Archive for All things rainbow coloured

Help wanted

I was contacted by Lauren, a student at the University of Southampton who is writing a dissertation about the location of LGBT families. If you feel you fall into this category it would really help her out if you could fill in this short questionnaire and email it to her at lab2g10@soton.ac.uk.

Thanks all.

Coming out (of the asylum)

Last week it was National Coming Out Day. I wrote a bit about my coming out story before and talked about the issues of coming out as lesbian parents here.

Interestingly, last week also celebrated – if that’s the right word – World Mental Health Day. I say interestingly because, for me, the two things are inextricably connected. The coming out story I detailed here months ago is a sanitised version of how I came to discover and reveal my sexuality and, whilst my mental health issues are, I believe, totally a separate issue to my sexuality, they had a huge impact on it.

India Knight wrote this column about the stigma (or not) of mental illness in the Sunday Times a couple of weeks ago (I’m hoping this isn’t hidden behind a paywall – I just managed to access it). Mark Rice-Oxley wrote this response in the Guardian. And the fact of the matter is that I am far more comfortable talking about my sexuality than my mental health issues. Perhaps it is because my sexuality is more apparent and that to hide it would be to deny the existence of my wife, the love of my life; maybe it is more that my sexuality continues to be different from what is often “expected” whereas my mental health issues are very much in my past and not a current issue. Either way, I am that uncomfortable with being upfront about it that I already started writing this blog post once and then deleted it because I felt I didn’t particularly want this information published here.

Very few people in my life are aware of my mental health history. In fact, with the exception of L and her parents, the only people in my life who know about it are the people who were there when I went through it all. Anyone I’ve met since knows nothing. They may have their suspicions – I don’t make a particular effort to hide the scars they may or may not correctly identify as self-inflicted – but I have never had a conversation with any of them in which I admit to having had mental health problems.

As someone who has gone from being chronically affected to being “recovered” and holding down a responsible job as a fully functioning member of society, part of me feels I should be a beacon for mental health. I should be shouting it from the rooftops so that I help to remove the stigma by showing how mental health problems really can affect anyone and that there is light at the end of the tunnel for those suffering in a similar way to me – I have come out the other side, after all. But still, coming out about my mental health history remains something I find far too much of a challenge.

My late teens and early twenties were such a tumultuous time for me that whether I liked guys or girls was barely a consideration. My first same-sex kiss was at the age of 16 and was with a girl I was in a psychiatric unit with. It was her idea and was approached as more of a clinical experiment – by both of us – than based on any kind of attraction, but I was surprised to discover that it felt okay – even pleasant – although I didn’t really fancy the girl in question.

The fact of this encounter then pretty much vanished from my mind. I didn’t give much thought to it and later on, when I truly was exploring my sexuality, I found I’d totally forgotten that I had already kissed a girl before.

I was diagnosed with depression and borderline personality disorder – a diagnosis I don’t fully agree with, although I did manifest most of the “symptoms”. I spent the best part of two years in and out of psychiatric hospitals between the ages of 16 and 18 – more in than out. I ended up being transferred to an adolescent psychiatric intensive care unit, complete with locked doors, CCTV and plastic cutlery, for about 8 or 9 months.

Eventually I managed to convince the doctors I was well enough to leave and held off the worst of the self-damaging behaviour which kept me out of hospital while I did my A Levels, although I was far from happy during that time. I had a couple of boyfriends while I was at college, but also developed a couple of major crushes on girls, one of whom was straight but going through an experimental phase and the other who was gay but clearly not interested in me.

At this point I quickly accepted my sexuality as bisexual. I had posters of women up in my room and went to Pride. A friend accidentally outed me to my mum by discussing my tryst with the experimental-straight-girl in front of her.

At this point my mum, a Guardian-reading, liberal social worker who had gay friends, told me that kissing one girl didn’t make me gay, even though I was trying to explain to her that I’d had an epiphany about my sexuality (as much as that epiphany was a half-hearted, bisexual cop out).

