When you see your first lesbian crush thirty years later and she has no idea who you are …

Growing Pains, Hayley Sherman, Lesbian

A ‘Postcards from Lesbania’ Post by Hayley Sherman

“Picture the scene. It’s 1991. I’m thirteen, she’s twenty-six. I’m an iffy-looking, greasy-faced, stalkerish teenager and she’s a respectable, married foreign languages teacher. Let’s face it, it was never going to work.”

No description available.
Grumpy Ollie driving us to the park!

Our one-eyed, grumpy, old-man dog, Ollie, is always determined to embarrass us. It might be finding the least tolerant dog owner in the park and humping their pooch to within an inch of its life or emerging from the bushes with a mouthful of used condom (classy parks we go to!). But he excelled himself a few weeks ago when, from the moment we got into the park to the moment we left, he was obsessing over the same dog. He wouldn’t leave this poor, nervous dog alone, who was on a lead and couldn’t escape him, which meant that for a full half hour, I couldn’t escape the owner who – cue drumroll – just happened to be the woman I was obsessed with when I was thirteen years old: the woman I spent all my time daydreaming about, who was the first ever focus of my Sapphic stirrings, who has always been such a big part of my life, because I’ve told and retold the stories and carried her in my heart like an Amazonian goddess for so long, next to whom I would measure all woman … who, thirty years later, didn’t have the first idea who I was!

Picture the scene. It’s 1991. I’m thirteen, she’s twenty-six. I’m an iffy-looking, greasy-faced, stalkerish teenager and she’s a respectable, married foreign languages teacher. Let’s face it, it was never going to work, but it didn’t stop me doing everything I could to bask in her orbit, from signing up to the clubs she was running, to behaving like a monster to get detention with her, or even just executing low-grade annoyances, clicking my pen, chewing gum, just to get her to look at me. And I would just happen to be walking past her classroom between lessons or wandering near her car when it was time to go home. “Hi, Miss! Did you have a good day, Miss?” Yes, I was quite the smooth operator back then. And, oh my God, I drew her a picture and wrote a card. I blush now thinking about it, but I fell hard. I didn’t even know it in the beginning. I just thought she was a great role model, and wouldn’t it be great to be by her side 24/7. Like, literally 24/7.

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Back to the park and we are no longer thirteen and twenty-six. I’m forty-three, which makes her fifty-six, and at first, I’m not sure that it’s even her, but thanks to Ollie (whom I may donate to natural sciences when I get home), I have lots of opportunity to find out.

“Sorry, I’ll just …” I’m saying, trying to get him on the lead and get the hell away.

But she’s so lovely. She says, “No, leave him. He’s fine.”

So while he’s trailing around the park with a nose full of nervous-dog bum hole, I’m trailing behind Miss, and now I know it’s her. Thirty years has changed what it could, but the essence of her is the same, and I can hear a hint of an old accent that has faded with time. My heart is racing, because I’m obviously still a little bit mental, but it’s becoming very clear that she has absolutely no idea who the hell I am. In her defence, she’s probably taught thousands of baby-dyke stalkers over the last thirty years, and I’ve changed quite a bit since I was thirteen, but really? How can this be? She’s been kept alive and reinvented in the stories I have told others over the years like a cross between Madonna and Jesus Christ himself. I know the stories have mostly centred around how bat-shit crazy I was back then, but at least she was in them! She hasn’t thought about me at all!!

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orange i have a crush on you neon light signage

Back to the park again, and I should be a grownup by now. I should be able to say, “Aren’t you Miss? I think you used to teach at my school.” But suddenly I’m thirteen years old again, and old feelings are floating to the surface. Because, joking aside, it was so hard being that age, having such overwhelming feelings and nowhere to go with them, no one to talk to. I had only heard the word lesbian used in sentences that also featured the words “Euuuww!” and “Gross!” I didn’t want to be euuwwwy or gross. All the boys in my class fancied her, but that was okay, that was just bants, while I died a little more inside each day. I was powerless and wrong and disgusting. And I was just so awkward, which was exactly how I became in the park when … and this is the best bit … Sarah, my partner, struck up a conversation with her. Kill me now! I’m chirping in with the odd embarrassed smile and “Oh, right”, but there’s sand in my throat, and I know I’m going beetroot. I nearly called her “Miss”, for goodness sake! They’re chatting about their kids and the weather and how Miss just got this dog and she isn’t too well trained yet, and I just want it to be over, because I’m desperately embarrassed about all of that stalkerish shit all these years later. I hated myself then, and I just want the ground to swallow me up before she realises who I am and tells me what a tit I was. But when it is over, I’m filled with regret.

“Why didn’t you just speak to her?” Sarah asks, as if it were as easy as opening my mouth and just talking!

I don’t really have an answer for her, but I have resolved to ask Miss if she remembers me if I ever run into her again (accidentally, on purpose!!), be brave and maybe we can laugh about it (if I can ignite any flicker of memory in her brain). In the meantime, it adds another chapter to the legend, and the great takeaway is one of relief, that those days are long behind me and things really did get better.

Hayley Sherman is a writer, ghostwriter, blogger and editor who just wants everyone to be nice to each other. Her blog smiles in the face of adversity, licks the cheek of the oppressor and generally reflects on her denial about being a middle-aged lesbian. hayleyshermanwriter.com.

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Random Thoughts: The Mother Explosion

Janine Norris on the pain of coming out to a homophobic family and the explosive impact many years later.

New Year, New Queer

Louise Clare Dalton on switching labels from Bi to Queer. But do we even need labels any more?

Random Thoughts: The Mother Explosion

Coming Out, Family, Growing Pains, Janine Norris, Lesbian, Mental Health

By Janine Norris

Like for many, 2020 has been a year like no other. For me, it has been a revelation.

Coming up to 51 years old, an experience in the summer opened my eyes to a world of oppression and toxicity, surrounding my mother. Without realising quite how much power she still has over me and my life decisions, an argument exploded between us and I have subsequently taken a ‘non-contact’ approach until I feel ready to explore what I need to do.

two deer fighting at middle of forest

I have felt guilty about this decision, I mean, family is family – you’re supposed to stick by them no matter what, aren’t you? I had a therapy session with a guy who works with the teachers in our school to help them offload and ‘park’ traumatic events which may have occurred with some of the young people on a day-to-day basis. He assured me that feeling guilty was not going to help, and neither was long-term non-contact. However, he did say that it didn’t matter how long it took, I had to do what was right for me.

This was my first obstacle! I’m a people pleaser, I seek approval, I see the best in everyone and I’ve kept things to myself for years and years in order to ‘not upset the family’. A friend of mine sent me a link to a Blogger, Bethany Webster, who researched and wrote about ‘The Mother Wound.’ I read it and my eyes were opened.

Wow! Everything Bethany Webster talks about, I have felt over the years: shame, not feeling good enough, guilt for wanting more, mental health issues and more; so much more. So now I feel ready to address it (I’m not sure my family are ready for me to address it though, but hey-ho).


