OUTcast S2, Ep 6 • 4 April 2022 • 67:18
Rosie P 00:00:05 Welcome to OUTcast, the podcast where we catch up with some of the most engaging, courageous, and inspiring LGBTQ+ people from all over the world. We ask our lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans, and queer guests where their coming out journeys began, what they’ve gone through along the way – the joy and the pain, but we promise there will be more joy – and what gives them hope. I’ll be interviewing people from all walks of life, from hardworking queer people behind the scenes to more familiar faces you might have never known even had the coming out stories that they’re about to share. You can follow us on social media, at @OUTcastLGBT, and you can find us online at outcastpod.com.
For the final episode of Season 2, I couldn’t be more delighted to be welcoming Rosie Jones to the podcast.
Rosie is a comedian, writer and actor who has appeared in comedy programmes like 8 Out of 10 Cats, and BBC Radio 4’s The News Quiz, as well as her own Channel 4 show, Trip Hazard: My Great British Adventure. It was shot during the pandemic, and it really helped to get us through the murky, nearly post-lockdown, uncertain world of Spring 2021 in the UK.
Rosie has written for Harry Hill’s Alien Fun Capsule, Would I Lie to You? and 8 Out of 10 Cats Does Countdown, and she’s also the author of the children’s book, The Amazing Edie Eckhart, which is about a girl who’s amazing, and just happens to have cerebral palsy. Just like Rosie.
Rosie has said: “When I was little, I loved reading, but in every book, all the characters were able-bodied. There was nobody disabled, like me. And that’s why I created Edie.”
Rosie’s also a standup comedian who’s appeared at Edinburgh Festival Fringe and on Live At The Apollo, and she makes brilliant observations about being disabled, and being a woman, and… being northern. She’s described herself as a triple threat and frankly she’s that and much, much more.
Welcome to the podcast, Rosie Jones!
Rosie J 00:02:17 Thank you for inviting me. I mean, talking about coming out and being gay is my favourite thing, so I’m so excited to be here.
Rosie P 00:02:38 Such an incredible honour to have you on, so thank you. Where does your coming out story begin?
Rosie J 00:02:47 It’s a big one! I reckon it starts from my first gay thought. And my first gay thought was, ‘I like that lady, but
I don’t know why I want to kiss her, like boys kiss girls.’ was four years old. And then, over time, over school, I had similar thoughts of, ‘Oh, I really like Lois Lane. I really to hang out with her, like Superman hangs out with her. And don’t know why.’ And I had a big crush on Rachel from Friends.
Rosie J 00:04:08 But I put those to the back of my head for several reasons. Firstly, I grew up in a seaside town in Yorkshire in the 90s that, in hind sight, they were quite small-minded and the term ‘gay’ and the term ‘lesbian’ were banded around as insults. So I remember thinking, ‘I don’t want to be a lesbian because I think that’s a bad thing.’ But mainly I didn’t come out because I was disabled. I remember when I was 16, Googling ‘Can you be disabled and gay?’ Google did not help me with that question! So I literally believed the internet more than I believed my own head and my own heart. And I thought, ‘well, nothing on the internet is telling me that I’m a real person, so I guess I’m wrong.’
Rosie J 00:06:12 And then a side note that you need to know about my personality is that I am a psychopath. When I like someone, I like them for years, and I don’t tell them. So in my teenage years I would have these four-year crushes on girls, but never tell them, and I’d always justify it by going, ‘oh, I’m straight, but they’re the exception. I don’t like girls apart from her… and her… and her!’ That’s it, that’s it. I guess it was in my early twenties, moving to London, meeting a group of brilliant diverse people who worked in TV and theatre, and it was only when I was 26 that I thought, ‘maybe, just maybe, Google is wrong and maybe I’m not making exceptions for girls; maybe girls are the rule.’ And it was black and white for me then. I sat down and thought, ‘name a man you’ve fancied in your twenties.’ And I went, ‘mmmmm, uuuuuh… right, okay, I’m gay.’ And then, like you must, I would talk about it a million times, and that was probably the moment when I came out to myself, at 26. But then, over the course of three-four years, I came out to various people. And everyone was great, and actually most people said, ‘Yeah? Yeah, we knew!’ So I guess the person that took the longest to come out to, and to accept, was myself.
