Normalising and using gender pronouns correctly

Article written by BLUP50 talent Charlie Greening.


This June is pride month for the LGBTQIA+ community. During this month it is more important than ever that everyone within that community and ally’s of it show their respect, support and understanding of the difficult issues those in the community face.

I am a pansexual and gender-neutral person myself. I have been in relationships with beautiful people of all genders and sexual preferences. So, I thought I’d give you a little insight as to what is important for the LGBTQIA+ community right now and what you can do to show support. I am going to be covering the topic of gender pronouns. You might read this and already be tensing your muscles in a confused panic, especially if you are a heterosexual cis-gendered person. Not to worry, I understand that there is some doubt around this topic as people commonly fear causing offence or think that it is too complex of a topic to get their head around. I am here to explain to you what it means to be non-binary or gender-neutral, how to be respectful and supportive, and why it is important that you state your preferred pronouns, especially if you are cis-gendered!

WHO ARE WE TALKING ABOUT
Non-binary / gender queer people use gender neutral pronouns. Some people don’t fit into categories of ‘male’ or ‘female’. Some people have a gender that blends elements of being a man, a woman or have a gender that is different than either ‘male’ or ‘female’. Some people don’t identify with any gender and some people’s gender changes over time. Some society’s, like ours in the UK, tend to recognise just two genders. The idea that there is only two genders is sometimes called a ‘gender binary’ because the word binary means ‘having two parts’. Therefore, ‘non-binary’ is a term people use to describe a gender that doesn’t fall into one of these two.

SOME THINGS IMPORTANT TO KNOW
Non-binary is nothing new! Non-binary people are not confused about gender or ‘following a fad’. Non-binary identities have been recognised for a millennia by cultures and societies all around the world. In some cultures, gods have been depicted as genderless or gender-fluid for thousands of years. Not all people undergo medical procedures, but for some it is critical and even life saving! Most transgendered people are not non-binary. These people often identify as either ‘male’ or ‘female’ and want to be treated like any other cis-gendered person, so should be! Being non-binary is not the same as being intersex. Intersex people have different anatomy or genes that don’t fall into typical ‘male’ or ‘female’ biology.

HOW TO BE RESPECTFUL
You don’t have to completely understand in order to be respectful. However, it is important to educate yourself as much as you can. Always use the preferred name a person asks you to use. Try not to make any assumptions about a persons gender, If you are unsure you should ask. Advocate for policies that are inclusive to non-binary or gender-neutral people in public spaces. Something as simple as going to the bathroom can be very difficult for a these people due to fear of being verbally or physically assaulted.

WHY YOU SHOULD STATE YOUR PRONOUNS
You can now add your preferred pronouns to Instagram, and I highly encourage you to do so! Even if you feel as though you don’t really need to. The more people that do, the more we can normalise this behaviour and make the process of sharing and accepting pronouns better for all of us. The University of North Carolina wrote: “Normalising and using correct pronouns leads to acceptance and de-stigmatisation of individuals who ‘deviate’ from traditionally used pronouns or pronouns that do not align with their physical appearance or gender-based name. By stating one’s pronouns the need for explanation is eliminated”. Including pronouns on your social media profiles, in email sign offs and when you introduce yourself to someone is a small step that cis-gender people can – and should – be making.

WHY IS IT SO IMPORTANT
The Trevor Project’s 2020 National Survey on LGBTQIA+ Youth’s Mental Health found that a heart-breaking fifty two per cent of trans and non-binary youth have seriously considered death by suicide. Those who reported having their personal pronouns respected by all or most people in their lives attempted suicide at half the rate of those who didn’t have their pronouns respected. It is evident there is more to be done in normalising pronouns and it is vital that it comes from cis-gendered people! This is because cis-gendered people have a privilege that allows the opportunity to work to normalise without the risks that trans, non-binary and gender-neutral people face. It is essential that they use this privilege to cultivate an environment where trans and non-binary people don’t feel alienated!


Article written by BLUP50 talent Charlie Greening (She / They) (@chazzabel)

Conversion therapy – when will it end?

conversion therapy
/kənˈvəːʃ(ə)n/ /ˈθɛrəpi/

  1. the practice of trying to change a person’s sexual orientation or gender identity

You’d be forgiven for thinking anything labelled as ‘therapy’ is a positive experience resulting in long-term benefits to your mental and physical wellbeing. But when that therapy involves trying to persuade a person to live as something they’re not, there’s really nothing therapeutic, medically endorsed, beneficial or healing about it. It is, in fact, the antithesis of all these things, often causing serious mental and physical harm to those who undergo it.