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When I was a toddler, I was seriously ill and spent a lot of time in hospital. I, therefore, wasn’t perfect. I didn’t realise this at the time, but my ‘imperfections’ began here. At 15, I knew I was gay. This was in 1985. For ten years I did nothing about it. I went through sixth form, university and two years into my first teaching job before I had the courage to admit feelings for someone of the same sex. It was another two years before I told the family.

So, for twelve years, I hid the real me. I did it because I didn’t want to disappoint my parents. I did it because I didn’t know what my friends, my brother and sister would say. So, my emotional ‘bucket’ should have been full to overflowing way back then. However, I made sure there was a hole near the top of this bucket so it never got full; it never overflowed, emotions dribbled out slowly and I dealt with that.

“He said, ‘Thinking about you and her having sex (here we go again) makes me feel sick!’ I know I replied with, ‘Thinking about you and your wife having sex would make me feel sick, that’s why I don’t!’ He put the phone down.”

Again, I didn’t realise this was happening, it was a natural thing for me to do. Just as it was natural for me to come home from school and peel the potatoes ready for tea so that my dad didn’t have to do it all when he got in from work. My brother and sister, blissfully unaware of the feelings of anybody but themselves, were firmly placed in front of the TV watching crap programmes. I would then crack on with my clarinet and piano practice. (To be fair, I did the bare minimum here because I found it dull, hard work. This showed the further up the grades I got).

When I finally ‘came out’ to my mum, it was at Christmas – Boxing Day to be exact. It was our first Christmas without my dad, I think. He had died in the summer at the age of fifty-three. Mum had an inclination that I was about to tell her. On the Christmas Eve that year, I had accompanied mum to the local Working Men’s Club in Morley, just outside Leeds. My sister-in-law’s parents were there. It was the time when, in Emmerdale (Farm), Zoe, the vet, was about to ‘marry’ her lesbian lover. My sister-in-law’s mother (whom I’m sure knew about my sexuality) spouted off about how ‘disgusting’ it was that this was on the television. So, now I was ‘disgusting.’ Wow!

So, when I told mum on the Boxing Day of this year that I was in a relationship with A (obvious as we had bought a house together, had dogs together, went on holiday together, spent every waking moment together), her first question was, ‘Who’s the man?’

“From then on, I wasn’t allowed to see my nieces. There was no reason, but I imagine it’s the same old thing that all gay people cannot be trusted with children of the same sex!”

Honestly, what is it about heterosexual people that focus totally on the sex in a gay relationship? I mean, I never ask my heterosexual friends (and I have lots) what their favourite position is! I sighed and responded with, ‘It doesn’t really work like that.’

Eventually, Mum told my brother. He was, after all, the man of the house now that we didn’t have our dad. It is a shame that my brother couldn’t be the man of the house when it came to organising Dad’s funeral – that was left to me as everyone else fell apart. Here is probably where my mental health issues began – I wasn’t allowed to grieve, I had to ‘look after’ the family. I had to explain to my niece, who was a toddler, that ‘Grandad would always be there – in the stars. If you can’t see the stars, it’s because it’s cold so Grandad has to cover himself up with the clouds to keep warm’.

So, when my brother found out, all was as expected. He phoned me up – I was at a quiz with my work colleagues at the time – and demanded I return to Leeds where he would find me a nice bloke to be with! I think I laughed. I think I also told him that if I returned to Leeds, I would still be gay and he would have to meet all the women I picked up after nights out in the city. He didn’t find this funny. I was being flippant. He said, ‘Thinking about you and her having sex (here we go again) makes me feel sick!’ I know I replied with, ‘Thinking about you and your wife having sex would make me feel sick, that’s why I don’t!’ He put the phone down.

macro photograph of water splash

From then on, I wasn’t allowed to see my nieces. There was no reason, but I imagine it’s the same old thing that all gay people cannot be trusted with children of the same sex!

So, let’s go back to my emotional ‘bucket’. It should have been full a long time ago but because I’d allowed it never to fill, I’ve coped as best I can.

Lockdown made me realise that I have everything I want, everything I need. I have an amazing girlfriend and a tiny community of friends who accept us together, for us, including the people at the church. Mel and I didn’t argue during the first lockdown at all. We enjoyed each other’s company and our relationship blossomed.

Our big argument happened in the summer when my mum and her partner visited. It was difficult for Mel and I as we had spent so long by ourselves, knowing what each other was thinking, understanding our roles within the relationship, that when we had to cater for two other people we had to vocalise what needed to be done. We wanted everything to be perfect for my mum and Frank because they’d been locked away for so long. However, Mum couldn’t resist pointing out how ‘bossy’ Mel was, how she ‘ruled me’, how I’d lost my ‘confidence’ and wasn’t the same person anymore.

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There was a moment where I went blank. My anxiety disorder took over and I was ‘absent’. I think it was at this point that I repaired my ‘bucket’. I filled the hole in so now, the bucket would overflow; and it did. Everything I had held in, the suppressed feelings of love for my first girlfriend, the hidden scars and bruises from the domestic abuse I suffered at the hands of my second girlfriend, the traumatic stories I hear every day at work and the depth of love I have for Mel, who, at her own admission, isn’t perfect (who is?) but adores me for me. She is my protector, my soul mate, my best friend. How many people can say they’ve got all that in their lives?

I consider myself very lucky and I love now, more than I’ve ever been able to love before because I am being me. In the words of Bethany Webster, I am ‘taking responsibility for my own path by becoming conscious or previously unconscious patterns and making new choices that reflect my true desires.’

It’s not going to make everyone happy, but it’s going to make me happy and that’s all that matters.

Janine was born in Leeds in 1970 to working-class parents, the middle of 3 children. She graduated from Teacher Training College in Lincoln in 1993 and has taught in Norfolk and Suffolk ever since. janinenorris70@wordpress.com

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A Silent New Year’s Eve in a Field in the Middle of Nowhere

By Hayley Sherman: “At midnight, where fireworks exploded around the globe, just twelve hollow clangs of a cowbell sounded somewhere in the distance, then the disappointing toot of a depressed owl. Then more silence. Happy New Year to me!”

Chronically Fabulous: Disabled and Sexy are not Mutually Exclusive Terms

Disability, Josie Quinn, Sex

By Josie Quinn

“In much the same way that cisgender men playing transgender women reinforces the erroneous and harmful idea that they are “women in dresses”, having attractive/sexual disabled characters played only by non-disabled actors suggests that sexy disabled people do not exist, that they have simply taken an already attractive actor and given them a CGI prosthetic.”

Considering many of us have spent the last three-quarters of a year mostly stuck at home, I suspect I am not the only one who has spent a large amount of that time binge-watching films and TV box-sets on the myriad streaming services which have popped up over the past few years. Something I began to notice quite quickly was that something was missing from the glamourous, sexy cast members, and from the steamy love scenes, which seems to have become more prevalent in recent years. There were no people with disabilities. There were disabled characters on occasion, but in general they were never involved in any romantic or sexual plotlines.

