the moon is a lesbian … Poetry by Maddie Fay

Lesbian, poetry
Follow Women Like Us on Facebook and Twitter

Maddie Fay is a poet based in Atlanta. She writes a lot about friends, recovery, illness, dirt, and the ocean. Her first chapbook ‘Cockroach’ is out now! Check her out on Facebook

the moon is a lesbian

the moon is a lesbian,
which i know because she has
kissed every inch of my body
more often than any lover
i’ve ever known.

i have watched the way
she kisses the ocean
and guides her gently home,
have seen her face reflected with love
in the ever-changing sparkling surface of the sea,
and i don’t know any other word
to describe a love like that.

the day we smoked a joint in the woods
and then walked eight miles in the rain
to gas station coffee,
we passed two other gas stations on the way,
but you were holding my hand and
i didn’t want it to stop.
you said
“you’re beautiful”
and i said
~~~~
because you were the most remarkable
person i had ever seen,
leaned up against the hood of a stranger’s car,
smoking a cigarette like a lesbian james dean.

you’d call yourself
“lesbian” sixteen times before breakfast
until it stopped sounding like venom
and started to sound like a prayer,
because how could i ever look at
love like this and feel anything
but holy?
my new church was the woods
by the river,
and i learned to worship
at the altar of your body.
you took me in your arms and you said,
“baby,
you’re beautiful,”
and i told you i loved you
because beautiful had never
meant anything to me
except that i had something
people could take.
i heard “beautiful” from your lips and it sounded
like a blessing.

the moon is a lesbian because
she knows how to love without taking,
i have scarcely loved a man
who has learned how to love without taking,
that is not to say that no man
can love without taking,
but it is a skill that is learned
through a grief
that i have shared with every
queer woman i have ever met.

when you kissed me in the attic,
it was not the first time
i had been kissed,
but it was the first time that a touch
felt like a gift and not a punishment,
and it was the first time i understood
why people write love songs.
i wanted to write you a love song,
but after a lifetime afraid of my own voice,
all i could sing you were hymns.
not because i had made you an idol,
but because your hands on my body
made me feel clean for the first time.

the moon is a lesbian because
the night i stumbled out of
the apartment of the man
who only loved me when
he thought he could keep me,
blood on my lips and nowhere to go,
the moon kissed my fingertips
and she said,
“baby,
what took you so long?
welcome home.”

Find more poetry by incredible LGBTQ+ Women Like Us

Would you like to be our next featured poet?

Comment, like and share the love!

Follow Women Like Us …

Sometimes I Look for the Love of My Life When I Pee … Illustrations by Odara Rumbol

Inspirational, motivational illustrations that make it just a little bit easier to be a woman.

Hayley the Happy Lezzer: Sleep with as Many Women as You Can

Hayley Sherman, Lesbian, Sex

By Hayley Sherman

That’s right: you heard it here first. Sex is a good thing. Okay, that’s hardly news, so let me back up a bit.

woman lying on white bed

When I told my partner the title of this month’s post, she threw a sock at my head. I guess I was lucky there wasn’t a brick in it. I have a very good reason for the suggestion, though, and I’m standing by it.

You see, as queer women, we sometimes have a rough ride—there’s self-acceptance, homophobia, coming out, finding and keeping a partner, having to deal with the fact that all of our TV heroes get killed off as soon as we get attached to them—but we do have an advantage over our straight sisters and brothers that serves our mental health in a number of positive ways—sex!

That’s right: you heard it here first. Sex is a good thing.

Okay, that’s hardly news, so let me back up a bit.

Back before Covid-19 got its spiky claws into the world, I was quite active. I was running regularly, cycling, eating well. Then the country came to a standstill and my personal lockdown was sponsored by Mr Kipling and The Codfather chippie around the corner. I work from home, but pre-lockdown I would get out and cycle to the library or into town quite often. With nowhere to go, stuck indoors, the most exercise I did was the lift-point-press-repeat of the remote control. Consequently, I’m now a flab monster of epic proportions. I’m not just a little wider; I’m all the way chunky. My partner and I used to enjoy taking a bath together; now we can barely fit in the bathroom at the same time. No lie, someone actually asked me when it’s due the other day! But I’m still feeling pretty okay about myself. I like my body. I can’t help it. I always have and I always will, whether it’s fat or thin. And why shouldn’t I? Aren’t we supposed to love our bodies?

She had been heavier in the past, so her breasts hung low, although they were small, and they were marked with silvery lines. Her stomach was a soft pouch that was once far fuller, and I loved to run my fingers over it.

Well, no, not if all we’ve got to measure them against are images of flawless, mostly photoshopped, ‘perfect’ women in the media that are presented to us as normal. But this is where our big queer advantage comes in. If you’ve slept with any number of women, and seen more than a few naked female bodies you will have experienced first-hand what I wish all women knew: that we don’t look anything like that (most of us don’t anyway) and it’s pretty much okay to be any damn shape, size, colour, height or weight you damn well please.

Follow Women Like Us on Facebook and Twitter

The first woman I ever slept with had tan lines that made her look like she was wearing a white t-shirt and shorts, although she was naked. She had been heavier in the past, so her breasts hung low, although they were small, and they were marked with silvery lines. Her stomach was a soft pouch that was once far fuller, and I loved to run my fingers over it. Another partner’s incredible breasts rested on the surface of her bulbous stomach when she sat up in bed and disappeared between her armpits when we made love; she had the most beautiful thighs I have ever seen. Another was sharp ribs and a xylophone spine. Another’s mottled, orange-peel bum still makes me smile. Scars, tattoos, veins, piercings, moles, birthmarks, skin tags, acne, stray hairs; none of us is ‘perfect’.

And I know we’re not supposed to talk about such things, but I’m officially lifting the fanny stigma too and telling you that I have never seen a symmetrical vagina. I have seen everything from discreetly enveloped folds to explosive, dramatic waves, and I have never seen two the same colour or the same shape. The perfect vagina is a myth that’s sold to us to sell products and make us feel like shit. Yours is absolutely fine. No two women’s bodies are the same, and we are so blessed as queer women to have this inside information. We don’t have to take the word of magazines and the internet about how other women look naked or semi-naked; we know from our own experience. And we definitely don’t need to listen to bullshit about how we should look. Why should we look a certain way when we’re all so different?

blonde-haitred Barbie doll photo

That’s the incredible, wonderful thing about our bodies – in fact, it’s where the true beauty lies; every inch tells the unique story of our lives. What could be more beautiful than that? Mine can’t look like yours because I’ve lived a completely different life to you, and I’m proud to wear it. Mine doesn’t look like the women in the magazines because my story hasn’t centred around the ambition of making my body ‘beautiful’ enough to qualify for these magazines. It hasn’t been a 24/7 regime of working out, colonics and drinking green goo; it’s been a seesaw with fitness on one side and over-indulgence on the other; currently playing is the story of my lockdown laziness: the plumper breasts and fuller belly; it tells other stories too: a slightly older tale of physical strength that’s still visible on my shoulders and back; it tells of my writer’s bum and the tattoo I had when I was nineteen to show my only ever boyfriend that I was braver than him; it whispers about the childhood bully who once pushed me over and called me ‘Ribena’ because of the long birthmark on my leg that looks like a map of the British Isles; and it proudly sings songs of survival with scars self-inflicted as a fucked-up young woman, struggling to cope with life, who didn’t understand the concept of forever. This is me. It’s my story. Your body is your story. It can only be your story; no one else’s.