I didn’t approach the topic again for quite some time. I went off to uni to study English and decided to join the LGB Soc, but then I also joined the cheerleaders and felt I had to conceal my sexuality from my new friends. I would frequently get drunk (it was uni!) and snog my straight flatmate at parties and clubs, but I always defensively claimed it was to get attention from blokes, which was the argument she used too and as far as I know she still exclusively dates men.

I didn’t last out the first year at uni. I got glandular fever and ended up thoroughly depressed, missing lectures, drinking constantly and becoming pretty much nocturnal, spending all night on the Internet and writing an awful, angsty online journal.

I went home at Easter, having been told I hadn’t achieved enough credits to pass the first year and that I’d need to repeat most of my modules, and ended up in hospital again, my life returning to a cycle of insomnia, self harm and overdosing. After a year in and out of hospital – and a rather abusive relationship with an older man I’d met in hospital – I was referred to a therapeutic community.

I completed the full year of treatment at the TC (the Henderson Hospital which, sadly, has now closed down) and came out having once again embraced my bisexuality, although still without having had an actual relationship with a woman.

Being in the TC saved my life, without a doubt. The year of intensive talking therapy and supporting and challenging the other residents, whilst being supported and challenged by them in return, had a huge impact. I came out with a better understanding of why I responded the way I did to certain things and with the knowledge that I did possess the tools to handle what life threw at me; I was just still not that adept at using said tools.

I moved into a bedsit and tried to figure out what to do with myself. A friend of mine had talked to me a lot about her spirituality and I was curious to find out if there was anything church/god could offer me.

I ended up going to a New Testament church with some pretty fundamental beliefs. At first I decided to just conceal my attraction to women, thinking if I just kept it quiet I could still have my own beliefs but wouldn’t rock the boat. Still very emotionally delicate and vulnerable, I needed the sense of community and family the church seemed to be offering me.

As time went on I got a boyfriend from the church (who I didn’t have to sleep with because we weren’t supposed to have sex before marriage) and eventually convinced myself that I had never even had those feelings about women. I was sure that once I got married to a nice Christian boy, I’d be able to be straight.

But I wasn’t happy in that relationship so I ended it. I was still a mess and still needed a lot of love and attention. There was a family who sort of “adopted” me. Until, that was, the dad decided he didn’t see me as a daughter and tried it on with me. Things got horribly messy and I ultimately lost any belief in a benevolent god after the matter failed to be resolved, even after the pastor and other members of the church got involved, and he got away scot free by lying his arse off and using my mental health history as a weapon against me.

I did go to another church for a while, but then, whilst working part time to get myself through uni, I met a woman and realised how much I’d been denying a true part of myself. I was suddenly aware of how I’d met girls at the church and thought things like, “Wow, she looks great in those jeans – idontfancyherthough!!”

I’d been in absolute and complete denial for so long and realised as well that I really wasn’t interested in men at all. The church told me they were happy to let me stay if I saw a counsellor to work through my “gay issue”. I told them goodbye.

I had come a long way since leaving the Henderson and finally admitting to myself that I was gay was the last thing it took to make me happy in my own skin and a million miles from the vulnerable, needy, emotionally-childlike person I had been. I went to Pride and spent many a night at G-A-Y. I told my mum and she was fine, accepting that I was in a relationship with a woman without a second thought.

By the time I met the woman who was to become my wife, I knew who I was and what I wanted out of life and the person who had spent so long in and out of hospital was like a distant memory.

I often wonder if I would have come out a lot sooner if my life hadn’t been overcomplicated by excessive emotion for so long. I also wonder if I’ll ever really be comfortable telling people about how much of a mess I used to be. I’m never ashamed to admit I had glandular fever – and in fact use that as an excuse to fudge over the details of why I dropped out of uni and then had a big gap before I went back to do a teaching degree – but I am embarrassed to admit that I didn’t used to be able to cope with life.

So that’s the story. Of course, this is the condensed version as it spans several years. Now I’m out of the asylum as well as the closet.

One month

On Saturday the twins turned one month old. One whole month we’ve had them in our lives. I can barely believe it. I look at them and can’t comprehend that they actually came from me. The labour and delivery has become something of a hazy memory and the twins have already grown and changed so much.

