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Girl’s Holiday

by Chim Chirwa

Staff writer Chim explores intersectionality and space in her series of three creative essays. This one is about the difficulties faced by WLW on holiday.

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With the money we had battled to get back from a travel aggregator, like many others, we decided to opt for a staycation. This presented the same problems we had with booking the holiday in the first place: Googling ‘LGBT friendly hotels’; and once finding a place that we could both agree on; inevitably typing ‘TripAdvisor reviews’ for *inserts generic B&B name here*. Eventually we found ‘the one’ and by ‘the one’ I mean something fairly priced, and not outdated to the point they still have teas made that went out of date, alongside the wallpaper and carpeting, in the 70s. 

As it was a romantic weekend away for me and my girlfriend, I thought: “What better place to take her then what was my childhood home, the Lake District?” The scenery is deemed so romantic that it’s legally protected as a USENCO world heritage site. There’s also a bit of fun in the scenic train and bus ride to where we were staying, with my girlfriend jokingly nudging me and asking, “what’s that mountain?” at almost every hill, fell, and pike around us, assuming I had some Bear Grylls level knowledge of everything. On arrival it was smirring, a very classic Cumbria way of saying “welcome home!”.

“So, what brings you to the Lake District?”. Before even being afforded time to respond to the person running the B&B, they gleefully answered themselves: “Girls’ Holiday?”. My girlfriend and I shot each other a quick look, both begrudgingly put on our customer service smiles, let go of each other’s hands and replied almost simultaneously with an undertone of sarcasm: “Yeahhhh girls holiday”. The next question the owner asked us, whilst ushering us in from the petering rain, was, “Have you ever been here before?”. I answered, quite sharply, in the thickest Cumbrian accent: “I’m from here”. The owner looked on at me as though I was telling a lie, possibly blind-sided by my caramel skin that doesn’t fit the pantones of what they see as classic Cumbrian. 

Determined not to let it get the better of us after being handed the keys to our honeymoon suite, we started dancing in an exaggerated style, belting out: “GIRLS’ HOLIDAY”. 

Donning my lilac boilersuit, (favourite smart-casual go to), and my girlfriend aptly dressed in a cottage core co-ord, with our makeup beat we chucked on our big coats and jumped in the cab to head for food. This is where our next problem was to unfold. The bill. Aptly handed over to me by the waiter – possibly for my more ‘masc’ presenting boilersuit- I slid it back over to my girlfriend, who was paying for the food this time. “Splitting?” We were prosed, “No thanks just put in on my card,” my girlfriend answered. The waiter darts me a look as though to say, “why aren’t you paying?”.

With our bellies swimming with yellow and red curry, what better way to end a day than to hit the pub? Well, we hit the pre-planned, best reviewed on TripAdvisor pub that seemed the least likely one to get hate-crimed at. Sinking our pints of Peroni (drastically expensive for the proper north), and conversing about the day ahead of us tomorrow, we felt comfortable enough to pop out for a cheeky cig. “Are youse lesbians?”, a broad man with glassy drunk eyes slurred. “Yes”, we replied whilst grimacing for his next question. “But you aren’t full way lesbians are ya?” I think the man was trying his best to say bisexual.

“We’ve been together for 5 years, so yeah,” I replied, rapidly sucking my cigarette so as best to get away from the situation as soon as possible. “Do you fancy a threesome?” Judging by his reply he was either deaf or dumb. A sudden silence flooded the already quiet street. “Oh I’m only joking” the man said before slumping off down the hill.

This experience of space throughout my “girls’ holiday” is unfortunately not unique for many people that exist between the intersections of being a person of colour and LGBT. I acknowledge the privilege that has been afforded to me from those in history, who have campaigned for me to exist in these spaces, and campaigned for me to be equitable to those that have already indulged in them for decades. The social narrative surrounding these spaces, and the way I and others interact with them, is the issue at hand here. It’s these performances of subtle microaggression that make these spaces less enjoyable to be in.

In rebuttal, many people argue “But that’s why you have a gay clubs and hotels”. Attitudes such as this create segregated ways of thinking, which were intended to be abolished by government reforms put in place over a decade ago with the Equality Act. Social attitudes have not moved in complete alignment with this, which makes for my negative experience of space. I don’t believe that the individuals I encountered in the spaces I have talked about acted in malice (maybe except for threesome man), but it’s part of a larger systemic and cultural issue. 

It’s dehumanising to know that if I hold hands with my girlfriend, my sexuality will be unacknowledged, whereas if someone walks down the street and sees a man and a woman of similar age holding hands you instantly recognise them as a couple. This comes from a western perspective on heteronormative monogamy. 

Life without a shift in cultural relativism is what causes these hurtful and alienating experiences of space and (lack of) intersectionality.

This explains why the woman in the B&B was doubtful of my existence as POC in Cumbria, but it’s a narrative society needs to move away from. It’s a narrative that organisations such as Anti-Racist Cumbria, whom I work with, are trying to change.

It’s a recurring theme for many who exist between one or more intersections and can lead to fear of returning to those spaces. Assumptions are always dangerous territory that are grounded within one person’s perception. Just because I, or anyone else, presents in a certain way doesn’t give space for actions that are ultimately going to make someone’s experience in a space worse. That’s why it’s important on an individualistic basis to be mindful of how you interact with anyone in any space. It can really make a difference to the person self-identity in terms of their intersectionality and in turn contribute to fixing the wider issue at hand.

Instagram: @chim_chirwa

Header illustration: @marisacraneart