Living through changes as a lesbian in the UK


【The article below is the same as the article that appears in the tenth issue of the CGS Newsletter.】

The first time I heard the word “lesbian” was over 30 years ago when it was being shouted at me at school. I had no idea what it meant but the hostile intent behind the words made me keep silent. Years followed of being homophobically bullied at school while any understanding of my sexual orientation was kept buried inside. I knew I liked girls, and always had, but had nothing to relate these feelings too. Encounters with heterosexual friends always ended in heartbreak and confusion on my side and dispassion on theirs. I made new friends outside school who were much older. They were a mixed group; later I found out several were gay. There was no pressure to be heterosexual which was a relief, but I wasn’t out. We enjoyed chilling out with drugs and mixing music.

Later at university I encountered some out lesbians at last. I became involved with a woman’s peace camp in town and was in lesbian heaven! This was the era of Greenham Common and my lesbian activist life began. Then followed my move into radical lesbian separatism. I had come out fully by then but my lifestyle was pretty hectic as it now included a lot of drink as well as drugs. A physical transformation also took place as my group of friends and I aimed to look as “dykey” as possible. We attracted a lot of attention in town―much of it very hostile but we were determined to be out.
My student life was punctuated by visits to lesbian and gay clubs. The city was an early gay Mecca but dominated by men; often women weren’t allowed into the clubs. The lesbian clubs were run-down bars in basements often in back streets and you had to speak through a grill in the door to get in. I was happy in my group of friends but frequently felt very lonely and existed outside the mainstream in society in a homosexual subculture. We linked up with other lesbians around the country with newsletters, camps and parties. It was an exciting time politically with lots of non-violent direct actions at peace camps and street marches in protest of violence against women. It was also the time of a right-wing government which introduced Section 28 banning the promotion of LGB lifestyles in schools. Its reverberations are still felt today despite the Act now being repealed.
After many wild years and affairs, I moved to London. Here the internalized homophobia that had been building up for years really started to take its toll. I felt overwhelmed and was back in the closet at work and on the streets. The huge gay clubs felt impersonal and it was difficult to make friends. My self-destructive behaviour increased and, confused by issues of class and race, I underwent an identity crisis. I found myself with women I didn’t love. Homophobia was rife and many friends got beaten up on the streets.
Many years later, still fighting against patriarchy but in a different city, I no longer drank or used drugs. Important connections had been made in my life―meetings with people who became catalysts for change. They were people who transcended identity politics and were inspirational and giving. Political awareness became more integrated and a reflection of who I really was. Understanding and acceptance of my hidden disability and my true lesbian essence enabled me to love and nurture myself as a whole. Self-confidence grew along with increased self-esteem and a deeper connection to the Goddess. I found fulfilling work in a co-operative where being a lesbian for once was welcomed.
Meeting my life partner coincided with rapid political change in the UK. Equalities became central to the Government’s agenda. Homophobia still existed but things were changing. I gained mainstream employment where it was fine to be “out”. The introduction of the Civil Partnership had a huge impact on the perception and acceptance of LGB people. This was followed by legislation which made it illegal for goods and services to discriminate on the grounds of sexual orientation; another major step forward.
I have gradually moved from being underground to being where I want to be and taking space as who I am. Yes, there is a long way to go, there are still many places where holding hands with your partner puts your safety at risk. Yes, there is still massive homophobic bullying in school and much conflict between issues of faith and LGBT rights. However, compared to 30 years ago the world I live in is transformed―the local cake shop even sells same-sex couple wedding cake decorations!
Looking back, my personal journey of transformation runs parallel to political changes and shifts in society. It happened through millions of peoples’ tireless campaigning, personal commitment and deep belief in their right to love and be loved by whom they choose.