lifestyle

How Can We Be Better Allies To The LGBTQ+ Community?

As a straight, white feminist, it can be really easy to just focus on your own problems and disadvantages, but it’s common knowledge that we can’t all move forward when half of us are being held back. Equality can’t ever be achieved if we don’t work together to boost everyone up so we ought to start closing that gap. 

As it’s Pride month in the UK, I wanted to focus on some of the injustices faced by women within the LGBTQ+ community. Someone I know pointed out just how frustrating gay clubs can be, especially when taken over by straight women trying to escape the sometimes literal clutches of straight men in straight clubs. When it’s pointed out, you realise how unhelpful you’re being in what should be a safe place for a community you’re not a part of. It was also pointed out to me that even gay clubs weren’t particularly welcoming to lesbians or bi women. It was pretty disconcerting to hear that they can’t even enjoy clubs intended for their use and it got me thinking. I decided I would try to learn a little more.

I reached out to friends and to colleagues,one of whom actually teased me, knowingly asking why I had chosen to question her instead of others I worked with. I wanted to know how a straight person could make a good – or just a better – ally. We need to band together properly, so I asked for the community’s opinions and tips, and here’s what I got back…

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LILY ANN PROCELLA 

“A  couple of simple things are calling out homophobia/transphobia if you see it. Often it is left up to the victims to call this behaviour out which is not a position everyone can accept for a whole host of reasons. Solidarity feels good because (from my experience) when you are lgbt/closeted etc it is incredibly isolating and there aren’t too many examples of people standing up to this discrimination in popular culture, straight or otherwise so it feels like you against the world. If your workplace or colleagues don’t respect other people’s identities or insufficient training is provided try suggesting training is provided. If someone tells you their pronoun, refer to them with that pronoun and treat them with respect. It can feel uncomfortable at first but it is way better to suffer slight discomfort than to invalidate someone else’s whole identity.

Others are; donating to or volunteering at local homeless shelters as not everyone is accepted by their family and there are a lot of homeless lgbtq+ people in the UK at the moment and not too many specialised services. Donating time or money to organisations or even just sharing news articles and petitions that are related to the community would be awesome. Try to respect that there may be lgbtq+ spaces where it is purely for the community not allies. These spaces can be vital in giving people who suffer discrimination and misunderstanding on a daily basis some much needed breathing room, in a similar way to how we have women/nb only spaces it comes down to celebrating yourself and connecting with others in a safe space. It’s not personal, and getting offended thinking you are being excluded can be very invalidating to people within the community. Also taking some time to research art, film, books by lgbtq artists and supporting them is a rewarding way to be an ally. I think a lot of lgbtq+ people feel like straight allies get involved for the big events like pride and that’s great but we need support in the small scale everyday stuff too so try to be a year-round ally not just a seasonal one. Pick just one thing you’re going to try to do for the next year/month etc that will help the community and try to do it”


LARA SCOTT

“My only note in terms of being an ally would be not to ask about labels straight away. Especially if your friend is having a new experience. I sometimes think the worst question to ask a queer person is: so what are you? It put a lot of pressure on that person. I think the best way to be an ally is just to listen to your friends story & their experience.”

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REBECCA [surname removed for anonymity]

“Education of what LGBTQA+ is and all the differences etc. It’s still not massively talked about in secondary school, and why is labelling so important. Respect each other as fellow humans and not see differences. Most of the shit I have is from people from a different generation that don’t see it’s okay to be gay.”

AMBER BERRY

“One huge thing I want to emphasise is for people to be inclusive of bi* and pan* people. Despite us being a huge part of why pride even came about in the first place, and despite us being a large percentage of the LGBTQ+ population, so often we are missed out of conversations. This includes things like not assuming that two people who are together and masc presenting or femme presenting are always gay.

Another thing I’d say is that straight and cis folks should do their reading. Educating yourself is a great way to become a better ally. Sometimes I’m more than willing to help folks understand the bi/queer experience but other times I don’t want to because it’s exhausting and because I struggle with mental illness. Straight people can’t always rely on LGBT folks to educate them. A really good way of integrating LGBTQ+ content into your life could be watching YouTube creators, podcasters and by following/supporting people on Instagram. Not necessarily just reading books or articles!

