Why do lesbians need a day of visibility, you might ask? Well, as with other people from the LGBTQ+ community, lesbians have generally been erased from history, and still struggle to gain recognition in social and public life. In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, lesbianism was pretty much invisible, as it was not even considered worth legislating against. Laws in the UK and Germany, for example, prohibited male homosexuality and homosexual acts, but made no mention of women who had sex with women. Women are poorly served by history books and the media in general; lesbians more so. Rather than accepting that historical figures who are women have intimate relationships with each other, their relationships are considered friendships, all too often.
Similarly, in the current context, being a lesbian is considered at best irrelevant and at worse, a hindrance to public and professional life. Yet we desperately need more lesbian role models and visible leaders in all walks of life who are celebrated for the diverse and incredible people that they are, which includes celebrating their sexuality and identity.
In this blog post, I would like to give mention to some visible lesbians, and, remind you all that whilst being visible is a risk (as I know all too well) it is also a strong statement of intent. I was warned that being ‘out’ as a lesbian would negatively affect my academic career. I chose to become an activist and leader of the Staff LGBT+ Network in order to use the unique knowledge and skills I have and to develop that knowledge and understanding better, in order to advocate for equality and rights for all. I want to be successful BECAUSE I am a lesbian, not despite that fact. It is not all that I am, but it is part of who I am. It makes me a better leader because it has enhanced my awareness of diversity and seeing people as whole people. It makes me a better researcher because I can design studies more inclusively. It has made me a better teacher because I can provide inclusive education and address inequalities and actively educate others about inclusion, prejudice and discrimination. And it has made me a better writer because it has required me to try to understand people as vastly complex beings in a radically diverse and difficult social landscape.
Here are some lesbians we should be celebrating for being visible, some of them at times when being known as a lesbian was a great deal more risky than it is today. I look forward to a day when it is no longer a risk to be a lesbian and to be known publicly as such. I look forward to a day when there is no risk at all in being LGBTQ+. I look forward to a day when being an openly lesbian member of government is not something new. Until that day, I will celebrate lesbian identity alongside all the other dimensions of identity in our rainbow of personhood.
Happy Lesbian Visibility Day!
Alys Einion, Chair, Swansea University LGBT+ Staff Network.
Jane Addams, 6 Sept 1860 – 21 May 1935 (U.S.A)
(posted by Jo Waller, Senior Library Assistant, South Wales Miners’ Library).
Jane Addams, recognized as the founder of social work in the U.S.A. A pioneer of settlement activism: a reformer; social worker; public philosopher; sociologist; protester, author and women’s suffrage leader.
In 1889 she co-founded Hull House in Chicago, with her partner Ellen Gates Starr. Residents of this ‘settlement house’ engaged in research on housing; midwifery; tuberculosis, local public health and a variety of social issues. Addams’ Hull House night school was a direct forerunner of continuing education programmes offered by many universities today.
In 1919 Addams founded the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom, for which she was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1931.
Throughout the “Progressive Era” (1890s to 1920s) in the United States, Addams was an influential and prominent reformer, advising both Presidents Theodore Wilson and Woodrow Wilson on social reform, public health and the needs of underprivileged children.
Maureen Colquhoun. 12 Aug 1928 →
(posted by Jo Waller, Senior Library Assistant, South Wales Miners’ Library).
British economist and former, occasionally controversial, Labour Party politician. At the general election of February 1974 Colquhoun was elected as M.P. for Northampton North. One of her more contentious acts was to join with nine other Labour M.Ps in advocating an “alternative policy” on Northern Ireland, which included the proposal to remove all British troops.
In January 1977 she made a badly misjudged comment regarding Enoch Powell, but by February had forcefully recanted and affirmed her support for a fully multi-racial society.
Controversy once again loomed in 1979, when on 6 March Colquhoun introduced the Protection of Prostitutes Bill in the House of Commons, arriving with fifty sex workers to campaign for the decriminalisation of prostitution.
Maureen Colquhoun was the first openly gay British M.P and was a victim of misogyny and homophobia. In September 1977 she was deselected by members of her constituency party’s General Management Committee, who cited, amongst other spurious reasons, her “obsession with trivialities such as women’s rights”. This ruling was overturned in January 1978, but with the General Management Committee unwilling to back her, she lost her seat at the 1979 general election. Following this defeat Colquhoun remained in politics as an assistant to a variety of Labour M.Ps.
Maureen lives in the Lake District, where she remains active with both community and environmental issues.
