The Telegraph posted a somewhat ponderous article in which it asked why there are not as many seemingly openly “lesbian” women as there are gay men. It cited lack of role models in the media and lack of a lesbian “scene” as reasons.
The claims and suggestions made in the article weren’t necessarily objectionable. It was more what wasn’t said that was a little more than irritating. The focus on bars and clubs, in particular Candy Bar which is about to close in Soho, London, occurred in tandem with the erasure of the many nights that exist outside of the really commercial, mainstream gay scene, which is extremely white and extremely gay male dominated. As I hail from the North, and am only an occasional gatecrasher at London nights, I asked my friend Rai who lives in London about the scene down there. She said: “London has an east scene, soho scene and south scene. If you’re going to mention nights, you’re going to have to do bit more research. The east london lesbian scene dwell in warehouse parties/and basements - so that’s why the Telegraph can’t find them. The club promoters Twat Boutique runs warehouse house parties every few months that are PACKED with young queer lesbians.”
What about monthly nights like Dancing on My Own and Unskinny Bop in East London, not lesbian per se, but a lot more balanced than the mainstream gay scene. How about the lesbian bars and club nights outside of London like The Fox in Birmingham, Vanilla and Coyotes and monthly queer night Bollox in Manchester? Why was there no mention of specific LGBTQ spaces for People of Colour like Club Kali and Liberte?
The Guardian returned my pitch to send this article to Comment is Free with an email to say they had already a commissioned a piece which cites the lack of “celesbians” as the problem. I don’t necessarily disagree, but it doesn’t go far enough, and the fact that it was posted the day before this gem which makes hideous generalisations about women’s sexuality did little to placate me. We need to recognise discrimination and the way it is impacting on young LBTQ women, and we need to tackle it head on.
When discussing role models (or lack thereof) for young LBTQ women in the media, the stock examples given are always Ellen DeGeneres, Rachel Maddow, Clare Balding, Portia de Rossi. Why is no one talking about Nicola Adams? What about Margaret Cho? Wanda Skyes? Raven? Lesbianism is so often seen as a white identity, not helped by the fact that racism often rampages as unchecked within the white lesbian community as anywhere else in our white supremacist society.
There are way more role models around than people realise, but the reason it doesn’t seem that many is because the white press consistently erases LGBTQ POC role models. It fails to give them the platform they should, and then fails to acknowledge them as role models at all.
So I’d start by saying one of the reasons that young lesbians don’t seem as visible is because women who date and sleep with other women don’t all call themselves lesbians and don’t always hang out in mainstream, white lesbian spaces. The rigid view of what LBTQ women look like and do obscures the view of the many other women who are not white lesbians or do not hang out in white lesbian spaces but are just as much a part of the queer community.
But lack of role models alone is not a sufficient answer to why there are seemingly fewer visible queer women, anywhere. We need to be up front about the lesbophobia sitting insidiously at the intersection of sexism and homophobia. It is this that led to me breaking away from the frustrations of the horrific Content Management System in my office to explain the complexities of the intersection between homophobia and sexism.
“Hey Jo, isn’t it strange, how gay men can openly make suggestive comments to straight men on family orientated TV shows, and it’s considered funny and non-threatening, yet if a lesbian was to do the same it would be completely taken seriously and seen as really threatening and overtly sexual?” (I may be paraphrasing here, but you get the gist. He went on to tell me that he’d been listening to Women’s Hour on the way into work, which was why he’d been thinking about it. I was impressed with his radio choices.)
But of course this is the case, because in recent time mainstream society, having begrudgingly acknowledged there will be no en masse return to the closet anytime soon, has coped with the queers is to either sanitise or sexualise.
The gay men who enjoy huge media profiles are consistently desexualised. They’re wrapped in feather boas, blow dried, fluffed up or eccentrified and thrown to the crowds. They’re adorable, and oh so entertaining. They cease to become sexual beings to the point where society will allow their children to watch them on saturday teatime television, and chuckle over gay innuendo. After all…it’s not real is it? No self respecting straight man would allow himself to be seduced by a cuddly, colourful TV personality…would he?
