THE LOG BOOKS
Season 1 Episode 3 “Let’s not shy away from sex”
Presenters: Tash Walker, Adam Smith
Producers: Shivani Dave, Tash Walker, Adam Smith
Music: Tom Foskett-Barnes
Artwork: Natalie Doto
This episode contains sexual content.
[telephone dial tone, music]
This is a log book entry from December 18 1975. Volunteer who took the call was Mark.
For the third successive session I’ve been on Gay Switchboard I’ve been asked genuine questions about gay sex - by people who have been worried about it, e.g., what happens to the semen when its inside you? I think this backs up [unintentional pun – that’s actually in the log book] a point made by Paul a few volunteer meetings ago that if we are asked about fucking etc - we should not shy away from giving the information. People really do have hang ups and there are few -if any- sources excluding the now out of print Homosexual Handbook from Olympia Press which are honest enough to print what actually does happen. It is worth satisfying a few wankers for the sake of those who are afraid of the unknown or have been conditioned by the outside world to think it unnatural.
TW: So many questions I know that …
AS: Well, a wanker is …
TW: When I was younger, I was desperate to know more about sex. I remember watching Queer as Folk - the only thing on tv which was remotely LGBTQ+ and I don’t think there was anything to do with lesbian sex in there. Although I think it was alluded to once in one of the episodes …
AS: The lesbians have a baby …
TW: Yeah, but how did it get there?
You’re listening to the Log Books – stories from Britain’s LGBTQ+ history and conversations about being queer today.
AS: In partnership with Switchboard: the LGBT+ helpline. I’m Adam Smith.
TW: I’m Tash Walker.
AS: This is episode 3 of the Log Books “Let’s not shy away from sex”
TW: Which is all about sex.
AS: And we’ve spoken to people who have sex and including those who were having sex in the 70s.
TW: And some Switchboard volunteers who talked them through it on the phone.
AS: And this is one thing that is distinctive about many people in LGBT community -as a minority -is the sex that they have. Their sex lives are often different from the norm – if you are a gay man, lesbian, or bi sexual person and yet there is this lack of info. And that is something that comes up time and time again in the log books - is people asking those kind of questions like - what do I do? I’ve managed to persuade this boy to come round tonight but what is he going to expect me to do? How do I to perform? - all of that kind of stuff/
TW: I barely remember my sex education - I think it involved us watching a video and then a banana and a condom - but of course that is something I’ve had very little use for...
AS: Bananas are really useful. You don’t have to use them for condoms
It was actually against the law for schools to teach us about gay sex – because of Section 28.
TW: Which we are going to come onto in the next season.
AS: So, thinking about that log book entry at the top of this episode we’ve got former volunteer Julian who remembers what it was like to take those kinds of calls.
Is it painful to be fucked? Is it painful to fuck? How does one do it? The thing of … lubricants, of relaxation, of taking things … gently, of -there was more to sex than fucking any way. It was part of a thing -of one very quickly started to recognise the people who were genuine about that as opposed to those people who just wanted it either as a wind up or were doing it just because they were jerking off.
I think the jerking off. And when you are being serious about this - I’m putting the phone down now. Goodbye.
What else can one do but at least take people on face value on what they were asking about.
AS: Phoning Switchboard might have been the first sexual experience for someone - that is talking about sex with another person
TW: I mean we are hardly fully liberated today but in previous decades Britons handled this matter very differently.
Well, my mother knew it was a case of don’t ask don’t tell. And I didn’t. Out of respect for her. I think it is utterly wrong when people say -my mother has a right to know, or my parents have a right to know. They don’t. They often do know all too well. But in our family you didn’t talk about sex at all - let alone gay sex so that were the way things were then.
AS: And yet Tash people were doing it then …
TW: Guys wanted to get off Adam -and girls! And the nature of having same sex desires was to be secretive - it’s obvious in the log books that cruising for sex discreetly was such a big part of men’s sex lives especially in the period we are looking in to.
AS: Ah, Julian has got more to say on this - including the best methods …
Cruising in the early 70s. Well, I found out places where to go. Lambeth town hall- right opposite - next to the library a toilet, you know! And you saw people looking at each more than necessary and if you were interested you could get involved.
