"WE'RE HERE, WE'RE QUEER"
Rachel Ayeh-Datey, 23
I was 10 when the Black Eyed Peas released their hit song “My Humps”. While the song was quite similar to their other upbeat pop rhythms, one thing was different. Watching the video with Fergie and the other female dancers gyrating provocatively stirred something in my 10 year old brain. One particular moment in that music video will always be ingrained in my memory. Fergie staring straight into the camera lens and flexing her pectoral muscles causing her boobs to bounce up and down in a fashion that I had never seen before. So of course, I replayed that moment over and over again. That was one of the defining moments where I realised my attraction to women.
As time passed through my adolescence, I developed many crushes on female celebrities. I even had the typical gay experience of being deeply infatuated with my seemingly straight best friend for most of my teenage years. Growing up around really religious and culturally bound people made it hard for me to accept my attraction to women. It was always something that I pushed to the back of my mind. Additionally, growing up, if I did see queer women in the media, they were always white. This led me to believe that lesbians could only be white women. I also had crushes on boys but I found them to be more fleeting and superficial in relation to my feelings for girls. It took me leaving London and moving to Southampton for university to truly understand the magnitude of my sexuality.
Years and years of repressed feelings culminated to a severe bout of depression and anxiety about coming out to my family and friends. I honestly did not know if I had what it takes to navigate the world as a black lesbian woman. But I did and I do. In terms of labels, I feel that lesbian is what best reflects who I am and the importance I place on my relationships with women. I however do subscribe to the notion that sexuality can be fluid and flexible (for some people). So although I am a lesbian, if I was ever attracted to a man or anyone of another gender, I would never hold myself back. This aspect of my sexuality is very new to me and I’m still working out how to navigate it. Queer has been a word which has been difficult for me to identify with. A couple of years ago, I probably would have been offended if I was called a queer woman. After coming out as a lesbian, the language ascribed to my sexuality became very important to me. But after spending more time immersed in the LGBTQ community, I’ve realised that queer reflects a shared politics of individuality and truly living outside societal norms. Queer should be a blanket in which we are all included and protected. From sexuality to gender expression, queer covers it all and queer is also a tentative label for those still figuring it out. While I completely respect those who would rather not be associated with the word queer because of it’s derogatory usage. I embrace it now because I truly have been loved by my queer family.
Julia Godinho, 25
I can vividly recollect eight-year-old me lying on my bed playing scenes in my head. A teacher, a friend's sister, celebrities. I would think of them in a loving way and scribble their names underneath the table-top in my room, framed by drawings of hearts. My little secret. As the years went on, these feelings wouldn't go away, and would feel conflicted when the changing room chat would turn to boys. I would lie about the things I had done in an attempt to fit in and feel like my friends who, at the early age of ten, were already in relationships.
As the years went by, I moved to Brazil and found myself coming to terms with my identity and understanding all those new people around me. At the age of 12, one phone call changed a lot of things. As I was still learning a new language, the (Catholic) school's head teacher suggested that I stay back a year to have more time to fit in. And in what feels like some form of divine intervention, in the next term I was put into a class with a bunch of people who would become lifelong friends.
A group of five, six girls formed over the years, and although we hadn't yet discovered it, our common denominator would be sexuality. We all discovered it around the same time, confiding in and finding the strength in each other to come to terms with it. We would spend weekends together watching The L Word, at that time the only visible lesbians in TV. The show certainly shaped us as individuals and as a group. We lived, loved, laughed... and experimented. Our first crush, our first kiss, our first girlfriends. We were together and our bond was stronger than ever.
At the age of fifteen, I went to a party. My dad came to pick me up from the party and I can't remember much of what happened on the car journey back, but I know I was certain that I wanted to come out to my parents when I arrived home. It can only be described as a messy and very emotional conversation I had with my parents in the kitchen at 3 am. My parents couldn't have been more supportive and even revealed that my uncle was also gay.
Having my friends going through similar situations, I knew that I was extremely lucky, as not everyone has parents like mine. Brazil at the time wasn't the safest places to be, and statistics show that every 19 hours one LGBTQ+ person is killed in the country. This is brutal and I felt that I needed to do something about it. What made me strong and willing to be visible and vocal was the support I had from my friends and family. I knew I wanted to help others, and let them know that they weren't alone despite the adversities. During university, I became more immersed in LGBTQ+ activism and did what I could to make it a visible force in everything I did. Today, I chair an LGBTQ+ staff network in an organisation that is not the most inclusive one, but I am making sure that together we can raise awareness, celebrate and support queer colleagues and the LGBTQ+ community in general. There's a long way to go, but together we can do it. I am certain we can make it a fabulous journey of resistance and camaraderie along the way.
Yolanda Adamson, 30
I was in year 5 when my best friend kissed me at a sleepover at my house. I hadn’t ever thought I was attracted to girls before then, but for a good few months after it happened, whenever she came to my house we would hide in my room and do the same!
Although I realised I was attracted to girls at a very young age, because I was also attracted to boys, I was confused. I knew what the word bisexual meant, and even came out to one of my friends in year 7 as bisexual, but because I didn’t have any examples of bisexual or pansexual people in the media or in my personal surroundings, I was unsure of myself. I didn’t even have any examples of gay or lesbian people in my life, so I avoided talking about my feelings and would only talk about boys if the conversation about who fancied who came up.
It took me a long time to come to terms with the fact that it’s totally normal to like both men and women, and I’ve gone through phases of pretending I was straight, or thinking that I was lesbian. My journey to discovering my sexuality has been a long one, and has demonstrated to me that sexuality can be a fluid and ever-changing thing, even when you’re already sure you know how you identify! I now identify as queer, because that fits with the way I choose to live my life and my politics, and I recognise that not everyone fits into the gender binaries of male or female. I am attracted to people regardless of their gender or gender expression and I feel that identifying as queer lets me express this!
I’ve found a home in the queer community, and I’m constantly finding new things that add a different dimension to my identity, not only as a queer person, but in general. For example at the moment I’m starting to develop a Drag King character – Ivan Imagine. I’ve found my second home, and it’s a place where I have met amazing friends, people who have shown me love free from judgement or constraint, and a place where I feel like I’m able to express myself fully and with freedom.