Rosie P 00:10:06 Mmm hmm, which I think so many listeners would relate to. I mean, coming out to yourself’s such a big part of it. And I love how you put that you were like, ‘oh, you know, maybe this is one girl I fancied, it’s just an exception.’ Next one: ‘it’s just an exception.’ I can relate to that!
Rosie J 00:10:26 Yeah, yeah. And it’s something that I’m dealing with recently, because I think I had to justify it. And I had to say, “it’s an exception” because I was dealing with a lot of, probably, internalised homophobia from growing up in Yorkshire in the 90s. And for ages I would go, “I’m not a lesbian. I’ve got long hair. I wear dresses. I’m not angry. I’m not a PE teacher!” And then just had to undo all these stereotypes that I had grown up with and it hit me when I was like, “Oh, I like women. I fancy women. But I don’t need to fundamentally change what I look like. Like, this is what a gay person looks like.” But even now, when somebody says to me, “are you a lesbian?” my gut reaction is to go, “No, I’m gay.” And I would identify myself as gay because I think I’m dealing with a lot of negative connotations that come with the word ‘lesbian’.
Rosie P 00:13:12 I’ve thought about this a lot, and I’ve had guests say a similar thing, that often they’ll say ‘gay’ and that lesbian’s got… you know, it’s wrapped up in the patriarchy, it’s got so many negative connotations, like Yeah, the patriarchy is kind of to blame because I think lesbian is to be the ultimate rejecter of the patriarchy. So they made us so, like, angry and things. So I felt so similar and I’m only just beginning to try and say “lesbian” as much as possible to try and make it more comfortable. But it’s really, it’s still jarring sometimes.
Rosie J 00:13:48 Yeah. Yeah. I’m still fighting that little homophobic voice in my head, going “no you’re not, because that’s a bad thing.”
Rosie P 00:14:09 Yeah. It just shows how powerful representation is. You talk about Googling, essentially yourself, when you were young, disabled, and a lesbian, or disabled and gay. And you’re not there. You’re not on Google. You are now, which is great!
Rosie J 00:14:25 Hopefully if someone ever Googles “Can you be disabled and gay?” this face pops up with me going, “Yeah, you absolutely can!”
Rosie J 00:15:03 There’s a million things we can talk about, but also before we move on, I think I also have a problem with the word ‘lesbian’ because it can go the other way, because ‘lesbian’ is a word that is used a lot in porn. So, I feel like it’s connected to, like, heterosexual men and lesbians being over-sexualised and I’ve definitely had straight men say to me, “are you a lesbian?” like they are suddenly seeing me in a sexual way and thinking about what I do in bed. And that makes me incredibly uncomfortable. So it’s so bizarre that one word can, as you said, conjure up an image of something scary, or anti-men, or the exact opposite of highly-sexualised, and doing something for the pleasure of men. And then, like, I’m none of those definitions. I love men so much! Nearly all my friends are men, I love men so much. Do I want them to know what I do in the bedroom, or even think about it? Absolutely not, because it’s not for them. So that’s why I’ve got such a problem with that word. And, like you, I’m trying to reclaim it, but it’s, yeah, it’s a lot of undoing.
Rosie P 00:18:19 Yeah, it really is. And it really is the most loaded word. I agree. I think many of us have been there having conversations with men and how it’s not for them – it just makes it, yeah, incredibly uncomfortable. Let’s talk about how being disabled intersected with being a lesbian when you were coming out and obviously, does now. You’ve touched on it already so eloquently, but how has it affected the sort of timing as you’ve come out?
