What do you identify as and what are your pronouns?
I have for a while identified as gay but I would say more broadly perhaps, pansexual but more or less gay.
Do you feel as though you are part of a community?
I think so, there are some shows where there’s a very strong sense of a queer identity like ‘Queer Eye’, ‘Rupaul’s Drag Race’ other typical mainstream shows and when I watch them there is a sense of – I’m happy I am a part of that. I wouldn’t say though that I have an in-person community around me, there’s an online community.
Would you say you have greater access to the LGBTQ community at University?
Yeah, I mean there are things like the pride society and certainly, it’s a lot my liberal than my schools in the past but I wouldn’t say that I have associated myself very closely with the societies. I don’t really have a reason why but for a variety of reasons. I also wouldn’t say that I am outwardly showing my identity, I have a girlfriend but it’s not – I don’t want to say in anybody’s face because it’s never in anybody’s face – but I don’t really push that as the forefront of my identity.
Do you find it easier to be less open about your sexuality?
Yeah, I think I have quite a lot of interests in my life and then this is a part of my life but it’s not everything. It doesn’t make up the bulk of my identity, it's just a little piece. I think sometimes people have perceptions of what LQBTQ+ people are, and I don’t think that they are necessarily always right, and I think that there is a lot of stereotyping. I have my perspective which is different from everybody else’s and everybody else has their own perspective.
When did you first become aware that you were gay and how did that influence you growing up?
I would say it was pretty young I think even from when I was small I had an idea of what gay looked like and what gay people were like and gradually as I got older those stereotypes and potentially that internalised homophobia wasn’t actually how people were in real life. I was brought up in the church and there was this real kind of idea potentially about ‘that’s really not the lifestyle a Christian should be leading… a practising Christian couldn’t be gay.’ I also think that kind of created a little bit of internalised homophobia which took quite a few years to break down, it took a few years but eventually, I feel like I’m comfortable with it.
Do you feel you could be open about your sexuality in the church?
It’s never something I’ve been very open about. I’ve told somebody in the church and it kind of travelled through and I don’t know whether you remember Ireland had their Marriage equality act done in 2014 and I made a post about that on Facebook and it kind of created a bit of backlash, even though I wasn’t outing myself I was just saying this is an important social cause and that was kind of the start of me not going to church anymore. I feel like it was unpleasant at the time, but it was the start of me creating my own identity rather than them being shaped by those around me.
Do you think religion and your sexuality can coexist?
I think you can be absolutely. I wouldn’t say I’m religious anymore, but I know a lot of people who are practising Christians and they’re part of the LQBTQ+ community and they are happy about that. There are a lot of welcoming churches and places of worship who do welcome people, but I do think that the concept of it is so foreign and if people opened up to it more then it would break down those stereotypes.
When did you first feel represented in the media outside of these stereotypes?
I think YouTube probably. There’s obviously a lot of heterosexual influencers out there and one day I just happened to come across a couple who were dating but are now married and it was just such a foreign idea to me that two women or two men could be together. Eventually, I watched more people and saw the community and the connections within it, and I thought “wow this is a lot bigger than I thought.”
Do you feel like there are many resources for LQBTQ people to access?
I think that there are quite a lot of resources if you look for them. I went to London pride the past two years and if you engage in that sort of social activity where it’s such
a large community and a hive of activity
then that’s quite liberating but it kind of depends on your location. I’m moving to Brighton which is known as the gay capital so there’ll be many resources but here in Cornwall, there aren’t loads and back in the midlands where I’m from there aren’t. I think online is probably the most accessible way people can liberate themselves.
Do you find a difference being out here as opposed to in your hometown in the Midlands?
Yeah, I mean I think that’s mostly down to the fact that the student population is quite large and generally speaking those populations tend to be quite liberal. Back home I live in quite a conservative stronghold, people tend to be a bit older, more stuck in their ways and religion plays more of a part in day to day life and so back home I still feel, not around my family but around the religious community, I wouldn’t outwardly express my sexuality not because I don’t believe anybody can be changed but it's sometimes easier for people to continue their way of life without being interrupted.
Would you say then that coming out is a necessary thing?
If more and more people came out, then more and more stereotypes would be broken. I watched a speech by Tom Daley’s husband, and he spoke about his coming out story and said that if more people told their stories and a more diverse group of people told their stories some stereotypes would be more easily broken. I mean I certainly had an image in my head of what gay, trans, bi people, trans people, everybody on the spectrum within the community would be like and it’s not really true.
Could we be doing more to stop this stereotyping?
