29 year old female PhD student and Graduate Teaching Assistant from Glasgow
Question 1. In what kind of place did you grow up? (e.g. village, small town, city) Do you still live there now?
I grew up in a very rural area called Stonebyres. This was originally a smallholding development, the aim of which was to promote self sufficiency in the early 20th century. Each tenant was given a field and a byre along with the small property. Nowadays all the farm land is owned by a couple of main farms and the houses are privately owned. Almost all have had extensions and improvements made to the original cottages. Stonebyres is now a protected area as it is still a private estate. There are around 35 dwellings over a few square kilometres. The nearest main town is Lanark, a few miles away. It has a population of around 8000. This is where I went to high school (Lanark Grammar). Although Lanark is a small town I think it manages to avoid having a wholly 'small town feel' due to its close proximity to Glasgow and Edinburgh. Glasgow is particularly accessible, being less than an hour away by train. I believe this is one of the reasons that in many ways Lanark is more tolerant than some other towns which may be bigger but more isolated. I now live in Glasgow, and have done since moving away for university. However, I am back in Stonebyres and Lanark very often to visit my family. In particular, I still feel a great attachment to Stonebyres.
Question 2. How would you describe your sexual orientation?
I would describe myself as a lesbian or gay woman. This is a big part of my identity. On the sexuality spectrum I have always identified as very far towards the homosexual extreme. I have never had a relationship with a man and really cannot imagine ever doing so. Although not specifically related to my sexual orientation, I would also like to add that my gender orientation plays a big part in making me the person I am. Since coming out as a teenager, I have happily identified as butch. This has changed over time. As with most people, I am a little less rigid in my thinking than I was as a teenager. Nowadays I am a bit more comfortable to think of my gender identification as more fluid. However, that is really not because I stopped identifying as butch, but because I learned through gender theory, life experience etc, that gender could be more interesting than the binary would have you believe. I value my masculine traits highly and they are very important to me. I have always felt very uncomfortable if I find myself 'feminised' in any way. Especially when it is something forced upon me.
Question 3. What were the best and worst things to happen to you at school?
I think they might be one and the same. When I was 13 I realised I was gay. From the moment I decided, I was happy about it. In fact, when I was trying to figure out if I was gay or bisexual, I remember quite clearly that I hoped I was gay. I never had any internal struggle with my sexuality and I am very thankful for that. After coming out to myself I told a handful of close friends and also the youth leader at the YMCA I spent a lot of time at. Everything seemed to be going along fine for a while. Then there was a big event on in Lanark one evening. It drew loads of teenagers from the area. I wasn't there as I was out with my family. The next day one of my friends rang me to confess she had got drunk the night before and had told lots of people at this event that I was a lesbian. I went into a total state of shock. I didn't see how I could possibly go to school the next day. She wouldn't even be there to support me as she went to the Catholic school a few towns away. Going to school that Monday morning was terrifying. I remember that the first class I had was Maths. I sat at the front next to the door. I heard the rumour about me start in the back row and go all through the room, from desk to desk. When the bell rang I got out of there as fast as I could. That week was a constant running the gauntlet. People who hadn't even known me before suddenly knew me as 'that lesbian'. I was 14 and was in 3rd year. For weeks and months I got shouted at, called names, even threatened. But I have to say, it could have been a lot worse. For many people it is. I ened up with a totally new friendship group. My old friend, many of whom I knew from primary school, couldn't really handle it. However, over time things started to calm down. I never denied my sexuality and I think that was the key. People started to get bored with it and moved on to something else. That summer a boy from the year above me sought me out. He was gay but no one knew. He'd heard all the rumours about me and set out to find me and talk to me. He came out to me that same day. We were best friends for the rest of our time at school. Through him I met lots of other new people. Eventually we were a big group of gay kids! There were 7 of us who were all gay. 5 boys, 2 girls. I was the only one who was actually out. (And in fact one of us only came out in the last year!) The others usually got some ribbing about being gay etc. We stuck out in other ways too so they always had something to say to us. But, in time no one seemed to care anymore. By the time I was in 6th year I was popular and respected for my decision to be out. I was on the year book committe, elected to the student council, people asked me for advice. They seemed to value my opinion. People told me they could never have done what I had done, in being out at school. But really it wasn't my choice. It happened and I responded. I'm sure I never would have chosen to be totally out had it not been thrust upon me. I would have been far too scared. But as it turned out it was the best thing that could have happened to me. I haven't been 'in' since.