Rosie J 00:18:53 Again, you’re talking to me at a very interesting point in my life. I’ve been disabled all my life. When I walk into a room, everyone knows that I’m disabled, from the way I walk and the way I talk. I literally wear my disability on my sleeves, on my legs, and on my mouth. So, it was interesting then coming out as gay, because that is something that I don’t wear on my sleeve, and I’m quite feminine. I think if I met a stranger they would say immediately, “she’s disabled” but they wouldn’t neccessarily know that I’m gay. So it was interesting for me to go, “Here’s something else! Here’s a different box that I tick.” And never in a “woe is me” way, but definitely growing up, and because of the media, disabled people were always portrayed as victims, and angelic creatures, and never having sex, never in a relationship, and God forbid, I never saw a disabled person in the media get married, or have a happy ever after. So, even into my twenties, even when I was having more and more gay thoughts, I thought, ‘well, there’s no point coming out, because that is something that I’ll never act on and I’ll never meet anyone who sees me in that way.’ So, for a few years, even when I came out to myself, I thought, ‘what’s the point [in] telling people about a hypothetical concept that I’ll never act on?’ But then I started comedy, and I thought back to the lack of representation I had growing up, and I felt it important to start talking about my sexuality, even though probably behind closed doors I wasn’t acting on it. And it was only recently that I really gained in confidence and I’ve started dating, and putting myself out there. But that took a process, and exactly like my coming out story, even when I came out, there was a part of my brain that was still going, “I fancy women, but women won’t fancy you, because you’ve got cerebral palsy.” Because I never saw a sexulity active or sexy
disabled person portrayed in the media. And again, if you don’t see it, if you can’t Google it, it takes a long time to believe that you can do it. And I’m pleased to say, we got the happy ending! I’m dating, shagging, I’m very happy.
Rosie J 00:25:19 But I’m 31 and I’m not there yet. It’s an ongoing process, but because I never saw myself anywhere.
Rosie P 00:25:45 Absolutely. It’s interesting to me that your comedy – talking about being out in your comedy – came first before acting on it.
Rosie J 00:25:54 Yeah. Yeah. Completely. And it’s interesting I can talk about it now, because in my comedy I would sometimes be quite sexual, and I’d make a point of going, “Hey, I’m disabled, but disabled people shag, they have boyfriends, girlfriends,” and I was saying that because I believed it as a whole, but yet for me, my insecurity took longer, and I couldn’t say on stage, “Hey, disabled people have sex, but I’m not.” Because I knew that my story wasn’t the story of all disabled people, so I decided to own it, and just promote it, probably a few years before I believed it, and acted on it myself.
Rosie P 00:27:45 Mmm hmm. It feels like your heart or your soul was sort of trying to drag the rest of your experience with where you knew you were going to go. It was like you were trying to sort of pull yourself out of the closet, almost. What strikes me as well, and it’s a bit overwhelming, actually, is the thought that there would have been people that would have seen your standup, and heard your comedy, and really seen themselves in you. And you probably, you know, you knew you were doing that incredible work. So yeah, it’s incredible to think about really.
Rosie J 00:28:19 That’s it, yeah, because I don’t feel like I was a fraud, because I believed it and my brain knew that I’d get there, and be having sex and dating, like all other disabled people, but yeah, it took my heart and my soul a bit longer to really believe what my head and my comedy was saying.
Rosie P 00:29:10 Yeah.
Rosie J 00:29:28 It’s interesting, I think I would have got there eventually but I think what was a catalyst was a) turning 30, and b) the pandemic, just gave me time to really sit in it, believe it. And, like, I never feel sorry for myself, but yeah, when I turned 30 and sat down and I thought, ‘you’ve never been in a relationship. Why is that?’ and that awful, probably the same homophobic voice in my head, who was also a little bit ableist
went, ‘You’re not worthy of love.’ And I really sat in that and rationalised it, and then I thought, ‘You are! Like, you’re a successful, funny, independent woman. You’re surrounded by amazing friends, you are. You absolutely are.’ And I think, luckily, coming out of lockdown, everyone was horny, and dating, so that really helped the situation! But, yeah, for me it was just dealing with that little voice and going, ‘that’s what’s been stopping me. Are they right? No. No they’re bloody not!’
Rosie P 00:32:14 Mmm hmm. If there’s anyone listening that has a voice in their head like that, what would you say to them?
Rosie J 00:32:22 Don’t get angry. Like, I lived with that voice for 30 years and I don’t think that voice will ever go away, and it probably says something stupid to me every other day, so I think to some extent everyone has it. You’ve got to live with it, you’ve got to believe that they’re not right. Rationalise that voice, and if you need to talk to someone, talk, but never beat yourself up for having it there. You’ve just got to make sure that you have other more positive voices that drown the little dickhead out.
