Coming out. Again

You don’t come out just once. You come out many times over the course of your life…

[I wrote this for National Coming Out Day, but have been rather ill since I drafted it, so only just getting around to posting it.

I was asked to write this piece by a friend of mine when I was trying to explain to her how coming out isn’t a one time only kinda thing]

 

 

You don’t come out just once.

So many people presume heterosexuality as being the obvious default that for someone who isn’t attracted to/only to people of the opposite gender, there are always people who don’t know, people who are making incorrect assumptions about your sexuality. On a regular basis you have to choose whether or not to correct them. Whether or not to come out. Whether or not it’s worth it this time.

The first time I came out I walked hand in hand into a place of work with a woman I had kissed the previous night, where I was met with colleagues telling me they had seen me the night before, that it was hot as hell, and asking if this meant I didn’t like boys any more. I hadn’t been kissing a girl for any reason other than the fact I fancied her, but I didn’t have the words to really explain this (other than that simple statement), nor did I have the words to say much more than that I liked both men and women. I learned how to express my sexuality quite effectively though as I spent the next few years with men trying to convince me and said woman to have a threesome with them.

Was it worth it? Yes. Despite the hassle I got afterwards, it was worth it as it was the first time I really admitted in public that I liked both women and men. I found something very empowering in making the decision to own my sexuality at that point in my life…

Then there was the time I was forced to come out. A man I had been dating for a while had been told by a friend of his that I had slept with women in the past, and he wanted to know if this meant I was promiscuous. By this stage I was older, wiser, and far more able to explain that sleeping with a woman rather than a man provided no insight into how promiscuous I was.

Was it worth it? Well, I didn’t really have a choice. I didn’t think it was really any business of anyone else at the time who I had slept with in the past, and had clearly made the decision not to get to tell the guy I was dating at the time too much about my past. It did however have the benefit of pointing out to me that I should probably end my current relationship…

Another time I came out was while talking to mental health professionals when trying to get treatment for depression. The woman I was talking to asked about my sexual and romantic history, so innocently I provided it, mentioning both male and female ex partners. She raised her eyebrows about these, and told me it may be indicative of an underlying instability. I was more than a little angry about this, ranted to a few friends as soon as I left the room, but wasn’t in a place to do anything about it. Given the response, which also made me close down about being open about any other parts of my life history, made me feel that someone was trying to interpret my sexuality as a sign that there was something wrong with me, it certainly didn’t feel worth coming out this time.

And then there was the time I mentioned a girlfriend to my father. And the last time I consciously mentioned an ex girlfriend to my work colleagues because for some reason at the time it felt important. And… And…

I can’t count how many times I’ve either had to or chosen to come out to different groups and individuals. And I know that I’m not alone in this – it’s something that many of my non-heterosexual friends have experienced. When you ‘come out’ the first time, it may be that you tell someone significant – be that close friends or family – but it is far from the only time you will have to own your sexuality, and correct other people’s preconceptions.

And each time takes the same calculations about whether or not it is worth it this time, whether or not you’re in the place to deal with possible questions, and how important it is to be true to yourself measured against any possible negative judgments or repercussions.

Although time makes it easier– and for me at least, so does the fact that I’m lucky enough to have been born in a country where my sexuality isn’t illegal – there are still too many instances when I slightly hold my breath as I casually drop in mention of an ex girlfriend when in conversation with people who aren’t aware, those who are newer in my life and haven’t known me when I’ve been dating a woman (the last significant woman in my life was pre-university).

And because I’ve realised it does matter to me that I don’t feel I’m having to hide a part of who I am, and because most people do still tend to default to presuming you are straight unless you say otherwise, and because I plan to keep meeting new people, people who don’t know that I’m attracted to both men and women, I guess I’m going to have to keep on coming out.

Waving goodbye to July

What a month July was – I’m not sure I’ve had such a busy month for a very long time… lots of travelling as part of work (doing NHS Citizen stuff), but also lots of seeing friends in different places such as managing to see my best friend in Manchester, and fulfilling a life long desire to stroll up the Champs-Élysées for breakfast after lots of jazz.