Lastly to be aware that there are people who are LGBTQ+ and also POC or disabled or other far more marginalised identities than the average white gay man, and their voices should be amplified and supported.”

I am hugely grateful to all of the women who were kind enough to explain things to me and to share their own experiences and advice. I’ve learned a lot, and I hope you have to. To everyone in the UK enjoying pride, don’t forget to take note of the above advice, and to support the community all year round, through times of struggles as well as in celebration. Happy Pride everyone.

Words by Briony Brake with interviews from Lily Ann Procella, Lara Scott, Rebecca and Amber Berry for Anthem Online.
Images from Briony Brake and Lara Scott.

 

365 Days in London

Friday 23rd June 2017. I graduated from Oxford Brookes University at 3pm in the afternoon. I took photos, stole a bunch of mini scones and headed into town with my family. I then boarded a coach to London in my nice graduation dress, switching my new heels for my favourite beat-up trainers. 

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Hooray for me!

A lot of people move to bigger cities after uni – some by accident, some with sincere intent to live a big city life. I didn’t plan on it and wasn’t even sure what I wanted to do. Five or six months prior, I had gone for an interview for an internship that was successful and so I was heading to London for at least two months to try that out. I arrived in London on a Friday night and got straight to work on Monday. Even as I moved into London, I didn’t know if I wanted to stay forever but knew that now was the time to try. 

It’s been a year since I moved to London – yes I’m still here – and I have a full-time job working on a different team at the company I started interning for last June. I live in a flat share, I have a cinema loyalty card that I don’t use as much as I should (the sign of a true grown up), and I’m staying here. I’m staying in London and I’m staying at my job. I have a set of great friends that also happen to be my colleagues, and have access to so many cool events and things going on in London.

I wanted to write this piece for two reasons – firstly to celebrate my first year in London, and secondly to share some of the things I’ve learned since being here. So let’s get to it!

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I live (near) here now.

Being a grownup is exhausting.  

The thing about London is that this all sounds really glorious, partly because I’ve written it that way and partly because I’ve totally omitted the countless times I’ve wanted to go home and all the stressed-out evenings and weekends spent fretting over work or social events. London is hella tiring. Very few people live close to where they work and if they do they don’t live near their friends and if they do they don’t live near their family or favourite market or museum etc. London is praised for having everything but if you thought about it logically, you’d realise how much space you’d need to have everything you loved. Everything is spread out and not everything is accessible when you want or need it. It’s very easy to glamourise London and say ‘well it has the best doughnuts and pizza’ which it probably does but you have to actually have the energy to go and get those doughnuts and pizza.

I moved to London and thought to pretty much everything I faced ‘it will get easier’, but I don’t know if it does. It’s not that you’re not used to it, it’s that it’s freaking hard. Travelling with hundreds of other sweaty bodies for hours a day, lugging bags around, working, exercising, enjoying a social life. It’s ridiculous. I had resigned myself to long periods of coming home, showering, cooking and watching a film before going to bed until my laptop broke. Now I watch TV on my Kindle.

The thing is that everyone is the same. I thought my London friends were London people and let me tell you, I think that’s a myth. London isn’t a fictional place where everyone is either a businessman or really super unbelievably cool. First of all, my London friends are all equally shattered and tell me how hard London is, and secondly, it’s a city goddamn it, not a club. Anyone is welcome. 

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I won an award for always having biscuits at my desk. #Winner

There’s room for everybody.

Everyone is welcome in the Big Gherkin (is that right?). It’s a funny double-edged sword because nobody gives a shit what you do or wear (drags old merch clothing out the wardrobe) but also nobody gives a shit what you do or wear (sits in pile of Gryffindor t-shirts with a sad, hopeless face). I work in an office that deals with a lot of film and television. As expected, my office is filled with merch; we probably keep Funko in business and that’s cool. I had been to an all-girls school which although relatively progressive still separated out the nerds from the rest, and then a university where I didn’t make many friends. I didn’t proudly support things I loved in my possessions and clothing anymore, but I hadn’t realised until I started this job.

My desk has only just started gathering stuff but it’s great. My birthday presents were all cat or feminist related and what more could you want? I frequently wear a Bart Simpson printed shirt to work or jumpers printed with slogans about equality and quotes from Pride and Prejudice. It doesn’t matter what you’re a ‘nerd’ about, it’s all good. Nobody gives a fudge. It’s grand.

