Things Change, Things Stay the Same

I’ve been working in my field for the past 9 years. I started out in an administrative grade and have worked my way up to senior management in that time. But as I’ve mentioned, in December I will begin a career break which is currently set at 12 months but which I can extend for, from what I can gather, several years if I want too. It’s unpaid – I’m just kept on the central headcount.

I’ve been thinking long and hard lately about what I want out of my career, because it’s not necessarily to continue doing what I’m doing right now. I’m good at my job, but I think I could be amazing at something else. I don’t quite get to use the best of my skill set in the current environment and I’ve been trying to work out what it is I want to do, while leaving some of it to the universe, in the hope that the answers will come during my year out. What I’ve been finding weird lately is that I work in a large organisation and have moved around a lot during my career. But in the past few months I’ve either ended up working with, or liaising with colleagues who were around me when I first started back in 2008. In fact, as of a couple of weeks ago I’m now working for one of the first managers I ever had again! I was also contacted last week by someone I used to work with on that team and who now works somewhere else. We spent a good half an hour reminiscing, with her telling me the story of how she almost died of cancer, only to bounce back but with a fresh perspective on life and work. She also clocked my wedding ring and said, “I take it you’re not married to the girl who…”
“Oh God,” I said, “

It’s not just that. So many people who have climbed the ladder alongside me are also leaving in the next few months, to go off and do a variety of things – new jobs, career breaks, post grad studies and so on. So while things oddly feel very similar to how they did almost 10 years ago, it also feels like a time of real change for me professionally.

About a year ago I was having a really miserable time at work – a situation which had been going on for quite a long time. This was mainly down to working with someone who had their own agenda and in the end the relationship became very toxic, I moved roles because of this untenable situation although I loved my job and then spent months trying to recover mentally.

But now that’s over and I’m out the other side, I can see the positives that came out of that situation. The truth is, I hadn’t really been very happy in my career for a long time, but was set on a particular trajectory, focussed on climbing the ladder and getting to a certain point and when I got there I thought, what now? Was this really it for the rest of my working life? The destructive effect that relationship had was awful at the time. But what it did do was give me the motivation I was lacking to really make a change. The easiest option sometimes is to do nothing and a good, secure job with a well paid salary makes it hard to break free if that’s what you want to do. And that is what I want and it’s now what I’m doing.

I have a friend in a similar situation – tired of her job, is overwhelmed with stress and anxiety, dreads going to work every day and desperately wants to quit. She’s too emotionally exhausted to seriously look for other roles while she’s in this particular situation and needs some time out to work out what she really wants to do. We’ve been talking for months about her resigning and taking a few months for herself, but it’s difficult when you’ve got a mortgage etc, because the money has to come from somewhere. But like my wife said to me recently, if we have to sell our house and live in a caravan there are worse things in life. The most important things are health, wellbeing and happiness. Let’s see if we still think the same once we’ve travelled for a few months and we’re completely broke ha ha!

Speaking of which, we’ve got the first few months worked out now. We’ll be spending 2 months in South Africa (which is where she grew up), a month in Australia, 6 weeks in New Zealand, a couple of weeks in Fiji before being dropped off in Singapore. We’ll then have around six months to travel around Asia before we have to get to Hong Kong to fly home. I can’t wait! We’re now starting to prepare to rent out our flat while we’re away, selling everything we don’t want or need and packing up the rest to go in to storage. It feels like a bit of an odd time, half preparing, half waiting and counting down to the next chapter of our lives. But we’ve got a lot to do in the 12 weeks before we leave so that’ll keep us busy.

There’s also the matter of giving up my guide dog which is fast approaching. She’s going to retire and go and live with friends of ours who always have her when we go away. It’ll be a permanent move for her and that’s going to be vary hard for us. It might sound odd but it’s a process of grieving just like losing any other being who you love and who is important to you. So I need to prepare myself for that too. The upside is that I know my beautiful lab will relish retirement and all the freedom she’ll get. She’s not really a dedicated working dog bless her and is never happier than when she’s racing around a field, running in and out of the sea or flat on her back, legs in the air, fast asleep on her huge bean bag that she adores about as much as I love my own bed.

This weekend we need to focus on hiring a camper van in New Zealand. If anyone’s got any tips or recommendations please do share them.

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Unthinkable

This morning I woke up to the news that an old friend took her own life a few days ago. The last time I saw her in person was 5 years ago, when we spent a weekend together around the time of my birthday. We’d spoken intermittently since then and as it often the way these days, followed each other on social media without really talking much. Then last week she sent me a message via Facebook asking how I was and saying it would be good to hear from me. I read it, smiled and felt happy to hear from her, but as I have a terrible habit of doing, I didn’t respond straight away, thinking that I would do so later. I never did and now she’s gone.

