JANE HILL WISHES SHE’D FOUND DIVA SOONER
“I had no lesbian/ bi role models to look up to”
Ah, 1994. I was in my 20s when DIVA was born. Those carefree years when I had lots of friends, a good social life and a job in radio that I loved. When I could consume a good few glasses of wine of an evening and still have bags of energy the next day. Long before I developed this cavernous crease between my eyebrows that not even the most talented make-up artist can conceal, and before my natural curls were fried by years of TV blow- drys.
DIVA was launched close to my 25th birthday, only half-way through what is usually the most light-hearted decade of your life. Except mine wasn’t, because I wasn’t really me. Throughout my 20s, and even into my 30s, disquiet gnawed away; outwardly all was well, but inside I was hugely anxious. I buried my occasional fear – and it really was fear, a sometimes piercing terror that I was expert at compartmentalising – that I might be “other”.
How I wish I’d stumbled across one of those early editions of this magazine, I would have realised I wasn’t alone, and would have let the real me out much sooner. I didn’t know any women who were like me, or so I thought, and certainly didn’t have anyone to look up to, no gay or bi female role models in the media or in public life. I had gay friends at university, but all men. I went on to work with gay people (and I do mean gay – I didn’t know anyone who was bisexual or transgender), but again, no lesbians. And anyway, why would someone of my generation want to be gay, I felt. Events in my teens suggested it was a pretty bleak life, with the rise of Aids and the introduction of Section 28. I was just 17 when the doom-laden “Don’t Die of Ignorance” film was broadcast on television and in cinemas, warning people about HIV – over black and white images of falling tombstones, the voiceover described “a danger that has become a threat to us all”. Then the year I headed off to university, Section 28 was enacted, banning schools and local authorities in England, Wales and Scotland from promoting the acceptability of homosexuality. (It wasn’t repealed until 2000 in Scotland, and in late 2003 in the rest of the UK.) I remember a close relative pronouncing support for the legislation, saying that being gay should never be encouraged. Of course, plenty of people of my age lived through these same dark times – and previous generations through so much worse – and managed not to let them prevent their coming out; but we’re all different, and I didn’t have that strength of character.
In 1994, the woman who would one day become my wife (who knew!), was an out and proud 18-year- old, studying drama and dance and performing in musicals at the Edinburgh Festival. When I rail now about my wasted years (which she hates me doing, saying that if I’d come out earlier in life we wouldn’t have met), she reminds me that luck plays a big part in our development. Her best friend at school was a gay guy. They’ve known each other since they were 15 and are still friends today; they’ve travelled through life together, for better and for worse. I can only speculate how different my life would have been if I’d known gay or bi people at such a young age.
But I am where I am, I discovered DIVA in my own time, and when I did, it was a godsend. It didn’t change things overnight, it still took me years to fully acknowledge my sexuality, but it helped set me on the path. I was no longer on my own.
DIVA would have shown me I wasn’t alone