Post Pride Thoughts

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Pride can be scary for a whole host of reasons – the thousands of people, the noise, the drinking, but by far the most frightening part is the fear of being attacked. I can’t count the number of times my friends and I have planned what we would do in the event of a terrorist attack. Walking across Embankment after the march, we breathed a collective sigh of relief because, well, we weren’t attacked, we got out of Pride alive. We’re 16 and 17. We shouldn’t really be considering our mortality this young.

In recent weeks, we’ve seen as a community how our mere existence can be threatened and arguably that no space is safe.

You would think, for all our forms of activism and accomplishment, that we were safe as openly LGBT+ people. But rarely is this the case. Or at least it doesn’t feel like it.

Pride isn’t necessarily celebratory – it can be terrifying. Being openly LGBT+ can be terrifying. You don’t know who you’re going to meet trudging round the streets of London, or on the tube. And it’s not as if we’re inconspicuous with our rainbow facepaint and rainbow flags-come-togas wrapped around our bodies. Quite frankly, we shouldn’t have to be invisible (on a slightly digressional note, walking around the back of Waterloo, a woman, spotting my friends and I immediately exclaimed to her family ‘this place is full of lesbians’ before promptly running away. Apparently the gay is catching or something).

For the most part, Pride is fantastic. People join together in comradery. Yes, there are huge corporate floats (although, prize for the best float must go to the Absolutely Fabulous float. It was, as per the name, ABSOLUTELY FABULOUS), but the community vibe far surpasses anything I’ve really ever known again.

Pride is like coming home and meeting family you’d vaguely heard of but maybe hadn’t met yet. I was alone for a lot of Pride this year but it didn’t matter; a group of teens in Soho Square let me crash with them (and fed me veggie cocktail sausages!). I’m not very good with people, or at least I’m poor at making friends. At Pride, there are no barriers. I met families and drunk twenty somethings and to be honest, they were all as equally pleasant to me.

I always cry at Pride. For the same reasons I cry watching Finding Nemo, or at football matches, or concerts. I feel like Pride is where all the rejects went and made friends, where we found home, and comfort. It’s where, as that fab drag queen in Tottenham Court Road station sang* ‘I am what I am’, without apology, or explanation. It’s a space to simply just be.

The sad fact is that it is also almost the only place.

 

*actually, it might have been Shirley Bassey. Either way…

Define: The Teenage Girl

Existing as a teenage girl is an act of survival. It’s an act of going into war. Battered, bruised and bandaged back up. We know blood better than most men ever will. We steal our mother’s red lipstick, plaster it across our lips in the hope of growing up. We grow up too soon. We wear glitter and dungarees in the hope we never do. We learn to accessorize, with £1 earrings from Primark. We are taught to close our mouths, zip them shut, lock them, throw away the key. We are taught to keep them that way until we are meant to defend ourselves from violation. We taught that our ‘No’ can only ever be implicit. We learn that we are not to be believed.

We squeal and giggle and laugh with gay(!) abandon when we’re together because we know it’s safe to do so. We prioritize our female friendships in an act of defiant self-care. We share blood ties with our sisterhood, a shared bond uniting a generation who never thought they were enough. We were never enough. Not pretty enough, not thin enough, not rich enough, not clever enough. We turned ourselves into to-do lists and corrected ourselves as though it were a chore. We allow ourselves to exist in our imperfect state, but never happily so. Teenage girls are not allowed to be happy. We want to die. Often.
Teenage girls read. We read magazines. We read Classics with a capital C. We read chic lit. None of these determine our intelligence. We read about Helen of Troy, Persephone, Hermione Granger and Joan of Arc. We are damsels in distress or we are heroines. We are symbols in a strange, fucked-up dichotomy. We are pure and virginal or we are angst-ridden, sexualised and unreasonable.  We hold power for what we are not who we are. We are mass consumers of industries which serve to dismantle our sense of self. We are of great economic value; companies cannot afford to neglect the whims and wants of The Teenage Girl. We are empowered, but only as slaves of capitalism. We are taught that all empowerment is positive. We are told to be grateful, as though we aren’t aware they could be all too easily taken from us.
Teenage girls don’t know what the world wants from them. We reincarnate ourselves a thousand times over, three quarters out of a need to conform, the rest in an attempt to find ourselves. We are lost.  We wonder if this is it? If this is all there is in life? Surely, there must be more than this? When there is so much in our heads, whole worlds, entire galaxies of possibilities, how on earth can this be the only space we are allowed to take up?  We look up through the glass ceiling and start building our matching walls.
We realise we will never be taken seriously. We learn our words mean nothing when they leave our lips or we write them down. We start crossing out our ideas in our minds, striking them through with red pen like the cuts on our wrists, hidden beneath bracelets we got in the TopShop sale. We eat pizza with our friends and watch Harry Potter. We argue over Snape and Dumbledore. We get drunk. We cry over not being desirable. We love and loathe ourselves for being unattractive. We choke on the insecurity. We throw up the pizza.
We all thought we were destined to be fuck ups. At least that’s what all of the literature had lead us to believe. We’d like to say that our experiences show otherwise, but no, we are probably what has (so eloquently) been described as a fuck-up. There is power, resilience and beauty in being a teenage girl but mostly, we are a mess. We are a mess because we are not given the space to simply exist, and so we collapse in on ourselves. Or we shatter into thousands of sharp sherds that the rest of the world has to tiptoe around.