So, yes, sleep with lots of women. Go out and hear as many stories as you can – each one so different but with the same ending – that we’re all incredible exactly as we are.

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.

Read all Hayley the Happy Lezzer posts.

Find blog posts by other incredible LGBTQ+ women

Like, Comment and Share the Love

Follow Women Like Us …


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.”

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

Lesbian, Music, Nineties

By Hayley Sherman

“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.”

Picture the scene. It’s 1995, London, Friday night; you’re a sixteen-year-old babydyke dipping your toe in the water of a smoky girl bar, undercut and DMs still in the mail, necking snakebite and blacks like its Um Bongo to steady the nerves, waiting for the buzz to kick in, waiting for the band to start, waiting for life to start. The world beyond these walls isn’t kind to you yet, and you don’t know if it ever will be. And then they strut onto the stage … The Well Oiled Sisters … and you’ve never seen anything like it. Couldn’t-give-a-fuck, unapologetic dykes, all guitars and raised eyebrows. A blonde flat-top on bass, lesbian Animal on the drums, raw violinist, and Thick Eyeliner takes the mic, spitting dangerous lyrics into the crowd with a beautiful growl: “I know my legs will end up behind my neck! It’s not hard being easy!” … and she’s not singing about shagging a man. They’re playing fast, nosebleed fast, a kind of country punk on amphetamines. She smiles and snarls and smiles again, and you’re not just in love, but you suddenly feel a hell of a lot more comfortable in your own skin.

“Bunch of naughty girls we were,” lead singer, Lucy Edwards, enthuses twenty-five years later. “We were so uninhibited, so free.”

Follow Women Like Us on Facebook and Twitter

The controversial band, who played to hungry audiences around the world throughout the nineties, made numerous TV appearances and shared the stage with Morrissey, Sioxie & the Banshees, Susanne Vega and so many other big names, gained a reputation not only for their unique sound and stage presence but for their heavy drinking and womanising. “When you come from Scottish culture in the eighties,” she says, “it’s just the way it was. It was about having a good time.” And the womanising? “I don’t know,” she says. “I’ve always been a bit of a serial monogamist. I did have the odd dalliance with keen members of the audience. There were always groupies throwing themselves at the feet of various members of the band. It was probably exaggerated, but 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.” And, of course, London welcomed them with open arms.

“When I first moved to London in the early nineties,” she recalls, “there was a revolution going on that I don’t think has really been acknowledged or archived properly yet, but suddenly being queer was alright. It went from being dirty or kiddie-fiddling to being something that was cool and a bit brave. People were coming out en masse.” But this revolution rocked and divided the world of gay women and feminists. “You were either a traditional, vanilla dyke with no makeup and more traditional feminist values or this new ballsy breed, like us, that were flaunting our sexuality and being as naughty as we could be. It was the time of the whole Rebel Dyke crowd and everything was changing. We were coming out of the old school, sticking two fingers up at everything that came before – including from our own community. It didn’t always go down well. We were very well received by the younger lesbians – a bit tut-tutty in some cases by older lesbians.”

“Someone once said, quite unkindly that the songs were all about beer and fannies. I just wanted to do fast, wild music that people would dance and have a good time to.”

But these were also challenging times, and their hedonistic anarchy went hand in hand with activism. All of their early gigs were political rallies, marches, ACT UP nights and Gay Prides, back when it was about politics, when it was dangerous and illicit. Central to the fight was simply being visible. “As we used to say about AIDS, invisibility is death. You’ve got to be visible; you’ve got to be out – and that was the mission; to be as out as possible. You could do it in an apologetic, double-life way or be barefaced queer and out there. If we were going to be invisible then Clause 28 or AIDS were going to kill us. It was a question of survival. I’m proud that we were so in-your-face and we weren’t pretending to be something that we weren’t. Apart from putting a cowboy hat on, I was pretty much the same off stage and behaved the same. It made it easier because I didn’t have to act. I wasn’t secretly going home to my husband and kids. Also, I was young, so I had that ‘Come on then!’.

Not bad for a woman who grew up in a tiny, conservative town thirty miles south-west of Glasgow, where she didn’t even hear the word lesbian until she was sixteen. “I don’t remember rumours or mentions of lesbians when I was younger,” she said. “The occasional boy would be picked on for being a poofter. Obviously, I knew inside what was happening to me, but I didn’t have an inkling that it could be a lifestyle, just something to be buried and ashamed of.”

All that changed when she was sixteen, engaged to marry a dry cleaner called Colin, and she was seduced by an older woman in his biker gang who looked like Lauren Bacall, the only woman with her own bike. “It was the best possible way to be introduced to that world,” she smiles.

Lucy remembers telling her mum that she was in gay in a supermarket, and she almost shouted with joy, “Oh my God! My daughter’s a lesbian!” She thought it was great. “I was very lucky. Most people at that time were kicked out. Most of my friends had had run-ins with their parents, sometimes permanent.” That support made it easier to stand up, be herself and fight for what she believed in.

A few years later, and the conception of The Well Oiled Sisters was a drunken accident rather than a carefully planned birth. “The first gig we did was in a lesbian bar in Edinburgh call Key West. We were all horrendously drunk and decided to do it as a laugh. We’d played together drunkenly in bedrooms, but never out. It was supposed to be a one-off gig. I suppose the rest is history.”

The decision to play ‘cowpunk’ was a bit of a pisstake to start with. “Country is very much boy’s music with a token girly lead singer, so we wanted to pervert that a bit and write songs that weren’t about God, America and your little woman. Someone once said, quite unkindly that the songs were all about beer and fannies. I just wanted to do fast, wild music that people would dance to and have a good time to.”

“One guy took me aside and said we would have to change everything to go further – the lyrical content, the whole lesbian thing, the way we looked. If you want to make money in this business, you’re going to have to abandon your principles. I mean, fuck that! Imagine leading that kind of life. I couldn’t have done it and I didn’t want to. These A&R guys were all public schoolboys in the big club together. They didn’t want to see a bunch of gobby, Scottish lesbians with cowboy hats on.

Doors opened after moving to London when Joe Strummer spotted them busking on the Portobello Road and they became faces on the thriving London scene, signed to a small label. And then an unexpected punter at a gig in a bar in Islington resulted in the band playing in front of thousands. “A guy was there in a beret and raincoat, trying to look invisible. Turned out to be Morrissey. He wanted us to support him on his next European tour. Our manager’s first question was ‘How much?’. He said, ‘No, you have to pay me.’”

After negotiating a slightly better deal, they embarked on what would be an eye-opening tour, exposing them to both the thrills and burden of being adored by thousands, who were obsessive and almost cultish about Morrissey. They were renowned for terrorising the support bands – the lead singer of the previous support band got bottled one night – but they were actually kind to the Well-Oileds. The man himself was constantly hiding, miserable, trapped, and it was difficult to see his life as any kind of success. “I knew I never wanted to get to that stage. It just wasn’t very nice. It was a real eyeopener about the cost of fame, but it was an incredible experience and we were taken on by WOMAD on the back of it. They were fantastic; they took us to Australia, New Zealand, Europe. Our days of eating Ginsters pies and Quavers in the back of the van were over.” The highlight of what was an incredible period in the band’s history was a four-day train tour from Perth to Adelaide, across the desert, with incredible international acts playing gigs in the carriages every night.