For women, as ever, the rules are different. Society has dealt with the existence of lesbians in other ways. One of these methods has been to hypersexualise and comodify lesbianism on a huge scale, repackaging it for the heterosexual male’s gaze and enjoyment. Lesbians who aren’t really lesbians, who only have sex when there’s a man around to finish the job, those lesbians are ok. I’ve lost count of the time some grinning creep in a bar has stood too close, beery breath winding into my nostrils, and announced “I’m ok with homosexuality, but only between women”.
Femme queer women are still seen as available for turning.“…straight men still feel it’s appropriate to approach lesbian couples and ask ‘can I watch?’…if straight guys come to lesbian nights unaccompanied they tend to stare at girls…This is our space.” This is from Sandra of popular lesbian night Ruby Tuesdays, talking to the Telegraph. What she describes is the physical manifestation of a problem that continues online - attempts to set up a dating or hook-up app similar to Grindr but for women who like women have been foiled by the sheer number of men joining to harass lesbians and bi women online.
Lesbians, bi and queer women not willing to have sex with men who approach them online or in bars can expect harrassment and assault. The femme woman who sleeps with/dates other women regularly does not have her lesbianism/queerness taken seriously, especially when she dates other femmes (common both in heteronormative society and, shamefully, within the LGBTQ community). The femme who likes butches or bois or those masculine of centre will be asked why they just don’t date a man instead. Their existence as sexual beings is dismissed, or considered unthreatening or entertaining. They are not represented in the media because it is not in a heteronormative societies interest to present queer women as anything other than completely deviant and unrecognisable.
But the Butches. The Bois. The Studs. The Aggressives. The in-any-way-masculine-presenting, are the heternormatives worst nightmare. They are so much harder to erase and dismiss. They aren’t marketable, or easy to pornogrify for cis-hetero-men nor are they fluffy and desexualised like the gay guy presenting early evening television. Their presence is a threat, because they have given themselves a gender order promotion without permission, unlike the flamboyant gay man who has relinquished some of his privilege, and therefore in society’s eyes some of his power. The butch occupies a space marked “Men Only” and all too often men don’t want them in it.
Butches have been demonised as deviant sexual beings, out to corrupt and steal innocent, wholesome women away from more deserving men (see that agency being taken away from femmes again?!). The media more often than not presents lesbians as butches and turns butches into boogey-dykes; things to be feared and abhorred, never creatures of beauty or desire. Parents keep their daughters away from sports teams with openly lesbian coaches or players (see Strong Women Deep Closets for more information), and any bois in the mainstream spotlight find themselves being pummelled into more feminine attire, forced into boxes that are too small and the wrong shape.
The problem with the media is not just the lack of exposure given to queer women. It’s the type of exposure. The majority of lesbian relationships presented in TV and film are dysfunctional, transient or abusive, and often involve violence and suicide.
It’s enough to get me thinking that the media doesn’t want to portray queer women in a positive light. Fictional queer women and the things they do and the sex they have too often comes from the imagination of straight male directors. Their sexuality is the focus of the story line, rather than one aspect of who they are, and so again and again becomes dramatised for entertainment purposes, rather than normalised and accepted.
When mainstream, heterosexual journalists ask “where are all the (young) lesbians?” what they actually want to know is “where are all the white baby butches?” Where is the personification of the stereotypes that heteronormative society can control?
The question they should be asking is “why can’t we see many lesbians, bisexual or queer women?” To which I would answer: open your eyes, we are right here.
The beginning is made of spilt beer and smeared eyeliner
Mingled with shimmering foundation and glitter.
The air misted with hairspray; all big eyes, skinny jeans and outrageous quiffs,
Worn as gladiators don warpaint and armour.
It smells of candle wax and burning rolling papers,
Cigarette smoke curling leisurely out of the kitchen window.
It tastes of takeaway veggie burger and rum,
Brushed away with exhilarating toothpaste.
