Coming Out Late

I knew I was a lesbian as soon as I knew what a lesbian was, which, due to the sheltered nature of my childhood, wasn’t until I was 16 and we studied Mrs Dalloway. So why did it take me until I was 30 to come out?

People stay in the closet for so many reasons. Some of mine were fairly standard, like family and religion. Others were a bit more complex.

Family is fairly easy to explain. I had tested the water by making jokes about bringing home a girlfriend. My dad’s face turned stone still and he said “We don’t even make jokes about that”. So I had my answer. I knew that coming out could cost me my relationship with my parents and I just wasn’t ready to pay that price until I reached the point where their love simply wasn’t enough.

Religion also played a major role, not really in the ‘gays burn in hell’ kind of way. I had already decided that God probably wasn’t that serious about hating gays or He would have made more of a fuss about it. It was more that religion had taught me to ignore my own desires. It never even occurred to me to question what I did or did not want in a partner.

Once I worked out that what I wanted was girls, other factors came into play. All the lesbians I knew fell into one of two groups; far too cool to be interested in me, or so weird I had no desire to be associated with them. Clearly the ‘too cool’ category were the ones I was attracted to, but lacked the self esteem to do anything about it.

Later, in my twenties, I let myself be persuaded by the narrative surrounding lesbian relationships, that they burn out because there is no ‘growth’ and no development ie no children. I didn’t know anything about LGBT families and didn’t know any lesbian couples. I wanted a family, so I thought the only option was a husband. I know now that this narrative is a lie. LGBT relationships are just as deep and lasting as heterosexual ones. Not only do we have kids, the studies show that our kids do just as well, if not better than the heterosexuals’.

I also didn’t want to end up dating someone just because we were both lesbians, even though I ended up doing that for a while. Again, this was lack of experience. None of the lesbians I had met shared any of my interests and I didn’t share theirs. It never occurred to me that I couldn’t dismiss all lesbians on the basis of knowing 6 of them by name.

Finally, I thought that my lack of experience was an issue. I think I imagined that if I walked into a gay club, I would set off some kind of sensor and be forcibly ejected by the bouncers. I had no idea what to do with a girl if I got one and was so naive that I thought it would matter (when I did come out I bought a very helpful manual and read it cover to cover – I made sure I had the theory down way before I had my first girlfriend).

I’m sure that some people still think that if I had met the right man, I never would have come out. In some senses they’re right. But then, there never would have been the right man and people have a way of spotting it when they are not what you really want. I tried, really I did, but it never worked out.

So I got to 30, so lonely and so depressed that I was frightened to drink in case I did something stupid. When my therapist asked me “Do you think you might be lesbian or bisexual?” it was like being given permission to act on all the thoughts and feelings I had buried for so long. Everything changed. I came alive and I have not looked back since.

Footnote:

The thing everyone wants to know is how you can have sex with men if you are a lesbian. It’s very much like TV. You can watch a black and white set and you’ll see the same show but a colour set makes it come alive. That’s all I’m saying.

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Coming Out Late

Tory-Proof Your Kids’ Education – You don’t have to go private!

Let’s dispel a few myths. The teaching in private schools is worse than the teaching in state schools. Having taught in private schools, I can promise you, I would never send my kids there for the teaching. There is a ridiculous amount of “Turn to page 34 and answer all the questions”. You pay for the other kids, not the teacher; so if your child can zone out Billy who has ADHD, he or she will do better in a state school.

Kidulthood was a work of fiction not a documentary. Your child is perfectly safe in an inner city London school, or at least, just as safe as she would be in any other school. Private schools have a nasty habit of not acting on sexual abuse and covering up their bullying problems. Their reputations matter more to them than your child’s safety.

You do not need to pay for private tuition either. It’s only going to be more of the same, so your kid will be bored, not enlightened. If your child needs more attention, give it to her yourself. You might not understand calculus, but you can ask “And what did the teacher do next?” and “Have you checked those answers by working the problem backwards?” or “Explain the whole Archduke Ferdinand thing to me”.

