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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Giving Shame the Finger!

Growing Pains, Louise Clare Dalton, Queer

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

By 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.

person with blue and red manicure

Shame is something that routinely appears in my writing, whether it be poetry, playwriting or as a part of this blog. For me, it’s really important to unpick both the conscious and unconscious shame I feel surrounding my sexuality in order to move on from it. The hope? If we can learn to feel shame, it’s possible to unlearn it too.

Since I came out to my mum around a year ago, she’s taken proactive steps towards becoming the best ally she can be. To give her an insight into my world (and because she’s great at correcting my spelling mistakes. Ta, Mum!) I send her a link to my blog every month. After last month’s piece in particular, it was interesting to hear her shock over the repeated mention of shame.

See, most of the time straight folks don’t have to deal with any shame surrounding their sexuality, so it’s never really been something for her to consider in regards to her own life. It’s likely that she’s never felt othered because of who she’s attracted to.

When people tell me that it took them longer than they would have liked to be comfortably open with their sexuality, it doesn’t surprise me at all. It’s no shock to hear that for many people, this shit still ain’t easy. But for some people I’ve spoken to (particularly straight, cis folk) this can come asa surprise. There’s a lot of confusion and misunderstanding about what could cause someone to feel ashamed of their queerness.

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So let’s dive into this a little more…

Like many others, before I knew what the word ‘gay’ actually meant I had heard it on the playground. From my earliest memories of primary school, until I left academia at the age of sixteen, I remember hearing the word gay thrown around as an insult. And although it pains me to say, I used it myself as a kid, before I really understood the gravity of what using the word in this way meant. But the worst part? None of us were pulled up on it by the adults around us that should have known better. Nobody sat us down and explained, so by the time we knew what the word gay actually meant, the damage was already done. The seeds of shame and self-hate were already planted.

And in case you think times have changed since I was at school, as recently as a couple of years ago, I had to have a difficult conversation with a thirty-year-old, straight, cis friend about why they shouldn’t use the word gay in this way. So, yeah … unfortunately we’re not out of the woods with that one.

This is just one example of how so many children will have their first introduction to gay and queer culture. They will falsely learn that ‘gay’ means lame, rubbish or bad before they learn the truth of it, and although it may seem small to some, things like this are massive. They slowly chip away at our sense of pride before we’re old enough to tie our shoelaces.

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Now, times are definitely changing and we’ve come a long way, but, honeys, we just ain’t there yet. Sadly, I still hear people speaking this way now. I still hear the slurs I heard as a kid, and a lot of ignorance among adults when it comes to queer people, queer sex, culture and expression.

I think it’s important for allies of the queer community (hello and welcome, you wonderful hons) to understand the shame that is thrust upon us queer folk, often from a very young age. To understand that although you may not feel you’re being overtly homophobic, the things you say can still have an effect. It’s important to understand that this shame surrounding sexuality hasn’t come out of thin air, or even just from the monumental things – the historical mistreatment of queer people, the injustice or the overt homophobia. It comes from the seemingly smaller things we see, hear and experience too.

For queer allies, it’s important to understand that these ‘small’ things can have a huge impact on how safe we feel to be ourselves, and how we understand ourselves within the wider context of the world. This is particularly important for those influencing the next generation, so let’s make this change now, and ensure that teachers, parents and guardians have the right tools, enabling them to deal with these situations effectively, with kindness, compassion and knowledge.

And, in the interest of healing, it’s important (for me at least) to name the demon. To understand some of the shit that induced shame within me, and to understand that it’s the fault of a homophobic world, and not of me or any other queer person.

And then, most importantly… TO LET IT ALL THE FUCK GO! Love yourself, hon. That shame ain’t for you, because you are bloody wonderful.

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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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!”

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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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 …”

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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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 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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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.