Twenty ears overflowing with the sounds of The Gossip,
Playing just loud enough to annoy the neighbours
Until it snaps off abruptly. Lets go, lets go, lets go!
Queer grrls pour out of the front door,
Armed with sharp tongues and blunt humour,
Let loose, howling, into the night.
My queer grrl night out looks like grrls in zombie print dresses
Playing nintendo on the big screen in the pub,
Pausing periodically to sip breathtaking mojitos.
It sounds like Bikini Kill and the Yeah Yeah Yeahs
Fighting for space on a crowded playlist,
Smells of gossip, flirting and tequila shots,
And tastes of minty gum chewed hastily to mask tobacco.
It feels like sturdy arms arms linking in and out,
Holding on, raising up, wrapping round.
It feels like a pulsating, sweating crowd
Riding powerful and thumping bass.
In the morning my queer girl night out feels like tiny hammers beating the inside of skulls.
It tastes of stale smoke and morning breath,
Smells of hair products matted into tangled hair.
It looks like glitter smeared across makeshift pillows.
Heaps of Killer heels, converse and brogues cuddle by the front door,
Clothes lie scattered around sleeping bags and unconscious bodies,
Aching, alcohol soaked muscles do not respond properly
To messages from the nervous system.
It sounds like pained groaning and snores.
But sometimes the headaches are worth it,
And sugary tea and fry ups for ten around one huge table,
Coupled with the melodic sound of women laughing fit to burst
Can lift the worst of hangovers.
That’s what my queer grrl night is about,
Next I hope I’ll see you out.
i find it interesting that when it comes to liking girls I’m just like GIRLS ALL GIRLS YES PERFECT GIRLS but with boys i’m like you must fit criteria 1-9 but 9 is optional only if you completely fill criteria 10-13 with a non-optional essay on 21st century sexism due by 5am
Bothering to write rebuttals to ridiculous, snobby little scrotes is not something I really like to spend a lot of time doing, but there was something about this gem from Christopher Giles that caused such a surge of motivation. Surprising really, as a graduate from what Giles would probably consider a mediocre university, with a degree in a subject he would probably consider un-academic, you’d think I’d barely be able to make it out of bed to call my mother on a Sunday morning.
My degree is a BSc in Sport and Exercise Science from Leeds Metropolitan University. Before I went to university I worked first unloading boxes at Next in my hometown in the West Midlands, and then as a carer for elderly people all over the Borough. I was paid £6.00 per hour to perform intimate care for very ill or disabled people who unfortunately couldn’t do it for themselves.
Going to university, a post-92/”ex-polytechnic” university at that, gave me access to a good higher education and all that comes with it. This includes the ability to write letters, reports and academic essays fluently, the ability to undertake qualitative academic research, time management, communication and a certain level of professionalism; all skills that are extremely important to employers.
The devaluing of vocational (or “non-academic) degrees remains a huge problem within academia. Maintaining a stubborn tunnel vision of what higher education is dismisses the huge number of nurses, teachers, social workers, physiotherapists, occupational therapists, opticians (you get the gist) who come out of non-Russell Group institutions.
However, the academic snobbery is only one highly unpleasant and problematic aspect of the original article. Giles seems to have bought into the school of thought which considers universities nothing but sausage factories, churning faceless graduates out into a sterile jobs market. He makes no consideration for the role that educational institutions play in allowing students to explore intellectual possibilities, develop new and groundbreaking ideas, grow, meet people from different backgrounds and have experiences that they would not otherwise have access to. Or perhaps he cannot comprehend the idea that such activities might take place at a new university.
Russell Group universities, despite some progress, still remain exclusive, elitist establishments that largely serve white, middle and upper-middle class students. In this context, advice to forget about going to university if you can’t get into one of these places smacks of telling people of colour and people of lower socio-economic backgrounds to forget about higher education.