Rosie P 00:33:50 Yeah, exactly! Yeah, and time. Like sometimes these things go in waves, as well. Like, one minute the voice is there and then maybe the next day something wonderful happens and it does help. And it just needs time.
Rosie J 00:34:05 Yeah. That’s it. And the voice is never like, massive, like big things. I was on a date last week, and I leant over to kiss her, and I wobbled. Also, I need to say I was very drunk at the time. I wobbled, and literally like a movie, like the chair gave way, and I was suddenly on the floor with my legs in the air, and the voice was just a little voice that night. But was like, “you fucked it! You fucked it! You tried to be sexy, but because you’re disabled, you’re now on the floor. She’s going to laugh at you. Like, you better leave now, because this is embarrassing!” And, in reality, my date just came round and made a joke, and was like, “that was so smooth. Did you do that on purpose, so I would come round and kiss you properly?” And I said, “yeah, that’s exactly what I did!”
Rosie P 00:36:15 Did it work? Did you get the kiss?
Rosie J 00:36:20 Yeah, yeah! And we had a bigger kiss on the floor!
Rosie P 00:36:27 Nice, like, horizontal kiss! That’s a step up from a vertical kiss!
Rosie J 00:36:40 Yeah. It’s better than kissing over a table. But that was my voice going, ‘well, this isn’t how it planned out,’ but in reality she didn’t care. From her point of view, if I was on a date, and they fell off their chair, I wouldn’t be like, “Well, they’ve ruined that date now.” I wouldn’t care. But because it’s you, you beat yourself up for things that other people don’t even think about.
Rosie P 00:37:45 Exactly. Like this kind of overthinking that we all get into and, yeah, we’re beating ourselves up and we don’t need to do that to the world’s doing it enough. Or maybe not, in this case.
Rosie J 00:37:57 Yeah. Yeah. But that helped me, too, that helped me rationalise it. But putting myself in the other person’s shoes and going, “if they did that, would I be bothered?” And 100 percent of the time, I’m like, “oh no, I wouldn’t care!”
Rosie P 00:38:35 So true. I think the world is very chaotic at the moment. It’s very difficult and life is tough, but often I’m overwhelmed by how kind and open-minded and empathetic people are. Maybe the people in front of me more than in the media, perhaps. I guess following that line of thinking is so hopeful that, you know, that voice in your head is definitely different from the people outside it, who are just, you know, sometimes overwhelmingly kind and empathetic and beautiful.
Rosie J 00:39:04 Yeah. 100 percent. I mean I can talk to you forever.
Speaker P 00:39:12 Please do!
Rosie J 00:39:14 Yeah, okay! We live here now! Leading on from that, I’ve been going on a journey with my voice, because it’s ironic that I’ve found a career on speaking, and it’s only recently that I’ve thought when it comes to dating, and love, and my sexuality, I don’t like my voice, because I worry that it projects a weakness. Just having my disability in audio form and when it comes to my job, I love my voice, because I know how to use it for comedy purposes. But I don’t like it in terms of sexually and romantically. I was dating a girl a few months ago who would send me voice messages, and I would never send her voice messages back. And she said, “why not?” And I said, “My voice. Like, it’s awful.” And then she said, “your voice is one of my favourite things about you. I don’t know what it is, but it sits right with me and I could listen to you all day.” And it’s exactly that thing of my voice is something that I now realise that I have
spent all my life being embarrassed of, and for somebody to go, “no. I love it. Like, it’s not your disability, it’s you.” It really changed my whole view on it.
Rosie P 00:42:38 Wow.
Rosie J 00:42:40 Just seeing it from her point of view. So, yeah, like everything else, it’s just being kinder to yourself, and knowing that you’re your own biggest critic, and actually all those insecurities you have about your body, self, your sexuality, somebody finds you attractive. Either doesn’t even think about it, or they go, “Oh, that’s one of my favourite things about you.” And that was so touching for me.
Rosie P 00:43:47 And like you say, it’s kind of incredible how much one little revelation, one thing that someone says, can change so much, so quickly. Or at least to help forge a path towards a different understanding of yourself, yeah.
