This is a transcript of a speech given at Lesbian Strength 2019.
I have always been attracted to women and never men. My parents have always been supportive, so I should have had an easy path to being a lesbian. The problem though, was that I was a teenage girl who didn’t fit in and desperately wanted to. I was never ‘found out’ at school but I saw what happened to those who were bullied and was careful to avoid it. I was never girly, I loved football, rugby and horse riding and so always felt out of step. I decided that pretending to fancy some bloke in McFly, or a boy that I was never likely to have to talk to seemed a fair price to pay to join in with my friends. Slowly, I convinced myself that was real and that my attraction to women was just admiration or a phase I’d grow out of.
As we grew up and everyone coupled up, my friends started to ask why I wasn’t interested. A man asked me out for a drink and it just seemed easier to say yes. That started a series of relationships that were unhappy at best and abusive at worst. Through all of them I kept trying, because I thought there was something wrong with me. By twenty one I was so depressed I couldn’t get out of bed and it took me over 3 years to recover. But I realised that it really wasn’t supposed to be that hard. No more men.
I still didn’t know any lesbians. I had short relationships with straight women who always went back to men eventually. My straight and gay male friends got into online dating, but I found it impossible, due to a distinct lack of female homosexuals in ‘women seeking women’. I concentrated on my career and my friends, and slowly started to feel more confident.
Then in July 2018 I was on holiday with some friends and one of them came to tell me that ‘lesbians were being transphobic’ at London Pride. I went on the internet to find out what the hell was going on. Afterwards I was confused as to why my gay male friends were so disgusted. I explained that of course lesbians are same-sex attracted women. In the argument that followed I was called a TERF and a bigot, for stating that I am, in fact, a female homosexual. This time, instead of looking for ‘fair’ or ‘easy’ I was furious. As a teenager I was trapped into heterosexuality and I am damned if I will be coerced into accepting penises again in my twenties.
I came home from that holiday determined to find other lesbians and I did As a bonus I found proper feminists and proper friends too. When I though about it afterwards, that conversation was a crystallisation of what I’d experienced in LGBT groups, men were more important and even asking inconvenient questions was shut down. As a young lesbian stuck in the alphabet soup I felt isolated. I had no community, no understanding of who I was and no role-models, and it took me until I was twenty eight to find them.
Many of the challenges young lesbians face are ultimately rooted in being female, or more specifically being female without conforming to patriarchal expectations. This is part of our unique experience as lesbians, which is ignored within the ‘LGBT’ community. We need to form our own networks and groups, where young lesbians can be supported without having to appease males. Groups where lesbian identity can be celebrated. And where we are free to define ourselves and set our own boundaries.
Having been part of the organising committee for today I can tell you that it should not be this hard for a group of women to meet. Despite our supposed protection under the Equality Act, being overtly pro-lesbian now attracts threats and protests. We need to reclaim the lesbian and women only spaces that have been lost. To insist on the rights that we have to do this. All lesbians benefit from these spaces but they are particularly important for those women discovering that they are lesbian.
I want to finish by saying how important lesbian visibility is to young women. We share a rich culture and herstory, including the role models that I so badly needed but didn’t find as a teen. I just needed to find my tribe. The GettheLout action at London Pride woke me up and gave me the long-overdue courage to stand up for myself. Telling the truth may be scary at first but lying or equivocating will slowly drain you. Be brave. Be proud.