Had I remained living in my small Black Country town I would not have had the opportunity to sit on the Trustee Board of a charity at the age of 20, work full time for another charity for two years in the middle of my course, meet people from all walks of life and from all over the world and engage in conversations with those people. I would not have experienced political and campaigning movements the way I have, form and learn from various relationships with other humans I have met, challenge and be challenged the way I have been, complete research in one of the best university libraries in the world or speak in front of audiences of hundreds and (sometimes thousands) of people. (As a side note public speaking: an invaluable skill completely monopolised by the privately educated upper-middle and upper-classes). I would not have had access to world class sports facilities and coaching. I would not have been able to form networks of contacts all over the country, get a job in a sector that matters to me, with a salary that is above average for a new graduate, or pick up a string of relevant references from academics and employers.
I am very lucky to have been able to go to university and to be where I am in a time of gross unemployment and underemployment, but I recognise that the skills, assertiveness and confidence I gained whilst at university, from both academic and none-academic experiences, was essential for me getting here. University is what you make of it. Yes, it’s possible to fritter away three years and a lot of money by wasting the experience, but that is not exclusive to none-Russell Group universities by any stretch of the imagination.
If people still have polarised mental images of dilligent young people drifting around labs making discoveries, or studiously poring over books in softly lit libraries at our great institutions of learning, while the riff-raff at the ex-polys do nothing but drink beer out of a wheelie bin in the Students’ Union bar, they are extremely out of touch with reality.
No one should feel pressured into going to university. No, it may not be for everyone, and there are other options that are just as valid to be explored, and yes, the cost is ridiculous and completely immoral. I believe in a fully funded higher education system, that is funded through progressive taxation and taxes on the big businesses that profit from the labour of the nations graduates, and that is accessible to the masses (something that Russell Group institutions, so often obsessed with outdated traditions in our 21st century world, generally aren’t).
However, strong as I feel about the outrageousness of the cost of university, the putting off of potential students from higher education that would benefit them, and thereby denying them access to a host of other opportunities is a higher level of evil. You are saying to students, many of whom are from non- traditional university backgrounds, that they should stay where they are, be happy with their lot, even if they aren’t, shouldn’t ask too many questions, shouldn’t have ideas above their station or ambitions to work in graduate level professions or vocations if they cannot jump through hoops that are typically set for the privately educated to fly through.
At best niave, at worst morally repugnant snobbery, either way, completely offensive.
Biggest load of bollocks I’ve read in a long time really.
I wrote this a few months ago now, but was compelled to share and see what others think due to a campaign I saw at Manchester Pride to bring the Gay Games to the UK. I recognise that I have not dug very deep into the implications for trans* folks within sport. This is because the original research was done on homo- and biphobia within sport, and I think to discuss transphobia in the depth that it deserves would require its own post, rather than me tagging it poorly into this one.
The experiences of LGBTQ athletes within sport has been largely dictated by its gendered nature, and the binary gender system that wider society is based upon (Davison and Frank, 2006). Male supremacy and sport as a male domain and preserve throughout time has been widely acknowledged (Hargreaves, 1994; Messner, 1988). It has been used as an institution to exhibit men’s supremacy over women. The emphasis on sport being a space for men to demonstrate their physical strength, speed and power by dominating other men has contributed to the formation of a specific hegemonic type of heterosexual masculinity. In turn, alternative masculinities and feminity(ies) have been subjugated and “othered”. Those exhibiting traits or behaviours that fall outside of the heterosexual, masculine, ideal have found themselves excluded from sports participation and discriminated from within it be that via teammates, coaches, parents, sponsors, the media or governing bodies (Hargreaves, 2000).
Heterosexuality gives power and privilege first and foremost to men. Women who resist heteronormative gender roles and fail to meet heterosexist expectations find themselves labelled as “dykes”. Homophobia is a method of maintaining the current, male dominated gender order, and policing individual’s behaviours and sport is an institution used to emphasise the rigid gender roles in society, socialise people into accepting them.
Such attitudes have been flagged as the reason for the exclusion of women from sport; an exclusion that remains a reality for many in the present day despite changes in social attitudes and the resourcing of women’s sport (Coakley, 2007). These attitudes have also had a lasting effect on the experiences of LGBTQ people (and other non-heterosexual, non-cis-gendered people) and their participation in sports (Johnson and Kivel, 2007).
