the letter l

Opinion, Lifestyle

21st February 2022

LGBT+ in Conversation: The Letter L

This opinion piece is the view of the interviewee and in no way reflects the views of Liverpool Guild Student Media or Liverpool Guild of Students.

Throughout LGBT+ History Month, I’ve held conversations with my friends to discuss their feelings about the area of LGBT+ that represents them. I’m starting with the letter L.

In this first conversation, I spoke to my best friend from secondary school, Emily*. We grew up together in rural North Shropshire and were very close before ultimately drifting apart in college, as she transferred. Speaking to her properly for the first time in a decade, we discussed the parts of her life I had seen first hand and the life she now leads.

* Names changed for privacy.

Do you want to start by telling me a bit about when you first knew you were gay, processing that, and actually coming out? Then maybe about the community and community at uni?

I would say, in hindsight, I probably always knew I was gay. But I don’t think I really knew what being gay was. If I think back to when I was a child, I can’t remember being around anybody who was gay, to have as a role model or to see that it was normal. I remember there being women in my life who you would probably deem as being sort of butch but they weren’t necessarily gay or they weren’t out as being gay.

So, for a very long time, I’d say since primary school, I thought that I was the wrong gender. I very much thought I’d been born into the wrong body because I was attracted to women. I suppose to try and normalise that and rationalise it, I thought I should’ve just been a boy, rather than, “it’s okay for a woman to like another woman”. And I think I struggled with that for many years. Subconsciously, probably, more than consciously.

Then around sixteen or seventeen, I started thinking, “actually, maybe this is something else. Maybe this isn’t my gender because I’m happy in my own skin. I don’t really have an issue with the fact that I like to sometimes wear male clothes or sometimes I like to wear female clothes. If I like a top, I’ll buy that top”. So that’s what I’d do, I’d kind of mix and match. So that was when I started to think, “maybe I am actually gay”.

Then when I went to uni and met other LGBT people and realised, “oh my god, there is like this whole gay life out there and bars that are just for gay people, this is incredible”. I think that probably made me… well, that’s a funny one because I’ve never really sat here and thought about it and thought of time frames… that definitely was my kind of coming out period. However, my parents knew I was gay before I went to uni.

I remember the first time you said it to usand it was way earlier than that.

I don’t remember saying anything to you, I know that’s really bad. I remember being in primary school and being attracted to girls.

It’s a distinct memory of a school disco and you turned up and you were in floods of tears. We were like, “what’s wrong?” And you said, “I told my mum in the car that I might be a lesbian”. We’re just like, “what?” You were beside yourself and said, “yeah, she told me off”.

I remember my mum using the phrase, “don’t burn your bridges” and “don’t start telling people you’re gay, just in case it’s a phase, don’t burn your bridges”, she said that quite a few times.

I think we were in year eight then.

Yeah, I think I’d use the term ‘dabbling with it’. Trying to come to terms with myself. Then I went through a very low period, when I left secondary school, so whatever age that was. I went to counselling for a little bit. It was during that time when I properly came out to my mum. So there was a counsellor in the room. I’d been seeing her for a few weeks before and then she brought my mum in and I told my mum that I’m gay. My mum’s words were that she’d be more shocked if I came out as straight.

So she knew by that point and we’d had a few conversations about it. At that point I was in a relationship and I was bringing that girl home, she was sleeping in my bed… it didn’t take a genius to work out what was going on. It just had never really been addressed and I’d say that I’ve actually never had a conversation about it with my dad. I mean obviously, I’m gay, like he knows that I’m gay but I’ve never had that conversation with him. I’m assuming my mum must have said something but what I don’t know.

I was still very confused. The person that I was seeing at the time very much wasn’t out, to the point where I know she’s now dating guys. Her parents weren’t very accepting of it so I think that had a bit of a knock-on effect and made me feel like maybe there was something wrong with it.