By now they were playing more mainstream venues, although they were always loyal to their lesbian fans. The results were positive. “Some fear from the men, which was good,” Lucy recalls. “Some self-doubting looks from the women. But we were good natural musicians, so we got respect.” The only real homophobia that they ever experienced was from record executives. With the breaks they had, they should have had more albums out and made more progress within the industry. “One guy took me aside and said we would have to change everything to go further – the lyrical content, the whole lesbian thing, the way we looked. If you want to make money in this business, you’re going to have to abandon your principles. I mean, fuck that! Imagine leading that kind of life. I couldn’t have done it and I didn’t want to. These A&R guys were all public schoolboys in the big club together. They didn’t want to see a bunch of gobby, Scottish lesbians with cowboy hats on. I’ve never been fame hungry. If anything, I used to get quite private and embarrassed when I was interviewed and had to be a representative for gay women everywhere. After seeing how fucked up the Morrissey thing was, I certainly wasn’t going to change to get it.”

The band gradually went their separate ways after two of its members fell in love with women on the other side of the world. These days, Lucy says that she’s a little better behaved. She’s learnt a lot but hasn’t changed much. She would still lay down her life for the things she believes in and happily write a song to offend the right people – the homophobes, sexists, racists. But generally her musical talent is now put to therapeutic uses, bringing music to people with dementia, and the results have been a revelation to her. “The music awakens something in people, especially when they’re old,” she says. “An old lady always sticks in my mind with her head on one side, tongue lolling out. She couldn’t respond to anything, but when we started playing it was like the movie Awakenings; she came to and started mouthing the words. It just touches something from your memory, your childhood, early years. But, of course, sometimes, old people being old people, they’re ridiculously rude and shout, ‘Shut that bloody music up!’ but generally it’s a positive reaction.” Sadly, since Lockdown, with the quarantine particularly affecting those in care homes, the physical work has had to stop, but she is now involved in promoting the online app, The Smiling Sessions, that aims to do the same vital work with the elderly.

After fifteen years together, the book closed naturally on the incredible tale of a band of unapologetic dykes who smashed the world in the face with their fierce honesty and refusal to conform, leaving a ballsy legacy, encouraging queer women to stand up and be visible. “Lots of women would come up to us and say, ‘I feel braver now. Seeing you guys gives me strength.’ It was accidental, that part of it. I was just being myself. Our true legacy,” she said, “was putting the cunt in country.”

Find out more about Lucy and the other awesome Well Oiled Sister band members at http://www.thewelloiledsisters.com. Follow them on Facebook.

More information about the incredible work of The Smiling Sessions can be found at http://www.smilingsessions.com

Read about the lives of other incredible LGBTQ+ Women Like Us

Like, Comment and Share the Love!

Follow Women Like Us …


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.

Celebrating Female Desire … Art by Paola Rossi

Art, Mental Health

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.

I am a non-heterosexual, sensitive person that has struggled through depression and TOC during my 20s. Having these characteristics, I have looked for ways to be more emotionally balanced and have found relief in many artforms and things such as meditation. I have created art since I was a child, often linked to surrealism because of my imaginative personality, but not limited to that, since I have also connected to other art styles, like abstract and figurative works. I have oftentimes tried to create artworks as original and authentic as I can, works that emotionally and visually impact the viewer. My creations are about the feelings that impact me the most, and I approach them using diverse mediums, ranging from traditional to contemporary, often mixing them to have more possibilities of expression.

Two women who have accepted their sexuality, freely enjoying sex and feeling intense pleasure due to that. Made in an experimental, playful manner using a handmade drawing I created, photographed and digitally edited with a mobile app and computer program.

What inspires you most as an artist?

I am inspired by feelings, especially the ones that I have lived more intensely, such as non-heterosexual desire, heartbreak, depression and the will to emotionally heal and become more balanced. Said in a more academic way, my works are related to Freud’s psychological theory on Eros and Thanatos. According to him, all of us have a life and death drive that are indispensable, exist in everything we do and are in constant conflict. Eros is life, vitality, dynamism, the will to survive, the search for pleasure, sex, sexuality, union and the wish to generate deeper, more complex relationships with oneself and others. Conversely, Thanatos, seeks one’s own death and tries to satisfy aggressive impulses directly and indirectly to oneself and others. It manifests in many ways, for example, in anger, denial, unhealthy behaviour, the absence of action or connection with the world, giving up under difficult circumstances, loss of hope and depression. So, I have created artworks on Eros and Thanatos, inspired by my own identity as a non-heterosexual person, someone who has identified as a woman and a man simultaneously (non-binary), that has had a strong Thanatos expressed in depression and TOC and that has found a therapeutic recourse in art.

Follow Women Like Us on Facebook and Twitter

What medium satisfies you the most?

Nowadays, I don’t have a preferred medium. I use whatever medium I am most drawn to in the moment for the specific project I am working on. Over the years, I have noticed, I tend to have a period where I use a certain medium in an individual and traditional manner, followed by another period of a lot of experimentation, where I mix several mediums in ways I haven’t done before. As if it were a cycle. During my experimental phase, I often take my traditional works and rework them, using my curiosity, play and spontaneity to create something new. In my creative process, I use mind, body and soul. Parts of the process are done from a more rational side, planning things, making maps, lists, etc. I mainly connect directly with my emotions, impulses, spontaneity, playfulness and curiosity. I also use my body, sensations and explore movements and actions with it, training and taking care of it in the process. Some of the mediums I use are painting, drawing, photography, circus, contemporary dance, theatre, lights and shadows, mobile phone apps, computer software and video.

Photo by Paola Rossi on October 22, 2019. Image may contain: one or more people.
An experimental self-portrait from the years I first begun to work with my own body in artworks. Made in a playful manner, using a wig, a phone and an app to edit the image.

What would you most like to express through your work?

Art as the free expression of the soul and as a means of emotional wellbeing.

What are you currently working on?

I am currently in the creation process of a year-long, experimental project that will result in a video performance that expresses what I have felt during quarantine. The final video will combine the vast experimental work I have done this year on diverse mediums adapted to the house, such as: circus, contemporary dance, theatre, scenography, lights and shadows, painting, drawing (sometimes including writing), photo, sound, video, mobile apps, and computer programs. My conscious intentions with this work is to do something unconventional and experimental that combines my previous knowledge of different arts, especially those that I have been most passionate about whilst growing up, like painting, drawing and circus, with the new knowledge I have been acquiring through this year’s process. It is a way of expanding myself, pushing myself further than I have previously done. It is a creative process that includes mind, body and soul, involves very planned things, but also very spontaneous actions, and it even has an amount of unpredictable to it. This artwork is connected to mental health care, since the creation process has helped me feel better by liberating the emotions. It also involves exploring and registering the therapeutic qualities of art and sharing what I learn through social media and eventually in my thesis. It is my hope that I create strong images which impact visually and emotionally and which others can relate to. I also wish to connect with the public by showing the creation process in my Instagram. The final work will be published later this year through all my social media accounts.

 

Photo by Paola Rossi on September 07, 2019.
My own erotic drive showed in an oil painting. Painted in a more rational, traditional, manner than the other images here.

How are you received as a woman who paints naked women?

