Posted in Blog, Personal, politics, Pride Month 2022

Can Dartford’s First Pride Heal The Wounds Left By The Shame of Sandy Bruce-Lockhart?

After decades of keeping the LGBT+ community a secret, the town I live in is having it’s first Pride. Organised by the Orchard Theatre in partnership with Dartford Borough Council, the event is much needed, and long overdue.

I live about twenty minutes away from the tiny village I spent much of my childhood in, Horton Kirby. Just a little drive from Dartford, Horton Kirby was somewhere that I absolutely hated living. There was nothing to do, and so the fascination was gossip. Everybody wanted to know everybody’s business, and as someone harbouring a deep, dark secret, this made it the worst place in the world to live.

Casting my mind back to my childhood, when I’d spend the weekends and summer holidays listening to mixtapes full of ballads in Dartford park, tormented by the secret that lived inside my soul, I often wonder what that lonely, torn up teenager would think about Pride happening just a stones throw away from the place she used to haunt.

Every Pride month, there’s a lot of discourse about Pride having roots in protest, and Dartford, along with the rest of Kent is no stranger to LGBT+ related protests.

It all begins with the familiar tale of Section 28, a piece of legislation that banned the promotion of homosexuality, introduced by Margaret Thatcher’s Conservative government in the 1980’s. The damage of the legislation to LGBT+ youth was clear from the outset, with LGBT+ kids facing bullying, mental health challenges and years of struggle with accepting themselves, which is why the legislation was repealed by Tony Blair’s Labour government at the turn of the millennium.

Brave protesters who fought back against Kent’s Section 28 legislation (Image: Paul Prentice)

It was a turning point for the LGBT+ community in the UK, and represented, the beginning of the state making up for the harm caused, at last, for the LGBT+ community, unless of course, they lived in Kent.

In the early 2000’s, the Conservative controlled Kent County Council voted to introduce legislation that mimicked Section 28 and banned the promotion of homosexuality in schools managed and controlled by the local authority. The legislation insisted that children should be taught that homosexuality was not equal to heterosexuality, and that teachers should not allow children access to material or information that could give children the idea that homosexuality was positive or even normal.

Council leader at the time, Sandy Bruce-Lockhart said: “What we are saying is that we want to give reassurance to parents in Kent that the county council will not spend taxpayers’ money on purchasing material which intentionally promotes homosexuality. That is a bad use of money.” It was framed as a money issue, but the council’s actions over the next few years made it clear that it was a homophobia issue.

He later repeated this justification for the legislation in a letter to the president of The Queer Youth Alliance, David Henry, adding that the council would encourage children to lead a healthy, fulfilling and meaningful life in which they respect themselves, but for LGBT+ children who were unable to find the answers to the burning questions about themselves, that was difficult to do.

The councillor who started it all, Sandy Bruce-Lockhart (Image: The Telegraph)

Sandy Bruce-Lockhart went on to be celebrated for his contributions to politics, being made a Knight Bachelor on the New Year’s Honours List and being given a life peerage. The students that suffered under the legislation he introduced have not been so fortunate.

In 2004, the legislation was amended, now stating that heterosexual marriage was the only firm foundations for society. This was in place and having a profound and damaging effect on LGBT+ students until the Equality Act of 2010 was introduced by the UK government.

Protests began at council buildings in 2004, with older members of the LGBT+ community, including the chair of Canterbury Labour Paul Prentice joining student groups to raise their voices against the damaging legislation. I have been going to protests since I could walk, but I was not at any of the protests by LGBT+ groups against our council.

At first, I didn’t know the legislation was in place, and I wouldn’t find out until I was about sixteen. When I did, I was still far too deep in my shame spiral to actually do anything about it, but there were people, turning up to council buildings and town halls repeatedly throughout the 2000’s to stand up for kids like me, because they knew the damage that was being done in those schools.