The person I then dated after that was similar. We dated for quite a while and then whenever I’d stay over at her house, she’d pull out the spare bed and put it next to hers. We actually ended up splitting up because she wouldn’t come out as gay, whereas I was at the point where I was ready to be a bit more open and a bit more accepting. I do remember when we split up she did then tell her parents and they did say that they’d known. So it’s a funny one. I think your parents know but they think perhaps you don’t know.

I’m rambling on, sorry. I haven’t thought of all these memories for a really long time. For me, I think having an LGBT+ community at uni made a massive, massive difference. There was one person who I saw as a role model, who I looked up to and I loved her attitude and when I was speaking to her about my partner at the time who wouldn’t come out, it was very much a, “you’re worth more than that, you deserve to be with someone who isn’t afraid to be with you or isn’t ashamed to be with you”.

I then met Minnie*, who I’m currently with. Minnie*, I know, has dated or had been with other girls in the past but she wasn’t out to her parents. We started dating in the January, this Saturday actually is her coming out anniversary because I made it very clear that the relationship would not continue if she wasn’t out. I suppose in hindsight I probably pressured her to come out but based on my own experiences I didn’t want to be with someone who was in that situation.

On the whole, I’ve been accepted for being gay. I wouldn’t say it defines me, I’m quite stringent with that, the way I see it is that who I share a bed with is absolutely no one’s business but my own. If I was with a person and my family didn’t like them and it was because of their personality or the way that they treated me, I’d hope that that was what it was about as opposed to the fact that it was a woman. I think I’ve made friends with a friendship group who is very accepting of who I am, they’re very liberal, so I think that maybe played a part in it as well.

Do you think that, especially with these other girls who hadn’t come out, it is because there’s less pressure on men, and gay men are more accepted than gay women? Perhaps as there’s more representation of gay men? I was thinking about school and there were guys we knew who were gay but not really any girls. I could definitely name over five gay guys but not any lesbians.

I’ve never really thought about it. I think it probably comes down to, I don’t know… I do think I would have been much more accepting of myself if I had a role model in my day-to-day life. That for me, that’s the underlying reason. As I said, I really struggled with who I was because it didn’t seem normal. There was no one around me to make that normal, I wouldn’t really say I’ve had an issue with it since.

I think you coming to terms with that had quite an impact on me when we were kids. I remember thinking, “I’m pretty sure she’s a lesbian though”, when there were times where you were dating guys. When I had thought from that first time you said it, “right well, she’s a lesbian, she wouldn’t say it if it wasn’t what she thought”.

I suppose it comes back to not feeling comfortable in your own skin doesn’t it. As I said, hindsight is a wonderful thing. I forgot I’d even dated guys until you said because I really haven’t thought about it, I suppose I’ve tried to block it out of my mind.

It comes back to wanting to be accepted and I think in society, in the society that we were in – very rural, ten to fifteen years ago – that was the norm. I suppose trying to fit in with that, subconsciously, you do try and fit in with everyone else. That doesn’t mean to say that I knew that I was doing that at the time, I don’t think I did, like I didn’t think, “oh, I should do that to make everyone think I’m straight”. I think I just thought like, “this is just what people do” and I enjoyed that company, it wasn’t like just using them to say I was straight, but I think it comes back to being accepted.

I remember that and then getting to the end of school and the start of college and you said, “oh, yeah, I’m dating Chloe* but don’t tell anyone”. Then after we finished an English lesson you said, “right, I’m dating Chloe* and I want you to tell everyone”. It kind of became a non-thing where then everyone thought you were and if they asked you, you’d say you weren’t.

So, when I say that it had an impact on me, I don’t mean in a negative way, just that I always felt bad because I didn’t understand why you weren’t accepting of that after you first said it. I felt like it was sad that you couldn’t just be ‘out’ when so many people knew you were. Going through the rest of my life, I think it’s become a part of me, that I shouldn’t let anybody else feel like that because I felt so badly about it and you feeling that way. I feel like maybe you’d have had a better time if I made you feel more supported.

