What does the word ‘lesbian’ mean to you and is this a word you use to describe yourself?
Speaking candidly, I actually struggle with the word. I think that’s for a few reasons. Firstly, it’s quite a harsh sounding word, which for me carries some negative associations and stereotypes. I think there’s a good precedent for the LGBTQ+ community ‘reclaiming’ words like this and I think ‘queer’ is a good example of that, but personally I tend to define myself as someone in a same-sex relationship rather than using words like ‘lesbian’ or ‘gay’ etc. Secondly, something I think I’ve realised as I’ve got older… as much as people with a structured brain like to categorise things into neat boxes (and I’m definitely one of those people), for many I don’t think sexuality is a binary or fixed thing. I think there’s more shades of grey than we realise, and that’s definitely something that as humans, we can struggle with. All that said, I do think it’s really important to celebrate sexual diversity through events like Lesbian Visibility Day. When we have under-represented groups, mechanisms like this really help to build awareness and inclusivity. They are a catalyst for celebrating difference.
Have you always been out at work and what does that mean to you?
Yes, since day 1. I joined RSA in my early twenties and made a conscious decision before I started my ‘grown up’ career to bring my full self to work. This wasn’t just about being in a same-sex relationship (because there’s so much more to me than just that), it was about being able to bring my personality to whatever role and team I was in. I wanted to work for a company where I could be me, and RSA has always given me that opportunity, without conditions or judgement. For me, being out at work means being very open about who I am. Through this I have had the opportunity to dispel any myths/preconceptions for people I come across about what it is to be a ‘queer’ woman.
How important have queer role models been to you and did you have any growing up, through your education and into your career?
If I’m honest, I never had any queer role models that I could identify with. I think the only real exposure I had to LGBTQ+ people was via the media, TV and film when I was growing up. Whilst I’m really not that old (!), at the time a lot of the LGBTQ+ people in the public eye seemed to me to fit a certain mould of ‘queerness’ that I couldn’t really identify with. I think one of my fears at a young age was that I’d have to conform to a certain archetypal mould to be a member of the LGBTQ+ community… it was almost as if I wouldn’t be a ‘proper’ queer person if I didn’t fit that mould. That was definitely a personal fear that was reinforced at university – I remember trying to ingratiate myself with the LGBT society and being treated very coldly because I didn’t look the right way.
I never went back again after that one event. That definitely impacted my ability to meet people in the early days… because all my friends were straight and whilst they were wonderful allies, I didn’t really have any exposure to people who identified like me. Luckily my partner (now wife) Kate and I found each other in our last term of university – more by luck rather than by design! I think with a bit of age and experience, we all get more comfortable in our own shoes, and that’s certainly one of the reasons why it’s been important to me to bring my whole self to work (and elsewhere in my life of course). I also hope that I can one day be a role model for others who might be in the same scenario as I was.