Your kid will have a better chance at getting into university if you follow these steps. They can be implemented at any stage:

  1. Not the kid, you. They will do what you do and if you only want to watch TV, that’s what they will do. Let them see you read and talk about the book you are reading. The more they read, the wider their frame of reference and the better they do across the board.
  2. Enrol them in some kind of club, Scouts, Guides, Cadets, Duke of Edinburgh, whatever. They will meet different people and have opportunities that you can’t provide. Plus it looks great on uni applications.
  3. Do free stuff with them. Walks, forests, galleries and beaches are all free (for the moment). Do something once a month. Again, it widens their frame of reference and gives them confidence.
  4. Encourage them to volunteer. Once again, it looks great on a uni application, but it will also increase their sense of self-worth
  5. If you are going to pay for stuff, make it amateur dramatics or sports. At least they are fun, healthy and give new skills.

If your kid is in 6th form, you need to start campaigning. The Tories have already made massive cuts to 6th form funding and are set to cut even more. This means bigger class sizes and fewer subjects. The government is hoping you won’t make a fuss. Don’t accept it. If your kid can’t choose the subjects she wants at the school she wants to attend, write to the papers, your MP, Nicky Morgan, everybody. Get together with other parents and raise hell – it’s the only way to make sure that everyone has access to a quality education.

Your local school will probably have to cut out pretty much all of its teaching assistants with the budget cuts, so it might be good to volunteer if you have time, and it’s definitely a good idea to stand for the board of governors so that you can keep an eye on things.

Ask about teacher workloads; a tired, over worked and stressed out teacher is not going to give your child the best education. If your child has a different teacher every five minutes, it means that the school has a problem. Ask what they are doing to improve teacher retention.

Boycott the SATS and the baseline tests. Testing your child at 4 is not in her benefit, it is just so a computer can make predictions about what GCSEs she should get. Keep a close eye on the school before testing time; if all they do is stuff for the SATS, your child is missing out on her education. Complain.

Don’t get caught up in the hype. Teachers work hard, they are trained and can be trusted; they are the ones who have a relationship with your child and care about her. School leaders, politicians and newspapers only see your child as a statistic, so they don’t care. Politicians and reporters are not educators, remember, they have no qualifications or training and they don’t know what is best for your child.

Tory-Proof Your Kids’ Education – You don’t have to go private!

Curioser and Curioser

The toddler was staring at R, mouth open and eyes wide. When his mother wheeled the shopping trolley round, his head swivelled round like an owl’s. R smiled at him and said hello. The child hid his face in his mother’s coat.

“Uh, uh,” she said, moving the coat. “You got caught being nosy and now you’ll have to be nice. Say hello to the lady.”

It was a perfect response. Children, especially white ones, are fascinated by R. Our niece even got caught licking her arm (we think she thought R might really be made of chocolate). They stare and stare. She always responds to them and waves and says hello.

Quite often, though, the white parents are horrified that their children have been staring. They tell their babies off, some give R an apologetic smile, but some don’t even engage with R as they hustle their family away. I know it is because they are embarrassed, but it isn’t helpful.

Difference is strange and interesting; it excites curiosity, even investigation. I never mind answering questions about being a lesbian, R never minds curious regard. But when parents are embarrassed by their kids’ curiosity, it teaches them that there is something wrong or shameful about R, and that is a problem.

The other issue is that people often think that R can’t tell the difference between curiosity and hostility. The facial expressions involved are quite different; try it in a mirror and you’ll see what I mean. If you can tell the difference, so can she.

That white mother in the supermarket had the right response to her child’s nosiness. She acknowledged the curiosity, but she also made it clear that R was a person and needed to be treated with courtesy. I am really glad that at least one little boy will be able to embrace difference and recognise shared humanity at the same time.

Curioser and Curioser