“Growing up as a religious woman of colour, I felt like there was no-one that I could confide in”
BY ALEXANDRA D’SA
I had friends, I promise. I wasn’t a recluse. I went to house parties and duly made my way through those alcopops that stained your mouth blue, shared a couple of large pizzas at the Hut, and annoyed my parents by spontaneously inviting my group of noisy gal pals over for sleepovers whenever the mood struck. But like a lot of LGBTQI kids, I often felt… well, lonely. Before the rise of social media, and indeed the internet, there was no way for queer teens to connect with each other, or with the wider community. Sure there was that one boy a couple of years above you whom you secretly suspected to be well-acquainted with Dorothy, but you never plucked up the courage to actually talk to him. And even then, he was a him.
School gender politics were a minefield to navigate, and that’s coming from a cis person. At lunchtime you sat with your group of female friends and talked about the boys at the next table. Or, should I say some of us did the talking while some of us sat silently replaying last night’s episode of The X-Files in our heads and hoping that when we grew up, Dana Scully would be ready and waiting for us in her lab coat. But I digress. Though Gillian, if you’re reading, I’m still waiting.
Our relationship to our queerness manifested itself in ways that we had to keep secret. Most LGBTQI kids live in fear of being outed, wondering how their family and friends will react. So when you have a crush on a girl in your class, or when you go to the library to check out a copy of Desert Of The Heart, you learn to develop a poker face. And with the lying and the secrecy does, inevitably, come a sense of loneliness and isolation. Growing up as a religious woman of colour, I felt like there was no-one that I could confide in, but as I hear stories from many other LGBTQI people from all sorts of backgrounds, loneliness is a common theme. Most of us will have been surrounded by predominantly straight friends in our youth, which is to be expected in a society where the majority of people define as such.
I was lucky in that I grew up at a time where there was at least a smidge of representation for LGBTQI women on the television that resulted in more than just imprisonment and death. Watching programmes like The L Word and Queer As Folk meant I had this, perhaps naive, notion that as I got older I would find myself surrounded by like-minded queer women, sipping espressos and walking our dogs (not all lesbians like cats, okay?!).
We still see the trope today in shows like Lost Girl, Looking, Lip Service and Transparent, and the revival of The L Word and Will and Grace. With LGBTQI characters a-plenty, these shows present a kind of queer utopia. For the bisexual girl or trans kid who spent a large proportion of their childhood with that niggling feeling of loneliness in the back, or forefront, of their minds, seeing queer folks find each other in adulthood presents a very real hope.
Recently, I’ve entered a phase of my life that is not often spoken about, but most definitely exists: the quarter-life-crisis. As I take stock of things to be thankful for – my wife, my family, my excellent taste in television shows – and things to be woeful about – my lack of employment, direction, and penchant for self-destruction – I can’t help but notice that I seem to be lacking the one thing I thought was a cert in my early 20s… the elusive QFFs (Queer Female Friends).
Going back to the start of this article, don’t get me wrong, I do have LGBTQI friends. I work in the theatre, darling, it’s hard not to. These friendships resulted from positioning myself in situations where I know the majority of people will be queer, such as the BFI Flare Festival, the Pride in London parade, Stonewall events, and joining the LGBT+ network at work. I’ve even met some people online through writing Tina/Bette fanfiction (I’m okay with admitting this because if you didn’t write it, you read it, I’m onto you). It’s just that these friends aren’t the gang. Real life isn’t like The L Word (thank God because I’m totally a Jenny). We don’t go on trips, we don’t meet up on the regs, and we don’t all sleep with each other.
There are a couple of theories I’ve come up with as to why this is:
1) Everyone is too damn busy
Dolly Parton needs to update her signature tune (no, not Jolene), because the working day has now expanded to 8-6 as the bare minimum. This combined with extortionate living costs means that when we’re not at work, we’re eating beans on toast at home and washing it down with a box o’ wine. There is no time or money for champagne brunches with our QFFs.
I don’t blame you for making the most of that EU membership while you still can. The ability to move and work abroad means that those QFFs you’ve been cultivating over the last few years can disappear in an instant. On the plus side, you do have a place to stay in a lot of groovy locations around the world.
3) The Lesbian Urge to Merge
Now that equal marriage is legal, we have our own dedicated apps for finding love, and LGBTQI relationships are becoming increasingly normalised in the UK, your QFFs are finding their soulmates and becoming boring married couples at an alarming rate! Good on them for finding love… I guess.
4) Lack of queer spaces
With our spaces both online and physical (RIP Soho’s Candy Bar) closing down, it means that this opportunity to meet other women who love women IRL is dwindling. The boys have The Two Brewers and The Vauxhall Tavern, but the lesbians and bi women are being increasingly pushed out. LGBTQI women, who for years were relegated to basement spaces anyway, now often have just one night a month at certain venues where we can mingle. Joyous.
There is the argument, of course, that all of this is no longer important; many people are fluid when it comes to labels or reject them completely so we don’t need to have dedicated venues or forums. We have come a long way from the time when we needed safe spaces for our community. I have a few choice words to say about that, but they had to be censored.
I acquiesce, a person is a person is a person. And yes, absolutely, I wouldn’t trade my friends for anything – heterosexuality be damned! However, sometimes it is nice to share a certain commonality – a certain cultural capital, if you will. Sometimes it’s nice to talk about Ellen Page’s incredible coming out speech, or something shitty and homophobic that your colleague said last week, or celebrate the marriage of two prominent female celebrities, with someone from the LGBTQI community, because it just means more to us. You’ve read this article littered with LGBTQI specific references and I haven’t had to use up my word count explaining them… that is cultural capital.
So queer women, I’m sorry, but I no longer want to hook up at 3am on the dancefloor with you (my wife probably wouldn’t appreciate that either). I no longer want to simply nod at you on the street as you hold hands with your girlfriend. I no longer want to just laugh at your witty 140 characters on Twitter. Can we just be friends?