I learned that she’d done the same with a few people she hadn’t spoken to in a while, tried to reach out to them in the days leading up to her suicide. It seems we all did the same thing – thought that we’d respond later, when we had a moment. It’s very hard not to feel overwhelmed with guilt about this and I’ve been trying hard not to think about the “what ifs”. What if I’d responded straight away? Would she have told me how she was feeling? Would a conversation with an old friend have made her think twice about ending things? Could I have intervened in some way to stop this from happening? And yet I know thinking about all that is futile and pointless because it’s too late. Part of me feels like I don’t even have aright to be sad. I hadn’t seen her in ages, had no idea about the ins and outs of her recent daily life because I’ve been so rapped up in my own. But I am sad. I’m gutted and feel sick about the whole thing. She was the same age as me and so full of life and vivacious. If you met her, you wouldn’t forget her.

Nina, I hope you’re at peace wherever you are. I hope you’re running along a beach in the sunshine with Stephie by your side, her tail wagging madly as she runs in and out of the waves. I’m sorry for not being a better friend. I’m so, so sorry. I’ll remember you with great fondness and laughter. We had such a wonderful time the last time we were together. We went out, we danced, we lay in bed talking for hours, listening to music and sharing our regrets and plans. We laughed and laughed. I’ll never forget that time. You were happy then. I wish I’d known how you were feeling, what you were planning. But I didn’t and I’m so, so sorry for not being there for you. Sweet girl. Rest in peace. I’ll never forget you. Save a space at the cocktail bar in heaven for me.

Even Guide Dogs Will be Dogs

This morning the usual routine in our household took place. The alarm went off at 6:40 followed by groans of protest from both me and my wife (neither of us are morning people). My wife made us tea while I fed my guide dog, opening the door to the garden so that she could go out and relieve herself once she’d finished eating, as we returned to bed to drink our tea.

As the tea was brewing I could hear my wife telling the dog to “get busy” which is the command that guide dogs are given when they should go to the toilet (they are trained to do this on command). But my wife became quickly exasperated as the pooch simply returned to her bed with no intention of going outside.

“Just leave her” I said, “she’ll go when she’s ready.”

“She’d better,” my wife said, “I don’t want her to stop half way to the station for a poo.”

“Don’t worry,” I said, “She’s just being awkward – give her five minutes and she’ll be out there.”

So we drank our tea, washed and dressed and as we were preparing to leave, the dog was still in the same position, flat out on her bed without a care in the world.
“Come on now,” I said, adopting my authoritative ‘no shit please’ – or rather ‘please shit now’ voice. “Get busy, go on, get busy!”

Reluctantly, the dog stood and stretched lazily like we’d got all the time in the world and slowly stepped outside. Then she walked a few steps and promptly sat down.
“She’s not going,” my wife said.
“Hey,” I said, going outside myself, “come on now, get busy, we’re going to work!”
This time, she took another few steps and this time she lay down. When she does this, I know I’m on to a losing streak because that’s her effectively giving me the middle finger. But usually, if I call her inside and then send her straight back out again, she knows I’m not messing around and will then go to the loo because she realises we’re not leaving the house until she’s been. Because I’m the boss, right?

But not today. Inside she came. Outside I told her to go. Straight back to her bed she went.
“For fuck’s sake!” I said, knowing that we needed to leave soon or we’d miss our train, but thinking that maybe she really didn’t need to go after all, I gave up and got her harnessed up and ready to go.

Less than 5 minutes in to our walk to the station, what did she do? You guessed it. She slammed on the brakes and proceeded to do a big fat crap right there on the pavement. Which meant that a clean-up operation ensued, with lots of under-the-breath swearing from me.

Guide dogs are amazing animals – there’s no doubt about it. And the people who train them to do what they do are just as important, including all the wonderful volunteers who host them as puppies and donate money to the charity. I’m on my second guide dog, having gotten my first when I was 20. She retired when she was 8 after being attacked by another dog while she was working, after which she was never really the same and so withdrew from working life a year or so later. I had the space of one weekend before I was given my new dog, which couldn’t have been a better service from Guide Dogs UK and to be honest, I’d be lost without one now.

If ever I have to go out without my dog or a sighted guide and have to rely on my white cane, I hate it and feel completely out of my comfort zone. My current dog will be retiring at the end of this year, coinciding with us leaving the UK for an extended period and I’m going to be so sad to give her up.

But none of that for now.

So I thought, in the spirit of this morning’s toilet fiasco, I’d take the opportunity to tell you about some of the funny/naughty/cringe-worthy things my guide dogs or those of my friends have done over the years. As the title of this post says, even guide dogs will be dogs.

