What do you identify as?
Rory: I identify as male and I am transgender male. My sexuality is ... I don’t really know. I have been transgender since I was 14 and now I’m 20.
Aquarius: I identify as male and I was born male. I knew I was bisexual since the end of year 9, the start of year 10. But I did not come out until I was in college.
Bear: I identify as male and I am a trans guy. I came out when I was 12. But I spent a good period of my life stealth until I hated it. If you don’t know what stealth means, it is when trans people are assumed to be cisgender. I had a really tough time with that. I also identify as pansexual because I don’t give a crap for someone’s gender. I also identify as demisexual which is more relevant to how I feel sexually attractive-wise to people. It is like in the grey area of asexual, so I am not sexually attracted to people unless I have an emotional bond with them.
Charlie: I identify as gay and I could also be put in the box of pansexual or demisexual with guys. But I don’t like to label myself as things change day to day, generally though I go as gay or queer. I also identify as female, but I’m still figuring that one out.
Why is it important to be a vocal member of your community?
Aquarius: I grew up in a very heterosexual town and I was discriminated against for having hints of bisexuality in secondary school. I don’t want anyone to feel like just because you are getting discriminated against, you cannot be yourself. It actually ruined my life to be closeted so that is why I am trying to be more vocal about it. I want everyone to realise there are people in the same place.
Rory: I am quite a vocal person anyway, but I am not a very actively vocal person here and I am sort of chill about everything. But as a trans person, I am fine with talking about it as a lot of people don’t know a lot about it and a lot of people are ignorant but not transphobic … I have to be quite confident and talk to them about it. But also, in the [LGBT] community, transgender people aren’t well represented, you have to talk about it to get represented.
Charlie: I think it is very important to talk about it in the community. The way I do it is just by it coming up in regular conversation. I talk about it a lot which some may hate but because I was in the closet for so long, I just want to talk about it all the time to make up for that time. But it is really important to have events to remember its importance.
Bear: I am vocal to an extent. I think that there are a lot of issues outside and within the LGBT community like TERFs that need addressing. You would think that the LGBT community is a safe space so when things like that arise, it is frustrating. It is important to be vocal because some people struggle to adapt to everything changing and react negatively. You get abuse issues like ‘Straight Pride’ and some people are ignorant so being vocal is about teaching people to understand. That is why I am a part of the LGBTQ society for this campus to enforce safety being an older person and being further along compared to some of the other students we get here. You get the instinct of wanting to protect them, they are all my babies. I was able to take students up to Bristol for Trans Pride and we marched in the parade, but it is more like a protest than a typical Gay Pride event.
Are you frustrated by the focus on educating people?
Bear: I don’t think it is just a Pride thing, it is the same with race, religion and culture. If they don’t understand, you have to teach them to understand and accept. It is the burden of being the minority. I think it is naïve to expect people to know because how are they supposed to know. But it is difficult, it takes a toll on your mental health and it is the main issue we see in the community. People have to teach, particularly from a young age, thirteen-year olds having to shout at 40-year olds on the internet who are saying disgusting stuff when they are trying to teach them. We want to be proud of who we are, but we are in a position where we have to teach and encourage peace in a way.
Rory: It is a personal burden. I don’t engage with trans issues on social media really but the people around me teach and it does get tiring. They ask questions that you would not ask people normally. I get asked a lot about which bathroom I go into, why do you need to know that? But growing older, I am more okay with it, I am more open to things and I get why it is not well-known. It is very difficult to google information because everyone’s experience of being trans is different. It is tiring especially when I was younger. I wasn’t as confident in my identity, I was fighting it as people thought “you don’t look male so why are you telling me that you are male”, but I am. But you kind of have to take on the burden to be accepted.
Laura: I think being in a minority is a gift and seeing it as a burden is a decision. But I would say education is essential here though and it is all about where the funding is and who is pulling the strings.
Charlie: I personally love if someone asks because some people are not coming from a place of hate but rather a lack of understanding. If people ask, I am quite happy to answer, it is like bringing them into the community a bit. But there is a different side with people being aggressive and hateful and I just want to leave the conversation. But you just want them to have some information to think about where they decide.
When have you felt represented in the media?
Bear: There was the first trans character on Hollyoaks that I saw as a kid. Jason. I had already heard about these things as I spent time at school looking through dictionaries for the “sexual” terms like homosexuality and I came across the word. But it did not make sense to me. I watched LGBTQ short films on YouTube, many about trans people and then this character came on TV and reflected all these feelings I had. Little things like this help people to connect their emotions and realise their situation.
