A sense of belonging…

Not long ago I wrote a blog about religion and how I associated it with a sense of community and belonging and that this is something I have always craved but never felt.

I also spoke about how I have struggled with religion throughout my life because of the negative aspects that are portrayed in the news. I feel that acceptance within a religious community is conditional and that there are quite strict rules to abide which can be very much open to interpretation. I also feel that religion can be used to mould and manipulate especially by leaders who may abuse their power. It is a shame as equally religion can bring together people, communities, and societies to share common beliefs and be something rather special.

With that thought in mind and knowing that I still have hope that this does exist alongside with the fact that faith is important to my partner I was intrigued and open to going along with her to a church service. I don’t think I have ever been to a normal church service, and I know I have never been to Holy Communion. However, I was open minded, and I wanted to share something that means a lot to her especially as her church is an inclusive church and openly LGBT+ friendly.

On arrival we were greeted by warm friendly faces, I had no idea really what to expect or how I would feel.

The service started and the woman stood there with a smile on her face, welcoming us all to sing the first hymn. I have always liked singing so this is a part of church services that I knew I would enjoy. However, I have to admit that it didn’t take long for me to feel slightly uncomfortable. I’m not 100% sure why but I feel it was partly down to how ‘official’ it felt (I can’t think of a better word to describe it) as there were a few people in full religious attire walking around the church with a large cross and swaying incense around or the fact that I felt the service was a little preachy, especially when the service mentioned sins and sinning.

I found myself zoning out throughout the sermons and felt as though this was almost an enforced time of quiet reflection.

As I sat there, I had this deep sense of feeling lost and suddenly I felt a little sad, but I forced myself to be in the moment which worked for so long. Then everyone was invited to partake in the Holy Communion and again having never experienced it I wanted to try it and for some bizarre reason it was when the two women leading the service smiled at me, said ‘the body of Christ’ and placed the wafer in my hand that I could feel my eyes welling up. I sat back down trying my best to stop as I felt a few tears trickle down my face and when my partner noticed she took my hand in hers.

When the service ended as we went to leave the church the woman who led the service came over to say hello and introduced herself to me. She was very warm and welcoming. I haven’t been to church often, but I have to say that this was the first time that I felt genuinely welcomed, that the people felt friendly, and I also felt acknowledged even though I wasn’t a member of the congregation.

As we drove away my partner asked me what had made me feel emotional and I felt like it was an odd thing to say that the service had made me realise that I feel a little lost and that it was the first time in my life that I had genuinely felt welcomed, included, and accepted for who I am by strangers.

I can’t say that going to church on a regular basis is something that I feel is necessarily something for me, but I am pleased that I went, not only to experience something important to my partner but also to see for my own eyes that religious people can be accepting and that it can be inclusive and create a sense of belonging.

I have been left with a sense of hope and faith in people which is something that has been wavering within me as I have felt that there are less and less genuine people in the world and that friendships and relationships are often conditional or fickle. However, I am determined to remain positive and hopeful and to share my life with those who are genuine and who love and accept me for who I am, unconditionally.

I feel that sometimes especially when our confidence and self-worth has been knocked it can be all too easy to hold onto anyone and everyone in our lives even if we know deep down that may not be the best for us as we can be afraid of being on our own or being the one to walk away. However, we are all worthy of surrounding ourselves with people who add to our lives rather than drain us and who value us as much as we value them.

Pride month

When I think of pride, I think of Pride festivals…. I remember going to the very first Pride in Hull which was held 20 years ago. I cannot believe I was only 14! We marched through the streets of Hull, and I remember feeling liberated and happy to be part of this occasion. However, it was tainted for me by a member of the public who decided to hurl abuse at us. Maybe this is why I didn’t return to Hull Pride again until 2 years ago when I went with my best friend and our girls. I love the fact that she was happy to come with me and did not care what people thought. Due to Covid restrictions it wasn’t held last year and has sadly been cancelled again this year, but fingers crossed it will return next year.

I clearly wasn’t put off Pride festivals as I decided to be a rebel and went to London Pride aged 16 on my own!!! I didn’t know anyone who was going or in fact anyone who lived in London but that didn’t put me off. I think I would be more anxious now but then I just went to enjoy the atmosphere, be surrounded by like-minded people and to have a good time.

I know that times have changed (well…mostly) and that being a member of the LGBTQ+ community is more widely accepted but I still find it hard. Being a lesbian is a part of me, but it does not define who I am.

I first knew I was a lesbian when I was 14 years old but going back 20 years the internet wasn’t how it is today so I couldn’t google, ‘am I a lesbian?’ or find support easily. Being home educated and not seeing many people my own age didn’t help either. I remember being told as a teenager that being a lesbian was no doubt a phase. I struggled not having people to mix with or talk to about it and ended up turning to the internet to try and find people.

It is funny what seems important to us as teenagers/young adults and for as long as I can remember I knew that I wanted children. At that time, I also dreamed of a white wedding and being the blushing bride. At a time where it was difficult to meet people and knowing that I wanted to ‘fit’ in caused me internal conflict which led to some dark times. I spent a few years trying to convince myself that I was straight, telling myself it would be ok as I would ‘fit’ in and could be the blushing bride and have children.

And I ended up meeting someone who I was in a relationship with for quite awhile during that time and he was lovely, the perfect gentleman. I knew I loved him but more like a brother or a best friend than anything else. This made it easier in a way as I genuinely enjoyed his company and my family adored him, but it was also hard, as despite my best efforts I could not live a lie and so I had to end the relationship. By the age of 21 I could not hide the fact I was a lesbian any longer despite knowing at the time that this meant forgoing the possibility of being the blushing bride and not knowing if I would be able to have children.

I am pleased that I had the strength to follow my heart despite it not being the easiest decision.

For some reason I still find it hard to be open about my sexuality which in a way frustrates me as I know in the past it has become more of an issue because I have tried to hide it. I know this is because I am afraid of judgement. Although I know that I would not want to be friends with people who are homophobic I also like to be liked.

When I was married, I used to struggle when people asked me what my husband was called or what he did and so I used to talk about them as ‘they’ to try and avoid the fact that I actually had a wife. Starting a new life, after leaving my abusive relationship, has given me opportunities to change how I present myself and so I am trying to be more open and honest with people. So when people assume that because I have children I must have been with a man or that I only came out after having children, I correct them.

I sometimes wonder if people would make the same assumptions if I looked like a lesbian – not that I am saying there is a look, but I know some people assume that all lesbians are butch and so because I am feminine people may assume that I am not a lesbian.

Now that life is returning to some sort of normality I would like to try and meet new people but when it comes to joining events, I get nervous and despite wanting to go I struggle to put myself out there, after all, who knows what opportunities there may be or who I may meet. I know this is something that I need to get over and I would like to learn to be proud of who I am.

I truly hope that people are becoming more accepting, open minded and less judgemental. I remember someone saying that the worst thing that could happen to their child is if they were gay, I wholeheartedly disagree. As a parent, I hope that my daughters will be happy in their own skin, and I will love them regardless of their sexuality.

After all,….