We have yet another coming out story, this one from our lovely Vice-President (Undergraduate) Sam! If you’d like to share your story, send an email to [email protected], and if you’re thinking of coming out read our blog.
Coming out as a lesbian was a weird one. It took years for this label to be something that I was comfortable with, and what’s more, for it to become something I am proud of.
Like most LGBT+ people, I do not have one singular coming out experience. It has been a long, incredibly messy and at times painful process. At high school I knew I liked girls and I made the all too well-known mistake of telling people I thought cared about me, leading to a few, rather horrible, public outings. The label of “lesbian” was something that was thrust upon me before I even knew it was something that I actually am. I spent years trying to figure out what label worked for me, some people do not like, nor want a label, I did and still do. Labels, for me at least, provide a sense of security, but what’s more a sense of community- people like me who had similar experiences that could reply on. I flitted between the usual ones- bi, gay, queer- over and over again before I accepted lesbian.
Even when I knew I was not attracted to men, being a lesbian seemed so incredibly scary and seemed like something to distance myself from. Lesbians, as I knew it, were all scary and shouty, and at worst predatory- things I always feared about myself. Lesbians were something to distance yourself from- mainstream feminist rhetoric telling me that being a feminist was good and cool now (as long as you weren’t one of those Lesbians). As it turns out- lesbians are lovely and some of the most beautiful people I know and sometimes they are scary and shouty but also brave and protecting. It’s easy, as a lesbian, to fear you are a predator- to think your attraction to women is something nasty and something, fundamentally, to be afraid of. Fear of being a predator was something that was deeply ingrained- I felt weirdly ashamed and Unfeminist when I found women attractive- even though now, the idea that lesbians are patriarchal shills is something I can acknowledge as ridiculous.
Over a year ago now, I was applying for college accommodation and there was a box. The box asked if there was any reason I wouldn’t wish to share a room in college, it listed sexuality as a potential reason. Initially, I wrote “Lesbian”. After staring at this piece of paper for about ten minutes I scribbled out the word, and wrote “I am gay”. It seemed softer and easier. Lesbian felt radical, like I was really committing myself. In the same vein ‘lesbian’ felt divisive- like I was making a big fuss over nothing and trying to seem edgy and cool.
So a year on, here I am, writing this for National Coming Out Day, which seems strange as most people will testify- I have been ‘out’ for years. Most people presumed I was out as a lesbian too- which might be true now, but it definitely was not something I was willing to admit. Since starting uni and finding, in Durham of all places, some of the most beautiful LGBT+ people I could ever hope to and surrounding myself with supportive networks both in real life and online- I can safely say I am lesbian and a happy one too.
Coming out stories are sometimes not uplifting. Sometimes they are messy and sad and painful. Coming out is a constant process- it is not just the sitting your parents down for The Chat™, or announcing yourself through a facebook status- it is correcting people when they presume the gender of your partner, it is quietly mentioning that you are going to an LGBT+ social. There is no one Coming Out story, sometimes you’ll come out time and time again as your understanding of your identity evolves, and that is perfectly valid.
Our lovely president, Jess, has also been kind enough to share a coming out story with us! If you’d like to share a story, get in touch: [email protected] If you’re thinking of coming out, we have a handy guide [link].
I was nervous of coming out just after starting first year at Durham- it had taken me until my last year at school to really admit to myself that I might have these feelings and, compared to the self-assured, extroverted LGBT+ people I believed populated the LGBT+ Association and scene at Durham, I felt like a bit of a fraud. It took a good 6 months or so after that for me to feel certain of my identity and to realise that there is no perfect LGBT+ person who knows everything about the vast scope of our community and every possible identity out there.
I was fortunate that most of my experiences of coming out were incredibly positive. For my parents and the majority of my friends, old and new, it wasn’t really a big deal, and I still pinch myself sometimes to think that I’m lucky enough to have friends and family who actively celebrate who I am with me. It wasn’t all positive however- there are close relatives I still don’t feel comfortable confiding in, and some who outed me to loved ones without my knowledge or consent. Now I’m generally at peace with not being 100% out, 100% of the time- I’ve learned to view coming out as a wonderful thing to be able to do, but not the be all and end all of my relationships with friends and family.
