Blog Posts

We are so far away from being ok.

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It’s London Pride tomorrow. Started as a rally in 1972 (an anniversary to the Stonewall riots in 1969) it’s come to be recognised by many as a celebration, but organisers have gone with the theme ‘Pride Matters’ this year. They want to highlight that whilst we have come along way there is still a very long way to go.

I think some people believe the gays are ok now. We fought for the right to marry, we got it (though Northern Ireland as still waiting), so everything is fine now yeah? Er, no. Unfortunately, not. Even here in Brighton the gay capital of the UK I don’t always feel safe or will be free of abuse if I hold my wife’s hand while we walk down the street.

Pride in London recently released a report into the lives of LGBT+ people in the UK. It’s based on the views and experiences of LGBT+ compared to the national population.

The report shows 1 in 3 LGBT+ people have been verbally abused because of their identity, sexuality or gender and over three quarters of LGBT+ people don’t feel comfortable showing affection to a partner in public.

Other findings are more worrying still. In answering a ‘concerns for the future’ question; the tolerance for individuals of different sexualities/gender identities and gender equality are the least important issues for heterosexual people scored just 3% compared to 44% in the LGBT+ community. Animal rights scored higher with 6% for heterosexuals. Animal welfare more important than our welfare. LGBT+ people may have achieved equality, but the reality is we are by no means equal.

This shows the huge amount of work still to be done to highlight to the straight community the daily struggles faced by the LGBT+ communities. Raising awareness and understanding is so important.

At tomorrow’s London Pride the press will show the rainbow flags on faces, the smiles, the celebration, the fabulous Drag Queens, the parade and same-sex couples smiling holding hands. We will of course party and have fun but we know the reality and what underpins Pride events the world over and why they are so important, now more than ever.

Tales from the unexpected

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The funny thing about coming out, is it never ends. People think you come out once and then everybody knows and it’s all fine. But of course there is coming out to everyone you know and then the continual coming out to everyone else you end up interacting with, forever, until you die.

In a way it’s much easier to come out to strangers. For the people you know, if like me you tell them when you are mid-thirties there is confusion as they know the past you. For example they always, everything since they knew you, knew your favourite colour was blue. Now you are saying, ‘you know what green is my favourite’ and they are all like, ‘why now, why green?’

With people that don’t know you, you can say ‘hi, nice to meet you, my favourite colour is green’ and they go, ‘cool.’

Well of course it’s not quite like that. You aren’t giving an anticipated response. It’s what I call, the tales from the unexpected. Outing yourself is not the expected response. I even have developed a habit associated with it. When I come out to someone to tell them and then keep talking so they have time to process it before they have to respond.

Most people are fine. One person even said ‘well done’. Some people’s voices go up quite high and some don’t seem to react at all.

It’s fine with new people I meet at work or socially. I am happy to tell them. It’s trickier sometimes with strangers you end up talking to, like shop assistants, waiters and taxi drivers. They make an assumption, will your ‘husband be joining you?’ and there, right there, you have a choice. You can correct them, or you can keep the conversation on it’s original trajectory and lie. It’s tricky. It’s an internal fight between wanting to stay honest, but not having to out yourself to a perfect stranger.

You won’t get into a taxi and say hello, can you take me to the rail station, or and by the way I’m straight.

I remember reading in an article or on the radio, Heather Peace telling a story of being picked up in a taxi and him making reference to her partner as a man. She choose to not correct him as she didn’t want to have to share that part of herself. She said looking back she regretted it.

And you’d think it would be easier when you are in a couple. You literally are a visual representation, however we have to remember most people are thinking you are straight. People also think they are being clever when I am out with a male gay married friend and they see our wedding ring and assume we are married. It’s made for many confusing and amusing conversations with shop and restaurant staff. ‘Your husband’s trousers are undone’ ‘Ok, well he’s not my husband but I’ll let him know’. I am sure I have left many place with staff wondering if I am having an affair with someone else’s husband!

Also, any gay couple will have no doubt experienced the front desk staff awkwardness when you try and checking into a hotel. The comments are often along the lines of ‘ah, I see we have a double room booked….with just one double bed (nothing like stating the obvious) will that be ok?’ and for some reason it’s harder with two gay couples (one male and one female) as they assume you are two straight couples. When the hotel staff see the girls go into one room and the men into the other it can be a real eye-opener.

My favourite was checking into a hotel in Florence on my honeymoon. They clearly decided my wife was a friend and my husband would be along at any minute. I mentioned I was on my honeymoon at every chance and it paid off when we got a room up-grade and a free bottle of champagne with a card congratulating Mr Davies on his recent marriage! Mr Davies never did show up but it didn’t stop me and the wife drinking the champagne.

 

A life changing festival

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I wanted to meet more gay women and whilst the dating was going ok, I thought some work in the right environment would be a good distraction. Little did I know at the time how life changing it would be.