So that brought you to - oh yes quite possibly public conveniences which are male only … you know… which are of a certain size, which are unattended by an attendant - are probably going to be places, so you find one and then of course you look for others. And a large London termini is probably the next best place to go isn’t it?
I will start off with the experience of being somebody who should have been going to school at the age of sixteen and I thought -ok duffle bag, take off school uniform, change into something more appropriate, get on tube train to Waterloo Station. Go into Waterloo Station and the toilets in Waterloo station and the cubicles in Waterloo Station or the urinals in Waterloo Station and stand around them and because I did look quite young it was actually easier to wander around the cubicles and that point in Waterloo Station - I think it is a bar now- the downstairs toilets there and which you didn’t have to pay 10p just to get in. There were 45 or 50 cubicles and many of them - if not the majority of them - had not only a nine-inch area at the bottom but had holes between them. You know people had drilled out holes. So you were went in there and sat down and moved your feet further and further apart so your shoe could be seen under the cubicle next door. And then if somebody moved their feet towards that as well – then, of course, you could start knocking each other’s feet and then you knew it was somebody who was … and so then you know you might look through the little hole which usually had been plugged up with a little bit of toilet paper and look through and Waterloo, for example, was one where you could actually - if you are agile enough- you could climb over from one to the other. And of course what you always did -you put a carry bag or your duffle bag or your suitcase in front of the door so that people couldn’t see two sets of feet and of course … some very clever queens used to stand there in a plastic bag -so to speak- on their feet so that two sets of feet couldn’t be seen when somebody else got in. And then you had sex. And I used to spend many a pleasant afternoon in Waterloo. And this whole idea of it offending public decency -well no because most people just … who were using it for other normal purposes of a toilet -you know- came in went and used cubicle, came straight out again. And it was not as though people were accosting the people who were using it not for cruising - because there would have been no point in anyway? What is the point when there is so much delectable flesh on offer anyway.
AS: But there is a debate in the log books about how much info to give out about cruising -like Julian described -such as where to go to find a cottage. A cottage - for those who don’t know - is a nickname for a place - usually a public toilet - where men go to have sex.
TW: And there is log book entry from October 1975 its entitled “Reservations on cottage and outside sex info” it’s got six different bullet points. The first sort of poses a question about whether Switchboard volunteers would feel responsible for giving out a specific cottage or tow path where the caller then goes on to get attacked. To quote directly “if that person then gets killed by a gang of thugs and the volunteers suggesting instead that this is less likely to happen at saunas or pubs.
The second point is around the law and questioning whether Switchboard will again - in the words of the volunteer “get busted” - asking if Switchboard as an organisation should instead try and obey the law one issues is that 80% believe the law is definitely the wrong.
The third point suggests that if Switchboard becomes known for condoning cottaging but giving the information out that those arrested might give the following response to the police. “Gay Switchboard sent me here.” The volunteer then suggest that this could motivate the vice squad to pose fake calls, record them and use them against Switchboard in court.
The volunteer then goes on to suggest that volunteers instead should direct callers who are interested in cottaging to support groups or other organisations, pubs with his final question asking if they would be thrown off Switchboard- this volunteer – if they refused to carry out the proposed policy.
AS: You can hear the arguments in the phone room happening almost or in the pub maybe after the shift. Of course, cruising is not for everybody...
In terms of sexual prospects, I was aware of cottaging and cruising - it always struck me as being both dangerous and also … to be perfectly frank … not very romantic. Public lavatories are not areas of interest or delight. But yes, I was very aware that … for many people that was the only place they might find sex.
This is a log book entry October 12 1975.
On the subject of cruising. The trouble with the cruising scene is that the whole concept has become abused and distorted. Surely the idea of cruising is that a guy goes to -say Holland Walk, of which I used to be very fond - and had been meeting someone to with trick or if he is fortunate enough, he can form a more lasting relationship. (I was lucky to meet someone there who I loved and lived with for three years until they had to go back to the US.)
On returning to that place, it seems that the whole scene has shifted to the dark stretch of the pathway at the top - where groups of guys stand around with their hands in one others pants. But apart from anything else it is much nicer to do things on the bed.