I have been very lucky, and I am grateful for the positive reception I have been having. When I first started doing nude and erotic lgbtq+ works in university, there was a lot of excitement in several of my peers. I started out doing very explicit and surrealistic images, so they caught a lot of attention. I was applauded for doing something taboo and unconventional in a very traditional society. Some people have told me that they think I am brave for being open about my sexuality and representing it in my works. They support what I do since it is linked to the acceptance of one’s own sexuality in a country that is generally not very open or accepting on these matters. When I started posting my works on social media, whilst still at university, I was invited to radio and tv interviews, as well as group exhibitions in other cities within my country and internationally, to places like the MAREA, which is a Latin-American Museum of erotic art, in Colombia. So, thankfully doing lgbtq+ works, which is something I am very passionate about, has opened doors for me. But above all, I think I am lucky and grateful for having such an accepting family that supports me.

Photo by Paola Rossi on December 24, 2018.
A very fast, impulsive drawing made as a way to sublimate desire.

How does your own sexuality influence your work?

My sexuality has been the main influence of many of my works. I have often represented my non-heterosexual desire, fantasies and experiences. It is my relationship with my own sexuality, the acceptance of it and the feelings and experiences that arise from it that oftentimes motivate me to create.

Photo by Paola Rossi on November 28, 2017.
I was exploring composition possibilities from photographs I had taken, and enjoyed the idea of an almost infinite perspective and two women posing in a sensual manner.

All artwork © Paola Rossi

Check out more of Paola Rossi’s art on Instagram

Check out more Artwork by LGBTQ+ Women Like Us

Share your Art

Comment, like and share the Women Like Us love

Follow us on Facebook and Twitter


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.”

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.”

British Habesha Girl: Poetry by Zelly Lisanework

Intersectionality, Lesbian, poetry
assorted-color textiles

Our featured poet this month is British Ethiopian writer, performer and human rights advocate Zelly Lisanework. She is a co-founder of Ethiopian LGBTQ+ Human Rights organisation, House of Guramayle. Her creative practice and advocacy work is about centring and amplifying intersectionality within marginalised communities. Through the lens of nature, mental health, social justice, feminism and identity, her work explores the injustices in our world whilst also celebrating the beauty to be found. She draws upon her own experiences, navigating the spaces as an intersectional feminist and queer black woman in the diaspora.

The poem that she is sharing is called ‘British Habesha Girl’. She says, “I wrote it to validate, celebrate and redefine the different parts of my British and Ethiopian heritage.”

BRITISH HABESHA GIRL

I don’t cook Injera meals

But I eat them pretty well

I speak and understand Amharic

But I don’t read or write Fidel.

I don’t go to Bete Christian

For my church has no walls

I don’t rise at dawn to greet the sun

Yet I love to hear the prayer calls.

Addis Ababa planted roots in me

Southwold nurtured me safely

I am a Habesha Girl

I am a British Girl

Existing with my duality

Liberated in my sexuality

Defined by no one.

Habesha – a term used to describe people of Ethiopian and/or Eritrean decent.

Injera – a rounded, sour flatbread that is spongy in texture and filled with air holes. It is the staple food in Ethiopian cuisine.

Amharic – one of 88 languages spoken in Ethiopia

Fidel – is the Amharic alphabet

Bete Christian – is Church; the phrase literally translates as Christian House from Amharic.


What inspires you?

People and places, I am interested in stories and lived experiences and the relationship we have with places. I find I am inspired most in non-binary exchanges with others and being able to explore ideas freely and creatively in places that I love, such as historical towns/cities, the countryside and by the seaside.

Follow Women Like Us on Facebook and Twitter

How does your Ethiopian upbringing influence your work?

I have a complicated relationship with my Ethiopian upbringing, having been born to Ethiopian parents biologically and being adopted as a toddler to be raised as dual heritage by Ethiopian and English parents. My Ethiopian upbringing lasted 11 years from birth until I moved to the UK. I used to struggle finding ways to allow my upbringing to co-exist with different parts of myself, which in turn impacted the level of influence on my work. I have redefined what it means to me to be Ethiopian, I have written about Ethiopia from a slightly Romanized point of view to preserve the pride and nostalgia I have as a person who hasn’t visited their country of birth since 2016. I have also written about Ethiopia whilst being nuanced and critical about the culture and its influence on my own upbringing.

How does your sexuality influence your work?

My sexuality influences my work very much in the same way other parts of my identity, such as my dual heritage does; it is one of many elements. My Queer Lesbian identity is so intrinsically linked to many parts of myself, which is explored in my work. I write about Queerness through the lens of feminism and intersectionality, and the relationship my sexuality has with mental wellbeing and my Ethiopian upbringing. My work is also a celebration of Queerness, of love and desire as well as a validation of adversities faced.

Why do you write?

I write as I have a strong desire to express as well as to question and explore. Writing is one of my strongest ways of self-expression. Words usually stumble out of me when I speak on the spot, but when I can explore thoughts and ideas in non-binary and non-linear ways through words, I feel most free. It is also very therapeutic, as when my brain is full of thoughts that rattle around, they can go to live on the page once I have written them down.

Do you remember the first poem you ever wrote?

I don’t think this was the first poem I ever wrote, but the earliest recollection I have is of a poem I wrote when I was 11 years old at school. We were exploring the poems of First World War poets Wilfred Owen and Siegfried Sassoon and the English teacher wanted us imagine and write our own wartime poems in a collage format, and so I wrote a poem in the style of a diary entry which was inspired by Wilfred Owen’s ‘Dulce et Decorum Est’. The first poem I wrote that led to me pursing writing was during my final year of university when I was struggling with life, the poem is called ‘Opposites Attract’ and is about Love and Hate personified as they sit side by side watching the day change from morning to night and sharing their reflections.

How do you find your way into a poem?

Many different ways! I always have my phone nearby as ideas spark when I’m out and about or I wake from sleep; sometimes it’s words and phrases and other times it’s ideas for a poem or a poem itself that I’ll work on editing. When I’m commissioned to write and working to deadlines then I usually start with an idea and list things that come to mind before I begin work on a structure.


Check out Zelly Lisanework’s website.

Find out more about the advocacy work of the House of Guramayle.

Find more poetry by incredible LGBTQ+ Women Like Us

Would you like to be our next featured poet?

Comment, like and share the love!

Follow Women Like Us …


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.”

Hayley the Happy Lezzer – 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.”

Random Thoughts: Unexpected Guests

Janine Norris, Lesbian, Mental Health

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.

Rather like Bilbo Baggins at the beginning of The Hobbit (but not on such a grand scale), the start of Lockdown brought about some unexpected guests. The ‘guests’ were the school Guinea Pigs, Mary and Marjorie.

Nobody else working in the school could take them home for Lockdown, so I immediately jumped at the chance. It’s common knowledge that my girlfriend and I much prefer the company of animals than people, so our home was the perfect choice.

Marjorie

I had to dismantle the ‘run’ that the students had made for the girls for it to fit in the back of the car. I struggled with the hutch, carrying it by myself and, finding super human strength from somewhere (generally stubbornness and determination), I managed to get everything in the car. The pigs travelled in style in a cat carrier in the passenger-side footwell.

On arrival home, I carefully unloaded the precious cargo and struggled down the side path to the back garden. Could I have asked my girlfriend for help? Yes, but she wasn’t expecting visitors!

Once I had settled the girls in their hutch with bedding, fresh vegetables and salad, I called my girlfriend, Mel, who was still working at her desk in the house.

She came into the garden, a little unsure of what was in store – she hates surprises. I explained that nobody else could take the guinea pigs home, so I had offered to look after them. I rattled on and on about how I would look after them and she wouldn’t have to do anything so that I took responsibility. After all, on this occasion, I hadn’t consulted her on the matter. We usually make important decisions together, but this was an emergency. Nobody was allowed back on the school site after today and the pigs needed a home.