If you’d told fresher me that two years later I’d be President of the LGBT+ Association I really would have laughed at you. I am so much more confident in myself, but mostly I’ve realised that I’m never going to have one moment of amazing revelation and clarity, but an ongoing and constantly evolving process of working out things about myself- including this aspect of who I am. Becoming one of the self assured and happy LGBT+ people I so envied did start with coming out, but has really been about all the other things along the way.
If you’d like to share your story, email [email protected], and if you’re thinking of coming out, have a look at our guide [link]!
Reflections on Faith & ‘Being Me’
When I first came up to Durham in 1993 to read Theology, I arrived with a great deal of anxiety about the course ahead and what would be expected of me. I had worked for 6 years before University after leaving school at 16. Durham was, therefore, rather a daunting place for me. Thankfully I had been accepted to the wonderfully hospitable St Chad’s College and the welcome was one of a “home from home”.
I have now arrived back in Durham 24 years after my matriculation. I never imagined that I would be coming back here as a member of staff!
My upbringing was within a loving family where religious faith was very much part of family life, attending church sometimes twice on a Sunday. As I entered into my teenage years I remained very active in church life, albeit within a different tradition to the one I had been brought up in through much of my childhood. I was appointed as organist of a local parish church within my village and this was the beginning of a journey towards being ordained within the Church of England. Little did I know that somehow I would end up leaving work as a civil servant to study theology in Durham.
I resisted for many years within this process of discernment the notion that I could possibly be ordained within a church where the clergy (as I perceived it) were holy and without blemish. Clearly this is not the case and I had misunderstood completely the reality of what it is to be fully human within the Christian tradition.
Back in the early 90’s I did not have the language to express my sense of “being different”. I knew that I had feelings which didn’t seem to fit within any of the role models that I saw around me and somehow I tried to fit myself into a mould which was clearly not meant for me.
It was during my time in Durham that thankfully I met like-minded students and some very supportive local clergy who helped me to understand that being gay was OK and that my sense of calling to ordained ministry should not be seen as conflicting with that.
It was still a painful process during my degree course to deal with some around me who felt that I was somehow flawed. Thankfully I managed to get to a point where I was selected for training within the Church of England. I chose this period to come out to my family, to ensure that as I went forward into further training, there was no sense of anything being hidden.
I don’t pretend that this was an easy period for me or my parents but it was one that developed a real sense of profound growth for us as a family. The discussions around the table have certainly changed over the years and as a family there is very little that we would not discuss.
After 19 years of ordained life I hope I am able to be that role model that others were to me in Durham some 24 years ago. To live fully as I am is to live with integrity. This is, for me, central to living authentically as a Christian and as a Priest. Anything less is to fall short of all that I am called to be.
As per usual, the media (ahem: the Tab), have greatly misrepresented something, and this time it’s something that involves us.
I attended the NUS LGBT+ conference earlier this month, and there seems to be some confusion about one of the motions that was passed.
The motion was concerning safe spaces, and representation for minority groups. It notes that “Misogyny, transphobia, racism and biphobia are often present in LGBT+ societies. This is unfortunately more likely to occur when the society is dominated by white cis gay men”. It goes on to resolve, among many things, to “encourage LGBT+ Societies that have a gay men’s rep to drop the position”.
This is a highly emotive subject, so I’m going to take it slowly and make sure we’re all on the same page before launching into anything.
Firstly, this motion was referring only to LGBT+ Societies within Students’ Unions in the UK, not human societies (as in communities) as a whole.
Secondly, to explain this, we need to have a look at how LGBT+ Societies and Associations are structured in Student Unions. Usually there is an executive committee which has positions anyone can run for, and also a smaller committee (usually under the welfare officer) which represents minorities within the LGBT+ community, such as ethnic minorities, disabled individuals, intersex people, and trans people. They represent these people to the exec, who represent the LGBT+ community as a whole, including white cis gay men, to the Union. All this motion is saying is that the NUS LGBT+ campaign as a whole does not consider white, cis, gay men to be a minority group within the LGBT+ community. Not that they can’t hold positions on execs, not that they can’t represent or be represented by the LGBT+ community as a whole, but that they do not need a minority representative position because they are not a minority. They will still be represented to the university, and nationally, because LGBT+ communities are minority communities. They are just not a minority within that community, so do not need to hold a minority representation position.