As it was the hottest day of the year so far and our back room is south-facing and tends to resemble a sauna for a large part of any sunny day (and our front room is still lacking in a sofa or anything vaguely comfortable to sit on), we decided to go to the coast, hoping that the sea breeze might take the edge off the heat.

After some debate, we agreed on Brighton as our destination because we are both quite familiar with it and didn’t want the hassle of driving round searching for a car park in an unfamiliar town.

Our first challenge was getting the buggy in the car with both bassinet attachments as thus far we’ve only used the car seats on the buggy when we’ve gone out in the car. After some crazy, tetris-like manipulation, we finally managed to get the buggy frame, bassinets and change bags in the car and were actually on our way out by 11am, which is a real achievement for us.

We filled up the car and drove out to the M25. As we came down the slip road we caught a glimpse of the motorway and our hearts sank. The traffic was bumper to bumper and crawling along at around 20mph.

The babies weren’t impressed by the slow movement of the car and decided to start screaming. We came off at the next services and took them inside to change their nappies. As we went back to the car, L wondered if we should try and feed them, but I pointed out that, although we’d been in the car quite a while, they had actually only eaten about an hour and a half ago, so shouldn’t be hungry. Plus, the thought of them possibly throwing up in their car seats and us not knowing about it until we arrived scared me a little. So we decided not to feed them in the hope that the motion of the car would lull them back to sleep.

It didn’t. They both started really screaming once we were on the road again, sometimes taking it in turns, sometimes screaming in unison. It got so bad that once we got on the M23 L was desperate to find somewhere to pull over so we could feed them. And that’s how we ended up feeding our babies in a short-stay car park at Gatwick’s South Terminal.

L gave Imogen a bottle and I breast fed Claudia. L was just winding Imogen when Claudia threw up. On my boob.

And – sorry to get graphic here – I don’t just mean she puked on my chest or down my cleavage, although I have experienced both in the last month. I mean my nipple was IN HER MOUTH. AND THEN SHE THREW UP!

So that was fun. She actually managed to avoid her own clothing with the vomit, but I was covered.

We got going again (after paying our £2.90 for spending less than half an hour in a Gatwick car park) but then the traffic slowed again and the babies started screaming – again – and so we stopped at services AGAIN. Claudia had some more to eat and managed to keep it down so we were able to get on the road once more.

We finally arrived in Brighton at 2:30pm. We left home at 11am. The journey from our home to Brighton should take less than an hour and a half. Clearly, it didn’t.

Thankfully there was a bit of a breeze and it was actually a really nice temperature in the shade. We wandered around a bit but Claudia didn’t appreciate being in the buggy despite being fed and changed, so L had to carry her in the sling. This actually sent her straight to sleep – she clearly just wanted a cuddle.

Brighton was, of course, heaving, which did make manoeuvring the double buggy a bit of a challenge. We wandered through the Pavilion gardens and along the sea front before finding a cafe in the shade at which we could have a drink and something to eat.  Afterwards we wandered back to the car – both babies in the slings now and me pushing the empty buggy – to head home.

The traffic was much better but the twins still weren’t keen on being in the car.  There was less screaming, but we still felt it necessary to stop at services, even though we were only about one junction from home.  We finally made it home, exhausted but pleased we’d made it out, even though the babies hadn’t much appreciated the day trip.

After one month we are getting to know them and coming to realise that nothing is guaranteed.  Sometimes we can have an amazing and easy day with them and other times what may seem like the exact same set of circumstances to us is the complete opposite and the worst possible thing that could happen as far as the twins are concerned.  What we have learned so far is to take the harder times with the easier ones and make the most of those moments when they seem like absolute angels.

I didn’t take any photos in Brighton, mostly because of all the screaming.  But to commemorate their one month birthday, here are a couple of pictures of the babies.

Where the heart is

It’s been a year since I married my best friend.  And what a year it’s been.

We got pregnant, found out it was twins, moved house and then had our two babies.  In theory life should slow down now but, well, we have two babies to look after.

I got up this morning and Imogen had kept L up half the night, so I took both babies downstairs and let her have a lie in.  Not only did she really appreciate this, but it made me confident that I might actually be able to cope when L goes back to work in only 3 weeks!

