THE LOG BOOKS
Season 1 Episode 6 “Anything goes”
Date: 09.12. 2019
Presenters: Tash Walker, Adam Smith
Producers: Shivani Dave, Tash Walker, Adam Smith
Music: Tom Foskett-Barnes
Artwork: Natalie Doto
TW: This episode contains historic terms.
[telephone dial tone, music]
This is a log book entry from February 18th 1976. The volunteer who took the call was Ingrid.
Caller says: Evening Standard had an ad using GY where they usually say M or F in their accommodation section. He phoned the number to check and it was indeed an abbreviation of gay – if this becomes a regular thing it would be worth mentioning to accommodation callers.
AS: Well, I don’t think GY caught on as a label for gay … gay did -of course -but that word and what it means has changed slightly, I think.
TW: I like the way word gay is now used for men and for women. I think there is something nice about it not being gendered - for me anyway. I think historically it was gay men and lesbians whereas now and definitely in my experience women use gay a lot more than they used to.
TW: 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: There are some cool old fashioned words for men who have sex with men - I guess I should say - rather than gay men - because they wouldn’t have called themselves gay men but my favourite is urning which is a German name. I think it was called by Karl Heinrich Ulrichs, who was a German gay rights campaigner in the late nineteenth century, I think.
TW: I am going back a bit further on the woman’s front - lets go back to Sapphic which of course goes come from the poet Sappho who lived on Lesbos - which is how lesbians ended up with their names.
AS: With their name - lesbian. So, these words and definitions and labels are changing and shifting all the time and that brings us to Episode 6 of the Log Books - “Anything goes.”
TW: Yes so, we are going to be looking at people’s definitions and identities and how that has changed over the many different years and probably throughout life.
AS: Now we tend to use this acronym LGBT or LGBT+ or LGBTQ+ or LGBTIAQ+ that we have today to sort of reflect the great spectrum of gender identity, and sexuality, and experience, and all those things. And that obviously as an acronym didn’t exist in the period 74 to 82 which is the period we are looking at. So we are going to hear from all sorts of people who wouldn’t have identified using that acronym in the 70s.
TW: And some people - especially in the 70s- refused the labels completely such as Neville and James.
Speaking of myself I certainly didn’t say I am a gay man. I am what I am and that’s my attitude to this day. My sex is utterly immaterial to the rest of me. And to anybody else. I’m not interested whether … when I say I’m not interested … I don’t care whether they are straight, or they are gay. I just want to know if they are nice person or not nice person. That’s all. So, I never describe myself at all.
I don’t think I’d describe myself as being gay or being anything if asked but only probably in the last 20 – 25 years I would have said gay. Before then when probably wouldn’t have been asked even. How did we describe friends? I don’t think we called them gay - they were just friends. I mean people are people and that was it.
TW: I think James is what saying I mean people were people and they should be judged on who they are alone and not how they identify. But I think with the changes that were happening at this time you needed those labels and identities to help push thing further. Different identities and labels were forming and being used more regularly.
AS: But the definitions of those labels are always disputed.
There’s an entry in the log book from March 6 1976 which is actually two small letters to the Daily Telegraph that have been snipped out of the newspaper and sellotaped into the log book.
The first one comes from Mrs M Mason, London, SW16 she’s responding to an article that mention the word gay and it says, ‘I will never ever forgive the sons of Sodom for appropriating the most precious word – ‘gay.’
There is a response to that - pasted next to it -from a Dr Stuart Hill from Newcastle Upon Tyne. I’m not going to read it in a Geordie accent he might not have identified as a Geordie or had a Geordie accent… and Dr Stuart Hill says: ‘The strictures of your correspondent on the common usage of the word gay for homosexual matters cannot go unchallenged as a widely misunderstood minority, which has in the past been mercilessly attacked and pillared. Surely now that the truth is becoming rather better known - have we not the right to redress the balance somewhat?
