We can be heroes

What do you call a person who is ‘admired for their courageoutstanding achievements, or noble qualities’? According to the Oxford English Dictionary, you call them a hero. As Pride Heroes is the theme for Pride in London 2015, it seems a good opportunity to not only celebrate our Pride heroes, but also to explore what being a hero really means, at both a personal and community level.


When asked who your Pride heroes are, the inclination is probably to think of well-known LGBT figures who have demonstrated personal courage or achieved something ground-breaking for the LGBT community – Harvey Milk and his gay activism against a homophobic backdrop of 1970s America, Gareth Thomas paving the way for sports people to be out without fear or judgement, the founding members of Lesbians and Gays Support the Miners, Ben Summerskill, Founder of Stonewall, Peter Tatchell, the human rights campaigner who has endured numerous physical attacks and threats and yet remains undeterred in speaking up for equality, and many more. Then there are those figures who have achieved highly in other areas of life, and just happen to be LGB or T; such as Dusty Springfield with her incredible talent and stand against apartheid, Ellen DeGeneres hosting one of the biggest and longest running talk shows, Stephen Fry with that incredible intellect, and a host of other LGBT actors, entertainers and presenters, such as Ru Paul, Gok Wan, Jodie Foster, Ian McKellen, Sue Perkins, Claire Balding, to name but a random selection.

But heroes don’t have to be famous. Every single LGBT person living true to themselves is demonstrating courage, whether or not they experienced coming out as a struggle or a breeze, and whether or not the response of those around them was to celebrate or persecute their orientation. It takes guts and integrity to be who you are; to accept and embrace this, whether you are LGBT or not. But when you are LGBT in a world where we are still unequal and not fully normalised, then it takes a certain kind of courage. There is no one way to be L, G, B or T and so to me, people who refuse to conform to stereotypes to fit in, and who are themselves (even against judgement from within the community) are also heroes. These are the everyday heroes who, by just living their lives, are making the world see that LGBT people are as individual, diverse, flawed or great – in other words, as human, as anyone else.

Taking this a step further, I’d argue that Pride Heroes don’t even need to be L, G, B or T themselves. I’m not talking here about leaders being heroic in the form of ‘saving’ us by bestowing equal rights. I don’t think that David Cameron is heroic for passing equal marriage and neither do I think it’s heroic for any straight person to accept LGBT people. It’s not heroic because it is a basic human right that we shouldn’t have to be grateful for and if anyone feels proud of not being homophobic, I’d question why that is an achievement for them rather than an instinct. However, the straight allies who support us and celebrate us for who we are; seeing our sexual orientation as only one facet of a whole human being, these people are heroes because they are enabling us to move beyond ‘the fight’ and towards true equality – when we can just live our lives with the letters L, G, B or T being incidental, not defining. If we can live in this world, there won’t be any need for Pride heroes with a capital P. There will just be diverse humans who are proud to be themselves.

Talking blog writing

I was recently asked to share my top blog writing tips for an event, so now that I have them all neatly written, I thought I’d share here too. I don’t profess to be any kind of expert, this is just how I approach blogging – and as you’ll see, I think being authentic is the most important blogging trait of all. But feel free to download and share if you’re an aspiring blogger. If you too write about femme life, Pink Lobster Dating welcome new bloggers, and if you want to write about anything else, check out my new any subject, any author blog at http://www.ineighthundred.com


Back to the future: How LGBT history helps us move forward

image February provided me with two calendar markers that invited blog posts: LGBT History Month and Valentines Day. The problem is that both of these topics have been written about from so many angles, I didn’t really feel I could contribute much that was new to the discussion on either, and didn’t want to come up with a tenuous angle for the sake of it. But the more I thought and read about these topics, the more I realised I did actually have something to say. And surprisingly, I found a common theme between LGBT history and Valentines Day, which is this: That we really need to look to the past to understand the present, and to progress equality into the future, and that this needs to happen at both an individual and collective level. You can read my post on LGBT History and Ancestry on the In Eight Hundred Words blog, and my LGBT take on St Valentine on the Pink Lobster Dating blog. Hearts to your minds!