Rosie Jones - Home | Facebook
Comedian Rosie Jones

I am a wheelchair user myself, and as well as having friends with disabilities, I’ve also ended up talking to a large number of people with disabilities, either through treatment groups, support groups or online message boards. In my experience, disabled people are just as likely to be interested in sex and relationships as anyone else! We are also just as likely to want to feel, and be seen as, sexy or beautiful. I love dressing up to go out, spending time on my make-up and taking advantage of being a wheelchair user by wearing sexy, super high, high-heels; it helps me feel confident. That confidence does get knocked about a bit, however, thanks to some of the harmful stereotypes: whether by the idiot at the bar who, on meeting me for the first time, asked me if things “work down there”, or by the well-meaning older lady at the restaurant on holiday, who said it was wonderful to see what an effort I’d made “considering…”; she trailed off at that point and simply waved her arms up and down, gesturing to me in general, so I’m still unsure whether she meant my disability or the chair itself.

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For anyone who doesn’t personally know somebody with disabilities, their only real point of reference is the limited number of disabled characters shown on screen. This is one of the reasons accurate representation of disability in the media is so important, because the way disabled people are portrayed can reinforce many of the negative stereotypes about disability. In a 2014 poll by The Observer, 44% of Britons said they would not consider having sex with someone who had a physical disability.

Despite 22% of the UK population having some form of disability, the Creative Diversity Network report found that disabled people make up only 7.8% of on-screen contributors to British TV, and GLAAD found that across all US primetime shows, only 2.1% of series regulars (i.e. cast members with recurring roles) had some form of disability. The disparity between these figures makes it all the more important to portray disabled people accurately, and to not fall into stereotypes.  

J from Indy on Twitter: "Although @GameOfThrones bypassed the Penny  storyline, if they were to cast Penny, Francesca Miles (Cherry) from @Hulu  Harlots would be perfect! This powder keg of personality would
Francesca Mills in the BBC/Starz series Harlots

Unfortunately, more often than not, characters with disabilities fall into one of a variety of outdated, sexless tropes. To clarify, when I say ‘sexless’ I am talking only about characters whose sexuality/romantic inclinations are disregarded entirely; I would have no issue whatsoever if there was a disabled character who also identified as asexual and/or aromantic. These characters are usually either: childlike, perpetual innocents (often taken on a platonic “date” or similar by a Prom King/Queen type, either out of pity or genuine friendship, but invariably to show what a saintly person the non-disabled character is); an object of pity, like Bella in Notting Hill; or twisted and bitter due to their disabilities, as with the character of Poison in Netflix’s Bright, or Will in Me Before You. Those last two examples even make specific reference to the impact the disability has had on the character’s sex life/romantic relationships: Poison states that his paraplegia means he is unable to have sex with his wife; and in Me Before You, Will decides that suicide is preferable to being disabled, and that his death will allow the person he loves to live a full life on her own instead of “half a life” with him.

There have been a few films recently which have featured a disabled character who is either clearly meant to be sexy or is shown to have a romantic/sexual relationship, such as Sofia Boutella in Kingsman, Dwayne Johnson in Skyscraper, and Sebastian Stan in the Avengers series. Whilst this is definitely a step forward, none of these actors are actually disabled. And in much the same way that cisgender men playing transgender women reinforces the erroneous and harmful idea that they are “women in dresses”, having attractive/sexual disabled characters played only by non-disabled actors suggests that sexy disabled people do not exist, that they have simply taken an already attractive actor and given them a CGI prosthetic.

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Personally, I can only recall a handful of examples of disabled characters, who are played by actors with disabilities, being shown as sexually active, and perhaps less who are portrayed as objects of desire. The best example of both of these that I can think of is the character of Cherry Dorrington (played by Francesca Mills) in the BBC/Starz series Harlots. Cherry is curvaceous, glamourous, confident and unashamedly sexy; she wears the same stunning corsets, gowns and make-up as the rest of the cast. She also happens to have dwarfism.

Mom Poses As Cinderella With a Glass Arm in Powerful Photo Shoot | Mom.com
Be the Spark Cosplay: Mandy Pursley as Cinderella with glass arm

Thankfully, more and more artists with disabilities are now emerging to show the world that disability can be beautiful, glamourous, sexy and that disabled people can (and do!) have sex. Models like Jillian Mercado, who uses an electric wheelchair due to muscular dystrophy, and has modelled across the world, posing for magazines like Glamour and Cosmopolitan; drag queens like Yvie Oddly, my fellow member of the EDS club, who uses the joint hypermobility symptom of her condition to contort her body into weird and wonderful positions, and won her season of RuPaul’s Drag Race; stand-up comedians like Rosie Jones, an out and proud lesbian with cerebral palsy, who shies away from neither her sexuality nor her disability in her material; cosplayers like Mandy Pursley, better known online as Be The Spark Cosplay, who reimagines classic characters by incorporating her disability, like Cinderella with a glass prosthetic arm instead of a slipper.

So, although it is clear we still have some way to go, disabled representation has definitely come a long way in the past decade, and I look forward to watching it continue.

Josie Quinn (she/her) is in her early thirties. She is a proud bisexual, disabled wheelchair-user and self-professed total geek! She worked as a Legal Executive before becoming too ‘Chronically Fabulous’ to continue, having been diagnosed with Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome, Osteoporosis, CFS, Anxiety, Depression, and PTSD. In her spare time she’s an avid reader (sci-fi, fantasy & graphic novels especially), amateur cosplayer and burgeoning tattoo addict. Twitter.com/Bendy_NotBroken … Instagram.com/BendyNotBroken

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Small Steps: Teaching During Section 28 and Beyond

By Janine Norris: “Don’t get me wrong, the insults still come thick and fast. Most recently I have mainly been ‘a short-haired, lesbian bitch!’ My general response to this is something along the lines of ‘You can’t insult me with fact and I’m not always a bitch’.”

2020 Vision

By Josie Quinn: “This year, Christmas is going to look very different, and it’s going to be really difficult for a lot of people, but that just makes it all the more important to be grateful for whatever moments of cheer we can manage.”

The Journey to Living a Queer Life

By Louise Clare Dalton: “This year I’ve had a chance to be that kid again. To follow my instincts. I marched into a salon hungover and chopped my hair off just because I fucking wanted to. I came out to my mum over the phone on Pride, I even asked my now girlfriend (she’s fantastic btw) out on our first date …”

New Year, New Queer

Bi-sexuality, Coming Out, Louise Clare Dalton, Queer

An ‘At What Point do I Qualify? My Queer Experience’ Post

By Louise Clare Dalton

selective-focus of photography of Queer & Proud signage
Queer and Proud!

“‘Bisexual’ once fit perfectly – like an old shirt I could button myself into and show to the world. But now, the shirt doesn’t fit anymore – it just doesn’t feel right. So, why does it scare me to talk about that?”

Writing a blog about my sexuality so soon after coming out has been a really interesting journey for me. It’s given me space to find things, to interrogate my subconscious and to explore some very personal parts of my life with the support of an amazing queer community. Having a chance to say the things I want to say and to connect with other folk who’ve had similar experiences feels … well, pretty special. But it can also be exposing and somewhat vulnerable at times. Offering any piece of yourself to the world, especially when parts of that same world taught you to feel shame in the first place can be… scary.