I still managed to do a bunch of reading though…

Things I read

Tanglewreck – Jeanette Winterson
“Today lies on top of yesterday. And yesterday on top of the day before, and so on down the layers of history, until the layers are so thick that the voices underneath are muffled to whispers”

You can rarely go wrong with a good children book – and this is an OK one. Gorgeous concept, but I’m possibly a bit too old and too ‘sciency’ to buy into the idea of time travel as portrayed here.
 
Mrs Dalloway – Virginia Woolf
It had long been on my to read pile – but I found that I really need to spend some time just sat down with it as the largely stream of consciousness writing style meant it wasn’t a book to pick up and put down. It explores some of my favourite themes – interactions between individuals, understanding/acceptance of decisions made, reinterpretation/subjectivity of perspectives, and mental health. The ending made me itch with frustration as I wanted greater resolution…
 
Gilead – Marilynne Robinson
Time, age, and introspection seemed common themes for books in July. I loved the period of time the book could span due to the tale told, always from a single perspective. Reading through an individuals slow stepping their way towards forgiveness – you can read this as a book about faith, or you can remove the religious aspect entirely and read it as being about family, relationships, and human interactions.

 

Things I did

  • Building Digital Democracy event in Parliament – interesting afternoon. I wasn’t convinced by everything that was being presented as being new/interesting/valuable, but certainly a step in the right direction of getting digital and parliament talking to each other more. Wednesday lunch time is rarely a good time for a Parliamentary event though.
  • Turkish baths, champagne, and chinese in Harrogate – there is a place in Harrogate where you can do 3 of the best things ever. You can go to Turkish baths (bathing, heat, cool water, all surrounded by amazing architecture), and then eat chinese and drink champagne after. Possibly the best evening of my life.
  • Open Government Partnership launch – I’m very pro greater openness in Government, so was very happy to be at the launch event for the next national action plan. It was excellent to be involved in conversations about ‘open data’ going beyond just openness in terms of licensing. Anyone who has heard me rant about this over the last few years will know *quite* how happy I was to hear others talking in these terms in this meeting…
  • Wikimedia UK Volunteer Strategy Gathering – conversations about communities, community building/empowering, strategy, and open knowledge, genuinely fit into my idea of a good time on a Saturday. I may be somewhat of a nerd though… I’m not convinced by the processes they are currently proposing, nor their focus on committees and advisory boards, but we shall see what happens next!

Things I saw

Fast and Furious 6 and 7 – Incredible. For all the wrong/right reasons. 7 was the better of the two – if only for bonus Jason Statham, The Rock pulling a gun from a Predator drone having literally flexed a cast off his arm, Vin Diesel and the amazing car jump to hook a bag of grenades onto a helicopter. Oh and a glorious scene where a car is driven through multiple towers in Abu Dhabi. And the bit where the team parachute out of a plane in their cars. It’s ludicrous. But so much fun.

Green Hornet – An absolute farce and terrible film that was perfect for a giggly evening in with pizza. Will NEVER watch it again, and will never recommend it.

The Man Who Knew Too Little – Mildly amusing. Not recommended

Ferris Bueller’s Day Off– Hard not to see the appeal for many. A giggle and a backward glange to an idealised teenage day that no-one ever actually had, and to a person none of us ever were.

 

So, roll on August – a month of more travel, lots of planned films, and hopefully some time to actually see some exhibitions. I plan to actually settle down and get back into reading something non-fictional as well, and I have the feeling I have some proms tickets for something…

Wrapping up January

I know… 2 personal blog posts in a row. I shall try not to make it a habit…

The month as a whole:

It was odd – but in a (very) good way. I spent most of 2013 dealing with illness and recovering, and January was the first month I felt back to something like myself. I went to lots of social events, continued working part time and did some additional freelance work looking at open data policies in/around academia, and took a few trips down to London. I’ve even started to look around for new freelance work and jobs. (My current job has a hard deadline in a few months, and my boss knows I’m looking for something else before then). It may be a cliché, but I certainly feel that January has set me off on the right track for the year.

Things I did:

As well as the stuff above, there has been lots of cooking, getting back into running/walking (all of which have helped me lose some weight), and meditating. There have also been a few events – such as helping to run/attend London Open Drinks, and dropping into others including the ICT4DLondon MeetUp.

There are a couple of research projects on the go at present around open access and universities and learned societies. I hope to release some data around these soon – but they’ve been quite a time drain.