Jane Castor – First Lesbian Mayor of Tampa
The first openly LGBTQ mayor of Tampa and the first openly LGBTQ person ever elected mayor of a top 100 city in the Southeastern United States. She also becomes the third out lesbian to win a big city mayoral race this month, following in the footsteps of Lori Lightfoot of Chicago and Satya Rhodes-Conway of Madison, Wisconsin.
Alys Einion April 25th, 2019
Posted In: Uncategorized
#LGBTSTEMDAY – A day to celebrate Diversity in Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths
I had the pleasure today of giving the Keynote address at a wonderful event hosted and organised by two postgraduate researchers at Swansea University. Ben Whittaker and Chloe Robinson brought together researchers from 7 perspectives to give Rainbow Talks relating to each theme of the LGBT+ rainbow flag, and it was wonderful to be in such a welcoming and positive space and to enjoy a bit of fun as I discussed what remain some very serious issues. The word art from the day is attached to this blog. There were speakers from a range of subjects and disciplines, and all seemed engaged and motivated to celebrate diversity and to address the challenges for LGBT+ people being themselves in the workplace, in the university as students, and in life in general.
The talks were inspiring, and I feel that this is an important step in promoting better connections between students and staff as we move forward to address some of the real, practical steps that can be made to foster a more inclusive environment. LGBT+ staff and students benefit from seeing themselves reflected in the course materials, resources and activities they experience. They benefit from a positive, inclusive environment in which all staff will challenge any prejudice, bias or negative behaviours. They benefit from gender-inclusive facilities, behaviours and language. When students and staff are happy and comfortable in themselves, and can be themselves in the workplace, they are more productive and more successful.
Here at the LGBT+ Staff Network we welcome the opportunity to work more closely with the student community, and in this case, the PGR community, in our drive to create a truly inclusive educational environment. We are delighted to celebrate #LGBTSTEMDAY and would like to wish all our colleagues well as they continue to act as pioneers in their fields.
Alys Einion July 5th, 2018
Posted In: Uncategorized
Guest Post by Philippa Price, Librarian, Information Services
You’ll find a great choice of fiction, non-fiction and journals (and even some DVDs if you’re not much of a reader!) in the library’s LGBT+ inclusive reading selection. These recommendations were originally inspired by fiction lists from Stonewall and have since been added to by members of library staff. All the titles in the library’s list are available from Swansea University Libraries. If the book you are interested in isn’t available at your campus library, you can sign in to iFind and Request that it is sent for you. We are always looking to develop this list, so if the book you love isn’t on there, let us know! You can email us at email@example.com or use the hashtag #SUBetterRead on Twitter or Instagram.
As library staff, we appreciate a love of literature, but reading has a wider benefit too. Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie expresses this far better than I ever could in here TED Talk, ‘The danger of a single story’. In it, she shows how easily a lack of understanding can arise if we only hear one narrative about a group of people or a country. It’s so important for us to be able to find ourselves in literature, but it’s also valuable to find an understanding of other people through fiction. Our LGBT+ reading list is a great resource if you want to find out more about the issues which have been marked by LGBT+ History Month, but it’s also a brilliant place to go if you’re looking for your next good read, whoever you are!
Alys Einion February 25th, 2018
Posted In: Uncategorized
Well, 2017 was a busy year for us here in Swansea University. Not only did we engage in a number of events, including a seminar for LGBT History Month, and hosting and organising the 2nd Annual LGBT+ Inclusivity in HE Conference, we also implemented some plans to formalise our network structure, forming a new committee. The roles are currently being advertised, as follows:
This is a valuable opportunity to get involved in a leadership / cross-faculty role, which is essential for career development for both academics and Professional Services staff. The Network will be a friendly and encouraging group in which to develop these skills.
Roles are assigned for two years in the first instance. Committee members will be required to work proactively, deliver actions by agreed deadlines, and to work together in an environment of equality, trust and respect. The network will meet on a regular basis (approx. every 2 months) and members are required to attend meetings and events wherever possible, contribute to discussions, and undertake a fair allocation of work. We expect members to be able to commit 2-3 hours every week to the role.
If you are interested in applying for a role, please email Cath Elms C.L.Elms@swansea.ac.uk with the following information (up to 500 words per question):
The deadline for applications is Friday 12th January 2018.
If you have any queries about the roles, please get in touch. If you would like to apply for a role but have concerns about not receiving support from your line manager to attend meetings, etc, please get in touch as we may be able to assist with this.