What does conversion therapy involve?
Sometimes also called ‘gay cure therapy’, the practice can involve talking therapies, prayer, physical harm, exorcism, being deprived of food and ‘corrective’ rape (mercifully already illegal). Essentially, it means trying to stop a person from being lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender, persuade them to suppress their sexuality or change their mind about living as a different gender to the one they were assigned at birth.

NHS England and other organisations have made their stance clear on these ‘unethical and potentially harmful’ therapies and with mounting pressure on the government to address the issue, some small steps in the right direction have been made this year.

Sounds horrendous, so when will it be banned?
Back in 2018, Penny Mordaunt (Minister for Women and Equalities) published her LGBT Action Plan 2018: Improving the lives of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender people under Theresa May’s government. Along with taking more action on hate crime and appointing a LGBT health adviser the promise was to ‘bring forward proposals to end the practice of conversion therapy in the UK’.

Fast forward to summer 2020 and Boris Johnson also promised to progress plans banning conversion therapy. Adamant the practice is “absolutely abhorrent and has no place in a civilised society, and has no place in this country”, he went on to say the government would conduct a study to find out how, where and how frequently it’s happening before implementing legislative change to outlaw it.

Skip forward again to the Queen’s speech in May this year and yet another public pledge to progress a ban… but the law still won’t be changed until a public consultation goes ahead first.

How long will the consultation take before real change is made?
Well, looking at the pattern of delay over the past few years, it might be easier to ask how long the proverbial piece of string is… On a more positive note though, the very fact that government has conversion therapy on their agenda and has pledged to eradicate it is progress and for now, gives the LGBTQ+ community a glimmer of hope.

What can you do?
There’s lot more information out there so take some time to read up – Stonewall and Gay Times always cover issues impacting the queer community. You can also add your voice to the calls for a complete ban by petitioning your local MP – head to the Ban Conversion Therapy website and use the search function to get started.

Why pride isn’t just for Pride month

I remember camping with my family when I was about eleven or twelve, waking up one morning in our tent, and admitting to myself that I was gay. Blood rushed to my head, and in a mortified panic, I promised myself that I would never tell anyone this secret for the rest of my life.

At twenty-two, pride feels like a second birthday, and my queerness feels like a gift. I have nurtured, fought for and protected this gift more than anything else I have ever received in my life.

I’ve heard people say that you shouldn’t let one part of your identity consume your whole existence. However, it’s hard to ignore the one facet of your life that other people solely define you by, whether you like it or not.

I’ve been told I was too gay in school and that I talked too much about being gay at university. In embracing my queerness, I still find I’m having to justify, dilute or amplify this part of my identity to please others. It’s hard to digest that the same people telling you that you’re too gay or not gay enough are the ones at pride parades drinking Malibu and coke, taking pictures with their friends and having a good time.

The reality is, being queer has become my whole life – and not just for one month or one parade a year.

Queer people stand in the face of adversity daily. Being queer transcends clothing. It’s in the way we talk, hold ourselves and communicate. So let’s get one thing straight (excuse the pun) – regardless of our clothing, haircuts and outward expression, queer people are still being marginalised and discriminated against.

Many of the queer people I know, including myself, moved to London in hopes of finding themselves at the epicentre of creativity, acceptance and opportunity. Whilst London doesn’t fall short of its promises, homophobia, transphobia and racism run rampant in North, East, South and West.

Many turn a blind eye to day to day stories of hate crime, because we’ve fought for and been awarded our rights, right?

Time and time again this mentality is disrupted by major horror stories making the news, bringing back into sharp focus the reality that many queer folk face. In October, the BBC reported a 20% increase in homophobic hate crimes during the year and even more alarmingly that reports had tripled in five years. And, while it’s true homophobic attacks have been woefully underreported in the past, it doesn’t account for the magnitude in increases.

Tragically, it doesn’t always make the news either. We’re still marching for our BAME trans brothers and sisters in central London because they’re losing their lives and it remains unreported by any major news outlets.

On the surface, your queer/BAME friends may seem fine, but each has probably experienced some form of discrimination within the last month.

On the surface, your queer/BAME friends, the drag queens you see performing at Heaven and the trendy gay guy that made you your oat latte in Gail’s may seem fine, but each has probably experienced some form of discrimination, homophobia or racism within the last month.

When I got back to work after the world went into lockdown, I was called a faggot by four young teenagers at my part-time retail job. Not only is this personally humiliating, but it’s also worrying.