AS: And then another volunteer has added a poem underneath this - called On Public Sex -which is just written into the log book. And here we go - I’m going to read it …
On Public Sex.
Why beat someone’s meat on a street, or shoot your load on a road, when you can wank it -beneath a blanket? And perhaps even discover a lover - who knows?
It’s cute. And then someone else has written – for GN? Suggesting they should submit the poem to publication to the Gay News?
TW: I like the bit that’s obviously by the original volunteer that says - it’s been rather quiet tonight!
AS: One of the challenges faced by Switchboard volunteers -who in the late 70s identified really gay men or lesbian - was that one side had no clue about what the other was up to in bed.
TW: Which meant that all volunteers had to be prepared and clued up to talk about sex with anyone.
AS: Former volunteer Femi -has got a really good story about this.
Everybody had to be prepared to talk to everybody about everything which meant that I would sometimes be sitting next to a gay man hearing him talking to what I perceived a lesbian about lesbian sexual practice. And I must say more than once - I was … more than slightly … surprised at some of the things. I wasn’t the only one - because some of us lesbians got together and decided we would do an in-service training session on lesbian sex and sexual practice. And that led to one of the most embarrassing experiences of my life…
I’d done biology and I’d done diagrammatic sketches and all of that. And so I thought - I know I will teach them the biology - I will run this session … I can do this. So I went and bought a great roll of lining paper – wall paper lining paper – and I drew a massive great diagram of the -as big as my dining room table. Because of a lot of men got the vagina and the vulva … they just didn’t understand the difference …they just go the vagina as kind of a general area. So I drew this great big vulva and labelled it clitoris here, and hood, minora, majora… and I rolled it all up. And I took it on the bus to the West London day centre where we tended to hold our in service training sessions. I don’t know what happened to the elastic band - that was supposed to be keeping that roll of lining paper rolled up - but … as I came down the stairs of the bus this wretched thing fell out of my hand and rolled down the stairs and, of course, opened up. The bus, fortunately, wasn’t too full but there was some very shocked people on the seats at the bottom of the stairs - as this thing this great diagram of this great vulva unfolded in front of them. We had a lot of fun in those days!
I remember calls from women calling to say …to ask… about sex. To ask about what’s acceptable and what’s not. One of the ones I remember the most was - I managed to persuade this woman to come over to my house - and she’s coming and she’s staying tonight, and I’ve never had sex with a woman before and I don’t know what to do you know. And you start with very practical things – like, well -do you masturbate? what does that feel like for you? You could try some of that, but you do have to bear in mind it won’t necessarily work for. Women just kind of going -I’ve read that penetration is not ok, is that right? I don’t know if that’s right for everybody, but I can tell you but yes you are right not everybody likes it. So really practical stuff. And the woman’s stuff and at least you could … I could do that as a woman. But the calls for women were very small minority of the calls that I took most nights.
This is a log book entry from November 17 1976. And the volunteer’s called Louise.
We had a call form a woman who said she had fantasies round caning other women, but they have become insufficient, and she wanted to know if we had any info on groups where she could meet women with whom she could carry out her fantasies. I don’t know of any SM groups for women nor the best ways of contacting any, but I recommended Sappho as being the most likely to have the info if it exists.
When I joined Switchboard, I was incredibly naïve in some ways. I mean I thought I knew it all, but I remember having a various row in a very early log book in the 80s about whether there was such a thing as a double ended dildo.
I’m Lisa Power and I’m a dyke who has been around for donkeys’ years and I was on Switchboard from 1979 - for about 14 years. I mean I’d never even seen a dildo at this point. I talked a good talk about sex, but I wasn’t that experienced. And one of the men said something about double ended dildos and I just went - I don’t’ believe you - you are making that up. So, somebody drew a little sketch and everything and actually -and this is what Switchboard did for me I ended up running the first lesbian sex toy mail order business in the UK - actually double ended dildos were shit at that point because they were ridged you know they were hard plastic. So, if you put two people on a double ended you kind of waved at each other from the far ends. So they weren’t much cop frankly until you actually got latex ones where they were a lot more cop but also tended to break if you got too enthusiastic with them.