I applied to be one of the Stage Managers on the GOGO Festival (June 2011). The festival was for gay women. I  became friends with two of the other Stage Managers and we became a tight little team over the festival weekend. Supporting each other running the two stages and enjoying some beers at the end of each night was the perfect setting. I looked after the Cabaret tent and managed all the DJs, acoustic musicians and comedians over the festival.

I revelled being in an parallel universe where you were assumed gay unless told otherwise. It was amazing. I felt so free.  Even on a few occasions assumptions were made that I was gay. I loved it! I couldn’t stop smiling.

I was in my element and could totally be myself the whole time. The atmosphere was superb. Fans queued for hours for Heather Peace to sign their CDs, BETTY rocked out. The sun shone, we drank beer; we had fun.

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On the second day during the afternoon comedy I would meet one of the comedians who some years later would become my wife. It was a life changing festival to say the least.

All I can say is thank goodness they changed the festival title from ‘Lez Go Camping’. Imagine having to say that everything single someone asks you where you met your wife!

 

 

 

 

The dating game

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I realised I didn’t know one gay woman. I had loads of gay male friends, but no gay females. I needed to get some lesbian friends and go on some dates.

I spent more time on one of the lesbian dating sites, changed my profile from bi to gay (definitely helped) and made sure I was on-line on Monday nights as it turned out that is the time to be online. Maybe all single lesbians stay in on Monday night (ironing their checked shirts…. I can say that, these are my people.) I set myself a goal of a date a week and I more or less stuck to it.

The unexpected thing after coming out to everyone, I unwittingly went into my new gay club with a secret. It seemed I had just ditched one secret and now I was back harassing another in my new gay world. I was a gay virgin. I was a brand new lesbian. I hadn’t so much as kissed a girl and I didn’t want anyone to know. Coming out late (36) is tricky and sometimes hard. You sometimes feel people are saying, you idiot. How on earth did you not realise you are gay? Why did it take so long. And of course it’s not a straight forward thing to answer.

So I’m this gay virgin, but I’m this brave new woman and go on lots of dates and get some friends along the way.

A bit of me felt like I had to go back to noisy late night bars and clubs to meet women. I was a bit down about this. I hadn’t really liked clubbing the first time around, did I really need to go and do all that again to be out on the scene. I’d been to loads of gay male bars and clubs, but never any women only ones. The first female only bar was called….wait for it….G Spot! It would have been funnier to say we didn’t find it first time, but we did as it was on the corner downstairs from popular male gay bar Exodus. Unlike male gay bars, where women are also allowed, this was strict. Male friends coming with their lesbian friends were turned away on the stairs.

It was clicky and not too friendly. I found I felt much more at home queuing for the loos up-stairs in the gay male bar above.

I quickly gravitated back to the mixed gay bars I loved and also spent lots of time in Balans, First Out Café and the odd late night in Heaven.

Later on I’d come to find the Mint Nights at Soho House and have fond memories of dancing on their roof terrace surrounded by gorgeous lesbians (a far cry from crap wine out of a plastic cup in the dingy gay girls room near the loos in G.A.Y.)

The dates were not going great. I didn’t really click with anyone and one of the first ones accused me of being a ‘tourist’. I hadn’t heard the expression before, but quickly realised what it meant. We chatted well over dinner, but when I came back from the loos she’d already got the bill and ending our evening. I avoided telling people I was a new lesbian after that for a while.

There was the fitness mad one disapproving of my beer drinking, the one who announced five minutes in ‘well we clearly don’t fancy each other’ (even though I did!) and the one I never actually got a date with, as she kept switching the date, due to open dating (playing the field). Things were not going well, but on the plus side I had managed to pick up some lady-homo mates.

Down but not defeated, I keep logging into the dating site on Monday nights. While my brave self prevailed I knew the right girl was out there for me somewhere.

 

 

Brave new world

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What I hadn’t banked on would be how when you are open and honest and being your true authentic self, how freeing that feels. I felt empowered. I felt brave.

The 4th January 2011 was a big day for me indeed. First of all I would go on my very first date with a woman and secondly I’d have a meeting about a comedy project.

Over a snowy December I had shared correspondence (yes, emails but correspondence sounds more romantic) with a woman, similar age, similar job and she loved long emails. So I had a great time writing to her and looked forward to receiving her responses. If I’m honest I wasn’t attracted to her in the photos online, but I was enjoying my new pen pal.

Second of all, through my new found brave new self I contacted a gay comedian through Twitter and asked if I could email her regarding an idea for a comedy show for her to star in. Amazingly she passed on her email and we set a date to meet for a coffee.

First came the date which was lovely and easy, because it wasn’t really a date in the end, just a lovely lunch. It was clear we didn’t fancy each other, but we got to have a good old natter. Turns out the day before she’d met who would become her girlfriend, so it was never meant to be, her and I, but after my rocky start with the clicky unfriendly lesbians calling me a tourist, this gave me hope that there were some good ones out there.

Next came coffee with the comedian.  It was good, but disappointing as it turned out my idea wasn’t an unique as I thought it was and the comedian was already in the midst of working on a similar idea. I was miffed, but chuffed with myself I had been brave enough to set up the meeting. It had been a good day.