Food Faux Pas

On one occasion, my previous guide dog who was food mad (as most Labradors tend to be) thought she’d help herself to something off the shelf in Tesco when I went in there to buy my lunch at work. I didn’t realise this until we had left the shop and returned to my office and only when we were standing quietly in the lift did I notice the “chomp, chomp” noise she was making. Curious to know what she was eating, I opened her mouth and put my fingers in, to find that she had stolen a Cadbury’s cream egg, which was now stuck, foil and all, to the roof of her mouth. It was one of the grossest things I’ve had to do to scrape the mangled foil, chocolate and toffee off the roof of her mouth and from around her teeth, with her desperately trying to lick it all off my fingers. My colleagues thought it was hilarious though!

On another occasion, the very same dog accompanied me to a picnic in the park – again with the same colleagues. We’d bought lots of nice food with us, including a tray of sausage rolls and when we all became distracted by a wasp which was flying around, the dog dove straight in and hoovered up the lot before anyone could do anything about it!

And that’s not all! On a work trip to a trade fair, we were all sitting outside on the grass eating lunch. After standing in a very long queue to get some food, a colleague of mine put her tray down on the floor while she got herself settled – bad move! In the space of time between the tray hitting the floor and my colleague sitting down, my dog helped herself to the yummy cheese burger which was now within easy reach of her mouth.

My current dog once helped herself to a colleague’s sandwiches out of his bag while I was standing by his desk having a conversation. The bag was on the floor and she took the opportunity to have a little extra lunch. My colleague wasn’t very impressed.

She also once walked straight up to me and took a sausage off my plate at a BBQ.

A colleague and friend of mine has a guide dog who is notorious for stealing food. This time, I was the victim when, at our team Christmas meal, the dog ate my Secret Santa which was a packet of luxury hot chocolate. I hated that dog that day!

The same dog not so long ago ate an entire box of dark chocolate and had to be rushed to the vets to get her stomach pumped and my poor colleague regularly has to replace the lunches of her colleagues after the dog goes into their bags and takes their home-made sandwiches.

Toilet Troubles

Guide dogs can be tricky characters when it comes to their toileting habits, even though they are trained to go on command. They sometimes develop strange habits, or refuse to relieve themselves on certain surfaces.

My first guide dog flatly refused to go to the toilet on concrete. This was a nightmare for me as we lived and worked in London and so there was often very little green space in the area around our office or where I was living. The amount of time I spent walking around trying to find a patch of earth by a tree, or the narrowest strip of grass!

On a work trip to Glasgow once, I was staying in a hotel in the city centre. Not a patch of grass or a tree was there in sight and I walked around for a full hour before I went to bed, trying to encourage the dog to go for a pee in the gutter. Would she? Would she hell! So at midnight I gave up and went up to my room to bed. In the morning as I woke up, the dog jumped on to my bed. While this wasn’t encouraged obviously (just in case anyone from Guide Dogs reads this), she sometimes did this in excitement, first thing in the morning and I just assumed that this was just one of those occasions. That was, until she started urinating all over me, the bed and then – when I pushed her off – all over the carpet! The poor cleaners got more than they bargained for that day, but I did offer to pay for the clean-up as I was mortified!

The same dog – clever thing that she was – worked out that we were about to get on to a train once and, even though she’d again had ample opportunity to go beforehand, went for a big wee in the middle of the train station.

The same dog when I was training with her, on a new route to a new office, decided to stop in the middle of Westminster tube station and do a big number 2. I had to stand there, again in mortification while the dog trainer who was with me went off to find a station cleaner and everyone stared and tutted – lovely British public that you are.

My current dog once did a massive wee in Tesco, for no apparent reason at all. We had just been for a walk and she’d had plenty of opportunity to relieve herself, but she decided to wait until we were in the supermarket and it went on, and on, and on.

My current dog also defecated in the office once, which is the sin of all sins in the guide dog rule book. There had been no indication that she needed to go to the toilet – no pestering me or whining. But when she was allowed to run free as was sometimes the case on a Friday afternoon (there were 2 guide dogs in the office who would race each other across the floor), she galloped off and then stopped suddenly by a colleague’s desk and did a huge dump. I can only think she didn’t much like him…

I was on the phone to a good friend of mine the other day, who also has a guide dog. We were chatting away and then all of a sudden she started yelling “No! No! nooooooo!”
“What’s wrong?” I asked, alarmed and thinking that one of the kids was doing something they shouldn’t be.
“The dog’s just pissed all over the floor,” she said in a voice so tired from cleaning up after kids and dogs and in the middle of having a single-storey extension added to the back of their house.
“I’ve got to go, I’ll call you back” she said with a sigh.