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

Art, Mental Health, Motivational

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

Odara Rumbol is a 28-year-old multidisciplinary artist, currently focusing on illustration. London born but also half Brazilian, she has been in the arts all her life and was always that kid in maths and English that was doodling, drawing intricate patterns or just some random characters. After studying art, photography and graphic design in college, she decided to study graphic design as her degree. Big mistake! Although she completed the degree and started working as a freelance designer, she wasn’t creatively fulfilled. She always needed to have other artistic hobbies to get her through. She just felt so constricted.
 

Love is Love: A self-initiated illustration, created to celebrate Pride month and the power of love.

It was only last year after going travelling for a few months that she decided to give her dreams a shot. So she started drawing and posting on Instagram and reaching out to other creative people. She credits motivational podcasts with giving her the courage to make the leap, things like The Creative Pep Talk, Women of Illustration and Meg lewis. They inspired her to believe that even though it might be hard, she could do it too! She is still on her journey but she is excited and happy to be working on projects with people and brands that she admires and building her audience on Instagram.  

Let’s break the stigma: A creation for Vush to empower women to take control of their sexuality and break the stigma surrounding female sexuality. 

What/who inspires you most artistically?

Other artists (especially when you can’t put them in a box), universal human experiences, meditating, coffee table books, galleries and thoughts and things I see on the tube. 

Inspired by @mostlysharks_ twitter quote. When I saw this quote I felt like I needed to create something surrounding it as it resonated so much with me. I’m constantly thinking about our existence and how trivial some of our worries can be. 

What/who inspires your inspirational/empowering outlook? 

All the books and podcasts I listen to. About 8 years ago I started getting into the world of self-development, psychology, philosophy and spirituality. I’d say most of the ideas I have come somewhat through something I heard, or what it made me think of, or a conversation I had with a friend discussing it. I’m a real nerd for these kinds of things. 

This one came from reading and listening to a lot of podcasts about the self and how our mind can dramatically change the way our lives play out. The stories we tell ourselves ultimately become our lives and emotions. 

Do you find the process of creating art with an inspirational message healing/cathartic yourself?

Yes, a million percent. Especially recently, most of my creations have been from things I’m dealing with myself. It feels very liberating and freeing when I create. Also, I love having a look at my feed and things I’ve created, remembering certain points and what I was feeling at the time. Sometimes I look through to re-inspire myself on certain topics like self love. 

Inspired by the growtober prompts by @lauraklinke_art. Day 15 was ‘society’, and just that week I had been dealing with some personal issues surrounding being confused as to where I stood within it. That’s when I realised I was trying to fit in a box society had created for me.

What is your starting point for your creations?

My notes on my phone. Any time I hear something I like or have a random idea, I write it down to make later. Sometimes, if I have my iPad near me, I’ll sketch it out. But most of my ideas come when I’m going on a walk, taking the tube, in the shower, etc. The shower one is pretty hard, but I usually just run out and try and write it on a piece of paper. My desk is always full of random notes and ideas. 

Created after my legs were going numb as I was doing exactly this and thinking how weird it would be if I matched with ‘the love of my life’; would I tell them what I was doing at the time?  

Do you have a favourite piece and why?

I really like “Not being everyone’s cup of tea means you can be your own flavour.” I created that one after journaling about how I need to accept that not everyone is going to like me. Then that phrase just popped into my head and I started creating. It felt really incredible after I had finished and so many people messaged me saying how much they loved it and had the same kind of feelings. The pieces I most like are the ones that connect with my audience the most. My goal is always to connect and make people feel a little less alone and little braver. 

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Women Are More Likely to be Bi, Right?

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

Trans in Lockdown: We Will Always Be There For You

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




Pride, Love and the Power of Self-Acceptance

Bi-sexuality, Coming Out, Louise Clare Dalton

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

By Louise Clare Dalton

red and white wooden door

Forgive me, for this has been something of a love letter to myself, and to all you queer folk out there, no matter where you are on your journey. Here’s to the queer folk who never needed to ‘come out’, the queer folk who came out to immediate acceptance, the queer folk who came out with struggle, and the queer folk who are not safe to do so. We stand with you all.

