Vanessa Mutinda: Full Interview
Interviewed by Ray Larman
27th June 2019
RL: This is Ray Larman for West Yorkshire Queer Stories. It is the 27th of June 2019 and I'm here with Vanessa who is going to introduce herself.
VM: Hello. I'm Vanessa, Vanessa Mutinda. I'm 37 years old. I am originally from Birmingham, I moved up to Yorkshire when I was 10, and for the most part stayed here for a few little flits through to other parts of the UK. I always come home like a homing pigeon I think, so I always come back. I self-identify as fluid which for me means that there's times where I identify as bi and there's times where I identify as gay. I never really identified as being straight apart from when I've been pretending that I was straight. But I self-identify as fluid. And I'm bi in my fluidity at the moment.
Full time employed, work for Highways England and I'm on the LGBT+ network for Highways England which is something that was started really when I kind of joined the company in 2017. They didn't have any LGBT+ network. I think before they were part of the civil service, sort of wider LGBT but when they became a public body they kind of didn't have that in place, they didn't have any networks in place really. And so that was something I was kind of part of starting which started as a call from HR to ask if anyone was interested in having an LGBT network, and I straight away being new and being very energetic sort of said 'yes, I'Il do something, I'll write something'. So I kind of broke my story on the portal, which is like an internal web site, and I guess came out to the whole company. Which a few people then afterwards came to me and sort of said, 'that was very brave of you', and I thought, why is it brave to, sort of, say who I am? That's interesting. So therefore I then wanted to be very much involved with the visibility and representation of LGBT+ people in the organisation. So that's me.
RL: OK. I know we're going to talk about the poem but just from what you said though what else do you do in the network?
VM: I'm responsible for communications so I make sure the, the company's visible externally, so we are attending Pride events. Last year we attended Bristol, Birmingham and Leeds Pride. This year, I think there's some planning things happening but we definitely should be attending. We've had already attended Birmingham Pride, we've got Croydon Pride coming up this coming month, July, and then we've got Leeds and Manchester. So stalls and parade visibility which is great, and then internally it's just to sort of raise people's voices and understanding and awareness and educating people really around different aspects of LGBT, the community and issues that might come up. I'm just getting people to understand where things like banter is really inappropriate and watching language in and amongst your teams because not everybody is actually out and we did a bit of a, sort of, hands up kind of survey. So I say, you know, how many people are actually visible and in the Leeds office there's only four people that would say yes, I'm happy about being visible and out and I think we've got 80 members in the Leeds office. So that kind of puts things into perspective and I think there's a lot of work that we need to do in our organisations to make people feel more comfortable about being able to be out at work.
RL: Do you think things are changing though?
VM: Yeah, things are changing. There's small things and big things, so one of the recent things that's happened is we've got gender neutral toilets that have been put into our main office and the Cube [?]. And you know, that came out of a conversation that facilities managers had with us to sort of say, we want to make sure that we're inclusive so what can we do? I was like, gender neutral toilets, you know. They said actually we've not really thought about that, we were just going to put in male and female toilets and actually that makes a lot of sense. So that's one of the, sort of, big, huge things that we've been involved with.
RL: Was there any opposition to that or was everyone on board?
VM: Everyone was on board. I think there's silent opposition sometimes, so we'll put an internal communications story up, maybe about National Coming Out Day or bi visibility or trans awareness and then you'll have one or two members of our colleagues apparently that are not very inclusive and they'll put a comment like, 'why do we need to put this, it's 2018, we don't need to be shouting about people's sexuality on the portal. Who cares if they are bi or gay or whatever. I don't have a problem with it'. And it's like, well actually... It's a bit difficult when you're raising your voice and saying, 'I don't care, I want to know about it'. When actually, for the people that identify that way it's difficult for them to have conversations in their teams because they have to come out every single time and it's a difficulty. They feel like there's homophobia or transphobia in the team because of banter and conversations that have happened and were just that to try and raise awareness and offer support to people in the organisation.
So yeah, I mean, we're two years in and I think we're doing really, really well. I think we've come a long, long way from having nothing to where we're at now where we're attending Prides, we've got a lot of support, a lot of allies across the business and we're recognised on the board level as well so we'll go to the board meetings and we'll explain what we've done in the past year and what we're planning to do in the next 12 months and they're all fully on board with it as well which is fantastic. So from the top down it's great that everyone's inclusive, we all understand the ED idea, you know, equality diversity inclusion message that we're trying to get across corporately, It's from the bottom up that we've tried to sort of get everybody else on board. I think at the moment, and I think this isn't just our organisation, it's a thing that's throughout the UK, where it's kind of like, yeah it's fine, you're LGBT+ whatever. You know, we don't mind, we're okay with it, but then it's the conversations that happen outside of that. So when it's not like a topic that's being discussed, that's when the reality of problems and people's biases and people's phobias and, you know, discriminations and things like that, comes out more. It's in then conversations that aren't specifically about LGBT+, that's what we're trying to help to raise awareness of. And then try and do something about that to make it a bit better a more of an inclusive workplace. You know, we're trying, we're trying.