Puking in Public

And finally, last but not least, there’s the puking. I don’t think people realise that dogs vomit, but they do. Oh they do.

They vomit in the middle of the lounge when they’ve eaten their breakfast too fast.

They puke on the train when they’ve found something dodgy to snaffle from the pavement on the way to the train station.

They hurl in the office when they’ve found something dodgy to snaffle off a train floor on the way in to work.

I’m telling you, dog sick is one of the worst things to clean up.

But not the worst…

What’s the most embarrassing experience you’ve ever had? You might be wondering at this point. Don’t worry, I’m about to tell you (put whatever you’re eating down – it’s going to get bad.)

One lovely evening back in 2010, I had gone to visit some lovely friends of mine who live in a very, very nice house in Notting Hill. This was before they had kids, when their house was beautiful and pristine and when the only thing they had to worry about was not spilling any red wine on their very expensive Zeisel carpet.

Of course I had my guide dog with me. And as always she was being as good as gold – quiet and lovely (this was my previous one – my current one is a whole load of trouble).

After we’d eaten dinner, my friend suggested that we go to the pub for a couple of drinks. But it being a Friday night in Notting Hill, I knew it was going to be busy and noisy and not really a place where my guide dog would want to go.

“Is it ok if I leave the dog here?” I asked.
They didn’t own any animals and so I intuitively clocked a look pass between them and the shortest of pauses before my friend’s partner said, “sure providing she’ll be ok with being left alone.”
“Of course,” I said with the utmost confidence. “If we leave the radio on she’ll just chill out and go to sleep.”

So, radio on, dog settled, we left the house.

Around two hours later, we returned and I went straight in to the bathroom because I was dying for the loo. As I sat there, I started to hear a commotion outside. A sort of frantic whispering that turned in to something like, “Oh my God. Oh my fucking God. What the fuck? What the fucking fuck? I’m going to throw up. Oh Jesus.”

Oh no, I thought. Oh dear. Something’s happened. Something bad has happened. Something very, very bad.

For a fleeting moment, I wondered how feasible it would be to try and escape out of the bathroom window, the possibilities of what could have happened running through my mind.

She’s eaten their favourite pot plant – I thought.

She’s chewed up his favourite slippers.

She’s decided to get on the sofa for a snooze.

She’s weed somewhere.

Stealing myself, I flushed, washed my hands and opened the door.

“Everything ok?” I said tentatively.

“No,” said my friend in a strained voice.
“No, it’s not ok.”

“What’s wrong?” I asked, starting to think the dog had died or something.

“Your dog,” she said, “your dog has…. She’s…”
“What?” I said in panic.

And then I smelt it.

“Oh no,” I said quickly, “She’s done a poo. Don’t worry,” I said, getting ready to spring in to action, “just show me where it is and I’ll clean it up – sorry about that.”

“No, you don’t understand” said my friend. And after that she seemingly lost the ability to speak and just left the room.

“It seems she’s eaten something that didn’t agree with her”, said her partner, stepping in to fill the silence.

“How bad is it?” I asked.
“It’s pretty bad” he said, “about as bad as it could be.”

It turned out that the dog had had a spell of the worst diarrhoea possible. All over their very expensive carpet. From one end of the lounge, to the other and everywhere in between.

I spent the next hour on my knees with a bucket of hot, soapy water and multiple cloths trying desperately to get the liquid shit out of the very absorbent carpet while my friend sat tearfully in the kitchen and her partner hopped nervously from one foot to the other, evidently trying to calculate how much a replacement living room carpet would cost. Then at their request, I took my dog and left. And then I sent various apologetic texts. Then I offered to pay to have the carpet professionally cleaned.

As it happens I’m seeing them again in a few weeks time. They’ve now had a baby and if that kid pukes, pees or craps anywhere in my house, they’ll be given the same treatment – ha ha ha!

The thing about guide dogs is that people think they should be impeccably behaved 100 per cent of the time and never put a paw wrong. And most of the time, bless them, they are. But while you can put all the training you want in to an animal, you can’t turn them in to robots.

So yes, while guide dogs are wonderful and valued creatures, they are sometimes just dogs – with all that taking care of an animal entails!!! If you don’t want any mess or embarrassment, stick to using a white cane. But if you do want joy and love and a whole different level of independence then they’re worth every minute.

One Step Forward, Two Steps Backward

This week, the UK is ‘celebrating’ 50 years since the decriminalisation of homosexuality and sex between men. At the same time in the USA, Donald Shit-For-Brains Fuckwit Trump has said that the US military will no longer allow transgender people to serve. And just last week the BBC was uncovered as an organisation which has been discriminating on the grounds of sex for years and doesn’t seem to be in any hurry to do anything about the enormous gender pay gap which has been exposed between it’s male and female employees.