It really comes back to accepting yourself. I really thought my parents were gonna have an issue with it. When I properly came out, my mum was absolutely fine with it and my dad has never had an issue with it. But in your head, it’s worked up to be such a big thing that I feel like I’m not underplaying it when I say that it just comes down to accepting yourself. I don’t know how someone can best do that. The only way I can think of is if you had other people that were gay. I never thought you would have an issue with it, which obviously you don’t. It’s a funny one. You almost need to see it to see that actually it is normal.

I’m almost the other way, like my gay friends call me a bit of a prude. So, at Manchester Pride, it brings me to tears. I struggle watching it because I get so emotional watching it. Then if you go to the after-party, you go to Canal Street, what I can’t stand is if you’ve got people who are very, not openly gay, because that’s the wrong word, very over the top like a male with ‘top’ written on their T-shirt. I wouldn’t go around with a top saying, like, ‘I love anal’ and that is what you’re doing and for me, I think that is too much. For me that’s ruining it for other people because it can be quite overwhelming and it can be quite daunting.

I’m a big believer that I’d like to get to a society where you don’t need to come out and it makes absolutely no difference. Why, if you’re filling out a form, do you need to put what your sexual orientation is? It makes no difference. I’m a lesbian today, what if I found someone and I was straight tomorrow? Why does it matter? I don’t get that. So, that’s the overall end goal I’d like to see.

Yeah, I think there’s almost too much emphasis on that in this country. Like, the more they’ve tried to go for equal opportunities, the more divisive it can be. My friend has said the same about race; how does it affect how well someone can do a job and how does it affect their abilities? Why does a company need to know his race? He should get a job based on his merit, not who he is.

There’s a lot of emphasis on it but not always to the same levels and that’s why I asked you about representation of gay women and there being more representation of gay men. Sometimes it’s disproportionate, like they’ve gone, “we need diversity!” Then they’ve gone overboard in one specific group. Having a set amount of diversity or diversity quotas isn’t the same as genuinely or truly being diverse.

Yeah, one hundred percent. I suppose they see it as positive discrimination being better than negative. It’s tricky because how do you end up getting there? You get there by normalising it. How do you make it normal? Is it by throwing it in people’s faces and screaming that it’s there? I think it’s about accepting it at the root and for me it makes no difference what body parts my partner has when we are in bed and for me, that’s the difference between being gay and being straight. I’m attracted to my partner because I’m attracted to women and yeah, I absolutely love her personality, but what drew me to her was, “she looks really nice, I’m really attracted to her”. That makes no difference to anyone else but me.

That makes a lot of sense. I think the fact it’s not spoken about at a younger age is probably a big thing. I remember being… aware lesbians exist but that was it.

I’d say it was quite derogatory. People call people gay as an insult and it’s moving away from that.

I agree. I’ve spoken about this recently. I play a lot of video games, I mix with a lot of people online. You have fully grown men screaming about things being gay and when you call them out on it being homophobic, they say, “obviously I didn’t mean it like that, it’s just how I grew up”. Doesn’t mean they have to keep doing it, they can change their behaviour. It’s like old people being racist and saying it’s how they grew up. Wasn’t acceptable then, isn’t acceptable now and there’s no reason to keep doing it when you know it’s wrong.

I think for small children especially, there’s kind of a knowing that “a flamboyant man is gay” and “a butch woman is a lesbian” and not really any in between, of gay people living their lives. There’s not really much media representation of people hanging out and being in love, who just happen to be the same gender and nobody thinks anything of it and it’s not overtly or stereotypically gay.

It’s a funny thing, it annoys me. If you label Minnie* and I, which is what I have to relate to, if you saw us walking down the street, Minnie* is a lot more feminine than I am so, arguably, if you saw me walking down the street, you’d maybe have an inkling I was gay based on the way I hold myself, the way I sit, whatever else. Whereas, Minnie*, you probably wouldn’t have any idea unless you knew.