The boys were maybe sixteen or seventeen and I’m twenty-two. I naively hoped (and hope) the younger generations would be more socially aware than my own generation, and that their queer peers would be more comfortable than I was growing up. It goes to show that visibility and education are still essential for queer people to be accepted in society, not only in London but across the world.

But should we, the queer community, be the ones doing the educating?

No.

Why should it still be our responsibility in 2021?

That’s what we’d like to say of course, and that’s what we should encourage. The reality is, we’re still our biggest supporters and to see the change we must be the ones to actively make it. And to our allies, we can spot the Malibu and Coke drinking parade-goers from the genuine activists and change-makers. We see and appreciate you.

Pride is a great opportunity to be visible, online and in person. Although every day is an opportunity to be visible, we’re not always comfortable doing so and that’s fine. Everyone has their own individual way of contributing to the community, big or small, and each is valid. Ultimately, we all have a responsibility to make our voices louder and to defend EVERYONE in our community. Report instances of homophobia, share stories with your work colleagues and friends, let people know it’s not all rainbows and RuPaul’s drag race.

Pride isn’t just for pride month, pride is every day for us.

One step at a time…

The wind in your hair, the sun on your face and fresh air in your lungs! Ok, so going out for a walk isn’t always like that, especially living in the UK with our temperamental weather. But getting out and about in the countryside, or even just for a walk around your local area can be brilliant.

Living in central Scotland I’m lucky enough to be reasonably close, well a couple of hours’ drive or so, to Loch Lomond and Cairngorms National Parks – home to some of the most amazing scenery in the country. And being a keen hillwalker, these areas really are a ramblers’ paradise.

I’m a big advocate of getting outdoors and into nature, and having not had the complete freedom to do that during lockdown, has only reinforced my appreciation of the great outdoors. Walking itself can have loads of health benefits and nature has been shown to have a positive effect on mental health. For me, getting out into the countryside and hillwalking really helps clear my head, and I do find myself feeling grateful as I walk amongst the stunning Scottish scenery – it really is a sight to behold. Although I usually go hillwalking with other people and we talk about anything and everything, it’s often those fleeting moments of silence that I find I really enjoy too. Being able to appreciate the moment and take in the beautiful surroundings. Until writing this I never thought of it as practising gratitude, and it’s only now that I’ve reflected on it properly that I’ve realised that’s exactly what I’m doing – and I feel better for it.

Planning a big day of hillwalking can be great, and it’s brilliant to have something to look forward to. But even just getting out of the house for a trek round the block can help boost your mood and improve your mental health. We’ve all been limited in what we can do recently, but even a short walk can work wonders. And if, like me, you’re still working from home, it gets you away from your desk for a wee while if nothing else.

So with May being National Walking Month why not try to get out and about. You could get your friends and family involved and take part in a walking challenge, or just set yourself a goal to get out for a walk once a day. You don’t have to be venturing into the Scottish mountains to take part and you might just find you feel better, physically and mentally, thanks to a bit of regular walking. Let us know if you’re doing anything for National Walking Month and we’ll share your stories, hints, tips and fundraising pages on our social channels.

Not even water??!!

Ramadan. The holiest month in the Islamic calendar. There is so much to be said about this month that brings excitement and expands further than just fasting – which is usually what people think about when they hear about Ramadan.

When is Ramadan?

This year Ramadan begins on 14 April – it moves ahead ten days each year so luckily it’s not landing on the hottest or longest days of the year. We planned months ago about how we could make the most of this month from a dietary perspective, eat healthily and perhaps lose some weight in the process. It didn’t happen, it never does, but at least our intentions were there!

Because of lockdown we won’t be allowed to break our fasts with our family and friends this year, nor did we last year. It’s a real shame because Ramadan is about sharing these moments with our loved ones, but we make the most of technology and share these moments virtually.

Time to refuel

We have until sunrise to refuel by eating and drinking all of those delicious looking meals we saw on Instagram during daylight hours when our tummies were rumbling. We have from 2.50am until approximately 5.00am to eat and pray the first prayer of the day – the exact time for each prayer changes every day and we are lucky to have the benefit of apps on our phone to keep us right. Our body clocks aren’t tuned for this, my alarm is set for 6.30am for work but rather than dreading it, I think of the benefits.

Our fast begins. No eating, drinking, swearing or complaining – it’s effectively a fast of the body, mind and tongue. Give to charity and complete at least our five prayers in the day. Ramadan is seen as test and a time for self-reflection and spiritual growth as well as a reminder to us about what we have, which we often take for granted, and what is truly important.

