Eastshade: gaming, grief, and lockdown

Mild spoilers for Eastshade within.

One of the few joys of lockdown has been the chance to discover new games and play them for hours on end without interuption. I notched up 10 consecutive hours in Heaven’s Vault one Saturday back in May because it was so entralling, I just couldn’t bring myself to stop. And the light evenings back then meant I could still go for my permitted walk of the day afterwards. How fabulous!

For the past few weeks people have been feeling on edge, knowing lockdown restrictions could become harsher any at moment with little to no warning. For many, this uncertainty and lack of clarity has been some of the hardest aspects of the pandemic to deal with.

Now full lockdowns are happening again in parts of the UK – and it looks like next week the rest of us will join them. It will be harder this time with colder, wetter weather taking away our chance to enjoy time outside coupled with long, dark evenings.

Life has been reduced to trying to similtanously savour and grieve the things you know will soon be taken away from you again. Every weekend I go for what could be my last meal at a restuarant for a while. Or see a friend in a park for what could be the last time for a while. It’s hard to fully enjoy these activities though, because we just don’t know.

Over the past month I also had a grief milestone looming over me. On Sunday, the sad and grief-stricken day arrived where I had lived longer without my mum than with her. As always with grief-milstones, the build-up was very emotional and intense (and always worse than the actual day itself for some reason!). I felt quietly heartbroken and I didn’t have anyone to talk about it with who understood or knew what that day meant to me.

And then I stumbled upon Eastshade. What a beautiful, moving, life-affirming game! It gave me everything I didn’t realise I needed.

A screenshot showing a beautiful, green landscape with some mountains in the distance, and a hot air balloon rising into the sky.

It is very carefully and thoughtfully designed. At the start of the game, you travel to a small island populated with talking, walking animal folk. Your reason for visiting is that your mother really loved this place. You want to find and paint 4 beautiful views on the island that she told you about. She died an unspecified amount of time ago. This is OK though because the grief is quietly there but it’s not so raw it’s unbearable. You have gentle challenges to move the game along but nothing is urgent, nothing bad will happen to you and nothing can hurt you. You can find and complete other quests along the way but they are also small and gentle, like helping someone to find something. Or discovering the source of the music in the woodlands at night.

Exploring is the heart of the game. All the quests are designed to get you look around and discover something more and you are always rewarded for this. Every flower, beach, woodland trail, and sunset is just magnificent. It is so beautifully crafted. For example, the light changes depending on the time of the day. So I often found my way back to the beach, river, or tower top just to appreciate it during a different moment.

The sound design was also exquisite and again, I often found myself visiting places just to hear a particular piece of music, or the waves, or the sound of paddling my raft on the lake.

Another clever bit of design was the way that areas of the island opened up for exploration. At first you are in a small village, then the surrounding area, then the town etc. etc. You always had enough to explore and still feel free to do whatever you wanted without getting lost or feeling too overwhelmed. Just as one area might start to get a bit boring, another opened up. As you began to tire of walking around, you earned enough money to buy a bike or a pulley wheel. Then you could have fun whizzing around on wheels or zooming down ziplines to previously inaccessible areas.

When you return home at the end of game, you see the pictures you painted on the island and the letters you received from new friends made.

A screenshot from a cave on the beach, looking out to the sky, the sea, and a cliff face. A stone column divides the view of the sky into two.


Everything I’ve just described matches the criteria for boosting mental well-being, doesn’t it? It feels like the game was deliberately designed with this in mind.

  • Exploring your surroundings
  • Appreciating nature
  • Discovering new and exciting things
  • Helping others, and being helped in return
  • Overcoming challenges
  • Making new friends
  • Going somewhere new
  • Doing things to remember the people we love

We can’t do a lot of these things in real life right now, so I feel so blessed to have discovered this game at a time where I could benefit from it the most. Thanks to Eastshade, I can do these things virtually instead. I have a wonderful and safe place to return to any time I like.

That’s all great but why are you talking about it here, in your blog on bisexuality?

Good question! Well, one of the quests is to get two erm, female bearfolk, together. They have feelings for each other, but aren’t sure if the other feels the same. Your task is to invite one of them to a picnic so the other can tell them how they feel. So sweet! And I didn’t know it was coming so it was such a pleasant surprise.