The word gay symbolises all that is good in homosexual relationships but has far wider relevance for everyone -including your correspondent, representing as it does a new found freedom in human personal relationships that is surely the right of everyone to enjoy. This is something your correspondent should welcome not condemn.
Here’s a log book entry from September 11 1975:
What is pansexual? Multi sexual i.e. anything goes? Making it in the kitchen? Polymorphous perversity signed Sigmund Freud.
Well, it is good to know that pansexuality has been there right since ’75. And people forget I mean we actually went into a very rigid lesbian/gay binary thing just straight/gay binary thing in the 80s and the 90s. Actually, in the 70s we did talk about pansexuality and pansexuality bisexuality all of those things were much more accepted and part of the spectrum.
TW: When you speak to enough people who were around in the 70s or read enough of Switchboard’s log book entries - you just find binaries all over the place this or that is gay or lesbian - labelled or unlabelled.
AS: Yeah, and there is Suzanne remembers the labels even affected the major political movements of the time.
We were involved in the women’s movement as well as the lesbian movement but at that time the women’s liberation movement didn’t accept lesbians - although a lot of them were, but they weren’t out. Nobody was out then -we were the first people coming out as lesbians. They actually didn’t want us in the women’s liberation movement because they thought we were giving them a bad name because we were a bit too radical for them at the time. But we had a lot of contact with socialist women in Coventry and a lot of debate and discussions going on there. And gradually that changed, and the lesbian movement became incorporated into the women’s liberation movement.
There were problems within GLF for example - its name Gay Liberation Front. Many women felt it should have been Lesbian and Gay. I’m Ted Brown. I’m 69 years old and also many of the men still come with some of those sexist attitudes that were common at the time. We would have meetings and during breaks many of the men would assume that it was the role of the women to go and make the tea. So, after a while many of the women split and went off and produced magazines such as Spare Rib and Bread and Roses specifically addressing the issues of feminism and lesbianism.
TW: Both Ted and Suzanne -separately- have memories of deeper tensions over gender representation.
AS: And the big question Tash of all time– are you butch or are you femme?
Before I came out as gay when I was at university I thought if I am a lesbian, I have to decide whether I am going to be butch or femme. And I thought well I can’t decide – I can’t be one or the other for the rest of my life. So, I can’t be a lesbian. It was very confusing because that was the image that one had of lesbians then that you had to be either masculine or feminine. But when I came out and met the lesbians in Coventry, they were all the ex-university girls - they were not divided into butch and femme. And so that was a relief because then I thought well actually, I can just be myself. But I think there would be two movements there really where some women were not defining themselves as butch or femme but traditionally they always have and if I had gone to the Gateways I would have found it very much divided in that way.
When I first went to a gay bar in 1970, I was asked whether I was butch or bitch. Because many people in those … many gay people … in those days adopted a quasi-heterosexual relationship where one partner was playing the male role and the other playing the traditional female role. A dominant and submissive. This was also extended into - even within the gay community.
Drag queens were not taken seriously and very little distinction was made between transvestites and transsexuals. Nobody investigated the issues that confronted those people nobody there was very little understanding. GLF started basically on countering the laws and the prejudices against lesbians and gay men and was only later that the other … elements of sexuality and gender were incorporated … not incorporated - they fought their way in, and they had to!
This is a log book entry for July 26 1978 and the volunteer is DeeDee.
And it says there is a new file (black) which has a fairly comprehensive detail for transvestites and transexuals this includes info on which bars clubs etc they can go to. This file should be compulsory reading for all volunteers.
In the 70s - and this is not news- this was a language that was used. And there was two possibilities - transvestites who were people who were - I think almost exclusively men who dressed as women I think that is the concept. And transexuals this was always referring to people assigned male at birth who were crossing in one way or another if not permanently.