RL: I know you've got the poem with you that you wanted to read out and talk about. So shall we have a look at that?
VM: Yes, yeah.
RL: So if you want to read it out and then say why you wrote it, talk a little bit about it. Oh, do you want to talk about the context first?
VM: Yeah. So I wrote this last year for bi awareness, the bi awareness month, so because I'm a bit comms and I'm a bit loud about this stuff at work I always end up being the person that, kind of ends up writing things. And I thought, you know, this is kind of bi month so I wanted to do something a bit different. And then I didn't want to just write an article that talks about bi awareness so I wrote a poem instead, it just kind of came to me, I woke up one day and I just thought I'm gonna write something. And it kind of fell out. And then I put it on the, well we put this poem on to our internal comms portal page, on our website page and the messages I was getting back from people across the business was just fantastic. So much support and so much, so many people sort of saying I'm so happy that you wrote that and I'm so happy that someone else has been able to say what's happening to me and what my experience is so I felt really proud of that. So when when I saw an opportunity to share stuff for this, for Queer Stories, I kind of felt like this was really appropriate to share. So I'm going to try and read this out as coherently as I can.
I'm not Greedy
I'm free to choose.
My ideal is not littered with the question marks of your unspoken self-loathing.
I'm not ground down and influenced.
I'm not here to spark a debate.
I speak and I am, but you hear a doubt.
How, when I say it straight that I am bi, you think I lie.
I'm not this way or that, not tried, trying or testing.
No messing, I'm coming through real.
Hard truth is hard viewing.
For your line you fall in and I'm failing to connect my given dots.
It's ok you “don't get it”, that you're not sure and cautious.
I will stand strong and steady for us both.
One day you will see, it's not me who's unhappy, but you to have missed out on so much.
As hard as it feels
at long last
it reveals you have in your heart your own song.
Love thyself first, repeat thine own verse;
I am bi
I am here
RL: Brilliant. Thank you.
VM: It's really hard to read that out actually. Yeah.
RL: So do you want to say more about the ideas behind it?
VM: So yeah. The reason why it's so hard, it's so hard for me to say out loud. I am very good at writing how I feel about things and then talking about it, I always found really difficult, so I can kind of like go through the different verses and maybe give you a little bit of insight into why I wrote it. And like I said, this fell out of me but actually when I looked back it was kind of like, oh yeah, that's what I meant by that. It's like, it was there already in the back of my mind.
So the first verse – 'I'm not greedy, confused, lost or used'. It just comes from all these stereotypes that you have around, you know being bi and saying that you're bi. It seems like it's a really hard thing for people to sort of talk about, who identify as being bi and that's because people have these assumptions that you're greedy, so you've got everyone that you will pick from, you know, you must fancy everybody and clearly that's not the case because if you're straight, gay or lesbian, or however you identify, you don't fancy everybody that fits into that kind of bracket. It's ridiculous.
The next thing was about being confused because one of the things that happened to me was my mum. When I came out to her the first time, when I was about 18 which was sort of the end of an argument about something that was on TV like, it was probably something like Love Island or something like that, something ridiculous that my mum loves watching and I hate watching. We've always had this kind of thing where she likes something and I hate the thing that she likes and I just kind of, I think we, we're having an argument just about... Well she got quite homophobic, I'll be honest. And I said, 'you can't talk like that, you can't say things like that'. And she was just like, wow. She made a comment that well, you know, ‘he can't be gay – or something like that – because he's black’. And that was the comment that she made and I was like, ‘well, actually I've got something to tell you’. [Laughs] And I said to her, 'you can't say that' and she said, 'why not?'. 'Well I'm bi' and she said 'no you're not'. [Laughs] It was like I slammed into a wall. I was like, 'what? What do you mean no I'm not'. And she said, 'well you're not. You can't be, you're black' and I was like, OK that doesn't make sense. Then she said, 'you're probably just confused, a lot of people when they're teenagers, they're confused about their sexuality. You know, you're just confused you know. You're straight', and she was just telling me that I was and I had to just accept that, you know. So that was a bit of a crazy time in my life.
It actually did put me back quite a lot. Prior to that I'd come out to my friends, very close friends who were all absolutely fine, they were fantastic. And I think because it was my mum and I just kind of held her in a different regard I guess. For her to tell me I wasn't, and that I was confused, I was like, well maybe I am, am I'm confused? I don't know, maybe I am, and just from then had boyfriends, like. So I was 18 and I had boyfriends up until I was 25. As a choice, I chose that. I fancied girls and I like, was attracted to them and I got on really well with them and I just pulled back just at that time when it could have moved to something else, I was kind of like, oh hang on a minute, I'm not doing that. So yeah that's kind of where that came from.