Shoutout to Hilary Duff for attempting to end Homophobia. Stream What Dreams Are Made Of for good grades and clear skin! (Image: Youtube)

Part of me, after years of indoctrination believed that the councillors must have been right. They were hiding homosexuality from us, because it was wrong. At the time, same sex marriage was still illegal, and there were very few visible LGBT+ role models, and barely any lesbian representation, beyond fetishised porn clips that the boys swapped with each other on their phones. Gay and Lesbian were still used as pejoratives, and the one girl I knew that came out as a lesbian was relentlessly bullied while teachers looked the other way.

There was no way for me to come out, amidst all that. Knowing about the legislation didn’t make it go away, and it didn’t erase the damage that it had already done.

Things have changed in Dartford, but things have also stayed the same. We have a gay bar now, The Huffler’s Arms, which is a wonderful and inclusive space (with amazing drinks deals!), but we also have Winners’ Chapel, just a few minutes away that was exposed for conducting gay conversion therapy by ITV News in 2018 and has claimed that gay people are controlled by the devil. They give out leaflets on the road that leads to Dartford’s one and only gay bar regularly, and it’s hard to believe that their decision to leaflet there is a coincidence.

At last, a home. (Image: The Hufflers Arms)

Council buildings fly the Pride flag in February and June but Conservative councillors are not willing to acknowledge or truly make amends for their party’s antagonistic history with the local LGBT+ community.

Kent County Council’s LGBT toolkit mentions Section 28 several times but does not acknowledge the council’s own part in continuing the legislation for a decade after it was originally repealed by the UK government.

Dartford is now having its first ever Pride, and they’ve gone all in, with a three day calendar of events, featuring performances from Drag Race UK stars Baga Chipz and River Medway, as well as Pop Idol star Gareth Gates and ITV’s Starstruck finalist Keeley Smith. Teenage me would not have been able to believe it. Adult me can’t really believe it either.

The main Pride event on Saturday July 2nd unfortunately does clash with the much bigger London Pride event, just a quick train away in the capital, but the events on other dates shouldn’t run into the same issues, and as a whole, the events happening is significant.

This is a town, still struggling to accept parts of itself. I am a woman, still struggling to accept parts of myself. After decades of trying to change myself, and present an acceptable image, it is only in the last few years that I have accepted that I am a Lesbian, and that there’s nothing I can, or even should do about it (beyond seeking a wife for the end of the world), so the town that I call home, finally showing up for me is an emotional moment.

Baga Chipz is stunning. Baga Chipz is class. KCC teaching LGBT+ kids to hate themselves is not. (Image: Dartford Pride)

Would I have hidden myself for so long if the legislation had not been in place? While other factors were part of my decision (see yesterday’s poem for details, and stan my amazing mother for being an accepting icon), I do still believe the legislation was the largest aspect, and I have spent a long time imagining how different my life would be, if I’d gone through puberty and discovered my sole attraction to women while going to school in another part of England.

I have reconnected with people that I went to school with, that are, like me, late bloomers, and have spent a long time trying to run away from who they were, primarily due to years of our schools having no choice but to hide the truth of our normality from us. We are normal. There is nothing wrong with us, but in our formative years, we were made to feel like freaks and deviants. There is a lot of pain, and a lot of anger, and I wish I knew when that would fade.

My hope is that the first Dartford Pride will be a success, and will continue year after year. I hope that it will help heal the divisions between the LGBT+ community and a local authority that played a part in sowing the seeds of self hatred in so many of us, but it’s important to be honest about the power of Pride, and how it has its limits.

Finally being able to be myself, openly, while I sip drinks and watch our home county hero River Medway is nice, and I’ll enjoy myself, as I’m sure others will, but Dartford Borough Council, along with other councils across Kent has a long way to go if they ever hope to repair the damage of their shameful homophobic history.

Posted in Blog, Creative Writing, Personal, Writing

A Letter To The Girl From 365 Days Ago

Hello beautiful,

You’re not dead, yet, and that’s a good thing. You also haven’t wished for it in a long time, and that’s also a good thing. Would you like to know why?

I’ll tell you, in time, but first, we have some other matters to discuss.