My choice to fast

I think about how lucky I have been – I think of my childhood and the days in school when I wasn’t obliged to fast but I did it because I felt I should. We all wanted to be grown-ups back then. I abstained from eating in school and my peers would look on in pity as I tried to reassure them I was ok. My friends offered me a chip and promised ‘they wouldn’t tell’ – I chuckled and loved that they cared, but how would I begin to explain that cheating defeats the purpose?

Looking forward to Iftar

I am a creature of habit – drinking a cup of tea is imbedded in my usual morning routine – but I weaned myself off this two weeks in advance of Ramadan to avoid the dreaded headaches. I look at the clock and my husband is counting down the number of hours until Iftar (the first meal after breaking the fast). This will be approximately 7pm today and we have hours to prepare our meal. But naturally, our stomachs have shrunk so we set our expectations too high and can’t possibly finish all of the food we had hours to prepare.

Sharing with a grateful heart

Nothing gives me more joy than to share Ramadan with non-muslims, so I carefully package leftovers and share them with our neighbours. Who else can we help, is there anyone struggling out there who we can help? I love how fasting shifts my mind-set to consider others before myself.

I read my final prayer of the day and read books to learn more about my faith. Nothing gives me more peace than this time of the day when I can pray for my family and friends and trust that everything will be okay.

The Eid celebration

Tomorrow it starts again, another detox of the mind and body with the intention of coming out of the other end stronger. I use this time for the celebration of Eid al-fitr (which basically means the festival of breaking the fast). Planning and preparation for Eid is always something I look forward to, it mirrors the same excitement Christmas does for Christians as we exchange gifts and eat far too much! Our families are huge, so we use the ‘Secret Santa’ idea to make it more fun and feasible.

Not all Muslims fast during Ramadan

Of course, not all Muslims have to practice fasting during Ramadan – you must be fit and healthy enough to undertake it and children only start fasting when they hit puberty. You also take time off fasting during pregnancy, menstrual cycles or if you are breastfeeding. Many elderly people are unable to fast due to their medication, for example. Your first Ramadan is exciting, it’s something you want to tell everyone about and yet find it difficult to explain. Our mums send us to school with a small snack (just in case).

Fasting in other religions

Interestingly, most world religions mention fasting somewhere in their doctrine – be that Lent in Christianity or Yom Kippur in Judaism and from what I understand, it has the same principles: discipline, appreciation and self-reflection. Outside of religion, fasting has also been incorporated into fitness plans and encouraged a massive ‘detox’ movement in the western world too.

From an Islamic perspective, there are number of guideline principles to follow:

  • Fasting begins when a hilal crescent moon is sighted. However, every year there is a bit of confusion as to when this date is – most UK Muslims follow the announcement of Saudi Arabia’s religious leaders. The 30 days of Ramadan that follow represent the 30 chapters of the Qur’an that appeared to Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings be upon him) in the ninth month of the Islamic lunar calendar, which is dictated by the position of the moon.
  • As well as fasting between sunrise and sunset, Muslims must also abstain from smoking and sex. If someone intentionally has daytime sex during Ramadan, they must perform kaffaarah (expiation of the sin) and fast for 60 days or, if unable to, feed 60 poor people.
  • If someone eats or drinks because they forgot or were coerced, the fast is still valid but they must continue to abstain.

And finally, I’ll leave you with a polite greeting used during the holy month – ‘Ramadan Mubarak’, which means ‘Have a blessed Ramadan’.

All things being equal

#choosetochallenge

Our world today looks very different to the one we were happily running roughshod over up until a year ago. While this time has been devastating for millions of us personally – whether losing people precious to us, suffering financially or becoming ill ourselves – it’s also forced us to step off the not-so-merry-go-round and strip our lives, habits and tendencies back to basics.

Many of us have had a lengthy hiatus to challenge the plethora of things we blindly accepted as the norm just twelve months ago. We all know the planet desperately needed a chance to clear its lungs, but as a race we too needed to take a breath and really consider what it means to be a human in the 21st century.

As I took time to breathe, the enforced isolation prompted me to think about how I interact with people – how I should interact with them and the unconscious way I treat the people around me. What are my core values as a person and what type of person do I want to be?

After some considerable soul-searching I realised at the most fundamental level I believe in all things being equal – simple really!

And to quote the first article of the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights: “All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights.”

That means whoever you are, wherever you were born – your ethnicity, religion, beliefs, ability, sexuality and gender shouldn’t in any way prevent you from access to the same opportunities, rights, status, fairness or justice as anyone else.

You should not be discriminated against. Period.