Why I don’t like internet dating but keep logging on

I wonder how many of us actually enjoy internet dating. I mean really take pleasure in the actual process as well as the result. Because I really don’t. It’s not just the anxiety and embarrassment of self promotion, the awkwardness of sending first messages, or the disappointment when you log in and see that yes, that person you really liked read your email and viewed your profile 5 days ago, and no, they haven’t responded. It’s not because it knocks my self esteem to be rejected by strangers (getting older has at least taught me that this is meaningless!). I dislike internet dating because it is so much effort.

Despite how this sounds, it isn’t laziness. I wish I could just happen to meet an amazing woman offline without trying, but this isn’t because I don’t want to try, or don’t think that effort is what makes something worth having (I do). It’s because I want to meet someone when I am just being myself, not trying to be – and when the other person is doing the same. This is when we will be most ‘ourselves’. And this is the effort that I begrudge having to make online: to be the best representation of myself I can in a few photos and paragraphs. Because that’s all a dating profile can be – a representation. It can’t be me. And it requires a great deal of emotional and intellectual energy to try and be a well rounded ‘me’ on the page, and to try and uncover what other people are really like. Whilst it’s true that writing can bring out an honesty and reveal parts of someone that they might be too shy to say, or not get an opportunity to demonstrate on a first date, it also allows people to put up defences. Words and pictures can’t capture the essence of a person. The way they look in a photo doesn’t show how their eyes light up when they talk or how their wonky smile is really attractive when they are animated. Words don’t convey tone of voice, or laugh – all of the nuances that are what usually make me fall for someone.

Another aspect of the effort that I don’t like is trawling through profiles. The femme world is small and a lot of the same people are on the same dating sites, so it can be hard to find new people. Then you have to remember who you has ignored your emails and who you haven’t replied to, and try and do the online equivalent of dodging down a different supermarket aisle when you skim past the profiles of the ones who got away or those to whom you sent the ‘I had a lovely time with you but…’ email. It can be a psychological minefield.


I know some people find flicking through dating apps and profiles fun in itself, and I guess it partly depends what you’re after. If it’s the thrill of the unknown, or just sex, then I guess effort doesn’t matter as much, as you’re willing to take more risks and its not so important to be fully yourself, or have someone ‘get’ you. I think if you are looking for a relationship, it’s a trickier balance. You need to convey enough you and get enough of a sense of her to not dismiss it outright. But here’s the ‘however’… There only needs to be enough interest to instigate an email. So perhaps it doesn’t need to be such an effort after all. And despite resenting having to jump through theses hoops, I do still believe they are a necessary means to an end. If, like me, you aren’t very into the scene, or you just see the same people at most lesbian bars you go to, then internet dating is probably still your best bet. Specific dating events can also be a good alternative if you’re feeling a bit jaded with scrolling through profiles and sending another cringy email. At least at an event it’s easier to be yourself and suss out a connection, so in terms of effort, there’s more immediate return on investment!

Having established that internet dating is a necessary evil, here are my tips (which I’m totally unqualified to give, by the way) for anyone who needs a bit of motivation:

1) Remember why you’re doing this and what you want from it. It may help to remind yourself that you’ve still got a better chance meeting someone online than hanging out at bus stops hoping for a romantic encounter

2) Make a bit of an effort but try not to over-think it. Be honest and straightforward in your profile, chose nice but realistic photos and mention anything defining or deal-breaking, but don’t feel you have to represent everything about you, and don’t sound so rigid that people will be put off messaging you. Beyond that, try and act instinctively with who catches your eye and what you say in emails. Maybe extend your search criteria and just say the first thing that comes to you as you would if you met in a bar (I have tried this with mixed success, but at least it is genuine!).

3) For every email you send that doesn’t get a response, or every message you receive that makes you despair that anyone out there is on your wavelength, remember how different and exciting it feels to get those first texts where you think ‘this could be something’. Then hang in there with hope, as your inbox will see those again.

4) Try and meet up as soon as you can to see if there is any real connection, as the effort of making an impression and getting to know someone is put to better use in person than on paper.