Hi I am Chryssy Hunter. The language didn’t wasn’t problematic at the time and categories excluded many people from feeling they had anything to do with them. I think transvestite was seen in newspapers, popular culture in general, as figures of fun but not in a fun way. Transexuals was a very exotic other person – people that were transexuals were not part of people’s life or everyday experience. Most of the people I spoken to in my research the most common trope is that they had no language to think about themselves. And these people were coming from fairly ordinary backgrounds - most people come from ordinary backgrounds. There is a club in London called the Way Out Club -which still runs - and now its got a nice tagline – ‘Being for everyone that is different.’ But I think it would have thought of itself for transvestites at the time and it was a small club you can see that idea of themselves changing and lots of the people who joined that scene thinking themselves of transvestites or cross dressers or what ever it was - went onto transition -went on to realise they could do something else, or they should do something else, they needed to do something else - people don’t do it on a whim.
So, this is the log entry August 19 1975 and the volunteer was Colin.
Dennis Andrews rang re transexual (TS) group. The XXX Transvestite (TV)/Transexual group no longer exists and has split into separate TV and TS groups. Bill Ackroyd is now running TV group. Dennis has taken over the new TS group - he feels it is very necessary that people interested should be referred to him first as experience proves that many supposed TS referrals are in fact TV or just plain nutters. [Laugh] Sorry.
This is a log entry from March 11 1976. Volunteer was Helen.
Bob of North London Action Transexual organisation rang. On call for about 30 minutes. They don’t want any transvestites – there is no group there for TV. They are a counselling service for transexuals. Gay News is wrong to list them under TV/TS and they have told them so.
This kind of reflect something that went on for many years - and I’m sure every sub culture has a hierarchy and this represents the hierarchy of gender non conformity or something like that. And so, the top of the pyramid is the … I’m using the words in an informed way … passing post operative transexual -possibly themselves- who has successfully become a thing they are supposed to be and bottom of the pile is Bob the builder, who puts on a bit of glam stuff on Friday night and doesn’t really shave very well and doesn’t really do anything with the voice and jut walks around holding a pint of beer and possibly has sexual fetish for women’s clothing. And so there that is very much the hierarchy that existed for many many years and I still their people who in trans communities who discuss post op/pre op, in terms of a hierarchy so it hasn’t entirely gone.
AS: As Chryssy says transgender people were very poorly understood in the 70s and it would still be quite a lot of time before they broke through.
TW: Bisexual people were also on the back foot as Diana remembers.
I wasn’t LGBT - those letters hadn’t really been formed. There were it was kind of talk around it but they hadn’t formally been attached to the lesbian, gay alphabet at that time. Everybody thought they knew what bisexual was - everybody thought they knew what bisexuals were and how they wrecked people’s lives. It was always … it was more on the lesbian side against bisexual than it was the gay men.
I’m going to be a little bit blunt around some of the things some of the guys weren’t really concerned whether the guy was bi or not - it was someone attractive they wanted to fuck. And that for them was good enough. But for a lot of lesbians there was kind of this still fluffy feeling around being a dyke. Some of that real - some of it a bit made up really but there was that thing about ‘oh she left me for a man’ that means she is a traitor -she’s let womanhood down she can’t be a true feminist if she’s doing this to another woman … there was all this kind of stuff.
If she has left, you for a bloke or another woman makes no difference -she has left you for someone else. And there was all this stuff about - if she’d been with a guy then I don’t want to know. It was that kind of purity thing -we called it Gold Star now- but at the time that was the pure lesbians or the political lesbians, there was those who come to it later in life. There was still like a hierarchy of being a lesbian at that time. You know it was like it was seen as like the butch that had never been with a guy was like top hierarchy, then there was the butch that might have been with a guy at some time in her past -but that was a long time ago. And long way down after that was femmes and then femmes that had been with a guy and then bisexuals - well nobody wants to go anywhere near a bisexual.
TW: So many labels and different identities under discussion and was so many conflicts arising it was no wonder that no wonder that people formed small groups.
AS: Forming a group with people like you can be very powerful.
And so am reading here this entry from the 29th May 1976.
