Lolly (she/her) is 23 years old and can best be described as a darkly sparkling, nebulous cloud of dry humour, enviable jewellery and general openness. Her hobbies include freelance writing about sex and chronic illness, surf instructing, solo boat travelling, music journalism, photography, sustainable fashion, being a former horse girl and generally being Cooler Than You.
Lolly and I sat opposite each other in an inappropriately loud Pret (I’m still getting the hang of these interviews). She sat by with her hands wrapped around her drink as I organised my recording apparatus - this time, my phone, balanced precariously atop a cardboard cup. It was tough to pinpoint exactly when we’d last seen each other but we'd been catching up non-stop since she arrived at SHAG offices. There had been many changes on both ends since attending secondary school together so we got straight into it.
L: "I actually had my first like, gay recognition nod the other day - and it was so lovely! I was in Guildford and the vegan market was on, so like… Full of gays. Anyway, I walked past this guy in these huuuge platform boots and bright green hair and I looked up at him and he looked at me and gave me this little nod and a smile and I’ve never felt so validated!! I was like HE KNOWS I’M GAY! Yeah that was such a tiny thing but like… I dunno there is such a big queer community but growing up where we’ve grown up-"
*Both internally groaning*
"-It’s like there’s this entire community out there and I don't know where the door is."
S: "I feel like especially with rich white people in the south, there’s not necessarily a presence of violent homophobia but there’s always this vibe of like… queer panic."
S: "“Oh yeah I don't have a problem with it but not MY kids. Not in MY neighbourhood, surely!” Like, why are you clutching your pearls??"
"I do quite like being the scary queer in the village to be honest!" She laughed to herself,
"Like as much as I look forward to moving somewhere like Brighton where I can go have my queer adventure, I do enjoy fucking with the old people in The Village."
I nodded with enthusiasm
"Literally Black Me walking around The Village in my durag."
She considered for a moment
"…In terms of the way I present myself out in public, I actually think a really big part of this whole process has been that I’ve had an entire year locked away from the male gaze. I've never had that before. Like just before the first lockdown happened I broke up with my boyfriend and my friends and I had this big calendar and we crossed out all of the days that I wasn’t allowed to go on tinder or seek male attention. And I looked at those 30 days and was like… I can’t do it. Having that year away from everything made me realise that I was mostly looking for validation as opposed to looking for love. Having that time away from even just, like, being looked at… like being perceived…"
We both laughed
"The Mortifying Ordeal of Being Known, huh?"
"Yeah like, you know me, literally until I was 22, I don't think I went more than 6 weeks without a boyfriend or like…just somebody on the side.. and actually taking a pause from that to work out how much of that was me and how much of that was performance was really helpful."
"I also feel like…. I dunno, I feel very conflicted about single sex schools, but I’m sure that desire for male validation that you’re talking about, is probably present in many of us and is strengthened by the fact that we spent so long in this environment away from boys, where -"
"-Everything depended on the boys that weren’t there! The entire model of popularity was like “How many boys do you know?”"
"“Do you bring boys to parties?”"
"“How many boys are you bringing to prom?” "
"That was absolutely UNHINGED behaviour, I can't believe we participated in that."
"Speaking of those kids of gendered dynamics, I think a big part of the whole like “Oh my God I’m a lesbian” thing, was to do with the fact that I didn’t fancy women the way men fancy women."
"Oh yeah? Like the male gaze versus the female gaze?"
"Yeah! Like I’ve never looked at women and been like “Ooooh yeah fuckin great rack” I don't look at them as inherently sexual. Like they can be sexual of course but not like…"
The word OBJECT hung heavy in the air between us.
"Because I was NOT objectifying women and NOT sexualising them… I didn’t realise that what I was feeling was still attraction because my knowledge of attraction was informed by patriarchal notions of beauty. Yeah, exactly. So that was quite a realisation for me - actually being like “Oh I am queer. It isn't just a girl crush.”"
After some chatting, we go onto the subject of Lolly’s colostomy bag.
"It’s actually just been made permanent! So I had an operation over Christmas" *she leaned in, feigning secrecy* "I had my bUmhOLE removed. It's called a ‘Barbie Butt’ operation."
"Can I ask - sorry this is such a strange question. But do people ever object to that surgery because they want to be able to do anal?"
"Yes but also if you just leave the other end of the intestines (as mine were - just sitting there) there’s a chance of re-connection. So because mine was so inflamed, they thought it would just be easier to take the entire thing out. I never got to try anal, I’m so upset!"
*dryly* "I’ll try it one day and tell you all about it."