Rosie J 00:44:02 And I realised I’d spent a long time saying, “oh, I just want someone to see past my disability,” and that notion of seeing past it, as if they needed to see the real me. But that’s idiotic, because myself and my disability are intertwined, and I think by that girl saying she liked my voice was not her seeing past my disability; it was her seeing my disability and going, “it’s you. It’s part of you and I love it.” It was really, really emotional and great.
Rosie P 00:45:34 Yeah. Very cathartic and very beautiful. Rosie J 00:45:37 Yeah.
Rosie P 00:45:39 Let’s talk more about this. Let’s talk about disability, because I think so much that we’re talking about touches on representation, which is led by societies and how societies treat different diversities and inclusions across all different spectrums. What kind of systematic changes, or representational changes, can societies make to get disabled people into presenting, to get disabled people out there as actors, models, comedians, like you – you know, producers, executives, CEOs? How do we tackle this representation? It’s a massive question.
Rosie J 00:46:21 Yeah. I mean, it is a big question. And I’ve been thinking recently about why I am famous and successful. Because I’m not blowing my own trumpet [but] I think right now, I’m the most well-known disabled comedian, certainly in the UK. And I think that it’s because I sound disabled, I look disabled, but I’m
not too disabled. So, I’m being facetious here and quite cut throat, but I just think the audiences’ point of view, they see me and they go, “Oh, she’s disabled” but in terms of panel shows and comedy shows, I pretty much act in the same way as an able-bodied comedian. Whereas the harsh reality is if they had a wheelchair user, they might need to change the set; if they had someone with a carer, or a catheter, they might have to stop the recording in order to give them time, and breaks… TV is getting better, but it is still a cut throat, money-led industry, so if you’ve go the voice between me, and an equally talented wheelchair user that you’d have to spend money putting ramps in, and paying for a carer, allowing breaks, I think people would go, “oh, we’ll have Rosie.” So I just think it’s about changing that mindset, knowing that if you want to support and nurture more diabled and neurodiverse people, that’ll take money: that’ll take money, care, and time.
Rosie P 00:50:18 Mmm hmm.
Rosie J 00:52:22 But in the long run, it will be worth it, completely. For me even, I’m getting better at it, but I’ve had shows that I’ve done where I have passed out from exhaustion, because I have been filming 12 days in a row, 14-hour days. I pushed myself, and again, it’s that little voice, it’s that internalised ableism, going ‘No.You can’t say you’re tired, because you always say you’re disabled but you’re just like everyone else, so don’t show weakness.’ And especially starting out, there was a fear that if I said, “Oooh, no, I can’t do 12 days in a row,” they would say, “oops, sorry. We’ll go with an able-bodied comedian, so there was a need for me to go, “yeah, I’ll do it. Don’t worry!”
Rosie J 00:52:20 Luckily now I’m in a position where I can go, “no, if you want me I’ll only work five days in a row.” It’s knowing your limit, and knowing that you’re worth something. So, “if you want me, you need to acknowledge that I’m disabled, and it could take more time, and more money, but I’ll make it worth your while.” So I don’t know if I’ve answered your question, because I don’t think there’s a short cut, but it’s about able-bodied people being good allies, and knowing that the job isn’t done, just because you’ve got a disabled person who is able to work like an able-bodied person. It’s putting the time and effort into going, “we value you, therefore here’s more time, more care, and more money.”
Rosie P 00:54:10 Yeah. And what strikes me is conviction. You know, we’re going to think about these things and be kind, so then as the systematic seats of power, we then have to have conviction.
It’s kind of what you want to say to those positions of power. You know, don’t just say something, or like you say, get someone who’s disabled, but can do the hours of an able-bodied person, have conviction and get it done properly.
Rosie J 00:54:38 Yeah, that’s it, that’s it. But it’s so complex, and it will not change overnight. And actually, the dream is in 10 years, in 20 years, we don’t have this problem. We don’t have able-bodied people calling the shots. We’ve actually got disabled people in those positions who are more able to go, “right, I know first-hand. Here’s what we’re doing to make it easier for the next generation.”
Rosie P 00:55:41 Yeah, exactly. Exactly.
Rosie J 00:55:45 Yeah. And it’s just using my platform, and actually remembering what I went through, so I will not work myself into exhaustion again. But, beyond that I am now making sure that no other disabled person will work themselves into exhaustion.
