How Twitter changed my life

In November 2011 my wife Kerry attended the Stonewall Leadership Programme. A truly life changing course that taught her a huge amount about role models and what it meant to be a gay leader in the workplace. One of the things she brought home was how important it was to her and the others on the course to be in a room with their peers. As a gay woman it’s something she doesn’t have in her day to day job. She has a peer group at work but not a peer group that she can see herself mirrored in or observe obvious role models. Essentially, they are all straight. It was immensely powerful for her to be in a room of people who all had a shared core.

This came at a time when I was at home with our daughter, socialising with a small group of friends, mostly with children. I was missing the daily socialising of like-minded people I had had through work and looking to find something other than mums talking about their children. I wanted more than development milestones and cute stories. I wanted books and education and culture and politics and news. I wanted to find my peer group, my community.

And so I used Twitter. I followed journalists from the Guardian that I no longer managed to buy and read, I looked up authors that I loved and people that I looked up to. I followed their conversations and found more of the same. Suddenly I knew what was happening in the world again. I was following the news. I knew what books were coming out, even if I didn’t manage to read many of them. I found Stella Duffy and Caitlin Moran who re-politicised me. Shelley Harris who was immensely generous with her advice and encouragement to writers and readers. Isabel Costello and Zoe Toft who did all the hard work looking through all the newly published books and presented me with gem after gem on their reviewing sites. I was reading again, I was writing again, I was drawing again. I was thinking and learning and engaging with the world again.

That was when we all found out that Amazon weren’t paying their taxes. I needed to find somewhere new to buy my books, somewhere more ethical and real. I looked up local independent bookshops on Zoe’s site and found Bags of Books. A lovely children’s bookshop in Lewes, not that far up the road. It just so happened that there was an author event with Clara Vulliamy coming up that we could take our daughter to. We did just that and we had a lovely morning listening to stories, chatting with Clara and making tiny mouse houses out of match boxes. Afterwards, what better way to say thank you to Clara than to look her up on twitter? I looked her up that same weekend and we haven’t stopped chatting.

And now I feel like I have really found my peer group, that community of like-minded people that I fit with and can see myself in. I have started Rhino Reads and The Rainbow Library. I have role models and have become a role model to others. I have found friends and inspiration. I have found support and advice. I have found my place. So thank you to Stonewall for showing us the importance of peer groups and role models. Thank you to my lovely friendly twitter community, particularly those mentioned above and the Rainbow Library crew of children’s book authors, illustrators and bloggers. And thank you to my wife for sharing her Stonewall learnings so enthusiastically and honestly.

So who am I?

Well that is the big question. Who am I, and what am I doing here?

I have never blogged before. I havent seen any relevance in it for me. Why would I write a blog when I have nothing to say, nothing to promote, nothing to achieve. Why would anyone want to read anything I have to say?

I was clearly missing the point.

I now think differently.

I am a woman. I am gay. I am a wife. I am a mum. I was a student. I was a teacher. I am still learning. I am still teaching. All these things seem very relevant now.

I am a mum to a 2 and half yr old and I am beginning to emerge from behind the nappies, the playdough and the children’s tv.

I don’t like what I’m seeing.

Before I had my daughter I was a teaching assistant in a primary school. It wasn’t the most well paid job in the world and there was a fair amount of staff room bitchiness, ineptitude and politics to deal with. But I loved it. I loved the children and seeing them achieve and benefit from a little extra help. Now I look at my friends and old colleagues and I see mass redundancies, teachers working with no assistants or assistance, budget slashing, newly qualified teachers working in cafes because they can’t get a teaching post but have uni debt to pay off, mums living on 40 pounds a week because their DLA has been cut, and endless, endless paperwork. It is clearly hurting them. Ultimately, it is the kids who lose out. Childrens centres and services are being cut, libraries are closing, schools are being forced to increase class sizes and reduce staff. If a child survives all that unscathed they make it to university where the fees are so high they are starting out in life with a debt that will burden them for years.

Do I want to go back into that environment? I don’t think so. My wife says you have to be in it to change it and I think she’s probably right. A thinking point.

When you are a parent you look at the world through your child’s potential future. I do not like what I see. Our government are tearing at society and public services whilst giving hefty tax breaks to huge companies. Rick Santorum and Margaret Court are shouting out to the world that my family is unnatural and poisonous. And yet I do see a lot of hope. The uncut and occupy movements give me hope. Stonewall gives me hope. The mainstream acceptance of gay parents like Charlie Condou gives me hope.

If last year, with its accounts of the Arab spring, the uk uncut movement, its good, bad and ugly has taught me anything, it’s that you are never a lone voice. You are always a part of a community, you share an ideology with others.

I am a woman. I am gay. I am a mum. I was a student. I was a teacher. I have read Jeanette Winterson and Caitlin Moran enough to know that there is something in that.

A good friend of mine once told me that I never finish anything (apart from relationships). She was absolutely right! I am very easily distracted. I start something and whilst working on it I come across something interesting and I follow it, abandoning the original project. I have half an open uni degree in English literature. I got distracted. (And now the course fees have gone up astronomically, I may never complete it.) But I learnt a lot in those three years and it’s all patchwork pieces.
So maybe I’ll come across a great article somewhere and get pulled in another direction, maybe I’ll never write more than this, maybe my embracing of twitter will take over entirely and I’ll never achieve anything other than laughing at pictures of cats.

But I have said this. And maybe, for now, that is enough.

I’m looking forward to finding out.