Homophobia in both sport and society cannot be viewed in isolation. The intrinsic links between homosexuality and sexism mean that it may be necessary to approach tackling homophobia in sport in a more nuanced way. We need to examine where the motivations for homophobic discrimination come from, and how it is used differently to police the behaviour of boys and girls, men and women. To generalise all LGBTQ experiences would be simplifying the complex nature of the issue, and in turn would fail to acknowledge the different dynamics effects of LGBT discrimination and its consequences for men and women (Eng, 2006).
In recent history, as women’s involvement in sport has rocketed (Coakley, 2007), women athletes at all levels of sport have found themselves met with increasing levels scrutiny and suspicion for their exhibition of non-normative gender behaviours in the sporting arena (Russell, 2007). Such attitudes are exhibited towards women in any male dominated field; think about the treatment of women politicians and the stereotypes of women in physical or manual jobs.
Particularly in sport women often find themselves and their sexuality under scrutiny by a heterosexist society that has demonised lesbians and stereotyped them as predators, out to convert vulnerable girls and women to an unwholesome lifestyle (Clarke, 2002). This type of homophobia has caused (and still causes) lesbian PE teachers to lose their jobs and athletes to lose their positions on teams unless they loudly present themselves as heterosexual to colleagues, students and parents (Clarke, 2002; Griffin, 1998). There are very recent examples of this kind of homophobia pervading within sports being reported in the press, with PE teacher Carla Hale losing her job after being outed as a lesbian in 2013 (Black, 2013).
As a result of such attitudes, expectations have been placed on women athletes to present themselves as sufficiently and undeniably feminine in other contexts in order to counter their sports participation (Knight and Giuliano, 2003). Traditional femininity is read by society as heterosexuality (Caudwell, 2006). Such behaviours include highlighting heterosexual relationships, appearing in outwardly feminine attire outside of the sporting arena, having children, wearing make-up. This is well reflected in the representation of women athletes in the media as wives, mothers or girlfriends or as sexual objects (Wensing and Bruce, 2003; Coakley, 2007), with photographs often presenting them in non-sporting contexts (Harris and Clayton, 2002).
In contrast to the discouragement caused by homophobia in women’s sport, it has also been found that it has the opposite effect on the participation of men and boys. Women who participate find themselves the subject of suspicion, whereas men find themselves the subject of suspicion for showing a lack of involvement or active interest in sports (Griffin, 1998).
Sports participation is an opportunity for men and boys to prove their masculinity and therefore heterosexuality, and is not assumed to be a space where gay men would be found. Women are more likely to be harassed by the media and sporting bodies because men’s heterosexuality is assumed simply due to their participation in a gender appropriate activity such as sport, and stereotypes of homosexual men are that they are always effeminate and wouldn’t be found participating overtly masculine environments (Symons, 2007; Griffin, 1998; Pronger, 1990).
In reality, often gay men intentionally choose extremely traditionally masculine sports such as football and rugby and decathlon. This is to affirm to themselves (and perhaps other people) that they have validity as masculine beings in a homophobic society that so often ridicules gay men for not being masculine enough (Symons, 2010).
The effect of the assumptions that all men participating in sport are heterosexual is to render the gay male athlete invisible. As men are dramatically less likely to find themselves the subject of a gay witch hunt, they do not have to go to the same lengths as women to remain closeted. However, for men and boys, in addition to the threat of exclusion there is also a much bigger threat of violence from teammates out to prove their own heterosexuality (Curry, 2002).
In team environments, male bonding acts to create a cohesive atmosphere amongst the team (Curry, 2002).
In male sports this means the exclusion of women and celebration of masculinity, demonstrated through displays of physical strength, aggression, ridiculing women and bragging about having had sex with women (Messner and Sabo, 1994; Burton Nelson, 1994).
The hegemonic masculinity that dominates male sports subordinates other masculinities, and in doing so excludes gay men by silencing them in many team environments. Gay men cannot participate in locker room culture and other bonding situations without lying about their experiences (Anderson, 2002).