And one thing in particular is scaring me at the moment. So, let me stare down the barrel of the gun and have a chat about it right here, in the blog. Today we discuss, under a slightly different title (props for noticing, if you did), what happens when the label you so proudly assigned yourself, that you wrote a blog about, doesn’t quite fit anymore. And why, for some of us, changing a label (or letting go of labels altogether, perhaps)feels like such a scary concept.

Well for me, giving myself and my sexuality a label was as much an act of resistance as it was an act of self acceptance. Labelling myself was my way of giving shame the finger, of saying, ‘Fuck the time I’ve spent being sorry for this and fuck anyone who has a problem with it.’ ‘Coming out’ and saying ‘here I am, hons’ was a completely necessary step for me as I learned to love myself.

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At that time (about 18 months ago) ‘bisexual’ fit perfectly – like an old shirt I could button myself into and show to the world. But now, the shirt doesn’t fit anymore – it just doesn’t feel right. So, why does it scare me to talk about that?

Now, I’ll be the first to say ‘fuck what people think’. But maybe, without even realising, there are parts of me that still do care about the way I’m seen. Maybe on some level, I fear that if I do change my label, I’ll align more with misinformed, ignorant ideas about how bi people are confused and indecisive. I know – it sounds mad, to still care in this way and to be influenced by these ideas. But if I don’t take the time to unpick these fears (that have been informed by our queer-phobic society) they could play a part in my decision making, and maybe even my life, without me even knowing it.

When people say things like ‘you shouldn’t need to come out’ or ‘we shouldn’t need labels’, I think damn. I really, truly agree. But sadly, most of us did need to come out, not just once but repeatedly. We’re pressured to categorise ourselves in order to gain some kind of acceptance and understanding from the people around us.

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So perhaps this need to categorise sexuality is also a part of why it feels so genuinely scary to say, ‘I know I really stuck myself inside this box but, hey. I reckon… maybe this other one fits best. Or really none of them quite fit; can I just play with the cardboard instead?’

yellow petaled flower in the stainless steel can
No Label Needed!

I do believe, for now at least, that ‘coming out’ and ‘labels’ still have to exist. While we do not have equality, we still need this language in order to continue our fight for it. We are not able to simply be, but I hope one day we will be.

What I can say for sure is that falling in love has made things clearer for me – experiencing first hand that love is just love, and sex is just sex, no matter your gender or anyone else’s. The cuddles on the sofa feel the same, the morning coffee brought to the bedside table feels the same, the farts left lingering under the covers smell just as spicy. We’re taught that same-sex relationships are this huge thing that holds so much weight, and if we’re not careful, we can end up believing that. But really, it’s just fucking love, hons! And I always thought I knew that, but now it feels concrete enough for me to say, I am who I am, I love who I love, and I don’t need to put myself in any boxes to be sure of anything.

So lemme round off, hons, let me introduce myself as who I am right now. I am Louise Clare Dalton, and I am queer. I also love cozy socks, my GF and wild water swimming. I drink too much coffee and Diet Coke. I believe wholeheartedly in the goodness of humanity but also that people can be fucking shite at times. I am straightforward and indecisive, happy and sad, right and wrong all at once. I am sure of myself and I am finding myself. All of these things are parts of who I am, but none of them define me. If ‘bisexual’ doesn’t feel right anymore, I don’t have to label myself with that. It’s cool, hon. Relax.

Peace and rainbow love,

Lou x

Louise Clare Dalton is a feminist, queer writer and poet interested in sharing her personal experience. She aims to open up the dialogue about common misconceptions and the queer-phobic narratives they perpetuate. Louise writes her own blog at www.louiseclaredalton.com, which focuses on ethical consumerism and healthy life hacks. Finalist in the Roundhouse Poetry Slam 19, her spoken-word poetry focuses on introspection and understanding how societal pressure affects human behaviour.

Lou was our featured poet in September 2020. Check out her performance of What They Told You

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Confessions of a Lesbian Cliché … I get my eyebrows threaded!

Kirsten Leah, Lesbian

By Kirsten Leah

“I forced myself into a box to fit the cliché, basically. And unlike most clichés relating to lesbian-kind, the butch-femme binary is one that I absolutely detest. I guess it goes even further than that; I hate the idea of anyone having to dress to someone else’s preconceived standards.

woman's eyes covered by green leaves

“You get your eyebrows threaded?!”

This exclamation from my colleague was preceded by a conversation in which we lamented the little things that lockdown had snatched away from us. I don’t know what she expected me to say, but being doomed for the foreseeable to wander around with two untamed straggly slugs on my forehead seemed quite the imposition.

I’d heard this surprise from people before: when I turned up at a friend’s wedding in a dress and heels; When, shopping with an ex partner, I insisted on buying the Real Techniques makeup brushes instead of any old cheap thing (seriously, they are the best). I suppose people get surprised when I do something a bit girly because a) I’m gay and b) I’m not overtly feminine all the time. I’m just as happy shopping in the mens’ section as the womens’. But because I – and many other women like me – fall into this awkward little in-betweeny space, it throws people off.

I’m sure that the ‘you must be either a butch or a femme’ rule was forced upon lesbians rather than created by them. It makes things simpler, and more acceptably hetero, to be able to look at a couple and know who is the ‘man’ and who is the ‘woman’. And it is such a known trope that I fell into it myself when I first came out. Knowing that I wasn’t pretty enough to be the girly type, I cut my hair short and dressed in baggy jeans and hoodies and unflattering t-shirts approximately 700 sizes too big for me. I claimed that I felt unnatural and uncomfortable in dresses and that I couldn’t walk in heels to save my life.

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I forced myself into a box to fit the cliché, basically. And unlike most clichés relating to lesbian-kind, the butch-femme binary is one that I absolutely detest. I guess it goes even further than that; I hate the idea of anyone having to dress to someone else’s preconceived standards. What we wear is important – though not in a Vogue-esque ‘what’s in this season’ way. It’s important because what we choose to get dressed in can say so much. It’s one of the tools that we have to show people who we are. And suppressing or altering that because you’re ‘supposed’ to be the butch one? Fuck that.

So if you too are an awkward in-betweeny, embrace it. Wear those false eyelashes. Wear your battered Docs. Highlight and contour to your heart’s content. Shave your head. Paint your nails. Shop in the men’s section. Follow your 7-step skincare routine. You don’t have to be either-or when there are so many shades in between.

Kirsten is 28, gay, enjoys watching nerdy sci-fi films, embarrassing herself at open-mic nights, and strapping wheels to her feet and hitting people. Apparently, she also likes oversharing with people on the internet too.

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Pride, Love and the Power of Self-Acceptance

By Louise Clare Dalton: “Yes, for almost twenty-four years I was ashamed, I denied myself queer love and the joy of living my truth, but I’m here now. How great is that? I’M HERE! And I’m so proud of my journey.”

A Silent New Year’s Eve in a Field in the Middle of Nowhere

Alcohol, Hayley Sherman, Lesbian

A ‘Postcards From Lesbania’ post by Hayley Sherman

“At midnight, where fireworks exploded around the globe, just twelve hollow clangs of a cowbell sounded somewhere in the distance, then the disappointing toot of a depressed owl. Then more silence. Happy New Year to me!”

green grassland during night time

Do you remember when we were allowed to go out and party, dance, sing, flirt, touch each other, even lick each other if the mood took us on a New Year’s Eve? Awesome, wasn’t it.