Aquarius: There was a TV character and a big icon in the community, played by John Barrowman on Doctor Who and Torchwood, Captain Jack Harkness. I watched Doctor Who and Torchwood when I was growing up and his character was aggressively pansexual. Watching him I realised that I feel like that sometimes. When I read more about the character, I discovered that John Barrowman is gay, and he created a charity to support homeless LGBT youth. It inspired me to come out, but I had to go back in because of the response I got. Another person is Sara Lance from DC Legends Tomorrow who is an assassin on the show but also, she is a bisexual character. The show explored her struggling with her identity and eventually settling with it.
Charlie: I can’t remember a turning point of seeing something on TV, I think that I got an idea first from the people around, but it was difficult. Women are generally close, so it was confusing, do you feel something because you are good friends, or it is romantic. The switch was when I fancied someone on Big Brother, I thought it is not about wanting to be you but a different feeling. It was a confusing part of my teenage years, I watched gay TV shows, I watched Lip Service and The L World, two lesbian-focused TV shows. They were good but they were surface-level stuff. But I watched Ellen DeGeneres’s show and it was really a turning point because she hit the deep issues like being in the closet and going to therapy. If you don’t know others going through the same things, it can be very isolating. You have to search for representation.
Rory: I watched Alex Birdey who is a trans male youtuber and he pretty much informed me on everything that I needed to know at the beginning of my transition. How to bind, where to get binders, packers, the emotional issues, videos on how to have sex with trans people that kind of thing, so he was pretty much where I got a lot of my information and then I sort of googled from there really, just figured it out by myself. I didn’t really have anyone mentoring me. I didn’t watch that much telly, but I didn’t find positive representation. There were a lot of stereotypical ‘transsexuals’ so I had already formed my ideas of what trans was before I knew what it was, so it was very confusing. Then I realised that that was just sort of people being a bit, I don’t know, transphobic. There’s a lot more out there but I don’t really watch telly.
What was your experience ‘Coming out’?
Rory: So, well, there are two parts to mine, sexuality which was so boring, like there was nothing there. I came out as Bi to start off with when I was a ‘woman’. It was not a big deal at all because my brothers gay and I knew my parents were liberal. So that was not really an issue. And it wasn’t really coming out, it was just that I suddenly had a girlfriend. Coming out as Trans was a lot bigger as obviously it’s such a ‘big thing’. I was 14, around year 10, I think and it was basically just very confusing because I’d become quite severely depressed but I think it was to do with my body because obviously aged 14 you start going through puberty so it’s a bit of a shit time and I started realising that I didn’t want my body to change in the way that it was, and I went on to online therapy which was called ‘Kooth’ and I somehow managed to coincidently get a therapist that was to do with, that specialised in gender which was kind of crazy. And he was like “it sounds like you are struggling with your gender” and I was like “ah okay, didn’t know that was a thing”. It all sounded very scary for a fourteen-year-old me and I pondered on it for a while.
So me and my mum watch Star Trek avidly and they [parents] watched two episodes without me and I was bawling my eyes out because they watched it without me but then it was more to get mum to come up and then it all just gushed out like “aaaah I’m a man”.
I didn’t know how to explain it because it’s so difficult to explain, how do you say that you don’t feel that you are a girl. That you are a man but you’re not sure how it works. And then from there, I got my hair cut. And only Mum knew and then I sent out letters to the rest of my family because it was just so stressful saying it in person. I didn’t want to do it again, once was enough. I sent out letters and everyone was like right, cool, this is fine. I didn’t really see it as ‘coming out’. I just sort of see it as a realisation on my part. It’s not coming out to other people, it's more me thinking about what I actually am. It’s not like “oh hey guys, this is me”. It’s more like “guys you need to like help.”
So yeah, it was a very confusing time. I was very young and there wasn’t much information about, and it was all sort of so now I’ve told my mum everything starts happening. You get referred to a gender clinic, you then have to go through an assessment, you have to prove that you are trans and at age 14 you have no idea whether it's right for you or not but you feel it so why am I proving myself to these doctors? But you have to because that’s the NHS system. Like I get it, people are sometimes confused, but I know that I am a man just let me do these things, but they won’t let you and that’s so frustrating. But that’s my sort of coming out.
Aquarius: My coming out was very difficult because I had a lot of stages of coming out. I came out to my twin sister first. I came out to her, because she is the person in my family that I am closest with. She helped keep my secret and then I told my closest friends at school but some of the popular kids were walking by and they overheard, and they outed me to the school.