Sports, in particular contact sports, are scenarios where men can be openly physically affectionate with each other (Symons, 2007). Types of physical contact that would be read as undeniably homosexual outside of a sporting context are deemed acceptable. However, to counteract these behaviours the men engaging in them must overtly emphasise their sexuality through sexually objectifying women and being vocally and actively homophobic (Curry, 2002).
It is certainly not uncommon to find openly gay women on sports teams, because by playing sport women are already challenging societal notions of normative, feminine behaviour. Many women athletes, gay and straight, experience ostracism or negative attitudes because of their sports participation, and their motives for participation are questioned (Litchfield, 2011; Russell, 2007).
Thus, the homosocial space created in women’s sport teams becomes a place where homosexuality is tolerated, or even sometimes protected (Mennesson and Clement, 2003). The female players have a shared identity as Women in a male dominated arena, and thus a certain level of camaraderie forms based on that shared identity (Lenskyj, 2003).
However, it should also be recognised that as women’s sports begin to gain more recognition and status, there is increasing pressure to alter the image and purge teams of “butch” or otherwise stereotypically gay looking women out of a fear that the team or their sport will not be taken seriously (Mennesson and Clement, 2003; Griffin, 1998). In this instance discrimination becomes less about overt, violent homophobia and more about a creeping, pervasive heterosexism.
Both are used to and result in controlling women’s behaviour, and excluding them from sports participation.
In order to address the exclusionary nature of sport and dissatisfied with the homophobic discrimination, pressure to remain in the closet and expectations to follow certain “rules”, many LGBT people took the approach of forming segregated sports teams and the creation of international sporting events such as the Gay Games in the 1980’s in order to pursue their love of sport (Symons, 2007). However, this approach has garnered legitimate criticism from within the community.
One need only look at the formation and development of a gay men’s tennis league as an example of an inherent flaw in segregated gay teams. Originally started as a place for gay men to play socially without the pressure s to remain closeted, or the threat of homophobia, the club became increasingly competitive. As the athletic standard rose, the club started to become intolerant towards non-heteronormative behaviours, banning drag and celebrating more traditional displays of masculinity. There was agreement that this was the result of the club wanting to be taken seriously within the mainstream tennis leagues, and such policing of behaviour was seen as the way to achieve this (Wellard, 2006). Even in a supposedly safe space, the players were still impacted upon by homophobia within the institution of sport, and their behaviour was still controlled by heterosexism and homophobic attitudes from the mainstream.
The Gay Games was founded on the basis of providing an open, inclusive environment for sports participation for all, but also with an agenda to “normalise” homosexuals to a wider society. The organisers wanted to show straight society that homosexuals were “normal” men, and wanted to throw out the stereotypes of leather men and mincing, effeminate queens (Symons, 2010). These aims were not only extremely tipped towards a male homosexual political agenda; it was also a very specific type of male homosexual agenda, indicated in an interview with Sara Lewinstein:
“People thought Tom [Waddell, founder of the Gay Games] had a problem with Queens, but what Tom wanted was no one coming in drag in the opening and closing ceremonies. He wanted them just as men and women…It was hard, we had to tell people what to wear…” (Symons, 2010:42).
The creation of segregated gay teams, games and leagues can end up perpetuating the hetero-normative standards that are so damaging to LGBT participation, rather than disrupting the heterosexism within mainstream sports (Pronger, 2000). This assimilationist approach undermines the entire purpose of creating a space for all to participate in favour of appearing acceptable and respectable to the heterosexist mainstream.
The Gay Games are useful for providing a safe place for LGBT people to participate, but their ability to truly liberate is limited by their separatist nature. The policing of behaviour to ensure it was not reflective of parts of the LGBT and queer community considered less palatable by mainstream society acted to remove agency from participants who found themselves once again not being accepted for who they were, only this time within a space that called itself inclusive.