Folks, today it’s something a little different. In honor of National Coming Out Day, and to celebrate pride and love, I’m taking a break from looking outside, in order to understand the inside a little better, while taking a moment to celebrate along the way.

So, the question today – why did it take me so long to be comfortably open with my sexuality, or to ‘come out’? Why did I struggle with this internal battle for years, as so many of us do? Why did I feel such confusion when trying to understand my bi identity, and where did my journey towards wholehearted self-love and unconditional self-acceptance lead me?

Let’s get into it.

Often, people can’t understand exactly what it was that made coming out so difficult for me, and honestly, for a long time I didn’t get it either. Even after I started telling people I was bi, I still had a shit ton of ‘stuff’to work through, because sadly, there were reasons I found it so hard to come out. The homophobia so deeply rooted within our society had brainwashed me in to thinking I had something to be ashamed of.

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For context, I’m about to turn twenty-five now (quarter of a century, baby!), but up until about a year ago, I told the world I was straight. I even convinced myself to some degree, that if I buried my queerness deeply enough beneath layers of outside validation, it would eventually go away.

But really, I was always aware of my queerness. Like many bi/pan people, for as long as I’ve had crushes on people of the opposite gender, I’ve had crushes on all other genders too. Looking back, my bisexual identity has always been clear, so why did I deny myself the opportunity to live my truth for so long?

Well, for a long time, I did find it confusing as hell.

Now, now, let’s not get it twisted, hons. I’m not suggesting I was confused in the way that biphobic rhetoric will have you believe – i.e., bi folk are all just eternally confused about which gender they’re attracted to.

For me, the confusion came from a learned idea that my sexuality had to fit into a binary. When I was a teenager, I thought I was gay for a long time, simply because I fancied women. I didn’t have a reference point to cling to, a version of myself to look up to, or any way to help me understand my place in the world as a bisexual woman attracted to all genders.

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It wasn’t until much later, when I started to see myself well represented, and make connections with other folk like me, that I began to love and understand myself a little more.

But it certainly took time.

Even after I came out last year, I was still so full of shame. Contrary to what people may believe, and what I subconsciously expected, coming out didn’t magically remove all the negative feeling I had surrounding my sexuality. It didn’t take away the shame over night, but it was a powerful step for me.

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.

Of course, I know how fortunate I am to live in a country like the UK, and how my privilege in so many other areas as a white, non-disabled, cis-gender person has made the coming-out process (and my life in general) so much easier.

But if, even for me in my position of privilege, coming out felt so difficult that for nearly twenty-four years I couldn’t do it, how incredibly hard must it be for other people.

For this reason and countless others, we must keep fighting. For all of our LGBTQ+ community, especially our trans family, particularly those of color, who are still some of the most persecuted people in the world, we must continue to push.

blue green and red thread on persons palm

Today though, I raise a god damn glass to us all in celebration!

Forgive me, for this has been something of a love letter to myself, and to all you queer folk out there, no matter where you are on your journey. Here’s to the queer folk who never needed to ‘come out’, the queer folk who came out to immediate acceptance, the queer folk who came out with struggle, and the queer folk who are not safe to do so. We stand with you all.

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. I’m proud of the struggle and the joy, the dark moments and the heady highs, the shame and the self-love. I celebrate it all and I celebrate loudly because if it helps me to write it, then reading it could help someone else.

So wherever you are on your own path, there’s a whole community of people waiting with open arms, ready to breathe through it with you and toast to your love, with a rainbow flag and a pint. Whenever you’re ready, we’ll be here.

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

Read all of Lou’s At What Point Do I Qualify? posts

Find more Blogs by Incredible LGBTQ+ Women Like Us

Like, Comment and Share the Love!

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Confessions of a Lesbian Cliché … The U-Haul!

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

Surviving Abuse: Finding My Strength in Breaking My Silence

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

Random Thoughts: Unexpected Guests

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

Confessions of a Lesbian Cliché: The L-Word Fantasy

Growing Pains, Kirsten Leah, Lesbian, The L Word

By Kirsten Leah

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

… so I wallowed.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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