I went to a Comic-con for the first time in May and was taken aback at how little people cared that anime girls and Jon Snows were boarding the DLR. Princess Belle in a giant yellow dress? Didn’t notice. It was so nice that I actually got a bit emotional. These people were doing what they wanted and nobody was making fun or questioning them for it. I actually cried when I went to Pride last year too. I’d only been in London for a short while at this point, but here were all these people celebrating and mourning simultaneously with thousands of allies just happy to be around. Everyone was friendly and talking to one another and there was music and glitter and colour and people were allowed to be themselves. What a dream. 

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I did not win this cat, and I am low-key furious.

I can be myself, whoever that is.

For the first time in years, I haven’t even considered dieting or getting fit to lose weight. Why you ask? Because I don’t care. Because nobody else cares. I had to stop wearing makeup earlier this year because my skin went to pot and although I started my internship wearing a full face of makeup every day, I have not worn makeup to work in at least a month or two. Nobody cares. It’s a great thing to embrace. Share what you love, talk about your passions. 

*I know I should’ve started this article with the disclaimer that I know I’ve been pretty lucky getting a job where I work and very occasionally being able to afford some of the fun things London has to offer (like DOUGHNUTS) but it’s too late now, the disclaimer is going here.*

I actually got to help on a friend of a friend’s short film as a runner this summer which was amazing. Suddenly I felt like filmmaking wasn’t off the table again (although realistically I don’t have time so it’s back off the table but still!). I’ve made friends who would gladly support or help my writing if I wanted feedback because they write too. Most of the time I can find someone to take advantage of cheap theatre tickets with me, and most excitingly I’ve discovered karaoke. Karaoke is fun damn it.

Then you have the fact that I can discuss feminism with my boss or Wonder Woman or Pusheen the cat or some obscure animation on Netflix with someone at work. It is no longer a secret that I’ve watched pretty much every Christmas movie available on Netflix, and not necessarily in December either. I like stuff and people know, and nobody thinks any different for knowing. Maybe it’s a growing up thing and not a London thing, but I feel like I belong at my current job. 

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Get it, girl.

Difference will help you grow.

This last one is less something I have learned and more something I’ve always believed that’s confirmed on a daily basis. I know a lot of people that are quite old fashioned and think it would be better if we could just get rid of or stop dealing with certain people. The thing is, we cannot get rid of people we disagree with. I’m a proud feminist and if I got rid of people who disagreed with me, then there probably wouldn’t be a population crisis anymore. You will never ever learn or grow or change if you only spend time with people like you. I genuinely believe that you will learn way more from people you dislike and disagree with than you will from similar people.

Learning to get on with people you don’t like is one of the most valuable social skills you can learn. Learning and changing to not be like people you dislike or learning how to defend yourself and your argument against people who disagree with your beliefs is equally valuable. The thing about everyone in London being different is that you learn to be friendly with dozens of people for different reasons. Being able to talk to people and discover something in common is brilliant, and learning to deal with people you don’t like is only going to help you. Living somewhere where every single person you pass is different is an amazing confirmation of how much you’re going to learn and grow and become accepting of so many different people. So remember that. 

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Treat yo’self to a good doughnut.

That’s it really. I just can’t get over how solid that message of acceptance has been since I’ve been here. I know it’s not the same for everyone but this is my personal account of London. People are either going to like you or they’re not, and there’s actually not so much you can do about that. You can be the most pleasant person in the world and someone’s still going to think you’re too pleasant. London is so busy and there’s so much happening all the time that it kind of forces you to just get on with it.

People who are very different end up being friends and that is so good for you. It is so unbelievably good for you to make friends with people who have different interests and backgrounds and lives. If you can support your friends and their super niche hobbies and interests then they will support you in yours. It’s a win-win. 

It’s been a tough year but an interesting one. I’m confident in my job and my personality in a way I haven’t been before. I’ve learned to take the bad with the good. If nothing else, I’ve learned to say “it’s swings and roundabouts” at least once a day. Welcome to London, I guess.

 

Words and Images by Briony Brake for Anthem Online.

THE MANLEY GUIDE TO FEMALE AUTHORS – Part 2

part 2

‘The Outrun’ – Amy Liptrot

As I sat writing this I realised that Amy Liptrot’s ‘The Outrun’ is one of those hard-to-describe books. It is an autobiography, but it also feels in some way like a travel guide, and love letter, to Orkney (I myself now have a long list of places to visit). Really though, it is about her journey through alcoholism, her descent into it, her recovery and her re-discovery of the wild and beautiful place she grew up.


‘I’m the King of the Castle’ – Susan Hill

If you didn’t read this at GCSE (as I first did), you should definitely give it a go now. ‘I’m the King of the Castle’ is written entirely from a child’s perspective – Kingsley’s. This is a particularly effective method as we the reader have to experience his bullies, his fears and his pleading with adults first hand and the devastating effect all this has on him. Susan Hill, in my opinion, is a fantastic writer and I believe this to be one of the best examples of her work – and a great gateway to her other books.


‘He Named Me Malala’ – Malala Yousafzai

As I’m sure everyone knows, in 2012, Malala Yousafzai was shot in the head by the Taliban for campaigning for the equal education of women and girls in Pakistan. She survived, and is now studying at Oxford University and continuing her fight on a global scale. Yet her autobiography tells us the stuff we didn’t know. Malala documents her life growing up in the Swat Valley, the beautiful mountains and it’s fascinating history, the rise of the Taliban and her road towards activism as well as her life after that moment in 2012.

I loved this book because of that different knowledge; it was refreshing, heart-warming (and a little heartbreaking) to hear about life in Pakistan for the normal people like you and I and not just what we see on the news. ‘He Named Me Malala’ is an informative and inspiring read that should be added to your shelves.


‘The Bloody Chamber’ – Angela Carter

‘The Bloody Chamber’ is a collection of short stories by Angela Carter. Each story is based on a traditional fairy tale, but with a twist. Carter takes the basic narrative of each tale she is using and infuses them with something both dark and mystical whilst also echoing reality. As with a lot of traditional fairy tales, each story centres on a female protagonist. However, Carter uses her stories to highlight the very real problem of violence against women, whether that is social, economic or physical.

This was the first book I read by Carter and it got me hooked (which I’m sure you’ll hear about in other posts), I loved the twists and the ability to debate and discuss the topics with others. I also found it fascinating (and a little sad) that the issues raised are still so relevant today almost 40 years later.


‘Women and Power’ – Mary Beard

The fifth book on this list is the critically acclaimed ‘Women and Power’ by Professor Mary Beard. In this book, Beard chronicles misogyny all the way from ancient Greeks and Romans through to today and assesses how these ancient mythologies are still used to undermine, and target, powerful women in modern times. Perhaps one of the most notable was the use of the Medusa head against Hilary Clinton in the 2016 Presidential Election.

Although this is a bit of a challenging read, it is well worth the time and effort.

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‘And Still I Rise’ – Maya Angelou

‘And Still I Rise’ is one of Maya Angelou’s poetry collections featuring the two poems that first lead me to fall in love with her – ‘Still I Rise’ and ‘Phenomenal Woman’. Angelou’s poems discuss love, life, her experiences as a black woman and growing older,  and whilst each one is deeply personal the themes have universal resonance.


‘Everyday Sexism’ – Laura Bates

This book was the cumulative result of a social media campaign started by Laura Bates in 2012 to document the sexism experienced by women on a daily basis in all areas of life and work. Bates has split the book into various chapters (as authors often do) so as to best examine each sectionality and area of life as closely as possible and backs everything up with facts, which are quite often depressing.

However, despite this, I found it weirdly inspiring and after reading it I bought it for a friend who gave it to her friend and recommended it to others, as I also did. It really is a book that no matter how old you are it is relatable to every one of us (unfortunately). It is a book that should be read by, and affects, everyone. It not only educates, it also makes you say ‘me too’. To quote Caitlin Moran, “it will make most women feel oddly saner”.