Most importantly, the point is about increasing representation of minority groups within the minority group of an LGBT+ community. The majority of LGBT+ committees across the Western world are made up of cis white gay men, which means the opportunities for representation of minorities is very limited. This is, of course, not the fault of the majority (here: white cis gay men). This is just a logical conclusion to be drawn which is true in any group. For example, in politics, if all the representative positions are held by men, it is difficult to represent women. This is why systems such as affirmative action have been set up in the past, to make sure that the under-represented groups have positions of representation. In the same way, the NUS LGBT+ conference voted in favour of this motion which says not that white cis gay men shouldn’t be involved, but that they simply do not require specific and “reserved” representative positions for gay men: they are already represented more than any other LGBT+ identity. It’s a case of creating rep positions for groups which are underrepresented within the LGBT+ community, which white cis gay men are not.
In a college setting, you have a certain number of representative positions that people run for (like international rep, disabilities rep, LGBT+ rep, etc). In this way and in this context, they are finite, mainly for bureaucratic purposes (my opinion on which doesn’t matter at the moment). The NUS “encourages” the abolishment of representatives of majorities in favour of representatives of minorities. This doesnt mean gay representation in general should be decreased, it just means that they believe specific positions for it are a little superfluous in the context of evening the playing field, if that makes sense.
Gay men are represented: they make up the majority of most LGBT+ group’s execs, most of the media attention, and are the focus of the most charities and most funding. They should be represented by the LGBT+ community, but not through the medium of minority rep positions. Like, do we need a straight people’s rep on college committees? I’m sure most of you would answer something along the lines of “well, no, cos they’re the majority”. To the external world and on wider platforms, gay men need representation as a minority. Within the LGBT+ community, they simply aren’t a minority.
In the wider world, outside of LGBT+ communities, of course white cis gay men face discrimination and oppression because of their sexualities, this isn’t what’s being debated. What’s being debated is that within the minority group, this majority is represented far more than the minorities, which needs to change. It would be like having a white women’s rep in a feminist society, or a men’s rep in parliament, or an able-bodied rep on a sports panel. Those identities already exist in multitudes, and nobody wants to get rid of them, they just want to make sure that other identities are represented as well.
Gay men will still be able to run for any position which is not a reserved position for a minority group. They can run for president, vice president, campaigns, social sec, chair, secretary, whatever, but not representative positions for minority groups.
The violence and oppression gay men face throughout the world is not something which is taken lightly, as is shown by multitudes of other motions passed at the conference. We need to tackle this oppression as a community, but we also need to realise that our LGBT+ communities are made up of a huge number of people with different identities. When you think ‘LGBT’, you think ‘gay’. It’s what my mum assumed when I came out, and it’s what the world assumes when they see the logo on my hoodie. But that isn’t all we are. Some of us are still forgetting the plus, we’re even erasing the bisexual and trans identities which are actually mentioned in the 4-letter acronym! We need to make sure that everyone is represented within our community, especially those who struggle the most and who have the least representation outside of it.
How many of you reading this know what intersex is? How many of us know how many conditions it comprises, or the issues that intersex people face from the moment they’re born?
How many of us know the difference between pansexual, bisexual, and polysexual?
How many of us know the difference between gender and sex, or the difference between gender identity and gender expression, or sexual attraction and romantic attraction or aesthetic attraction?
How many of us know what grey-asexual or demisexual is, or even asexual, really?
How many of us know the issues associated with the intersections between sexuality and race, or disability, or class?
Until all of us can answer all of these questions as well as we can answer “what is gay?”, there will always be a point to increasing minority representation within our communities.
Gay men will be represented by LGBT+ Societies and Associations across the UK, regardless of what the NUS LGBT+ Campaign “encourages”. Let’s make sure we focus on raising awareness and representation of others to the same level, so that we can then raise all of us, no matter our gender or sexuality or romantic orientation, higher together.
I will be in Durham over Easter and would be more than happy to meet up and have a chat. This is an emotive issue, and I take the representation of absolutely everyone within the LGBT+ community very seriously, so I will always make the time to listen to your concerns or answer your questions.
An orientation describing those who do not experience sexual attraction, but can experience other types of attraction.
Those who only experience sexual attraction after forming an emotional connection. (Demiromantic – is a term which can be used to refer to those who have the potential to experience romantic attraction after they have formed an emotional connection).
Those who identify between asexual and sexual on the sexuality spectrum. This can be seen as an umbrella term and can include, but is not limited to: those who do not normally experience sexual attraction but do experience it sometimes; those who experience sexual attraction but at a level so low it is generally not noticed or acted upon and those who feel sexual attraction but only under very specific or limited conditions.
