Lesbian Visibility Week: Three women, three stories of coming out Three women from across Northern Ireland share their stories of coming to terms with their sexual orientation and coming out. Annie Hi my name is Annie, I’m a 32 year old, finally out and proud lesbian, in the Causeway Coast and Glens area. It’s Lesbian Visibility Week and I would like to share a bit about me and my experience finding my way in the world. I hope that by being vulnerable and sharing my story it might encourage others to open up, seek support, seek a community, become aware of yourself and your needs and just be you! So...I didn’t come out until I was the ripe age of 30! Unusually, not because I was hiding it, but because I wasn’t aware. It was just so ingrained in me through society, family and peers that as a woman I was destined to get married to a man and have children. People around me assumed I was hetero asking questions like ‘do you have a boyfriend’ or statements like ‘he’s fit isn’t he’ and because I didn’t have any strong lesbian role models in my life providing an alternative narrative, so did I. Upon reflection though, I remember around puberty age I wasn’t as interested in ‘boys’ as my peers but I went along with it and tried my best to fit in but inwardly found it rather awkward. Woman have always caught my eye more than men as I walked down the street but before I came out I didn’t associate this with a romantic connection as I was always taught that sex was between a man and a woman. I went to an all girls school and when I attended there was no LGBT society, or openly lesbian teacher, we never celebrated pride and certainly never got taught about it in sex ed! Anyway, it wasn’t until a friend suggested I watch Sense 8 on Netflix, written by The Wachowskis (which if you haven’t watched it is very LGBT inclusive) that it clicked - ‘You don’t have to be with a man’! So I started exploring my thoughts and feelings, reflecting on my past and throwing myself out of my comfort zone in dating and I’ve found I am so much happier and authentic in myself as a lesbian. So the moral of my story is that lesbian visibility matters and we need to get out there and spread the word! Thankfully LGBT visibility in films and series is growing these days but only someone interested in the genre will watch. I believe change starts with us and we need be comfortable enough to push out of our comfort zones, be our authentic selves in the community, be that role model, speak up and take our space in society and be counted as a strong lesbian woman! If your not there yet, I get it. Unfortunately, we all know there is still too much stigma and ignorance in society. I’ve learnt though you can’t change others, but that doesn’t stop you changing your own self and environment. A great way of building your confidence is finding a like-minded support network where you know you will be accepted. I recently joined a fantastic social group ‘Queers outside the City’ organised by The Rainbow Project and ran by Mardi which meet up once a month for games, pot lucks, quizzes, pool and general giggles. We also meet up on a Saturday once a month for informal coffee and chat. If you’re looking to meet some genuine, like-minded, friendly, supportive people who hold space for you to express yourself as you are, it’s the place to be! I appreciate you reading to the end, take care and know you are not alone! 😀 Shannon Hi my name is Shannon, I’m 20 years old and a lesbian! As it was ‘Lesbian Visibility Week’ I got a chance to write about my experience as coming out as lesbian to my family and friends. To me it was extremely scary with me living in a small town that aren’t to open about the LGBTQ+ community but it’s getting there. The very first person I told was my childhood best friend Amy who is also a lesbian, so I knew 100% that she’d still love me as a sister. I do believe it brought our friendship closer, which I didn’t think was possible due how close we already were, in fact her first words to me after was “Told you so”. Thanks… After that the rest of my friends wasn’t as scary as I already knew they accepted Amy. It was more my family I was scared of. Ever since I had come out to my friends, I became distant with my family out of fear that they would stop loving me. I told my sister first. I think it took her a long time to come around to it. Not that she wasn’t okay with it. I believe it’s easier to accept someone who isn’t blood related than it is for someone who is, but I knew she loved me. I told my uncle Gerard and his partner Graeme, who `offered me to stay at their place if everything went wrong. Thankfully that offer didn’t have to be taken. I was once called a fake lesbian due to the fact that I have never had a girlfriend. Yes, never. We were at a party and there was some argument about lesbians that I don’t remember the details fully. That one line just stung… still does today, I guess. The very next day with my fabulous hangover I decided to get one. This is a lot harder than it sounds for me being it the town I’m in. Let’s just say nothing worked and now I’m the only single person in the friendship group. I do meet girls but like any normal person you get scared and distance yourself from them. But I’m glad to say I’m friends with most of them… which I am now realising is extremely wired. Good one Shannon… I soon joined an LGBTQ+ Group and have made great friends in. I love each of them dearly. My sister has gone to a few as an Ally and was super open minded and joined in all the jokes. I have met so many Allies and LGBTQ+ people who have taught me a lot. All my friends are teaching me how to not be an idiot around girls. Even with my lack of experience I have also in a way got a lot of it and have had fun doing so. But that’s my overly told story. The lesson I learned through all this is ‘It isn’t always black and white, there is a community filled with rainbows.’ I hope you enjoyed this roller-coaster of a story and I thank you for reading it. Rose Coming out in your late 20s is weirdI was really pissed off last week. I nominated my girlfriend for something on twitter and when they mentioned her they failed to mention that she was nominated by her girlfriend and we sadly realised that they did it on purpose. I was also sad last week when I realised that having kids will be confusing and hard and I was fed up last week when I watched a film that had a random lesbian sex scene for no other reason than to exploit women and attract men. I was then confused when I thought ‘do I have the right to feel this way’ and it made me think about my place within the gay community. Let me try and explain:There’s something about coming out as gay in your mid 20s that makes you feel unable to relate to the wider community. You begin to feel like and imposter when your comrades tell heart warming coming of age anecdotes where they announced their sexuality at 15 having realised they weren’t watching ‘river-dale’ for the gripping story line. The truth is I was gay at 15 I just wasn’t sexually mature enough to know it and that is a-okay. The thing is no one would find it odd if I hadn’t had a relationship with a man at aged 15 but when you tell people you are gay I find myself reluctant to tell them I came out at aged 23 through fear that this will be followed by ‘how did you not know?’ Or worse, ‘But you’ve been with men, so you must be bi?’ If i’m honest i’ve asked myself the exact same questions so I am probably more shocked when people say ‘I always thought you were gay’, I find myself internally screaming ‘WELL WHY DIDN’T YOU TELL ME!’ My coming out journey wasn’t easy but it wasn’t teen soap difficult; I would lamely describe it as a whirlwind. I should explain that I first admitted my sexuality when I was 23 and started to think about a girl in my university class more than was usual. But before her I had kissed a few friends, kissed a girl in a club and found myself really curious about confident lesbian women. For a while I thought I only liked androgynous or masculine lesbians but this was during the time I was trying to convince myself that I was bisexual and that sex with men was good. As soon as I slept with a girl for the first time I didn’t go back to men again. I did however convince myself that I was supposed to be in a relationship with this girl and between getting far too drunk and throwing myself at her I realised that the one thing they don’t tell you about coming out at 23 is that you have to go through puberty again. To cut a long story short after I embarrassed myself on several nights out I then tried my hand at dating women. I started off as needy and keen and then became suave and uninterested. I remember using the phrase ‘if it sounds like a date I don’t want to do it.’ After a while and after one too many long conversations with my best friend I was happy and in true fairy tale style I met the love of my life when I was least expecting it. We’ve been together almost two years and I feel so lucky to be with someone as amazing as her and have the most phenomenal memories in such a short space of time. However, I still find myself not wanting to admit that I pretty much came out, got a girlfriend and have been happy ever since. It doesn’t seem fair that i’ve had it so ‘easy’ considering everything what people in this community has been through. I also find myself wanting to distance more and more from my past with men as if by doing so it will make me more of a lesbian. To tell you the truth my past with men was pretty messy and it took me a long time to realise I was looking for something in them that they just couldn’t give me; obviously. The point to this is to address the stigma that surrounds coming out later in life. People say things like ‘but I thought you wanted kids?’ and it can be scary when you realise that life won’t be as straight forward as you once thought. I still feel like I have less of a right to stand alongside the amazing women in the gay community but i’m beginning to realise that gay comes in all shapes and sizes and it doesn’t matter if you were 23, 13 or 32 when you realise you are one of them. I hope by sharing my story that people in my situation can feel more connected and remember that our coming out journey is valid and important to share.