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.

 

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).

 

Society says put your hands on your head

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Society, according to Wikipedia is ‘a group of people involved in persistent social interaction….. typically subject to the same political authority and dominant cultural expectations.’

Society spends alot of time with their friend culture and together through interactions, they gather data on us and decide what the masses are doing. The masses are living the way they are due to a number of factors. Family history, beliefs (religion), education, politics, their peers, the friends down the pub. Book group. Zumba.  Everyone.

Society dictates the norm, builds stereotypes and shapes our behaviour. We are fed straight into this belief system from birth. Normal is established and sits in the background as an unconscious bias. Normal means what the masses are doing. The masses wear clothes in public places, queue up at the post office, pay their taxes, go on one decent holiday a year, recycle, vote and try not to be addicted to their mobile phones. The masses are right-handed, straight, get married, have children, have grand-children, lead a normal life. Right?

If you aren’t these things you are not normal. I am left-handed. This was my first little glimpse into being a minority. At school I’d be the last to sit down at the beginning of our music class at school as I had to find one of the only two left handed detachable book rests, in a sea of right-handed ones.

Next there is choosing not to have children and how society dictates we aren’t complete without them. People tilt their head when they discover we don’t have them, assume we wanted them, feel sorry for us, while they try and survive on 2 hours sleep a night and food/vomit/unmentionables stuck in their hair/car/everywhere.  And please don’t get me started on the phase ’empty-nester’. Really?

Ever since I realised I was gay, joining 2.5% of the population in the UK (10% of the population of Brighton), I have kept thinking about when I was younger, growing up. If society had told me I could end up with a boyfriend OR a girlfriend, a husband OR a wife,  would I have found my true self sooner? It makes for interesting food for thought.

The great thing though is normal is changing. I am hearing more and more that kids at school now really do discuss both options. Going out with a girl or a boy is on the cards. Either one is ok and that is 100% ok by me.

 

 

 

In the beginning there was the end

IMG_0559This is a blog about change. From realisation to turning a corner and striding in another direction towards a new adventure. It’s about being the truest most authentic version of yourself. And being ok with it and hoping everyone else will be ok with it too.

To start at the beginning we first need to mention the end. Or at least the end of the current chapter and the beginning of the new one. On Saturday I married the love of my life. Yes, it’s that ‘and dear reader I married her’ moment. That ‘skip to the end’ tale. She is everything I wanted her to be and she makes me be the best me.

This blog is about her being a woman and me being a woman too and how I went from a question in my own head one winter morning as I walked to the train station to standing in front of all my family and friends and declaring how much I love this woman and want to spend the rest of my life with her.

It’s about leaving my hetrosexual life (my ‘het’ life), hence the name ‘ex-het-ra’.

I want to share my stories and hope it may help gay women coming out (especially those late to the party like me). I’d love straight people to read it too. I want to fill the gap between the lesbian stereotype and the real us.

I want to share my journey into the gay world and I also want to start a conversation about what it’s like being a gay woman at the moment. How society, films, music, friends, colleagues treat us. Good, bad and ugly. I won’t change it for the world.

Dip in and out of the stories or read all of them, I hope you find it interesting, inspiring, funny (in parts), telling the story of the straight girl who realised there was a more authentic life to be lived.