Alys Einion January 4th, 2018
Posted In: Uncategorized
The conference is tomorrow! I am so excited to meet everyone and we have a packed and really amazing programme of events.
Programmes will be distributed on the day, but in the meantime, here is how the days are looking….
Please remember, we are on the Bay Campus. Here is a link to the campus map
Please come to the School of Management and follow the signs for the conference.
With very best wishes from the LGBT+ Network and the Representatives from Cardiff University and University of South Wales.
Programme Day 1 – 5 September 2017
9:00 am – 10.30 am Registration and refreshments
10.30 am – 11:00 am Welcome to the conference – THE ORGANISING COMMITTEE
11:00 am – 12:00 pm
CHAIR – Prof Martin Stringer Keynote address: Professor Cara Aitchison, President and Vice-Chancellor, Cardiff Metropolitan University
From ‘marking difference’ to ‘making a difference’: the social-cultural nexus of power and personal responsibility in the leadership of higher education.
12:00 pm – 12.15 pm Comfort Break
12.15 pm – 1.15 pm
CHAIR- ALYS EINION Papers: Staff and student experience
(Non-) performative allyship: when LGBT-friendly images of HE institutions backfire
Pippa Sterk, Goldsmiths
Interactive collaborative virtual learning space exploring inclusive practice
Mandy Jack, Swansea University
Hate Crime Reporting Centre
Robin Benson, Swansea University
Fanzines: making media, doing activism
Cath Elms, Swansea University Workshop
Decolonising ‘inclusivity’: mapping reciprocity through a social cartographical lens
Cath Camps & CA Emmett, Cardiff University and USW
1.15 pm – 2.30 pm Lunch Break
2.30 pm – 3.30 pm
CHAIR – CATH CAMPS Papers: cultural barriers and mental health
Bisexual erasure and biphobia in Wales
Carlotta Lami, Swansea University
LGBTQ students and mental health
Georgina Gnan, King’s College
Gender, women and the ‘F’ word – addressing gender inequalities awareness in professional and social science education.
Alys Einion, Swansea University.
An employability mentoring scheme for LGBTQ students at the University of Birmingham
Sean Russell, Get Out Stay Out
How can my teaching be more LGBTQ inclusive? Reflecting on professional practice and power in higher education
Nicola Gale & Nicki Ward, University of Birmingham
3.15 pm – 4 pm Afternoon Coffee Break
4:00 pm – 5:00 pm
CHAIR – Prof Martin Stringer Papers: campus climate
Turning the sandstone into a rainbow: implementing an inclusive culture in a 170 year old institution
Jennifer Barrett & Mark Smith, University of Sydney
Proudly Proactive: celebrating and supporting LGBTQ+ students in higher education in Scotland
Hazel Marzetti, University of Edinburgh
Trans inclusion: exploring the experiences of trans and gender diverse students and staff in HE
Stephanie McKendry, University of Strathclyde Workshop
This is your trans* life: trans inclusivity in medical education
Evan Wilkins, Cardiff University Workshop
Bisexuality issues in higher education
Rosie Nelson, University of Bristol
5:00 pm CLOSE DAY 1
Conference Dinner at the Swansea Marriott Hotel. Schedule:
● Arrival and Drinks reception at 6:30pm;
● Seating at 7:15pm;
● First course served at 7:30pm.
Dinner entertainment: music by Welsh singer/songwriter Bronwen Lewis (from the film Pride)
Programme Day 2 – 6 September 2017
9.30 am – 10.30 am
CHAIR – ALYS EINION Keynote address: Professor Martin Stringer, Pro-ViceChancellor, Swansea University
Herding dragons, intersectionality and the teaching of religion
10.30 am – 11.00 am Comfort Break
11:00 am – 12:00 pm
CHAIR – ERICH HOU Papers: trans research, and psychology
“Can I touch you? I’ve never met a real non-binary person”: the importance to inclusive curricula of equipping trans-identified students with research skills
Edith England, Swansea University
Queering the psychology curriculum: reflections on doing LGBT activism in the context of academic psychology
Nuno Nodin, Royal Holloway
The unicorn in the room: the impact of gendered expectations in clothing in Healthcare/HE environments
Josie Henley, Cardiff University Workshop
How to develop successful strategies for implementing change in your institution to enhance the experience of LGBTQ students and staff
Sean Russell, Get Out Stay Out Workshop
Bi exclusion and inclusion in higher education
Ele Hicks, Bi Cymru
12:00 pm – 1:00 pm
CHAIR – Catherine Emmett Papers: teaching health & social care
Developing and advancing LGBT inclusivity in higher education curriculum
Maurice O’Brien, Caroline Ellis & David Clarke, Cardiff University
Gender and Sexual Diversity in Professional Practice Learning: Early Lessons from the DAPPLE Project
Nicki Ward, University of Birmingham
Medical students exploring gender through art
Zarabeth Newton & Tonya Neame, Cardiff University Workshop
Over the rainbow: small symbol, big impact, and uncovering ‘untold’ stories
Spectrum (LGBT+ staff network), USW Workshop
GO Wales employability scheme at Cardiff University and the University of South Wales
GO Wales for Cardiff and USW
1:00 pm – 2:00 pm Lunch Break
2:00 pm – 3:00 pm
CHAIR– ALYS EINION Plenary session: David Donovan, Negotiations Officer, BECTU
PRIDE: A Study in Solidarity
3:00 pm – 3.30 pm Afternoon Coffee Break
3.30 pm – 5:00 pm
CHAIR – Prof Martin STringer The Great Debate
Panel session with speakers from the conference
5:00 pm CONFERENCE CLOSE
Thank you and goodbye!