‘H is for Hawk’ – Helen MacDonald

‘H is for Hawk’ is a moving account of grief, depression and falconry. Following the death of her father, Helen MacDonald travels to Scotland to buy a goshawk and sets out on a mission to train it – despite no previous experience and only what she has read in books since she was a young girl. I get that this sounds like a slightly strange mix, but it makes for a beautiful one. It is a combination that makes you laugh, cry and gasp in awe along with MacDonald every step of the way and leaves you fascinated by these fantastic birds.

 

Click here for Part 1 of Eleanor’s guide.
Words and images by Eleanor Manley for Anthem.

 

Let’s talk about cysts, baby.

In recent years, crippling conditions such as endometriosis and polycystic ovaries have become more widely discussed thanks to women such as Lena Dunham talking about their experiences. The increasing awareness of these conditions is fantastic and needs to continue, yet very often, little is spoken about their cousin – dermoid cysts.

Dermoid ovarian cysts are benign tumours made up of a collection of cells that are used to create eggs. As eggs have the ability to create any type of cells, dermoid cysts can consist of a wide range of different types of human tissue, including blood, fat, bone, hair and teeth all in one beautiful lump, and effect on average 1 in 5 women, with cysts that cause symptoms affecting 1 in 25. They can vary in size and symptoms, with some women never even knowing they have one if it remains small. They can range from being 1cm up to 75cms. My first cyst was 15cm, my new one is currently sitting pretty at 4cm.

Dermoid cysts are a recurring problem and must be surgically removed when they begin to cause problems, yet there is surprisingly little information available on them. A quick google search led me to a forum of women asking for information from each other on the issue. These were women who had had multiple cysts removed, who’d had ovaries removed and yet still had very little information on the condition. I myself had never been told that they reoccurred until another one decided to pay me a visit, but I was quickly informed when I questioned the doctors that this is incredibly common and should have been unsurprising to me.

So why am I so keen to tell you all this? Well for one, I think it’s important for all of us to know a bit more about what can go on down there, but also, I want to spread awareness of how much this can affect people’s lives when they do show symptoms.

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My first cyst was diagnosed after over a year of constant pain and tests. I had to take a year off school, and during that time I frequently cried and vomited from pain, and on multiple occasions, I was unable to move from my bed for several days at a time because of it; it really was a literal pain in the backside. I had scans of my brain and my spine – at one point they thought I had MS because the cyst was pressing on my spinal nerves and causing neurological symptoms such as my hands being unable to hold pens and cutlery. Eventually, after eighteen months (and a very perceptive trainee nurse) they found it, and I had emergency surgery. I was lucky. My surgeon was amazing and saved my ovary, but this is not the case for so many women. Many women who have dermoid cysts have had to have their ovaries removed for the sake of their health, but in turn, give up their fertility. I myself now have a life plan in place to manage the condition.

I can only speak from personal experience, but being told that I had another one devastated me. I remember practically skipping to the hospital to rid myself of this thing back in 2013 and three years later I was being told that I had to go through all that again.

I’m nowhere near where I was last time with the pain and discomfort, in fact, I can forget about it a lot of the time but then it comes back to remind me that it’s still there. I have missed meeting up with friends and going to their parties because “I have a really bad headache”, or “I just have too much work to do” whilst in reality I’ve typed that whilst curled up in a ball crying in pain desperately waiting for the paracetamol to kick in so that I can have the smallest slice of relief.

I have come to terms now with what lies ahead, I have a life plan organised with my doctors and I’m working on techniques to manage the pain (FYI – if you’re ever really frustrated it helps to watch YouTube clips of Malcolm Tucker and just let him channel your anger). Some women, as I have mentioned before, aren’t as lucky as I have been; they’ve had hysterectomies and cysts which have been much larger and more aggressive than mine. This is why I want to raise more awareness of dermoid ovarian cysts. I described my experience of my first cyst – a year and a half of pain and frustration whilst being poked and prodded – but my second one has so far been much better because this time I knew what to look out for. I went to the doctor, I got a scan and it was diagnosed early and now they are able to monitor it and largely keep it in check. I cannot express enough how much better it is to go to your doctor if you suspect anything than sit around hoping it will go away – it could be nothing, but it could be something and that’s worth finding out.

 

If you want more information about the signs and symptoms of dermoid ovarian cysts along with general gynaecological information visit the ‘Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists’ website.

 

Words by Eleanor Manley
Artwork by Celia Mohedano