And the volunteers writes: We had a telephone call from the people who have set up the Black Lesbian Group, which we have on our files. They want it taken off and I have done so. But it has occurred to me a moment too late that I should have asked them to consider the woman’s workshop as a mailing address - I will write and ask them.
Yeah, I can see exactly why those women wouldn’t want just a generic gay group giving out information about a black lesbian group. They’d likely attract attention that they wouldn’t want and possibly have their resources stretched too thin.
So, when I started worked for a few other women to start the Black Lesbian Group we had our post sent to Women’s Centre and I remember the first time I went to pick up the post I was really excited because our pigeonhole was stuffed full of letters. I pulled them all out thinking goodness who knew there were so many black lesbians that would write to us and as I started opening them I got increasingly disappointed as each one ‘Oh we heard about your group and we were doing if you would come and talk to us’ or ‘We heard about your group and we wondered if you could give us some information on this.’ And practically none of them were actually from black lesbians who wanted to make contact with other black lesbians. And so a lot of our time and energy were given over to supporting others rather than the women that we were wanting to support.
AS: We have one more story about labels, we heard in an earlier episode about the label ‘temperamentally unsuitable to work’ in the case of a childcare worker - sacked because she was a lesbian.
TW: So, there were lots of labels thrown at people, but Julian’s got a good story about how he used this to his advantage.
I was regarded at the age of 17 as being ‘temperamentally unstable to work’ because .. because I attended my first ever youth unemployment interview in thigh high silver boots, a very long dress, a big flower hat, and a hippy blouse. So, I said, ‘Give me a job - you know I wouldn’t mind working anywhere’ and they looked at me and went -just sign this piece of paper we will send you money. That was it. So, you know I funded my activism and wandering around and doing various things through being somebody who the state could not cope with and was prepared to put me on the dole and not have to go through all the hoops that people probably have to go through today. One has to remember it was still at the tail end of when you could go on the dole and do an awful lot of activism -paid for by the state.
TW: It feels like language is becoming more fluid and people are recognising that and recognising not only that labels or identities might change throughout their life - but that is actually a positive thing and that is something that should be accepted
AS: One thing specifically among the community -if that is the right word- with men who have sex with me is there is a whole other category of labels which is to do with body type and sometimes these can be really positive and sometimes they can really negative in the way that people use them. Am thinking about ‘otter’ for a slim man who is a little bit hairy or ‘twink’ for a young kind of baby faced young guy kind of thing.
TW: I think there is similar things going on in the lesbian or gay women community - there is butch vs femme identity. And butch is often been had a lot of negative connotations thrown at it especially with what is being happening in the media - and that is being reclaimed in a really positive way and that is great to see I think there is a lot less stigma around the butch vs femme labels and identities which maybe is allowing people to embrace them a bit more whereas historically, especially in this time period - the 70s and 80s you were either one or the other.
So, Adam how do you identify today?
AS: I identify today as a wanna be astronaut. I sometimes say I’m a gay man. I sometimes I am a queer man or a queer person. And the thing that I like about the word queer is that it is kind of like an anti label label - I know it is still a label and we still have to use a label but … my sexuality is clearly different from the norm and sometimes my gender presentation is slightly different from the norm so is more like just resistance or alternative.
TW: Cool. It’s a bigger - all encompassing which word speaks of different gender identity, sexualities and politics. And it is the word that sits most comfortably with me
AS: Yeah, one of things that seems to be happening today is that so many more people are describing themselves as queer.
I see myself as a queer/lesbian woman.
In the past I would have always gone for gay but more recently I think its quite narrowing so I prefer the term queer - I know people of sort of an older generation find it quite derogatory term which I don’t.
TW: So, I identify as queer and that is a label that is very important to me in terms of my identity, in terms of the way I relate to the world, in terms of my sexuality. Right now I’m in a relationship with a man. So, it’s something that troubles me a lot actually being in a visible heterosexual relationship and because I’m in an open relationship - I feel like our relationship is actually very queer even if from the outside with two of us walking down the street it looks quite heteronormative.