Alys Einion September 4th, 2017
Posted In: Uncategorized
Last week I spent 5 days in the city of Mannheim, Germany, for a twin-city exchange on LGBT+ issues, accompanied by Network member Daf. Mannheim invited representatives from LGBT+ organisations from all of its twin cities to apply for a place at the event, and Swansea University’s LGBT+ Staff Network was offered 2 places on behalf of the city of Swansea. The other organisations and twin cities represented were LISTAG (Families and Friends of LGBTIs in Turkey) from Istanbul (Turkey), GENDERDOC-M Information Centre from Chisinau (Moldova), Haifa Rainbow Association from Haifa (Israel), and Community House from Haifa (Israel).
On Thursday 10th August, I participated in the city’s Rainbow Reception event, which was the official city reception for all LGBT+ activists to celebrate Pride Weekend. The event was opened by the Major of Mannehim, Dr Ulrike Freundlieb, and was followed by a 40-minute interview with the twin city representatives. In the interview, I spoke about LGBT+ equality in the UK, including the Equality Act 2010 and the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Act 2013. When asked if the fight for LGBT+ equality is over now that legal equality has been granted, I spoke about the importance of continued activism, particularly focusing on trans issues and intersectionality where significant barriers still remain, as well as the importance of being active allies to those in the community. Allyship is not just for those who are straight and cis, it is also for those of us within LGBT+ communities who have relative positions of privilege that we can use to affect positive change.
Afterwards we met the Mayor and the Twin City Commissioner Dr Ludovic Roy, and spoke with some press representatives about our organisations and LGBT+ activism work. Read more about the Rainbow Reception event on the official Mannheim website.
On Friday 11th August, all twin city representatives met with various LGBT+ organisations and activists from Mannheim to share best practice and discuss ideas for how the twin cities could work together to advance LGBT+ equality in Europe. We talked about the situations in our own countries, the work we do, and ways to work together – suggestions that we’ve taken away include setting up a shared resource website, a Twin City LGBT+ Equality Network, and joint events including film festivals and Pride visits (watch this space!).
The aspect of the workshop that had the most value for me was hearing the other delegates talk about their experiences in their countries – e.g. in Turkey, the question Metehan hears the most from people who come to his LGBT center for help is “can you please cure my son/daughter?” and if he answers “no”, they will just go to a Doctor who will claim they can cure their child. In Moldova, Anastasia and Slavi’s organisation GENDERDOC-M is the only LGBT+ organisation in the whole country, and are entirely funded by European grants and donations – they receive zero government support, and in fact, Anastasia later told me that the reason she got into LGBT+ activism is because she received first-hand police discrimination for being queer where she was detained against her will by the police and had her ID confiscated. This served as a reminder to me not only of how far we’ve come in the UK, but also that there are still enormous barriers for LGBT+ people on our doorstep in Europe. But what was inspiring was the activists’ determination and courage to keep campaigning for equality despite discrimination, prejudice, and burnout.
On the Saturday, the twin city delegates were the guests of honour at the Mannheim Pride Parade – after being welcomed in the opening speeches, all twin city reps were invited to cut the ribbon and begin the parade, and then we marched at the very front through the city centre. The march had such a fun, uplifting vibe full of floats and lavish costumes and loud music, and the city was filled with members of the public taking photos and cheering us along the 1.5-hour parade route. The march ended at a street party in the Mannheim Palace grounds containing 70,000 visitors over the course of the day, where the university had a table – we made sure to promote our upcoming LGBTQ Inclusivity Conference there too!