Ally: Typically any non-LGBTQ+ person who supports and stands up for the rights of LGBTQ+ people.
We invite you – no matter how you identify – to think deeply about how you can be an ally to LGBT peers. Allyship is about more than supporting equal rights for marginalized groups; it’s about advocating for those groups, uplifting their voices, and reflecting constantly on the powerful intersections of identity, privilege and justice.
HOW TO TAKE ACTION:
Make a personal and intentional vow to explore what it means to become an ally to LGBTQ+ identified individuals. Intervene when you hear anti-LGBTQ+ language or remarks – how often have you heard “that’s so gay?” as a derogatory term? Use “I” statements: In conversations about LGBTQ+ issues and allyship, be conscious of your privilege and speak from your own experiences, rather than presuming the experiences of LGBTQ+ students and others. Read essays and articles written by LGBTQ+ people about LGBTQ+ issues. Educate yourself about the equality movements, and make sure you don’t erase the contributions of LGBTQ+ people in famous movements. Ask your LGBTQ+ friends (respectfully, and only if they’re willing to answer!) about their experiences and how you can be an ally to them. Similarly, practice having conversations about LGBTQ+ issues without demanding personal information from others. Listen. Be the megaphone, not the speaker – use your privilege to amplify the voices of the people fighting for equality. People will often pay more attention to straight, cisgender people than to LGBTQ+ people. Make sure you help LGBTQ+ activists reach these different platforms, rather than taking the platform for yourself. Never assume a person’s identity based on how they look, who they do or do not spend time with, or what others say about them. Only that person can tell you how they identify, and on their own time and terms.
Being an LGBTQ+ individual can be difficult – more so if you are also disabled or have a health condition. For this reason, we at the LGBTa feel that it’s important that you’re properly represented.
We always make an effort to ensure that our safe-space socials are wheelchair accessible, or that there is a ramp on-hand if need be, and we are always more than happy to hear how we can better accommodate you.
Disability History Month takes place every year from the 22nd of November to the 21st of December – if you’d like to get involved with any campaigns, charity-drives, or awareness-raising movements, please let us know.
Here is a list of famous LGBTQ+ people with disabilities and some resources from the Equality Network.
If you have any questions or concerns, please contact our LGBT+ Students with Disabilities Rep, Jo, at [email protected]
Why is campaigning so important? Campaigning is undoubtedly vital in making a huge impact in the wellbeing of LGBTQ+ people. For example, what has recently been regarded as a breakthrough concerning the rights of LGBTQ+ people within the UK? From 2011, gay men are now allowed to give blood, provided they have abstained from sex for a year. Even more recently was the passing of the Equal Marriage (same-sex couples) bill in the UK.
However there is still, and always will be, more campaigning left to do. There remains much ignorance within the population, shown by the exsistence of ‘conversion therapies’ that aim to change a person’s sexual orientation. Furthermore, there is still also limited awareness concerning trans issues and LBT women’s sexual health needs.
Within Durham University LGBT+a, we aim to raise awareness through our LGBT+ history month events (February) held in Epiphany term. This is a chance for all students across the university to come and see what we are about, as well as a chance to learn more about what being LGBTQ+ means and how we can all support LGBTQ+ people to lead happy and fulfilled lives.
We also have several smaller campaigns throughout the year, which we welcome volunteers to help out with!
To get involved with campaigning, or if you have any ideas, please email [email protected]
This year our Campaigns officer position is occupied by Harriet Haugvik.
Whether you want to party all night long in Powerhouse or prefer to sit down and chat over coffee, the LGBT+a has socials for everyone. Our regular Monday Rainbow Night* socials, hosted by Cuth’s Bar are very well attended and a great way to meet other LGBTQ+ people. Non-alcoholic drinks available as well as cocktails (including the original Tess Tickle cocktail) and all your favourites. Allies are welcome so bring your friends! The bar will be a space for music and drinks, and the JCR will be a quieter zone so you can actually hear the conversations you want to have, and get to know new people. We’ll also be showing some films in there, so if you want to bring any DVDs along, feel free! There is also a garden space outside for those of you who don’t like crowds, so it really will be a welcoming event.