People have become more accepting as more high-profile figures have come out and popular high-profile figures. So, obviously, Graham Norton is out, several actors and singers have come out, Sam Smith for example and that’s changed people’s perceptions a little bit but I think perhaps showing that two people loving one another isn’t the worst thing in the world, there are far worse things going on. I think people like to create divisions and compartmentalise and tend to be quite exclusive but I think when you realise there is more than you can have more in common with people than you can separate people then that is quite a good way of breaking stereotypes. I feel like I’m quite similar to a lot of my friends in the church. I’m still friends with everybody, the only difference is my sexuality and their belief and that seems like quite a small thing to be hostile about.
Do you think that’ll ever change?
One of the most common phrases I’ve heard in the church is love the sinner hate the sin. I don’t think it makes sense and I also don’t agree with that but I think some people will love you as your personality and how you spend your time but they won’t love who you spend your time with and how you live your life. So, everybody has the potential to be open to the LQBTQ+ community but I think some people would take more convincing than others. Especially the older generations, some people are very liberal but quite a lot are not and can’t be changed, unfortunately.
You mentioned exclusivity and I wondered if you find this within the LGBTQ+ community itself?
Yeah, I think there definitely is and on social media, a lot of people that I follow say that ‘you should be hating on people in the community because you know what it’s like to be outcast.” For example, a lot of people on dating websites might set their preferences to be a certain type of person. They might say they would prefer somebody who is Caucasian or they prefer somebody of a certain height or they just list a lot of physical characteristics and I think that’s quite divisive. I also think I'm not trying to bash the Pride society here but sometimes it has felt a little bit exclusive. This kind of plays into the idea of there being a certain type of gay, a certain type of person who’s in the community and sometimes if you don’t necessarily fit with what the majority is, if those are the people who are running the organisations then you can feel a bit isolated. It is almost like if you don’t check all of the diversity boxes then you’re not quite gay enough or quite ‘this’ enough. I obviously identify as a gay woman but some people they have potentially more complex ways that they identify and if you don’t fit in with that then it can feel a little bit exclusive, obviously they mean to be inclusive but I think for certainly myself and some others they haven’t felt like they could fit in. There needs to be a wider range of representation because some people don’t outwardly present as super gay and super colourful and there needs to be a place for everybody, not just those who are very proud to be out and show.
Do you think the representation of gay in shows that you mentioned like queer eye and drag race could be damaging or positive for the community?
I think Queer eye is actually quite good thing for the gay community because they have a range of role models and they have people of different races and people who are married or not married. I think Jonathan who is one of the guys on Queer eye is challenging gender a lot whereas one of the other guys you wouldn’t be able to tell he is gay necessarily I think that’s quite a nice mix.
So as you were saying its more representation of average gay people living average day to day lives?
Yeah, I think that’s probably underrepresented whereas camp is ... if people know that you’re super camp then the likelihood is you might be gay, whereas a lot of people have said “Oh you don’t strike me as gay”. I think that’s sometimes quite a damaging thing to say because well gay doesn’t look like anything in particular, anyone can be.
Would you say then that labels are a positive or a negative thing?
Some people like labels, obviously if you google it there are thousands of sexualities and genders out there all of which are valid, and some people like to identify with that. I don’t think that I have a preference. If somebody asked, as I said before yeah, I’m gay but I think for me actually its more down to people. I happen to be more attracted to women but I think that’s just who I’ve come across, I would never rule out anything. I wouldn’t rule out anybody if I felt a certain way towards them but I think that sometimes people say gay because it’s easier. I think that’s actually probably quite damaging to the community identifying just saying “Oh yeah I’m gay” even if you feel Bi because you might get hate from within the community for that, as we said before, so I think people might just say gay but I think labels can be quite confined. You use them because they’re easier, but they are not necessarily true to what you feel. Some people like them, some don’t mind.
Do you feel the university has done enough for LGBTQ+ students?
I don’t think the University of Exeter has as such. Obviously, PrideSoc is the main thing the SU offers. I haven’t got any communications about any specific events for LQBTQ+ people, all the messages I’ve received are from the society and they’re the main source of the voices. This isn’t really to do with students but really the staff, I’m helping to launch the LQBTQ+ staff network and that’s for Falmouth, Exeter, FX+ and the SU, all of the staff that work at those organisations for them to have. A space to come together. So, I guess that’s like a Pride society for the staff, but I don’t think the university itself has done a great deal, I don’t know if they’re obliged to as an educational institution. It’s important to have a space because a lot of people don’t know if others are gay, especially if you don’t outwardly present a certain way. Nobody’s got gay written on their forehead or anything. If you outwardly show your sexuality, then that’s a different story but for those of us who don’t make it very clear it’s difficult to know who else is there. People make jokes about having a ‘gaydar’ but really, it’s difficult to tell. I think visibility is an issue but obviously things like Voices are great.