Furthermore, the intention to use sport to demonstrate the normality of homosexuals to heterosexual society does so at the exclusion of women. As previously discussed, demonstrations of sporting prowess by women is considered by society as abnormal whether it is in a Gay sporting arena or a mainstream one. Women do not gain social status through playing sport in the way that men do (Curry, 2002). The Gay Games did not acknowledge or address the particular type of homophobia that women face when they are in a sporting context.
It is essential to take a queer, radical (pro)feminist approach when addressing the issue of LGBTphobia sport. A queer approach seeks to enter mainstream sport and disrupt it from the inside, and additionally a radical feminist approach seeks to develop policies of anti-discrimination (Scraton and Flintoff, 2002), rather than making separate teams for LGBTQ people to play on, which alone is ineffective in banishing homophobia from the institution of sport.
Until sexism and the rigid binary gender system that dictates human behaviors and interactions is smashed, sport cannot be used as a tool to demonstrate the normality or validity of LGBTQ folks (and therefore driving discrimination out of sport), because it does so only by normalising gay men, and legitimising them as masculine beings to a patriarchal society, whilst women will continue to be ostracized and labelled dykes by a misogynist, homophobic, conservative sports media, and men with alternative masculinities will continue to find themselves excluded and abused within mainstream sports.
NOTE: this post is a cut down version of an assignment I wrote during my final year at university. I have left the citations in the text, but if anyone wants the full reference list please ask.
Everyone who terrifies you is sixty-five percent water.
And everyone you love is made of stardust, and I know sometimes
you cannot even breathe deeply, and
the night sky is no home, and
you have cried yourself to sleep enough times
that you are down to your last two percent, but
nothing is infinite,
not even loss.
You are made of the sea and the stars, and one day
you are going to find yourself again.
Dear Me, aged sixteen and eleven months,
I know what you are going through. You finally got out of that horrible, homophobic school and you had just started to think you had a chance to be in love and now it’s all gone to shit.
There is something specific about that type of sick feeling you get when someone you’re dead keen on fades away suddenly with no explanation, or slips into the arms of someone who you could never be. It’s an explosive cocktail of grief, embarrassment, loss, anger and sadness. I think the only other way you could induce this feeling would be to stand naked outside of college at letting out time and chug a glass of really cold, lumpy banana milkshake (eurgh) spiked with chillies, and chase it with a pint of extremely acidic cider. Your stomach feels freezing; your head is spinning and on fire. You can feel the whole experience curdling inside you before making a swift and unceremonial exit.
Right now you don’t know whether to throw up or put your car window through. I’m telling you that puking is a much more cost effective option than smashing your car window; you’re seventeen next month and you’re going to want to be able to drive it.
I know you’re scared. You’re scared the way you get when you’re seasick or have food poisoning. You’re scared that at sixteen you’re heartbroken and will have to spend the rest of your life stuck feeling like that FOREVER.
I promise you that’s not the case. Others will come, and in six months time you won’t even remember how sick you felt. I want to tell you that this feeling gets less intense as you get older, but to do so would be a little patronising and a little untrue. Please don’t be frightened, younger self, the intensity levels rise but so will your capacity for coping.
You need to practice being heartbroken to help you get to a place where you can make the most of every opportunity you get; if there’s one thing worse than heartbreak it’s missing out because of fear. You’re going to be fine, just hold on and keep going. When someone hurts you, whether its a homophobe that makes a hot, red fountain out of your nose, or an indifferent lover who crushes your ego, just get back up, don’t let them win.
Appreciate your friends, you have very good ones at all stages of your life so far, do not neglect them. Do not feel forced to choose between being butch and femme, those are not your only options. You will never be a trendy lesbian with a trendy lesbian haircut. This is a good thing. Start Spanish classes earlier.
You will not believe the rights we’ve got in 2013. We’re still nowhere near done, but we are way ahead of that shit you’re putting up with at the moment. And whatever that homophobe in the newsagent says, Diva magazine is not pornographic and you do not need ID to buy it. Stand your ground.
As for me, I’m waiting for a letter from thirty year old us, telling me that everything is going to be ok.
Love Jo, aged twenty three and eleven months