We’ll start with January. It is just about to start for you, and it begins the way that December ended, in lockdown. You are bored of all this pandemic business, as is everyone else, and as I write to you, I regret to inform you that it is not over yet. We aren’t quite in lockdown, but it might happen. The upside is, you are no longer afraid of it.

The thing you feared the most about the lockdown was that your boyfriend would go wandering and forget about you, and during the first lockdown, that did happen, but you manage to grab another one pretty quickly, just in time for the next lockdown, and the worrying began again, but this time you won’t be afraid of that. Not because you have found an intensely loyal man, or because you grew as a person and stopped being so insecure, but because you grew as a person and addressed why a man slipping through your fingers scared you so badly.

Oh, you are as impatient as ever. I was going to tell you about everything else first, but I suppose you deserve to know.

This was the year that you accepted the truth. You know exactly what I’m talking about, and I know for a fact that as you read this, you have a racing heart and a tight throat. It’s the same mix of guilt, panic and shame you feel when you think about that girl from school, or that girl you wrote White Wine about. It’s the same shame you feel when you watch the Scottish Affairs Committee (not giving any further context there, if you know, you know). It’s the same way you feel every time your family asked about your love life and the same way you felt when you were fifteen, writing (admittedly, quite good) poems about Carol Ann Duffy.

You know what I’m about to say, and you are staring at this letter, trying to rearrange the words or shove them back into my pen, but you can’t (primarily because I typed them lmao). I’d go back to the girl you were two years ago, or five, but I know they couldn’t take it. I know that they weren’t strong enough to take this journey, and if I’m honest, I don’t think you are, but I know that I was not strong enough for you not to.

You have been carrying this alone since you were a child, but it’s over now. I know that you know what I’m about to tell you, and I know that you are hoping that I won’t. The funniest thing is that your dearest friend in the world is just like you, and you have loved him, just the way he was, but for so long, you couldn’t love yourself in the same way. You accepted him, genuinely but you saw yourself as a freak. I guess it was less acceptable if it was two girls, to you? You celebrated him, but you kept yourself a secret, because you thought you were different, something shameful and terrifying, but much like the angel in the nativity, I come to you and I say “Do not be afraid, because we have missed out on so much life already, and we don’t have time to be afraid anymore.” Perhaps the angel of the lord wasn’t so abrupt, but you know me, I’m no angel.

It all started on a date with a man. He was crazy about you, and you thought you could do what you always do, act crazy about him and hope that he married you and gave you the child that you had always wanted. He probably would have, had he not guessed what you were. I still don’t know how he did, mind you. He asked you, directly to your face, and you felt like you were going to die on the spot.

“Are you a lesbian?”

It seemed like an unfair question. You had been willing to give him what he wanted. You would have been loyal. He would have been happy. He just didn’t need to ask questions. It was a good deal, really, but I suppose he couldn’t take it, because he knew it wasn’t what it appeared to be.

Truthfully, it wouldn’t have been a good deal, after a while. You’d get burnout from having to get through the sex, just like you had before and you’d start recoiling at his touch, he’d feel rejected, you’d get depressed. It would be the same as it always is. You’d cling to it desperately, because you wanted to be anything but what you actually are and it would slip away from you, because as it all turns out, men are not stupid, and they can usually tell when their partner doesn’t want them.

You told him that you weren’t “like that…” but you knew that you couldn’t hide much longer. You also knew that nobody was buying your “Shy bisexual” persona either. It was starting to become really obvious that you were just not built to be with a man. If a man who was a stranger could figure it out, then there was no more hope of deceiving everyone else.

I tried to pretend I was just thinking about it, like it was something I was considering for the first time but I had always known, and eventually, after several years of keeping it a secret, I told the truth for the first time. I wrote a bunch of angsty poems to tell the audience and I recorded an angsty voice note to tell the family. As it all turns out, lots of people apparently knew and were just waiting for me to say it, on my own terms, so… you really have nothing to worry about. You could do it, today, if you want. It makes no difference to the people that love you. Your mother still loves you, I promise.

