Last Thursday, I went to see Sadna, my beautician who has been waxing me every 5 weeks for almost three years! Whilst I was there, I asked her if she wanted to see pictures of me trying on wedding dresses from the weekend before. Of course, she said yes – she is really excited for me and she knows I am marrying a woman. She values me for who I am, my kindness and what I give to the world and accepts me for who I am regardless of who I am in a loving and consenting relationship with. Sadna is also Muslim. Later the same day, I sat in a coffee shop and started to draft this blog before going to my weekly psychodynamic therapy session with Anne, who I have been seeing for just over a year.
Perhaps an odd starting paragraph for my blog but bear with me, because I want to use my experience to show that people can be accepting of and respectful to each other and that actually the impact of denying and shaming identities can be devastating.
For many months now we have been seeing protests outside primary schools against the inclusion of LGBT+ identities and families in the curriculum. Of course, everyone is entitled to their own view, oh my goodness we should never be without that. However, the tone and nature of these protests have been vile, distasteful and frankly damaging not just to the targeted individuals but to the wider LGBT+ communities across the UK. Suggesting we are paedophiles, a danger to children and that we have the power to make a young person become LGBT+, all of which simply isn’t true.
THESE PROTESTS CONTINUE TO DIVIDE US & GENERATE A ‘THEM & US’ IDEOLOGY
Even more upsetting for me, is that I have heard fellow LGBT+ people, people within my own community, start to make their own judgements and prejudice against people who are or they perceive to be Muslim. I understand they are angry, I’m angry and sad too, but I fundamentally don’t believe this should be an eye for an eye situation.
I know that Islam and discrimination against LGBT+ people don’t go hand in hand; my experience with the lovely Sadna is evidence of this. In fact, she says to me ‘Lisa none of the protests or hatred is in my name. In my religion and culture, kindness comes before anything else and prejudice simply isn’t kind’. Sadna welcomes me into her home, introduces me to her children and husband and doesn’t hide me away like I am a lesser being or a danger to her family. I feel welcome and accepted, just as every person deserves to feel.
I FELT DIFFERENT IN A BAD WAY, I FELT ASHAMED & ALONE
So onto therapy. A personal share perhaps, but an important one. There are lots of reasons why I am revisiting my past and learning to accept my experiences, and it isn’t just to do with my sexuality. However, my sexuality, how I was treated as a child with regards to this and the feelings of invisibility and negative difference I experienced, I have no doubt plays a huge part in it. When I was young, Section 28 existed, LGBT+ identities weren’t talked about and if it was it was made fun of as a best-case scenario or I was told they weren’t ‘normal’ and it was ‘wrong’. I didn’t see LGBT+ people on television particularly, we didn’t learn about these identities in PSHE and there weren’t LGBT+ youth groups to go to. I felt different in a bad way, I felt ashamed, I felt alone. And yes, as a 31-year-old I am still working through this. Not my sexuality, I am proud of who I am, but I am working on my self-belief and self-love. I suppose when people ignore a big part of you or tell you you’ll grow out of it, make fun of you and you don’t have a positive role model growing up, the subsequent lack of self-love and self-belief is understandable.
WE ALL HAVE POWER – USES YOURS FOR GOOD
So why does any of this matter? Because we have the power to make sure this doesn’t happen to our future generations. That they grow up feeling confident about who they are, proud of their achievements and that, importantly, they love themselves for simply being themselves. It’s no easy task and it won’t happen overnight, but it is absolutely possible.
LGBT+ visibility is essential, and this means talking about LGBT+ identities, showcasing them and who we are. I have no doubt that if the ‘No Outsiders’ programme had existed when I was young and I could see my identity in the curriculum and heard other children and importantly adults working with me talking about LGBT+ in a positive way, I would be more confident and happy within myself. People often say that our childhoods are the best years of our lives and although I don’t think that it is always true, we owe it to every child to accept them for who they are, to show them respect, acceptance and love to give them the best chance in life. People shouldn’t have to be the same or to think the same to be accepting and welcoming of each other, in fact our differences make us unique and we all have something to offer in our wonderfully diverse society.
No-one is born with prejudice – it is learned. So as individuals, professionals, family members, friends and colleagues, let’s play our part in teaching others and showcasing to others, love, acceptance and respect of all people. Let’s play our part in creating a world where diversity is truly celebrated, and our differences make us feel proud of who we are and enable us to be loving and accepting to everyone in our society and importantly to ourselves too.