Teenage girls aren’t fuck-ups. We are the flowers who grew in spite of the weed-killer but never still quite bloomed.

Orlando.

Content warning: homophobia, death, violence. 

It’s 6:30pm and the heavens have opened. Rain, thunder and lightning pour from the sky and I think , deep down, that the earth is mourning. I’ve been sobbing all day, although I know my pain is insignificant compared to those directly involved. Today is one of those days when I realise how awful the world is.

If you don’t know about the Orlando attacks, Google it. I’m not about to regurgitate facts and give you a step by step summary of how so many were killed. The long and short of it is that a lot of LGBT+ people were shot to death in the largest mass shooting in American history. That’s a hard fact to swallow. It’s worse when you’re queer yourself.

I’m not sure why I’m getting so worked up about this. I mean, I live in England, where gun control is strictly implemented and mass shootings practically unheard of, I have nothing to fear. But I can feel nothing but grief. It’s as if the gun shots could be heard from my bedroom, as if those affected were people that I knew and loved, as if I could do something to help. Perhaps in the queer community, we feel each tragedy so greatly because it could so easily have been us. Those of us who live in more liberal countries probably. should feel safer, but we don’t.  We’ve fought so hard for basic human rights but we know that, on a whim, they might be revoked. We are never safe. Events like these just reinforce to us that we are not wanted, that we deserve to die, that we are never protected, even in the spaces we created specifically for that purpose.

The scariest part about this is that it happened in one of our safe spaces. Being queer can be one of the most isolating experience and clubs and bars are often the only amenities available to us to use in private, away from the violence. These are places to escape the outside world, to escape the hurt and just have a good time, hence why Orlando is such a violation of everything we’ve tried to create for ourselves. We, as queer people, are given so few places to be ourselves and to have those taken away from us is to deny us the ability to feel safe and have freedom of expression. Last year, I attended London Pride for the first time and I had wholly prepared myself for some kind of attack, as if it were some kind of inevitability. I do not feel safe, even in the spaces designed for me. I know that security is a privilege I cannot afford.

The day America decided that mass shootings were acceptable, that it was a weight they simply had to bear within society, so many were condemned.  However, this isn’t simply a matter of gun control. Yes, gun control no doubt could have helped to avoid such an event and no doubt fewer lives would have been lost, but queer people will continue to face violence, discrimination and even death as long as intolerance is allowed to be perpetuated.

We cannot look at what happened in Orlando as simply an isolated mass shooting. We have to view it as a culmination of the intolerance which has allowed to be perpetuated. Yes, marriage equality now exists within America, but we are nowhere near done dealing with the way queer people have been systematically oppressed, abused and killed. Orlando shows that This is not about queer people politicising a tragedy, this is about challenging the fact a state-enabled terrorist, fuelled by a climate of intolerance and injustice, was able to occur during Pride Week. No matter what the press might say, this is not just ‘another’ shooting by a Muslim terrorist, this was a terrorist attack committed by a homophobe who was allowed to believe that killing queer people was acceptable. (Also, if anyone uses this event to perpetuate their Islamophobic rhetoric, I might officially lose my cool).