It did make me realise however that my straight conditioning still existed in the background, when after rummaging around in her bag at the cafe, the comedian pulled out a pair of socks and loudly exclaimed ‘I am such a lesbian’, to which I looked round to see if anyone had heard, momentarily remembering we were sitting in a gay café and batted an eyelid.

 

 

The inner five and the big reveal

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As I started living and breathing my new gay self I had to start telling my friends. I wanted to. One friend had been there from the beginning, but the rest of them were none the wiser.

I decided to tell my closest friends initially. I called them the inner five. Because, well there were five of them.

In many respects it was easy as they were almost all gay men. I was joining their club and they, as you would expect, welcomed me with open arms. The only advice one gave me was ‘don’t get fat – there are too many fat lesbians!!’

Looking back what I found funny was how I naturally formed a list of who to tell first. A lot of my closest friends are gay men, so they were at the top, then my closest female friends. Family would have to come later. I wasn’t quite ready for that.

Many of the ‘outings’ if I can call them that, would follow a pattern. I’d tell them over the first drink and then we’d get stuck into more drinks as I’d answer a lot of questions. When did you know? How has it taken so long? Etc etc (all covered in a previous blog post). I began to realise that no-one was shocked. No-one said they guessed as much, but equally, no-one was very surprised. That was nice of course and lovely to be so well received, but a little bit of me wanted more of a reaction!

The only eye opening moment was one friend who said, years ago when I said I had a date, his partner had been surprised to find out that my date was with a man and not a woman. He had just assumed when he first met me I was gay.

What I didn’t bank on, is when you are open and honest about your sexuality, you set the arena for an impromptu sharing session. During one such session and one bottle of wine in, I couldn’t hide my surprise when one female friend told me she’d had a girlfriend while at Uni and several gay flings since, all prior to marrying her husband.

As time went on, I told more and more friends. The problem was, until everyone was told, I would find myself regularly texting friends in advance of a group catch up with the words ‘she doesn’t know about me/please don’t say anything’. I’d find myself telling a story that would show my true colours and have to steer it in a different direction. It was tricky as I couldn’t be my 100% me with everyone and began to hate the lies I’d have to tell to keep my secret identity.

In fact a few times I completely lost track of who I had and hadn’t told. I unintentionally  shocked some friends, when I thought they knew and I hadn’t told them!

I regretted leaving some people further down the list because I wasn’t sure of their reaction. Mainly, if I am honest, friends with a close connection to the church. How awfully stereotypical is that. A few friends did question why they found out later than others. They were hurt that I had hidden my real self from them for longer. It was a tough lesson to learn. I had been so focused on me and my story to tell, I hadn’t bargained on why my delayed reveal would seem offensive as if I was second guessing how they would feel about it.

All in all, it got so much easier the more people I told. Everyone was so lovely about it and very supportive.

For the friends I didn’t see often, or distant relatives, if they hadn’t guessed by my social media posts, it was confirmed when I got married. Now everyone knew. Or mostly everyone.

Lip Service, Heather Peace and me

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I realised I was on the hunt for gay characters on TV to identify with and I got lucky. Exactly the time I was joining the lesbian scene, a little show on BBC 3 started airing. You won’t believe me, but on the 12th October 2010 as I flicked through the channels I stumbled across Lip Service. I was hooked. Here was a brand new show all about a group of lesbians living in Glasgow. For me it was perfect.

I quickly became obsessed with the show and couldn’t wait for each new episode each week. I found everything I could about it on the web. Checking out interviews and following some of the actors on Twitter.

Thrust into the limelight during the show was Heather Peace. Picked out as the only gay woman on the show in real life, Heather suddenly became the poster girl for everything and anything lesbian. Adorning the cover of Diva magazine on multiple occasions and also as a musician performing gigs around the country.

Heather quickly became my gay role-model. And for a few months I found and watched every article, read every Tweet and interview she’d done. As I found my feet in my new gay life, for me Heather was the perfect example of a lesbian. She was around my age(ish), she was talented, funny and cool. She was out living her life as a lesbian. I wanted to be like her. If Heather was ok walking and talking out in the world as a lesbian, then I’d be ok.

Heather went on to star in ‘Waterloo Road’ giving us another lesbian character, but very different from her Lip Service character. It was great to see a gay character on prime time TV.

Funnily enough years later and both living in Brighton I have met Heather a handful of times as my wife knows her a bit. It was quite a big deal for me to meet her (my role-model from my gay early years).

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I worked on a festival she performed at in 2011 and our paths crossed back stage, I’d seen her in the taxi queue when I moved to Brighton but we won’t be formerly introduced until June 2014 at the unveiling of the Rainbow crossing. A bunch of artistes including my friend painted it (and I helped a bit painting some of the pink). You don’t always get to meet your role-models in the flesh. Of course I didn’t tell her she’d been my role-model. Second time I met her and seemed to have relaxed into it. I even managed to drink her last can of lager backstage (sorry Heather).