Getting there

Time for a serious post (yes, I do have it in me). No stories of Tomb Raider fascinations, no props to other bloggers talking about equal marriage.

I’ve been having a bit of a think lately. It hurt, but I pushed through. Sometimes it happens when you face your own mortality, and while through everything I have tried (and I hope mostly succeeded) to remain upbeat, the thoughts can drown out the positive vibes. As I sit here, in bed in a freezing room in London on a bitter February night, struggling to not throw up because the chemo is getting the better of me, I wonder about it all.

More accurately, I wonder about all those people who don’t have someone with them at times like this. I don’t, but that’s because I choose to. I don’t want my loved ones to see me frail, unable to keep food down, too tired to sleep and too bone achingly exhausted to turn over. I can’t even type: this is being written courtesy of the amazing Dragon Naturally Speaking, perfect so my hands don’t hurt any more than they need to. During the daytimes, when I do venture out the house, I am all smiles. There is no point in feeling sorry for myself, because as far as I’m concerned, I will get better, and there’s no point troubling anyone else with these ideas. Of course it’s difficult. Of course the chemo turns my insides into a mangey excuse for a stomach – they should market it as the new chemical peel, sure it’d get rid of wrinkles pretty quickly (and everything else besides. Who needs a nose/eyes/lips/cheeks – skeletal chic will be on the menu, you’ll see…)

I’m lucky enough to have started with a chunky enough frame to not look like a skeleton. But I am buying new clothes with the money I don’t have just to have trousers that stay up without the sumo-hitch every five minutes. I’ve even resorted to wearing braces instead of a belt. People who see me every now and then comment on how well I look – what they mean is I’m finally looking about the right weight for my height. These are the people who think my buzz cut is a style choice. Turns out, half the people in my old office thought the bald look was a style statement – apparently I can pull it off, which is no mean feat.

There are the well intentioned comments, the pitying head-tilts, the eyes darting anywhere but your face when they realise you really aren’t too well. People don’t know how to deal with this, but here’s the thing: neither do I.

I don’t know what to tell people when they ask me how I am. The truth often gets a short reply of ‘Oh….’ because nobody knows what to say. A lie feels morally wrong. The best response is ‘Getting there’. Some days, this is true. Some days, I want to grab them by the collar and shout in their face: does this look OK? Do I look healthy to you? Should my eyes be red, my teeth be yellow? Should my hair be patchy? Do I look like I can stay awake through this social engagement? Can I really get drunk with the rest of you instead of being despairingly tee total? Do you really think I might be able to get over this?

Lucky for them, I don’t do this.

Lucky for me, I don’t do this.

So for anyone who wants to know how I am – and how I guess most people going through chemotherapy might feel from time to time – here you are:

I feel terrible. I want my social life back. I don’t want the majority of my exchanges with human beings to be with the (amazing) Macmillan nurses. I want my most intimate moments to be with someone I at least fancy, if not love, and not with the sixth doctor of the month. I want to be able to eat the food I love without fearing I’ll taste it again when it comes back up. I wish I could have a machine which drew all of my pain out of me and stored it in a little box – even if I had to endure some of that stored pain bit by bit over a long time, that would be preferable to this constant, nagging bone ache that makes you feel hollow and solid all at the same time. I want to be able to sleep the night through. I want to be able to sleep without waking up in soaking sheets from night sweats. I want peace.

I want peace.

The more I think about it, the less I think peace will come. If I get better, sorry – when, I’ll be itching to get out and do the things I always wanted. Go travelling. Publish books. Learn archery. Learn Mandarin (OK this can be done now but have you tried concentrating with a 3-day migraine?). Take a yacht around the Caribbean islands. Move to a country cottage. Get a dog.

If I don’t, the only way peace will come will be when I die. And I don’t want that to be the next time I experience peace. I don’t want all this treatment to be for a painless death. I want all this treatment to mean something. I want to know that I feel like shit because there is something waiting for me afterwards, in this life. In the life I know exists. In the life I can see happening around me. I can hear it even now, the main road under my bedroom window. The window shakes every time a bus goes past. I can hear a toddler chattering away to her mum. I can hear a dog’s claws clacking on the pavement. This is life. I can see this happening and I want even these simple things to be mine. Without fear of pain, without my tendency to faint being an issue.

So many things that I want. And I will have them. Just, not yet.

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Obsessions

Being somewhat of a hermit, I’m aware that my social life is…restricted. This is mostly by choice, because people overwhelm me with their fascinating antics and if there are too many people in one place, I don’t know where to look and my brain shuts down.

It is only when talking to my friends (in small groups, on the phone or via my best friend, Skype) that I realise how much other people are also like this. And how it’s the eccentricities of life that make the world turn.