With that in mind, can you believe that just three years ago on the 31st of December, with all of those delights on offer, I spent the evening lying in a field in the middle of nowhere, making not a single sound, surrounded by the most complete darkness. And at midnight, where fireworks exploded around the globe, just twelve hollow clangs of a cowbell sounded somewhere in the distance, then the disappointing toot of a depressed owl. Then more silence. Happy New Year to me!

This year I would give my left tit to go out and see a band, be around my friends and family, hug a stranger for New Year’s Eve, but back then I had actually paid to do this. Can you believe it? I wasn’t drop-down-drunk and lost in a field; I had paid good money to spend the most sociable few days of the year silently mediating, busting quiet yoga moves and contemplating my soundless, fluffy navel in the South Downs in the name of spiritual nourishment.

“There has never been a year that has left me feeling so grateful for the incredible people in my life. In fact, this year has given me a lot to be grateful for in so many ways – I think that happens when life becomes that bit more precious.”

And the truth is that I loved it at the time. I had quit drinking a few years before and still found New Year’s Eve a challenge. Being slobbered over by pissed-up kissy lips at midnight is much more fun if your kissy lips are equally pissed up, and I hadn’t quite mastered the art of being sober in drunk company yet. To be honest, I didn’t really want to. A night out passes in a flash when you’re smirnoffyourhead, everything’s a hoot, but after a few hours of standing by the bar with a freezing lemonade in your hand, listening to your drunk mate tell the same joke for the third time, you start to fantasise about a comfy sofa and a nice episode of Homes Under the Hammer.

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So – and I guess I might be a woman of extremes – after a lifetime of being so drunk that I no longer know my own name on NYE, I decided to take myself off on a silent retreat with complete strangers and enough lentils to sink a ship. Ironically, after the first few hours of downward dogging and imitating trees, I still fantasised about a comfy sofa and a nice episode of Homes Under the Hammer, but I pushed through, and it was worth it, not just for the sense of calm, which was exactly what I needed, but for the enduring memories that still make me chuckle … of an absurd, surreal argument in semaphore with a particularly angry, silent member of our group over our conflicting methods of silently washing up; of other ramblers thinking our group was a single-file trail of rude Bulgarians when our silence led us to ignore their morning greetings on our silent walks; and my favourite is the sight of my grown-up co-retreatees at mealtimes, mindfully, silently eating hummus, eyes closed, savouring every mouthful as if it were caviar laced with the very meaning of life itself. Silence definitely brings out the earnest in us hippies.

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I properly saw the surreal nature of what I had chosen for myself at midnight on the big day. Most of the other tie-dyed hemp-botherers had toddled off to bed much earlier, and it was just me and a few others, first led in a guided mediation and then left with our own thoughts about the things we were grateful for as one year seamlessly drifted into the next. And as those twelve cow-bell clangs resonated, I broke my silence to mumble a pathetic little Happy New Year to myself and I vowed that I would spend the following New Year surrounded by the people I loved. I didn’t care how pissed they were or how sober I was. I didn’t care about the lure of plumped-up furniture and TV programs about selling your home. It was going to be noisy and fun and big and wonderful. I just wanted people … A bit like now really.

person looking at fireworks display

Because after the shitshow that has been 2020, how incredible it would be to scoop up everyone I know, make a massive pot of lentils, drink tea together (I still don’t drink) and watch an awesome band, hug, catch up, dance, tell each other how much we’ve missed this (the company not the tea and lentils), just be together and celebrate that we got through it. I console myself with the certainty that this day will definitely come … and soon, I hope. But this year, I’m just happy to know that there are people waiting for it all to be over with me, at the end of a phone or Zoom chat, that I’m not alone, and that I’ve been able to be there for others too. There has never been a year that has left me feeling so grateful for the incredible people in my life. In fact, this year has given me a lot to be grateful for in so many ways – I think that happens when life becomes that bit more precious – so maybe this year I’ll still lie outside in the dark, in the garden on the stroke of midnight, and get Sarah to tap a spoon on a glass twelve times just for old times’ sake, and I can think about what I’m grateful for (not being in a field in the middle of nowhere or surrounded by paralytic beery voms!) and simply look towards the better times ahead.

Happy New Year xx

Hayley Sherman is a writer, ghostwriter, blogger and editor who just wants everyone to be nice to each other. Her blog smiles in the face of adversity, licks the cheek of the oppressor and generally reflects on her denial about being a middle-aged lesbian. hayleyshermanwriter.com.

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2020: Locking Down My mental Health

By Josie Quinn: “Addiction is sneaky like that; it reminds you of the brief rush you felt, not the days and weeks of regret and shame after, and definitely not the years of help and work it took to get to a stage where it finally felt under control.”

Sex, Drugs and Cowpunk! Lucy’s Story

“I wanted to be able to say, ‘Girls can do it too. We’re on the road, we’re in a band. Of course we drink, of course we take drugs, of course we go with groupies. We can do it too.’ I was always very fierce in that we shouldn’t be excluded because of our gender.” Lucy Edwards from The Well Oiled Sisters

Celebrating Female Desire … Art by Paola Rossi

This month’s featured art celebrates the free expression of love and passion between women while exploring the conflict between our inner darkness and light … Meet Peruvian-Italian artist Paola Rossi.

Small Steps: Teaching During Section 28 and Beyond

Janine Norris, Lesbian, teaching

A Random Thoughts Post by Janine Norris

Don’t get me wrong, the insults still come thick and fast. Most recently I have mainly been ‘a short-haired, lesbian bitch!’ My general response to this is something along the lines of ‘You can’t insult me with fact and I’m not always a bitch’.

I began teaching, like a real grown-up, in 1993 in a school just outside Great Yarmouth. I have to say, it was a complete shock to my system. How had this happened? Me, in charge of classes of thirty children? However, here I was, a teacher! An actual teacher! I was twenty-three.

My first position was maternity cover for two terms. I had been employed through sheer desperation on the school’s behalf. I had had a few interviews but been completely unsuccessful and this invitation to interview came on the day of my graduation. It was a standing joke throughout the eleven years I stayed at this school that I was ‘the best of a bad lot’. The morning interviewee was so bad that they had to choose me.

It was the start of an epic adventure; my release to freedom; not having to answer to anyone else except myself.

It was here I met my first girlfriend. Thirteen years older than me, an experienced teacher with an amazing sense of humour and a nice car. I mean, I wasn’t into material things but she had everything I aspired to achieve during my career. She was bright, great with the kids and an amazing teacher.

“Once the kids started doing as they were asked and stopped throwing chairs and tables, I would be bored and I knew it was time for a new challenge.”

It was 1995 when we got together. Section 28 of the Local Government Act had been introduced to England, Scotland and Wales in 1988 as an amendment (section 2A) to the Local Government Act, 1986. On the 24th May 1988, the amendment stated that a local authority “shall not intentionally promote homosexuality or publish material with the intention of promoting homosexuality” or “promote teaching in any maintained school of the acceptability of homosexuality as a pretended family relationship.”