Later in the afternoon a minute’s silence was held at the party in commemoration of the victims of homophobic violence in Chechnya, and the twin city reps were invited to read out the English translations of the German words of commemoration. A little while later, we were all invited back on stage to be interviewed about our LGBT+ activism work for the Pride audience.
One of the main things I learned from this visit was how much I overestimate perceived barriers to equality. It was fascinating to speak to people from other countries where human rights violations and discrimination against LGBT+ people is routine, or where their culture is so closely linked with religion in which many followers have deeply-entrenched resistance to LGBT+ rights. In the UK sometimes we perceive religion to be such an enormous barrier, when in fact we’re fortunate to live in such a pluralist and tolerant society by comparison to others in Europe. The experience has helped me see my own work through new eyes.
It was an incredible experience, and I’m honoured and grateful for the opportunity to have met so many inspiring LGBT+ activists from other nations and share our stories and ideas. The visit has inspired me to keep working towards LGBT+ equality in our own community, and to use our relative privilege here in the UK to support those who are still fighting for their civil rights in Europe and beyond. We’ve achieved a lot in the UK in regards to LGBT+ equality but there is always more that can be done.
LGBT+ Staff Network co-chair, Equality Advisor
Alys Einion August 25th, 2017
Posted In: Uncategorized
As I walked past the main building at Cardiff University last week I noted the rainbow flag flying proudly on their main flag pole, clearly part of their commitment to LGTB+ History Month. It got me wondering about whether we might use this blog to share other ideas and possibilities that we have seen elsewhere and would like to see here is Swansea.
Let me begin with two from Birmingham:
The first is the LGBT student mentoring programme (http://www.birmingham.ac.uk/generic/internships/mentoring/lgbt.aspx ). I was very proud to be part of this scheme, almost from the beginning. The idea was to provide students at the University with mentors over a year who had experience of being LGBT in different professions. The team had drawn together, through personal contacts, alumni and the local LGBT business group, a number of volunteers who agreed to meet with students on at least two occasions over the year. We began the year with a speed mentoring evening when potential mentees and interested students gathered to learn more about the programme and to have a series of five minute sessions. The students then indicated who they would like to act as their mentor. It might be a person from a profession that interested them (media, finance, health services, education etc. etc.) or somebody who clicked during the evening. There were two or three mentoring sessions during the year, where the agenda was largely set by the student’s own questions and concerns, and a review at the end of the year. It was relatively simple to organise but the feedback from the students (and in fact the mentors) was that it was so valuable and offered a safe space to discuss issues around LGBT identity and work that is not available anywhere else.
The second example is perhaps on a larger scale, and that is the inclusive curriculum project (https://intranet.birmingham.ac.uk/staff/teaching-academy/documents/public/eip-nov14/McLinden.pdf ). I have booked in to a conference later in the year to learn more about the outcomes from this project, but in essence the project was designed to explore how LGBT issues could be integrated into the curricula across the University. Coming from a Department of Theology and Religion this had, perhaps ironically, always been an element of our curricula since the end of the 1990s. I taught part of a module on LGBT theologies, but more importantly, I also always taught the first year ‘Introduction to Religion’ module on which all our students, from the BA Theology, BA Islamic Studies and BA Religion and Theology, all had to attend. This gave me an opportunity to introduce queer approaches to religion, raise challenging questions on sexuality across different religious traditions, and to note just how many authors in the field are openly gay or lesbian. LGBT issues was not a ‘theme’ within that module it, along with BME, gender, disability etc. was part of the way I taught and part of what I taught. The students also came to realise, because of the examples I chose from my own life and experiences, that I was also gay. It never created any problems for me and clearly helped some of those in the lecture to approach staff in other contexts to discuss these issues further.
The inclusive curriculum project was aiming to develop that model further, across the University, and doing much more in terms of the wider structure of learning and teaching and student support. It may not appear to have any relevance for subjects in science and technology, for example, but even here I was fascinated to hear of one lecturer in Maths who made a point, again in the first year module, of choosing a variety of examples from a range of diverse mathematicians to illustrate the relevant points, and emphasising the diversity of the mathematic community. It was partly about incorporating LGBT (and other minority) theme as part of the examples chosen in a discipline, partly about using a diverse range of authors and indicating how their gender, sexuality, ethnicity etc. played into their thinking where relevant, and partly about LGBT lecturers being open and willing to engage in wider discussions. All this was designed to be approached in a safe environment, not to be pushed down student’s throats as it were, and, to use a horrible term, to ‘normalise’ discussions about LGBT people and ideas.