What the fuck is wrong with the world?

Anyone who says that there is no need for feminism because women are no longer bound to the kitchen sink, or that there’s no need to talk about gay rights anymore because we have equality since gay marriage was introduced, or that sex discrimination doesn’t still exist, or that if you’re at all different then you shouldn’t fear that your rights to live and love as a dignified human being could be taken away at any minute must have spent their lives hiding under a rock.

This thing about celebrating 50 years of legal sex between men sticks in my side. I don’t think we should be celebrating this in the way that the media and others seem to think is right and proper. We should be ashamed that it was ever illegal in the first place and that men were sent to prison or subjected to torture disguised as therapy for having, or being suspected of having, consensual sex between 2 adults. I think it’s great to acknowledge how far gay rights have come in the past 50 years, but for the government to celebrate this like it’s an amazing thing they did rather than just doing the right thing by honouring the human rights of a group of people is somewhat distasteful to me.

And there are still so many parts of the world where being gay can get you disowned, raped, beaten and killed – let’s not forget that. Look at Russia, Uganda, Jamaica, Iran and so many other countries where you have to hide who you really are if you’re gay and want to survive. That’s not a life – it’s an existance.

As for the women working at the BBC, I sincerely hope they’re getting ready to bring a class action of discrimination against their employer, while looking for new jobs and getting ready to take their skills elsewhere at the same time. A gender pay gap says 3 things – the underpaid are undervalued, their skills are not considered to be equal to those of their better paid colleagues and the organisation in question thinks that the people in question will just put up and shut up while they get screwed. It’s another form of “lie on your back and take it and don’t complain because you’re lucky you’re getting it at all.”

I’m also saddened by the apathy of the British public on this issue. Media clips show people saying they’re not interested in what the BBC pays its staff and it’s up to them. I agree with the concept that it’s up to an organisation to decide on pay scales for its staff based on industry standards, but what I care about and what I think we should all care about, is when that organisation decides it will pay men and women different amounts for doing the same job. Because that’s discrimination folks, that’s what it looks like and that’s what we should be marching and demonstrating and revoking our TV licences about until they do something about it.

In fact, I’ve decided that I’m going to take the stand of cancelling my TV licence and encouraging others to do the same. Hit them where they’ll feel it most – in the wallet and I bet we see a change.

As for Trumpetty Trump and all the trans people out there. Fuck him! Be proud of who you are and pray that he’ll have a cocaine induced heart attack or drop dead while he’s shagging Melania on Viagra. And until then, use your voices and your right to protest. Don’t let him win. And that goes for anyone who is a decent human being and believes in equality and human rights for all – use your voices too. Let in the light and banish the darkness.

That’s Not My Name!

I just got off the phone with a contact at the travel company we’ve booked our multi-stop trip with that we’ll be taking from December onwards. My wife and I are taking a career break to travel around Australasia for a year and we need to make the final arrangements. Until now, I’ve been dealing with a very professional, articulate and informative woman, but sadly she moved on recently and so our booking was passed to another agent who is a guy.

We spoke for the first time on the phone today after exchanging a couple of emails. Throughout most of the conversation he called me ‘hun’. Can you fucking believe it? This idiot who I’ve never met, who doesn’t know me and who hasn’t spoken to me before felt it was acceptable to call me ‘hun’. Some people may not view this as a big deal, but I do, because we still live in a world where men think they can behave however they like towards women. Not all men I appreciate, but sexism is still alive and kicking along with racism, ageism and disableism, all of which I object too. Calling someone hun is both condescending and disrespectful unless they’ve either said it’s ok or you know them so well i.e. they’re a very good friend or your partner that you know it’ll be ok to do so.

Not only did this guy do this, but he also asked whether I was travelling with my sister, because my wife and I have the same surname. Another fucking sweeping general assumption that made me so mad. By this point I was really pissed off and I said to him in as deadpan a voice as possible, “no I’m travelling with my wife.”
“Oh nice one!” he said, like I’d just told him something really juicy. What a prick. But, as usual, in order to try to be polite and not look like a raging feminist lesbian, I didn’t say anything more. But why? I got off the phone absolutely fuming, as much at myself for not calling him out on his dickish behaviour as the guy himself. I’ve promised myself that the next time we speak, if he calls me ‘hun’ again, or anything like it, I’m going to let him have it and then ask to deal with someone else.

So here’s what I wish I’d said to him on the phone and what I’m saving up for next time:

“Jonno, before you go, let me share a couple of nuggets of information with you.

