends who ‘get it’, or are good at listening, empathy and celebration. Doing improv with lots of other wonderful women, many of them queer. The wonderful people who have shown up at my LGBTQ+ & Allies Choir, and been vibrantly themselves, without bulldozing anyone else in the process. People online who get it. The wonderful Abigail who co-founded Bi Pride UK with me in the early days (and still does amazing things with the now-charity! See link https://biprideuk.org/about/). Singing on Village Harmony Choir tours, feeling free and in touch with the flow of the world, and happy to love and be loved, regardless of the “set paths” we may or may not follow; and holding hands, singing barefoot in cold stone churches, kissing in beautiful rivers… Experiences of freedom, joy, sensuality, understanding and togetherness. And some great conversations I’ve had in recent years.
* What do you wish the world knew (in relation to LGBTQ+ people, or other things)?
We are people, just like you, and you. We are equal to others and we deserve equality. We feel, we need, we hurt, we bleed, we love, we feed, we play, we cry, we try, we are humans, just like you. Please treat us, and everyone, with due respect and basic human rights.
* How do you think things have changed for LGBTQ+ people in the last 5 years, 10 years, 20 years, 50 years, century, and beyond?
Hugely. Hugely, and mostly positively. But there is a long way yet to go, before LGBTQ+ people are safe worldwide, and treated as the equal, brilliant humans that we are. I’m hugely grateful for all the work that has been done, that has paved the way for the liberties I enjoy as a queer person today.
* Who are your LGBTQ+ heroes, if you have any?
All the notable historical figures. But I have personal heroes. Many of them queer women, musicians, singing teachers, choir leaders, singers, artists, walkers off-the-beaten-track, in many ways besides sexuality and gender. My personal LGBTQ+ heroes might not be happy to be named here, but they are many and they have all had a deeply positive and strengthening effect on my life. Some simply by being who they are, and existing. Some by their actions of generosity and encouragement towards me directly. And all the average-queer-people leading their ordinary extraordinary queer lives, and showing that it can be done. You are all my heroes.
* How would you rate your LGBTQ+ history awareness?
Not nearly as good enough as I think it should be.
* 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?
Online. Museum exhibits. Bookshops. 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?
Lots. In the culture and country I’ve grown up in, the acceptance of, and treatment of, and language around, LGBTQ+ people, has changed dramatically in the last century. Experience for LGBTQ+ people still stinks of prejudice from many different angles, but we do have a lot more safety. My ability to speak openly about these issues, and to form a large part of my career, publicly, around supporting and creating community for LGBTQ+ people and Allies, is only possible due to the relative safety we have in this country at this time. To do so in some parts of the world today would be unthinkable and very dangerous.
The hard work of LGBTQ+ people before us, has laid the groundwork for us today to be able to go into more depth to express who we are, and there is a lot more language widely available to people to describe and discuss their experiences of sexuality and gender. This is a very good thing! It does mean that there is some confusion / fast learning / language policing / misunderstanding going on, and lots of learning and adapting for people to do who want to understand and be kind to others and themselves. This can lead to a tendency to petty “in-fighting” between people in the LGBTQ+ community (especially online), which is a shame, as the bigger picture, of us all working together to improve experience for everyone in our big queer boat, can be lost. I think we of today’s most vocal LGBTQ+ communities (again, especially online) sometimes need to remember that it’s less important to be right than it is to learn, to be connected, to be respectful and to be kind. And to both hear, and be heard, in a balance.
I have purposely put myself in a bubble in queer friendly Brighton, and going elsewhere in the country definitely can feel less LGBTQ+ friendly. I think experience for LGBTQ+ people varies dramatically location to location, but that the internet and social media have created a haven for connection, support and understanding (as well as bitchy in-fighting!) for LGBTQ+ people. Because of social media, and the ability to connect far and wide instantly, we can learn fast as a culture and as a more global community. This can be overwhelming, but is mostly very exciting for progress on LGBTQ+ issues, I think.
* 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, body type, and any other aspects of who you are and what’s been going on around you in relation to it).
I definitely think other “normalising” or “othering” factors can play into some of the ways LGBTQ+ people are received, by different people, in different circumstances. Sometimes people who are ‘outside the norm’ in additional ways to being LGBTQ+, can be badly received if they have “too many” other traits outside the expected norms that are glorified & acceptable in our culture. Fatphobia, ableism, exectations for gender presentation….
I certainly felt for a time that as long I was “skinny”, I could ‘get away with’ having hairy legs and enjoying sex and love with other women, and being outspoken about things I perceived to be wrong about our culture. But if I was fat as well…. well that would be too many “outside the glorified centred norm standards” at once, and I would be ‘unacceptable’! As it turns out, I did eventually get fat, due to chronic illness, hormones and loving my body, and it turns out that I don’t give much of a shit what people who judge me on such things think of me! Well, I’d like to not give a shit, but I’m a sensitive soul, so I’ve found I need to put myself in more situations where people understand and respect queerness, fatness, chronic illness, and celebrate and respect understand these various facets that make up important parts of my experience and identity now.
I do speak to a lot of people who don’t understand chronic illness, and a lot of people who fear and frown upon fatness, and that can be quite draining. Those are people with good other qualities though, and I do my best to communicate well and also protect myself. I don’t spend time with many people who would criticise my queerness though. I keep my hairy legs mostly under wraps but…. I’m rambling.
I also think that my areas of privilege have made it much easier and safer for me to express myself as an LGBTQ+ person, such as being white, having some financial support, having a good education, and having accepting parents and family.
* What brings you comfort?
Hugs, joyful chats, dogs and cats, baths, cocoa, music.
* What does hope feel like to you?
Bright, beaming, energy, connecting between me and the universe’s possibilities, and showing me a path, or a light around the corner.
* What does home mean to you?
Safety. A space I can retreat from everything and everyone, and do what I need to do. A private cave. People nearby who I love, and who love me. Community of people in one geographical area, in whom I have faith and trust and fun and deep connections. Green grassy hills, bluebell woods. Family. (ideal world, would also be fireplace, cat, partner/bestie next door, woods and trees and garden… mmm!)
* How are you feeling right now whilst reading / answering all these questions?
Quite tired and overwhelmed, and achey, and hoping I haven’t got anything too wrong or made any big bloomer faux pas in my answers.
* What has life been like for you in the last month?
Very up and down. My dear Grandmother Rosemary died in January, I was very ill for most of February, these things have been very hard and deep and big. I’ve also been very Up with creative momentum, moving forward with projects, doing what I can do, and enjoying some close friendships that bring me much delight; enjoying teaching; enjoying writing and making music; enjoying the fire of action and the water of flow; the earth of rest and pacing; and the air of creativity, and the warmth of the love of my closest friends, my singing community and other communities, and my family. Dancing with grief, illness, joy, motivation, exhaustion, fun, and allsorts, in a strange sort of contemporary dance style.
* What else would you like to say in this interview?
I really hope that nothing I’ve said has been taken ill or caused upset. The last thing I want to do is cause harm or upset to anyone, or to create division, when what I really want to do is create deeper unity and understanding between people. I hope that in sharing my stories, and other people’s stories, I can celebrate unique voices, and increase understanding of the variety of people out there who are LGBTQ+
So, those are my answers to the LGBTQ+ Stories Project interview questions. Phew! I hope you’ve found them interesting to read.
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, 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/
Survivors Network https://survivorsnetwork.org.uk/ Supporting survivors of sexual violence and abuse. Based in Sussex.