Life is pretty busy, which is why my blog posts have been fairly few and far between.  In actual fact I have several aborted drafts on my WordPress dashboard that may well never get published, either through lack of time or because they just stopped being relevant weeks ago.

So, in that vein, here are some pictures of our house once we were all moved in and unpacked.  These photos were (obviously) taken before the babies arrived.  Our house will NEVER look like this again until at least 2030! And by then we’ll probably have moved.

Anyway, without further ado…

Living-dining room (this was just before L’s birthday party if you were wondering about the bottle of Pimms on the table!)

Living-dining room, reverse view

Living-dining room including our wedding canvas (photo by theotherday.co.uk, canvas printed at Transform Your Image, Bluewater). The bookshelf is going and we are getting a dresser/display unit to go there instead. (Ignore the birthing ball!)

Kitchen

Front room. This will be a second living room/play room, but currently we have no sofa!

Bathroom

Master bedroom. Wedding photo and canvas as above.

Nursery (although the babies won’t be sleeping in here for quite a while).

Changing table complete with reusable nappies and cheeky wipes.

The babies’ bookshelf with their Olympic mascots. If you’re wondering about the book on the far right of the shelf, I did explain to my wife that it isn’t *actually* a children’s book!

Movement

We need to move.  Our flat is lovely and spacious, but it’s two floors up, which might be okay with one baby, but having to lug two up and downstairs every time we want to go out would get old VERY quickly.  Plus, because we are on the second floor, our three (adorable) cats are house cats.  Aside from the fact that really Hercules is the type of cat who would love to be able to go outside, this also means that we have to hoover pretty much every day to avoid being swamped with cat hair.  Clearly this would be less than ideal with two tiny newborn sets of lungs in the flat, inhaling mouthfuls of fur with every breath.

So, we need to move.  This is more complicated than your average sale and purchase because the flat is shared ownership.  When L and I got together I had just started working full-time after being a student.  I lived in what estate agents might generously refer to as “a hovel”, with a landlord who basically couldn’t give a shit about the fact that the place had a serious damp problem.  But it was all I could afford to rent at the time on my student loan and part-time work, so as soon as I had a decent salary coming in, I looked into buying somewhere.  But obviously, L and I hadn’t been together very long and, despite the lesbian cliche about bringing a U-Haul to the second date, we weren’t quite there yet.

Ironically, by the time I had finally completed on the shared ownership purchase that was all I could afford on my single salary, we were so there and L moved in straight away as we’d already been effectively living together between our two homes for the last few months.

A shared ownership sale works quite differently from a normal property sale.  We have had to get the property valued by a chartered surveyor and now it is being marketed by the housing association who own the other percentage share, rather than by an agent.  Thankfully, the value came back as the same I paid for it three years ago, which means I get my equity back, plus the little I’ve paid off the mortgage in the last three years.  Prospective buyers can apply to buy a percentage at the market value, with no room for negotiations, which means – as long as they do manage to sell it as a shared ownership property – we will definitely get back the amount we expect to.  If they don’t manage to sell it in the next two months, we will be able to market it with an agent on the open market, which might mean we can try a higher price, but we would also be liable for the agent fees.

Hopefully though, that is neither here nor there, as we have had four viewings already and we know for a fact that one of the viewers has registered her interest with the housing company so we are keeping our fingers well and truly crossed.

Of course, we also need to find somewhere to move to.  We have seen a few properties, but nothing that’s been quite right yet – and of course, we’ve not really been in an ideal position so far, without a firm offer on our flat.  Our upper limit for our budget should be able to get us something suitable in the location we want, but at the moment I’m panicking, because it will cost us a fortune in stamp duty and, of course, I’ll be on maternity leave within weeks – probably – of us moving in and will therefore be gradually contributing less and less to the costs of mortgage payments and food and general living!  But, my wife assures me it will all work out and that she will bring home the bacon and look after her wife and children (she is so amazing, you should all be insanely jealous) and we’re sitting down this afternoon – once she’s back from her marathon training run – to work out how we can save even more each month whilst we still have my full salary coming in.

