Olivia: Full Interview
Interviewed by Nifemi Oni
28 March 2019
NO: Right so… I am Nifemi, I’m with West Yorkshire Queer stories. Today is the 28th March 2019 and I’m here with –
NO: Olivia Andrews, and if you feel comfortable do you mind telling me your pronouns, what you identify with and your place of birth.
OA: So my pronouns are, she her…identify as in like sexuality…I identify as a gay woman and I was born in London.
NO: Okay so do you mind telling me about growing up, like coming out…that process.
OA: So… I kind of had my first coming out, when I was quite young about 13…because I realised I had a crush on one of my friends…and during high school I was definitely identifying as bi… I felt there was quite a lot of social pressure to not be a full-on lesbian. So, I kind of battled with that for a really long time. There was times were I was just convincing myself that I am straight…and I’m just occasionally attracted women…I would say I battled with that a lot until I was about 16, 17. And then sort of realised that I was predominately attracted to women and came out again properly during sixth form when I was about 17, just going on 18. And came out to my friends again and came out to my mum, and said that I am gay. And that’s predominately attracted to women but that I wouldn’t rule out men because I have felt some attraction to men in the past. And then in that time the sort of biggest thing I was hiding was coming out to my dad because he’s a typical Caribbean dad. And…much older than me like his in his 60’s so he’s quite backwards in his views… so that was something I carried with me for a long time.
When I moved up to Leeds, I had a lot of freedom in my identity, because I wasn’t around any family. I felt like… I fully sort of embraced my identity…and joined, you know, LGBT community at the university. I met my girlfriend at - who I’m still with today. And I was sort of really embracing who I was, and it reached a point for me where I felt like I was hiding way too much, where I had been with my girlfriend for a year and was planning to go out to China to visit her on her year abroad. It just felt wrong to me that I wasn’t telling my dad because my mum had very much discouraged me from telling him. So my parents aren’t together, but when they were my mum said that she had heard him make homophobic comments and that he wouldn’t take it very well.
But in the end, I just felt like I was hiding a bit too much and had too much weight on my shoulders…so I came out to him - oh, also I must mention that my dad doesn’t live in the country. He hasn’t lived in the UK for about…eight years now. So I came out to him via Face Time and he was not happy and hung up the call. And then I saw him… two weeks after that in person, the day I was flying out to China, he was also flying into the UK. And we met in the airport to discuss it - and I say discuss, but it was mainly him telling me how much he hated it, and how much he wasn’t happy… and that was one of the most upsetting things…I’ve ever experienced…that… became a very defining moment in my life and especially in my queer identity…because then I really started to acknowledge my identity as being queer and black because it was very much coming from a place of...Jamaicans don’t rate gay people [laughs] so he doesn’t rate gay people.
And it’s been an ongoing sort of uphill battle with my dad, it is a matter of him trying to fight his…his belief that its wrong and he doesn’t like it. But also knowing that I’m his daughter - I’m his only daughter as well. We always had a close relationship before, so…I now currently have quite a strained relationship with my dad. I’ve only seen him one time since coming out. And we don’t talk and it’s ultimately him doing his best to come [higher pitch] to try and come to terms with it. He is the only person that has really had an adverse reaction to my coming out. My siblings were all fine. I’m not close enough to my extended family to want to say anything to them, but yeah. That was definitely a defining moment in recognising I’m not just gay. I’m black and gay…and that’s why it really affected my dad’s reaction. It was coming from this place of being traditionally Caribbean and being gay not being something that is traditionally Caribbean.
NO: Yeah, you talked about Leeds being a place where you could be - have freedom. Can you talk a bit more about that like…?
OA: I think it was the case of…sort of when I got to uni, like I had a lot of freedom at home. And ultimately I was going to Pride in London and stuff like that. But I didn’t feel like I was fully myself…whilst I was living in my mum’s house…and still quite restricted…when I got to Leeds I just felt like I could be my full self because I was away from all family, and meeting all these new friends. And the majority of the friends I made were queer themselves. So I felt very, very comfortable. I started, sort of seeing more gay nightlife and going out to, like, the gay pubs in Leeds, the gay clubs and going to the LGBT society events before I sort of became disillusioned with them. But I think being away from my family, and then also knowing I could hide a certain amount of my life, was allowing me to live a certain level of freedom because nobody was ever going to run into me if I was going into a gay club.