This quest really made me smile. It was simple, joyful, LGBTQ+ inclusion in a really nice and meaningful way. The quest was treated exactly the same as any other in the game. That’s all I’ve ever wanted in the media I consume really, to be represented and treated just like everyone else.

Thank you for giving that to me, Eastshade. I love you.

A screen shot of a waterfall, lined by trees either side. Trees with green leaves on the left, and a deep shade of pink on the right. Again, the sun and moon are visible in the sky.

When I feel too anxious to eat

Content note: In this post I talk about anxiety, struggling to eat, and mushy foods that help me.

Disclaimer: None of this is medical advice, just my thoughts! Please speak to your doctor if your mental and/or physical health is taking a turn for the worse at the moment.

I want to write about topics like this to normalise talking about mental health problems, especially as they are so prevalent in the bi community. It’s easy to look around and feel like you are the only one.

Do you ever get so anxious it makes you feel sick? Thankfully it doesn’t happen to me very often, but when it does I really hate it. It sticks around for ages and even when I do everything ‘right’ to help myself and self care nothing seems to make a dent in it.

I signed up for counselling. Exercise regularly. Get lots of sleep and rest. Talk to friends. Etc. etc. etc. thanks for nothing, anxious brain. I feel full all the time, and when I cook I can barely swallow more than a few mouthfuls.

When you feel like this, what food helps you?

For me soft, mushy food is all I can manage. My favourites are:

  • smoothies
  • sausages and baked beans
  • soup
  • porridge with cinnamon
  • ice cream & ice lollies

Something that helps me is, putting a small amount on my plate to start with so I’m not putting any pressure on myself. Often I feel able to go back for seconds – which feels better for me than starting with too much and feeling overwhelmed then having to put some back.

I try to be gentle with myself and remember that this round of anxiety will break at some point and I will feel a lot more normal again.

Hugs for all of us.

Beautiful books to add to your reading list

I have read two memoirs this year which I wholeheartedly recommend and go really well together.

The first is “We Have Always Been Here” by Samra Habib. I first heard of Samra when I attended a panel on the Desi LGBTQ+ scene at the WOW Festival in London this year. I was captivated by what she had to say and pretty much ran to the book table to buy a copy her memoir afterwards.

The cover for “We Have Always Been Here”. At first glance it shows a pattern of pink, green, orange, and turquoise shapes – which you then realise are actually the outlines of people.

Samra writes about her childhood in Pakistan and what is was like to arrive in Canada as a refugee. She had to navigate two very different cultures and later escape an arranged marriage at 16. Like many who have to move countries, and many who realise they are queer within a homophobic/Islamaphobic society, what followed was a search for her own culture and identity – and how she can inhabit her truest self.

It is beautifully written. It is moving and inspiring. It is the kind of book you hug after finishing because reading it meant so much. Months later, I still think about the author from time to time and celebrate who she is and the amazing things she has achieved. (Like this photography project on being Muslim and queer, for example.)

Next on the list is “My Life as a Unicorn” by Amrou Al-Kadhi, a British-Iraqi who struggled to fit in and find a sense of self whilst trying to satisfy the unachievable demands of both cultures. Their Muslim family instructed them to not be gay and did things like throw away their gender non-confirming clothes. Outside of home, the world treats them no better for being gay, effeminate, Muslim and born outside the UK.

Whilst funny at times, this memoir also left me feeling anger and despair at everything they have had to go through – just for existing. I am so glad Amrou found joy, healing, acceptance and themselves through drag.

I really wish this book were mandatory for everyone. Our society would be a lot better for waking up to the hell we are currently putting people through.

The book features features a pink, helium unicorn balloon on the cover, surrounded by quotes of recommendation.

One thing that really struck me from reading Amrou’s memoir was the long-lasting harm of internalised homophobia. Speaking from my own experiences, I tend to forget the damage it does because I’m used to it always being there. This reminded me how brutal it can be.

As with Samra, I admire Amrou’s strength and courage so much. Especially when, towards the end of the book, they confront their parents about their homophobia. Something which all of us in similar situations have imagined doing at some point.

I only finished reading this last night but I am sure that months later I will still think about Amrou too, and celebrate who they are and the amazing things they have achieved.