Others out there will probably have other examples, from alumni funded LGBT safe spaces on US campuses to identifiable ‘LGBT allies’ stickers that staff can put on their doors or notices boards. There are many ideas, not all of which we would want, or be able, to introduce here at Swansea, but it would be interesting just to see what could be going on out there.
PVC (Academic, Arts and Humanities and Social Sciences)
Alys Einion February 29th, 2016
Posted In: Uncategorized
I feel pretty confident that I can tell you about every representation of lesbian relationships that I encountered during my youth.
I can tell you about that Brookside kiss, even though it’s not in my living memory, because I’d seen the screencap so many times (always accompanied by a word like ‘shocking’ or ‘sexy’) and it’s the only reason I knew who Anna Friel was.
I can tell you how much I tried to like The L Word, despite how over-sexualised and generally unrelatable it was to me.
I can tell you how it felt to watch Tipping the Velvet in my bedroom in secret, switching channels every so often so the next day I could talk about the programme which was on the other side.
I can tell you a lot about Zoe Tate in Emmerdale, from her girlfriend who abandoned her at the altar to the time she was rejected by that nice police officer and everything in between.
I can tell you all about all the lady couples in Bad Girls. I can list them in order of my most to least favourite, tell you which characters I wanted to be, which kisses most made me feel like coming out would be worth the risk, how it never occurred to me that all these women were criminals because I was too busy feeling like a kid in a candy shop.
I can tell you about the tropes. I can tell you about the girl-on-girl kisses to grab ratings and the almost inevitable disappearance of the storyline afterwards. I can tell you about madwomen and murderers: women who killed for, or even killed, the women they loved. I can tell you about bisexual women who cheated on each other with the same man. I can tell you about women who were abused and loved women and women who were abused for loving women. I can tell you about unrequited love and untimely loss.
I can tell you how these representations seeped into my young brain and shaped my expectations of the world.
I can tell you that I know that things are getting better, but that there is still a way to go.
By Anonymous, LGBT+ Staff Network member
Alys Einion February 22nd, 2016
Posted In: Uncategorized
Have you ever watched a film and thought, yes, that makes sense, that speaks to me? Have you ever watched a film and really related to the people and the circumstances? Or have you watched film after film and wondered, when will I see my ideals, my values, my identity reflected back at me?
Finding yourself and understanding your identity is a key experience for everyone, something which starts in adolescence and seems to consolidate during the early years of adulthood. However, we are always learning, I feel, and many things influence the kinds of people we see ourselves as. For LGBT people, especially those who, like me, grew up in the 60s or 70s, finding their LGBT identity can be somewhat problematic. Or at least, can be a less straightforward. Unlike today, back in the day there were very few LGBT characters or storylines on TV or in films. As a teenager in the 1980s, there were very few role models for me to help understand my own identity. My research into narratives shows that ‘we are the stories we tell about ourselves’ and creating those stories often needs exposure to similar stories.
In the 1980s, I remember watching a TV adaptation of The Rainbow (DH Lawrence) and another of Oranges are not the Only Fruit (Jeanette Winterson). Neither of these painted a very positive view of being a lesbian, although there were elements of hope there for me. I was an avid reader, but there were no books for me to read. I watched the teen films that were prevalent at the time, but few had characters I could relate to. I remember watching the film Some Kind of Wonderful which had a boyish character who was called a lesbian by one of her classmates, but she was in love with her male best friend and ended up with him. There were so few books in which I could find something to relate to. I read The Well of Loneliness (Radclyffe Hall) and was so thoroughly depressed that I wondered if I would ever find happiness as a lesbian living in a world of straight people and straight stories.
And then I left home, at 19, and went ‘on the scene’. One evening, I was invited to a party with the woman I was dating. It was at a house owned by an older lesbian, a professional woman, secure in her identity and her context, and the world opened up. She had a shelf full of books about women, feminism, and lesbians. She loaned me a book (which I sadly was never able to return, as I did not have her address and fell out with the woman who had taken me to her house) which opened my eyes to a whole world of lesbian fiction. The book was I am a Woman by Ann Bannon. This was one of the books that were published as pulp fiction in the 1950s and 1960s, sensationalised with provocative covers, but many of which dealt with the real-life struggle of lesbians to find a place within the world. The book had a profound effect on me. I read and re-read it until the cover started to fall off. I started looking for more books, and found that these did exist. And I started looking for films. I found a bookshop, sadly now gone, in London. Silver Moon Books provided women’s and lesbian books and videos. There were adverts in the gay papers, and such things could be ordered through the mail.