Take obsessions, for example. Everybody has at least one obsession, even if they don’t want to admit it. Mine are numerous, no doubt increased by the amount of time I spend on my own. Don’t get me wrong, I love my own company, but I think your brain starts to latch on to things to create a commonality within itself after a while. Just as you might read a book your friend has recommended (I have yet to read ‘Get Out More and Stop Being So Weird’ , Hannah, just as an aside), which you would then discuss with each other, or see a film together, or go to the same party, whatever – I think the brain has a fantastic ability to create this within itself. Hence, obsessions become part of life – they are familiar, they are a subject you could talk to others about if placed in a suitable social situation, but more often than not (in my case, anyway) they are something for my own brain to occupy itself with when the other part of my brain is switched off into fiction-world. (I often have to leave stories brewing in the back of my head for a while before I can write them. They formulate by themselves, but I daren’t check they’re ready for consumption until at least at a simmering boil).

Aside from the obvious of writing, I have a few obsessions. Friends close to me will understand my love of Lord of the Rings stems from an unquestionable desire to be Aragorn, minus the being a man part. This fantasy of rough good-conquers-all heroism directly contradicts my hermit lifestyle – you never know, one day I might save someone’s life by wielding a sword at a goblin, but the likelihood of this ever happening decreases relatively with the amount of time spent away from other human beans.

Tomb Raider has been an obsession of mine since I managed to get TR3 for PC when I was about 12. I started playing it so much, I dreamt of being Lara. OK, I dreamt mostly of exploding Lara as I repeatedly got the ‘all weapons’ and ‘explode Lara’ cheats mixed up, but you get the idea. I haven’t touched the games in years, but on the 5th March nobody, but nobody, will see me for days as the newest installment is released. I like other games, with a soft spot in particular for Prince of Persia, but for some reason Tomb Raider captured my imagination. This is, probably, in no small part due to the fact I discovered Lara Croft around the same time I was discovering that I was a lesbian. In fact, I think it’s Lara’s fault. Damn you, fictional game character for ruining my chances at a ‘normal’ life…

Shoes are a funny obsession. I’m not a girly girl, really – well, I don’t wear makeup most of the time, but I like having my nails look presentable. I don’t own tons of clothes, but this is mostly because I’m a very odd size to fit. I hate shopping, but love that moment when you find a perfect pair of jeans. But shoes. Well, shoes are a special part of my life. I used to be very fat, with size 10 (UK) feet – nowhere really does women’s shoes that big so I mostly lived in men’s trainers. Then two wonderous things happened: firstly, the shoe industry realised women’s feet are getting larger, and in particular Evans really expanded their range to beautiful high heels, practical work shoes, flip flops, you name it. The second was that I lost a ton of weight and dropped a shoe size. Suddenly, the world of shoes opened up to me – more manufacturers were making size 9 shoes, and they fitted me! Lucky for me, though, there are still few and far between when looking at all high street shops (which mostly go up to an 8). This is good, because I would spend every penny I had on shoes I would probably never wear.

I do not understand this obsession.

My brain doesn’t even have a common thread of conversation with itself about shoes. If I overheard people talking about shoes in a coffee shop for more than a quick ‘Oh I like your shoes’ ‘Thanks, they were from Primark‘, I would move seats away from such inane chatter. But I find myself admiring shoes more than I like to admit.

Lucky for you people who are worrying that I’m turning into an actual girl, you should be assured that I obsess over my Dr Martens boots, Batman Converse and DC skate shoes. But still. My latest obsession – in fact, ones I’ve wanted since I was 14 and are probably related to my Tomb Raider obsession now I think about it – are in my possession.

These babies:

Boots

I feel like I ought to get over my hermit lifestyle and visit Egypt, raid a few ancient places, hop to Cambodia to spend time with monks and raid a few other ancient places.

Yep. It’s official. I’ve gone insane.

Other obsessions include:

  • Getting a dog (when I can afford and when I don’t live in a shoebox in a shared house with 9 other people)
  • Writing (obviously)
  • Films (both writing and watching)
  • The paranormal (this is a new one, watch this space)
  • Moving away from London
  • Writing (Honestly, it takes up so much of my headspace I need to put this twice).

That’s about it. That I’ll admit for now, anyway.

So, what are your obsessions? Please tell me I’m not alone…

The working lesbian

I’ve just read a great short piece at Diva and was reminded of my outing experiences at work…

I was very wary. Especially soon after I’d split from my fiancé – the dreaded ‘What happened?’ question was met with the usual ‘We just wanted different things’, which of course felt like the biggest lie in the world. If anything it was our mutual interests in breasts and all things related that broke the relationship apart. So when at work, in my previous job, I kept quiet. Everyone had known me as straight and it was very odd trying to come out. It wasn’t until two weeks before I left the job that I felt confident enough to say in response to the ‘Up to anything interesting tonight?’ question with a casual ‘Oh, I have a date with Marty”. This of course was followed by the excited ‘Ooooh who’s Marty? Where did you meet him?’.