I introduced Mel to ‘Hairy’ Mary and Marjorie. She asked if she could hold one. I handed her Mary. A huge grin appeared on her face and she said, ‘I feel like I’m eight years old again and I’ve been chosen to look after the school guinea pigs for the summer holidays.’

And that is where my story begins.

Life in Lockdown for Mel and I threatened to be rather difficult. Mel has worked from home, alone, for the last twenty years. She is a Business Management Consultant working mainly with land-based businesses, mainly farms and farmers, so when she isn’t working at home, she’s out and about, in the middle of nowhere, advising farmers on how best to move forward with their businesses.


Follow Women Like Us on Facebook and Twitter

As schools closed suddenly, there I was, sitting in the opposite corner of the lounge at a desk of my own, having no idea how I was going to cope. I’m not a desk worker. I’m a fidget. Similarities with some of my students with ADHD are prevalent in my personality. Mel is calm, professional and totally focused on her work. What could possibly go wrong?

Well, it was better than either of us ever imagined: We no longer had to make excuses for not going out, we enjoyed each other’s company approximately 99% of the time, we learnt new things about each other, and we became interested in each other’s work. I was astounded at how knowledgeable Mel was when it came to advising farmers via Zoom, and she finally got to see me teaching and interacting with the students I had talked so much about.

However, what actually made Lockdown more memorable was the presence of Mary and Marjorie. We had no real idea of a guinea pig’s needs, so Mel researched everything we needed to know. We took advice from people we knew who had had (or still had) guinea pigs, and the girls began to thrive.

We also began to thrive. Our mornings began with a dog walk by the river, then coffee sitting in the garden watching the pigs explore their new items (boxes, tunnels, food, etc.) we had placed in their run each day. It was a peaceful time.

On the third Thursday of Lockdown we went into the garden to put the pigs to bed for the night. 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.

Check out poetry by Zelly Lisanework

The next morning, we put the girls in their run, and Marjorie was moving but dragging her back legs behind her. This, for us, was a heart-breaking sight. We booked an appointment at the vet. When we arrived, we had to wait in the carpark for the vet to come out and take Marjorie inside. He returned with painkillers and suggested we wait a week to see what happened.

We decided to put them both to bed as normal and see how she was the next morning. Needless to say, we went to bed that evening sobbing. We had grown so fond of the girls and the guilt we felt was immense.

Our ‘Unexpected Guests’ have become a huge part of our lives and our daily routine, along with the dogs and the horses, and they have certainly had a huge effect on my mental health throughout the Pandemic.

By Sunday, it looked as though Marjorie was deteriorating. She couldn’t keep herself clean, so we were bathing her with cotton wool and warm water. She was still eating and moving about, but we were concerned about her quality of life.

On Monday morning, I opened the hutch door and she had clearly not moved all night. She was dirty and sorrowful looking. I made the decision to phone the vet and book her in to be put to sleep that afternoon.

The tears Mel and I cried over that little girl were huge.

In my usual fashion, at lunchtime, I left my desk and popped into the garden for some fresh air and outdoor stimulation. Something told me to look at the pigs. As I looked in the run, Marjorie was running around, playing, her back legs dragging behind her, but she looked much brighter. I cancelled her vet appointment. She lived to fight another day.

Mary

There were a couple more close calls, but she still seemed happy in herself and was eating. Eventually, we booked in to see the ‘Exotic Animal Vet’ (who knew guinea pigs were Exotic Animals?). She took her away, examined her and returned, saying she definitely had feeling in her legs and toes (as she had moved her legs when she pinched her toes). She couldn’t feel any broken bones, so really wanted us to give her a bit more time. She explained that if she was no better within the next month, we were to go back and she would reassess her quality of life. This vet actually said, ‘Don’t give up on her just yet.’

We took her home and began doing very small exercises with her back legs each morning and evening. Over the next couple of weeks, she began ‘paddling’ one of her back legs, and a few days later, did the same with the other.

Approximately a month after seeing that vet, Marjorie was 95% back to normal!

For me, this was a miracle. The resilience shown by this tiny creature was out of this world. Needless to say, the girls are very special to us. They are going to stay with us for the rest of their lives, and they continue to give us so much pleasure and happiness.

Marjorie has doubled in weight and is definitely the pig in charge; Mary doesn’t mind, as long as there’s food around.

Our ‘Unexpected Guests’ have become a huge part of our lives and our daily routine, along with the dogs and the horses, and they have certainly had a huge effect on my mental health throughout the Pandemic.

The power of guinea pigs is incredible. However, don’t agree to have them as pets until you’ve researched thoroughly. Their intelligence, curiosity and dietary needs are far more complex than people realise.

We will have Guinea Pigs for ever.

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

Read all of Janine’s Random Thoughts: This is not a Diary Posts

Read more blogs by incredible LGBTQ+ Women Like Us.

Like, Comment and Share the love.

Follow Women Like Us


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.”

Hayley the Happy Lezzer – Fingering After Dark

Hayley Sherman, Lesbian, Marriage

By Hayley Sherman

person holding string lights

“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.”

It’s 3.30 a.m. and my alarm quietly bleeps on the bedside table. It takes a bleary second for me to remember why I set it, and then the magnitude of the moment kicks in and I’m all business. Tonight’s the night!

Sarah stirs a little beside me, so I don’t make a move until she’s found her sleeping rhythm again, making a noise that I choose to call a purr rather than a snore because I love her so much. It’s as dark as a room can be, so with all my stealth and cunning, I reach out and feel the carpet under the bed where I’ve hidden the secret tool I need for my covert mission – a loop of thirty steel rings strung together, designed to measure everything from a baby’s little finger to the devil’s own thumb. As soon as I touch it, it jangles like a set of jailer’s keys, but Sarah’s out for the count now, so, holding my breath, I dare to pick it up and put my plan into action.

I have to confess that when gay marriage was legalised, it never occurred to me that I might, one night, be awake in a dark, silent room forcing my unconscious girlfriend’s finger into a series of holes to measure her up for an engagement ring without waking her, but life is full of little surprises.  

Follow Women Like Us on Facebook and Twitter

Take me, for example; I had been happily single for about nine years before meeting her and was perfectly content in life. I don’t want to say that I’d resigned myself to never marrying, because that somehow implies that my single life was ‘less than’, and that was never the case. In fact, it always pissed me off when well-meaning, loved-up friends would tip their heads on the side, pull the pity pout and say, ‘Aw, are you still single?’ as if asking if I still had piles. ‘Don’t worry, the right person’s out there for you,’ they’d add. ‘You just haven’t met her yet. You’re lovely.’ Bloody cheek! I spent years cultivating the single life I wanted.

Sometimes I’d get in there first and say, ‘Aw, are you still with Kelly? Don’t worry, I’m sure you’ll get your freedom back soon. You’re lovely.’

The frustrating/beautiful truth, however, is that they were right. She was out there all along, but if we’d met at any other point in our lives, we wouldn’t have been a fit. We’ve both lived just the right amount of life now to be oven-ready for each other.