So, on International Women’s Day and as part of their campaign #choosetochallenge, I want to share a few ideas about how we can all start to recognise and challenge the unconscious biases so deeply entrenched in ourselves and our culture. And although we’re focusing on women today, it’s worth bearing in mind the learned behaviours that unconsciously influence our actions and decision-making at every point of every day don’t just apply to gender.

Self-awareness
Take a step back and check your conversations, language and immediate responses. We all have learned ideas about gender and instinctively try to categorise everyone we meet – is this necessary or even appropriate? You might also have deep-rooted assumptions about ‘pink and blue jobs’ inherited from your parents for example, or unconsciously favour men for roles in authority and women for roles where emotional support is important. Ask yourself – am I reinforcing those biases just because I haven’t actively questioned whether they’re true?

There’s room for everyone
To some degree we’re all attracted to people most like us (sometimes called affinity bias), so without meaning to, we can end up excluding people who are different to us. Try not to discriminate for ANY reason and then bravely, respectfully call out stereotyping and intolerance whenever it raises its ugly head.

Celebrate success
And, on this day dedicated to ‘celebrating the social, economic, cultural and political achievements of women’, I want to highlight how important it is to add your voice to the choir singing women’s praises. I urge you to try and weave recognition of the women you know and their successes, both personal and professional, into your own daily narrative.

Be the person who raises women up, challenges inequity and moves us collectively towards a future where equality for everyone is the new normal.

And finally… an opportunity to check your unconscious bias in favour of male authors right here!

Read more (by these amazing women) and get involved
Invisible woman: Data Bias in a World Designed for Men by Caroline Criado Perez
Difficult women: A History of Feminism in 11 Fights by Helen Lewis
https://www.internationalwomensday.com/
https://www.equalitynow.org/

Listen
Women unlocked – Audible original

Walk All Over Cancer

With spring just about here, it’s a great time to put your trainers on, stretch your legs and banish those winter blues. Cancer Research UK are encouraging us to “Show cancer who’s boss and join thousands of people across the world walking 10,000 steps every day in March to raise money for life-saving research.”

Our New Year’s resolutions may seem like a distant memory now, so a step challenge could be just what the doctor ordered. It can help us build up those good habits again and get out exploring our local area in (hopefully) some nice spring weather.

Cancer Research’s Walk All Over Cancer challenge could be just the thing to help motivate you to get those steps in and get outside for some fresh air and exercise. And raising money for such a worthy cause will give you an added boost of some feel-good factor too!

I think it’s pretty obvious from my phone screenshot that I, for one, need an extra push of motivation to make sure I leave the house every day… (shaking head emoji).

Walking can also have loads of health benefits – helping to boost your mental wellbeing, as well as your physical health. It can also improve your overall fitness, not to mention the endorphins released after exercise will leave you feeling great for the rest of the day. And in these strange times, it’s the perfect socially distanced activity too!

So why not sign-up and get your friends and family involved – maybe even get a bit of friendly competition going to keep things interesting? It could be for the greatest number of steps or the most money raised – check out Cancer Research’s dedicated fundraising site for some really good ideas.

Don’t worry if your phone doesn’t have a step counter already, there are loads of apps you can download to track your progress, including the NHS’s Active 10 app. You can sign-up here and let us know if you’re taking part by sharing your fundraising links in the comments below. Happy striding!

I just want to go to Soho on a Monday morning

Before Miss Coronavirus embarked on an extensive world tour that would give even Cher a run for her money, my absolute favourite pastime was going to Soho on a Monday morning.

I’ve said this a few times by now to different people, and each time I’m met with a ‘Why Monday? Monday’s are the worst’ kind of look. Well, Mondays are actually the best.

If you get on the 14 bus around 10am, it’ll take you straight into Piccadilly once the morning commute has passed its peak. You can then slink off the bus and immediately get lost in the tiny side streets between China Town, Piccadilly and Soho. If you go in spring, the mornings are dewy, fresh and bright meaning it’s the perfect weather to sit in Golden Square and have an Oat cappuccino from the Veggie Pret on the corner dahhling.

I used to stop in at Fiorucci, browsing completely uninterrupted which made me feel like a celebrity, especially when the staff learned my name. If I wasn’t doing that, I’d peruse Good News Soho and buy one of their outrageous fashion and music magazines, or thumb through the records at Sister Ray and Reckless Records on Berwick Street.

The reason I’m telling you this is because it makes my soul so unbelievably happy.