Now that’s over with, we can talk about some other news. As I mentioned, Covid-19 is still very much a thing. You are very bored of it now, mainly because the British government is making a mess of preventing another wave and you long for the safety and competency of a Nicola Sturgeon or a Mark Drakeford, but, alas, you only have Boris Johnson to rely on.

Speaking of all of those people, you finally launched the politics segment of your podcast into its own podcast and you’re having a lot of fun doing it. It does your mental health a lot of good to pretend to be Emily Maitlis once a week.

Your birthday absolutely sucked because you spent it in lockdown and you were really sad, all day. That is why it was important for you to treasure your 28th birthday, but, noooo, you didn’t want to listen… I can’t tell you how the next one will be, because it hasn’t happened yet and nobody knows what the British government will do from one day to the next, but I hope it will be better. God willing, I would like to go to Toby Carvery for your next birthday, but we will see what happens with restrictions.

You will write a lot of things that you love this year, but your favourite is a song called Widow, that you released to raise money for Terrence Higgins Trust. You’ll be donating the royalties every year from now on and I can’t wait for the many years of fundraising ahead.

You currently have a duolingo streak of 506 days. You finally opened up and tried to make friends outside of the internet. You’ve written songs that have been played around the world. You went on a date with a girl, on purpose, in public and you didn’t bail on her or insist on it being a secret. You hit a million streams on Spotify. It’s been a much better year than you are expecting, and I’m proud of you.

You spent a lot of the year being confused and scared. Scared of the virus, scared of your secret, but as I write to you, on New Year’s Eve, staring down the barrel of 2022, I am so happy to tell you that the fear has less of a grip on you now.

I don’t know if it will ever go away entirely, but we’re getting closer to living with it, day by day, and for once, I am actually excited to stay up until midnight and say goodbye to a year full of difficult but necessary lessons.

I wish you all the best for 2022, and not just because I have an interest in what happens to you, but because at last, I am ready to accept that you deserve it. You deserve the absolute best, and you’re going to get it.

Love forever,
J x

Posted in Blog, Personal, Writing

The Truth, On National Coming Out Day.

I have known I was a lesbian since I was about ten, and it scared me to death.

Well, I say that, but it was more that I knew I was interested in women, not men, but didn’t know what that really meant since I was about ten. More on why that was in a second.

I grew up in a very progressive household when I lived with my mother, and that is such a blessing and a privilege, but it didn’t make a difference to how I felt about myself and the fears I had. I’m grateful for it, but they couldn’t save me from the world outside.

At school, “promotion of homosexuality” was banned, so I thought something was wrong with me. My family would try to teach me about other types of families and people, but I was being fed homophobia from a school that had no choice but to teach it to us.

(For more on why my school experience was so bad, and the history of homophobia in Kent from our local government, check out this really good article by Kent Live).

My faith is very important to me too, and I imagine that played a part. My relationship with it has changed as I’ve gotten older and felt confident in questioning what I’m told. I firmly believe God would not hate me for feeling love, but that took a long time to understand.

I will probably never be able to marry in a Catholic Church, despite being more of a Catholic than many straight people who have been allowed to. It’s painful to think about but I’m kind of at peace with it.

As I got older, and particularly when I went to university, I discovered that it wasn’t a sickness and that I wasn’t damned to hell, but it has taken literal years to unlearn that fear and self loathing. I spent years trying to be someone else.

I tried to tell someone at that point, but he took it so badly that I decided never to tell anyone else, until now, and only now, because I can no longer live in a prison that he and I built.

Telling my family was the hardest thing I’ve ever done, but I am so fortunate that my (living) relatives reacted with love. It’s too late to know if my father could have ever accepted it. I have my doubts.

In my mid twenties, I began calling myself bisexual, because it felt a bit safer than telling the truth. Bisexuality is absolutely real and bisexuals are 100% valid, I just wasn’t one of them.