“For my entire life you have made me feel so bad for being gay and for being myself. You told me I was the source of your unhappiness. Well you know what, you are the source of mine…

…Unless you are willing to apologise for what you have put me through, I have nothing to say to you.”

Amrou Al-Kadhi

(UK only) Could you take part in some research?

Taking part in a research study is a simple and easy piece of activism to do. This one involves answering questions on your thoughts and experiences of the workplace. It takes around 45 minutes and it’s completely anonymous.

You can also share the link to this page to help the researchers reach even more bi people. Their Call for Participants can be found below.

TL;DR – email dora.jandric@ed.ac.uk to sign up or find out more!


Call for Participants in Research on Bisexuality in the Workplace

The picture shows the logo of University of Edinburgh Business School on the left, the logo for British Academy of Management in the middle, and the bi flag on the right hand side. These are the logos present on the ‘Call for Participants’ PDF being circulated by the researchers.

Michelle O’Toole and Tom Calvard of the University of Edinburgh Business School, along with research assistant Dora Jandric from the School of Social and Political Science, are conducting research on the experiences of bisexual employees in the workplace. This research project is funded by the British Academy of Management (BAM) and the University of Edinburgh Business School (UEBS) and is being conducted between September 2019 and September 2020.

The overall purpose of this research is to investigate the identity work of bisexual employees in the workplace. Bisexuality is typically marginalised and stigmatised in employment and national cultures (Monro, 2015). Conceptually, this work seeks to build theory around the distinctively relational, performative and invisible aspects of bisexual identities in a range of work settings, theorizing the sensemaking and identity work challenges such identities pose in relation to fostering inclusive organisational cultures and practices. We believe that awareness of this issue is vital to promote a more diverse, supportive, and inclusive working
environment.

We are looking for people who are UK resident, have worked in the UK for a minimum of 2 years and identify themselves as bisexual.

Interviews and focus groups will be carried out by Dora Jandric, the research assistant on the project. The interviews will be via Skype or by telephone and will last around 30-40 minutes.

The focus groups will be via Skype and will last around 60-90 minutes.

If you are interested in taking part, please email Dora Jandric at: dora.jandric@ed.ac.uk.

Anonymity is guaranteed.

We’d be most grateful if you could circulate this information to your members.

Many thanks,

Michelle O’Toole, Tom Calvard and Dora Jandric

Young Bisexual People & Self Injury Study

Bi's of Colour

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Website: SIBL research study http://man.ac.uk/9YjBjj

The SIBL research study is looking to examine which psychological factors or processes are associated with non-suicidal self-injury (NSSI) in young bisexual people. The reason we are focussing on young people is because adolescence/young adulthood is a time when this behaviour has been found to particularly emerge.
 
We are looking for people aged 16-25, who identify as bisexual (or attracted to more than one gender), and who have had NSSI thoughts/urges/behaviour in the previous 6 months. We will ask participants to fill out short online surveys once a week for 6 weeks. These surveys take around 10-15 minutes to complete. For every survey a participant does, they have the choice to be entered into a prize draw for that week. There are 6 prize draws, each with a £50 Amazon voucher (total prizes: £300). Participants don’t have to be entered into these draws…

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Queering Maths-World

a heart shaped peg in a big round world

During this Covid-19 Lockdown I’m away from my Poly-Family and other networks as well apart from my Family-of-Origin – doing my best to stay safe in the more asthma-friendly air by the sea. I’m really missing actively being an Aunty to my (one of) my partner’s children children – phone calls and Skype are great but they aren’t the same as actually being with them. For health protection it makes perfect sense to divide us all up by household but that’s not how many of our complicated and wonderful families usually work….

Even though I’m not responsible for the meta-children’s day-to-day “home learning” I’ve been looking out for useful resources for them and was really pleased to find these learning packs from Stonewall. We frequently discuss “different families” (including that our family has a different shape from many of the school friends’) and read age-appropriate LGBT+ themed books together…

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(In)Accessibility & Covid-19

TL;DR – we must make sure our society is as accessible as possible, and the bi+ community must keep organising online socials and events post-lockdown.


For many different reasons, the wider world was out of reach to a lot of people before the lockdown. Most buildings and public transport are not accessible. A disability or chronic health condition might keep someone at home. Someone might have caring responsibilities. Or things simply cost too much. Over 20% of the UK’s population lives in poverty.