Things I didn’t do
  • I wanted to do much more on an Arduino project I have in mind. I’m trying to build a mini weather station from scratch – but I ordered the wrong bits which I didn’t realize until they arrived (taking forever).
  • Jazz dancing – I was going to start jazz dancing, but couldn’t find a good class. I tried a few different places, but they were all not quite right. If you have any suggestions please let me know!
Things I watched
  • I saw the Rocky Horror Picture Show for the first time. And wow – that’s quite the experience. I am disappointed it took me so long to get around to watching it!
  • Roman Holiday. What a perfect lazy, wet, weekend film. I’ve been on something of an old film kick over the winter so may be biased – but it had me giggling much of the way through it. If only more films realized that a fairytale happy ending isn’t necessary…
  • I tried to watch The Fifth Estate – but I got about 20 minutes in and decided I couldn’t take anymore and had far better uses of my time.
Things I read
  • Hackers, Hoaxers, Whistleblower, Spy – by Gabriella Coleman. It’s an excellent and easy to read exploration of Anonymous that’s certainly worth a few hours of anyones time – even if you are less interested in Anonymous itself and more interested in digital activism; and I hope to write a book review up properly at some stage. Perhaps at times her sympathies are slightly too aligned with the group she’s writing about, but I much prefer that than an author who pretends to be totally detached.
  • The Last Continent – Terry Prattchett. I felt ill, I needed a warm and comfortable book to slip in to… and one which I knew very well.
  • There are a couple of others on the go at present but as I’ve not finished them, I’ll omit them for now…
I’ve been thinking about:
  • Citizen science – I’ve had a blog post in the back of my mind for a long time about how citizen science has potential to be much greater than academics using citizens to measure/record data – and how open hardware and citizen labs opens up some really interesting ideas. I really need to get these thoughts down somewhere, rather than just talk at friends.
  • Data privacy and ownership in citizen science/crowd-sourced projects – This is as issue I rarely see come up – and something that I think needs to be discussed more. This well-meaning and potentially valuable project from the Guardian started this line of thinking
  • Citizens engaging politicians – I’d like to see a lot more of it – rather than people just complaining that their MP doesn’t listen to them. With an election coming up there are some great opportunities for this…
  • That we need much more PR/media/politician friendly comms work on tech and Internet issues. A lot more.
  • The Green Party – How will the Party change and evolve as its membership grows and expands beyond an ideological core? They’ve had such a recent expansion.. and it will be fascinating to see what happens next.
  • Digital democracy – whatever that means
  • Academic publishing, institutional repositories and the politics that lie within universities…
And Februrary?

I need and want to do more writing. I always say that, but this month I shall succeed. There is also a science/tech hustings to organize in Cambridge, and already a few trips around the country on the to do list, as well as some stuff I can’t yet talk about.

My main aim for February is to be completely confident by the end of the month that I’ve recovered – which is totally doable I think.

So onward to February….!

Screen-free Sunday

I forgot how much I like it. How freeing I find closing my laptop on Saturday evening, putting my phone aside, and drifting off to sleep, knowing I shall not look at either again until Monday morning.

You see – as much as I like being part of a huge connected world – I like time to myself. Time to think, reflect, and feel. I find the time that I’m actively disconnected is peaceful; much more peaceful than the time when I just happen not to be online. I think better and bigger. I seem to have more space in my mind for thoughts, and being offline helps me concentrate on the world around me more, because I don’t have a thought process running in the back of my head wondering about the latest news story, or what someone has said in response to an online conversation.

I love the excuse Screen-free Sunday gives me to put down tasks and distracting thoughts. I’m half thinking about that email I need to write? Well, I can’t do it today, so I just dismiss the thoughts – and I find it much easier to do that than if there is no real impediment to me responding. There’s a research project in the back of my mind? Well I’ll just make a note of what I want to look up, and leave it until tomorrow.

This leaves me more energy to throw into the offline world. I spend time reading, walking, and seeing friends. Or thinking. Or doing little tasks that I mean to do daily – before I get pulled into a world of links and ever incoming thoughts from others. Because I turn off the radio as well (and don’t have a TV), I find that Screen-free Sunday gives me time when I’m not being inundated with other peoples opinions; giving me better opportunity to make my own.

