My Queer Journey: From Suburbia to Activism

Phyll Opoku-Gyimah

In this blog for Pride Month, Jason shares his good humoured, engaging and personal discovery of his queer journey from suburbia to activism.

It wasn’t until I started at university that I realised my queer journey was not one shared by everyone. I grew up in North West London, properly monotonous suburbia, green and grey, unremarkable – perfectly nice if you like that sort of thing, but hardly a gay utopia. I went to an equally unremarkable Catholic school which prided itself solely on not being the other Catholic school down the road.

So far so dull. I knew I was gay from as early as I can remember (most specifically, as soon as I saw my sister’s Take That album cover), so I didn’t feel I had anything in particular to come to terms with (how wrong I was!).

In my teens I put a modicum of effort into pretending I fancied Sarah Michelle Gellar, but really, I just loved Buffy The Vampire Slayer, and I thought her red pleather trousers were cool.

My public (and enduring) love for the Sugababes didn’t really add much to my masculine mystique, and yet I was disappointed to learn no one at school was surprised when I announced I was gay. But I had told my whole year that ‘Gangsta’s Paradise’ was my favourite song! And I bought that James Bond DVD box set! Ugh, was nobody fooled?  

Fast-forward a couple of years, and I was on my way up to Uni, after a bacchanalian gap year where I spent half my time in gay bars and clubs in Soho, kitted out in women’s black drainpipe jeans, pointy shoes, skinny ties and braces like some rogue member of The Klaxons. “I’ve never met a gay person before” was a common response to me loudly and proudly announcing my sexual orientation. “You have but they didn’t feel comfortable enough to tell you”, was my sour retort.  

After getting dolled out to hit the once-weekly LGBTQ+ night in the aforementioned skinny jeans, and pointy shoes, with new addition of Liberty print bow ties, I found the whole experience tame and boring. As I quickly found out, the gay scene at Uni was based around the choir, rather than the club, upending everything I knew. A choral scholar I am not, so I took my bow tie and bolted.  

And then slowly, but steadily, new friends of mine asked if I could talk to their pal in another college, or in the year above, who had just come out and was struggling to find someone to talk to. It all seemed a bit weird to me – it’s not that hard is? Just whack on a bow tie and head to Rendezvous (what a name) like a normal person!

Grudgingly, initially, I met with these people, and I listened. I heard about how badly their families had treated them. Heard about how they had been bullied their whole lives. Heard about how they had suffered from sexual violence.

And this fundamentally changed how I thought about my queer community. I realised that actually my journey hasn’t been unremarkable at all. Apparently not all Catholic schools teach about homosexuality and abortion without moralising (!!!).

Apparently not all parents and siblings let their sons/brothers so a stunning dance routine performance of Who Do U Think U R by the Spice Girls in the living room. Not all 16-year-olds had a local gay pub who would serve you and your mates drinks with a knowing nod because it was a safe space to be with your community.

I realised what a narrow view I had regarding the queer experience. It didn’t start and end with my own! 

I knew then that actually I had a responsibility to listen and learn about different queer experiences, from those of the previous generation, those we lost to AIDS and the queer women who supported men through that, to the experiences of the trans community, those of African, Asian, Caribbean, Latin American and Middle Eastern descent.

All these stories and histories make up the queer experience and are never universal. 

I pivoted my degree to focus heavily on queer theory and interdisciplinary study (I studied Geography so you can make anything fit), I ended up going to New York for the summer to research for my dissertation on disappearing queer spaces (see, I told you anything fits…).

I spent a lot of time with the incredible African American and Latinx queer communities of the Meat-Packing District and Greenwich Village, and heard so many stories of pain, loss, but also the uplifting power of community and chosen family. This experience changed me forever and has still helping to shape my future life too. In time, I want to train as a psychotherapist with a focus on the unique struggles of queer people.  

This Pride Month, I encourage everyone to think more widely about the whole spectrum of queer experiences. Sure, Pride in London on Saturday 29 June is a fun day out with your mates (God forbid you need the toilet), but it’s incredibly corporate and I’m not convinced its effective in changing policy or even creating a sense of community power.

London Trans+ Pride is on Saturday 27 July, and UK Black Pride on Sunday 11 August both are incredible displays of community action and there’s an amazing energy which makes you feel optimistic about the future despite all the vitriol we see across the media and in real life.  Pride in Southwark takes place on Saturday 22 June  kicking the day off from noon at the London LGBTQ+ Community Centre, followed by a march at 1pm , and finishing at Borough Yards from 2pm for a fabulous inclusive line-up of entertainment celebrating all things queer and the community.

I have included an illustration (by my partner, Stuart Patience) of the inspirational role model Phyll Opoku-Gyimah who is the CEO & Co-founder of UK Black Pride who is great example of a powerful queer community leader.

Happy Pride Month! 


Phyll Opoku-Gyimah