Back to the dark bedroom, and Sarah’s working with me without even knowing it. She’s made a surprise big-spoon move and is draped over me. I’d wondered how I was going to engineer grabbing her hand, and now she’s handed it to me (so to speak). I have to be quick, though. I fumble for a ring from the middle of the jangly set, wishing now that I had a) chosen a few rings that might be close to her size when it was still light, b) taken them off the loop or c) taken the advice I read online about using cotton to measure her finger. But never mind. We’re here now. I have her hand and if she wakes up mid-manoeuvre, I’ll just hold on for dear life, thrash about a bit and tell her I was having a nightmare about Boris Johnson.

Celebrating Female Passion … Art by Paola Rossi

I get lucky on the first go. The ring doesn’t fit, but it’s close, just a touch too big, and more importantly, she hasn’t moved or stirred, but something’s changed: I can no longer hear or feel her rhythmic breathing on my back, so either she’s awake and just letting me do this, too polite to spoil the surprise, probably laughing her arse off at me, or she’s tragically passed away in the last few moments. I hope it’s neither and try to slip the ring off her finger, but before I get to the knuckle, the worst imaginable thing happens – she clenches a fist. I try to console myself with the good news that she’s probably not dead, but it seems little consolation next to the task ahead of getting the bloody thing off. Thankfully, she unclenches just as quickly, but I’m about as close to a coronary as a 43-year-old should be allowed to get by now.

I can’t help wondering if married life is always going to be this difficult.

I feel for the next smallest ring. Something inside is telling me that I should quit while I’m ahead, but I’ve never been one to listen to the voices, so I slide it on – or rather I force it on – over the knuckle, and this is definitely the one. Perfect! A little snug but definitely the one. And I know what you’re thinking. Is she going to be able to get it off or is this going to turn into an episode of Mr Bean, where 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? Well, I’ll leave you to wonder how that part of the story ended and skip a few weeks ahead to the good bit … She said yes!

 

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.

Read all Hayley the Happy Lezzer posts.

Find blog posts by other incredible LGBTQ+ women

Like, Comment and Share the Love

Follow Women Like Us …


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.”

Random Thoughts: This is Not a Diary … Cursed!

By Janine Norris: “So, ok, I’m ginger! There, I said it. I can deal with that. However, a test of my strength of (sensitive, ginger) character hit hard when I also realised I was gay. Come on! How unfair did this seem at the time?”

An Afternoon in Primark Changed My Life … Joni’s Story

Discrimination, Gender, Lesbian, Transgender

“It touched other aspects of my life for years to come: finding work was difficult because I was so searchable. Nobody wanted ‘that angry transwoman’ working for them.

I was standing in a queue of four or five women, all waiting to try on clothes in the fitting room in Primark, gripping a pair of skinny jeans and a couple of tops. It was only the second or third time that I’d bought women’s clothing and the first time I’d gone by myself.

“You getting those?” a sweet old lady behind asked me. “They’ll look really pretty on you.” I smiled and thanked her. I’m a magnet for old people, and we started chatting. I was glad of the distraction. It was still so early in my transition, and despite what people think about transwomen and changing rooms, it’s scary, especially with the discussions going on at the moment. TERFs would have you believe that transwomen are going into these spaces, helicoptering their genitals, doing a handstand, but I was really just interested in the clothes, and, of course, keeping safe and not getting myself beaten up, because using male spaces while female attired is dangerous. You’re in close proximity with men who do not take kindly to people wearing dresses. I don’t use female spaces to assert my femininity. I do it because it’s safe.

The queue went down slowly, and as I neared the front, I could see the young sales assistant manning the desk, giving out the number tags and hanging up returns.

Just ninja-in and ninja-out, I told myself. It had become a mantra for changing rooms, fitting rooms, toilets and any other all-female spaces. Don’t hang around. Just get in and out and hope not to be seen. My heart rate was definitely up a little now, though. I was already so uncomfortable in my own skin. But like any other woman, I can’t buy clothes without trying them on, and I’m not an easy size to clothe. I’m 6 foot 1 and built like a refrigerator. I’m not “woman-shaped”. I don’t have a face for make-up. I don’t ‘pass’. Passing is so important in society, but there’s nothing I can do to make myself look more like a stereotypical woman, and I was really trying then.

It was a huge problem for me, and none of the info I found online about how to be trans helped. It was all so ‘gatewayey’: Don’t choose a name like this because that’s a stripper name; you need to always behave in a dignified manner, be polite and courteous at all times; always wear a dress and makeup. I soaked it all in and tried to be demure and feminine and fit in. I tried to follow all of the advice, but it felt as if I’d gone from one body that didn’t belong to me into another. I had spent the first twenty-four years of my life acting as a guy, and now I was trying to fit into another box that was just as crippling. I would spend years in this place, desperately trying to find a way to fit in, throwing sparkly spaghetti at the wall to see what would stick, until I finally had to accept that this was never going to happen. And if you can’t change something, ultimately, all you can do is accept it, however hard that is. Life started to get better for me when I stopped trying to be what society told me to be and started being myself.

This was all of my worst nightmares happening at the same time. I turned around to see a long queue of women behind me, all looking around and over each other to see what was holding things up.

Follow Women Like Us on Facebook and Twitter

I had always hung out with lesbians, most of them butch – I looked up to them; they were just so awesome and together, such a presence. They didn’t give a crap what people thought of them. Over time, I realised that I didn’t just like these women, I identified with them, I saw myself in them, and I was attracted to women, just as they were. Again, when I asked the internet how to be a transwoman, all the info online was geared towards being straight. But could I be trans and attracted to women? Could I be a transwoman without the flowery dresses and high heels? Could I be the opposite of everything the internet was telling me? Turns out, you can do anything you want, and at some point over the last seven years I stopped giving a shit and became a comfortable gender-non-conforming transwoman, or a butch trans-dyke, or transgender non-binary … if you need a label. Ultimately, my femininity isn’t defined by my attire or my body even, it’s just who I am.

But back in the early days, in Primark, I was just a baby trans, scared of being laughed at, scared of everything, still trying to fit in, with my flowery skirt and lipstick, and I wanted the moment over as quickly as possible. I wanted to try on the clothes and go, but it wasn’t to be. I finally reached the front of the queue and held up my clothes, smiling. “Just three items,” I told the sales assistant, who was about sixteen years old.

His face changed when he saw me, confusion and horror in his eyes, and he shook his head. “You can’t go in there.”

I found my voice to ask why.

“Because you’re a man. You need to use the men’s.”

This was all of my worst nightmares happening at the same time. I turned around to see a long queue of women behind me, all looking around and over each other to see what was holding things up.

“I’m not a man,” I tried, standing as upright as possible, talking in my calmest voice. “And I would like to try these on.”

But he shook his head. No, sorry. It’s not going to happen. I tried to protest further, but the words were sticking in my throat and I could feel my face glowing. All I could do was skulk away, leaving the women in the queue whispering behind me.

I didn’t leave the shop straight away. I spoke to a manager, but I was told exactly the same: if I wanted to try them on, I had to use the men’s. I couldn’t believe what I was hearing, but I didn’t argue or fight. In fact, in a daze, I carefully folded the two tops and the jeans and returned them to the shelves before leaving the shop, not quite knowing what to do with myself.

I was a million miles from the activist I would become, but I was so hurt and humiliated, and I didn’t want that to happen to anyone else, so I emailed Primark, but I got nowhere. They wanted me to name the kid who’d served me. I didn’t want some kid to lose their job over it because they didn’t know any better and there wasn’t a policy in place. I didn’t want to contribute to one more person hating trans people. So I wrote a post about what had happened. It went viral. I then got a call from the local paper, The Evening Star. They wanted to write a piece about me. It wasn’t going to be a big story – just a little piece about a little thing that happened to a little person. So I agreed. If it stopped it happening to someone else, then it would be worth it. A few days later, they interviewed me at my house and then asked if I would pose for a photo in front of my house.

