My mother and me, when I was six or seven
Photo by: My Dad - Brian Cornwall, c. 1967
I am a woman. I am proud of my woman’s body. I do not identify by gender, rather by my biology. I do not understand the purpose of gender expectations so I do not acknowledge a gender identity. I have been identified with assorted words that mean I don’t fit the sexual orientation mainstream culture. I carry experiences that most of you will never be able to fathom with respect to how I have been treated because of how I look and who I have loved intimately.
I spent decades unable to marry the people I love. Relationships that crossed borders had to end as there was no legal way to remain together in one country. I have been held back from advancement in some jobs and not offered other jobs for which I was perfectly qualified. Others have had their children taken away from them and many of us have been told we weren’t fit parents to adopt. I have been beaten in the streets for how I look or for holding hands or kissing my partner in public. Others have had their families abandon them – ashamed – choosing their religion over their children. I have been abducted and assaulted by taxi drivers when I tried to stay safe by not walking to a bar or home from one because those men knew what I needed to make me “normal.” Shame and fear often kept me from reporting these crimes.
I have been eroded by heteronormative society for decades. Some of us could not cope – some took their lives while others of us struggled with a variety of addictions, seeking any kind of control or relief from pain and isolation. Decades ago there were far fewer opportunities to find counsellors who understood issues facing lesbians. Some of us remain, standing, eroded, exhausted in fact, still trying to be heard and have these wrongs acknowledged, awaiting some sort of help or compensation for horrible acts perpetrated against us. We are weary. We do not need to hear “but isn’t it better now?”
It is better now. We are pleased about that, but it does not take away that which we have experienced. We have suffered greatly though our bodies, our hearts and minds as a result of systemic hate – much of which still exists but has gone underground, leaching up in ways that are more difficult to see or prove. The comments are whispered or couched more carefully. We are still being assaulted and cat-called in the streets by people who are terrified of difference and choose fight over flight – we are women, after all, and popular culture continues to portray us as disposable.
I am here to say, I will not stop pointing at the elephant in the room. I will not stop ensuring people are aware of what has happened and the damage that has been done. I am proud to have survived, unapologetic for the scars I bear. I am a warrior. I am more than the sum of my sexual orientation and the losses and wins I have known because of it. I will not be silenced while I have air to breath and I will not be your token queer to mark that you are "okay with the gay."
My name is Gillian. The name means youthful. I still have joy in my heart and love to give. I am from a family of warriors, of Cornwall and Jay and, while I am the first generation for a long time not to actually go to war in uniform, I have fought, strong and proud, for as long as I can remember. The Cornwall battle cry is said to have been, "La Vie Durante" translated "During Life".
May we all find peace in who we are as individuals; thus, find peace with one another: peace, respect and celebration of difference.
-Gillian Cornwall, c. February 28, 2016
Gillian Cornwall, c. September 2015