THE LOG BOOKS
Season 3 Episode 7 - “The inability of others to understand”
Presenters: Tash Walker, Adam Zmith
Contributors: Kath Gillespie Sells, Richard Desmond, Judith Skinner, Ruth, Erin Ekins
Producers: Shivani Dave, Tash Walker, Adam Zmith
Music: Tom Foskett-Barnes
Artwork: Natalie Doto
AZ: This episode contains archaic language around disability
[telephone dial tone, music]
This is a log book entry from May 10 1997:
Does anyone know the name of a group for amputees? Man called who wanted to get together with people who wouldn't be freaked out by the fact that he has only one arm.
This is a log book entry from April 15 2003:
Blind caller in south London. A blind lesbian called and was going to call back after I’d tried to look for any services available which could help her meet other lesbian women. I wasn’t able to search the computer as they are down - but if she does call back there are some numbers in April’s Gay Times which may be of use.
TW: I really hope the blind lesbian called back!
AZ: Yeah, and that these callers found their groups or felt included in the spaces they went to.
TW: Yeah, definitely. As a queer person – a queer able-bodied person – I’ve still felt excluded from society and certain spaces … it can certainly be a really isolating experience … or it has felt isolating for me.
AZ: Yeah, and I think what we hear in these log book entries is that these are people who are identifying as LGBTQI+ in one way or another and also living with a disability and they don’t necessarily know where to go or to feel comfortable in an LGBTQI+ space or a disabled space.
TW: Yeah right, so, you feel excluded from maybe both of those spaces and we know that … certainly from the things that we have seen in the log books that when you have intersecting identities that can be something that you often feel.
AZ: You're listening to The Log Books: stories from Britain's LGBTQ+ history and conversations about being Queer today. In partnership with Switchboard the LGBTQ+ helpline.
TW: In this season we're reading through the notes made by the volunteers who took calls between 1992 and 2003. I’m Tash Walker.
AZ: And I'm Adam Zmith
TW: Episode 7: “The inability of others to understand”
AZ: In this episode, we’re talking about people with disabilities reaching out for support from Switchboard between 1992 and 2003.
And sometimes you can tell … it’s like their last port of call - if they're exasperated with the lack of support from carers, families, the medical profession, government, and the rest of society.
TW: One person we spoke to is Kath Gillespie Sells who as well as volunteering for Switchboard also supported and campaigned for LGBTQI+ people with a disability. But first, let's start with her personal story
KGS: I came out … I became disabled in late 70s/early 80s.
I’m Kath Gillespie Sells. MBE. I am a 70-year-old woman. Lesbian. A disabled mother and grandmother. And that’s me. I just remember 1981 as being the international year of disabled people and also the year I came out to myself. I’d already been disabled for about three years but … I had kind of seen it as something that I would fight my way out of … struggle. I had been a ward sister at Barnett General and I was very head strong and … I wanted a career for life. I chose nursing and I did bloody well in it. And I was one of the youngest ward sisters around and … I was looking after two wards when I was 26. I loved it. I loved every day I woke up and went to work. I loved it. But I got a hospital infection … I was doing a teaching session … I was showing nurses how to [unclear] a wound. And the long and the short - from that is I got an infection that went into my bloodstream and …I almost died. But didn’t – was resuscitated. I recovered but I had an infection in my spinal cord from the original infection … which was obviously blood poisoning … was septicaemia … it was everywhere. So, I had infections … focuses of infections left around … one in my pelvis, one in my spine. The biggest problem obviously being the one in my spine in terms of walking and peeing and that kind of stuff. And the pain because that also … I was lucky enough to also have part of the infection to hit the meninges which is that bit that really hurts … it really hurts when on your back – it’s the kind of sensitive part. So that’s what really causes a lot of the pain. I was dealing with that but also just seeing it as something it was a gradual progression anyway so I saw it as – well I’ve been ill - but I will get better… I will get better. But as time went by, I could see it was beating me and then I heard of this disabled women’s group. Oh, I had become a feminist in the process of … I dunno… I suppose when your life is on a trajectory, and it stops. You look at all the things that you were … perhaps dabbling with …. and feminism was one for me that stuck. I knew if I was a doctor, I would have come out in a much better position out of the NHS … but as a nurse … anyway that’s a misogyny story. So, swipe that. So as a feminist in that disabled feminist group I felt I could be myself there. So, I went in … again still thinking it’s not me but came out thinking, yeah, that’s me actually. I heard so many stories like my own. Over time – not immediately – because you are still batting it away – no matter how many times – it’s the same with … you know … with Switchboard and the gay life. People have to take it at their own pace. You can’t force it. And … so… I did subsequently see myself – or start to see myself – as a disabled person and started feeling angry about it.