Firstly, I assume your name is Jonathan and calling yourself Jonno when you work in a customer service role makes you sound like a bit of an immature dickhead. You confirmed this by, rather than calling me by my title and surname until I said you could use my first name, or even just calling me by my first name which I wouldn’t have minded, you proceeded to refer to me in a sexist and disrespectful way. Hun is not my name and it isn’t appropriate to use when you don’t know me and we’re having a conversation of a business nature. Added to that, you’re probably much younger than me by the sound of your voice and I probably earn twice as much as you, so kindly fuck off with your condescension. That language is sexist and disrespectful.

Another thing, if 2 people have the same surname and their titles are Mrs, this probably means they’re married, TO EACH OTHER! This has been legal in the UK since 2014 in case you missed it. If you’re not sure, ask instead of making sweeping assumptions and when your mistake is corrected, try apologising for your narrow mindedness.

If you do these things from now on, I won’t complain to your boss about your unprofessional attitude, ok?

Oh, and if you wonder why I’m making such a fuss, I would strongly recommend that you read Everyday Sexism by Laura Bates and get yourself some education!”

My Coming Out Story

I thought I would publish this now as its Pride season and I’ve been sharing various iterations of my own story as part of my role as a diversity champion at work. So here it is.
I knew something was up when I sat in the cinema at 12 years old, breaking my heart over Titanic, which I went to see 3 times while it was showing. I wasn’t sad because the hero Jack had frozen to death in the ice cold sea, but because Kate Winslet was left all by herself on a raft with no one to save her.
In fact, while all my friends were swooning over Leonardo De Caprio and how gorgeous he was, I was dreaming about the lovely Kate and wondering what it would have been like to be Jack.
I’d like to say that was the first time there may have been an indication that I was attracted to women, but before that I had had a huge crush on an Australian teacher at the age of 10, and a Canadian female family friend at 11, both of which sent me in to hours of day dreaming. There was also the real-life situation of what was going on with my best friend at the time, something which we kept top secret because we knew it was forbidden after my mum walked in on us kissing one day. She was beyond livid and had banned us from being alone together for a while after that and was now keeping a beady eye on the both of us.

So I think it’s safe to say that by the time I hit 13, there were plenty of signs. I was living a double life by then – joining in with my friends at school when they talked about which boys they fancied and then going to my friend’s house after school and spending hours making out with her. I even got a boyfriend because I didn’t want anyone to find out that I wasn’t like everyone else. That lasted for about 6 months and I pretty much hated every minute of it. I broke it off in the end and actually told him the real reason why. Amazingly, he kept my confidence and no-one found out until I was outed by a boy in my class in the last year of school. At this point just after I split up with my boyfriend, I was very much in a state of mind where I was feeling desperately lonely and isolated. The only person who understood how I was feeling was the best friend who I was “pashing” with, but I didn’t feel like that was enough as she didn’t seem to know how to articulate what was happening between us and baulked when I mentioned the word “lesbian”. I actually remember her response when I said that I thought we might be lesbians. “We’re not lesbians,” she said, “we just love each other.” I’ll never forget that and, looking back, I think it’s a wonderful way to look at the world, whatever her reasons at the time.

Not knowing who to turn to to talk to about all these confusing feelings (I didn’t know anyone else who was openly gay), I focussed my attention on a teacher at school, who all the kids said was a lesbian. To be fair, she was pretty androgynous and, as far as we knew, she wasn’t married. She was also a PE teacher, so there you go – all the usual stereotypes ticked. I know what I’ll do, I thought, I’ll talk to Miss A about how I’m feeling. She’ll know what to do. So one day, I gave her a note in which I said I had a problem that I needed to discuss with her, and she told me to come to her office after registration one morning.

I’ll never forget how sick and nervous I felt. I don’t think I slept the night before and when I got to the office I was physically shaking. “Now, what’s the matter”, she said, in her usual no-nonsense manner. “I… I…. I… I think I’m… Urm… Well… I’m like you!” I stuttered – barely able to speak.
“Pardon?” she said, which completely threw me as there was no way I could say the word “lesbian” to her. Somehow, I managed to get out that all the kids said that she liked women and at that point it started to go badly. Rather than focussing on the fact that she obviously had a very distressed young girl in front of her, confessing her deepest, darkest secret and desperately seeking advice, she honed in on the rumours that were going around the school and said that they were “slanderous” and wanting to know who was saying these things. Eventually, she said that she wasn’t gay and that if I was attracted to girls, it was probably a phase. I left her office burning with shame once again.