*laughing* "I feel like I really missed out! By the time I was very sexually active I already had Crohn’s so I was like… hmm dunno if I want to do that. And now the opportunity’s gone..."
"Yeah that was a bit of a big operation and it also renders me pretty much infertile at this point… which I don't mind because I can't think of anything worse than having kids… But yeah everything’s kind of floating around in there."
"Do they not put anything where your rectum was as a way of structuring the space?"
"No, so they just remove it! I've been quite lucky because a lot of people find that afterwards the angle of their vagina will change because your rectum and your vagina are right next to each other - so if you get rid of one then the other can be affected!"
"That’s so interesting… to be fair I’m not entirely sure what a typical vagina angle is because I have a retroverted uterus."
"Yeah I only found out recently after a scan because of complications with my coil, but yeah, that was cute I guess!"
"Wait so it goes forwards instead of backwards??"
"Girl…. I truly don't know! The doctor told me as a side-note and because it’s quite common, I was like cool, word, I don't care. I should actually look into it!
I laughed and shrugged with bemused indifference."
"The first time I had penetrative sex after the op I was kind of scared like “oh no is my vagina broken” but it was all good. To be honest I still find dating difficult because I know, particularly with online dating and tinder, I, myself, judge people from 3 photos, I make assumptions. "
She spoke more slowly, with some reflection, and fidgeted with her cup.
"As much as I want to put photos up with my bag out on tinder, I know that the whole nature of tinder is that you can just swipe no. You don't have to face up to anything. Maybe if it was me, in another universe looking at someone’s bag, I’d be like “oooh I don't know what that is. That’s strange and scary to me so I’m just gonna swipe no.”"
Her gaze returned to me and our surroundings. There was an immediacy in her tone.
"Equally, it can then turn into something I have to admit at some point and that act of admission incites shame because you’re having to, like, ‘come clean’ about something that’s not shameful at all, in reality. But I’ve only had one experience where someone wasn’t cool with it. People are usually more intrigued or nervous to ask questions about it. Which is quite funny because I’m always like “Ask me fucking anything about it! I’m not shy about it! Like, do you know how many junior doctors have stuck their hand up my bum?”"
*We both laughed*
"That must’ve been such a magical journey for you!"
We composed ourselves, somewhat…
"What’s sex been like? Are there any difficulties?"
"I’d say the only thing is I miss morning sex. The thing with having a bag is that I’m not in control over when it works. So 5 mins after I wake up, it’ll work and I'll need to go empty it. And I just want to lie there, cuddle and have morning sex."
"But as for general sex, no. It's not like a constant thing, I'm pretty lucky in that I only need to empty it once a day - it doesn’t really get in the way. I mean I need to be a bit careful practically speaking - I have some scar tissue from the operations and I don't have a lot of feeling on one side of my vagina because of some nerve damage - although it's coming back slowly!"
"Navigating that has been a bit difficult. I mean it's the same with anything. You always have to explain to someone how best to touch you."
"Yeah like how your body works."
"I’d say one great thing is that, because it is so obvious, that conversation has to happen. It’s important to talk about what you do and don’t like. Needs and accommodations always come up."
"Because the bag isn't visible when you’re in clothing, do you ever get into situations in which you’re talking to someone who you haven’t had sex with and because they aren’t conscious of the bag, they say some ableist shit to you or something?"
"Personally, there are many reasons why I don’t have casual sex but the biggest one is probably that I really need to know the politics of the person I’m sleeping with. Like I can't sleep with someone and then find out that they’re a bigot… that would make me feel very wobbly."
"To be honest I think I’m quite lucky, you know, mostly because of my big echo chamber filled with people who are generally quite aware. But I don’t tend to come across that much ableism… I’ve found it actually quite interesting - less ableism and more corona-talk. Because people don't realise that I’m very vulnerable, they’ll say things to me that they wouldn’t say to an 80 year old. I've been on dates where someone is banging on about how annoying it's been to be on lockdown-"
"“Why should we have to stay in just so that the old people don't die”"
"Exactly. And when I hear that rhetoric I’m just like…. I dunno I didn’t even start explaining my disability and my position."
"Nor should you have to."
"Because it's just not worth it… like, people can be dicks and that probably won’t change because of my story."
"Yeah it really irritates me how when you’re part of a marginalised group of some kind, in order to get people to see your perspective, you have to personalise the discussion and disclose SO MUCH intimate information about yourself, that you just shouldn't have to. You really shouldn’t have to appeal to someone’s visceral attachment to you in order to get them to see your humanity. "
"Yeah. You're worthy of respect without having to divulge your entire life story."
And on that poignant note, we called it a day.