And the 'lost or used' it's again people talking about, 'oh something must have happened to you. Something must have happened to you to make you feel like you might be attracted to both sexes. Did a guy hurt you really badly? Is that why you like women? Or did a woman hurt you really badly? Is that why you're not gay?' You know, it was kind of like, really frustrating, very frustrating assumptions. And you know, without even just having a discussion with you, they just kind of attach these things to you that are just not true at all. And that's why the next line after that is 'I'm free to choose’, it's up to me. You know, it's not really about you, it's me.
So in the next part is, 'my ideal is not littered with the question marks of your unspoken self-loathing'. With that, a lot of people I've spoken to, or when I've come out and that's some friends, family members, huge about my family members. And some people have been colleagues along the way. A lot of it is actually, a lot their problems with my bi-ness is about them not loving themselves and it's like a reflection thing, they're trying to reflect on me. They're not happy with themselves, so like, how can you just say that you're bi and just be okay with that and just walk your life, you know, and that's why that kind of line came in. You know, the, 'question marks', is just all the questions that they were asking me. It was really a reflection of how they were feeling themselves inside, about themselves.
And then the next line is, 'I'm not ground down and influenced', because that's another thing that people would say to me. 'Oh it's because you're hanging around with these people and therefore it's rubbing off on you'. No it's not. And I'm not being ground down. No-one's been lecturing me on LGBT issues and therefore I've now become gay, or I've now become bi. You know, it's just really strange. 'I'm not here to spark a debate'. Yeah, because, when I've spoken to people again about raising awareness of being bi and things like that to them, they try and challenge it and get you into a debate and try to really challenge, 'why do you think you’re bi?' and it's like, I don't want to have an argument with you about it. I'm just saying that that's who I am. I'm not here to change anyone's, your thoughts about my bi-ness, I am bi and that's it. Full stop. And that's why the next line then follows on, 'I speak and I am', because I'm talking about it and that's because that's who I am. And then yeah, and it's just a question – 'how when I say it straight that I am bi, you think I lie?' Again, that challenging.
The next part is, 'I'm not this way or that, not tried, trying or testing', which was very difficult to say when I was saying the whole poem. 'No messing, I'm coming through real', so it's again just reiterating that it's not all these questions that you have and all these reasons that you are putting in place of why I might be bi is just not the case at all. You know, I am what I'm saying that I am, without quoting any gay songs.
So, 'hard truth is hard viewing, for your line you fall in and I'm failing to connect my given dots', and that again is about me speaking to my mum and her understanding that one day I'm gonna be bringing someone home and they're going to be female, that's going to happen and that was a conversation I had to have with her. I literally had to sit her down and say to her, look: family for me, my family, there is a very strong possibility that it's going to be made up with me, a wife and children and if you can't get on board of it then I don't want you to be around my children. What kind of stuff are you going to be saying to them? And it is hard. I know it's really hard for her. It's hard for her to understand that and see that because of her own upbringing and her own, sort of, the cultural stuff she attributing to sexuality and, yeah, it was just kind of, she's now given me some slack, she's already played out what my life was meant to look like and that's why it's 'my given dots', it's like a dot-to-dot picture. You join up all the dots and that's the picture that she thought I was meant to be but it's not so, I'm failing to connect those given dots, you know.
And then I'm saying, 'it's okay you “don't get it”, you're not sure and cautious, I will stand steady and strong for us both'. And that's again about the conversation I was having with my mum where I said to her, I understand this is hard for you. I understand that, you know, this isn't what you were hoping for me. But this is what's happening. And I will make sure that you're going to be OK because I'm going to be OK. I'm getting all teary now. So, 'standing steady and strong for us both', is about me and her and that, you know, I think if she can see that, and maybe a lot of the people feel the same, but if the person that you're kind of, that you love and, you know, you want to have that, you want to have that unconditional love with. You kind of see it kind of waning a bit, you kind of, I'm saying that I'm stepping up and I'm going to pull you up with me and it's going to be OK, you know. I know for my mum, her having to have these discussions with her brothers and sisters and her mother about the fact that I was with a woman, that's going to be really hard for her. And, and I was just sort of saying you know I mean, I've got you, [unclear], and I love, I've got your back and I'll, I'll make sure that we're we're OK. We can support each other.
And, ‘one day you will see, it's not me who's unhappy, but you to have missed out on so much’. And that was again talking about a whole family set up. You know for her, she wouldn't like, I never, I never got into the position where I've got children and things, like that was something at the time when I was talking to her was a really strong pull for me. I really wanted to settle down and have a family. And I didn't want to miss out on that you know. And I knew that she, she was going to continue down this line. She would miss out on that because I would pull away from her. And so that's why I put that line in it was really to sort of explain that. You know at the end of the day I will understand, I'll understand why. I'll be upset about it but she'll be ultimately really upset about missing out on grandchildren and seeing them grow and seeing like my happiness and things like that. Which I don't, I don't want.