All of the above issues affect bi+ people disproportionately.

Everyone’s experience of lockdown has been different, but for many the world has been brought within reach as services and entertainment move online. Flexible hours and home working become normalised as workplaces are closed.

But for those who don’t use the Internet or can’t afford it, what then as more and more things move online, often permanently, during the pandemic?

It makes me angry when people praise how innovative we have been and how well we have adapted to the current situation. Nearly all of these things could have easily been done before – if the awareness and the willingness to do it had been there!! So many people have been denied access to work or been forced to leave because companies refuse to offer flex or home working. So many couldn’t study because universities offered no alternatives to face-to-face learning, and penalised those who couldn’t attend every single lecture. And so many couldn’t socialise because friends and family never thought to hang out online before.

I’m angry with myself too. I set up and ran a group for bi+ people in Nottingham several years ago. I tried to be as inclusive as possible, for example I visited every single venue in the city centre in order to find an accessible one to host the socials. Yet I never even realised I could have held meet ups online for those who couldn’t attend in person. It seems so obvious now. I’m sorry to those I let down.

I’m angry at my governent. Their failings mean that a lot of people have died needlessly and continue to do so. They are doing a piss poor job of making the right things accessible to the people that need them. For example, food to those shielding, or having a sign language interpreter at daily press briefings. I celebrate and value the innovative ways individuals and charities pick up the pieces. I just worry because I doubt the government will take responsibility and put that infrastructure in place going forwards. They will force others to keep providing so they can keep the money in their hands. (When compared to similar countries, the UK has one of the biggest gaps between the richest and the poorest.)

As the lockdown is lifted over the coming months, I’m worried about the impact our socially distanced world will have if we don’t plan properly. Do pub chains really have to fix chairs to the floors in order to re-open? Can’t they just trust people instead, so that anyone who needs to move the chair (i.e because they’re on wheels) can? If the hard of hearing can’t understand what someone is saying behind a mask and a plastic screen, are alternatives being put in place to help people communicate?

In finding our ‘new normal’ we must not forget what we gained from this horrific pandemic. Employers must continue to offer home working where possible. And people must push back if companies try to take it away again!! Services and entertainment must keep some kind of home based alternative in mind for those who can’t attend in person. And we must remember this and we must push back if they start to forget in the future!!

What about the bi+ community? I think in the past it has left out those who couldn’t attend events in person and those based in rurual areas – but we have a chance to remedy this. It is our duty to keep organising online socials and events post-lockdown, and figure out ways to include anyone this format will not reach.

Resources for Covid-19

Many of us across the world are either social-distancing, self-isolating, or living under a lockdown because of the coronavirus at the moment.

LGBTQ+ people already experience higher rates of mental health problems, disability, underlying health conditions, domestic violence, and lower levels of income. We might also be trapped living with people who are homo/bi/transphobic at the moment. This is going to be an especially difficult time for us.

I know life can feel pretty bad right now so I hope these resources are useful for you. Don’t forget that you can use Facebook groups and apps like Meet Up to chat with other LGBTQ+ people. Many queer groups are now having digital hangouts. Perfect for hopping along to say, Manchester BiPhoria if you live in rural Wales and there are no local groups near you! If you are nervous about joining a group for the first time you could message the group organiser in advance. You don’t have to put your video on if you don’t want to!

Just remember that you are not alone, and for every dark thing that happens there are people in the LGBTQ+ community who are rallying together to help each other.

If a resource for a specific issue or medical condition isn’t listed here, please give one of the LGBT helplines a call as they will be able to signpost you to other services.

These are all UK based organisations and websites. If you live elsewhere and know of any resources for your country please comment below, then I will add them to this post. Thank you.