I moved to London in the hopes of finding somewhere like Soho where I’d feel connected to the queer community. Historically, London has always embodied the queer spirit – from accommodating the Gateways Club (the world’s longest running lesbian nightclub -1936 to 1985) to the Blitz Kids in Covent Garden co-hosted by Steve Strange and Rusty Egan from 1979/80, and a whole lot more. London feels like the queer homecoming I’d always dreamed of. For me, a queer kid who grew up in the countryside, the capital represented the soul of gay liberation, and I wasn’t wrong by any stretch, but I was definitely wearing my rose-tinted glasses.

I’m still haunted by my first threatening homophobic encounter in London. In my experience, in the countryside it never got to a place of violence. You’d be called various names, bullied, maybe shoved, but it never got to a place where you’d be scared for your life. That doesn’t mean to say it can’t happen – hateful acts of ignorance can happen anywhere.

That very first time, I was thankfully with one of my best friends Sue, a trans girl from Derby, and another cis girlfriend whom we’d met at uni. I won’t go into details about the event, but we quickly found ourselves in a highly threatening situation in a very public space outnumbered by a group of guys. I’ve turned this over and over in my head for the three years since it happened, and two things stay firmly planted in my mind.

Number one – although it was probably mine and Sue’s obvious flamboyance that caught the lads attention, our girlfriend who had been with us was equally ‘in trouble.’ It made me realise that if these ignorant homophobes had no respect for queers, they most certainly didn’t have any respect for women either. In that moment I saw firsthand the solidarity between women and queer folk – shared experiences of belittling and terror that both parties have, out of necessity, become accustomed to. I am so grateful for the woman in my life, they have given me strength, inspiration and motivation to be the person I am today. Many women share our queer spirit and for that they are forever a part of our community.

Number two – as I previously mentioned, this was a VERY public place. Not one person who witnessed our encounter with the boys bat an eye. Not one of the many adults in the vicinity came to help or defend three 18 year olds in immediate danger. We were kids back then. It still makes me exhale heavily – I was so disappointed and disillusioned. Those rose-tinted glasses cracked that day.

I realise now these experiences have placed a hot pink fire in my soul which has ultimately made me embrace my queerness and non-binary identity louder and prouder than ever. The queer spirit is made of hardy stuff. It’s not to be underestimated.

As an ally what can you do?

First of all, to address the big rainbow elephant issue in this post. You don’t have to be superman and fly in and save the day when you see queer folk in danger. You could end up putting yourself and others in danger too. However, you have a responsibility as an ally to alert the authorities or step in if the situation can be managed without police enforcement. We still need support.

On a lighter note.

When the lockdown on our lives has finally been lifted, go to Soho on a Monday morning and soak up the queer energy the place has to offer. Go a few streets down and visit the plaque on Heddon Street where Bowie shot the cover for his infamous 1972 Ziggy Stardust album. Or travel a little further towards Warren Street and visit Gay’s The Word, an original LGBTQIA+ bookshop which has been standing strong in all its pride since 1979. Not to sound like an overplayed airlines advert, but you should really experience queer culture first hand, there’s nothing quite like it.

 

 

Becoming a better ally – I’m still learning too

My son told me he was gay on the platform of Fulham Broadway while we were waiting for a tube into Central London.

There wasn’t any big lead up to his coming out. I wasn’t expecting it right there and then but I’d been anticipating the conversation for most of his life.

I often think back to that moment and remember the gentle sway of conversation – our usual back and forth, laughing, comfortable – probably a bit banal. In retrospect I wonder if that’s why he choose that exact point – because we were entirely at ease and maybe he thought things would never be quite the same again.

For me though, his quiet admission didn’t disrupt anything at all. It settled that final piece of my knowledge of him with a small, satisfying click. I was surprised to hear him ask me if it would change anything between us . . . “How could it?” I said – “I love you – I’ve always known.”

Showing up

I’m painfully aware this isn’t every queer person’s experience of coming out to their family. And it certainly wasn’t without challenge, prejudice and homophobia from the males in our own family. But like the ally I’d learned to be over the course of his childhood, I stood up, stepped in and spoke out.

Being an ally can be in equal parts easy and difficult. Throw into the mix being a parent too and you can imagine the confrontational situations you suddenly find yourself in. Staring unflinchingly into the eyes of complete strangers who openly laugh at your child. Questioning what right those groups of adolescents have to threaten and insult him. Challenging your close friends and family members to address their unconscious bias and re-educate themselves.

