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

Hayley Sherman, Lesbian, Sex

By Hayley Sherman

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

woman lying on white bed

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

blonde-haitred Barbie doll photo

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

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

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

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

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

2020: Locking Down My mental Health

Covid-19, Josie Quinn, Mental Health

A ‘Chronically Fabulous’ post 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. More than anything, that moment of temptation scared me and made me realise just how far I could backslide if I were to give up.

I remember saying, on New Year’s Eve last year, something along the lines of “2020 is going to be my year!” (Finished laughing yet?! Good). Having spent the last several years putting in a lot of work towards improving my mental health, I was determined to keep making progress. I was volunteering at an animal shelter whenever able, had joined a regular D&D (Dungeons & Dragons) game group in town, and was even cast as the Cheshire Cat in a local theatre company production. So all in all I was feeling pretty good about things for the first month or so of the year. Then March arrived.

the new york times newspaper

When lockdown first started, I’ll be the first to admit I did not cope well! My depression and anxiety seemed to be vying for my attention at all times, locked in a battle which left me constantly bouncing between two states: either I stayed in bed for days at a time, listless and crying, or I was in a state of absolute panic, terrified that the isolation was going to undo years of therapy and hard work.

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Not long into the pandemic, I caught myself, after a decade of not giving in to the urge to self-harm, looking at one of the knives in the kitchen and hearing that little voice once more, telling me how much better I would feel afterwards. 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. More than anything, that moment of temptation scared me and made me realise just how far I could backslide if I were to give up. I needed to find ways to feel connected (and, subsequently, sane), and it turns out that my fear of regressing was exactly the fuel I needed to motivate myself to do just that.

Despite having been a member of a number of online groups for some time, with the exception of ‘liking’ the occasional post, and having attended precisely one Book Group meet-up, I had never been particularly active in any of them. The first thing I needed to do was narrow these groups down a little, in essence creating a shortlist of those which (A) didn’t have an overwhelming number of members, (B) seemed more friendly/welcoming than argumentative, and (C) where I had something in common with everyone in the group, be they LGBTQ+, cosplay enthusiasts or tabletop gamers.

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Next was practically forcing myself to start commenting on other people’s posts; even if that meant setting myself reminder alarms to do so, or drafting and rewriting the comment multiple times until I felt comfortable enough to submit it. Admittedly, there were days where my anxiety would get the better of me, and I’d rewrite a comment ten or twenty times, then delete it completely, feeling like an utter failure. But on those days where I did manage to engage with other people, it began to feel like I was really on the right track.

“A small step forward is better than any in the wrong direction.”

Beginning to join actual online events and video chats was a little more daunting. In pre-covid times I’d managed to attend one meeting of a local LGBTQ+ Book Group, so when I saw that they were still meeting via Zoom it seemed the perfect place to start, and hopefully build from. Though incredibly anxious in the build-up to the first group video call, once it started I soon began to feel much calmer, and afterwards was so happy that I hadn’t talked myself out of attending.

macbook pro displaying group of people

Ever since that first online meeting, things have just snowballed in the best possible way. Not only am I still attending the (now bi-monthly, and slightly expanded) Book, Film & Music Group, but also regular online D&D and board game nights; recently I’ve even helped set up a new group and have hosted some of our online game nights.

Somehow I have made more friends in the last six months than in the previous six years, and my diary is fuller now than it was before lockdown and social distancing began.

So maybe 2020 isn’t going to be the year of glowing progress I hoped it would, and that’s okay. In all honesty, I’m a little proud that I managed to make any headway whatsoever considering all that has happened in the world this year; a small step forward is better than any in the wrong direction.

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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Pride, Love and the Power of Self-Acceptance

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

2020: Locking Down My mental Health

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

Celebrating Female Desire … Art by Paola Rossi

Art, Mental Health

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

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

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

What inspires you most as an artist?

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

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What medium satisfies you the most?

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

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

What would you most like to express through your work?

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

What are you currently working on?

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

 

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

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

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

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

How does your own sexuality influence your work?

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

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

All artwork © Paola Rossi

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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.

Random Thoughts: Unexpected Guests

Janine Norris, Lesbian, Mental Health

By Janine Norris

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

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

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

Marjorie

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

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

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

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

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

And that is where my story begins.

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


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

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

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

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

On the third Thursday of Lockdown we went into the garden to put the pigs to bed for the night. We picked up Marjorie and she wriggled and fell. Straight on the floor. On her back. She squeaked, struggled to get up and eventually disappeared into a box. We were shocked. She was obviously badly hurt and we didn’t know what to do.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mary

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

We will have Guinea Pigs for ever.

