By Em Robinson
Age 14 I fell in love with a girl.
This kinda came as a shock to me but not, apparently, to the people closest to me. I had a boyfriend at the time (long story, don’t ask) so I came to the conclusion that I was bisexual. My mum accepted it straight away like it was nothing, my friends had all seen it coming, even my dad took it in his stride. They were all there for me when that romance quickly and painfully fell apart and when I was outed to the rest of the school.
With 45% of LGBTQA+ pupils reporting being bullied at school for their sexual or gender identity* it’s no surprise that young people fear coming out while still at school. These figures continue to be pretty dismal as people move into the workplace with 1 in 5 queer people reporting that they have experienced verbal abuse for their sexual orientation at work.* On top of this 42% of trans people don’t feel safe enough to present as their actual gender in the workplace.* With so much fear and abuse thrown at them on a regular basis queer individuals often flock together for safety, support and understanding. I decided to talk to some of my friends to explore their feelings on the importance of queer friendships.
As far as I know, I was the first one at my school to come out and at the time it was hard and confusing, even with all the support I received. It’s always scary being the first to do something and this was no different. Over the next few years, more and more of my friends started coming out as bi, gay, queer, nonbinary, asexual. We really began to cover the whole rainbow spectrum! We grew a supportive environment where we could talk openly about our identities as we discovered them.
“I wasn’t worried about being “the other” anymore”
I met one of my best friends, Saskia, in year 10 when we ended up in the same Textiles class. I was the first openly queer person she’d ever encountered directly even though she herself had had some non-straight feelings since her early teens. I asked her about how she felt about meeting me and she told me that “meeting someone who was my age, had similar interests to me and whom I got along really well with was a super freeing moment, I wasn’t worried about being ‘the other’ anymore”. Looking back, it means a lot to know I helped someone start to feel comfortable in themselves just by existing as an openly queer person.
My friendship group from secondary school has lasted through us all going off to different universities all over the country and settling down. It’s been roughly a decade but we still meet up whenever we can and have a facebook group chat that’s constantly full of memes and gossip. Although this group chat is mostly just banter and making plans it’s nice to have a space where we can talk openly about pretty much anything without fear of judgement. This close bond we have meant that when I realised I was in fact a lesbian when I was 22 and then when I realised I was nonbinary (NB) a year later I had no fears coming out to them.
This is a sentiment shared by another friend, Sin. “Coming out as bisexual was really easy because it was a time we were all coming out as bisexual/gay,” they told me. “It was a real time of self discovery for all of us. Coming out as NB was almost even easier because we’d been friends for so long it literally became a case of “sup guys I’m non-binary, please refer to me as Sin and use they/them pronouns” they were all great.’
My girlfriend, Catherine, on the other hand didn’t have any queer friends when she was growing up. When she was 17 she started attending a local Scouts Explorer group where she made some LGBT friends who, she says, ‘gave me a safe space to explore my identity and they helped educate me on trans issues. Until that point I was so ignorant about them that I didn’t even realise I was trans’.
“Until that point I was so ignorant about them that I didn’t even realise I was trans”
Getting to know trans and nonbinary people is what helped me realise I was nonbinary. Talking to people and hearing their about their feelings and experiences and relating to them made me feel less alone and helped me find the language to fully explore who I am. My real lightbulb moment when I realised I was nonbinary came when I was with a friend talking about gender and her personal gender identity and she drew a graph to explain where she felt she fitted. Seeing gender displayed in such a visual way showed me where I fitted and I’m so grateful that she helped me figure that out. Although my personal feelings about my specific place on the graph have changed I would recommend anyone who’s questioning their gender try something similar. It can be really helpful to lay things out on paper sometimes.
During my time at university I formed many more deep and meaningful friendships with other queer people. Some I met at lgbtqa+ related events, some just through chance in classes or at other random societies, even some through Tinder. I was lucky because the university I attended has a massive queer scene. I felt so comfortable and accepted there by my fellow students and lecturers. I felt so secure in my identity that I even wrote my dissertation about reclaiming slurs and titled it “Queer, Slutty Bitch”. Being around so many out and proud people at university really helped be become as confident in my identity as I am today. Previously I’d felt accepted and comfortable around my nearest and dearest only, but now I’m unashamedly queer and will shout about it from the rooftops. Now I’m working full time, all of my colleagues know I’m gay and if the topic comes up I’m not too worried about talking about gender although it may be a slightly trickier conversation, partly because I’m still figuring some of it out myself. I’m incredibly privileged to be working in a very safe and accepting environment and I hope over time more people can be open about their gender and sexuality with their colleagues without fear of repercussions.
Someone I met at university who really helped push me into my identity is Cam. I will forever remember their badass black denim jacket with the words “Fear This Queer” scrawled on the back. They are gay and nonbinary and even represented their peers as the universities trans and nonbinary officer for a year. We’ve spoken a lot about how special queer friendships can be and we often joke about how few straight friends we have. Obviously we do both have straight friends and we value them as much as we do our queer friends, but as Cam so eloquently put it; “straight people will never get it and that’s not a detriment to them as such but a man who’s never had to question his masculinity will never understand what it means to live at ends with it”.
If you are a cis, heterosexual person then, try as you might, you will never fully understand what it’s like to have these inner battles with yourself. Inner battles that are only really necessary because of the attitudes of the people around us. Maybe one day queer people won’t have to battle to claim their identities, but in a world where we do, support networks of friends who understand what it’s like can be lifesaving.
* Statistics found on the Stonewall website: https://www.stonewall.org.uk/media/lgbt-facts-and-figures
If you identify as LBGTQ+ and in need of support or looking for stuff to do in your area, here are some resources you may find useful: