Comment Writer Natalia Carter conducts a survey to determine whether sex education in the UK is satisfactoryWritten by Natalia Carter on 23rd March 2018
Spotlight On: LGBTQ+ Students
With February being LGBT History Month, we spoke to students in UoB's LGBTQ+ Society to hear and share their stories
Ellie: 'I've had the opportunity to face my identity head-on'
In the last 16 months, I’ve learned more about my identity than I ever expected to, when I thought I was an expert before I even arrived. I’ve built a community of LGBTQ+ identifying friends and made myself a support network. It was what I looked forward to when I thought about finally going to university – a chance to settle myself into a group of people who understood what it left like to by LGBTQ+.
What I didn’t expect was the result of joining a group like that. I’ve seen death threats, hate-filled graffiti, leaflets for conversion therapy, all thrown towards the collective group that is LGBTQ+ people on campus. I’ve seen LGBTQ+ students have their safety ignored for the sake of money; our opinions banned as ‘controversial’ just because of our identity. I might have built a support network, I’ve left myself facing the hatred that anonymous groups and people throw at any collective with LGBTQ+ in its title.
“I’ve made friends I would never have had a connection to if it wasn’t for the LGBTQ+ Association
I don’t regret any of it, though. There is so much more good than bad. I’ve had the opportunity to face my identity head on and acknowledge how I feel about myself and my community. I’ve made friends I would never have had a connection to if it wasn’t for the LGBTQ+ Association. I wouldn’t swap any of them for the world.
Avery: 'It's like a shadow, the way it almost follows me'
Sometimes, when I walk through campus or down Bristol Road, I wonder if everyone I pass can smell it on me. Whether, somehow, they can tell simply by looking at the way I walk in my boots or the way my coat hangs off of my shoulders. And then I wonder when it will happen. Every turn around a corner becomes a game of chance, a possibility that someone will say something or ask something and then I’ll freeze in my bones and they will know. Wednesday nights are the worst, and on Wednesdays I won’t leave the house after 9pm and I won’t pause at campus for longer than I absolutely need to, and I won’t let myself breathe again until I’m safe, away in my room and the chances are at zero. It’s like a shadow, the way it almost follows me, how it waits to creep up at my ankles and snatch at them, tugging me backwards until I fall.
Every time I’ve rolled the dice, nothing has happened.
Every time the shadows get a little too close, nothing has happened.
Every time I pause around a corner, nothing has happened.
But I am terrified that something will.
K. Asavisanu: 'Coming out was one of the best decisions I've ever made'
‘I’m not gay'
I was pretty convinced that if I said that enough times it would be true and this nightmare would be over.
Growing up I was different. I was the weird kid, the kid you didn’t want to have at your birthday party but your parents made you invite them. So I certainly didn’t need this ‘dirty secret’, this ‘liking girls’ business to be yet another thing that set me apart from everyone else. I’ve drawn enough short straws in my life.
I suppressed the thought for as long as I could and over time my spirit suffered. My mental health spiraled downwards and eventually all the lying, the hiding and the secrets started to become painful and frankly it was exhausting.
Having to hide something that big ruined me and I knew I needed help. Being bitter wasn’t going to make things better.
So I took a chance. I enrolled onto an LGBT support group on campus which happened on a Monday evening. I still remember how I felt that Monday morning, I’d never been more scared in my life. Mentally I backed out of going a million times knowing that this was either going to be the best or worst decision of my life.
I ended up going because I knew, for the better or worse, something had to change.
This first step little did I know, was the first step to the rest of my life.
The impact of this first step was incredible, hearing other people’s stories and being around people who were going through the same struggles made me realized that I was not alone. I then enrolled onto an LGBT mentoring group on campus were I was mentored for a year by an LGBT member of staff in UoB who helped me explore my fears and concerns about being gay. Then I joined the LGBT society on campus, I made new friends, I went out and for the first time I felt like I was living my best life. I felt this massive weight come off my chest, the weight of lies and paranoia that I didn’t even realize I was carrying.
The LGBT community is amazing and I don’t say this lightly. They gave me the confidence and support to come out. I finally decide that my friends and family are too important for me to keep such a big part of myself from them. I owed them the truth as a tribute to our relationship. I owed it to them to believe that they would be capable of continuing to love and support me.
In the months that followed I told one friend and then another and then another and each coming out process became easier than the next. There was so much magic in honesty and openness.
Coming out was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made.
I’ve been so lucky. My friends and family have been extremely supportive and through coming out our bond has grown infinitely stronger.
I’m a happier, prouder, stronger and more confident person because of it. Turns out my rock bottom became the solid foundation I have today.
So as I am writing this, on the other side of all that pain, that if I have learned anything from being out is that we all deserve to love and be loved with pride and without shame.
Even if it doesn’t feel that way right now, trust me when I say this…to love and to be loved for who you truly are is what we all deserve.
It really does get better but not by chance but by change.
Please don’t let such important words be unspoken.