Rosie P 00:56:29 Exactly. And you’re being that incredible representation.
Rosie J 00:56:34 I try. I bloody try!
Rosie P 00:56:54 Also on the subject of representation, you wrote the children’s book, The Adventures of the Amazing Edie Eckhart, with the illustrator Natalie Smillie. You described having loved reading when you were young, but you were reading about, sort of, able-bodied heroes and never seeing anyone disabled like you, so tell us a bit about Edie and creating her.
Rosie J 00:57:18 Well, you’re right. So, growing up I loved reading, but none of the heroes had a disability, or they weren’t diverse in any way. And it’s literally been a life-long dream of mine to write a children’s book. I remember when I was 5 years old going, “Mummy, I think I want to write children’s books.” So it’s amazing for me 25 years later to really live out that dream. And, yeah, I wrote The Amazing Edie Eckhart, and Edie, people say is she based on me? And I think she’s more the girl I wish I would have been at 11. She’s very funny, ambitious, stubborn, and she has cerebral palsy, like me, and it’s really just about her starting secondary school, making friends, and working out who she is. But, alongside that, having a disability and acknowledging the fact that she’s just like all of her friends, but then also acknowledging the fact that she is different, and she’ll always be different, and actually that’s okay. But also, acknowledging the
fact that she’s only 11, and knowing that sometimes it’s not okay. And it’s like, I wish I could talk to her sometimes, even though she’s a character in my head. The response from the book has been really great. In the UK, we just had World Book Day, and just seeing loads of little girls going to school dressed as Edie Eckhart, like, it blew me away. And what was so incredible was some Edies were disabled, some were able-bodied. Because I think whoever they are, you don’t need to be disabled to like and enjoy reading a book about disability.
Rosie P 01:01:39 and differences.
Rosie J 01:01:44
Rosie P 01:01:53
today? What gives them hope for the future? What gives you hope, Rosie?
Rosie J 01:02:06 Leading on from Edie, but beyond my book, to my comedy and my acting, it’s the emails and the messages I get, usually from parents of people with disabilities who go, “thank you for writing Edie,” or “thank you for being out there, because it gives us hope, it gives us something to focus on, and I just hope that our son or daughter grows up to be just as happy and positive as you.” And when I think not only to my own childhood, but when I think about my parents, and having a disabled daughter, and having a lot of years in the wilderness, not knowing if I would grow up to be independent or get a job or go to uni, and to do that.
But then also to help parents now, I just hope that their children grow up to be famous comedians, actors, models, CEOs. It’s the hope that it’s becoming a better world for disabled people, and the hope that my work is helping that. That brings me a lot of joy and a hell of a lot of hope.
Rosie P 01:04:54 Absolutely. I mean, it sounds incredibly moving those emails and messages, and hearing from parents. Yeah, that secondary experience of all of this.
Rosie J 01:05:05 I mean, I usually bang on about them a lot more, but my mum and dad are incredible, and they’ve made me the person I am today. Even though they didn’t have any role models, or anyone to go, “oh, they’re doing it, so hopefully my Rosie will be okay.” They just had to blindly hope that I found my way, and luckily, I did!
Mmm hmm, we’re all humans with empathy and love,
I think it’s the thing I’m most proud of.
I love asking my guests what gives them hope, uh,
Rosie P 01:06:01 Very much so. Oh, well, Rosie, thank you so much for sharing your story, and for your incredible insights into LGBTQ+ coming out, into disability, into the journey that you’ve had. It’s been incredible to talk to you.
Rosie J 01:06:19 I’ve really enjoyed it, and we went deep! I loved it, and I just had a lovely chat to you.
Rosie P 01:06:37 Yeah, me too. Well, thank you so much. It’s been incredible to chat.
Rosie J: 01:06:41 Thank you.
Rosie P: Thank you so much for listening to the final episode of Season 2 of OUTcast, with the wonderful Rosie Jones. If you’re here because you love Rosie, and you enjoyed yourself, do back back and discover the coming out stories of trans model AJ Clementine, Dutch actor Hanna van Vliet, novelist Patrick Gale, comedian Rosie Wilby, and editor Rob Harkavy.
I’m your host, Rosie Pentreath. Thank you for listening.
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