TW: The log books really are just so full of these debates which make for fantastic reading and also training sessions for volunteers
AS: And yeah, there is another argument in the pages. This has got to be one of my favourites it’s about a drug that makes you feel a little rush and a little blush -especially during sex. Some people who are listening may know what am talking about - its poppers a smelly liquid that you switch the vapour of.
TW: Yeah, the entries we’ve found are really about volunteers simply educating each other about poppers - what the are, what they do and what precautions to take.
AS: You can tell in the debates on the pages of the log books between the volunteers that they have different levels of knowledge awareness and understanding of poppers and I guess it’s probably quite hard to find information about that in 1975. And you’ve got some log book entries, Tash?
TW: Yeah, there are a couple of entries the first one that we’ve found is about poppers and how they are prescribed for use by doctors for patients with low … low blood pressure. As they increase the heart rate when the vapours is inhaled. It warns that if you have high blood pressure -which smokers and drinkers often do without knowing it - can put a strain on the heart and sometimes cause a heart attack. Yet the next entry expands on this and actually contradicts it by saying that they are only dangerous to people with low pressure as the drop in blood pressure after use is what is harmful and that the actual liquid itself can also be an irritating if you come in contact with it.
AS: And then the volunteer called Ally comes in on September 8 to respond to this debate that’s going on in the pages and said - well I’ve had emotional and physical pleasure heightened by occasional use of poppers and I would like to think that anyone who asks should be told there is no harm in them - unless you have a dodgy heart.
TW: To which another volunteer has written I would like to see an article on this before advising people in this very manner.
Here’s a log book entry 4 October 1976. A guy phoned asking if we knew the handkerchief code, we didn’t know - does any one else?
Ah, so essentially the hanky code you put a handkerchief -of a certain colour- in the back pocket of your jeans and it means that you are into a specific sexual practice. Surely there is a response well yes –
yellow is water sports says a volunteer, can’t remembered the rest but there’s an article about it in Play Guy or Him exclusive about six months ago which we ought to look at.
And then on the 22nd some three months later in 76 - the glorious Tom Robinson of Tom Robinson fame who was a Switchboard volunteer has put in a little thing from the small ads south Humberside.
Slim 38. Own home etc - wants to meet bloke with black handkerchief in left pocket or right.
There’s more Switchboard entry next to that:
Ok for you information minded people – I just had this guy phone up asking what’s about as far as I know left is from dominate right is for submissive yellow means golden shower but I don’t know what black is for.
I can tell you now black is for leather.
We had the hanky code eventually in the log book and we had the complete list. What it is a really good example of is - that the community asked a question and then amongst the volunteers we sorted out what the response and the answer might be. To a certain extent after about 5 years -and like an awful lot of fads- it became more than a joke than anything. There was the famous thing wearing a teddy bear -small teddy bear -in ones left hand jean back pocket meant I was a cuddler. And wearing it in the right hand meant that I wanted to be cuddled.
AS: It’s a good job Julian was an expert in the phone room.
TW: But the key thing for Switchboard volunteers is to always be prepared - because you are never going to know what the caller is going to want to talk about especially when it comes to sex.
AS: Ok so listen to this story from Jeremy
I remember once when I picked up the phone - it was a morning shift and the person said to me hello I just want to … talk to you before my masters hangs me.
What the hell do I say? What the hell do I do?
And of course, what happened in the conversation was that this is a relationship that this person had with the master and every Tuesday morning they went this through ritual hanging - and it was perfectly normal. This is what we call in the BDSM world is role play that two people have and there are people in relationship where there is amateur and a slave. It’s so easy for us to go like to start putting our own interpretations is that right, are you happy being the slave? Are you happy being hung every monrnng? wWhat do you want to do? But actually that is what they wanted to do and that is what they like doing. You are perfectly safe, you are perfectly happy with it … it happens and actually he just wanted to talk to me about something on the telly last night. And that is just an example of all of the different people and the different ways of life and the things they are do and even if your initial thoughts are like put it aside because that’s not what it is about.