Suddenly my world exploded. I watched some of the independent films made in the early 90s, and it was then I discovered my favourite film of all time. Claire of the Moon, Directed by Nicole Conn, tells the story of an American writer who goes on a writers’ retreat and shares a cottage with a famous lesbian writer and academic. The tension between them, set against a backdrop of powerful natural scenery, still grips and moves me, even though I have seen the film so many times I know the script by heart. I bought the book that went with it, and the soundtrack – first on tape, then later on CD. I bought the book written by the actor who played Claire, which described her own journey of self-discovery inspired by the film. And I realised that everything that I had been searching for could be and was reflected out there, somewhere, if I only had the means to find it.
It seems strange now, in these days of instant streaming, instant access to a vast catalogue of music, films and books, that once upon a time it was hard to access materials like this. Librarians would not order certain books, and you had to find out about the books in the first place. I felt as if I lived in a desert of lesbian identity, constantly searching for something to slake my thirst for knowledge, for self understanding. And it was films like this, and like Go Fish (Guinevere Turner) which helped me to start to see myself from different perspectives, and to understand the symbols of lesbian culture which were manifest in these films. Films and books which talked about lesbian life and experience opened up my knowledge of my culture and my history. I learned about butch and femme, radical sex, separatist lesbian feminism, bisexuality, and sexual health, all from videos and books. There was no other way to learn, it seemed.
Claire of the Moon deals with the classic issue of understanding self. Claire is an independent, confident, sexually aggressive woman whose self-assurance is compellingly attractive. The film shows how she is challenged by the sudden interaction and forced proximity with Dr Noel Benedict, and how at first they clash, their differences causing significant friction. “I have never seen two people more ill suited” Noel says. Claire is a night owl, a coffee drinker, with sloppy habits and a tendency to smoke too much. She is laid back and free, expressive and unselfconscious. Noel is an early riser, a workaholic, “dedicated, upright” and somewhat uptight. Their differences seem insurmountable. “You stay north, I’ll stay south” Claire says to Noel. Their differences are emphasised. But something draws them together, some commonality. First, they each read each other’s latest book. They bond over alcohol and backgammon. And the attraction between them becomes evident. Against the dramatic scenery of the Northern Californian coastline, they find themselves drawn together only to pull apart. Noel is attracted but having been hurt by a straight woman in the past, is disinclined to see Claire’s attraction as real or substantial. She dismisses it as idle curiosity. Claire, meanwhile, seeks out sexual encounters with men to compensate for her confusion. Her inner life is represented in dream/fantasy sequences which she finds disturbing, but which reflect strongly for me aspects of my own inner life.
And still, they are drawn inexorably towards each other. In this film, you see references to lesbian and women’s culture and history, particularly in the characters on the writers’ retreat, who are almost caricatures. There is Shylo Starbright, the hippy, esoteric ‘holy-istic type’. There is the conceptual poet, Adrienne. The housewife who has escaped from the kids for the first time, and whose husband leaves her because he can’t cope on his own. And the two women who run the retreat, one of whom is a butch lesbian, the other a femme and academic. There is much more to lesbian culture than these examples, obviously, but they act as tiny symbols of a much greater history that is waiting to be discovered. There is the representation of the ‘lesbian hug’. And then there is that fundamental story line, the love and desire between two people who are attracted to each other despite their differences. That was what gave me hope, as a young woman, struggling to work out who I was, and wondering if I would ever find community, find a relationship, friends who were similar to me, or at least people who shared the same kind of journey. The cataclysm of the climax of the film is simple, and simply powerful.
I have watched that film too many times to count. I have, since, developed a fondness for lesbian fiction, of every class and genre, and can cite whole range of authors and stories that give me pleasure and open up new windows into knowledge, understanding and the wider world. I love Karin Kallmaker’s books in particular, as well as Sarah Waters. I am lucky now that such books and films are mine at the stroke of a key, and I no longer spend weeks or months just watching the same film over and over to remind myself that I am a lesbian.
