A life changing festival

GOGO_cropped

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.

GoGo

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

IMG_0710

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

IMG_3474

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

IMG_3495

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.

I haven’t got a stitch to wear

clothes

With the new me on the inside, came the new me on the outside. I wanted to blend in on the gay scene. I’d be out to gay bars with my gay male friends a lot. Gay bars were not new to me, but the gay bars just for girls (it turns out these rooms are often in a separate room downstairs near the loos). The most unglamorous hidden away spot.

It sounds a cliché, but I cut my hair. Nothing drastic, but it went from long to a choppy bob fairly quickly. Next I scrutinised my clothes. In my mind I needed to look edgier and cooler. That was my new gay look. With my short hair and new Super Dry leather jacket (a la Frankie in Lip Service) I was ready.

I went to First Out Café in London (sadly no longer there) ordered a coffee and flicked through Gscene magazine. I wondered if the person behind the counter thought I was gay. Did the other customers think I was gay or straight? Was I fitting in? It consumed me. It was all I could think about the first few times I went.

How do you look gay? Well unless you walk down the stereo-type path then there is no sure way. I was still me, just with shorter hair and a leather jacket, but it didn’t scream dyke when I walked in a room. It turns out I don’t really look gay but it took me a long time to accept that was ok. You see weirdly, sometimes when you tell someone you are gay, they will tell you that you don’t look gay. To me it always feels like a bit of a slap in the face. In my mind it became a bit like me telling you my favourite colour was blue and you telling me it wasn’t and that I didn’t look like a blue favourite colour person! I love blue ok. Get over it.

There are two rules of thumb here. One you have someone like Ellen Degeneres. She looks quite stereotypically gay. She has short hair and dresses in quite a comfy male style often associated with a ‘classic’ lesbian style. Then you have Portia De Rossi, Ellen’s wife, who is quite girly and mainly dresses more conventionally. Then you have P!nk who is awesome, dresses how she wants even if everyone thinks she looks super gay (despite being married to a man.)

Alot of people’s point of reference to how gay people dress is down to coverage from Pride events and the media. News flash, all gay men don’t dress in leather thongs and lesbians in XL checked shirts!

Of course what I realised is what I wore as this new authentic me didn’t change who I was and didn’t matter. Some people look ‘text book’ gay and some don’t. We know what we are inside. If I’m honest sometimes I like it when I out myself to someone and they never saw it coming. That’s taken a while and a lot of outings to get to that point.

 

When you know, you know. You know? (Part 2)

IMG_6045

So where were we? I was a bi-sexual woman, yet I had no experience with the ladies. What is a girl to do?

Stage 5 – I put a profile up on a popular dating lesbian site and waited.

  1. They aren’t keen/are suspicious of bi-sexuals and challenged me on it a lot.
  2. The best time to go on the site was Monday nights. It seems single lesbians for the most part stay home on a Monday night.
  3. Some of them call you a tourist when you tell them you are ‘new’, which isn’t very friendly when you are joining a new club.

You see that was what I wasn’t banking on. Once I’d be around the lesbians I’d be one of them right? Well yes and no. It turns out once you have made the decision to join a new club, you have to then decide if you want to tell them you are new. You are basically saying yes I am a lesbian virgin. It ain’t cool and it ain’t sexy and you get questioned a lot about why you didn’t realise sooner.

Stage 6 – I’d be lying if I didn’t say the comments on the website about my ticking the ‘bi-sexual’ box on my profile didn’t start to have an effect.  They didn’t like it. They wanted my sapphic loyally and it made me wonder was I bi-sexual or gay?

My issue was, if you haven’t even kissed a girl, how do you know you prefer it to boys and you’ll never return to them EVER! (more or less.) But the universe has a funny way of helping you when you least expect it.

It happened and it happened big. I worked on a new event (I’m a freelancer). I met some new people I hadn’t worked with before. I met a girl and I fancied her straight away. Really fancied her. I knew where she was in the room at any given time. I stumbled over my words talking to her sometimes and made a few dorky comments in trying to impress her and appear cool. At the wrap party on the last day I ended up being one of the last people there in the bar with her. A young guy clearly interested in her sat on one side and me on the other. I didn’t know how to talk to her about my feelings and I felt 14 again. She wasn’t interested in either of us though. Turns out she had a long-term girlfriend at home.

When I found out she was gay, this was huge for me. Of all the people on this job (a large team) I had fancied the one (that I knew of) gay chick. Had I developed a new gay sense. Was my gaydar programmed, on and functioning?

Bigger still was the fact that I had experienced feelings for a woman. A real woman, not one on TV. For me it settled things once and for all. I wasn’t bi, I was chuffing gay.

The next day, I logged onto my dating profile and un-ticked ‘bi-sexual’ on my dating profile and ticked ‘gay’.

When you know, you know. You know? (Part 1)

passing place

When I came out to friends and family one of the first things they asked me was how did I realise I was gay? When did it happen? Well the honest answer is I’m not sure. There was no one defining moment when the lightning bolt struck and that was it. For me it was a slow burn, a series of things in stages and by the last stage I knew for sure. Let me try and explain it best I can to you.

Stage 1 – Less of a stage and more of an observation, but let’s start here. It was no secret to myself that I loved watching strong independent female characters on TV. From my younger years with Nancy Drew to moving onto all the stereotypes such as Harriet Makepeace, Christine Cagney and Dana Scully. I noticed however over the years it was more than that. I really like the female parts so much; if I was re-watching something I’d often skip a lot of the male character scenes to focus on the women. I didn’t feel at the time I fancied them, but I gravitated towards them. I wanted to hang out with them. I wanted to be like them.

Stage 2 – Getting into the specifics now, I asked myself the question in my head one day while I was walking up to the train station in Crystal Palace. ‘Are you a lesbian?’ I shuddered at the word lesbian. Sorry, but I just don’t like it. The word itself isn’t pretty. It’s not an enjoyable word to say like kerfuffle, skedaddle or collywobbles. As stupid as it sounds, if I was going to consider joining a new club the name was important. I also knew that lesbians were the butt of a lot of jokes (something I would come to challenge in the future). For now though, if this was to happen at all I’d be joining the gay club.

Stage 3 – So far this was just amongst me myself and I. I was noticing over time I started to think maybe I was bi-sexual. I felt I was getting more and more into women. It sometimes felt a bit like crushes. But so far these were always people on TV and in films. Never in real life. I needed to get a second option. I needed to tell someone. I told a close friend on a boozy night out. She listened, told me a story of when she once kissed a girl and said maybe I was mistaking fancying women to admiring them. I disagreed. I was arguing about my potential new self. Suddenly this felt like a big deal. Saying it out loud suddenly made it feel more real. It was existing in language, so was it existing in me? Was this really happening?

Stage 4 – As time went on it felt like it was real and it was starting make sense and settle within me. I felt happy about it and excited to explore all the gay culture I had missed and more than anything I wanted to go on a date with a girl! In expressing how I felt outloud I had suddenly turned a corner. I felt 100% sure I was bi-sexual, but if I scratched the surface would that be my transitional phase to gay? Was it easier to bolt-on liking girls too as opposed to just liking them exclusively. Maybe I wasn’t ready to be exclusive with gay.