And so the next part then follows on from that. ‘As hard as it feels, at long last. It reveals you have in your heart your own song’. So that's sort of talking to the reader if they identify as being bi or even just LGBT. You know you have your own voice and you have – it's right there, it's always been there. You know I know that I was bi from when I was like 7 years old. And I know that. I didn't know that was different until someone told me it was different. So in my head I was just like – ‘I love her, she's, she's fantastic’. And then I asked her out and then she was just like... 'girls and girls don't go out together. Girls and boys go out together.' I was like, 'what do you mean, why would you do that? But I like you!’ [Laughs]
So it's OK to sort of remember that – where this all started, I guess, like remember that, you know, that was – I think it's an innocence thing isn't it, it's like, until someone tells you that you're, you’re wrong, you're not wrong are you, you, you just are, you're not anything, it just is... So it's kind of remembering like that, that feeling that you had back in your heart until someone told you that it was wrong. So then it's just about, you know, making sure that you remember that and have that sort of mantra in your head, so – and there's a little bit as well, there's a bit of a twist on this one cos I've changed, I changed this line and I put in these words on purpose, so, 'Love thyself first, repeat thine own verse’. I use thyself and thine to reflect my Christian upbringing. So another reason why my mom was so against sort of, you know, me being bi and things like that, was because we grew up in a very strict Christian household. You know, sort of Pentecostal background and it was just like, 'all the gays are going to hell'. [Laughs] So, you know, you're not allowed to be like that because if you are you're going to go to hell. So, I put the ‘thy’ in and the ‘thine’ as a reflection of my Christian past. And then obviously, ‘I am bi, I am here and I belong’, you know, visibility, representation's very important, you know, be present in your, your bi-ness, your gayness, your lesbian-ness, your trans-ness, all of the identities-ness, just be present in that and don't be afraid to be who you are. And, and that's it [laughs].
RL: Fantastic. So how, how is your mum kind of responded to conversations that you've had with her then about being bi?
VM: Yeah, so, my mum – she found that really difficult... And like I said, like I think I’ve said earlier, that I came out to my mum the first time when I was 18. So then I had a period of when I was just with guys – I had two boyfriends in that time. And then I moved to London which kind of transformed my life [laughs]. So I went from Bradford to London and it was just like 'whoa!'. I mean, before that I was in Manchester for uni, but I had a boyfriend then and I was just completely like, not at all, like, going towards any kind of LGBT stuff.
I actually did have one experience where I was working with – I had work experience with the Commonwealth Film Festival – I think it was either the first or second year that they did it. And one of the, the festival – what was she? She’s like a, facilitator, coordinator sort of person, and she was like, ‘come on, let's go out’. I was like, ‘OK, let's do that’. She took me to a club, which was like a lesbian club, in Manchester, and I was so excited! I was like, ‘Oh my God!’. And then I finally like, get to see this, this is going to be great. And we got to the door, and the – and we’re both, we’re both black women – I'm not saying that that's the reason, but it kind of made me question, like, was going on. But we got to the door, and the, the doorman just said, ‘erm...are you members?’. So we were just like, ‘what do you mean?’ And he goes ‘this is a members-only club. You’re not – you can't come in unless you're a member’. And she was just like, ‘I’ve been in here before’, and he ‘Hmmmmm….’ and he looked at me and he went, ‘yeah, you're not coming in’. And so – and that was my thing, that was my experience when I was what, 20…? 20. And so then having that experience on top of... all the stuff that happened before, kind of just made me even more sort of retreat to the back of the closet... because it was just, it was – I was just, absolutely outst – I was just like, ‘Wow, I can't even believe that that's even happened’, so we walked away from that, and she's just like, ‘that's really strange’... She's like, ‘That's really strange, and that doesn't usually happen’. And I just like… and it kind of put me off doing anything for a long time until I went to London, which has transformed my life. I was in a shared house, and I had a friend who… someone in the house what I was sharing who was gay, and very much out, and very much part of the community, and she'd take me to these things, and I just thought, ‘Oh my God this is fantastic. Like, I can actually do this’ [Laughs] Which was great.