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

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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.”

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

Josie Quinn, Mental Health, Surviving Abuse

A ‘Chronically Fabulous’ Post

By Josie Quinn

Content Warning: Domestic abuse, sexual assault

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.

My experiences of domestic abuse and sexual violence are something I never thought I would write about; for a long time it was something I didn’t think I would even speak about. After all, I was away from my abusive ex-partner (whom I will refer to simply as he/him from this point on for anonymity), so shouldn’t everything feel okay again now? Then, after a few years of denial, and probably one too many cocktails, I spilled the whole sordid story to a close friend. I’d been afraid that no-one would understand, that I would be judged for staying in such a toxic environment for such a long time, but she empathised completely, even sharing her own experiences of domestic abuse with me. Our conversation lasted for hours, and wasn’t the awful, shameful confession I’d been dreading; instead it felt like a catharsis. Suddenly, I was not alone.

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.

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Many years after the end of the abusive relationship, I was still suffering from flashbacks and night terrors, as well as having panic attacks when I saw anyone who resembled my ex-partner. When I finally spoke to a mental health professional about everything, and they told me I was suffering from PTSD, I nearly laughed! “Surely PTSD is only for serious trauma, like people who have served in the military or been violently attacked?” But when they broke it all down for me, the last fog of denial finally lifted: just because the sexual assaults happened within a relationship did not make them any less traumatic, nor any less a violation of consent. This was not something I would be able to just push through without help.

Suffolk Wellbeing were able to provide me with a course of EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitisation & Reprocessing) and, being the science nerd that I am, I thoroughly researched the treatment first! As well as finding it fascinating, I also found it helped my understanding of PTSD. Basically sometimes, when trauma is experienced, the brain is unable to process this information properly into long-term memory. This means that when something triggers a memory of the traumatic incident, the brain responds as if it were happening now, rather than in the past. EMDR uses rapid eye movement to try to assist the brain in processing the trauma into long-term memory, emulating REM sleep where this would usually occur naturally.

Following on from that, I was enrolled in the Freedom Programme, a 12-week course for survivors of domestic abuse, which is run by Lighthouse Women’s Aid (a fantastic charity, and brilliant resource for people who are either currently in a domestic abuse situation or who have left but are still feeling affected). It taught me all the different, subtle ways in which an abusive partner exerts control, how they can make us feel like we are going insane, or that we have no choice but to stay with them. The programme also allowed me to speak openly with other survivors, and to realise that there is no weakness in not being able to cope alone, in needing help. 

At the time, I had somehow managed to convince myself it wasn’t really happening. After I finally left, I was disgusted with myself, ashamed that I had stayed so long, allowed these things to happen. Now I’m just angry; he manipulated me, gas-lighted me, controlled me. And the words I still can’t say aloud, even after a decade: he raped me and sexually assaulted me. I’ve been told by my current counsellor that my anger is a step in the right direction, as I’m now finally putting the blame where it belongs.


So I know I have a way left to go before I reach a stage of acceptance. Even saying or hearing the word ‘rape’ still makes me feel nauseous. But thanks to a lot of work, EMDR treatment, and the support of Lighthouse Women’s Aid, as well as my family and friends, I can finally say these words aloud: “I am not a victim; I am a survivor. And it was not my fault.” Perhaps most importantly, I now actually believe them.

Lighthouse Women’s Aid provides advice & support for women in Suffolk who are experiencing, or have experienced, domestic abuse: www.lighthousewa.org.uk or call (01473) 228270

24hr Freephone National Domestic Abuse helpline: 0808 2000 247

National LGBT+ Domestic Abuse Helpline 0800 999 5428

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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Surviving Abuse: Finding My Strength in Breaking My Silence

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

Random Thoughts: Unexpected Guests

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

Hayley the Happy Lezzer – Fingering After Dark

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

Trans in Lockdown: We Will Always Be There For You

Mental Health, Transgender, Wendy Cole

By Wendy Cole

don't give up. You are not alone, you matter signage on metal fence

“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.”

For this blog, I start at the end; showing that despite the events, this does have a happy ending.

…due to the support from my friends, I was able to walk confidently into town, my head held high, looking directly into the eyes of those would-be detractors. I was delighted to be greeted by an older lady on my way there, and a cis-gendered male on my way home. They both surprised me, wishing me – a trans lady – a happy day.

I am Miss Sassy again.