Why might she have done this? And why might the teachers further down the line not have taken action to intervene when I was being bullied at school? I think it was very much related to the legacy of Section 28, which was still in everyone’s minds. Added to the fact that there wasn’t the focus on lessons focussed on healthy relationships, identity and community that there are these days. The sex education was were given was the sterile version of sperm plus egg results in reproduction. Again, nothing about consent, staying healthy or same sex relationships. No acknowledgement whatsoever that there may be other forms of love, or love-making. And so there was no support structure in place to allow teachers to tackle issues like homophobic bullying or coming out safely as a teenager.

So after the incident with my PE teacher, I wasn’t in a hurry to have a similar conversation with anyone else. I became quite introverted, withdrawing in to myself and spending lots of time writing in my diary all the things I couldn’t say out loud. The great thing about being blind was that I could keep a Braille diary and my parents couldn’t snoop and read it. A kind support assistant at school even let me use the school’s braille embosser to print it out on paper rather than keeping it stored on the electronic machine I carried around which was called the Braille ‘n Speak. This was before I started to learn how to use a lap top computer with screen reading software.

I also borrowed braille books from the Royal National Library for the Blind on anything to do with sexuality and coming out. I remember one book in particular – it was called A Journey Out and contained lots of helpful information, especially about gay people not being abnormal, as well as signposting to help and support for teens. The trouble was that the book was American and all the helpline numbers and points of contact were in the US, so were no good tome. The internet didn’t exist for me back then and so there was no going online and looking at internet forums for advice and support.

One night when I was 14 I was watching TV in my room and saw an advert for an adult chatline. “Want to talk to likeminded people,” the gravelly voice-over said, “right now real people from all over the UK are calling our virtual chatroom where you can either talk as a group or go in to a virtual private room for a one on one, private conversation.” The number, which wasn’t premium rate but was a 0207 London number, was then read out and I had a lightbulb moment. If I couldn’t speak my thoughts in real life and find people who were gay, maybe this was the answer.

Over the next few months I spent every evening up in my bedroom, my ear to my mobile phone, dialled in to the phoneline. This was, I suppose, the pre-cursor to internet chatrooms. Rather than women who were paid to take premium rate sex calls, this was actually a line for real people. You recorded a personal greeting and you could flick through other people’s greetings with your keypad. If you liked the sound of someone, you could request to have a one to one conversation with them and if they accepted, you’d be entered in to a private conversation, which you could exit by pressing a specific number. There were people from all walks of life on that line. Bored housewives, lonely single people, people in unhappy marriages who didn’t necessarily want affairs but something still slightly dangerous and exciting. And of course, there was me. I didn’t disclose my actual age (you were supposed to be 18 to use the chatline), so I invented a persona. I was Kate, an 18 year old A-level student interested in talking specifically to women.

I spoke to various different people and built up sudo-friendships with some regulars. Most of the conversations weren’t actually that sexual at first. There were lots of bi-curious women callers who just wanted to start exploring their attraction to other women and I chatted to them about all kinds of things – their lives, their jobs, their relationships with men which they either wanted to get out of or couldn’t get out of for various reasons and of course, their attraction to other women.

It made me feel like I wasn’t alone and I became less engaged with the real world and obsessed with spending every spare minute on the phone. My parents worked and by then I was allowed to come home from school and be in the house by myself, so I had ample opportunity until they got home and after I went to bed, to talk. I didn’t speak to any men and rejected any attempts at one to ones from them. And of course after a while, my conversations with women did turn sexual.

At some point, my parents wised-up to the fact that I was never off the phone. That’s when my mother decided to bug my room, installing a baby monitor so that she could overhear my conversations. As soon as she realised they were sexual in nature, she stormed upstairs and demanded to know what was going on. She took my phone and immediately pressed redail. I was beyond mortified. “What the hell is this?” she said as she listened to the introduction and then started flicking through the various intro-greetings from the people on the line. “What the hell!!! Are you talking to men on here?” she yelled. “No!” I said, my face flushing, “I’m not interested in men!” I shouted, starting to cry. Idon’t really remember the rest of the conversation probably because I’ve tried to block it out, but I do remember the word “phase” being used a lot.

My phone was confiscated and I was grounded. After that I had the humiliation of having to go to the next door neighbours house after school every day until my parents got home. I wanted to die from the shame.

I was devastated. Not only at the horror of having my parents find out that I was having regular phone sex with women, but also heart-broken because I felt like my ownly connection to the gay world had been shut down. Relations with my parents were terrible and I felt completely lost and alone once again. Soon after this incident I tried to take my own life by taking an overdose.