But yeah, my, my relationship with my mum changed. So we had... it was almost like, you know... two people rubbing the wrong way against each other all the time. Which... we'd had anyway, because we had different views on things, like I said my mum was quite homophobic, and she was quite... she had very traditional roles for people, like, women had to do this and men had to do that. And I think she was just fighting her own demons when I look back at it, really, and fighting against her own upbringing, because I don't think she actually believed any of that. She was just – that was like a comfort zone for her in some weird way. So then... the, the conversation I had with her where I talked about family, and sort of raising my own family and, you know, that that's a possibility, that that's going to happen with a woman, because I was dating a woman at the time. And... and she was, you know, this [laughs] this randomly, weirdly came because of Empire? You know, the TV series Empire? So Empire actually really helped me to have a conversation with my mum about my sexuality, because on Empire there's a gay son, and the gay son's father... The father's mistreating him because of his, he's gay. And it’s like, just kind of like, he really gives him a hard time, and that's because of that. And my mum – we were watching it, and she was just like, 'I don't understand why he's giving him such a hard time. He's – just 'cause he's gay, doesn't matter’. And I was in shock! I was sat across with my mum and my jaw was on the floor. I was like, are you actually kidding? It made me rage! I got rage. I got a rage from it! 'Cause it was like, this is like... strangers. It's not even like real people and they're on a TV show! And you're all – you can connect with that, but you can't connect with me and I'm your daughter, like what is going on here? So I kind of, I kind of used the opportunity then to sort of, sort of bring this up. It did turn into a massive argument and then we calmed down and we had a chat and... Part of the argument was, ‘well, he was always obviously gay to his dad’, like, because it showed flashbacks from when he's a kid in a dress and, like, with shoes on, like his mom's shoes on and things like that. She says, 'You didn't show any signs of this. I didn't know. It just all happened all of a sudden!’ And I was like, ‘whoa! OK, so that's where this came from, like now I can understand a bit’. I guess that she felt like, I don't know, that she'd just been thrown into a war [laughs] a war zone. And it kind of just made more sense. And it's because of this bloody TV show that we were watching! And so she kind of said to me, when we were talking about, like, family. And she kind of... I could see, I could see it in her eyes that she'd got it. She just all of a sudden got it, that she needed to either understand that this was happening, and… maybe she's not happy about it, but she needs to change her behaviour and language towards me so that we could, like, still be part, you know, be mother and daughter, and be able to have a relationship of some kind together. And she just said to me, 'You know this is really difficult for me and I'm trying.' She said, 'I'm trying.' And it just... that's all, that's all I needed to her - for her to say. Like, I think [pause] that hope, that – I mean, that was what? That was... fairly recently in the grand scheme of things. I came out when I was what, well, in my head when I was seven. So 30 years of being, like, out, in my head. And this happened, when... when was it? 2013... So, you know, it wasn't that long ago, it was only six years ago. And my relationship with that person didn't work out... and she was really, she was very much there for me.
RL: What – did she meet her, did your mum meet her?
VM: She didn’t meet her. So the relationship I having was with someone that was very abusive really in our relationship, she's... very... emotionally abusive... towards me. And I think – I kind of stayed in that relationship for longer than I would've done, because I was kind of fighting this other battle, and I was trying to make – because when I got that point my mum, I was like ‘right, I’m gonna have to make this work now because I just said all this stuff to my mum, so that's going to have to try – I’m going to have to try and make it work’. It didn't work... and, you know, my mum was there for me, she was like, solid. She did then try and introduce me to some... male Christian guys at her church, which didn't go down too well as you can imagine. And I had to then bring it up again that, you know, ‘please don't do that’. And she's, ‘I didn't even realize I was doing that, you know’, and she – I don't – I think she genuinely didn't realize she was doing it.
And then the second – my, my second girlfriend, like longterm girlfriend I had, she did meet. And it was this – that was really surreal for me... She met her, they got on, she asked her questions, she actually engaged in a conversation, I was just like [gasps] – I thought, I really thought she was just gonna sit there and kind of just be like ‘uhm-hum’, and just like eat dinner and just not say anything. My mum's very animated [laughs]. Like me and my sister, we’re quite animated because of her, like how she's, she's a bit like, out there, and a bit eccentric... So it was really nice to see my mum actually having a conversation with her, and I was like, ‘wow! Like, this is great!’ It didn't work out with her either, but at least this time round my mum wasn't trying to introduce me to, like, males from her church. So that was a great step forward! [Laughs]
But, but yeah, I think, I think, like now, I can talk to her and say, ‘oh yeah, I met a girl’. You know, I think the, the hard thing is, if I do meet a guy, and then I have to talk to my mum about that, I think that's going to be really difficult. [Laughs] And I know that's really weird, but I think that's gonna be really difficult for her, because she's going to think, ‘oh, so I got my head around that there might be a girl, and now it's like, there's this guy thing, like, what’. So – but we’ll approach that if it comes up! [Laughs]
RL: So, so you’re in Bradford now. Do you -
VM: I’m in Bradford now.
RL: Are you – do you feel part of a LGBT community in Bradford?
VM: No. [Laughs] Not really. I've got some friends, that are, and they, and... and they are [pause] They're LGBT, they're out, they’re... they're all – the majority that are out and sort of... go out to, like… like, bars and things that’re, like, you know, rainbowed. They... they're all, like, male and gay. I know I've got friends that’re sort of female lesbians, and... they don't do anything like that at all, they just, they just go to, like, straight bars I guess, and do straight stuff, and they don’t really, they don’t go out to Pride or anything like that. And I’m... and so – but my friends are really supportive and if I want to go to something, do something, they’ll just come with me, and they’re not, not got any problems. I did try and get involved with some... stuff. I've had very strange experiences... I remember... like, I rem – going to like, a gay bar in Bradford and being told – asked, you know, why was there and stuff like that. And then having to come out again, which I find really bizarre because I was like, ‘I'm in this setting so why do I need to have this challenge happening here? Like, this is meant to be a safe space, and it's not very safe really’.