We went to a wedding fair and were talking to a woman who writes vows. She asked the date of the wedding, so I told her. Then, she turned to Minnie* and she asked the date of her wedding and she goes, “it’s the same day”. She said, “oh, you’re having a joint wedding, that’s really funny, I’ve never heard of that before”. I was like, “no… to each other”. So it annoys me that people can’t see it and it gets my back up.

Maybe you do need a T-shirt with a label on it!

Ha, I guess I do. I’m a lot more chilled but I suppose because Minnie* looks a bit more ‘straight’ than me, if we go out, the chances are a guy will come over and hit on Minnie* and she’ll be pissed off that they don’t know and I’m not really bothered. It’s interesting because you have one extreme to the other! I guess I’m just playing devil’s advocate with what you said but ultimately I agree. You don’t really have any representation or at least you didn’t at the time. You do now, when you think of Cara Delevingne and Ashley Benson, you have famous people who are gay but don’t ‘look’ gay. Whereas, when we were younger, I can’t think of anyone who was like that.

I guess I knew, from when I was a kid, people who were lesbians. I knew what it meant and I knew what it was but there was maybe only one person I knew in real life and nobody else. Definitely not any celebrities.

Yeah, I can think of gay men, Will Young and whoever else. I just can’t think of any women. I really can’t think of any.

Literally. Sandi Toksvig. 

Exactly, I wouldn’t have known her as a child.

Nope. As a kid, no mainstream, popular people. I don’t remember it being spoken about at school in PSHE or sex education, talking about relationships. I don’t think LGBT was even a thing.

No, I don’t think it was, I really don’t think it was. That’s probably the issue really. It’s about educating people and showing them it really doesn’t matter.

There’s been so much about issues around schools recently telling children gay people even exist. I guess that goes back to what you were saying, that there are some gay people who make being gay seem alien to straight people and exacerbate wrong impressions from people who were already against it.

Using the example of Manchester Pride, I don’t have any issues, I’m comfortable being gay and everything else. I have no issue going to Manchester Pride. Like, I really enjoy it when we go or when I go for a gay night out or whatever. I think the purpose of pride is to be proud of who you are but also, to try and make people feel like that’s normal and to try and be that role model. Playing devil’s advocate, if I went fifteen years ago, I think I’d be terrified. I genuinely do. I think I’d be like, “this is not the community I belong in”. You don’t feel comfortable enough to be in that environment. You almost need something in between.

Like a baby-steps pride?

Yeah, or maybe don’t do Manchester as your first one!

Photo by Ylanite Koppens from Pexels

I feel like our country is quite liberal. There’s more out there about it. My friend came out last year. He had zero idea pride was a thing in Belgium and had no gay people in his life at all.

I think where we lived is behind, to be fair. Whenever I go there I always think I’ve gone back in time.

You can’t reconcile what it’s like here with anywhere else. I’ve brought a guy here once and he literally asked me, “why are there no other black people here?” We didn’t see a single other black person in town that day. It’s really weird to think there really aren’t many people here who aren’t white.

I think that played a part in it. You have to be quite realistic with that. It comes from when you’re younger and the exposure you’ve had. That has a lot to do with acceptance. It’s interesting to hear about your friend though. That he didn’t have those role models and he still felt quite comfortable coming out, which is good.

To be fair, he felt quite comfortable coming out three years after I had slowly indoctrinated him into being okay with it.

Do you think he knew?

I think he knew when we first met. Especially as we moved from watching shows which were a bit girly, to shows focused on gay men. It became more of a thing. Then he came out to me and to other people. Slowly. Then I think he was of the mindset that he was actually gay.

It is a very liberating feeling, I would probably describe it as that.

Featured Image Credit: Photo by Anna Shvets from Pexels