Because before I came out to my dad, I wasn’t out to my extended family. I was out to my mum and my sister and I think that was it…so there was still the worry about my extended family and that sort of thing. And I knew that in Leeds nobody really knew me here, so it was a chance for me to be like, my full self, and also I was exploring my first queer relationship as well… So that was chance for me to really get to grips – and, like, my romantic attraction to women and what is… what it means to me to be like my authentic queer self.
NO: So can you tell me bit more about how it has been as a back gay woman navigating queer spaces in Leeds?
OA: I feel like in my first year in Leeds - that was about three years ago - I was very naïve. Like I said, it was just a chance for me to embrace myself, so I was a lot more like ‘oh my God look at all these gay clubs’, ‘Look there’s an LGBT society’, I was just like quite over excited, and then after my coming out to my dad and after, in the last year, really…coming in touch with things like…race and like knowing more about decolonising, that sort of thing, diversity, and the importance of that and how that was like, a multi-layer on my identity, I became a lot more disillusioned and a lot more uncomfortable in the queer spaces I had originally loved so much in the first year. Like right now, I don’t really tend to go to the queer spaces in Leeds as much because I feel uncomfortable. I prefer being in a QTIPOC space… like a queer, trans, intersex, person of colour space, and that was after joining that network of people at the start of third year - so this was, what, about six months ago. And realising there were people that not only understood the gay experience, but understood the black gay experience, or had similar understandings of the Asian gay experience and that sort of thing.
And it’s sort of the case, now I’ve seen what it’s like [laughs] I never really wanna go back. It’s not…it’s almost not good enough, and I do feel uncomfortable, there have been times in queer spaces in Leeds in the last six months where I’ve noticed things I didn’t notice before. I’ve noticed subtle microaggressions and sort of outright just racist remarks or actions. I’ve been out with friends in gay clubs and had a white man spit in my friend’s afro and disgusting things like that…that make me not wanna go back to those spaces. And then I’ve had more sort of microaggressions and annoying comments where people grab my hair without asking: ‘Oh my god I love your hair’ and it’s this kind of thing that makes me roll my eyes now, but ultimately I’m not comfortable as much navigating the queer spaces as I used to be. And I feel like that’s come from me…reading up more and tuning myself more into what it means to have this almost dual identity of being black and gay.
NO: So can you tell me about QTIPOC and how you got involved?
OA: So QTIPOC has basically been one of the greatest things I’ve found since getting to Leeds. I got involved…I went to a black fem soc meeting right at the start of this academic year and made the decision sort of in the meeting. I think I said it like outwardly to the whole group - it was certainly to do with relationships, and I said that I was in a relationship with a woman, and it was really nerve wracking to do that in that space…because of this internalised idea within myself that gay and black do not equate to one another [laughs]. So I did feel quite nervous, but then afterwards I had the president? – Axelle, I don’t remember if she’s president – that I had Axelle come up to me and Monisha [the founder of the group] come up to me and tell me about the space and tell me about the group.
And they added me to the group after that, and that’s when I started interacting with people a lot more. I realised that Monisha was on the same course as me and started interacting with her and then organising the decolonising geographies event…so I was invited to more amongst them. And I was also - because the Facebook group, people are sharing events constantly…or just sharing interesting stories. It was like…it was a really important space for me to finally feel fully recognised, because I’ve been hanging out with predominately queer people since I got to Leeds. But my sort of - I won’t say former because I still see them, but like, my first group of friends, other than me and my house mate, were just white gays. And my naivety back in first year was like ‘this is amazing’, and then as I got more clued in to how important race is to me and the, the difference of my experience living within the intersection and having them not recognise that QTIPOC as a group and just as a set of friends became so important to me.
NO: You’ve talked a bit about it. But can you say again why QTIPOC has been important?
OA: So it’s basically…just been important and been so good for sort of like my mental wellbeing to have this space, or have this group of people, that completely get it. And I felt this as well – also, I did a residential with Stonewall that…was specifically for BAME, POC, LGBT young people, and being in those spaces with people that get what it’s like, and that you don’t have to explain things and you’re not gonna receive the certain level of judgement. And people that know exactly what it’s like for you and get how it is and kind of have solidarity with you about how you navigate spaces…that is just, like I said, so important for like, my mental wellbeing as well, because being in other sort of predominately white queer spaces you’re always like dulling down parts of yourself. You’re dulling down your blackness to an extent...being in a black space, you’re dulling down the fact that you’re LGBT. Whereas this was this space where, these friends that I made where they get it. And it was just so much more affirming for me.
NO: Can you talk about how your - you can give examples - your experience in QTIPOC has differed to navigating white, queer white spaces?