In any other society, such an event would result in radical reform, but in America, I doubt anything will change. Why? Because mass shootings have rarely resulted in meaningful gun control and, what’s more, the fact queer people are involved I reckon makes it even less likely. People are always up for saving white cishet people, but any other marginalised community barely gets a glance over. The media has hardly covered the event here (although, I can tell you lots and lots about Her Majesty’s 90th Birthday Bash. 50 people died today but OF COURSE we must know what Kate Middleton is wearing).

Also, have you read the comments under the news articles? They’ve mostly reminded me how much people would prefer it if I was dead. I’ve seen the shooter congratulated for killing folks like me, because we apparently deserve it. And that’s tragic. And it’s terrifying. And I don’t want to live in a world like that.

As much as prayers are useful and no doubt a source of comfort, what we need is action, on a national and personal level. Regardless of the rigidity of the American political stance, you can always help the LGBT+ community, even if you are not a member yourself. Donate money to charities, if you can. Raise awareness. Educate yourself. Listen to LGBT+ people. Allow us to feel safe and supported. If you don’t know how to do that, please just ask.

Now I’m crying again. I’ve cried so much today that breathing is hard. But there is still oxygen in my lungs, and for that I have to be grateful. Today I have been reminded that my existence as an openly queer person is still a privilege, not a right.

Book Blogging: Why I’m Scared To Do What I Love

I’ve toyed with the idea of book blogging for years. In fact, I’m fairly certain I was aware of the concept of book blogging before I really knew what blogging was. Only I never decided to take action, a decision which I confess I am still regretting.

At the age of 9 I discovered that I could create a blog with no more than an email address and a password. It was only when creating this blog that I realised I had never really deleted the old ones and that, in fact, they were still there on the internet. The first was a blog dedicated to the random and obscure facts I had accumulated – think QI but without the eloquence or wit), the second dedicated to history.

I distinctly remember that, whilst creating these blogs, I toyed with the idea of book blogging. After all, books were perhaps my only consistent passion and I knew lots about them, or at least I did compared to most 9 year olds. But I never made the blog.

Why not? Well, because honestly I don’t know if I’m cut out for book blogging. I love to read, but it takes me an age and I love to truly savour every word; perhaps it’s just my perception but it seems there is something of a pre-occupation in the book community with reading as much as possible. Of course, I do want to read as much as possible because there are SO MANY GOOD BOOKS in the world, but I’d rather enjoy every word in my own time rather than skim several books just to keep up. Honestly, I just imagined that I might never keep up with everyone else. Some might say that I should just prioritise my reading time more, but between 5 A-Levels and some sub-par mental health, I simply do not have the energy to read, no matter how much I want to and probably (ironically, for my sanity) need to.

Now, I will be the first to accept that this is a flawed argument in that it hinges on the idea that every blogger is automatically trying to beat every other blogger and, whilst there does appear to be an element which focuses upon gaining an increasing number of followers, that seems more a consequence of the climate of the internet than the fault of the bookish community.

What I am trying to say (albeit rather unsuccessfully) is that I didn’t want to write about books because I was scared that my writing, my ability to read quickly or my critical approach would be awful in comparison to others whose work I’ve greatly admired over the years. Books have been so important in shaping me as a person and so I wanted to ensure those who wrote about them always did them justice. So, I decided I wouldn’t write about them at all, in case I said the ‘wrong’ things.

Regrettably, I think there is also an element of me who resents the fact I’m not into literature aimed towards me, such as YA, when in fact I’d rather be reading some Euripides or Angela Carter, such renowned adult authors whose work probably doesn’t require a commentary from an ill-informed seventeen year old, typing blog posts into her phone at 3AM.

Nonetheless, I have decided I will start making more bookish things. I’ve realised now that almost all of the book bloggers I know are actually lovely (or at the very least, they’re lovely on Twitter which, let’s be honest, is usually where people are most horrible). Everyone in the community loves books as much as I do (if not possibly more) and want nothing more than to encourage others to enjoy what they love.

I can’t guarantee that I will always read the most books or write the most eloquent of posts, but I can be enthusiastic, motivated and passionate. And from now on, I’m going to try and be a little braver.

– Ellen x

That Blogging Thing

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My AS Level exams are over. I am free.

