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.”

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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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Giving Shame the Finger!

Louise Clare Dalton. “Let’s talk about shame baby, let’s talk about it and me, let’s talk about all the good things and the … oh wait. Hon, let’s not kid ourselves, there isn’t much ‘good’ to speak of when it comes to the shame surrounding sexuality and queerness.

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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New Year, New Queer

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

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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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!”

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.”

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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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 …”

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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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.”

the moon is a lesbian … Poetry by Maddie Fay

Lesbian, poetry
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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.”

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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

Postcards From Lesbainia: 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.

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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.

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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.

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.”

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.”

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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

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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.”

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.”

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.

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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

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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.

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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?

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