Thankfully, my parents found me and rushed me to hospital. But I was so angry with my parents and full of despair. I cried all night in the hospital bed and in the morning I had a psychiatric assessment. The psychiatrist told me that I should be focussing on my relationship with my parents who clearly cared about me a great deal and to go home and get on with being a teenager. Never mind my inner-turmoil about being gay, or feelings that my life wasn’t worth living.

So after that, I rebelled. I started going to a local LGB youth group in secret. I got a girlfriend and started having sex. I stayed out after school with my friends getting smashed on Red Square, Lambrini and Blue Wicked – anything we could get our hands on. I hated being at home. At weekends I would tell my parents I was staying over at a friend’s house and we’d head to the local gay bar on Saturday afternoons and then stay out in to the early hours at the local gay club getting completely wasted. My friend’s parents didn’t really care and this made it easier. They thought my parents were too controlling and actually lied to them about where I was on numerous occasions, so that we could go out and have fun. Looking back now I realise how irresponsible and risky that was and understand why my mother nearly punched my friend’s mum when she found out what had been going on. My friend was pregnant by the time she was sixteen.

Shortly before leaving school, I was outed by a boy in my class. I had a steady girlfriend at that time and he picked up my phone and read a text message from her and before school had ended that day, it was all around the school that I was a lesbian. When I was “outed”, all the teachers knew what was going on. They knew I was being hounded with questions and that the other kids were saying vulgar things too and about me. One kid repeatedly sang the chorus of an Eminem song to me, saying that it was clearly about me needing a dildo because I was gay: “now this looks like a job for me, so everybody just follow me, ‘cause we need a little controversy, ‘cause it feels so empty without me.” But none of the teachers did or said anything to stop this.

Thankfully by this point I had pretty much developed a couldn’t give a fuck attitude and was determined that no-one was going to stop me from being who I was. That might sound a bit bold and brazen for a sixteen year old, but I think it was largely based on the fact that I had grown up with a disability and had already spent the first fifteen years of my life proving people wrong when they said I couldn’t do the things I wanted to do. So my sexuality and coming out at school was really an extension of that, and I channelled the attitude I had about my own abilities into dealing with what was going on at school. But inside I was deeply unhappy and couldn’t wait to get out of the small town I grew up in, to make a fresh start.

I left school with excellent grades despite all this and left home as soon as I got my GCSE’s and moved to another city altogether to do my A-levels at a college for the blind. I ended the relationship with my wonderful, sweet and kind girlfriend from my home town a few months after I moved away so that I could play the field and I think I’ll always feel guilty for breaking her heart, because she didn’t’ deserve it.

I continued my party lifestyle, now being freer than ever to meet women. After a year at college I moved off Campus as I couldn’t stand the restrictions of having to be back in your room by 11.30 and not being allowed to have people staying over and moved in to a college-owned housewith the friend who I wrote about in my post about blind parents. At this time my depression really took hold. I continued to self-medicate, cry lots, put myself in risky situations and eventually, I put myself in therapy which was the best decision I could have made.

I’ve had lots of therapy on and off since then, to begin with to deal with my experience of coming out and the rift with my parents and nowadays because I think it’s healthy to have sperts of therapy every now and then to cleanse. I also began studying to become a psychotherapist – something which is currently on hold for financial reasons but which involves you having to have therapy yourself while you’re training.

I’m now happily married to a wonderful woman who is incredibly caring and loving. She’s also hilarious and we have such a good time together. She’s also had her share of issues – she grew up in South Africa where being gay just wasn’t an option and came out much later on after she’d been in the UK for a long time. But this isn’t her story and so I won’t tell it.

Am I happy? Yes, mostly. I say mostly because I still struggle with anxiety and depression sometimes and I’ve also recently become estranged from my mother, for many complicated reasons which I won’t go into here. That in itself is a lot to deal with and I’m back in therapy at this point to help me to process that.

I’m out to more or less everyone I know, except the odd person who – instinctively – I choose not to disclose my sexuality to, such as the male cab driver late at night who asks if I’m married, or the old lady on the bus who notices my wedding ring and says: “I hope your husband takes good care of you.” We have a beautiful home, we go on numerous holidays every year and we’re about to go travelling around the world, taking a career break to do so in December, so all in all I’m very lucky and I know that things could have gone very differently if I’d stayed on the path of self-distruction that I started out on as a teenager. Nowadays my self-sabataging tendancies only rear their head once in a while and I know to keep a firm grip on them.

So that’s my coming out story. It’s pretty messy and I’ve been in some fucked up situations. But I think that goes for a lot of gay people as they try and navigate their way out of the closet to a place of acceptance and self-love. Happy Pride everyone, wherever you are in the world, whatever point you’re at in your journey and whatever your story. Be out and proud if you can, but most of all, love and respect yourself for who you are.