Organisation What they do
GallopLGBT+ domestic abuse helpline
Micro RainbowSuport and housing for LGBTI asylum seekers and refugees.
London Bi PandasHave set up a Covid-19 hardship fund for people living in London.
LGBT+ FoundationHas a whole section on Covid-19, including what your rights are, how to access services, living well in lockdown and where to get support.
Queer CareProvide support if you are isolating and need help/deliveries. Or you can volunteer to help others. Has resources on how to deliver items to others safely and organise a local network in your area.
MermaidsSupport for trans kids & young people.
The Proud TrustFind your local LGBT+ youth group.
Just Like UsCurrently looking at ways to support LGBTQ+ teenagers who are stuck at home with families they can’t come out to.
MindMental health charity. Have a web page on how to cope with things like anxiety, isolation, depression, etc. during the pandemic.
LGBT+ SwitchboardHelpline, chat, and email service.
ShoutText based helpline. Text SHOUT to 85258
Papyrus Have a telphone line and chat service for when you’re feeling distressed/suicidal.
For U35s.
CALMSame as above, but their services are for men.
Turn2UsWebsite to help you find a charity or grant giving organisation if you are experiencing financial hardship.
Money Saving ExpertHelps you make the most out of your finances. E.g. if someone who banks with Nationwide refers a friend to switch current accounts, you both get £100.
Citizens AdviceWebsite providing information on topics such as debt, housing, law, work, benefits, consumer rights, etc. Has a section on Covid-19.

Fragmentation of Self

I’ve been having a lot of lightbulb moments in the past few months that have really helped me figure out why I feel so disjointed.

I think it started before Christmas. I caught the movie Let it Snow which had queer cast members and a queer storyline. Until then I hadn’t realised that I’d never seen a queer Christmas film. Only the occassional film with a pop up gay best friend or sibling who was promptly put away again. Let it Snow meant so much to me. I really enjoyed the film and its existance made me feel so jubilent. Here was something Christmassy – for me! Finally! In my 30s! And then it clicked that I had always subconsciously filed Christmas away as a straight thing.

Then I realised that was part of a bigger structure for me. I think for many bi+ people, the only way you can get by in the world is by seperating yourself and compartalising. It’s been a survival mechanism your whole life so you don’t even realise that you are in a dozen pieces. That you pull out the piece that is needed in that particular situation and push away the rest. And the result? You never really get to be your whole self anywhere. Unless, perhaps, you spend a long time alone because that allows all of you to slowly float back to the surface. Or you spend time with an emotionally safe person, friend, or partner. Or a cool bi event like BiCon! But the trouble is those good situations never last long. Even after the best evening in the world I can already feel my personality shifting as I walk to the tube the following morning, now that I’ve noticed that is what happens within me.

I think all this makes it hard for me to connect deeply with people in general. People can’t get to know YOU if only a part of you has come to visit. You can’t form close bonds with them if they visit your meterphorical house and you can’t let them see any of the rooms!

I had grasped before that I switch between the straight world (e.g work) or the gay world (going to an event at an LGbt centre, going to an LGBT bookshop – they never have a bi section). But I had never realised that I subconciously classified things as one or the other and fragmentated my personality accordingly. No wonder I always feel like there are at least 3 different people living in my head!

So I sat down with a piece of paper and thought about what else I had classed as ‘straight’ without realising. Here’s my list. Some are a lot more obvious than others.

  • Family & the notion of home – (dad and step-mum not ok with my sexuality, to the point where I can’t even mention I went to a queer event, let alone talk about a same-sex partner. Sister doesn’t understand LGBT+ issues)
  • Christmas – always hetero pairings in film and TV, issues surrounding non-accepting family you are obligied to spend time with.
  • Getting help with mental health
  • Socialising – ‘Do YOu HAve A boYfRiEnd!?’ seems to be the only question people can ask!
  • Being injured or ill and needing medical help – I try to avoid going to the Doctor’s as much as possible for these kinds of reasons.
  • Educational establishments – can’t risk coming out to classmates in case they don’t accept, straight-washed curiculum, etc.
  • Workplaces – can’t risk coming out to colleagues in case of non-acceptance or discrimination
  • Running and sports – I only realised this when I saw that London Pride held a 10k event and boxing training.
  • Reading – still very difficult to find good, queer books that don’t have biphobic content or stereotypical bi characters that lie, cheat etc.
  • Church – I was raised going to church every Sunday, yet still feel like I’m an abonimation when I sit in the congregation even though my denomination is generally accepting.
  • Legal stuff – things like marriage and the ability to name two mothers or two fathers on a birth certificate are still relatively new rights. Subconsciously I’d lumped all legal stuff like making a will into the straight category.

