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“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

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