I have come to realise that we are all looking for identity. We are all looking, perhaps subconsciously, for something outside of ourselves that reflects our inner life, our sense of self. We look for the stories that speak to us, or about us. We find parts of ourselves in the films we watch, the books we read. We find our history not just in the factual records of the lives of lesbians, gay men, transgender people and the vast diversity of identities that are now emerging beyond the boundaries of binaries and definitions. We find them in the books written by others about stories that are often similar to us, the stories that take us away into new worlds and new locations.
I am an author myself, now, and I know that my work is influenced by all those who came before me. As I continue to write, I always remind myself just how far I have come, and how priveleged I am to witness and share in the stories of others. We are the history others will read in the future.
More than ever, it is important to write, read, produce, watch and consume these stories. They are a testament to those who were before us, and to the world we live in now, where our diversity can no longer be eradicated. The stories exist.
And so do we.
by Alys Einion
Senior Lecturer in Midwifery
Alys Einion February 16th, 2016
Posted In: Uncategorized
February is an interesting month. It’s the tail-end of winter, when people are thoroughly sick of the long, dark nights, the cold, the bare trees and grey skies, and are yearning for spring. The bright lights and warmth of the festive season are behind us, and we face the new year full of resolve or trepidation. That this has been designated UK LGBT history month seems to me to be perfect timing. It’s a chance to lighten the darkness a little, but still reflect and learn. Make the most of the lingering mood of introspection. It’s a chance to understand ourselves in context.
Whether you are LGBT+ or other, an ally, or someone who has never considered the history of the LGBT movement and of our identities, this is a chance to explore deeper the people, culture and events which have shaped our knowledge of ourselves and have affected our liberties and rights in the UK. It is a chance to consider ourselves in a wider global context.
The first place to start then, for this blog series, is with a brief overview of what this month means, and I hardly need to do anything other than give the official website: http://lgbthistorymonth.org.uk/
This is about honouring and recognising our history. The history of politics, political movements, literature, the arts, the law. It is the history of identity. Women living as men. Men living as women. Butch and femme, drag and drama. The changes in law, culture, and medicine. The oppressions of society, government, and medicine, pathologising us when we were no longer invisible. It is the history of survival in a world that kept on denying us. It is humbling.
But there is more. As I start this month, my first ‘history month’ as co-chair of the Swansea University LGBT+ Staff network, I find myself reflecting on what it means to me to be even sitting here writing this blog. Writing is a form of history making. Everything I do in this role, it seems, is making history, and that means that everything that others have done to simply be themselves, express themselves, or advocate for the rights of LGBT+ people have also made that history.
It’s a sobering thought, isn’t it, that what we do, day by day, is contributing to history? It causes a sudden shift of perspective, like climbing up and suddenly realising you are actually climbing down, like vertigo from looking up at a high building. And what I see here is that I am one small voice in a vast and huge chorus, all singing the same song. That chorus extends out to beyond the borders of our identities as LGBT+. It extends to all the other dimensions of identity, of self, and of community. Black, white, minority ethnic, female, male, non-binary gender, transgender, old, young, middle aged, parent, single person, coupled, married, divorced, people of faith, politically active people, working people, academics, professionals…. All of us a huge part of creating the world anew, each day.
The theme for this year’s LGBT month is Religion, Belief and Philosophy. There are many things that shape our world, and I have always felt that our beliefs, the way we make sense of the world, are fundamental to our identities. I have always wanted to make a difference in the world, always felt that I was put on this earth to make it a better place. This is one way I can do that. So as I continue with this blog series, I would like to raise key issues about belief, about religion, and about philosophy, and link to the various figures and events in history that have brought about the biggest changes in our wider world.
It was 32 years ago that I realised I liked girls. In that way. I was an introverted 13 year old, with a deep sense of spirituality and a yearning desire to be known, to be seen. There were no visible lesbians in my community, and few in the media. I had no idea about lesbian identity or history; gay was a very bad word in our house. I had no idea of the many, many people who had risked their lives to live according to their own identity. Over 30 years of my own history, and much of what I have and continue to experience is thanks to the people who have helped shape the world into a place where I can sit here and write a blog like this and not risk my career, my home, my life, or my liberty. That is why history is important. Because it is important to see where we have been, and how far we have come, honouring all those who have come before us, so that we can all feel able to continue to shape the future.
Check out the resources on the LGBT history month website, and do please follow this blog series as I explore as many issues as I can throughout this very important month. And if you would like to contribute to the blog, please get in touch at firstname.lastname@example.org
HAPPY LGBT HISTORY MONTH!!!!!
By Alys Einion, Co-chair of the Swansea University LGBT+ Staff network.
Alys Einion February 1st, 2016
Posted In: Uncategorized
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