I’ve also written in the past before how I used a different name when going to LGBT events and when running Nottingham BiTopia. Over time this new name felt more ME and I began to use it in more and more areas of my life. However I still have to go by my dead, but legal name with anyone who knew me before the age of 23 or in the workplace, which doesn’t help with my disjointed sense of self. It’s hard to get people to change what they call you when they have known you by one name for 20+ years. And some people didn’t grasp the concept at all and called me “Hannah Oldname” instead of just Hannah which was super weird!

Anyway, I’m curious to hear from other people about this. Have you had a similar experience to me. Do you feel fragmented as you navigate between spaces? Is there anywhere you feel like you can be yourself completely, and unashamedly?

Straight washed history

Recently I went to one of my favourite places in London, the Imperial War Museum! Within seconds of walking in I was raiding the bookshop. One book by Stephen Bourne caught my eye. ‘Fighting Proud’ looks at the gay men who served in the armed forces or contributed to the war effort on the home front in World War I and World War II.

BookCover

The image shows the book cover, which features a photo of two men in uniform embracing.

After just 10 pages I had to put the book down for a while because it invoked such a strong reaction in me. In the preface Bourne writes “In the 1970s I was completely unaware that, as a gay teenager, I had a history.” He then goes on to write that finding a book in the library changed that, and taught him that gay men had existed in the past.

I can relate to that feeling so strongly. Growing up and going to school under Section 28 meant that I only learned about LGBTQ+ issues and LGBTQ+ history by myself, looking up and reading about whatever I could after I had left secondary school. It’s hard to look up what you don’t know about though. And you can’t educate yourself on what you never think to search.

In the first few pages of Fighting Proud I learned that Wilfred Owen, the well known First World War soldier, was gay. WHAT?! How did I not know this sooner?! Siegfried Sassoon was too!

I feel shocked, angry, and cheated by the education system. Like nearly everyone in the UK, I studied their war poetry in my English lessons. This important part of who they were was never mentioned. (Although I’m not sure if this was directly because of Section 28, or whether the syllabus in general was ‘straight-washed’ and this part of their identity was conveniently not mentioned by teachers or the textbooks.)

I also learned that a play I studied in English called ‘Journey’s End‘ contains a lot of homoerotic subtext. Its original director James Whale was gay and the author R C Sherriff is thought to have been gay too.

In another chapter of Fighting Proud Bourne writes about Lord Kitchener. Again, another prominent figure in British history. Even if you don’t recognise the name or know he was a military leader in the First World War, you’ve probably seen his face on the famous recruitment poster. (The one where he points towards the viewer with the caption “Your country needs you.” written underneath.)

As is often the case in history there is no concrete evidence of Lord Kitchener’s sexuality. However he did live with a younger man, Captain Oswald ‘Fitz’ Fitzgerald, for 9 years. Again after reading this I felt shocked, angry, and cheated about what little I had been taught in history class.

Perhaps it’s worth pondering at this point whether someone’s sexuality matters. After all, it’s not relevant to their war poetry, playwriting skills, or ability to lead to lead the troops to victory, is it? We still learn about them and their achievements all the same, don’t we?

But it matters to LGBTQ+ people. Without this knowledge we grow up not knowing the lives and stories of those who came before us. I hope it’s different for younger LGBTQ+ people out there today, but for the pre-internet and pre-social media generation this straight-washing of education meant growing up thinking you were the only one. That you were abnormal. New. A seed rather than something with roots to ground you and show you your place within the world. You grew up without role models. Without knowing that people like you have achieved amazing things and have been remembered in history for them. (Or in Kitchener’s case, a controversial figure rightly criticised for a lot of horrific stuff too.)

And everyone else grows up thinking LGBTQ+ people never existed in the past either. That being queer or trans is wrong and abnormal when actually, we’re really common! There’s thousands and millions of us! And lo and behold, the harmful myths and prejudices against LGBTQ+ people continue. So does the higher rates of violence, hate crime, and discrimination. Plus higher rates of mental health problems compared to the general population.

All this time there was so much I never knew. I never fully appreciated how robbed I was by the straight-washing of history until now, and this is just one small section of history from one book.

Without consciously realising it I had thought that everything I studied in school was ‘straight’ and I just had to accept it. But I don’t think that way any more, because now I know that I was denied my truth and I was lied to.

I’ve mentioned the well known folk from history in this blog post, however Fighting Proud is full of other previously untold stories. Thank you Stephen Bourne for bringing them into the spotlight where they belong.