5) If you’re feeling weary of the online scene, take a break from it. Hang out with your friends, pursue your interests and remember there is more to you and more to life than having a partner. And we know that being an independent person who enjoys life makes you more attractive, etc…

6) Keep pursuing any real world opportunities to meet people as well, and remember they can happen in the strangest of places (maybe at that bus stop after all).

Remember (note to self) that whilst not all good things require effort, most do. And sometimes it’s the effort that makes us value them more (I don’t mean finding someone who’s ‘a challenge’ – that often isn’t worth the effort. I just mean putting yourself out to meet and get to know people). As the song lyric goes ‘if you wanna find a head to fit your shoulder, you’re gonna have to go to the dance’. Even if you feel like staying in with Strictly.

If you liked this post, you might be interested in a related post on Vulnerability that I wrote for Pink Lobster Dating

Venturing out to work

I recently came across The Glass Closet website, where people share their stories of being out at work. It’s a fascinating insight into why and how people choose to come out (or not) at work and how important this decision is to personal wellbeing and equality. My own views on this are multifaceted so I decided to get them into some kind of order on paper/screen. Here’s the story I submitted…

How to come out and be out at work can be a minefieldimage whatever your situation, but I’m going to write about it from the perspective of being a single gay person in the workplace. To give some background, when I first came out (relatively late at the age of 26), it was a painful time as it was linked to the end of a very complex friendship. It was all I could do to hold it together at that time, and as such, the last thing I wanted to do was share my pain at work. Not being out at work was actually what got me through that time as I had to put on a brave face. But when I felt better, I still didn’t feel comfortable coming out as the culture was a very straight, corporate one.

My next job was for a charity, where equality and diversity was fully embedded in the organisational culture, and as such, I felt comfortable to be out and that it would actually enhance, rather than inhibit, my work prospects and people’s perceptions of me. I also had other gay friends in the workplace. However, it was a small organisation and I didn’t want positive discrimination to put me in a box any more than homophobia. I was happy to be out but didn’t want to be considered representative of a gay cultural or political agenda, so I only told people as and when it came up. This is how I still feel in my current job. I don’t mind people knowing that I’m gay – in fact, I would like them to know as then I don’t feel I am hiding part of myself or that I am doing LGBT people a disservice by not challenging the straight assumption. But how to come out is an issue, and for me, this is mainly due to being single.

If I currently had a partner, I would drop her name into conversations and whilst some people might still take a while to catch on, it would be a way of coming out without making a big deal of it. As it is, there’s only a certain number of hints I can drop – if a group of women are talking about male celebrities they like, I can joke that ‘that’s not my bag’ . I can also mention going to Pride or other LGBT events, films etc, and mention same sex friends who are getting married. But because I don’t live up to a lot of gay stereotypes, most people still don’t seem to guess. Or maybe they do, but don’t want to follow up with personal questions as they assume I will feel uncomfortable. This either assumes I am embarrassed to be gay, or implies that straight colleagues are embarrassed talking about being gay. Unfortunately, I think this is a common response – as if homosexuality is an inappropriate office topic as it is somehow linked more to the act of sex than being straight is. I think it is particularly hard to bring up sexuality with people you manage, for this reason.

My only other option is to somehow announce it, but if I was straight and single, I wouldn’t walk in and announce it, so this feels unnatural and contrary to my quite private nature (after all, wanting privacy is not the same as being ashamed of who you are). Another reason why I don’t want to make an announcement out of context is as I believe that homosexuality is just one part of me. To me, true equality in the workplace would just be being ourselves and judged on merit, with gender, ethnicity and sexuality as incidental rather than defining features. This isn’t to say that they aren’t important features or don’t contribute significantly to a person’s identity; just that we are about so much more than that, and shouldn’t be made to represent a whole group or labeled in a particular way. As it is, I am out to some of my colleagues, who I am friends with, and I will come out to others as and when conversations arise. In this way, I feel that I am being true to my sexuality, my personality and my context. But it is a constant tightrope to negotiate.