Although I didn’t realise it at the time, this added a tremendous pressure to our relationship as we felt we had to hide everything we were during school hours. We had a handful of friends and very close colleagues who knew we were a couple but that was it. The act was repealed in England on 18th November 2003. We separated after 9 and a half years together in the spring of 2004.


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Through my Teacher Training years in Lincoln, I struggled with the academic side of things. I was lucky enough to get a place at college because of my music qualifications. I had struggled to pass A levels, took 3 years to do so, but at the time primary schools needed music teachers.

When I arrived at college, I realised that the standard of musician in my class was far superior to myself. I wasn’t an academic, I wasn’t a virtuoso musician, I scraped through graded exams and academic exams by the skin of my teeth. Sitting still to revise, write essays or practice instruments wasn’t my thing.

However, none of this really mattered due to the turn my primary teaching career took quite early on. For some reason, I always got on really well with the ‘naughty boys’. (There appeared to be no naughty girls back then.) So I ended up with classes of these challenging students and was encouraged by my first headteacher to establish an in-school inclusion class to accommodate the more emotional needs of the students. Nothing I learnt or studied in college or on any teaching practices prepared me for this. I just seemed to have a knack of engaging the group in things where they enjoyed being at school.

grange hill sausage - Google Search | Childhood memories 70s, My childhood  memories, 1980s childhood

I became a victim of my own ‘success’ and moved through various jobs in various settings. ‘Success’ meant once the kids started doing as they were asked and stopped throwing chairs and tables, I would be bored and I knew it was time for a new challenge.

I moved across Key Stages (lower and higher) and found that I really enjoyed teaching teenagers. They set the challenge a lot higher for me to work on their behaviour management strategies; every day was exhausting. Also, there were now ‘naughty girls’.

This was something I was not expecting. Girls were so much more difficult than boys. Boys would punch each other, throw a table and get over it. Girls held a grudge. For a long time. Even longer than a long time. I went through some traumatic times during this new challenge. I was bullied by students (and staff actually, but that’s another story), mainly the girls, but sometimes boys. One boy in particular enjoyed telling me at the end of a tough day, ‘I hope you die in a ditch on your moped on the way home tonight.’ Charmer.

The girls were more dangerous, though. I wasn’t open about my sexuality amongst the students, but they obviously knew I was gay. Doc Martens, short hair, riding a moped – it’s obvious, I guess. There was a group of girls who would insinuate inappropriate behaviour, subtle, but it was there. I heard them discussing me one day where they decided I would ‘probably like the Britney Spears video where she’s dressed as a school girl.’ Honestly, I’m gay, this doesn’t make me a paedophile. I hear this a lot, through misunderstanding and fear of not understanding, boys and girls making assumptions about homosexuality that are completely untrue and unfounded.

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Three years ago I was fortunate enough to join the school I work at now. It’s Alternative Provision and it’s amazing. The ethos of the whole environment is ‘transparency’. I found myself becoming brave enough to join in conversations with adults and students and refer to my ‘partner’. Shortly after I joined, I began to drop the ‘girlfriend’ word. I expected a huge, negative response. This didn’t happen. It became part of everyday conversation for the students to refer to my girlfriend, mostly in the context of ‘are you as annoying as this at home? Your girlfriend must get well fed up of you.’

“We have created an ethos within our establishment now, not purposely, by evolving, where the kids are of the opinion that ‘we don’t care whether you’re gay, trans, whatever, stop banging on about it’.”

Don’t get me wrong, the insults still come thick and fast. Most recently I have mainly been ‘a short-haired, lesbian bitch!’ My general response to this is something along the lines of ‘you can’t insult me with fact and I’m not always a bitch.’ These insults are no worse than being called a ‘fat cow’ or ‘a bald see you next Tuesday’. The kids want to get personal so they go for the things they think will upset you the most.

We have created an ethos within our establishment now, not purposely, by evolving, where the kids are of the opinion that ‘we don’t care whether you’re gay, trans, whatever, stop banging on about it’. We have explained the oppression and the history and the factors surrounding Section 28 and they understand that, but in their minds, because they see it every day and recognise that everyone is the same, it’s time to move on. Fair enough.

Obviously, they have yet to see the evils of transphobia, homophobia, etc., in the wider world, but I’m hoping that each of these individuals will stand up and be counted if they are ever unfortunate enough to witness an incident of this type of abuse.

Big journeys begin with small steps.

Janine was born in Leeds in 1970 to working-class parents, the middle of 3 children. She graduated from Teacher Training College in Lincoln in 1993 and has taught in Norfolk and Suffolk ever since. janinenorris70@wordpress.com

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Women Are More Likely to be Bi, Right?

By Louise Clare Dalton … “Society (a male-dominated society, where men are predominantly in positions of power) will allow women to exist outside the binary because it suits the needs of men. Although this is undoubtedly a form of oppression, it can also make it easier for women to openly identify as bisexual.”

Trans in Lockdown: We Will Always Be There For You

By Wendy Cole: “I woke. Something was wrong. Something was seriously wrong. Where was she? Where was Wendy? With all the movements of the wrong body, I made it to the bathroom and looked into the mirror. The face was virtually unrecognisable. Slightly bearded; tired, woeful eyes and … unarguably … male.”

2020 Vision

Bi-sexuality, Covid-19, Josie Quinn

A ‘Chronically Fabulous’ post by Josie Quinn

“This year, Christmas is going to look very different, and it’s going to be really difficult for a lot of people, but that just makes it all the more important to be grateful for whatever moments of cheer we can manage.”

No description available.

Christmas has always been my favourite time of year; some would even say I love it to a degree inappropriate for someone in her early thirties (and to those people, I would likely stick out my tongue and call them a Scrooge!). In fact, my brother and I still insist on our mum filling the advent calendars she made for us as children with chocolate each year, despite us both reaching adulthood more than a decade ago. I love everything about it: getting to wear Christmas jumpers/earrings, decorating the house, finding the perfect presents to get everyone, drinking hot chocolate whilst watching my dog run in the snow.

So when I got a stomach bug last Christmas, I’ll admit I felt pretty sorry for myself. My partner had come round on the night of Christmas Eve; but unfortunately by that point I’d already started to feel unwell. Hoping it would pass, we had an early night, but when I awoke on Christmas morning I felt much worse; I spent the first hour of the day alternating between opening presents and rushing to the bathroom to be ill, which wasn’t the cosy, romantic Christmas morning I’d envisioned! By the time my partner left to visit his parents, I had crawled back into bed, where I stayed until the evening. Christmas dinner is usually one of my favourite meals, but last year my entire dinner consisted of one pig-in-a-blanket, one bite of turkey, half a roast potato and a glass of water. More devastatingly, and for the first Christmas in the thirty-something years since I developed teeth, I didn’t manage to eat a single chocolate all day!