It’s not about you

The complicated conversations with people you’d just assumed would be gay ok are difficult, let alone living with a constant undercurrent of homophobic violence, and fear for your queer people’s safety. I’ve had to learn to live with both and they cause me a great deal of anxiety. Of course it’s nothing compared to what LGBTQIA+ people are exposed to and have to navigate every day.

Being a true ally isn’t easy when you’re afraid. I once made the mistake of asking my son to consider wearing a hat to cover up his bright pink buzzcut, and swap his skirt and platforms for something that would attract less attention on his commute through London. He refused of course, explaining to me that his queerness was in the way he walked, talked and everything about him, transcending more than just his outward appearance. I’ve never asked him to change himself to suit other people since.

Start with love

The easy part has always been from a personal perspective – understanding and developing my own relationship with the queer folk in my life. Whether that’s been celebrating with friends as they committed to each other in a civil partnership before gay marriage was even legalised, or providing a safe haven so my kids could grow into their best authentic selves (read: supporting my son’s choice to wear cherry-red Mary Janes at nursery and painting his toenails sparkling silver every summer, although I do reserve the right to stop him talking about Mariah Carey on every. Single. Facetime call . . .)

First steps

This is what I’ve learned on my own personal journey to becoming a better ally. Of course, I can’t speak for everyone and I’m definitely still learning!

Accept and support – unconditionally. Acceptance starts at home and the little things on a daily basis will make all the difference to your queer family – be mindful of your language, be inclusive and non-judgemental.

Defend and protect – while I don’t advocate putting yourself in danger, defending your queer folk against homophobic insult and attack is vital – they need to know you’re on their side!

Question and challenge – try to become aware of unconscious bias and challenge it. No-one wants a belligerent person making accusatory comments so make sure you know what you’re talking about and always educate with kindness.

Educate yourself – if you don’t know the right terms for things or the pronouns your queer folk have chosen – ask! If your questions come from a place of respect and love they won’t mind you asking.

Bear in mind just because you know one queer person, doesn’t necessarily mean you have an understanding of the whole community. Listen to podcasts, familiarise yourself with important gay history such as Stonewall and the Gay Liberation Front and keep up to date with current news concerning LGBTQIA+ issues like the Black Trans Lives Matter protests as part of the Black Lives Matter movement.

And finally…

Support where you can

Read more and get involved

These are some of my current favourites

Listen and watch

“Category is: Body ody ody”

Close your eyes and imagine this: I’m sitting in the Chelsea branch of Gail’s on a crisp winter morning writing this blog post on my MacBook. I have a skinny oat latte and a banana, because although the pastries look delicious, they’re not gluten free and I bloat at even the sight of wheat. I’m wearing a skinny jersey turtleneck and my Fiorucci Tara jeans cinched in at my tiny waist to emphasise just how much weight I’ve lost.

Girl. As if.

In reality, I’m crunched up on my bed looking down past my triple chin at my six year old HP laptop that took 30 minutes to turn on. I’ve eaten half a packet of biscuits with my morning ‘value’ filter coffee, and I’m in my pants and my favourite Oxfam bargain cardigan.

And just for the record, EVEN in my fantasy, I couldn’t resist a Gail’s pastry. They’re just too good.

We all have a fantasy, but they’re fickle, often equal parts aspirational and destructive. We need to manage our expectations.

Something I find so deeply problematic in the LGBTQIA+ community is the persistent need to categorise, label and define, particularly when it comes to our bodies. For a community that’s ‘all accepting,’ we can be anything but. Some of our queer specific dating apps are designed to make us ultimately isolate one another. They promote internalised homophobia, transphobia, racism and body shaming. I’ve come across profiles that say ‘No Fats, No Femmes, No Blacks and No Asians.’ It’s disgusting, do we really hate ourselves that much?

The ‘Tribes’ that these apps promote facilitate and spawn further notions of self-loathing. Twinks, Jocks, Bears, Otters, Femmes… to name a few, are categories that define aspects of our physicality. For example, if you’re a twink, you’re typically skinny, blonde and shaved head to toe. If you’re a bear, you’re muscular, brunette and hairy head to toe. I could go on.

For me as a non-binary (he/his/they/them) individual I often feel that I don’t fit into any category, and quite frankly I don’t want to. In saying this, you sometimes can’t help but let the small minded people that operate within these suffocating tribes get the best of you.

There have been times where I’ve tried to ‘masc it up’ to try and hide my natural flamboyance and femininity. I tried to grow out my facial hair in an effort to fit in with the Bears and Otters. I’ve dressed subtle on first dates to appear less… gay? It doesn’t make sense and only leads to dizzying feelings of dysphoria.