When I wake up on the Sunday, I find the first few hours oddly empty but soothing, and it’s not until mid morning that I find myself feeling ever so slightly anxious. Luckily, as long as I’ve prepared a bit the night before (such as making sure I have pulled any recipes from the Internet) – this unease disappears quickly, leaving my time to lose myself somewhere.

And this Sunday I lost myself in a book. It’s been a long time since I gave myself enough time to read a book in an entire sitting. And I enjoyed having the opportunity to do so with something so wonderfully written as ‘Down and Out in Paris and London’.

I also took the time to write a letter by hand – something I hadn’t done for years. But with a grandmother who doesn’t use technology, it’s something I ought to do more often.

The day passed at a seemingly much slower rate than my online days. There seemed so much time and space. And when I went to bed, I was peaceful in a way that I rarely am: my brain an odd mix of totally relaxed and fully alert.

And 24 hours later I still feel reasonably refreshed after the break I took. I’ve been reminded of the choice to be online, rather than seeing it as an expectation or requirement. And for that I’m grateful. It’s something I find very easy to forget.

And I’m also grateful to Doug Belshaw for reminding me (ironically via a tweet) of my love for Screen-free Sunday. And I’m already looking forward to the next one.

My use case – on twitter and mental health

This is my use case and user story around twitter and mental health. It was originally part of this blog post on the Samaritans Radar, but I removed it to make the post easier/shorter to read, and it felt clunky to have the inclusion of something so personal. However, it adds weight to the point I am trying to convey to the Samaritans so I wanted to include it somewhere.

Use Case

I am an 18-35 (target age for the app) woman who has used Twitter as part of their professional and personal life for several years. Until recently I was working in high profile positions, but I’ve spent the last few months recovering from suicidal depression and anxiety.

I use twitter in a semi professional capacity, and although I deliberately engage with conversations around mental health, because twitter is public I am very conscious not to be too obvious about my engagement with these issues due to perceived potential impact on my future professional life. My mental health problems probably makes me more anxious about this than I need to be, but I am happy that my involvement around these issues can be construed solely as my involvement with conversations around inclusion and equality.

My user story

Let’s presume there is a bit of software being designed to flag concerning tweets to people who follow me on twitter.

    • I want to know that such a piece of software is discrete, as I do not want to feel limited or silenced in my exploration of mental health issues. I self censor enough already (indeed it’s part of what caused my current problem) and do not want to do so still further. I will self censor further if I feel it becomes even easier to watch what I am saying publicly.
    • I do not want others to feel they need to be censored further than they already are, and would like others around me to feel able to continue discussing mental health issues, as I’ve found great support even knowing that other people have experienced issues, and being able to observe and engage with those who are more open and frank has allowed me to find some key people to talk with and some significant support.

Having a number of emotionally insensitive but technologically adept friends, I know people who would be likely to specifically use an app like this to check up on me. I would be concerned that certain individuals would be more likely to use an app than waste a few seconds skimming back through past tweets, and may be likely to end up missing actual warning flags, which in my instance are very unlikely to be something picked up by sentiment analysis.

  • No matter how suicidal I’ve been, I would never, ever tweet something like ‘I can’t go on’ or ‘I’m so depressed’. It wouldn’t be professional, and the possibility of someone seeing something like that makes me incredibly anxious. Anything that approaches a cry for help or warning flag about my mental health is unlikely to be picked up by any form of basic analysis.
  • I also don’t want to cause a fuss, so being aware of specific trigger words that may cause a fuss would make me consciously not use them. Furthermore, I am private about my mental health, and do not want to talk about such issues with most people. In fact, most people raising the topic is something that causes anxiety in me and makes things worse – as I don’t want my health problems to be noticeable.

 

To be frank, for me a piece of software that potentially analyses my tweets and alerts my friends to what it considers to be negative content has absolutely no positive effects for me. Instead it will cause me harm, making me even more self aware about how I present in a public space, and make it difficult for me to engage in relatively safe conversations online for fear that a warning might be triggered to an unknown follower, and I’d need to negotiate some odd combination of lying about my mental health (which is bad for me and makes things more confusing and difficult), or telling the truth about my mental health (which I don’t want to do and shouldn’t need to do).