Happy Mothers Gay

Flicking through a newspaper left in a cafe yesterday, I came across a predictable opinion piece focusing on Mothers’ Day. What was less predictable about it was that it was aimed at women who aren’t mothers. It wasn’t a child-hating call to solidarity from a childless woman, neither a judgemental or pitying address from one mother to none. It was just acknowledging attitudes towards motherhood and non-motherhood. This made me think about how the word ‘mother’ categorises and stereotypes women in much the same way as the word ‘lesbian’. People derive from it assumptions about your role within relationships, your place in society, and your attitudes and values.

My own thoughts on motherhood can be loosely organised into three strands: 1) being a lesbian mum 2) being the mother of a gay child, and 3) being a lesbian who doesn’t want children, or isn’t sure. I should say at this point that I am speaking from opinion, not any kind of authority, on this!
Some of the general mum stereotypes are that (on the positive side) you must be unselfish, caring and with your priorities right or (on the negative side) that you are constantly frazzled, can only talk baby and are uninterested in a career and unreliable as an employee. In addition to these, lesbian mums also have to contend with the constant coming out at nursery/school, and the equivalent of the idiotic question of ‘which one’s the man?’, being replaced with ‘which one’s the dad?’. They also face a greater level of intrusive, personal questions, which are somehow considered ok to ask a gay person but which you would never ask a straight person; such as ‘how did you get pregnant?’, and ‘how did you decide which one of you would have the baby?’, ‘Is [the other mum] ok with that/are you worried it will affect your relationship?’. When children of lesbian couples (or single parents) are older, there’s all the worry over homophobic bullying, not to mention the moral panic from fundamentalist Christians and right wingers about the ‘sanctity of the family’ and the presumed damage that a lack of father figure will do to a child. All of this ignoring straight single parent families, and despite the fact that a 2010 study following children of lesbian parents from birth to adolescence found that these children score similarly to children of heterosexual parents on measures of development and social behaviour. They even score higher in terms of self esteem and confidence.* This was regardless of whether the children had a single lesbian mum, or two.

Something that really is missing for lesbian families is more opportunity to socialise with others. There are some good Rainbow Families events in London, but (according to a lesbian friend with a child), these are often focused around high income brackets, and I doubt that such good networks exist outside of London and Brighton.

So what about being the parent of a gay child? This is something that we can all have a view on from being the child. As it’s relatively rare for a gay child to have gay parents, a friend of mine once commented that a lot of gay people don’t have ancestry for this part of themselves, which is partly why LGB history is so important. Yet, we do all have our own ancestry and it’s the family that bring us up that largely influence how we feel about our gay identity. We all know people with horror stories of parental rejection or disapproval over their sexuality, but it’s still interesting (and shocking) to me (and my parents) that parental homophobia overrides maternal and paternal instincts and also that it is so widely tolerated in society. For me, there is no condoning parents who forsake their children, but I have a lot of empathy with parents also being on a journey in getting their heads around their child being gay. Surprise, shock and worry are not the same as homophobia. Neither is wanting to examine the nature/nurture part of it. For people in their thirties and over, the parent generation was not brought up with gay assimilation and so it does take a shift for all of the facets of a gay identity to come into consciousness. For many parents, it isn’t that they think badly of having a gay child – they may just never have had to think before about what it means to live as a gay person, and challenging received or unconscious ideas about this takes time. When someone comes out, they have usually had a long time to process their sexual orientation intellectually and emotionally, whereas most parents won’t have, so it’s only to be expected that they may need some time to do this – but that doesn’t mean they don’t accept having a gay child or that they won’t come to embrace and celebrate it. So what I’m saying is that gay children should have some patience and empathy as their parents are also on the coming out journey. And they may also need to be educated about gay language, culture, rights etc, just as we had to educate ourselves – no one is born knowing this stuff just because they’re born gay.