I have been waiting for this moment for months now, counting down the days until I could think about the future without wanting to be sick . Mentioning Asian politics, the Iliad or the Wars of the Roses might result in me throwing up (I’m not kidding, I feel very). If A Levels were designed to make me so perpetually panicky and stressed to the point of imploding, then they succeeded. Children are not lumps of coal – you cannot apply so much pressure and expect diamonds to magically appear before your eyes. Alas, I think the educational authorities haven’t been told this (actually, they probably just weren’t listening) hence the general state of mental collapse experienced by most students.

Anywayyyy…..

I am free! Do you know what this means?

Books, blogging, video making, cooking, exercise, enjoying being alive. Little things like writing this blog, or making short videos about books might seem insignificant to some, but they are my crutch. Knowing that I could go swimming today without a sense of overwhelming guilt about the fact I wasn’t revising. Yes, knowing that Athene disguises herself as Euphorbus in Book 22 of the Iliad is useful, but it doesn’t keep you sane.

These next few  weeks are about me. Then, I’m off to Summer school at Eton college for a bit, to meet the other Classics students, learn lots of new things and – according to the timetable – to consume a lot of food (morning AND afternoon tea? Alongside 3 meals? What luxury is this?!). For now though, I am able to leisurely sit in the garden, reading Sappho’s poetry whilst listening to podcasts and sipping tea in that way I imagine posh people do*.

Before UCAS personal statements, wider reading and results-day nerves come into full affect, I want to make things, things I’m proud of. I never used to consider myself a creative person; I have the artistic ability of a small mountain goat, but I have an imagination, and a passion for word and creating things. Not art, maybe, but things. Creating has always been an essential part of my life and often, it’s my ability to make which has kept me alive. I don’t want to make the same mistake of disregarding it’s importance in the future.

Ellen x

 

*to clarify, posh people drink tea delicately, but also smugly, as if they are very pleased with their acheivements. Such smugness is only ever aspirational for the likes of I.

What Has The Education System Done To Us?

A Levels are destroying us.  No, I’m being serious. The lack of sleep, caffeine addiction and general state of terror in which – I confess – I currently reside is not healthy. I may or may not have spent at least 2 evenings this week sat in the bath, drinking a 1L bottle of chocolate milk and a large packet of Skittles, whilst sobbing uncontrollably. There is not point trying to deny it; everyone else has reached a bottom of a pit we don’t think we can climb out of.

Not only do these exams bring the joy of the usual stress, but also, they’re brand new reformed A-Levels, the brain-child of Michael Gove and therefore, naturally, a terrible idea. We have some old style exams, some new style, one set of specimen papers and textbooks (if we’re lucky) cobbled together so that they bear a vague resemblance to the syllabus, only some bits are missing and incomplete. Joy.

Upon discovering that three new Earth-like planets have just been discovered beyond our solar system, my immediate reaction was to screenshot the new bulletin and message it to my Latin class with the caption ‘Why jettison yourself into the sun when there are three perfectly hospitable planets – where A-Levels are equally absent – which we could launch ourselves at instead’. It says something about the education system that we would rather leave planet Earth than sit these exams.

Only, it’s not really the exams themselves which are nerve-wracking. OK, I concede it is partially the exams but they always have been (and alas probably always will be). However if it were simply a matter of the exam being stressful in itself, then at least the problem would be finite, or more manageable, becoming only a problem specifically during the exam season. The issue is that we are living in a climate where exam stress dominates every waking moment of our time at school and, to be honest, it’s destroying us from the inside out.

I started panicking about exams in early October. I can’t remember the last time I went to sleep without panicking over the fact I am going to fail my A-Levels and everyone will hate me and I will die. Now, most people will probably acknowledge that this is not a rational thought progression but it is the only one I know. I have never really failed in anything, not things I cared about at least. At GCSE I achieved 8 A*s and 2 As; the thought of getting anything less than 90% UMS across 5 subjects at AS Level is unimaginable. Literally, I cannot imagine what my life will look like if I am not considered academically strong. I imagine that were I to fail, I would simply vanish into dust or else spontaneously combust.

Why have I been allowed to grow up believing my entire self-worth is weighted in my grades, in my ability to perform well in standardised tests? I don’t necessarily blame my school; whilst I admit I attend a very high achieving school, they have – to their credit – always ensured pupils were well-rounded. Nonetheless, I am acutely aware I am attending the 3rd best state school in the country and the idea of letting everyone else down is still terrifying.

