This month, in celebration of PRIDE, we are giving space to LGBT+ voices from across the BIAZA membership. The PRIDE blogs will provide a snapshot of the experiences of LGBT+ people working in the zoo sector and highlight diversity across the animal kingdom too.
When I first formulated the idea of a series of Pride themed Blogs for BIAZA, I didn’t plan to write one myself. An amazing part of my job is providing a platform for underrepresented voices, and it was important to me to step back, let them be heard, and work to amplify them wherever I can – in this case, ‘them’ being the voices of the LGBTQ+ members of the zoo and aquarium community. To be honest, it’s also pretty scary to talk about the rawest version of who you are, no matter how confident in that area you might be. But then I looked at the list of blogs in front of me, and noticed the significant lack of female voices – another thing I am driven to magnify. I also read the raw, honest, and deeply personal stories that other people had chosen to share with me in this series - and decided maybe it’s time to be brave too.
Although (now) I’m very confident in who I am, I’m not a big fan of labelling my sexuality, but if I were to tick a box on the census form, it would say ‘Bisexual’. For a long time I wrestled with this concept - surely, I could only identify as bisexual if my attraction to men and women was split exactly 50/50, right? Wrong. The older and more confident I’ve become in who I am, the more I realised that life (and love) really isn’t that black and white. I remember looking round on public transport, thinking I couldn’t be ‘gay’ enough because I didn’t fancy every women on the train. Then I realised, I didn’t fancy most of the men either. Then I realised that’s true for everyone – no matter what your sexuality is, you’re not going to fancy everyone, and it doesn’t make you any less valid as a person. This is absolutely a wormhole that bisexual (and pansexual) people can fall down though. If you date someone of the same gender, are you really just gay but taking your time to come out? If you date someone of the opposite gender, was your attraction to same-sex partners just a ‘phase’ or ‘experimenting’? No, no, no, no, no! You’re just as valid whatever your attraction percentages, and whatever age you realise you aren’t straight. Just because you haven’t known since you were 7 doesn’t make how you feel any less real.
Another reason I’m not a fan of labels for myself personally is because it felt restrictive to shoehorn myself in a box. I like who I like and date who I date and that’s fine, people in my life love me regardless because they just see me as ‘Frankie’, regardless of who my partner is. I recognise that I am very lucky to be surrounded by acceptance and understanding, and also the privileges that can come with being bisexual. If I choose to, I can hide the part of myself that is not straight – obviously, I don’t want to do this, but I understand the advantages this brings. I also get that for some people, labels mean everything – if you identify as LGBTQ+, having a name for yourself can be incredibly important and provide a sense of identity and community. For external people, the way human beings communicate, we also like to have words, names, labels for things – and I recognise that if some people want a word for me, it can be helpful to give them one if it leads to an increased understanding. It’s also important for representation – how can I ask to see more people like me in politics or pop culture if society doesn’t understand what that is? You can’t be what you can’t see, as the saying goes.
Speaking of, I cannot emphasise enough the importance of representation – I know there is often a question of its necessity, a view of ‘box-ticking’ or shoehorning people in ‘for diversity’s sake’. But approximately 1.4 million people identify as lesbian, gay or bisexual in the U.K, and for them, seeing people like them having a platform matters. To me, it matters. It shows you that somebody just like you can achieve anything – even working for zoos and aquariums, some of the most crucial institutions for our protecting our planet and its wildlife that exist today. My sexuality has never knowingly impacted on my career, for which I am lucky, and I am so keen to highlight the wonderfully supportive and inclusive industry that I have found zoos and aquariums to be. I am so grateful to have such a strong support network in both my professional and personal life to be exactly who I am – sarcastic, red-haired, bisexual and proud.
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