Lastly, what about lesbians who don’t want children, or aren’t sure? This is an interesting one, as I’m not sure that lesbians who choose not to have children are actually judged as negatively by society as straight women who make this decision. If a straight woman doesn’t have a child, she risks being seen as obsessed with her career, selfish, or somehow unnatural if she doesn’t have biological or maternal instincts. Yet lesbians having children can also been seen as unnatural by some groups, so those who don’t have children are somehow seen to be ‘doing the right thing’. Another reason why lesbians might not be judged for not having children is that there is less expectation for them to – given the limits of some people’s imaginations about how this could be possible. Obviously this thinking is fundamentally flawed, and I think I’d rather be seen as selfish than unnatural, as at least the latter is a relative rather than fixed label. And yet, it’s the ‘selfish’ argument that actually bothers me most about being a childless woman, especially as it often comes from women who are mothers. I am neither career obsessed, nor (I hope) completely selfish. I give plenty of my time and emotional energy to my family and friends, and their children. I also like children and certainly have maternal instincts. I just don’t really have the biological instinct to have my own child, at least not now (which is probably just as well in terms of finances and relationship status). So this means adoption might be the best route in future, but this is one that is made harder for straight and gay parents due to the amount of social services hoops that (perhaps rightly when dealing with vulnerable children) have to be jumped through. Not to mention the homophobia that exists within some services, such as religious adoption agencies.

My obvious conclusion in discussing all of these strands is that we need to accept and celebrate diversity in attitudes towards motherhood, just as much as we do with female and lesbian identity. It takes all sorts, and all that!

I should add, at this point, that I am very fortunate to have a mum who is my unconditional champion in all areas, including gay rights, and friends who are amazing mothers, who neither conform nor subscribe to any of the stereotypes mentioned here. And I will celebrate all of them today. #HappyMothersDay

*TIME article on the lesbian parents study http://content.time.com/time/health/article/0,8599,1994480,00.html

Why it takes many voices to sing a rainbow

My subject for this post (hopefully more a discussion than a rant) is competition between people who claim, or aim, to represent whole communities. I’m talking specifically about competition amongst bloggers or social groups to be the definitive ‘voice’ of their demographic. Like if I claimed to represent all femmes and set myself up in competition with every other blogger writing about femme life or issues. I’m not doing this, because: a) I really wouldn’t want that responsibility or pressure b) I’d have to significantly up my game to try and represent a group that is in itself so diverse, and due to this c) it would seem downright ridiculous, not to mention arrogant, of me to try.

The reason I take issue with this kind of competition where I’ve seen it exist within LGB social events and media is because working against each other and polarising is not practising what we preach, or embracing what we perpetually fight for: equality and diversity. The paradox of unity and ‘standing as one’ is that we risk losing the diversity within. Which is why we call ourselves a community – a collective of many individuals, which should celebrate many voices. It’s many voices that have power – it takes many voices to stand up for injustice, for example. Working together, yes, but as individuals rather than a homogeny, which is what we’ve fought against being seen as.


When LGB competition rears it’s head, it’s like staking claim to part of the rainbow in a political or ideological coup. In the name of equality we wrestle this part as ‘our’ own, but then replicate stereotypical patterns in trying to have one, or few voices. It all seems a bit Animal Farm.

No one has put journalists, bloggers, or event organisers in a position of power or glory. We’ve just chosen to find a public outlet for our musings, interests or motivations. I’m not denying that a bit of ego comes into play. We all have one and all want to be heard in some way, whether publicly or privately; by word, action or indirectly. But this isn’t just about art, it’s about life, and I believe our own voices are heard and responded to better in discussion than monologue. Of course competition can be good when it increases choice and quality, but even with LGB businesses (events, venues, dating sites, services etc), partnership, cross promotion or just mutual support is mutually beneficial, as the target market is relatively small and interlinked. So I think we can afford to be a bit more generous with our words and our promotion. To be fair, there are a lot of bloggers and organisers who are, and in my own experience, I’ve gained so much for being entertained or made to think by them than I would’ve done just spouting out my own thoughts. In being mutually supportive, I do feel like I’m in an online community with diverse voices.

Icons obviously hold great power and influence but it’s the people we can relate to that can have the most impact. We can’t all be a Harvey Milk or an Ellen Degeneres, changing the landscape, or a Claire Balding or Gareth Thomas, influencing public opinion and culture through who we are. But the power that all of us have is to engage with others. Through being open about who we are and coming together as diverse voices, we can normalise being gay (any way) and (hopefully) make it that bit easier for the one or many people looking to find their own voice.