Do you think then that this heteronormativity that you’re mentioning is a product of the way we are being raised?
I think that there has been a slight shift, obviously, there’s been the situation with the education system and how LGBTQ+ people are being represented in schools to young people. There have been protests about that and I think that the ideal family as it were is Mum, Dad and two or three kids. I don’t personally know anyone with two gay parents, I don’t know many gay people at all and so I think visibility is one of the key issues it’s good to break down those heteronormative stereotypes in education because, obviously their lives are just as valid as ours but we haven’t got equality yet. Obviously, I don’t think LGBTQ+ should be raised above anyone else but it’s not a level playing field yet. Sometimes, and this was specifically in the church it was ‘oh we don’t want it being used in our faces or down our throats’ but it’s not really it’s just getting it to the same level and that’s equality.
What are the biggest challenges you face as a gay person?
Obviously, there was that incident on the bus where two females who were in a relationship got beaten up and it was basically because of their sexuality and I think that sometimes the biggest challenges I face are being visible but also trying to be safe when I’m out and about especially if it’s at night, especially if it’s in a city. When I walk down the street if I feel like me holding hands with my girlfriend is gonna put me in danger I will stop doing it and that’s quite a sad thing to do. A sad reality, if we are saying goodbye i'll do a subconscious look round to see if it’s appropriate to kiss even though that’s something other people wouldn’t give a second thought about so probably the most difficult bits are making sure that your sexuality doesn’t put you in danger in public spaces. Not being overtly gay is not my responsibility. So I keep it quiet until I have to tell people.
How was your experience telling people for the first time?
It was probably the most nerve-wracking thing to tell somebody, but it does feel like a weight has lifted so If you’re comfortable and it is safe to do so I would always say to come out because you always think it’s worse than it actually is. There’s obviously a mixed reaction but on the whole, it’s been absolutely fine and for some people, it was more for myself, it was almost underwhelming their response because I was expecting the earth to swallow me whole. They were fine but because I’d built it up in my head and it wasn’t really that big of a deal that’s because I’m lucky to have good friends and a good close family but obviously all my friends tend to be very accepting but if I were going to tell people of a different demographic perhaps the story would be different. I think coming out has meant a progression I don’t think I’m fully there, I’m not fully comfortable yet but it’s certainly more than it was in secondary school, for example, I’ve been a student for coming up to 3 years and gradually each year I’ve become more comfortable with the concept of me not being who I thought I was many years ago and I’ve still got a fir way to go but I don’t think you should put pressure on yourself to be like super confident immediately. Gradually I’ve introduced my friends to things like Drag race and they’ve loved so yeah; some people expect everything to change once they’ve come out. But it can be more bit by bit. In primary school when we played games with two mums or two dads that concept was so foreign to me as a child that people asked me if I was homophobic and I then realised how I’m feeling is in conflict with my feeling and how I’ve been brought up and so I think internalised homophobia takes a long time to break down especially if you’ve had certain beliefs for over half of your life then it’s going to take a similar amount of time to break down.
What advice would you give to someone else dealing with internalised homophobia?
That’s it is worth talking to somebody about it. It doesn’t have to be everybody, it could be privately if you look for them there are quite a lot of resources out there because sometimes it can be quite isolating if nobody else’s knows and you’re dealing with internalised homophobia on your own but if you offload even to just one person then it's already half as bad, half the load. Try not to conceal it all because it will eventually come to a head and you won’t be able to deal with the aftermath of that.
Anything you would like to say to people reading?
If anybody reading doesn’t know what LQBTQ is, what the community is like I’d say to get more involved because it’s quite enlightening and liberating if you do so. If you are a gay person then I would say continue living authentically and not to be deterred by others. It’s taken quite a while for me to break free of my life being dictated by others and you can now make your own decision and choose your own way. University is a time to figure out those things. Being Gay to me means acceptance and accepting who you are even if it’s not what you wanted to be and you’re trying to repress it a bit I would say being gay for me is a small part the wider picture of who I am I have loads of interest and it’s just a little part of my identity it doesn’t mean anything and so if you’re like ‘ oh I wish I wasn’t’ then that’s fine it doesn’t have to define you, it’s just a little part of you that you can grow to accept and you can nourish but give a little thought to that because otherwise, it’ll affect your wider life. People are probably more accepting than you expect. People that mind don't matter, and those who matter don’t mind that’s extremely cliched but it’s true your sexuality is a part of you so if they aren’t accepting that then they don’t really have your best interests at heart.
Interviewed by Emily