Happy LGBT+ history month.
Christopher: 'You're stronger than you would have been'
Being Queer is queer, to say the least. ‘Queer’ as in ‘strange’, ‘abnormal’, or ‘weird’ (That’s not OED-certified, I’m just going by experience). And for a good few years, most LGBTQ+ people are queer. Out of the ordinary. The Gay Kid. A mere queer full of fear. Pseudo-celebrity of the school for the Unspoken Reason. And then, you get to university. Which is weird (or queer), because you’re not queer, as in ‘abnormal’, because there are (pause) Other Queers! And then you’re a group of queers, which is somehow the most normal thing in the world. A queer crowd, being normal. (Liberal air brackets for everything considered ‘normal’ - it’s a shorthand for ‘popular’, let’s be real.)
And so you’re there, with the hitherto-mythical Other Queers. And suddenly, you’re the not the Gay Kid anymore. You’re just you (Chris, in my case, though [insert name] as applicable). But you’re still Queer. Just changed. Transformed. Because you’re stronger than you would have been. Self-consciously unconscious of your difference. Queerer, if you like.
As you can tell, it’s very confusing.
All this, by the way, is hardly extraordinary. My revelatory revelations are more normal normalisations. To us, anyway; the Other Queers, one of which I now am (???). We’re all very queer, and together we’re all very Queer. And in that, we’re normal.
Normal but Queer.
Finn: 'Being angry is exhausting. I always seem to have a lot to be angry about'
It’s time to come right out (no, that wasn’t a pun, but you can have it) and say it. Queer people are probably sick of your nonsense. It’s not personal, really. We’re just tired. I’m tired.
I’m exhausted, because honestly wearing my identity sometimes feels like a full-time job. There’s labour: constant emotional, intellectual, safety-conscious labour. As an openly non-binary, trans, queer person I am under scrutiny and pressure so often to conform where I cannot, to justify what comes naturally to me, and to educate wherever I encounter ignorance. I encounter a lot of ignorance. More often than not it isn’t malicious, and certainly almost never aggressive. I recognise as a white, middle-class student at a largely liberal institution that my existence is comparatively charmed. Trans people, women of colour particularly, face the highest levels of violence internationally. Given the staggering rates of assault and murder I am frequently reminded how lucky I am to only have the problems of explaining my gender does, in fact, exist on occasion. Physically, I have never felt unsafe on campus. The fact that for a trans person this seems to constitute a privilege and not simply a basic expectation of rights is of course infuriating.
“Either you take on the teaching, or you take on the discomfort of the ignorance
Being angry is exhausting. I always seem to have a lot to be angry about. I read the news, hear the latest out of Trumps’ America or May’s Britain, I get angry. I hear a throwaway microaggression or two from an acquaintance, I get angry. I learn about the university’s policies for LGBTQ+ students at the new Dubai campus, I get very angry. I attend a lecture on queer theory and spend the subsequent seminar debating basics of identity, I get angry. I’m tired. I’m tired from being angry and I’m tired of being angry.
I’m tired of explaining myself and I’m tired of feeling that I need to educate others at every turn. Obviously, I’m not obligated to educate people. And yet if I don’t, casual erasure and multitude small hurts go unchecked. Either you take on the teaching, or you take on the discomfort of the ignorance. As a non-binary person, this is particularly stark. Every time I correct someone’s use of pronouns I face the probability of them denying the functionality of the singular ‘they’, of needing to turn a simple request into a full lecture on the nature of gender and the fallacy of the binary.
I’m tired. It’s not any one person’s fault, but I’m very, very tired.
Lauren: 'I think that the goal should not be merely tolerating LGBTQ+ people, but rather honouring and celebrating'
I think that, for me, although being gay is not an expression of who I am fundamentally, this aspect of my identity is in many ways fundamental to my experiences. How I see the world and engage with people is often shaped by my understanding of myself, which includes (among many other things) my sexual identity—an identity that has often been received by others with complete acceptance, sometimes criticism, or some reaction in between. I’ve taken on these responses to my identity as well, internalised the best and worst parts, felt ashamed of who I am, then experienced assurance and confidence in myself, cycled back again, and even felt both extremes at once.
As a student, I wasn’t sure whether my ideas would be taken as seriously by my peers if they knew I’m gay, whether I’d be seen as one-dimensional in my identity, and as an athlete, I worried about conforming to stereotypes about gay women. Even though there hasn’t been stability in my level of comfort with my identity over the past year since I’ve come out, some things have stayed constant: most notably, how thankful I am for the people whose opinions of me haven’t changed.
When I told one of my best friends that I’m gay, she smiled and said “Okay.” This is the kind of loving attitude toward non-heterosexual, non-cisgender identities that should be universal. I think that the goal should not be merely tolerating LGBTQ+ people, but rather honouring and celebrating various sexualities and genders, however we choose to understand the role of our identities in our lives.
Thank you to the LGBTQ+ Society and to find out more about LGBT History Month, check out their website here.