News · Personal

From me to Ruby, with all the lady love

Last Thursday evening Ruby Tandoh, of GBBO 2014 fame, came out via Twitter, and to be honest, her timing could not have been better. Her revelation prompted a whole load of realisations and feelings within me – mostly positive, but at times, I saw a harsher reality as I had the rainbow-tinted glasses ripped from my eyes.

Because I myself am seeing a girl at the moment. I’m not going to dramatically pause there – it doesn’t seem necessary. I have dated men before, and now I’m dating a girl. I have dated nice people before, and now I’m dating another nice person. Who happens to have a vagina. And that’s what I feel a lot of other people see, rather than the fact that she’s incredible and lovely and I’m happy to have her in my life. We’re even going to Hogwarts (well, Alnwick Castle) together next week, so I guess you could say she’s pretty special. I don’t see why gender should make a difference, because at the end of the day it’s a huge, colourful spectrum and I feel saying “I will only be attracted to this gender” is restrictive; there are so many amazing people out there, and why wouldn’t I want to experience as many as possible? But whatever – in the words of T-Swift, the haters gonna hate, hate, hate, hate, hate.

So when I saw Ruby had come out, I was ABSOLUTELY BUZZING. Super awesome lady of similar age and interests (not a euphemism – I do genuinely mean baking) to myself? Check. Coming out around the same time I needed to tell my parents about the special lady in my own life? Check. Presumed straight because overtly “feminine”? Check. Fellow destroyer of patriarchy and its related heterosexism? BIG, GLOSSY CHECK. We even had the following chat and it caused a severe case of the warm fuzzies:

But not everyone was as happy as I was at Ruby’s newfound freedom. Luckily I didn’t stumble across and explicitly homophobic comments, but I was dismayed by the alternative. I saw plenty of news reports with comments such as “I don’t know who this person is, but why does she think we care?” and “Get over yourself – nobody cares whether you like men or women, it should be your private business anyway!”

And in a way, I feel this is almost worse than explicit homophobia, because there’s an underlying sense of unease that’s really difficult to interpret. Do they actual believe it should be private, or is it just thinly veiled code for “EWWW, DON’T MAKE ME THINK ABOUT WHAT YOU WANT TO DO WITH WOMEN!”? At least if the homophobia was explicit, we could say “wow, that’s rude and offensive” and challenge it. With these sorts of comments, however, how exactly are we supposed to respond? Is Ruby supposed to feel ashamed and say “I take back my comments, you don’t need to know about my private life”?

Of course she’s not. One of the reasons Ruby’s coming out, along with every other public figure who has revealed themselves to be part of the LGBT+ community, was so important was that it offered comfort and hope. Innumerable people, myself included, felt inspired to come out as well. It’s so so SO important that there are open, positive role models for LGBT+ people, especially those who feel trapped, unhappy and unable to come out. It saves so many lives and offers that old yet still-true message: “it gets better.”

A similar case arose last night when I happened upon the following video, a “bisexual makeup tutorial” and the epitome of sass:

Now, Amy Geliebter lays down some cold, hard facts about biphobia and bi erasure that for me, as a bi/pan person, caused many “ooooh, snap!” moments when watching this video. But of course, there were the inevitable comments of “great, you like men and women, now shut up and stop going on about it!”

One thing I wonder is whether a man would be silenced in the same way (for me, the whole comment reeks of misogyny and yes, it was a man who wrote it), but that’s a rant for another day. The point is that Amy has EVERY RIGHT to discuss her sexual orientation and identity, because it’s such an incredibly important part of life. She did not make this video for the purpose of saying “hey guys! I’m bi!” but rather because biphobia is such a prominent yet often overlooked problem. Bisexuals are often labelled as “confused”, “greedy” or worst of all, to use a word I loathe, “slutty.”

Perhaps the comment was a classic male knee-jerk reaction of “damn you’re hot – shame you’re more likely to be interested in a woman than my sexist ass.”

If we want to tackle homophobia, biphobia and general censorship of the LGBT+ community (which, yes, I would consider myself a part of), then we NEED to speak out. We need to educate, and it takes more than just a teacher to do so. When will people stop ignoring what we have to say, passing it off as oversharing about our personal lives, and become willing pupils of the world?

So here’s to you, Ruby – thank you for being so utterly fearless.

Health · News

This is what a “mental patient” looks like

Yesterday, Asda hit the headlines in the UK after it was revealed that they had been selling a Halloween costume under the shockingly offensive, albeist moniker of “mental patient”. The costume, which features a blood-splattered straitjacket, misshapen face with unruly hair and meat cleaver, was subject to huge backlash from mental health sufferers, charities and campaigners (quite rightly so) and was soon recalled.

Asda’s “mental patient” costume

Tesco also came under fire for a similar costume, a lurid orange boiler suit with the words “psycho ward” (the costume’s name) emblazoned on the chest and back with accompanying jaw restraint. Suggested accessories to this get-up included a machete and blood-stained knife. Following the backlash Asda received, Tesco also removed this costume.

Tesco’s “psycho ward” costume

Despite the fact that both companies removed the offending items from their shelves and released public statements of apology, you have to wonder – who on earth gave them the go-ahead in the first place? In my opinion, it’s not so much the costumes themselves that are the problem, it’s the names they’ve been given and the negative connotations about mental illness which they propagate. We see these sorts of stock characters in horror films all the time. It’s clear that Asda and Tesco simply wanted to emulate our favourite horror villains, but in an attempt to avoid copyright decided to give the costumes more generic names.

And what word instills fear in your average person more than the word…”psycho”?! *gasp*

Why is it that that word has become such a ready synonym for words which, in reality, have completely different meanings? “Evil?” “Psycho”. “Homocidal?” “Psycho”. “Criminal?” “Psycho”. You get the picture. As I’m sure most people are aware, the prefix “psycho-” simply means relating to the brain and its inner workings. So why is there still this common misconception that “psycho” connotes these horribly negative, terrifying personality traits?

Fighting back against the stigma spread by the costumes, mental health charities took to social media to ask their supporters to speak up and speak out. Time to Change, a mental health campaign based in England and run by charities Mind and Rethink Mental Illness, asked their followers who suffer from mental illness to submit pictures of their own “mental patient” costumes. The response was overwhelming, as the hashtag #mentalpatient buzzed with activity, and the responses were (take or leave more trivial details) all the same – normal people, in normal clothes, posing for a camera.

My own "mental patient" costume
My own “mental patient” costume

A real “mental patient” walks the streets in Topshop jeans, Primark jumpers, shoes from everywhere from ShoeZone to Manolo Blahnik. Heck, we could already have bought elements of our own “mental patient” costumes from Asda and Tesco. We may or may not wear make-up. We may or may not bear tattoos, or piercings, or daring hair cuts. We go to the supermarket, to university, take the bus, take the train, ride bikes around town. Funny how when I say “we”, I could be referring to any demographic of the population, isn’t it? Because you know what – sufferers of mental health problems are just the same as anyone else. We’re not suddenly more likely to commit heinous crimes, to be locked up in the creepy, austere facilities of slasher films that these costumes would imply, wielding weapons in an attempt to break free. For the most part, the only things we want dead are our inner demons – those nagging voices of insecurity we try to silence with chemicals, counselling and therapy.

To say this is disgusting is an understatment, Asda and Tesco – please, learn from your mistakes, listen to the voices of your millions of customers who suffer from mental health problems, and next time hopefully you’ll be challenging the stigma rather than encouraging it.