So, my first major coming out was being outed and then me having to pretend I was straight for the next two years and getting verbally abused and sometimes physically abused. But then the next part of my coming out was even worse because the people in charge of my youth group, I was in a Christian youth group, caught wind of me being bisexual and they were livid, so I was kicked out of the youth group. So, that was fun.
And then when I came out in college it was honestly the best thing that happened to me ever because it came out in a conversation when I was just very sad and I was talking to my closest friend at the time. And then she told everyone in the class because I said she could. I never expected such a warm welcome. And the same here, when I came to Uni, I made good friends such as Eros, they’re non-binary, and one of my straight friends who’s really interested in the culture. We just straight away clicked, straight off the bat and we ended up, the day I moved in, walking down to Penryn. They were some of the best moments of my life.
Bear: I came out a few times. The first time, aged 10, I came out as Bisexual. Really young. I knew where I was at; I knew what I liked. I had this fat crush on a girl when I was like seven. I accidently came out as bisexual to my mum. Not accidently, I was crying in my bed. She already knew; I’d told my sister when I was ten and it was about aged twelve me and this girl Ruth had a thing for three months and we broke up and I was crying on my bed and my mum came in and she was like “So did you break up with your girlfriend?” And I was like “how did you know!?” “Well your sister told me” and I’m like “argh you bitch.”
But then within like half a year after that I realised I was trans and it was really emotional sitting and writing this letter, clammy hands, really getting sweaty trying to write this letter which seems to be one of the most common ways to come out to your parents, by writing a letter. Gave it to my mum as she was leaving and said, “can you please read this while you’re at work please”. She took it, went to work and within ten minutes she was calling me. I knew she was on the train reading it. I kept declining her calls. She sent me a really nice text, “I don’t fucking care what you are, I love you. Pick up the phone.” She called again, I picked up. I was sobbing, and I couldn’t say anything. She was like “It’s fine, we’ll get through this, it’s all okay” and it was really nice to hear as I’d heard horrifying stories about parents who had kicked their kids out of their houses. Luckily this wasn’t the case, but my Mum did tell my stepdad. My stepdad’s very old fashioned and he just straight up told me that I was obviously mentally unstable, but he would support me, which doesn’t make sense. I’ve just kind of kept my stepdad out of the whole thing for most of my life with that stuff. He’s more accepting of it now because I’m older and it’s not a phase. He’s very good at it now, using pronouns and all that stuff. He will sometimes slip up on my birth name and whatever, but I’m really not bothered.
Charlie: Mine’s messy. When I was 16 and I was thinking about it and I was thinking okay this is an actual thing, this is like prolonged feelings. I wasn’t very happy with it and I didn’t expect it. Society is generally quite against it so that was my perception of it as well. I was also quite agnostic growing up so I thought go to church, that will set me straight, literally. And so from that age to around twenty, I was going to church a lot and I wanted to go so I could have more understanding of it but actually it kind of made it worse and I had a lot of mental health stuff growing up because of that. And then I was also trying to get some clarity on what it means and so I was asking my friends in church and obviously they didn’t have the answers that I wanted so I left church when I was like 20. I first told someone when I was 18, it was at a party and I told my friend that I thought I was bisexual and I thought I said it quietly but I think I shouted it because it was a party and lots of other people heard and then she told the others and so I sort of went into a oh I’m never going to tell anyone again thought.
Milly: I only came out a month ago. Basically, I moved down here, it's my second Uni, and I felt really comfortable, I met the Pride Society and was like now is my time. My friends on my course were like “duh” for God's sake you're just being you and I was like “yeah, yeah okay”. I left my last Uni and had a really bad year, did the whole ‘cry about my life to my parents’ thing like “I'm never going to marry a man”. Being here and everyone knowing about it, I didn’t want to be out here and not at home. I put it on Facebook, which is really cliché, with a picture of a rainbow like “Hi guys” and no one was surprised. Most of my family still haven't even talked to me about it but that's like a different issue.
At my last Uni I was always like “I fancy loads of girls and like I'm just going to go get drunk and validate myself with the boys that's how it works” but that wasn't how it worked at all. I don't know how I identify officially. My ex is a trans boy and we were together for a few months before moving down here.
I've noticed it's been years of me just trying to accept myself and all my intense crushes have been with women and that's just been happening more and more. When I was 12, I had a dream that I was gay and I woke up like “that doesn't work, that's not allowed I can't say that” and then I was stamping on those feelings. When I was 16, I got a boyfriend but this boyfriend all we did was cuddle on the sofa. I ended up crying to him about my female chemistry teacher. There was that. I had a boyfriend when I was 17, again validating myself, and he said ‘Milly, you look at all the girls” and I said “no I don't, what are you on about” and he's like “Okay…”, and that ended. I’m 22 now proper late telling people.