Check out Artwork by incredible Asperger’s monochrome artist, Nick Copsey

“If you could just fold your arms, love,” I was told, and I obliged, not thinking too much about my natural resting bitch face, sparce makeup, the hairband and lucky hoodie I was wearing. It was, after all, a little piece about a little person … or so I thought.

The next day I got a text from a friend asking if I’d seen The Evening Star. I checked it out. I was on the cover, and that picture of me – which was horrendous and angry-looking – was huge. Not only was I outside my house, but they printed my address. The little piece about a little person had turned into something dangerous. I was now at risk. And it didn’t stop there. The local paper sold the story to The Daily Mail, along with the photo, and the Daily Star, and the Mirror, as well as papers in Italy and Kenya; I had a call from ITN; I even got a message from the South Korea Broadcasting Service, asking me if I could appear there. It was everywhere, and although The Evening Star had reported the story fairly neutrally, the likes of The Daily Mail obviously didn’t. I was still trying to find a way to exist, and now I was an angry-trans poster child. In fact, to this day, if you search ‘angry transwoman’ in Google Images, that picture comes up second, and I’m one of the least angry people I know.

“I now feel marked, as if I have to live my life differently because I’m labelled, and it will all explode again if I slip up – like ‘Angry Trans’ is at it again!”

My mum, bless her, was terrified that I’d get my head kicked in. I was scared too. I stayed in for three or four days. Then I started to lock down my social media because the deluge of abuse had begun. I was picked up by a TERF site that basically gathers as much information as possible about anyone in trans stories, including where they work, where they live, before rewriting them and switching the pronouns to misgender them. I’m still on there to this day. I set up fake Twitter and Facebook accounts to soak up the abuse, but my face was appearing all over the place: Steven Crowther, who’s a right-wing pundit, used my picture for a piece about transwomen opposing breastfeeding, which is bullshit. The Daily Mail has since used my picture online for an article about sex offenders. I have contacted them and asked them to remove it, but they said they don’t remove photos due to embarrassment.

And it wasn’t just abuse that I had to endure; it touched other aspects of my life for years to come: finding work was difficult because I was so searchable. Nobody wanted ‘that angry trans woman’ working for them. I eventually changed my legal name, but I now feel marked, as if I have to live my life differently because I’m labelled, and it will all explode again if I slip up – like ‘Angry Trans’ is at it again! I exist online under an alias and think twice about anything I post. It made me scared to engage in activism for a long time, but although it has been a painful experience, it did make a difference.

Not long after it happened, I ran into someone who asked if I was the Primark girl. She thanked me for speaking out, told me that it made her feel seen and made a difference to her. It also impacted Primark, who introduced a trans policy as a result of the backlash, so although it’s been hard, I’m glad it happened – if I could go back in time, though, I might not have folded my arms on that picture. I might even have smiled. Ultimately, if it’s made it easier for just one trans person to ninja-in/ninja-out without trouble, then it’s definitely been worth it. For me personally, however, I haven’t used a public fitting room since that day and I probably never will.

Joni Bendall’s story, as told to and written by ghostwriter Hayley Sherman

Comment, like and share the Women Like Us love

Follow us on Facebook and Twitter …

Read more incredible Life Stories of LGBTQ+ Women Like Us

What’s Your Story?

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”Read More

BLOG POST: The Gender Dance-Off

“Had I been growing up now, ‘non-binary’ may have been a shoe that fit, but as I skidded through my teens in the nineties, gender was as fixed as the colour of your skin; you could change it no more than you could change the weather or Sporty Spice’s insistence that she was straight.” … Read more

         

Confessions of a Lesbian Cliché: The L-Word Fantasy

Growing Pains, Kirsten Leah, Lesbian, The L Word

By Kirsten Leah

Growing up (sort of) has taught me that mates are mates, gay or straight, and that being an unbearable arsehole will leave you alone very quickly.

Like every gay girl of my era, I was an avid fan of The L Word in my early teens. I’d download every season through LimeWire (never minding the 327843597 viruses that would accompany and ultimately destroy the family computer), and secretly binge them by myself late at night. As a shy, closeted baby dyke they offered a hopeful glimmer of an aspirational future. I could be out, cool, successful, attractive, and have proper relationships, however meaningful, with women. I could spend my days killing it at work and my evenings at some cosmopolitan gay bar with a close friendship group of fellow girl-loving girls.

The thing that drew me to The L Word so much – ok, besides the sex scenes – was the idea of having a group of gay friends like Shane, Bette, Alice, et al. People in the same situation as me, whom I could share my women woes with over a beer.

Because it’s lonely when you start out. In my high school of 750ish students, there was only one out LGBT+ person – and, spoiler alert, it wasn’t me. The idea of a don’t-give-a-shit, gay friendship group à la L Word was about as unattainable as walking to the moon. I had a good group of friends in school, but it was a group I had to put a mask on for. I’d pretend to fancy this actor or that singer, and I’d get off with the odd boy, to keep the mask in place. I loved my straight mates, but at the same time yearned for friends whose ~feelings~ were more similar to my own.

The search for such a group intensified when I came out – and coming out coincided with a definite increase in going out. Aged 16, I discovered, to my pleasant surprise, that I could get served in a few select venues in town. This included Betty’s, the local gay club. I’d persuade my (incredibly supportive and put-upon) straight mates to go there with me every weekend. I went there looking for new, exciting, gay people to match my new, exciting, gay life.

Follow Women Like Us on Facebook and Twitter

And, yeah, I met gay people. Girls I had clumsy flings with. Guys I’d do shots with until kicking out time rolled around. I suppose I felt like I was on the way to getting what I’d craved so much as a teenager. I definitely felt cool when I walked into Betty’s on a Friday night and saw half a dozen people I recognised already propping up the bar. I might’ve even felt cool when I was drinking myself into oblivion weekend after weekend, waking up with zero memories of the night before, a questionable one-night stand, or both. Sure, turning up to my Saturday shift at Iceland still pissed, reeking of vodka and looking like something scraped off the bottom of a shoe wasn’t exactly living that L Word dream, but I was getting there, wasn’t I?

I guess I’m a cliché for falling so hard into that nightlife hole. I’m not beating myself up – being out and going out was a heady freedom after being closeted for so long. It took me a while to climb out of that hole again, though. When I finally did resurface – after a few deathly hangovers too many, a near-miss, and a ride home in a police car – I found I didn’t actually have that many friends left. My desperate search for a group of gay friends had alienated most of my straight friends. While I’d been sinking into gay nightlife, they’d been getting their shit together and becoming proper adults. And the friends I’d made whilst out drinking? In reality most of them didn’t impact my life at all unless I was out with them. My drunken, ‘romantic’ encounters with girls I met at Betty’s just made it increasingly awkward for me to be there.

The L Word was a sham. I was disillusioned with its promises. Either that, or I was a weirdo unable to form the gay-lady friendships so intrinsic to everyone else’s best lesbian lives.

… so I wallowed.

People say that, with love, we find it when we stop desperately searching for it. The same goes for friendships. It took me a bit of growing up, and a lot of getting comfortable in my own skin, before finding the relationships I’d pined for in my teenage years. I stopped drinking myself into a black-hole every weekend. I made grovelling apologies to my remaining friends, vowing never to take them for granted again. In high school I’d wished for another group of friends so I wouldn’t have to wear my straight-girl facade. Years later I realised the only person forcing myself to pretend was me.