I identify now as queer, and I think growing up I always identified as gay. It feels more of a catch all sort of term - and a more positive term, whereas gay I feel puts you in a box.
AS: Down with boxes!
TW: Some of the words and identifies from 1974-1982 are now gone and some live on.
AS: To bring us right up to date we spoke to two people who talk perceptively about all this.
We are going to let them introduce themselves first
My name is Owl I am a nonbinary trans person who is also pansexual.
I’m Fox I’m nonbinary trans person of colour. I use they/them pronouns and am also left-handed and I’m pansexual.
The way in which gender and sexuality are seen and the language that we use has changed significantly over the years and today the words and terminology that we use is nothing like the terminology that people were using back it the 70s. Some examples of that is transvestite and transexual were words that were used quite a lot back in the day - TV or TS.
There has been a lot of change in terminology about trans issues in particular in the past decade, I think. Back in the 70s, 80s and 90s we had just usually there was talk about transexuals and transvestites but today we have a much wider terminology when it comes on to trans - we have a lot more nuance in people’s identities and how they frame their own experiences or their expression. I think it is an interesting time and its really exciting to see people able to finally be able to express themselves.
And I think that is the real difference with what is going on today - we have having conversions about nonbinary identifies that includes gender queer, gender fluid, and nonbinary in general.
I think language is incredibly important to identify because it is the way we explain to ourselves and to other people how we feel and how we see ourselves. And I think if you don’t have language to explain who you are, how you feel or how you identify, or who you are you feel lonely and you feel lost. The internet definitely has allowed people to find … find a community and find other people who use similar language or similar words to describe their experience. The internet definitely helped me come out and was where I started to explore who I was - I started playing an online game called World of Warcraft - which is a bit embarrassing to say. In this game you can create a character, and you play it in that world and you can basically be who you want and that is where I unconsciously started exploring a bit what it would like to be a different person from what everybody thought I was. And obviously I had played video games before that but this is the first time when I really started to reflect and explore that and that sort of lead me to realising that I was trans and eventually I started wanting to mee the people that I met in this game and they didn’t necessarily know I was trans but when I met them that was the first time that I presented how I felt comfortable. I was able to be anything other than a boy, basically, and that was really significant for me even though for them it was a casual meet up somewhere. I think the internet definitely helped me and I don’t quite know where I would be today if I didn’t have the internet because I was from quite a rural area - back in Iceland- so I wouldn’t have been able to find trans people or anything about it without the internet.
I remember at the start of my transition it was so important to me that people used the right pronouns even if my exterior didn’t really reflect that particular pronoun and I am so excited in the past few years that we have been able to extend the discussion about pronouns to include they or other nonbinary pronouns.
Pronouns are just how you gender someone when you speak about them whether you use he/she or they and it’s a way of recognising people’s gender identify really and for most people they just assume if someone looks a certain way they use she pronouns or someone looks a certain way they use male pronouns and usually that adds up but for some people it isn’t that simple and that is why I think in particular for trans people, who don’t always look how people might expect them or people might assume different things. So for trans people they are massively important while for the vast majority of people they might not think much of it.
I think there is still a confusing between sexuality and gender identity and it is because it’s been so connected throughout the decades, and I think only now we are really starting to create a distinction between the two. When we talk about identifies it is important to realise, they shift through time, they shift through cultures, the way that we speak about trans people in the UK is completely different from how people speak about trans people in India, for example. So, we always have to be aware of the context, the time, what’s happening around you and all of these things factor in to how identity is created. So I guess that shows us how social definitions are just a product of society and of time and of culture.
TW: So often people want to become part of a community and one of the main reasons for that is because they feel isolated.
AS: And there are plenty of log book entries which are about those phone calls that come from people dealing with loneliness.
TW: So, our episode is going to be about isolation.
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.