Also, I don’t enforce these standards on anyone else but myself. Do I care if someone has 3 As or 2 D grades? Not particularly, provided they are an otherwise pleasant human. I know tests are not a comprehensive measure of a person, that a whole host of (often) uncontrollable factors can influence and  that everyone has bad days. Still, I can’t helped but be swamped by pressure.

What’s worse, is that I see my friends being affected by it all. I’ve watched peers struggle through a rapid decline of their mental health over the past few months and it is heartbreaking but also, I feel, somewhat inevitable. If I could change the system now to make it, if not easier, than manageable, with an appropriate amount of stress, then I would. We’re teenagers, not adults – our brains don’t know how to cope with all of this stress.  I don’t care if that doesn’t make us academically competitive as a nation, I care about the well-being of young people like me. I don’t think anyone has comprehensively surveyed the mental health of the young people in Britain enough to fully comprehend how dire the situation is.

I know the outside world is challenging; unemployment is widespread, pupils leave university with mountainous piles of debt and jobs are increasingly competitive and poorly paid – do you think we don’t know this? The awareness of these facts are probably the most damaging thing; there is no light at the end of the tunnel. Why do you think we destroy ourselves trying to be the best, at everything, all the time?

I try not to worry. I tell myself that everything will work out fine in the end. My Latin teacher is fond of the phrase ‘everything happens for a reason’ and I am striving to one day hold this level of optimism about the world. At the moment, I can’t help but lose sleep.

I wish the system were different, but it’s not and I worry that it’s only going to get worse, as academic achievement is heralded as the most important factor of education, and pupil well-being goes out of the window, along with fun, enthusiasm and sanity.

For now, I can only contemplate what on earth the education system has done to us all?

Review: All I Know Now By Carrie Hope Fletcher

 I’ll admit it, I was initialy dubious about the quality of Carrie’s book. Which in hindsight, was ridiculous (Sorry Carrie!). I’m a huge fan of Carrie’s and I know that she is extraordinarily talented and works incredibly hard. The advice on her YouTube channel has helped me immensely, so why was I in any way doubtful that she could provide good advice? Perhaps it was my own cynicism regarding the wealth of YouTubers who now have books, but that’s an argument for another day.

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I was fortunate enough to see Carrie speak about her book at the Cheltenham Literature Festival and I can confirm that there is very little difference between her online and real-life self – apart from perhaps her sense of humour, which is a little darker and wicked than comes across on the screen. Her reading of ‘The Bear Incident’ was enigmatic and remarkable and I would honestly pay good money to watch her read.  There is something about the way she reads, her mannerisms and her connection with the audience which are truly captivating.

Anyway, onwards with the discussion of the book.

The advice in this book is invaluable. Truly. I think the nature of the book, in that it was originally a compilation of blog posts, is key to its success. Everything from the commentaries on the world of Twitter to the personal anecdotes shows the personal development of Carrie. Perhaps the most important aspect of this book is the subtext that everything will be OK and that positive improvement is possible. Given that we are a generation with increasing financial uncertainty, mental health issues and a seemingly bleak outlook (or maybe that’s just my cynicism again – sorry!), that message is invaluable. Even more importantly, the message of self-acceptance and love can be gleamed from almost every page. The resounding message? You don’t have to sacrifice who you are as you grow up – something I personally regret not being told sooner.

Carrie has been given the title of ‘The Big Sister Of The Internet’ and I’m inclined to agree. She has written a book with some of the most invaluable advice I’ve read in months. Carrie offers little in the way of professional opinion but lots of experience and this is part of the appeal; she is not an adult with lots of qualifications telling us how to live our lives. Instead, she is sharing her experiences and offering advice in the hope (HOPE – get it?) that she might help someone else. That kind of non-patronising, genuinely helpful advice is something I’ve seen in few other places (perhaps only in the Self-Esteem Team’s Guide)

Carrie is a self-confessed family-friendly person. She doesn’t swear and although she has a strong opinion, she doesn’t get involved in too much conflict (effectively, she’s the antithesis of me). I’d feel 100% comfortable recommending this book to younger readers, which is something I rarely say about advice books. This book is wonderfully accessible and the scope of what the author covers with such skill is truly impressive. It will be interesting to see what her upcoming book On The Other Side is like, and whether her fiction is as fantastic as this first book.