So picture it: A wet afternoon in August. Of course it’s wet. It’s summer in England. My options are (a) go back to bed (b) do the housework or (c) catch up with emails. Housework is never an attractive option. As Quentin Crisp observed there is a natural limit to how much dust will accumulate, so why bother? I met him when we were both working as a life models (it’s all there in my memoir ‘Rebel Without a Clue’) and this was just one of his pearls of wisdom.
Go back to bed, then? I have to admit I was tempted by the thought of a cosy duvet, a good book and a cat to cuddle. But then the cat, against character, decided to brave the elements and go into the garden to terrorise next door’s dog. It’s not the same without a cat, so the last option was to turn on the computer and scroll through the emails inviting me to go on holiday, buy life insurance, get a better erection.
I soon lost interest (having no need of a better erection) and turned to my addiction: Facebook. And there I saw a post from my friend, Jane Traies, author of an academic and fascinating study ‘The Lives of Older Lesbians’. She mentioned a national wide festival, OUTing the Past, who were requesting submissions for presentations next year.
Now while I have a background in training adults, public speaking and presentations, this was all some time ago, and I haven’t done anything like that for a long time. But, hey, it’s like riding a bike. You never forget and never lose those skills. I have a book (you may have heard about this. It’s called ‘Rebel Without a Clue’) and includes chapters dealing with coming out in the past. Hmm.
So, what the hell … I submitted an application. And it was only accepted. Blimey. I wonder if I can learn how to use Powerpoint before 2018?
They organisers have asked for a blog to circulate to the various venues, who might want to invite me to speak. I reproduce it here. A blog within a blog, as it were.
Lesbian Clubbing in 1969
I was 21 in 1969 and was just coming out as a lesbian, having my first passionate affair with a woman, who was a bit more experienced and ten years older than me. Although gay men could lay claim to a few visible role models, we lesbians were rather limited. There were no celebrities, soap characters or comedians that we could relate to.
I never knew that there was a club for lesbians. A place to meet other, similar, women. Then the film ‘The Killing of Sister George’ was released. It was a story about lesbians, but not a good story. It showed lesbians as sleazy, nasty, cold and a bit odd. But it did have a scene in a lesbian club. I thought that this was a figment of the writer’s imagination, never imagining that it was real place.
So, going with my lover, to the actual Gateways Club in Chelsea for the first time was a huge revelation. The women, the music, the tiny basement room with a juke box at one end and the bar at the other, the walls adorned with murals and condensation, was a heady experience. It made such an impact on me, and I remember it like yesterday.
A new lesbian – me at 21 years old
The lesbian club scene would remain a hidden one for several more years, but that night showed me a glimmer of hope for the future, where women could love and lust for each other without hiding in a dark basement. A world of visibility.
How I got into this field of study
Having come out in the late 60s, through the unconventional route of swinging parties, I realised that I had an interesting story to tell, not least with respect to the changes for LGBT people. I could recall times when gay sex between men was illegal, when gay sex between women was invisible. I decided to write my memoirs (Rebel Without a Clue) to tell the story of my life from childhood to my early thirties. It turned out to be a tale of sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll, but also a story of enormous social and personal change.
First Memories of LGBT activism
I remember feeling angry about the unfairness of LGBT invisibility and, for men, illegality, around 1970. I can’t recall how I found out, but in July 1972, on the nearest date to the Stonewall riots, a march was held in London. It was the first Gay Pride march in the UK, and I went to it, finding I was virtually the only woman. It tipped down with rain, and the pockets of my cagoule became filled with water, but I didn’t care. I felt part of a community, and felt that I was a small part of changing attitudes and society.
By 1982 I was a volunteer on London Lesbian Line, and by 1988 was marching against Section 28 with others, men and women. The weather was fine on that occasion.
Marching somewhere (?) circa 1983
Early LGBT activism tended to see gay men and women separately pursuing different agendas. We tended not to mix very much. They had their clubs and we had meetings. However, when the AIDS crisis broke in the UK, I wanted to be involved, to address the awful homophobia and misinformation that was rife at the time.
I applied for, and was appointed, as one of the first paid workers for the Terrence Higgins Trust. It became more than just a job for me. It was almost a vocation, and changed me both personally and professionally. I became friends with gay men … and lost a few separatist feminist friends.
However, not all of my efforts at Terrence Higgins were for gay men. I also wrote and produced the first health education leaflet aimed at providing information about HIV and AIDS for women.
First day at Terrence Higgins Trust 1985
The Role of Activism in my everyday life
Whilst I still believe in the power of protest, I no longer go on the marches. Age and arthritic knees have put paid to that. However, I am still passionate about equality, diversity and justice. As well as campaigning for LGBT rights, I am a campaigner for animal welfare, both domestic and wild. Most of this is done from my ‘office’ (actually a desk on the landing) on the computer, but that does not make it any less meaningful.
My work can be found at:
My book, Rebel Without a Clue – a Memoir can be bought as a paperback at Waterstones, Gays the Word, Amazon and Housmans, or from my publishers at www.troubador.co.uk It can also be bought as an ebook from Amazon, Apple, Kobo, Google Play and Nook.
I also write a blog, which can be found at: