Chronically Fabulous: The Critical Role of D&D in an Isolated World

Covid-19, Gaming, Josie Quinn, Mental Health

By Josie Quinn

“In a year of isolation and fear, Dungeons & Dragons has not only kept me connected with the outside world, but has also allowed me to make some incredible new friends along the way, as well as giving all of us the much needed chance to escape our current reality, even if only for a few hours.”

For most of my life, I have suffered with a variety of mental health conditions, including depression, anxiety and PTSD, so over the years I have tried all manner of treatments and therapies: medication, counselling, CBT, meditation, workbooks, exercise, goal charts, light therapy; basically, if you have ever heard of something recommended to help boost mental health, chances are I’ve tried it! But something I didn’t expect was such a positive impact from playing Dungeons & Dragons.

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My Dungeons and Dragons Hoard!

For the uninitiated, Dungeons & Dragons (D&D) is a fantasy tabletop role-playing game, meaning all you need to play is dice, pencil and paper and your imagination. First launched in 1974, Dungeons & Dragons has remained the best-known, and best-selling tabletop RPG ever since, but the past few years have seen a huge resurgence of interest in the game, with record numbers of people playing for the first time. This is partly due to the streamlined 5th Edition of the game being released in 2014, but also due to the influence of popular culture, with TV shows like Community and Stranger Things featuring the game prominently, and webseries like the incredible Critical Role (currently at 1.15million YouTube subscribers) getting a whole new generation of gamers interested in D&D. Wizards of the Coast, the company who produce D&D, had their best year of sales to date in 2019, seeing a 300% increase in sales of the Starter Set Kits, and a 65% increase on sales of all D&D products in Europe.

I am not alone in seeing how beneficial D&D can be. Numerous organisations (such as Game To Grow, RPG Therapeutics and the Bodhana Group) use role-playing games like D&D as a therapy tool for a number of conditions, as well as to provide emotional support to teens and children. It can even give them a safe space to consider their gender, by letting them play a character of a different gender to the one they were assigned at birth. Therapists, teachers and parents have all praised D&D for helping children develop empathy, problem-solving skills, social skills, literacy and basic arithmetic; and the whole time the children just think they’re fighting orcs and adopting the occasional goblin!

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Personally, having always been a gamer, once my EDS meant I was no longer able to use a videogame controller for any extended period, I started looking into playing tabletop-based games. As someone who enjoys writing, playing RPGs and reading fantasy novels, D&D seemed the perfect choice. I had already seen the excellent ‘Advanced Dungeons & Dragons’ episode of Community, so started researching everything I could online, as well as watching Critical Role for character ideas and tips on how to play. By the time I managed to start my first in-person game, I was already pretty sure I was going to love this game; but I really didn’t anticipate the mental health benefits.

When I joined a game at a local game store a few years ago, I only knew a couple of the other players in the group and was feeling fairly anxious, as it can often take me a long time to feel comfortable enough to speak up around new people. Almost immediately, I began to feel more sure of myself in the group; I was making suggestions and talking and laughing with people I’d never met. It was a feeling I’d not experienced since my amateur acting days, and the reason I’d always enjoyed playing other characters. For those few hours each week, I was no longer the socially awkward woman in the wheelchair, embarrassed that she has to be physically carried up and down the stairs of the shop each week; I was Thia Nightbreeze, a stocky little wood-elf war cleric, who enjoyed nothing more than smashing bad guys with her warhammer, being a little too fond of wine and ale and hitting on every barmaid she encountered!

The biggest impact, however, has been seen since the first Covid restrictions began, almost a year ago. Like many people, especially those with mental health conditions, I have been finding the lockdowns and social-distancing measures increasingly difficult to cope with, but I can say with confidence that, were it not for my various online D&D groups, I would be in a much darker place than I am now. In fact, scrolling through my 2020 diary, without D&D, most of my weeks would have been fairly empty! No matter how tough it is to motivate myself to do anything at all most days, I never need to force myself to prepare for a game, and I am always excited, rather than anxious, about the upcoming session.

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For one, or sometimes even two nights a week, I was in a video-chat with a group of friends, and for those hours we no longer had to be stuck alone at home, waiting nervously for the next awful news headline or lockdown announcement; instead we could be whoever and whatever we wanted to be, travelling fantasy lands, encountering memorable characters along the way, battling monsters, casting spells and, somewhat ironically, spending altogether too much time in taverns! We even had some holiday themed adventures: playing through a haunted house on Halloween, with most players in fancy dress; and spending time together over Christmas, battling Krampus whilst wearing Christmas jumpers and Santa hats.

In a year of isolation and fear, Dungeons & Dragons has not only kept me connected with the outside world, but has also allowed me to make some incredible new friends along the way, as well as giving all of us the much needed chance to escape our current reality, even if only for a few hours.

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

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Random Thoughts: Dear 15-Year-Old Me …

Janine Norris: A letter of hope and understanding from the future to her struggling teenage self.

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: Dear 15-Year-Old Me …

Family, Growing Pains, Janine Norris

By Janine Norris

“This will be a difficult time, but stay strong and you will begin to thrive within yourself more than you have ever done before.”

black and silver fountain pen

Dear 15-year-old me,

It will be around now that you start to really feel different. You’re not one of the ‘cool kids’ and you won’t be for a long time yet (if ever).

You are very laid back and take most things in your stride. At high school you have a really good bunch of friends that you hang out with, but you are already in a different category to them. This is for many reasons. One of the reasons is your musicianship. You attend church every week to sing with the choir and you attend a choir practice each week on a Wednesday too. You really enjoy your church social life; you have friends here that are totally different to your school friends. This experience is already broadening your views on life.

Whilst your school friends are keeping up with all the latest soap operas, you are learning new social skills and expanding your mind. Thankfully, you enjoy this aspect of your life, you are successful and people like you and admire your talent for music. You are humble and modest – keep it this way. Some people tease you about your church attendance, but they are never mean and it doesn’t actually bother you.

You are also starting to have feelings that are impossible to understand. You have had ‘boyfriends’ at primary school and at high school, but they are not happening so much now. Things within you have changed. You try to ‘fancy’ boys, but you actually find yourself paying more attention to anything apart from boys. You don’t understand this yet but you will, eventually.


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You know that when you watch TV you enjoy programmes with strong female characters. Juliet Bravo is one of your first ‘crushes’. Again, you don’t know that yet, but when you’re 51 years old and someone posts something on Twitter about ‘first TV crush’, you will immediately respond with Juliet Bravo – not the original, Stephanie Turner; the second, Anna Carteret.

You are in the middle of creating a rock band with 4 of your friends at the moment. You are the singer but you are extremely shy to sing in front of these friends. You all do lots of miming – you base yourselves on your favourite band, Duran Duran. As your band all begin to learn to play instruments and you start playing live, you are dreaming of this as your future. You want to be famous. You want to ‘own’ the huge stage that Duran Duran own when you see them perform on TV. Don’t be disappointed that this doesn’t happen – you and your friends all go your own separate ways in search of new lives. However, enjoy the fun while it lasts.

You will carry on as you are for the next few years. You won’t be as successful as some of your friends when it comes to O Levels but you will get what you need. When it comes to your A Levels everyone will be in for a shock. At this stage you will be less successful in your clarinet playing and you won’t pass your music A Level on your first attempt. Don’t worry about it, you’ll still do well.

“You will also begin to live your life more selfishly. You will have spent far too long putting family before anything.”

You will eventually go off to college. This is where I want you to really chase your desires and your dreams. You will attend a teacher training college, where you will be hoping to get a degree in primary school teaching. You will find the academic side really difficult. The essays, the lesson planning, the lesson evaluations, the teaching practices – they will all be difficult. At one point you will want to give up because you’re struggling so much. You stick with it for your parents’ sake. I want you to change that and stick with it because you will find a particular niche in teaching that you are not taught at university. This will be something you are a natural at; you will have a career teaching pupils with social, emotional, mental health issues.

This will be a challenge. You will step up to each challenge when it arises. You will be kicked, punched, spat at, sworn at, threatened with sharp objects, called names – however, you will react in your calm, relaxed manner and will be extremely successful at what you do. You will not strive to become part of the senior leadership team, because that will take you away from the students and create lots of paperwork – something you will still be struggling with.

It is during the time of COVID 19 (a huge pandemic, which will kill hundreds of thousands of people) that you begin to make your biggest changes. You don’t get involved in the politics of the way the country is being handled, you still only care about your students who, being totally ‘locked down’, initially with no digital access to the outside world due to their social-economic status, have no immediate access to you and your colleagues for support.

red and white mail box

Because of this, you will begin to re-evaluate what you want out of life. You know that you and your girlfriend (times will have changed by 2020) are together forever, and you are making plans to buy your first house together after 10 years of renting. You will appreciate ‘lockdown’ rules because it means you can live in joggers, pyjamas and jodhpurs (oh yes, you will have your own pony too).

You will also begin to live your life more selfishly. You will have spent far too long putting family before anything. You will have avoided upsetting your mum to your own detriment, because that’s how you were brought up. However, what you will begin to realise is, you can still have a relationship with members of your family, including your mum, but it will be on your terms.

You will stop contact following an argument about you and your girlfriend. This will have happened before because ultimately your mum wants you to move back home to Leeds (Oh yes, you will move to Suffolk) and be a part of the family properly.

Your mum will never fully accept your relationship with any girlfriend. She will always hope and pray that you eventually realise ‘it was just a phase’ and you will move back to Leeds and get married. In fact, she might not even want you to get married; she might just want you to live back with her. Things will get worse before they get better. Your sister will verbally abuse you, your brother will try to understand but he won’t ever fully understand. Your siblings will both be required to ‘step up’ and look after your mum for a change because you will be starting to sort your own life out.

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You will begin to read again – something you won’t have done for approximately 20 years. These books will be psychology books, which will help you understand why it is that you’ve put yourself last in every decision you’ve made throughout your life. You will be inspired to change for the better. Your relationship with your girlfriend will improve drastically, and you will begin to live a more fulfilled life. You will have a handful of close friends who will be the ‘family’ you want in your life.

You will eventually build relationships with your mum again (I can’t tell you when exactly), but, as I already said, they will be on your terms. You will require acceptance for who you are and who you are with. You will expect your siblings to allow you to move on without them talking about how selfish you’ve been. You will make them aware that, throughout all the years so far, they have been the selfish ones and you have carried them.

This will be a difficult time, but stay strong and you will begin to thrive within yourself more than you have ever done before.

Love from Janine (aged 51) xx

Ps, when you go to college, make the most of the fact that it is a primary teacher training college and there are only 30% male students. There won’t be enough boys to go round the girls, so help them out here, will you?

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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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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New Year, New Queer

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

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!”

New Year, New Queer

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

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

By Louise Clare Dalton

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Peace and rainbow love,

Lou x

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

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

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Small Steps: Teaching During Section 28 and Beyond

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

2020 Vision

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

The Journey to Living a Queer Life

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

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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The Journey to Living a Queer Life

Bi-sexuality, Louise Clare Dalton, Motivational

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

By Louise Clare Dalton

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

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

boy riding green kick scooter

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Peace and rainbow love,

Lou x

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

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

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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.”

Transitioning Triathlete: The World Rugby Ban

Kimberley Drain, Sports, Transgender

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

Well…

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

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

So many emotions…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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2020: Locking Down My mental Health

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

Sex, Drugs and Cowpunk! Lucy’s Story

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

Celebrating Female Desire … Art by Paola Rossi

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