Feeling dysphoric about our bodies is not breaking news by any stretch, and it doesn’t just apply to the LGBTQIA+ community. There are often many similarities in the way that queer men and cis women view their bodies for example. However, although us gays, girlies and our bodies are important, there needs to be more love, attention and support for trans bodies.

For decades now, trans folk and their bodies have been misunderstood, ridiculed and alienated. In 2020 and 2021 this is a bigger issue than ever.

Last year The Trevor Project, a non-profit organisation who specialise in suicide prevention among the LGBTQIA+ community, reported that 60% of young trans and non-binary individuals engage in self harm, and 40% of those surveyed seriously contemplated ending their own lives. Imagine then throughout history, how many undocumented transgender and gender non-conforming people we’ve lost. It’s harrowing.

In 2021 as the pandemic continues, this may prove harder than usual for trans youth as many will be isolated from their community, safe places and support systems. Home isn’t always a safe place either when there is still so much misinformation and misunderstanding surrounding transgender bodies.

As an ally, what can you do to help?

Do your research. Educate yourself. Donate.

Listen to podcasts like ‘NB: My Non-Binary Life’ by the BBC. Check out the Mermaids UK organization for their amazing charity work for trans and non-binary youth. Google Munroe Bergdorf and read about her story.

Check yourself too. The thing I hate hearing THE MOST when people are referring to my trans brothers and sisters is: ‘Oh, they’re a man but really they’re a woman’ and vice versa. Or ‘I would’ve never thought they were a guy before! They’re so feminine.’ This kind of attitude towards the trans community is super disruptive and leads to more feelings of dysphoria. Treat trans people with respect. I can’t speak for the entirety of the trans community, but they don’t need your validation on whether or not they’re ‘passing.’

If you’re unsure how a trans or non-binary person identifies, you can politely ask them, just make sure it’s in a private and non-threatening tone and environment. In addition, if you accidentally use the wrong pronouns (yes, especially if it’s in a group setting) immediately correct yourself and correct others too.

Yours sincerely, a non-binary badass.

It’s time to talk about mental health

Many of us are finding things a little harder to deal with right now and one thing we can all take from the pandemic is just how seriously we need to consider mental health issues. Too long considered a taboo subject, mental health awareness is becoming more apparent than ever.

According to research carried out by the Mental Health Foundation, “Key indicators of distress among UK adults – including loneliness, suicidality and not coping well with stress – are worse now than at the start of the pandemic”.

Whether you’ve suffered with mental health issues or not, we can’t ignore the impact they’re having on so many of us anymore.

Prince William, a well-known advocate for raising the awareness of mental health, filmed a BBC documentary following his campaign to get men talking, in which former professional footballer Marvin Sordell speaks about his battle with depression and how he struggled to overcome this, culminating in trying to take his own life.

Fearne Cotton, now an ambassador for Mind, first publicly spoke of her depression in 2017. She has gone on to publish several mental health books, launched a podcast and set up a virtual mental health festival. She’s also a dedicated supporter of Time to Talk Day and other major campaigns.

Matt Haig’s book, Reasons to stay alive, details his own story of dealing with crisis, illness and learning to live again. He talks about his own experience with depression and ways of dealing with it.

The popular Netflix series 13 Reason Why, ITV’s Britain Get Talking campaign, the lyrics to Don Diablo’s Kill Me Better, the list could go on… mental health is the message people want to highlight right now.

The recurring theme throughout is how important it is to talk openly about mental health, but with 60% of those with a mental health problem waiting over a year to tell the people closest to them about it, is enough being done?

Time to change is raising awareness of mental health and want to ensure everyone can access help and support when they need it. As part of their ongoing work they’ve been running Time to Talk Day since 2014, to get us talking and changing lives. Taking place on Thursday 4 February, they encourage us all to be a part of it to help end mental health discrimination.

We might not be able to talk face to face at the moment, but it doesn’t mean we can’t all make a difference. Time to change will be holding a first ever virtual festival, consisting of a day of online activities you can join from home. The festival will cover the serious matters of talking about mental health, but also some more light hearted activities, cooking, yoga, Bollywood dancing – there’s something for everyone.

Maybe you’re looking to learn about mental health and how to help someone cope? Time to Change shares tips on how to talk about mental health, along with regular local events you can get involved in.  Taking just a few minutes out of your day could change someone else’s.

If you’re worried about your own, or someone else’s mental health, it’s important to remember you’re not alone. Visit the Time to Change website for organisations who can support you.

“A little consideration, a little thought for others, makes all the difference.” – Eeyore, A.A. Milne.