Joelle Taylor: ‘There were no lesbian or butch role models’

by Just Like Us
October 2022

A photo of Joelle Taylor

Award-winning poet Joelle Taylor talks about her experiences growing up as a butch lesbian, and shares what it would have meant to her to have had LGBT+ representation at school.

Growing up, what was it like being LGBT+ for you at school?

“I attended a rough secondary school in the north west of England through the late 70s and early 80s. It was a dangerous place to be different, especially as a young butch lesbian.

“Homophobia was both the norm and the valued way of thinking, so to come out during this period meant that you were leaving your family and friends. ‘Out’ was the most important part of the phrase. We were exiled from our communities, and from our own bodies.”

Did you have any LGBT+ role models growing up?

“There were no lesbian or butch role models on television or on film. There were some in forbidden hard-to-trace books, but no popular culture role models.

“We fixated on the mass 80s gender-non-conforming movement that gave us artists like Boy George, Marilyn and Pete Burns. We danced like we were marching, to Bronski Beat and Erasure. We sculpted our sense of self like David Bowie.

“Music was the unifying force for a generation of gender-non-conforming people, both medicine and rallying cry.”

How has life changed for you since you left school?

“The LGBT+ community is far more accepted now. It’s palpable. We’re not openly mocked on television, rarely shouted at in the streets, rarely spat at or randomly punched.

“The kids don’t care about our sexuality in the main, as a consequence I think of the in-school LGBT+ clubs.

“However, I do feel that things are changing again. We need to be vigilant and stop attacking one another. I sense another Section 28 approaching.”

Our LGBT+ ambassadors volunteer to go into schools and speak about why allyship matters. What difference would it have made to you to have had this kind of LGBT+ representation at school?

“It would have made the difference between a closed door and an open one. It would have helped mitigate self-loathing and suicidal feelings.

“It would have provided me with a community, a space in which to become myself. And it would have given me the sense that the school body welcomed me rather than exiled me – teachers and admin staff were as homophobic as the students.”

If you could send a message back in time, what would you say to your younger self?

“Find your people. They are waiting. You were always home.”

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Image credit: Roman Manfredi