Pride Without Prejudice.

The first weekend in August marks Pride in Leeds, when the LGBTQ+ community come together with the rest of population to celebrate their differences, mostly by sinking back huge quantities of alcohol. This being my first pride since coming out as bisexual I was incredibly excited to be attending the various events occurring in the city centre throughout the weekend. So excited, in fact, that I decided to turn my wheelchair into Donald Trump’s worst nightmare.

Image description: my wheelchair with a pride flag on the back, and a rainbow cushion on the seat.

On the Saturday the sun was out, and a gentle breeze helped to prevent my skin from burning and peeling off like I was some kind of mutant reptile in the roasting 20°C heat. Jarred and myself made our way to the viaduct, a region of Leeds so closely associated with gay culture that a man in a police uniform walking down the street is not necessarily a policeman. A street party had been set up; there was music playing and an impressively sophisticated outdoor bar set up on one side of the street. There was also a small stage and people were being invited up onto the stage to sing and dance together. It was, perhaps, the only time I’ve ever been glad to see something inaccessible.

We meandered up and down the street, listening to music and investigating the few stalls there were. After a little while the music stopped rather abruptly, and a drag queen whose make-up was far in advance of anything I could do took to the stage, introducing a performance by the Show Girls, a group of drag performers from one of the local venues. During the introduction various members of the audience were subjected to light-hearted criticisms, such as querying whether a woman’s afro was fake or real, or whether one man naturally had silky smooth legs. Being on the front row, I was pretty easy to spot.

“And oh, look, Davros has delighted us with their company!”

Jarred and myself both burst into uproarious laughter, setting off the rest of the crowd who had seemed a little nervous as to how to react. What no one seemed to realise is that it was actually quite refreshing for someone else to make a joke about my wheelchair, which quickly becomes the elephant in the room when people do everything they can to ignore its presence for political correctness, highlighting in the process that the wheelchair is all they see. The drag queen was teasing everyone, not just myself, and there was nothing to take offence to.

The Pride parade took place on the Sunday, starting in Millenium square in the centre of Leeds with a free-entry concert. The council had made sure to provide an elevated wheelchair platform meaning that I could see the stage above the rest of the crowd, although because I couldn’t see through the crowd, another audience member had to direct me to said platform. I lost count of how many other wheelchair users I saw at the event, and not once did I have to deal with things thrust in my face or people stepping directly over my feet. Nobody stared at me, and nobody ignored me either.

Towards the end of the concert I was invited to ride on one of the council’s accessible buses in the parade, representing both the LGBTQ+ and disabled community. I jumped at the opportunity, figuratively, not literally of course. Once I was on the bus my wheelchair was secured safely to the floor of the bus by a driver who clearly had many years of experience doing this. I got the flag I had attached to my wheelchair to wave, and waved it while meandering slowly through the crowded streets until my arm felt like Attila the Hun was trying to remove it. I was extremely surprised to find that I got a huge response from the crowd, who cheered loudly and waved vigorously back at me.

The best reaction of all the crowd members came from another wheelchair user who I had shared the wheelchair platform with earlier in the day. When she saw me waving from the bus her face practically split in half as she grinned from ear-to-ear, and I knew then that I had truly made a difference to someone’s day.

I was as welcome in that crowd as I am at my beloved wrestling shows, and I hope that I never forget what it was like to find pride without prejudice.

Bisexual and Almost Bipedal.

I’m a bisexual, female, disabled scientist; so nuke me, Trump.

My identity is pretty much an amalgamation of social rights issues, but that doesn’t mean I’m not genuine as some people might presume. It’s a strange phenomenon, but I do know a few people with disabilities who are uncomfortable about coming out as LGBT because they might be deemed fakers, and I honestly can’t decide whether the problem is with the way disability is perceived or the way the LGBT community is perceived.

There are people out there who assign themselves a long list of labels to do with gender identity and sexuality that don’t actually apply to them, who do so because they want to be perceived as modern and unprejudiced. While the intention of being open about equal opportunities is highly commendable, it leaves those of us who are genuine a little conflicted, because coming out as a member of the LGBT community for most people is simply terrifying.

My sexuality confused me long before I became disabled, but I was afraid to discuss it for fear of disappointing my parents, or being bullied at school any more than I already was. For fear of what being open-minded would make me, I suppressed any feelings I had on the matter, and vehemently denied to myself that I was anything other than heterosexual. This actually got easier when I first fell ill as I had something else to be concerned about, but as the years went by, no matter how much I stamped down on them, my thoughts would turn towards my sexual orientation time and time again.

Leaving home and heading off to university should have been the time when I started to express my sexuality; I lived alone and away from those who had bullied me at school, but I still couldn’t shake off the fear that engulfed me every time the thought crossed my mind. I kept my mouth shut, as I always had done, and tried to move on.

The thing to finally bring me out of my shell was actually Jarred, who was openly bisexual from the day we met. It sounds ridiculous but I saw the freedom he had in being able to express himself when a good-looking man appeared on TV, and I wanted that freedom. Jarred helped to strengthen my self-esteem and boost my confidence, and I began to realise that if I did decide to accept my sexuality, no matter what happened upon being honest, there would be at least one person I could rely on to get through it. However I was used to being scared of my sexuality, that I would be deemed old to “come out”, and that on top of the wheelchair it would simply seem like a plea for attention, that I continued to keep my feelings to myself.

I can’t quite explain it but one day the desire to have that freedom simply outweighed the fear of appearing fake, and with the help of a glass of wine, the truth seemed to just fall out of my mouth. After a quiet moment Jarred said, “I know.” I stared at him dumb-founded, feeling foolish for thinking that I would have been able to hide something of this scale from the one person I allowed close enough to see such a thing.

I would like to be able to tell you that my fears and reservations about being open about my sexuality evaporated in an instant at this point, but that would not be the truth. I gradually began to make my closest friends and family aware of the situation, always a little reticent for fear that they would react badly, but with each positive reaction my confidence grew, until one last hurdle remained. Now I had to be open and honest with the rest of the world.

A simple post on Facebook sufficed for those who knew me who I hadn’t already told, and then I started to declare myself as bisexual on job application forms. The freedom it gave me in being able to express myself without a serious fear of being deemed a faker for social reasons was even better than I could have ever imagined. For the first time in my life I felt like I had an identity that was true to my own form, which encompassed my sexuality, lifestyle, and preferences. In telling the rest of the world who I was I had managed to find myself.

Image description: A classic wheelchair/disabled sign, coloured to look like the pride flag.