Charlie: Yeah like you always hear stories of people knowing when they are 6 and they end up coming out when they are 10. There's nothing wrong, with it I was just very late to it growing up like when all my friends fancied people in school, and I was just like…
Laura: But sometimes it does take a long time to be able to put actual words and descriptions to feelings. If you can't verbalise what's happening, you're just like well how can I even understand that myself.
Bear: Honestly, I was the youngest of my siblings and two of my siblings are 10 years older than me, so they were like 16/18 at the point I was like 6 fancying girls. Because I had already watched American pie right and - I had brothers that age okay! So, I already knew about that stuff and it didn't bother me at all, and I didn't look at it in a weird way. I had an uncle who was always really rude and then so things about sex and stuff didn't faze anyone in my household so I didn't look at things in a strict way when I was younger I only started looking at it and thinking ‘ Oh I’m supposed to like boys”.
Milly: I went to catholic school the entire way through - the entire way through! I remember my primary school was really catholic, like used to be a convent, so our sex education was man, woman, baby. No contraception? maybe man and man,? No just no, that just didn’t exist it was just man, woman, baby. So I think like you said environments, and then you go to Uni and you get more independence, and then you don’t go home for summer, and then you properly leave home and you’re like - Hang on I don’t have to be like the person that my parents would ideally like me to be because, to be honest my sister is their ideal baby and I'm me so whatever! So and then especially coming down here I’ve always had like a pull to Cornwall so I was going to come down here originally, went to Bangor hated it, came down here and once you’re comfortable where you’re living and you’re comfortable with your peers and you’re comfortable with everything else, once you’re comfortable with yourself in yourself then you can branch out and be like “Hi, this is who I am, like it or hate it, I’m here and I’m queer.”
Is the term ‘Queer’ a slur or an identity?
Bear: I think it depends on the context of how it’s said. Like for many things, the term ‘gay’ can be hugely used as a derogative term. But I think it is slowly being taken back by the community.
Charlie: I personally love it as an umbrella term. I used to use gay as an umbrella term, but it doesn’t include the whole spectrum as it just defines homosexual men, but the term queer is very broad. I have a friend who uses the word dyke in a-
Bear: I think that it’s empowering. It’s such an empowering word and thing to say.
Charlie: Really you think so?
Bear: Yeah, definitely!
Charlie: Yeah, because she wanted to take back the word and use it in normal language. But where I haven’t heard it before, I don’t like the word. But queer is a more widely used word than dyke is. And it includes everyone.
Bear: If you use the word queer, you can acknowledge who is probably not heterosexual and not cis gender as well. So, I can say I’m queer, because I’m trans and pansexual. So, I believe it encompasses the whole thing rather than saying I’m LGBTQ or Pride.
Laura: When you were saying earlier that you think Pride is heterosexual.
Bear: It can be quite. Yes.
Laura: I would agree with that because I have more male friends who will go to pride events just so they can put the rainbow on their face, and Instagram the shit out of it and blah blah blah. Which is fine. But I feel like now, the letters L G B T Q have lost their significance, similarly to sustainability.
Bear: Yeah, you would never see an advertisement for pride other than when it is gay pride month. You would never see them use the word Queer so when you see the LGBTQ community using the word queer, it’s like we’re taking back and is kind of a big fuck you to everyone else. Because it’s not being publicised.
Laura: Following fashion, things from the 70s, 80s, and 90s are coming back around. And I feel like queer is linked to the culture around that time and is just following the natural cycle.
What do you think about Queer being used in academia?
Bear: Depends what the contents are about, but I think it sounds interesting. If it is about the history of the LGBTQ community, then I think it’s great and that people should learn about that. But that doesn’t sound like the word Queer is being used in a derogative term. I think it’s great and should be used more often. But that’s my opinion personally and is very different for each person. Some people like to use it and some people don’t. I know people who don’t use the term gay because it’s too mainstream for them.
Aquarius: For A level we studied something called the ‘Male gaze’, and then we went on to talk about something called the ‘Queer gaze’ which discusses anyone attracted to anything. For example, a man attracted to a girl in a bikini would be classified as the male gaze, but a man attracted to another man in swim shorts would be the queer gaze. And I love that term and used it in all my media essays. I believe the term was coined by a gay man and love that we are taking it back for our own culture.