Even after getting over the fear of being sick or damned to hell, I was still afraid of the reality of being a lesbian. I wanted to be like everyone else. I wanted a family. I wanted to be a wife. When I became legally old enough to marry in the UK, it was still illegal for me to marry a woman.

And I mean REALLY marry by the way. Civil partnerships are not the same imo. Labour should have pushed equal marriage through and they failed the LGBT community by not doing so. Come at me Tonty Blair.

I became convinced that I’d have to “put up with a man” to get what I wanted. To be a wife, and more importantly, to be a mother (being married is kind of a required step to have kids as a Catholic lmao). Putting up with a man would be worth it to hold my child in my arms.

The only man that it wasn’t torture to have a sham relationship with. He was kind and patient in a way nobody had ever been, and not being able to love him in the way he loved me is my only regret. I think I did (and still do) love him, in my own way, and he will always mean more to me than he could ever understand.

When I was a teenager, I’d pray every night for it all to go away. I’d stare at boys all day in class and plead with myself to find them attractive. Up until this year, I’d basically force myself into relationships with men to try and make myself like them. It just made me sad.

I would invent reasons to like men. Pretty much anything I’ve ever “found attractive” in a man throughout my life have either been typically feminine traits (a coping mechanism) or made up stuff I’ve projected onto them to find some way to like them.

I am almost thirty years old and I don’t think I have ever truly been in love, because I’ve been masquerading and pretending out of fear or I’ve been in a fleeting connection with a woman that I run away from because I feel like I shouldn’t be with her.

I joke all the time about being emotionally broken but if I’m honest, I really do think that suppressing my real self and bullying myself into the closet over and over out of fear has done legitimate damage to me, and I don’t know what to do about that.

My greatest wish is to find this girl again and tell her that she’s going to be okay.

I eventually came out (properly this time) because of two things. One, I was on a date with a man and he literally said to me “I think you’re a lesbian” and I knew the jig was up. Two, I couldn’t face turning thirty and still being desperately unhappy.

I don’t want to be lonely anymore. I don’t want to feel like I’m constantly chased by a shameful secret. I want the people I love to really know me. I want to find someone to build a real life with instead of settling for a sham marriage. I want to really live.

I don’t say any of this so that people will feel sorry for me, by the way, because it’s one of those things where the damage is done (by myself lmao) and I don’t really need validation, I just want people to understand why we can’t allow future generations to do this.

People ask why LGBT inclusive sex and relationships education needs to happen. People like me are why. You have to let kids know that they’ll be okay. Nobody is saying “teach kids about anal at five years old!” but just let them know it’s okay if they grow up to be gay, so they don’t end up like me.

Posted in Blog, Creative Writing, Personal, Writing

I Love You, But I Have To Go

It’s all falling down.
London Bridge,
and all the things you dreamed of,
as you stared across the river at it.
I love you, but I have to go,
because there’s nothing else I can do,
except mourn you in solitude when I eventually arrive on safer shores, of course,
but for now,
all I can do is pull away my fingertips from your grasping, desperate hand,
tear my eyes from the face I’ve stared at for a lifetime and walk away.

I love you, but I have to go,
because you have to die so that I can live,
and I know you’ll never understand why,
but I love you,
more than my departure suggests, and I know this is best,
but something about the way you wail makes it so hard to hang it all up and go.
The sky is aflame,
we swipe the clouds left and right with warm hands,
but you know that I have to go,
don’t you?

I love you, but I have to go.
I love you, but you have to let me go,
and I’d tell you
“No, I won’t forget you”
but the way you cling to what’s left of me shows that you know I will.
I take one last look at your familiar eyes,
your gaze so defeated under the glassy guard of the Thames,
and my hand hurts without you to hold it,
but the world is aflame,
the sun is sleeping on the ground,
and I love you, but I have to go.

I’ll never know if you were crying,
as you slip further under the surface,
but you had to die,
so I could live,
reborn and free of who I was, with you.
I love you, but I have to go.

Maybe one day,
when it all cools down,
you can come back around,
but for now,
I have to rebuild a new girl for us to be.
I love you, and I’ll come back for you, one day.