Pride Month may have passed, but activism spotlighting queer visibility is a year-round cause. Behind the banners, the slogans and group parties stand a community affixed to the call for progressive change. Marching for revolution and queer rights is vital, but breaking down stigmas of self-love, understanding and appreciation is equally necessary. How can a community evolve if it continues to be enshrouded in shame and a lack of self-love? Together, GAY TIMES and Sensodyne have launched the Life’s Too Short campaign to capture the importance of living authentically as a unified community, as well as individually in our pride. We have asked four contributors to reveal what empowers them to feel valued as part of the LGBTQ+ community, what advice they would share to those still figuring it out, and what queer joy looks like to them.
An aspiring film photographer, Saffron Liberty uses her creative outlet as an opportunity for escapism and self-expression. Queer joy resonates with her as she believes it offers hope and community. “The visibility queer joy instils offered me the confidence to understand myself. I think it gives people a sense of community when they may have otherwise felt alone,” she explains. The 23-year-old stuck to the ethos of self-belief and encouragement. For her, living authentically includes “being proud of myself and every single member of the queer community however they identify”. More than anything, Saffron sees the crux of queer celebration as a space of freedom and self-expression.
Existing in a heteronormative society, many LGBTQ+ people can find the default understandings of sexuality and identity overwhelming and limiting; these societal preconditions were something Saffron has to reckon with. “The conditioning means for queer people their identity can be a much more confusing, long-winded journey,” she explains. “The first moment I felt truly myself was when I began to recognise my subconscious compulsive desire to identify as straight and began to accept my authentic self.”
Since journeying on a greater understanding of her identity, the photographer has revelled in living in the moment. “It’s important to live in the moment to avoid regret. When I look back at my life so far there’s so much time I spent not being true to myself, and I realise now that that was holding me back,” Saffron says. “Living more fearlessly allows me to be positive and to get the most I can out of life.”
Moving forward, the 23-year-old is refusing to yield to anyone else’s opinions or ideas of identity — “I make sure nothing holds me back in life by being unapologetically myself!” As a lesbian, Saffron has come to understand and appreciate the uniqueness of the LGBTQ+ community. “I think people’s individuality and the things that set them apart from the crowd are what make them beautiful,” she tells GAY TIMES. “Instead of trying to please people, I think the best thing you can do is try to act true to yourself, that way the people and experiences you come by will be truly meant for you.” Looking ahead, she hopes his experiences and advice can serve the community well. “Take it slowly. Exploring your identity is a journey that takes both time and patience,” she advises. “Choose yourself. Remember there’s always a place for you.”
Calypso Barnum-Bobb is an avid fan of travel, nature and swimming. As a part of Sensodyne’s campaign to platform queer joy and visibility, the 27-year-old shares what queer joy means to her as a part of the LGBTQ+ community. “Queer joy, to me, means the ability to thrive as myself, in all of my queerness without doubt or question. It’s freedom. And love. And full to the brim of happiness. It’s being able to walk down the street hand in hand with my girlfriend, kiss her over dinner, wearing whatever we want.”
While Calypso has reached a comfortable point of self-fulfilment, she admits her growth took time and projects this message forward to the LGBTQ+ community. Recalling a moment, four years ago, where she had shared a photo of herself, wearing a bra, football shirt, and existing to her own definition of beauty, the 27-year-old had a personal breakthrough. “I had come out a few months prior, and it was the first time that I saw beauty in my so-called “imperfections”. It was like accepting my queerness allowed me to love the parts of me that I hated before, and that was the first moment I truly felt myself.”
Calypso reflects on the motif of Sensodyne’s Life’s Too Short campaign — living queerly in the moment. “There is so much power in the present. Surrendering to be here now brings me so much peace,” she explains, emphasising the importance of self-ownership. “The past has happened and you can’t change that. And often, there will be stuff that might affect your ability to live in the moment or taint your thoughts about the future. We all get to decide every single day and your future is purely a reflection of the decisions you make in the present. So be in it, lead with love and do what you truly feel is right.”
Tamoor Ali is a 39-year-old fitness enthusiast who balances his daily experiences to steer away from the negativity he has experienced as a gay Pakistani Muslim. Tamoor shares what queer joy looks like to him for Sensodyne’s campaign. For the most part, this shamelessness comes from being “happy, proud, fearless and living your life” — these are principles Ali has instilled in his daily life to meet his definition of queer joy. “The joy comes from the everyday little things from holding your partner’s hand to having the box to tick on a form you are filling in and having that feeling of being included,” he explains. “It also means a life where you can be authentic and have the same opportunities as everyone else.”
Finding queer joy and living life to its fullest – as Senodyne’s Life’s Too Short campaign advocates – includes being true to yourself. For Ali, this came with Coming Out to his family. “The day I told my mum that I was gay changed my life. It gave me that feeling of acceptance and relief at the same time and I knew then the world could not do anything to dampen my spirit,” he recalls. Since then, the 39-year-old has refused to let anything hold him back. “I try to make sure that I approach life with a proactive and “to do” attitude. If I give it my best go and it doesn’t work, then I know it’s not because of me and I move on,” he says. “If it’s something that I really want then I know I need to go after it hard and make sure that I give it all.” In the spirit of queer joy, Ali shares a line of wisdom for others in underrepresented positions: “Be happy with who you are, as at the end of the day you will be in charge of your happiness.”
Andre Johnsen is a fellowship manager for London-based socially conscious entrepreneurial talent. When we ask what queer joy looks like for Sensodyne’s Life’s Too Short campaign, he replies with a succinct take: “Queer joy is an act of rebellion.” Pride, for many of us, didn’t come free and is an act of resistance, opposed to a celebration, and Andre agrees. “We grew up in a world where our joy was illicit. One day I believe this rebellion won’t be necessary. However, until that day, we must live with the knowledge that by rebelling, we allow others to come forward in their queerness. Our joy liberates queer and straight people alike from homophobia, patriarchy and transphobia.”
Continually striving towards an image of equality across the queer community, Andre has also encountered queer joy and relief on a personal level. “For my 26th birthday, I threw myself a literal coming out party. At that point, most of my friends had no idea I was gay, so I booked a bar, showed up with my boyfriend and point-blank introduced him to all my friends as my boyfriend, no questions asked,” he retells. “I wanted to send a message to people that I didn’t need to “come out”. The change needed wasn’t with me, it was with them. After I got home, I cried for 20 minutes. The relief I felt in that evening was indescribable.”
As the LGBTQ+ community moves towards a more inclusive space, the 29-year-old agrees to share his tips for those newly navigating their feelings for the Life’s Too Short campaign. “If you’re not ready to come out, you might think about finding one person to tell. The first is the hardest and the gateway for you to take one closer step to living your truth,” he explains. Next, the advocate offers a powerful statement for current generations of the community: “Allyship isn’t something you can claim, it’s a title you’re given: Let’s get better about actually fighting for the rights of our trans siblings, our siblings who are racialized, and our disabled siblings. Liberation for queerness must extend past white, cis, able-bodied middle-class men. Frankly, we aren’t there yet, but it seems a lot of queer people behave like we are.” Looking ahead to a bolder future, Andre hopes queer joy can rise forward and compassion can lead: “Now is the time for leadership within the queer community to step up and step out.”