RL: So, so who asked? Who made comments?
VM: It was just a stranger, it was just someone that was there I was talking to that I thought I was getting on really well with actually, I was just like, ‘hey, hi’. And then it was just like, ‘Oh, so, you know... I - we’ve noticed that there's more straight people coming in these days’, kind of thing, and I was like, ‘I’m not straight!’ and they’re like, ‘Oh! Aren’t you?’, you know, and it’s like, ‘what?! Argh!’ [laughs] You know, it’s really, really bizarre, very bizarre, experience. Less that doesn't happen so much now, but, like, after like, the London stuff happened and I came back with all this like, ‘this is great, I know that there's gay bars in Bradford so I’m gonna go to them’, and then it's just like, this happens, oh, alright. I don’t know if that more like, ‘Oh, we haven't seen you in here before, so we're assuming that you’re, you’re straight, and you’re not’. It's quite cliquey, I think, Bradford. A lot of people know each other in the community. And I don't really know many people in the community really… So that was like, weird. And then I went to the – I don't know if it's still running, but they had Spice at the time, that was running […]
RL: Do you want to say a little bit about what Spice is? Is it – it’s not running anymore is it?
VM: I don't know, I don't think it is running anymore, I think – or it’s changed into becoming – being called something else, but it was basically a group for... people that identified as LGBT. I don't know if it was just for women, it was mainly women that were around – that identified as LGBT+ community, but were also BME. So black, ethnic minority, as well. So I just thought that's fantastic because I didn't have anything like that growing up. And a lot of the stuff that I'm doing now is, you know, because I didn't have representation and visibility so I thought if I can do that for someone else, and it's why I'm here doing this,you know, if, if I can do that for someone else, and, you know, help that person and then that's, that's really important. And so I thought it was really great group to sort of try and get involved with. It's just, it's only this one, this one person and it wasn't the group at all, the group were fantastic. But it was very early on in me going, so kind of – I didn’t establish any like, big relationships I could have continued after that. So, so yeah, so that didn't work out for me. I might – now, I’ve got the stuff that I'm doing at work, but part of, part of what I'm doing there is I want to... understand more about what's happening locally, so that I can incorporate some of the... support networks that exist in Leeds and surrounding areas, into what we're doing in Leeds, so if we're doing, I don’t know, like, it's Pride Month this month – if we were doing something for Pride month we could get like, a guest speaker in or something like that, or working together to do something externally, I don’t know. But yeah, I've not really been – I’ve not really been, yeah involved with them, with the groups, and I think, I really do think – I, I'm kind of thinking about it now, I really do think it's because it's so cliquey. It's really cliquey. It's hard to penetrate. And when people have already established those groups because of... they've known each other since being teenagers and they get, they got together at that point, and then they were part of a whatever network thing was going on at the time, and then they’ve sort of kind of carried on as adults. It's very hard to then try and get into that group, because people see that you've got some sort of ulterior motive, like, you know, you’re gonna try and steal someone's girlfriend, or, you know [laughs]. Shake, shake things up a bit, or, you know – I, I'm sure that there’s people – I'm not saying that everyone's like that, but I'm sure that there’s going to be some people out that are a little bit more open to welcoming new people, new faces. I just haven't found out to be my experience so far... yeah. But happy to take recommendations and, like, see where that goes. [Laughs]
RL: So you said, you said earlier you were – so you were born in Birmingham and then you moved -
RL: - to Yorkshire, so where were you in Yorkshire when you moved?
VM: In Bradford.
RL: Oh, in Bradford. OK.
VM: Yeah, yeah. Moved up in – to Bradford, yeah, when I was around 10. And it just didn't – you just didn't have – there was no visibility of LGBT stuff, and that was like the early 90s, and... I didn't know anything about it. All I knew was going to school, going to church... playing with my friends. None of them identified as LGBT [laughs], so.
RL: So did you get any influences off TV, or popular music or anything?
VM: I didn't really watch TV. Yeah, I didn't watch TV. The music I was listening to actually, would have been at the time... a lot of, sort of, Caribbean music, like lover’s rock, and, music that was coming out of Jamaica and it’s quite homophobic. So there's a lot, a lot of the stuff actually that was coming out that I listened to like Shabba Ranks and, things like that, is – the, the messages was just, you know, horrible really.
RL: So how did you respond to that?
VM: I just was just like, well, that’s, that was just the music. That was just what it was. Like, now, I feel, feel differently about it, but at the time, it was just like, ‘that's just a song’. It didn't... it didn't make me, it didn't make me feel like I could go and speak to anyone about my sexuality at least anyway. I definitely – it, it, it didn't help with like, trying to come out of the closet to anyone. I didn't, because I didn't – I think if was more music that at the time... that spoke about, you know... or... was representation – representative of, you know, the different types of love that exist in the world, then – and I had access to that, then I think it wouldn’t – I probably would have had a different teenage block of years… But I didn't, really. I didn't know where to look for that, either. And I didn't, I didn't have, I didn't have it in my head to look for it, it was just kind of like, ‘I listen to pop music with my friends’. And that was all about... straight relationships. Or at home I’d listen to Caribbean music with my parent – with my mum or family, and that was either homophobic or very sexualized [laughs]. So, so you know, I didn't – yeah, I didn't really listen to music to... to listen to the messages, it’s kind of just like, the rhythm and just have a dance and, sort of let go a bit... But yeah, but I didn't see anything, I – and then I – it’s one of these things that always comes up isn't it, the sort of Brookside like, lesbian kiss on Brookside, but I do remember that and I remember I was watching it with my mum, and I was so embarrassed, because obviously, one, there was people kissing on the TV and when you’re with your parents that is just the worst thing ever... But I do remember watching that, and my mum just being absolutely appalled. And I was just like, ‘oh my God they just showed girls kissing on TV! That’s ace, that’s ace!’ But you know, then it was kind of, like well – well I remember my mum kind of being like, ‘oh, that's, that's just what, kind of they do, you know’. She’s very much like, ‘white people, they’re the gay people, you know [laughs], they’re the people that are lesbians and gays. We don't do that, we’re black, it's not in our culture to do that’, you know. So, so yeah, I didn't – that didn’t help me at all! But I can imagine it helps quite a lot of other people.
RL: Did you talk to anyone about it? Like, having seen that kiss on TV, so you couldn’t talk to your mum, but was there anybody -
VM: I probably would have, I probably would have talked to my friends about it, but I just, I don’t remember those conversations. I don't really remember them.
The first conversations I had with my friends... you know, after I suppressed it since since, since my friend when I was seven had sort of said, ‘no you don't do that’, and I was sort of like, aahhh, I was so heartbroken... I came out to my friends when I was about 14, and I just said, ‘you know what, sometimes I really fancy girls, like, do you feel like too?’ Like, question mark! And my one friend was just like, ‘oh...erm...that… - I thought, I thought about what it might be like to kiss a girl. But that's about it’. And I was like, ‘yeah, mine’s way beyond that!’ [laughs] So far beyond that! [Laughs] So I was like, OK, so that, so that’s definitely means I’m, I’m different to you, right, OK. And then I say, ‘oh, you know, sometimes think about what it might be like to be in a – be, like – have a girlfriend’. And then I think one of my friends was just like, ‘you ask a lot of questions about that’. It was like, you know, ‘are you gay?’. And I'm like ‘hmmm...I don't think I'm gay. But…I know I’m not straight, so, I'm not sure, really’. And they were like ‘oh, well that's cool. Like, that’s alright’. And I was like ‘oh! Is it?! OK! This is great!’. And then that kind of made me feel like, ‘oh, I can tell another friend about it’.
I told a friend that it was completely in love with. I was just kind of like, ‘yeah, so, I kind of, you know, like girls’. And she was like, ‘Oh right’... and then she kind of like... took it in but didn't really say much about it. And then... years later... after I came out properly again and I was like fully engaged with being out, I put it all over everything [laughs] Like, wore it like a badge... She – I remember having a conversation with her again about it, and then, and she was just like ‘oh…’, she was like ‘I really fancied you at school’ and I was like, ‘WHAT!’. And I was like ‘you are kidding’, she was just like ‘yeahhh’. And I was like ‘[sighs]’, been there, with like – that, that ship, ship sailed, you know, quite a long time ago. And I was just like, ‘oh, that's, that’s so sad’. Like it was, like quite sad in a way because it's like, you know, you don't know what could have happened if we’d just both been quite brave about... so saying something to each other about it at the time. C’est la vie, she's still a, a good friend of mine, so, I won't name the name, but... but yeah, she's, you know – that, that, that, that did make me think, you know, that's, that's really, that's really sad. I think it's fantastic now, that... you know, at school you can have, have these conversations, like as part of everyday school life. Crazy! I remember... someone I was – you know, she, she was a girl and she shaved her hair and she was called, she was called Claire, and... like, people used say, ‘oh, she’s called Claire because it’s like, a unisex name, you can be Claire and be a boy’, and , because – they couldn't get in their head that it’s a girl that shaved her head, their, her head. And, I was just like, ‘no, I think that she's definitely, like – she’s just a girl!’ [Laughs] Like, what the hell! [Laughs] And I've been thinking that was a really strange thing that was going on at school, like, now, kids are talking about all aspects of, of, the community which I think’s wonderful, and must be so much, so much nicer for people when they're coming out to know that they can have those conversations and it's safe to have that conversation at school. Like, a lot of people might not be able to have those conversations at home still, but at school they, they're able to do that, I think that's really important, and that's a massive step forward in, in, in what we’re doing in the UK. And I think one of the things as well is that, people kind of assume that in the UK... like, these people that I, that I work with that will post comments on stuff when we raise visibility, and then they're like, ‘wow, we're in the UK and it's 2018 or it’s 2019 and, you know, we don't need to be having these conversations still do we?’ And it's like, ‘well actually yeah, we do, because, you know, not everybody is able to just be themselves, and feel comfortable, and feel safe to do that.’ So... so yeah.