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Looking back on things through the corona-tinted lenses of 2020, my perspective has changed drastically. With Tier-2 restrictions in full force, having to choose the two households I’ll be able to see over Christmas has made me seriously re-evaluate so many things: not only how lucky I am, but how grateful I am to the people around me, and just how much I appreciate, and miss, the social interactions that I’d been taking for granted.

Although a couple of days over Christmas last year weren’t great, I’m now thinking about the weeks either side: Christmas shopping with mum; wrapping up warm and meeting friends in town for fancy, overpriced, seasonal coffees; going to friends’ houses to drink Baileys and exchange presents. I loved getting hugs from my godchildren and those few minutes of their excitement on opening the presents I’d brought, before they became more interested in the next present/family cat/cardboard box which had contained the presents. At the time, they all seemed so everyday, just things that “always” happen around that time of year. But I now realise those moments are the reasons I’ve always loved Christmas so much, and they are the things I’m going to miss the most this year.

No description available.

This year, Christmas is going to look very different, and it’s going to be really difficult for a lot of people, but that just makes it all the more important to be grateful for whatever moments of cheer we can manage. So I’m still looking forward to the winter nights, watching Christmas films with friends, even if it will now be via webcam, and I’m going to enjoy playing Santa by doing doorstop present drops. But mostly I’m looking forward to this time next year when, fingers crossed, everything will be back to normal. Hopefully then, with the hindsight of 2020, I’ll be even more appreciative of being able to celebrate with friends and family.

Josie Quinn (she/her) is in her early thirties. She is a proud bisexual, disabled wheelchair-user and self-professed total geek! She worked as a Legal Executive before becoming too ‘Chronically Fabulous’ to continue, having been diagnosed with Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome, Osteoporosis, CFS, Anxiety, Depression, and PTSD. In her spare time she’s an avid reader (sci-fi, fantasy & graphic novels especially), amateur cosplayer and burgeoning tattoo addict. Twitter.com/Bendy_NotBroken … Instagram.com/BendyNotBroken

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Confessions of a Lesbian Cliché … The U-Haul!

By Kirsten Leah: “U-hauling is up there with plaid shirts and undercuts as one of the oldest lesbian tropes in the book. As someone who’s done it with no less than four different partners, I put my hands up and admit to being an absolute card-carrying cliché.”

Surviving Abuse: Finding My Strength in Breaking My Silence

By Josie Quinn: “The more I spoke to people about it, the more I realised just how prevalent domestic abuse is in the UK. Most of the people I spoke to had some personal experience of violence, abuse or sexual assault in a previous relationship. According to the ONS, nearly 1 in 3 women in the UK will experience domestic abuse in their lifetime.”

Random Thoughts: Unexpected Guests

By Janine Norris: “We picked up Marjorie and she wriggled and fell. Straight on the floor. On her back. She squeaked, struggled to get up and eventually disappeared into a box. We were shocked. She was obviously badly hurt and we didn’t know what to do.”

The Journey to Living a Queer Life

Bi-sexuality, Louise Clare Dalton, Motivational

An ‘At What Point Do I Qualify: My Bisexual Experience’ Post

By Louise Clare Dalton

“This year I’ve had a chance to be that kid again. To follow my instincts. I marched into a salon hungover and chopped my hair off just because I fucking wanted to. I came out to my mum over the phone on Pride, I even asked my now girlfriend (she’s fantastic btw) out on our first date …”

Last week, me and my wonderful pal were sat in the park, sipping off-brand lager and chatting all things love, sex and relationships, when we saw something totally majestic occur, followed by something very sweet and tentative. The two instances together inspired this month’s blog – so buckle up…

boy riding green kick scooter

Poised at the top of a small hill somewhat in the distance, were two tiny toddlers. The pair had their chubby fingers gripped around the plush, cushioned handlebars of two fun-sized scooters. With a hard kick, the first went zooming down the hill. It was superb – the fearlessness of it! Now, I know it was a small hill, but to a toddler? It must have been bloody massive. When they reached the bottom, the kid smiled, stuck out a T-bar clad toe, and strode off the moving vehicle onto the path.

Then came the second. After an encouraging nod from the child’s grownup, a teensy leg tiptoed out and lightly pushed off. Almost as soon as they’d started moving, the kid hit the brake and slowed to an eventual stop halfway down the hill. Of course, the first child had already forgotten their scooter. They’d swiftly moved on and were now playing with sticks in the mud, getting covered in muck in that way that quickly becomes unacceptable after childhood ends.

The two seemed to be siblings, and were very close in age, but their attitudes towards that hill (and possibly life in general) were starkly different. Bizarrely though, I saw shards of my own nature throughout the years reflected in both the boldness and tentative hesitation.

When I was a kid, following my instincts was easy. I didn’t think about consequences, I grabbed life and ran with it. I would have zoomed down that hill so fast back when I was small, but when I reached adolescence, a lot changed. The idea of consequence began to paralyse me slightly, and my ability to go with my gut. I became aware of how I was seen, how I was expected to behave, and how I should carve myself into a version that fit a predetermined mould of what the world would be willing to accept.

But about eighteen months ago, I started to think of who I would be if there had never been that pressure to conform. How much of me is who I am instinctually and authentically, and how much has been influenced by pressure from the outside world.

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As I write this, I look across at my own reflection, noticing the wispy tufts of hair framing my face. A few months ago, admittedly in a slightly hungover state, I chopped all my hair off. And just like that I’m reminded of a perfect example, of when I began following my instincts again.

Before I came to terms with my sexuality, the idea of cutting my hair short often entered my mind. But, back then, the thought of someone seeing my short hair and assuming I wasn’t straight because of it would have floored me. Because let’s face it, we’re still fed an idea of how straight people should look and how queer people should look. We live in a world that wants to wrap gender identity, gender expression and sexuality up in a neat bow, and one that sees short hair and boxy shirts (one of my best looks) as innately masculine, though really, hair and clothes don’t have to be gendered or related to our sexuality at all.

Us queer folk should be free to express in a way that aligns with these ideas, or one that rejects them, or (as most of us, including myself, will) a mixture of both. Because we’re complex, we’re layered and we don’t necessarily fit in to a neat package of how a person with our sexuality ‘should express’, though some people will, and that’s okay too.

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This year I’ve had a chance to be that first kid again. To follow my instincts. I marched into a salon hungover and chopped my hair off just because I fucking wanted to. I came out to my mum over the phone on Pride, I even asked my now girlfriend (she’s fantastic btw) out on our first date. But I know how lucky and privileged I am to simply be able to do these things safely and without too much resistance. To exist freely, be me, fuck up, live authentically, make mistakes, love without boundaries or expectations, and ultimately be a happier version of myself.

So how do we move forward to create a world where all people are totally free to follow their instincts, express as they choose, love freely and live their queer truth?

Well for a start, good representation really matters. Seeing whole, realised queer characters express themselves in mainstream media. Also, in depth education about the LGBTQ+ community at all levels, not just in our senior schools (which is a massive win), but in primary education, and for older generations too.