The look on their faces when I revealed I’d met HER ages ago through mutual friends. We’d always had our flirt on but it wasn’t until I was single and she was single that we both realised the other was a then-still-closeted lesbian.

 

Cue new job. New scenario. By this point, I was more comfortable with who I was. But the reactions of previous colleagues (who went on to ignore me/not pass work to me/have a generally uncomfortable air when I was around for the last fortnight) had made me incredibly cautious about who I came out to.

The decision: don’t label yourself. Don’t actively proclaim your sapphic tendencies, but don’t hide it if asked.

This worked surprisingly well, at first. Nobody gave a damn and all assumed I was straight. Until I met Him. You know who I mean: the one colleague you get on with best. You take lunches together, buy reciprocal drinks on Friday nights, build in-jokes quickly.  Doesn’t help that he (let’s call him Office Boy, or OB) is possibly the most attractive man in the office. I say this with clear unbias. Charming, intelligent, funny and a cheekbone/jawline combination you could shave cheese on. Of course, the gossip started.

Then tensions rose. Turns out if you have a female boss who liked her status as Top Bitch and enjoyed the over-flirts with OB, you can step on toes unwittingly. Gradually, team members found out through mine and OB’s not-so-subtle in-jokes (which was absolutely fine). Top Bitch had a marvellous knack of never listening to anything, whether work related or not, so clearly didn’t pick up on this.

It got to a point when the two of us (Me and OB) were getting into trouble for mistakes that didn’t even happen. Another colleague admitted that Top Bitch had said more than once she thought that OB and I were having a fling (the idea disgusts me; in my mind it would be close to incest). Eventually, I went to HR – I would have gone to Top Bitch but I rather liked my job – and mentioned that this tension was ridiculous because I was a lesbian and clearly therefore wasn’t having a thing with OB. HR immediately spoke to Top Bitch and tensions eased. But it often got awkward in downtime-chat (when Top Bitch and I had established some kind of unspoken mutual agreement to get along) when the team were discussing their partners/dating habits/relationship woes. Each would have their say, with a response from Top Bitch, but it came to my two cents and the conversation got shut down.

It was interesting to me that the rest of the team, all much closer in age to me, were completely accepting. They even liked the novelty of a girl admiring the new girl’s choice of dress more for skirt length than fashion critique, but that I was also a softie when it came to emotional discussions and am a girly girl at heart. But Top Bitch just couldn’t get her head around it, dodging any questions relating to personal life in case it was against some lesbian-specific policy and I was ready to sue her for discrimination.

I refer to a previous post, that it shouldn’t matter to anyone who you are getting your jollies with. But at the same time, it matters to everyone else and life gets a lot simpler without having to juggle the white lies.

Generally, now, I go on the assumption people know. Having a shaved head (through chemo, not choice) helped break down those barriers – but that opens a whole other Pandora’s Box of irritations surrounding stereotypes. I think this blog is long enough – let’s save that one for later…

 

Justifications

I have a confession to make: I’ve been confused. Mayhap it was due to hotboxing menthol vapours under my super kingsize duvet to try and rid myself of this annoying chest infection, but I think that’s just an excuse.

I’ve been pondering on how to follow up my last post. Why it’s the business of nobody except yourself of what your orientation is and, generally, I do agree with this. However, the more I’ve been pondering/high on Vicks, the larger the list of reasons people SHOULD know has become.

For a start, and for the most obvious reasons, it’s incredibly liberating. You can go to gay clubs without fear of people ‘finding out’, your social life may broaden when you start moving in these circles as you meet new people, with common interests. I’m not saying you should be friends with people just because they’re gay, oh no no no – but they will understand the difficulties of being so in what is still a hetero-normative society. The best moments for me came when I started to meet other people with non-straight sexualities – all of my friends (bar two guys, including a school friend who was my first ‘boyfriend’, oh the irony) are straight, which limits dating opportunities as they move in straight circles. I am still the ‘only lesbian in the village’.