RL: Can I ask you one more thing? Just that you mentioned your, your mum in the church, and your kind of church upbringing, so -
VM: Yeah! [Laughs]
RL: Are you still religious, or have you left that behind that, or?
VM: Do you know, it's really weird, because… - I, I left religion behind when I came out. I left religion behind in, in my teens, late teens. And I just was just like... ‘this...’ - I, I couldn't get on board with the messaging that I was give – being given. When I was – how I was being brought up was like, ‘this is the message from the church’. You know, ‘this is a message from God’. And so therefore for me, all religion then became off-limits because of all – well, that just is in direct opposite to what I believe is true. And I kind of felt... like, you know, the God that I believe in wouldn't... send me to hell because I was in love with somebody that was the same sex as me, like, that doesn't – that can't be, that can't be right. That can't be true. Like, that doesn't even make sense, like what, what is love and when you think about love as what it is, it isn't about judging that person, and, you know, putting these expectations on them, that they have to, you know, they have to do things in this particular way. And then like, I kind of got into... yeah, how religion was formed, and sort of did some, sort of, background, sort of research and stuff and I was like, ‘actually, this is just about pressing people. I'm going to be part of this!’ And so I kind of made a, sort of, decision not to go to church anymore and not to, take part in religious stuff... And... I kind of remain spiritual because I kind of feel like there is something beyond... this physical existence. But I don’t really participate in anything that's Christian. And then the weirdest thing happened. I started going to Pride, and then there was like, a Christian... stall at Pride! And they were like, ‘we're Christians and we love you!’, and it was like, ‘whoa, hang on! Hang on a minute! Because I got told [laughs] that if you're Christian, or Muslim, or whatever, you... you can't be in this community, you know, you have to choose. And then I stepped away from it. So what’re you telling me here? That you’re an accepting a church?’, like, was like, ‘yeah we're fully inclusive. Like...we’ - I think it was before... the Marriage Act, the Equality Act came through, equal marriage came through, and they were like, ‘yeah, you know, we still perform ceremonies for people that’re in same sex relationships. If they want to do that our church – obviously legally we can’t do a marriage, but we can, we can still do a ceremony, and we fully on board with that’. And I was like [gasps] I was so shocked! And actually delighted as well. And it did make me think, like, do I want to go back and sort of maybe look at this again? And it's been sort of a question mark, sort of nearby to me, maybe I will explore that and go along.
On the back of that actually I went to a Quaker church. Do they call them church meeting place? And... I just found that to be like a really great experience, and everyone was really lovely, then I found out that Quakers have been accepting of LGBT community forever, like since they began, I was like ‘this is fantastic! I didn't know this!’ So... yeah, I think, like, religion’s an interesting one.
My brother – at, so at the time I came out, my, my poor mother! The time I came out... [laughs] being, being bi, my brother then decided that he'd... converted to being Islamic. So he became Muslim, around the same time. So she was really thrown into a wall [laughs] with her own thoughts, I mean, not like, with us. And so then I had to come out to my brother as well... That, that only happened fairly recently because I was really terrified about how he was going to react. And he was really cool about it, but, he was just like, ‘oh yeah, I know some Muslim people that are, like, gay, or lesbians’. And this was like, right, yeah, right, I know that that happens. And then like, from that he's just never spoken to me about it again, ever since. He's had conversations with my mum and my sister about it, where he’s saying he's not happy about it, and you know, he doesn’t know how to... react to me about that, and, he doesn't know how he would react if I talked to him about any relationship I was in. But that’s all, like, been hearsay, he's never directly spoken to me about it. But yeah, then because of work, I then found out about this group that's in Birmingham. Who do... who’s like a Muslim group for LGBT Muslims. And I was just like ‘this is great!’, like, ‘look! These things exist!’ and all the stuff that’s going on in Birmingham with schools, and, you know, not putting it on the school... what do you call them now?
VM: Curriculum, yeah, on the school curriculum, and all these people protesting outside schools, it’s terrible, just absolutely disgusting. And one of the schools involved in that was actually my first school, like it was my primary school. Parkfield Primary School, yeah. It's called Parkfield Community School or something now. Well where’s the community spirit there? Like, I, I think it’s, it’s really disgusting what's going on down there. But it’s – I think it, it's great that there's all these support networks that are already in place, because honestly, when I was 10 – well, when I was what, eight, in that school, that wouldn't... that would – there was just nothing like that around, there wouldn't have been anyone to go to. In fact it wasn’t on, it wasn’t even... thought about being on any kind of curriculum, I think at that point. So it’s – we’ve come a long way, and, you know, we've still got a long way to go. I think, people feel like, if you're in the UK because it's sort of a Western country, we've got it all covered and we're haven’t, you know. There's still stuff happening, needs to happen. So, here we are raising visibility, representation. Being here and present. [Laughs]