OA: Well, I mean it’s been, like a massive difference. There’s been a lot more, sort of, respect in the QTIPOC spaces. Just generally…like not even just respect about our, sort of, like, dual intersection. But, just like people are a bit more respectful of things like mental health, personal space, boundaries, that sort of thing. I’ve found that in QTIPOC spaces, for example, the Queer Migrant Takeover back in December was the most enjoyable night out I think I’ve ever had in Leeds, because I never felt unsafe, I never felt uncomfortable…because with the white queer spaces in Leeds, or predominately white queer spaces in Leeds, not only are there sometimes, like, clearly straight people that come in because they just want a night out, and then make you feel uncomfortable and make subtle digs at you, but also often with white gay men they can be…quite…how do I say it… like, sort of, they take up a lot of space and make you feel very pushed to the side, and not that...like…not that comfortable.
Like, for example, when I’m saying this I’m thinking of, like, a night out in Viaduct, where I’m always very squished and it’s always very much catered for like - I could be with my friends and then…a white gay will just walk completely through my group with no regard for our personal space and boundaries. And just, like, bodily presence, whereas I never felt that at Queer Migrant Takeover for example…so I feel like there is a lot more of a greater deal of respect, and again, like, in a QTIPOC space you don’t get those microaggressions or comments. Nobody is going to grab my hair without my say-so on a QTIPOC night, I never worried about that at Queer Migrant, but then the minute I went to somewhere like Wharf Chambers for example, I went to an event - and I don’t really support Wharf Chambers, but it was my housemate, who is a white queer DJ, but she was DJing at that event, and I went to support her. And even that, I just noticed the stark difference and just…it, like, it just didn’t feel like enough for me. I was like, this is isn’t enough to be an enjoyable night for me, because [laughs] it was, like, completely white, and I can tolerate a mixture, but I feel like what the problem is, especially in like, the queer spaces in Leeds, is that you either get one or the other. You either get a specifically QTIPOC-centred night, or you go to your run of the mill gay bar or club in Leeds, and you’ve got, like, white gays everywhere, and it is quite an annoying experience, not to just have this sort of general mix where you feel…you feel represented, and you don’t feel pushed to the side…without having to completely organise your own night and find your own space. Because obviously it is so expensive and that’s why QTIPOC nights don’t happen as often, because, you know, they’re not putting them on in Tunnel or Viaduct or Fibre, they’re finding places like Live Art Bistro and like Wharf Chambers, and the more independent spaces, but it requires a lot of money and time and involvement, that not all these QTIPOC individuals in Leeds can give.
NO: Yeah…I was just thinking [long pause]. What has Leeds meant to you in terms of your queerness? Like, that relation?
OA: Leeds has been important in sort of defining my queerness, or…not defining, like, helping me define. It’s, like I said before in this interview, it’s been…like my biggest space where I’ve grown and fully embraced my identity, and it is still just as important to me as when I came here in 2016 and went to Viaduct for the first time. And it’s important to me now, finding QTIPOC spaces… and, like, there is a lot in Leeds in terms of queer spaces. There are so many bars and clubs that I feel like I’m much better off than I would have been if I had gone somewhere else for uni. And also because Leeds is slightly smaller, I feel like I even have slightly a better vibe than I do down in London. Because London, yeah, there’s loads, but obviously it’s all overpriced and it’s quite inaccessible sometimes.
So Leeds has been an important space - particularly Leeds Pride has been the most enjoyable Pride I’ve ever been to…I like the fact that it’s not as commercialised as London Pride, like, I’m very much anti-London Pride now, I’m completely disillusioned with that because of the commercialisation. Whereas I feel Leeds Pride, and sort of Leeds’ queerness, is very true to its roots. It’s just unfortunately dominated by white gays that don’t bother to understand the intersection, and – like, my biggest problem with certain white gays is the way they feel like because they’re gay, they understand oppression in the same way, and I just can’t, like, vibe with that – it’s not like… to say I can’t vibe with, with white gays as a blanket statement - it doesn’t apply to all, it applies to the type that think they are just as oppressed as me, because they’re gay, and don’t want to recognise the nuances in their experience.
NO: Do you have anything else you wanted to…?
OA: I think the only thing I’d say is just, sort of, like, Leeds is a great space in terms of, like, queer culture, it’s just a greater need for diversification of that culture. Even, like, diversification in terms of, like, what identities are represented. Like, there’s not as much in Leeds for gay women as there is for gay men, and there’s not as much for trans people as there is for gay pride, that sort of thing. So like, Leeds has been a great space, but it does need more diversification.
NO: Yeah. Thank you.