And for me, most important here is a willingness to unlearn. We’ve been taught that certain correlations between sexuality, gender expression and gender identity have to exist in order for the world to turn, when in fact they don’t. That certain ways of loving are ‘normal’ and the rest are not, that those of us who are ‘other’ should feel ashamed and not proud. These ideas are arbitrary not inherent. We all have learned ideas and prejudices, but in order to move forward and best protect our community, and to allow us all to follow our instincts and live freely, we need to break down these ideas of how all people (especially queer people) are allowed to exist in the world.

Basically, hons, we all deserve the freedom to express ourselves in whatever way we choose, whatever feels most natural and authentic to us. Whatever makes us fucking happy. So let’s keep educating, representing, opening our minds, our hearts, loving fully, accepting fully and living our god damn lives.

Peace and rainbow love,

Lou x

Louise Clare Dalton is a feminist, bisexual writer and poet interested in sharing her personal experience. She aims to open up the dialogue about common misconceptions and the biphobic narratives they perpetuate. Louise writes her own blog at www.louiseclaredalton.com, which focuses on ethical consumerism and healthy life hacks. Finalist in the Roundhouse Poetry Slam 19, her spoken-word poetry focuses on introspection and understanding how societal pressure affects human behaviour.

Lou was our featured poet in September 2020. Check out her performance of What They Told You

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Postcards From Lesbainia – Fingering After Dark

By Hayley Sherman: “I run downstairs for the butter, WD40, an organ grinder and eventually the fire brigade and trash the whole room trying to wrestle it off her while she miraculously stays asleep.”

Welcome to Women Like Us

“We are all so different and, sadly, this divides us at times. I’m not sure why that should be when we’re united by so many common challenges. Maybe reading about each other’s lives without judgment will help to bring us together. L+G+B+T+Q+any other queer letter that you want to throw in, all in it together.”

Growing Up Hated … Shona’s Story

“I’ve been hated for my skin colour, for my sexuality, for my mental health, things I can’t change. People are going to hate me whatever, so I might as well be who I am. I don’t care what people think anymore.”

Transitioning Triathlete: The World Rugby Ban

Kimberley Drain, Sports, Transgender

So, again, I’m left wondering if I have a place in the world of sport right now.

Well…

It’s been an eventful year (and it’s not done!). The virus, Brexit, world leaders threatening to die (made a nice change from threatening war), the government refusing to let trans people self-identify because they know better, World Rugby banning trans women and WOMEN LIKE US launching 🚀. These are just the teir-3 events – whatever the criteria for tier 3 is!

Soooooooo … World Rugby has been given scientific evidence and changed their trans-inclusion policy to no inclusion for trans women or exclusion from the women’s game, more accurately.

So many emotions…

I don’t play Rugby. I watch a little if it’s on, that’s about it, but the announcement in October of this change of policy has been a stake through my heart for so many reasons, and I’ve been in some dark places off the back of it. The hate this is propagating is scary, and I’m fearing for my safety more than ever.

The rugby policy change only affects elite or professional athletes, but elite levels of any sport can’t exist without the grassroots and vice versa, and it’s a tragedy that trans women are being shut out of the professional game.

Certainly, the kind of blanket ban introduced by World Rugby isn’t necessary. Safety is integral, as well as creating a level playing field, but some trans women are of a size that would put other women at no additional risk, so why ban all trans women? All sports have a responsibility to the health, safety and general wellbeing of all participants at all levels of the sport or sports they govern, but what about the wellbeing of trans women? There’s been a lot of fantastic work across all sports promoting good mental health. But the way trans people are currently being treated is certainly hammering my mental health, and I’m sure it’s the same for others.

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The study referred to by World Rugby looks to be a good quality, scientific study, I have to say. I believe in science, but science often throws up as many questions as it answers. Data can often be interpreted in different ways to suit different motives. The trouble is agreeing which study becomes more or less valid than another. I fear ending up in a situation like scientific studies into cancer. One week a study comes out saying something increases or decreases your risk of cancer; the next week they’re saying the opposite.

And scientific evidence already existed, 🤷‍♀️ but this new evidence suits their agenda better, as far as I can work out. They seem to make no reference to the ever-growing scientific understanding of how trans identities develop. The basics of current scientific evidence suggest that differences in the first and second trimester of pregnancy are heavily involved in the development of gender dysphoria. So my brain was born female, arguably making me biologically female anyway.

All sports have a duty to look at new scientific evidence, but discretion and common sense have to prevail. I’m yet to see a sport played on paper or in a science lab. Anyone that knows anything about sport knows that. There are so many more factors at play than hormone levels, and that’s a scientific fact as well. Diet, the weather, general health, sleep, age, body weight, natural talent, and so many more come into play. Mental health has a huge impact on performance as well. Current or past testosterone exposure is vilified as the bad boy, but so much more goes on. We don’t know everything about the human body yet. Half of what any medical student is being taught today will be irrelevant or very different to what we understand in a few years’ time.

Kayla Sauvao of Australia and Ireland’s Alison Miller at UCD during  a Women’s Rugby World Cup match that ended Ireland 19, Australia 17. Photograph: Dan Sheridan/Inpho

And, of course, trans men are allowed to carry on competing at all levels of rugby. So, as well as maintaining transphobic attitudes, World Rugby continues to maintain sexist attitudes too. In fact, it’s interesting how keen World Rugby has been to exclude trans women. I don’t think women are fragile, inferior beings that require additional protection, but World Rugby seems to think otherwise.

To make matters worse, heterosexual and cis-gendered former athletes have been queuing up to take swipes against “biological males” competing against “biological females” in recent days, generating yet more hate. Online, it appears to be empowering transphobia generally, not just with a focus on sport. It all could have been dealt with so much more sensitively by World Rugby, by former professional athletes and every man and his dog. Some of the aggressive harassment of people speaking out against transgender people has also been wrong. It’s not wrong to challenge these views, but general decency needs to be maintained.

Triathlon is a very different sport to rugby. And for me personally, my continued participation in triathlon is based on the hope that, after much gatekeeping, I’ll eventually be able to compete in the right gender (female). I manage to get through being forced to misgender myself every race I enter, but I manage this by telling myself one day that torture will end.

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I sometimes wonder if there is a need for compromise. It, of course, isn’t just about the needs of trans people. Perhaps, as far as triathlon goes, separate trans male and female categories will be the way forward, with representation of these categories right through to international level. Personally I’d hate this sort of segregation; it would be as bad as separation of different ethnicities in my eyes.

So, again, I’m left wondering if I have a place in the world of sport right now. Over time it’s been an overwhelming force of good in my life and still is. But my gender identity and sport don’t mix very well and it’s creating some unsustainable difficulties, quite honestly.

I’m not making any knee-jerk decisions. If anything, I’m training harder than ever, fuelled by all the hate, but we’ll see …

I’m just thankful that there’s a huge amount of wonderful support out there as well 🤗

Kimberley Drain is a 27-year-old trans woman, and a club-affiliated runner and triathlete (average amateur). She is one of these strange people that enjoy training more than racing … and she’s not short of opinions. Find her on Strava.

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Chronically Fabulous: Coming Out All Over Again

By Josie Quinn: “I was a proud, confident, bisexual woman, with every future stage of my life and career meticulously planned. At that time I had no idea that a few years later I would have to come out all over again, as someone with disabilities.”