When she was 15, Jen Brister told her bedroom she was a lesbian and then climbed back into the closet for yonks. In the second instalment of a three-part series the comedian fondly remembers Dyke TV (of the none Dick Van variety).
Depression is a weird thing and by weird I do mean awful. It’s all consuming and relentless. You can’t escape it whether you’re with friends or on your own.
It follows you round, it sits on your shoulder, and it reminds you there’s a beef and tomato pot noodle in the cupboard with your name on it. You have to hate yourself to eat that crap.
Looking back I feel sorry for the fat, lonely narcoleptic me. I’d sleep 16 hours a day, waking only for a large spliff and several spoonfuls of Bisto cheese granules. Yeah that’s right, I ate CHEESE GRANULES STRAIGHT FROM THE TUB! I never had enough saliva to quite make a cheese sauce in my mouth, but I got close.
Why I didn’t just come out I’ll never know. I mean it’s not like I was ugly. Sure, I was fat but so what? The truth is I was FAT and YOUNG. With hindsight that’s two great things because it means you have massive tits AND they stand to attention. What’s not to like?
But instead of embracing my sexuality I spent three years at university telling everyone I wasn’t gay, “I’m not gay”, “Yeah ok fine I was just…” “No but seriously I know I look a bit gay and everyone thinks I’m gay, but I’m not gay”, “Yeah I hear you, I just wondered if…” “Not that there’s anything wrong with being gay, but I’m not so…” “Sorry could you just tell me where the station is?” Awkward.
Clearly consumed by internalised homophobia I pretended to like men. I even got semi-nude with a couple of them, had a good look at the semis on offer and promptly got dressed and went home again. Of course I was telling EVERYONE that I was having sex. When they asked with whom? I would tell them very clearly that I was sleeping with guys/men/blokes with penises and such like. Not only that, I loved all the sexy times I was having! I loved it so much that I was going to have to stop doing ‘it’ until I met ‘the one.’
Obviously by ‘the one’ I meant the one bloke that I’d fancy. That one. The one that doesn’t exist. Him. Weirdly, he never rocked up allowing me to continue to not have sex with anyone for another four years. As it turns out self-loathing is a great contraceptive.
I am in awe of anyone that came out as a teen because I didn’t have it in me to do it. It took me years to accept myself and I can honestly say it was a heavy mixture of sexual frustration, a series called Dyke TV and my friend Kel.
It was the summer of 1996 and I was gayer than a gay person that had just announced they’re gay at a gay conference in Brighton, but without the awareness (still). I was 21 and my repressed sexuality was surfacing and a newly found frustration was haunting me. I had finished university, moved back home with my folks and started working at a pub in Kingston.
Finishing late, but always wired after a shift I would arrive home, slump in front of the television and watch whatever crap was on. It was on a Friday night like any other that I flicked through the channels only to see two women KISSING. WOMEN KISSING. Can I just say that again? THERE WERE TWO WOMEN KISSING ON MY TELEVISION SCREEN!
I immediately looked about me. Was anyone else awake? Would they walk in and see me watching these two women and assume that I was enjoying it? (I was enjoying it). What if they thought I was gay too? (I was gay too). It wasn’t like I was watching this filth on purpose? (After 30 minutes, let’s be honest; I was watching this filth on purpose.)
I can’t even remember what program I stumbled across, all I knew was that straight after that programme there was ANOTHER programme about lesbians, followed by ANOTHER programme. I looked it up on Ceefax, something insane was happening on my television!
Up until this point I had never seen a real life lesbian on TV before let alone lesbians plural. And there it was, Dyke TV, a series dedicated to all things lesbian. It started at midnight and went straight through to 5am. That was five hours of documentaries, films and debates about lezzas! It was like it had been programmed especially for me and I was transfixed. What was even better was that these women weren’t bi-curious or straight women open to experimenting, they were like me, GAY. Not only that, several of them were even… ATTRACTIVE.
I can’t remember how long the series went on for but I do remember I videoed every single second of it. I watched every dreadful lesbian film ever made and let me tell you there are loads of them.
I learnt about ‘vanilla’ dykes and stone butches, lipstick lesbians and what it really meant to be ‘packing.’ I was in the ‘know’ about all things lesbian. I was practically a lesbian. Practically.
When the series ended I did what any self-respecting homophobe would do. I stepped straight back inside my very well furnished and oh so comfortable closet.
Next week in Standard Issue, the last instalment of Jen’s Coming Out sees her, well, come out.
Jen Brister is a stand-up comic, writer and comedy actor. A regular performer on the UK and international circuit, she has also written for BBC Scotland and presented for BBC 6Music.