If you’re in the party mood, there’s always a group of people heading to Osbourne’s for their weekly Rainbow Room nights, hosted by the incredible Tess Tickle.
As well as Monday night socials, we organise association trips to Newcastle, which has a thriving gay scene in an area known as the Pink Triangle.
Shipwrecked is our annual halloween party on a boat: the wind in your hair, the smell of a (free!) BBQ and plenty of LGBTQ+ people is not something to be missed.
We hold a university-wide awareness campaign in February, to coincide with LGBT+ History Month, during which an exhilarating range of events, from talks to parties and from coffee to LGBTQ+ film nights, definitely makes it a month to mark down in your calendar.
Bisexual and Pansexual coffee with Fred runs on Fridays from 2pm until 5pm in Leonard’s Coffee House.
Trans coffees with Bethan are advertised on our Facebook page.
Postgraduate and Mature socials with Kieran run weekly on Thursdays at 8:30pm in the John Duck for drinks and a pub quiz.
Poly* socials with Maria are being held on Sunday 1st and 29th of November, and details will be on Facebook and in the weekly emails.
If you want any of our reps to be holding any socials or coffees, let them know! If there’s demand for it, they’ll do it.
*Cuth’s Bar Rainbow Nights are LGBT+a safe-space socials (see our constitution), meaning the bar staff (and LGBTa President) reserve the right to remove anyone behaving in an inappropriate manner, and no event photos will be taken. The LGBTa exec will be identifiable by their bright blue stash, and are always willing to listen to any concerns you might have.
A trans person is a person whose gender—or gender identity—differs from that they were assigned at birth, and by society at large. (Conversely, those whose gender matches what they were assigned are ‘cis’). This is a simple definition, but a broad one covering a wide range of individuals. The vocabulary relating to trans people is equally diverse, and changing quite rapidly, but here are a few of the more common terms you might encounter:
Agender: Without gender, or identifying as no specific gender. Bigender: Having two, often distinct, genders which may manifest at different times or in different situations. (Related are trigender, pangender etc.). Genderfluid: Having a gender that varies, often continuously, over time. Genderqueer: A broad term, covering genders and gender identities that aren’t exclusively male or female. This is far from a complete list, of course, and vocabulary does vary between communities and cultures.
Being trans brings about many different issues to being gay or bisexual. Often it is accompanied by ‘gender dysphoria’, a deep feeling of discomfort and depression brought on by the incongruity between someone’s gender and the gender society treats them as. This is a very personal thing, however, and is by no means a requirement for being trans. A trans person may also feel that there is an incongruity between their biological sex and their ‘subconscious sex‘, and so they may choose to transition medically, such as with hormones or surgery. Again, though, this is only some trans people, not all.
While homophobia may be less prevalent than it used to be, and while significant steps have been made in the UK for civil rights for LGBT+ people, trans people still experience a lot of transphobia. This can be institutional, sometimes violent, and from both within and without the wider LGBT community. There are many misconceptions surrounding trans people, and gender in general. Here are a few helpful things to remember:
While it is common to hear of trans people being “born in the wrong body”, many trans people do not feel this way. Although a person’s sexuality is defined by their gender, and the gender(s) of people they’re attracted to, it is wholly independent of whether they’re cis or trans. So, for example, a woman who was assigned male at birth and who is attracted to women would be a lesbian, trans woman. Despite sharing common terminology and often treated as interchangeable or equivalent, sex and gender are two very distinct things. (Sex is strictly biological, while gender is psychological and social, and neither is defined by the other.) Gender and gender identity are also quite different from, though obviously related to, gender presentation. Gender roles and norms are social constructs, and a trans person need adhere to them no more than any cis person does. Similarly, being trans should not be confused with gender non-conformity. Most of the terms discussed above are adjectives, not nouns or verbs. To refer to someone as “a trans” or “transgendered” is both inaccurate and offensive. Just because it is a person’s legal name, or the name they were christened with, doesn’t make it “real”; a trans person’s real name is the name they choose. Likewise, a trans person’s pronouns aren’t “preferred”; they are correct. Using the correct pronouns to refer to someone is as important as using their correct name, and to use incorrect ones—misgendering them—can be very harmful. It can be helpful to normalise asking people what their pronouns are, or indeed offering your own, to avoid trans people being singled out. People may use pronouns other than ‘he’ or ‘she’, such as ‘they’, ‘ze’, or ‘ne’.