Check out Louise Clare Dalton’s Performance of her poem, What They Told You

I’m now out in every aspect of my life. In my career (which has moved on from its inauspicious supermarket beginnings); with my family; with my friends. I still like a night out and a tequila or two, but now have interests beyond this. A year ago I started roller derby (which is probably, incidentally, the gayest sport in existence, but that’s another post, for another time), through which I’ve met some brilliant people. Through my partner, I’ve gotten involved with the local LGBTQ+  Women’s group. Even the knowledge that the group existed would have overwhelmed my gay little 13-year-old self with excitement.

The L Word made me strive for a cliquey lesbian friendship group. Growing up (sort of) has taught me that mates are mates, gay or straight, and that being an unbearable arsehole will leave you alone very quickly. It’s great to have your fellow lady-loving-ladies around you for a night out at Betty’s. But, sometimes, nothing beats getting wine drunk with your straight mate while you whinge about girls, she moans about guys, and neither of you envies the other one bit.

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.

Read all of Kirsten’s Confessions of a Lesbian Cliche posts

Read more blogs by incredible LGBTQ+ Women


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”Read More

BLOG POST: The Gender Dance-off

“Had I been growing up now, ‘non-binary’ may have been a shoe that fit, but as I skidded through my teens in the nineties, gender was as fixed as the colour of your skin; you could change it no more than you could change the weather or Sporty Spice’s insistence that she was straight” Read More


Random Thoughts: This is Not a Diary … Cursed!

Growing Pains, Janine Norris, Lesbian, Mental Health

By Janine Norris

So, ok, I’m ginger! There, I said it. I can deal with that. However, a test of my strength of (sensitive, ginger) character hit hard when I also realised I was gay. Come on! How unfair did this seem at the time?

I was born cursed.

“Cursed with what?” I hear you ask.

Well, let me tell you. I was born cursed with the ginger gene! To many of you reading this now, you may feel this is a dramatic over-exaggeration of my hair colour. Some of you may be ‘ginger’ and love it. However, growing up ginger in the 70s was no easy task.

When I say ‘ginger’ I mean ginger. Not ‘Strawberry Blonde’, not ‘sandy,’ but actual ORANGE. On top of this, there were 3 of us. Me, my younger sister and my older brother. All orange!

As kids, we would be out and about with our parents, shopping, on holiday, whatever. Wherever we went we would be stared at. I mean, literally, people would stop and stare at the 3 of us. In today’s context we would be chart-topping superstars as part of ‘The Greatest Showman’ soundtrack; we could all sing!

It wasn’t just the staring either. People would touch us. Touch our hair. Without permission. I’ve heard pregnant women say similar about strangers thinking they have the right to touch the ‘baby belly’; people they don’t know walking up to them and stroking their bump even in this day and age.

A colleague of mine has recently had cancer and lost all of her hair. She said that one of the most uncomfortable and almost distressing parts was when her hair began to grow back and people would stroke her ‘stubble.’ Generally people she knew, but some outside of the family.

I suppose the ‘Curse of Ginger’ could have caused me a lot more trouble. There were not so many gingers about in those days and many of our ‘community’ were bullied for their hair colour. On reflection, the targets of bullying were mainly boys with a ginger chip on their shoulder, so they would attack first in order to defend themselves. This did not usually turn out well.

My brother and I were both quite placid and easy going, so there was no real need for us to be singled out and bullied for our hair colour. I mean yes, there was the usual name calling—‘Duracell,’ ‘Carrot top,’ ‘Ginger nut,’ etc.—but I was never bothered by it. My sister was a totally different character, so nobody in their right mind was going to have a pop at her!

Follow Women Like Us on Facebook and Twitter

An observation I have made about the ‘Ginger Curse’ is that, generally, if you are ginger, you hate it; if you are not ginger, you love it and want to be ginger.

Redheads (a polite way to say ‘Ginger’) are apparently the rarest ‘breed’ of the human population with only between 1 and 2 per cent natural gingers. Research has been taking place for years into the ginger gene. In the year 2000 it was discovered that the ‘mutation’ of a particular gene (MC1R/MCIR) causes gingerness and its unique characteristics.

Here we go again! Such negative connotations into the ginger gene—mutation! Come on! What about ‘Transformation,’ ‘Revolution,’ ‘Metamorphosis?’ These are all far more complimentary than ‘Mutation’. As it is, our gingerness causes us to be more sensitive than the rest of the world’s population (scientifically only physically more sensitive, but who knows, it could have an effect on our mental and emotional sensitivity too?)

Over sensitivity to temperature changes is a definite physical symptom I suffer as a ginger. In the winter, one minute I’m fine and within a millisecond I’m shivering like a Chihuahua being forced to walk in the rain. As a ginger, I am more sensitive to pain which is why, if you visit my home, you will find enough painkillers to stock a village pharmacy. During major operations as a child I required 20 per cent more anaesthetic than the kid in the next bed and I was far more susceptible to bleeding out as blood doesn’t clot as quickly. (I remember all these details from the doctors, nurses and surgeons from my weeks at a time in hospital.)

So, ok, I’m ginger! There, I said it. I can deal with that. However, a test of my strength of (sensitive, ginger) character hit hard when I also realised I was gay. Come on! How unfair did this seem at the time? I knew I was definitely not straight when I was 15 but it wasn’t until I began my teaching career in the early 90’s amid Section 28 that I knew I was most definitely gay.

Empowering Art by Nicola Copsey … Check it our

My first true love was a senior teacher (13 years older than me) and we were together for 9 and half years. However, for all of that time, due to Section 28, due to her not wanting to upset her elderly parents, due to her not wanting to attract attention, due to parents of pupils making derogatory comments following rumours around the village where we lived, we behaved outside the home as ‘just good friends’. This most definitely took its toll on our relationship and I ended it, feeling guilty. I left with nothing.

As if this wasn’t/isn’t enough, I have battled a severe anxiety disorder which presents (when unmedicated) in a range of ways: at worst, panic attacks so debilitating I can’t function enough to even get out of bed to take a shower; at best, I have extremely tidy, alphabetically-rearranged, colour-coordinated kitchen cupboards through an attack of OCD.

I am aware of an addictive personality which is not always a negative attribute (alcohol, food, self-harm), it can also have positive influences on my life. For example, during the recent lockdown, my obsession has been with maths! For me, this has been fabulous because, as a primary-trained, non-specialist maths teacher teaching GCSE maths to excluded teenagers, I feel that, at last, I am ahead of the game.

So, the ginger curse could have been much worse for me. I haven’t ever embraced it. I have yearned for my hair to turn naturally grey for years but it’s as stubborn as I am. I am currently rocking my natural colour, which is certainly less orange than it was when I was a child, and there are definite sprinkles of grey in there, so things are looking good.

In the grand scheme of things, I am in good health, have an amazing career and a loving, generous, kind partner. Curse of Ginger? I’ve got this.

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

Read all of Janine’s Random Thoughts: This is not a Diary Posts

Read more blogs by incredible LGBTQ+ Women Like Us.


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 … Read More

BLOG POST: The L-Word Fantasy

“Growing up (sort of) has taught me that mates are mates, gay or straight, and that being an unbearable arsehole will leave you alone very quickly.” Read More