I’m feeling really impatient about moving, because we can’t really buy anything baby-related yet.  We don’t want to just fill up our spare room or garage with stuff, we want to be able to furnish an actual nursery – but until we know where we’re moving to, we just can’t think too much about furniture and even baby clothes and nappies would just be something else we have to pay people to move from this flat to the new house…  So we’re holding off, even though it’s driving me mad (and even though I have booked us tickets to the baby show at Excel next weekend, which will hopefully offer us loads of bargains).

* * *

The other movement I’m waiting for is in my womb.  Apparently any time from a week or two ago I could have started feeling the babies moving.  A friend of ours at work who is also pregnant said she didn’t feel anything until about 21 weeks, and I’m not quite 17 yet, so I am prepared for the fact that it might be a while before I feel anything, but….Oh I REALLY want to feel something!  I seem to find myself spending quite a bit of time lying on my back – apparently the best position in which to feel something – concentrating ridiculously hard on my uterus.  People say it feels like bubbles popping, a bit like wind, but obviously different, otherwise how would you know?  I am just so curious.  With two of them in there you’d think I’d be able to feel SOMETHING!

* * *

People have been asking how it went when I told the children at work about my pregnancy; it had kind of slipped my mind that I’d left you all on tenterhooks – it’ll have to be another thing I blame on pregnancy brain, which is still in full force, by the way: I put a bottle of wine in the cupboard with the wine glasses the other day, rather than back in the fridge.

I told the kids the news on a Friday a week or so before half term.  I thought I’d have a little fun with it, so I started off by saying that I needed to have a serious talk with them all, as there was gossip going around that I needed to put a stop to.  I explained to them that teachers talk, and that I was well aware of the rumours, that they needn’t think just because they were asking questions of people other than me, it didn’t mean I hadn’t heard what was being said.

When I then informed them – with a smile on my face – that actually the rumours were true and I am pregnant, I could see several of the girls muttering wide-eyed to one another that they’d KNOWN!  However, when I then expanded on the news and told them I was having twins, I was greeted with gasps of excitement.

A lot of the girls made L and me congratulations cards.  The boys said nothing.  (An interesting study on gender roles if ever there was one.)  The news spread and girls in other year groups started coming up and asking me if what they had heard was true.  They were all equally pleased.  One girl in Year 5 told me that “some people think that two girls shouldn’t have a baby.”  I acknowledged that some people do think that, but told her also that: “Some people have some pretty silly ideas, don’t they?”  She agreed and then ran off to meet her mum, so I’m not sure if that opinion is one she is being encouraged to believe, or just one that she’s heard of.  Either way, I hope we are showing her that it is okay.

Over the next week, three parents approached either L or I to congratulate us.  They seem really genuinely pleased for us and although they are the minority at the moment, I am pleased that we have only attracted positive comments so far.

A lot of the children have actually been very excited by the news – sharing it with parents and other teachers alike.  I imagine the news will continue to spread after half term – particularly as I now look as though I’ve swallowed a basketball – and hopefully we will continue to have a positive response from parents and children.

I read this article in the Guardian this morning (be warned, it’s absolutely heartbreaking) and was struck by the comments from Ben Summerskill, chief executive of the charity Stonewall, saying that LGBT teachers are sorely underrepresented.  I am proud that my wife and I are out at work and I really hope that, in our own small way, in our own small corner of SE London, we are making a difference and are showing by example how we’re no different from a straight couple getting married and starting a family.  This is something I feel really passionate about – the last thing I want for our children is for them to spend time in a school environment where homophobic language is rife.

The more people like L and I have the confidence and support of colleagues to be out at work, the more children and their families who, whilst not explicitly homophobic, may not have even considered the concept of LGBT families, will experience and understand the real diversity of families that exist.  And our children will know that others will see them as no different from children in single-parent families, or children who live with their grandparents, or children who are fostered or adopted.  Children are very accepting of all of these different types of families – as they should be – but stories like Dominic’s go to show how far we are from being considered “normal” in many places or situations.  There’s still a way to go, but we’re moving forward.

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