Which can be a delightful novelty. I’ve naturally always had more male friends than female friends, just the way it is. Which, when I was younger, obviously meant I was sleeping around with all of them, if you listened to any gossip going. But when I came out, there was a brilliant reaction from my male friends: relief. Suddenly, standard barriers between male/female relationships dropped – no longer did they censor themselves, no longer were they acutely aware of any tactile moments in case they ‘meant something’: playfights, bear hugs, dead legs abounded. They love that they can talk about women with me as if I were a guy – but bringing a female perspective to it. I’ve become a wingman: she’s either going to be interested in them or me, and either way the other friend can big them up to ensure success, safe in the knowledge there’s no competition. Except when it comes to bisexuals, but that’s a whole different ball/nonball game…

I have freedom within myself, to be myself. I used to be annoyed by the gossip, I used to worry what people thought of me, and this is a strong reason I held back from coming out. But then, when I did, I realised it was the false gossip about which boy I was taking home that had bothered me the most precisely because there was no truth in it. I wouldn’t mind so much if there were rumours that I was dating someone like this:

 

 

But alas I am yet to hear of those.

In the end, you should never have to justify yourself to anyone but yourself. But in doing so, you need to realise why you are making justifications for not being yourself to everybody. My relationships with people have massively improved, because I am no longer hiding this huge part of who I am. Some may say orientation isn’t your identity and to an extent I agree. But while there is still a hetero-normative society, where even the state continues to sanction semantic differences in legal unions between straight couples and same-sex couples, there is a need to normalise non-traditional orientations. And to do that, we need to be out of whatever closet/duvet/hermit hole/false relationship we are in. It is not to satisfy others: it is to satisfy yourself.

Something people often ask on the ‘coming out’ discussion is simply: “How do you know?”

I’ve tried explaining in lengthy terms, in short sentences; once I even used a diagram. The easiest thing to do, I have found, is to simply ask:

“How do YOU know? How do you not know?”

This often gives enough pause for you to redirect the question, or ninja yourself away.

I knew when I was 13. There was a girl at school, the typical story I suppose, when I realised I had more than just a friend crush on her. She was, of course, a cool girl, who a) didn’t know I existed and b) I am glad didn’t know I existed as it allowed me to work out my feelings with this distant infatuation without the confusion of actually getting involved in them. Like a scientist observes experiments, I detached from myself and watched as I fumbled onto the conclusion that I was, in fact, gay.

This was aided by the fact that my ‘boyfriend’ at the time – a mere cover story – never got anywhere near even a peck on the cheek from me because I didn’t have one iota of teenage lust, attraction or even curiosity for him. However we were still at the age when holding hands was likely to get you pregnant so thank goodness kissing was off the menu. Otherwise, I’d have been Found Out and that, my friends, Would Not Do.

Nowadays, I look back on that pubescent puppy-fatted and bespectacled bag of hormones and I don’t think wryly to myself  ‘Oh, how differently I would do that now’. I think I still would have done the same, even if I had the confidence I have today. School is horrible. Kids are even worse. I understood then that the best thing to do for a safe, quiet life to avoid as much of the bullying  as possible, was to fit in as much as I could. And being a lesbian, clearly, would not have sufficed in these aims.

I took this feeling of necessary hiding with me, though. All through school. Through college. Through university. Through the mis-starts of my career. And it was easy. The more I pretended, the easier it became, until I found myself wondering why I wasn’t marrying the man I lived with. Aside from the lack of physical attraction, the question of marriage would fall away when my dreams of the wedding came into my mind’s eye. Not once did I ever imagine him standing at the altar, tears in his eyes at how beautiful I looked in my wedding dress. No, I could never see who exactly was waiting at the other end of the aisle for me, but I could tell you one thing: they wore a wedding dress as well.

Leaving my long-term straight life behind was more nerve-wracking possibly than coming out when I was 13 would have been. I still faced similar reactions – some friends ignored me, some supported me, and some thought it was just a phase. But I had built a life of lies, and it was incredibly hard to disentangle myself from what had been, in all reality, a very comfortable existence.

We worked, we got home, we had dinner and talked about each other’s days, we had a cuddle on the sofa, we went to sleep, we got up, we went to work. Weekends consisted of lazy brunches and Xbox marathons. It sounds boring, but it was safe. And yet my insomnia returned, my restlessness in an otherwise calm nature kept bubbling up, until I couldn’t ignore it any more.

It broke my heart to break his, but I was lucky in that I had been dating my best friend. He is still my best friend, and even sent a Christmas card with a pair of birds on the front with the message ‘I tried to find you one with a nice pair of tits on it, but this was the best I could do’. I count every blessing I have him in my life still.

Rebuilding my life post-breakup was a struggle. Not only was I single for the first time in my adult life, I was dating on the gay scene for the first time, I had to start telling people for the first time. It. Was. Terrifying.

And then I realised, after telling the closest friends and – eventually – family, nobody gives a monkeys. If they do, they aren’t worth knowing.

Which makes me wonder why we put so much pressure on people in the public eye to ‘come out’. Not only them, but everybody who has a non-traditional sexual orientation. Why should it be anybody’s business?

Well, I have found a few reasons. But they, Dear Reader, shall have to wait for tomorrow.

How do you know?