Real life: “I was bullied online for being an androgynous lesbian”
Head chef Sophia Carter talks to DIVA about her experience of cyberbullying
Sophia Carter via Instagram
Sophia Carter, head chef at Brickwood LDN, was on the receiving end of online abuse this week on Instagram after posting a picture of herself with the caption “doing it better than the men since 1991”. Here, she tells best friend and singer-songwriter Sofia B what that was like, how difficult it is to move through the world as a visible lesbian, and shares advice for others who have been bullied online.
DIVA: Hi Sophia! Thanks for taking the time to answer some of our questions. Firstly, how long have you felt confident enough in your skin to dress the way you do? Was there a turning point for you?
Sophia Carter: I would say when I first moved down to London six or seven years ago, that was the first time I actually felt that I was in a place diverse enough and accepting enough of people being different. Does that make sense? Before that, living in Birmingham, I went to a Catholic school in a white middle-class conservative area, and I couldn’t dress how I wanted. When I was 14 or 15 I would wear brogues, or a shirt or braces, and back then I would get so many comments at school. But that just made me more determined to prove a point basically, because I wasn’t going to be told that I couldn’t do something. It wasn’t until I actually just stopped caring, after going through so much struggle, because I realised I was never going to be 100% comfortable. As soon as you step outside the door you know your setting yourself up to get comments, and in Birmingham it was constant; the questions about whether I was guy. I just got used to it after a while.
You’re a head chef. How would you say being an out and visible member of the LGBT community has affected your career? Have you been treated differently?
Yes, being an androgynous lesbian has affected me, but in positive and negative ways, because it’s allowed me to develop my passion for food. To be an androgynous woman means that we can actually have the best of both worlds, if you really internalise that. We are able to have that “masculine” confidence whilst also having the nurturing traits we associate with women, and can transition so easily between the two. Being a woman alone in a kitchen is difficult because it is such a male-dominated industry. I think that on top of that, if you identify as an androgynous female, it makes it even harder. To give you an example, I had a male chef say to me after being physically inappropriate with me that “the rules don’t apply, ‘cause you’re like a guy and not a woman.”
You recently received some abuse on Instagram. Can you tell us about this cyberbullying incident? Why did you decide to engage with the bully rather than outright block him? When do you think one should make the decision to go ahead and block?
I posted a picture and I think this person didn’t understand that I am androgynous and didn’t know where to place me in terms of gender identity. For me, because of the background that I’ve come from and my personal experiences throughout life, I’ve had to be better than a guy. I’ve always been in competition with men, whether it as at school or in the kitchen. So I will say "doing it better than a man" because I want to challenge the idea that men are the dominant gender. The reason I engaged with him is because I think there should be a public place where people make or express their negative opinions so that everyone can see this is still a problem. We are treated as a taboo and are completely misunderstood. People are afraid of people they don’t understand and try to put them in a box. I still to this day don’t understand why people do that, but I know there are plenty of people who love my style and would never try to get me to “dress down”. I didn’t block him so he could see my friends and people who are involved in the LGBT back me all the way. That is why the community is so great because they don’t care who this guy is, because when he speaks like that to me he speaks to the entire community. I want people to see that this is still going on in the 21st century. Bullying, for me, is only bullying if you let it be that, so he can hide behind this wall, especially as he has a private account.
As the bio says...doing it better than men since 1991. #lesbian #fashion #tomboy #style #gay #streetstyle #love #tomboystyle #androgynous #queer #tomboys #fashionist #tattooshop #streetstylefashion #genderfluid #tomboymodel #ink #art #inked #ootd #tattooart #genderqueer #tattooed #girls #pride #girlswhokissgirls #adidas #sportswear #instagood #mensfashion
How do you think this ties into this year’s Pride In London theme, #PrideMatters? And why is visibility important?
Visibility is important because I feel that people are extremely ignorant of the groups of people who lie within a certain label like androgynous. At the end of the day, people feel more comfortable if you fit into the stereotypical gender norms, and refuse to accept those who lie in the grey area. #PrideMatters is so relevant to me, after what has happened with this cyberbullying incident. It’s so important for us to show everyone that we matter simply because it's our relationships with other people that give us meaning in our lives. So why do we refuse to accept people who could bring so much to your world, when we are just the same as anyone else?
Sophia, far right, with friends and DIVA's Carrie Lyell and Linda Riley at the Barclays DIVA Awards 2018
Do you have any advice for someone who is being bullied for their sexual orientation, gender expression and/or gender identity?
The first thing they need to understand is that your identity is not something you should feel guilty about or should apologise for. They should not feel like less of a person. Remember, every single person in the LGBT community has been subjected to negative comments. The second bit of advice would be, as cliché as it is, it really does get better. The comments online were actually the worst it’s ever been, but I’m not going to let it affect me because I know who I am. It’s taken me years to get here, but I’ve always had the hope and the faith that one day I would have a community that would support me and I’ve found them. There are people out there who care. It might seem really strange to call a helpline, for example, but sometimes you just need to connect with other people out there like you or someone who understands. Don’t go down that self-destructive path.
If you or anyone you know is struggling with feelings of distress due to bullying or online harassment, you are not alone. Resources are available such as the LGBT Switchboard, where you can phone in for support from 10am-10pm every day on +44 300 330 0630. Alternatively, check out Project Semicolon; an organisation created to prevent, educate and raise awareness on the issue of suicide.
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