Yet trying to write this blog, a callously blank page stares back. As I take up my pen, all those thoughts, feelings, images swirl into turmoil like the very Hellespont. Though Byron swam across that whirlpool, I found myself drowning; overcome by these thoughts.

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It was cast to me, the lifeline; and against all odds, I grasped at it. (The lifeline was the notes I had been creating for this blog). These notes were the remarks of my friends. By their strength, it assuaged all panic attacks and freed me to write.

25th August 2020; 5:00 a.m.

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.

“What I do remember, apart from the constant need to cry, was that none of my body was mine. So difficult to explain.”

I did not even notice the slight but noticeable scratch across my temples, nor feel the slightly-pained contusion until much later.

I sat back onto the bed; in tears. I was distraught. Where is she? Where is Wendy? Why do I not feel her anymore? How do I get her back?

Well, that is it. I am male and male for the rest of my life.

Though I dressed, I felt so uncomfortable and odd. I have very few clothes that people would describe as male. I did not go in search of them; partially, in the state I was in, I had no idea where they were; partially, maybe, to bring Wendy back.

man hugging his knee statue

I could not shave; I could not apply make-up (an art that I greatly enjoyed and a moment of blissful mindfulness to centre myself each day).

I honestly have little to no recollection of that day (just that I was rarely sleeping) or the entire seven days to come; nor how I had hit my head.

It is scientifically formulated that we know just one third of the ocean (that is the great majority of this planet). By comparison, we know and think we understand only a tiny fraction of the brain, the human mind.
The most likely reason that I remember very little is the brain protecting me. Until I re-read the comments from my friends, I truly feared writing this blog and reliving that week of hell would expose me to endless panic attacks.

What I do remember, apart from the constant need to cry, was that none of my body was mine. So difficult to explain.

Imagine you had decided to spend a long time moving in only robotic actions. Once you stop after a long period you might notice that even a tiny movement feels to you alien, robotic still. So it was with me; except each movement deplored me by its maleness.

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I cannot explain why, but I reached out (not something I do when in the darkness of depression) to my friends via Social Media (again, something I do not greatly use).
“Two nights no sleep, and I do NOT feel Wendy any more.”
This was my first message.

M.: “What’s wrong? Are you okay?”
“No, I am okay. All I feel is male. It’s horrible.”
R.G.: “I’m sorry it’s hitting you so hard. Dysphoria is a horrible thing … you are just as valid a woman as any other, and I see you as such. We’re here for you x.”

That was as if R.G. had located and pressed my reset button. I had no idea I was suffering dysphoria. Yes, I have experienced it before; never like this; never an entire week!

When you are in the forest, you just cannot see it for the trees. R.G. does not realise how indebted I am to him for making me realise what I was suffering. It may have taken me an entire week for my brain to re-boot and go through its virus scan, checking all systems, but where would I be now if he had not intervened and pressed that switch?

All I know is that, at some time that week, I very nearly put all my clothes in the fire.

What is dysphoria? M. “…everybody has different stories, different feelings, but we are still ourselves. … my will power knows that I cannot do this, because I realise I am more feminine than I realise…”

“Thank-you all … as you said, gender dysphoria and allowing that to sink in, I … am feeling more secure. Cannot say I feel exactly female, but less male … grateful you are there to help. Feel kind of foolish.”

Foolish, or not, this is the raison d’être of this blog. In lockdown, as you know, I had recently gone through the first anniversary of my father’s death. To recall him is to recall me: a boy. Recently, I unconsciously had my gender bombarded by hate crimes. Lockdown had caused me to consciously face these on my own. Wendy fled for safety.

R.H. “…days where I wake up feeling like my assigned birth gender… Being uncomfortable in that thought is dysphoria … means I am trans which means I am valid … we don’t realise how big of a knock-on effect to our mental health … until it’s too late … we subconsciously know it will hurt us and do it anyway, which is a form of self-harm. You have not failed by accidentally triggering yourself … it can take a long time to unpick that stuff so we can look after ourselves … Well done on reaching out …”

Wendy Cole spent four years in banking, thirteen years as a teacher and seven as a deputy head, before working for the government, but the real her is a poet, photographer, historian and chef. Kylie, Daniel Craig and Wendy have the same thing in common … they were born in the same year!

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Welcome to Women Like Us

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

Growing Up Hated … Shona’s Story

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

Random Thoughts: This is Not a Diary … Cursed!

Growing Pains, Janine Norris, Lesbian, Mental Health

By Janine Norris

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

I was born cursed.

“Cursed with what?” I hear you ask.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Growing Up Hated … Shona’s Story

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

BLOG POST: The L-Word Fantasy

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