Question 4. Do you ever have to conceal any aspect of your personal life? Give an example.
Giving it a little thought, I can't think of many occasions where I have to conceal my personal life. My PhD is about lesbian literature and lesbian oral history so, if anything, I have made a decision to be out, not just despite my professional life, but as my professional life. Sometimes, but only sometimes, this can be a little tiring. For example, I sometimes attend training workshops which are inter-faculty, not just Arts. What's the first ice-breaker academics do? 'What are you working on?' It's meant to be an innocuous question. Most people don't really care too much about the specifics of your answer (in a mixed academic crowd anyway, as opopsed to a group of gender and sexuality specialists). It's just a way to start a conversation and gives you a chance to nod along and say, 'Oh, that sounds interesting'. But for me it is a loaded question. By telling the truth I am outing myself to a whole room of people I have just met, and who I am meeting in a professional capacity. The vast majority of other people don't reveal anything deeply personal about themselved by revealing their PhD topic. So sometimes, especially in a room full of engineers and computer scientists, I just say I'm working on women's literature or gender history etc. And then I spend the next few hours wondering whether that's a cop out or is it choosing my battles? With my undergrad students, if it comes up, I'm honest. Either is they ask about my PhD or if we're having a more general conversation and its appropriate. I see it as an extension of the work I do in my PhD etc. I owe it to the students to be honest. Some of them might be questioning their sexuality. I know I would have been over the moon to have had a gay lecturer.
Question 5. Do your friends and family know about your sexuality/gender? If you have come out, give an idea of when this was and of how people responded.
Yes, everyone knows. Even my grandad, who I thought would never be able to accept it. We have always been very close and he was one of the last to find out as I was so worried that it would destroy our relationship. He can be old fashioned and say bigoted things. I realise now some of that is just to be antagonistic. And some of it is understandable. This is a different world to the one he grew up in. Generally, when he is confronted with something in real life, any mild prejudices go out of the window. He's absolutely fine with me being gay. He asks about my partner and talks about her just as he would my sister's boyfriend. Overall I've been incredibly lucky in how people have responded. My parents were very supportive from the outset and my dad has gone from strength to strength. He now works in Equal Opps as part of his job as a Trade Union Rep and he asks me for my input on work he's doing. I came out to my mum when I was 15. She asked me actually. She cried a bit but this was really only because she wanted me to be happy. She told me it was okay if I decided it wasn't for me but that it was fine if it was as well. We didn't tell my dad at first. We weren't sure what he would think. My mum eventually told him when i went on a camping trip with some frineds when I was 16. He got angry after i left when my mum revealed some boys were going. (2 gay boys as it turned out!) He started ranting about me getting pregnant and ruining my impending uni career (a constant anxiety with my dad). My mum said, 'It's fine'. He said, 'How can you say that?!' My mum told him, 'Because she's gay'. My dad stopped, thought, and said, 'Oh, cool.' That was that. In some ways I think my dad preferred it. The door to Uni was open and no boyfriends were going to get in the way! Both him and my sister are self-styled champions of gay rights now. My sister is 6 years younger than me but she was cool with it from the day she found out. In fact I think she thinks its pretty cool. She used to boast about it at school and now she claims the title of honorary lesbian amongst my group of friends.
Question 6. Do you experience discrimination in everyday life? If so, give an example.
Again, I'm very fortunate. I get off very lightly compared to some people. This is made easier by the fact that I work in an Arts faculty in a university. I am in a very liberal and supportive environment every day. Here it is homophobic people who are making the faux pas. I am also fortunate in having a fairly middle class background. I have the money and the education to allow me to choose where I live (the West End of Glasgow). The discimination I do face tends to be anonymous and fleeting (touch wood!). People will sometimes shout things at me in the street. This is particularly the case when I am out with my partner. Neds will call us names. Sometimes it can be frightening. Recently we were on the Kelvin Walkway, which can be quiet and enclosed. A group of neds started hassling us on a narrow path. We shouted back. I don't belive in staying silent. But we could have got ourselves into trouble. It can get you down. You just want to be left alone to get on with it. Glasgow is a big city but it can have more than its fair share of small-mindedness.
Question 7. Who is likely to be more hostile to you and who is the most supportive of you in your life?
My reponse above answers this one. People who are hostile are people who don't actually know me, my partner or my friends. Luckily I don't have any hostile people as an actual presence in my life. So many people are supportive to me. My whole family and all my friends, both gay and straight. I'm always grateful for how lucky I am but spending some time thinking about it here has made me value it all over again.