TW: So, it must have been so difficult to find out information back there … there is so much more now available especially in the media. We actually have TV shows which now you see women having sex with other women, transgender characters in sex scenes, and bisexual people depicted as a legitimate sexual identity - although even all these years later representation still has a long way to go. But slightly problematic issue - and maybe one that is more relevant to our generation - because of the ease of obtaining it -is pornography and I know that - speaking as a woman- the way that women are depicted in pornography, especially women having sex with other women as very much for the male gaze. As well as other layers of complication brings a lot of concerns to one’s mind.
AS: Definitely. I do think that the flip side of what you just said - which I agree with- but the flip side is that for me -and lots of other people - it was a sex education. Certainly showed me ways of having sex that I didn’t get from any other source either from school or from films - where things are just out of shot or whatever I think it has a huge role to play about showing people what they might want to do and what might be their tastes.
TW: And that’s really important but I think for me personally is empowering the people in it and making sure there is a level of control.
AS: Oh, definitely.
One way that people have taken control of how their sex lives are represented is in the form of poetry. Remember that little ditty some identified bard scrawled into the log book - Wank it beneath the blanket? That one? Well that poem inspired us in bringing this theme up to today - to hear from some poets with various depictions of sex and intimacy.
So here are three short poems read by their authors.
Moon Cup by Michelle Mangal.
Should I pop out the moon cup? Yeah, pop it out she said - we might get lucky later. I relished using those words until then reserved for you and me, sitting on the kitchen counter in Cornwall - mischievously listening to the pretty girl agree. After flushing the dark red dregs - the final result of Arsenal playing at home. I went and got all types of drunk but more than merrily jumped her bones. I didn’t realise I got christened that night - in one way or another -until she sat up and said ‘Oh shit - I’ve come on all over your white top’. Oh god. Here we go again. Michelle I’ve got all the feels - I think I love her.
Public toilets in Regents Park by Richard Scott
The men here are bird footed -feathering past the attendants two way mirror, unperturbed by the colonising micro organisms boledia, corbetia, shigellosis - sliming across the yellowed groutings. The fist deep pool of brackish water quivering in the u-bend. The tile that reads ‘for information on the venereal disease telephone 01’ - all for the thrill of placing their knees on the pissed stain cold. That Irish shimmering behind the hand carved glory hole, a beautiful cock unfolding like a swans neck from the Harris tweed of a city gents suit. Whispers, gasps of contact echo inside each nested cubicle - but careful, the prying attendant will rattle her bucket and mop if she spies four shoes. Our men disperse - as mallards from the face of a pond.
God Beth by Annie Hayter
You cradled me like I was a god - newly born. As if whole worlds would open if my limbs crackled. As if my fresh bones would crumble into seas and cities, whales and circuses - if you were not gentle. Lips, damped as expectation and both new century and unwieldy arms and ribs which cave out. The breath of you on my back - frees me. Mouth on skin, a cerulean kiss which undoes a new sky - a heaven broken. The concern in your voice, the warmness. How frail we are. How we bruise to a touch. Collapse to hands settling. Even gods get cold.
AS: Now we have to move from the freedom of sex to the shackles of law enforcement.
TW: And we can see from the log books that people were often intimated by the police.
AS: And that is our next episode - we are going to hear stories and read log book entries that are all about the police.
TW: Calls to Switchboard are confidential so to bring the log books to life we’ve changed the caller’s names.
AS: The Log Books is produced by Shivani Dave, Adam Smith and Tash Walker in partnership with Switchboard: the LGBT+ helpline.
TW: If you think other people would like The Log Books please rate and review us on Apple Podcasts or wherever you get your podcasts. These ratings and reviews really help others to discover the show. You can send us your feedback and stories to firstname.lastname@example.org
AS: Our music is by Tom Foskett-Barnes and our artwork is by Natalie Doto.
TW: Thanks to Stef Dickers and team at the Bishopsgate Institute.
AS: The folks at Acast,
TW: Gareth Mitchell at Imperial College London,
AS: The staff and volunteers at Switchboard.
TW: And all the contributors who shared their stories.
45 years on Switchboard continues to take phone calls from 10am to 10pm every day. If you are affected by any of the issues in this podcast or need to discuss anything to do with gender identity or sexuality you can call Switchboard on 0300 3300630; email email@example.com; or instant message via switchboard.lgbt where you can also donate money or time to help.