Is this the worst way to ‘come out’? There’s nothing to come out from. I guess its more the elephant in the room, like when you’ve forgotten someone’s name you’ve only just met and then it becomes too awkward to ask after months have passed - oh, by the way, all this time I’ve been very, very queer. (Actually I think the most hilarious way I came out was to my mum, who just happened to be sat around the kitchen table as I shrieked with laughter as me and my bisexual sister had matched with the same girl on tinder.)
Anyway. The event ‘Lesbians in Feminism’ organised by Sue Regan and Julie Scanlon of Northumbria University Gender and Society Research Hub, is part of the ongoing Festival of Feminist Ideas and Actions 2016. I wandered along after I’d done the close shift at work, and was met by friendly women and a fantastic selection of cakes. Quality spread, 10/10 effort. It felt exciting - dare I say it even radical - here we were, a vast collection of women of all ages and backgrounds, yet all eager to hear a discussion on lesbians in feminism.
The panel consisted of Caroline Airs, Louise Evan-Wong and Jen Remnant — fantastic women of different backgrounds and experiences, discussing which came first to them: being a lesbian or being a feminist, how they intersect, and their different experiences of being a lesbian feminist. It was particularly insightful to hear about Evan-Wong and Air’s direct experiences of being a lesbian in the 1980’s, their homophobic experiences, and the rights and respects they had to vigilantly fight for, and still have to fight for. With regards to acknowledging herself as a feminist, Jen Remnant beautifully put it as recognising that ‘women were human, and I was one of those humans’. The floor was opened for questions, and an electric discussion sparked on issues of transgender, disabilities, class, and media representations.
Final questions were asked, and as your friendly local queer gal, I tentatively raised my hand to ask a half-question, opening up to the panel what their thoughts on bisexuality with lesbians and feminism. I would not say it was met with welcome arms. I am the most comfortable associating myself as queer if I have to place a name at all; although others might equally regard me as bisexual. Queer just works for me. And to then have an older woman bark at me from the audience to ‘form your own group’ in response to my question, made me feel out of place to say the least. (I cried for the first time this year walking home.)
What group should I place myself in, or form, if I don’t even know in myself? I can’t say categorically that I’m not a lesbian - I’m only twenty-one, and have a perpetual existential crisis regarding my identity as it is. I know in retrospect that as I don’t identify strongly as a lesbian, maybe that space wasn’t for me - but I didn’t know, and still don’t know. Evan-Wong offered kindly that I would be welcome at her LGBT fed group. I absolutely support women only spaces, and lesbian only spaces - it is important to have safe networks and groups, and I do not mean to disregard the importance of lesbians in feminism, their experiences or actions. I was just sad that as an undefined queer gal, I left feeling more lost than when I entered.
Overall, an interesting discussion and some lovely people. Cake was excellent though.