The Oxstu investigates the lives of LGBT people in Oxford, one story at a time.
Isabella is a second year at St Peter’s College. She first realised she was bisexual when she was young, and started coming out around two years ago.
Being at Catholic school was probably one of the reasons I didn’t accept my bisexuality when I was younger. And it was quite a difficult environment, looking back on it. The school was tolerant of other religions but at the same time they would reinforce their Catholic beliefs. The classrooms had posters saying things like, “God doesn’t like gay people”. So, knowing that all my peers and my family were Catholic, coming out was quite stressful. I was lucky. My friendship group at school was very tolerant, but I know people who weren’t. For instance, I know another girl who came out and she was ostracised by her friendship group and by the teachers as well. She asked for the teachers to take down the classroom posters and they said no, because it was a religious space.
The classrooms had posters saying things like, “God doesn’t like gay people”.
I didn’t come from a home that’s really accepting [of queer people]. I think that’s partly to do with religion and partly culture. My dad’s side is English, my mum’s is Cuban, and they’re both Catholic. I’m not out to either side of my family. It’s strange, because members of my family who disapprove of [my cousins who are LGBTQ+] talk to me about them in a derogatory way, because they don’t realise I identify as queer.
I found university to be a lot more open than my home environment. For me, and for a lot of other people who I’ve spoken to, [being LGBTQ+] is something they can’t really be open about at home, so Oxford is a safe place to be able to do that. There’s a bigger queer scene, more club nights. Just having an LGBTQ+ society is a great thing. I haven’t interacted with the queer scene as much as I’d like, I wish I did more in first year. I think I was slightly scared at first, because [being open about my sexuality] was so new to me.
I think there are also unique challenges which come with being both queer and a person of colour at Oxford. For example, you might not feel accepted in People Of Colour groups, or you might not feel that there’s a space for you there. Speaking from experience of my family, who aren’t very accepting, trying to articulate your experience to other people [who aren’t queer] brought up in that culture might lead to you feeling marginalised and excluded. On the flipside, as BME rep for St Peter’s, I’ve noticed that there’s also a lack of intersectionality in some queer spaces for people who are ethnic minority. I guess it’s partly because we’re a minority within a minority.
The first time I came out was to my ex, and he was slightly confused about it. It was fine in the end, but I’m still reluctant to tell partners about my sexuality. Bisexuality is also sexualised a lot by guys, in my experience anyway. There are other misconceptions, I’ve come across too, for example that bi people are more likely to cheat, or that being into more than one gender means that you’re fickle, or less likely to have long term relationships. Sometimes people ask me questions like, “are you sure?”, or “have you gone back to being straight?”. I think bisexuality can sometimes be something that’s not really understood.
There’s also biphobia from within the queercommunity. People have said things to me like “I don’t want to date someone who goes between [genders]”. It makes me feel frustrated. There was quite a lot of controversy last year around ‘straight’ people being in Plush. Sometimes bi people might be in Plush with someone of a different gender, so it looks like they’re in a “straight” relationship. But that doesn’t change their identity. I found that there were a lot of comments such as “if you’re in a straight relationship then you shouldn’t be welcome.” A lot of it’s to do with wanting Plush to be a safe space, which I totally understand, but the ‘B’ is there in the LGBTQ+ acronym, and it stands for something!
For me, university was my first experience of being able to come out if I wanted to, and so having that support available is great.
Although I definitely think more could be done, I think there’s starting to be a wider awareness of LGBTQ+ issues across the university. For example, at the OUSU race training workshop, they made sure to tell us to ask people’s pronouns, because for some people this might be their first chance to establish what their pronouns are. I also think the systems of support at Oxford, like Rainbow peers, are really good. For me, university was my first experience of being able to come out if I wanted to, and so having that support available is great. Because the queer community is so big here, I find it a lot easier to talk to people about my sexuality at Oxford, and it’s generally a really good environment for queer people.