This is a log book entry from August 28 1998:
Call from a married gay man who has MS but fairly mobile. He has physical problems including impotence. He’s had a few sexual encounters as a passive partner due to impotence. Talked for an hour about isolation and trying to find friends, support, cafes, and clubs. He wants to go to Heaven but only to talk as couldn’t dance and alcohol wouldn’t be good with his tablets. He has lost all his friends – feels the Asian community and his family are against him. Married for 18 years but wife has had several affairs and is currently seeing another man who's physically threatening to him -so he's afraid of leaving the house. What physical disability groups exist for him?
RD: I remember when I when I first came back to London … so I’d come out and everything at college … back then in the early mid-seventies I knew one or two people who have been fighters in the Second World War including one man I can remember who'd been an airman and who had been dreadfully dreadfully burned … terribly… terribly burned … and disfigured … and … he had found it tremendously difficult – partly because of his generation … growing up, obviously before the ’67 reform but also because of the scars and burns that he had had. He found it difficult to find a place within the gay community, but he had done … and he had got good friends. Well… I certainly slept with him and had a great time.
This is a log book entry from 2nd December 2000:
Got a call from a handicapped person in a residential home. He's not sure if he's gay and started to ask for information on wanking: brochures and leaflets. He sounded very sincere. Lots of things came up in the conversation. He started to ask personal questions- which I allowed and answered very generally. He mentioned that he likes men’s feet. Followed by the question ‘If I can take my shoes and socks off?’ Which I gladly did not. Told him that I did not want to take the conversation in that direction. He got annoyed and said he would never call back if I was here. The sad thing is – is that some of the issues we discussed sounded very real and I’ve supported him on those. Unfortunately for him, this number was not the right number for him.
RD: People always called to say thank you. You meet them at Pride. And our callers are amazed at the support but that’s why we do it. We had a very regular caller in this period – a young man who’s living in supported housing. And his care workers had put a phone box in his room. And he had a pile of coins on the phone box so he could phone us. Because we were the only people in the world he could speak to – the only people in the world he could be himself with. He had a learning disability, he had physical problems, he lived in residential care but … we … were able to give him some kind of respite – is that the right word? -certainly some kind of break from a life that was mundane beyond belief. And he was so grateful to us, and he was also effusive in saying thank you. It was actually quite difficult because when nothing very much happens in somebody’s life – having a regular conversation with them was quite strange … but he no longer calls us, and I have no idea what happened. I think he stopped calling at some point in the 90s. But for a few years, he called really regularly – and I think we’d have conversations about people who phone us regularly – but he was an interesting man, and he was always very effusive in his thanks.
We only know what the caller tells us and when you are talking about … we use the word spectrum so often … and it’s not always appropriate- I think perhaps variety is a better word for disability. When you are dealing with a variety of disabilities – you’ve got to look at how they impact in a very very personal context.
AZ: I think Richard puts that really well.
TW: Yes, having been a volunteer for so many years he’s got such a wealth of experience with complicated calls like that.
AZ: Love Richard!
TW: It’s always so important to remember how all parts of a person’s identity intersect with all parts of their life. Like here - when Kath talks about being a lesbian, a mother, and a person living with a disability.
KGS: I partially lost childcare for a while … my two boys … I had to fight to get them back. I subsequently shared custody with their dad, but it was always a bit more in his favour – because I was the disabled lesbian and therefore – two huge disadvantages going against me in this heterosexual normal society, if you like. And it was horrible and you kind of knew after a while that there was no point going up against the law a) you can’t afford it b) I’d spent all my money on barristers trying to take on the NHS, so I wasn’t going to do that again -against the Crown. So, I knew the best thing was to work with their dad … which I did, and he’s also had to take on a great learning curve and he’s still in our lives now – still in my life now.
AZ: How did Switchboard try to work better to support callers with a disability?
TW: Well, Switchboard had to think, had to learn -as always – it was constantly evolving as it still does today – where we have instant messaging and emails but – in the 90s – it all started, Adam, with a minicom.
AZ: So that’s the textphone thing, right? Where a caller who can’t hear can actually speak to the volunteer by texting, basically – down the phone line?
TW: Yeah, totally, you know what actually I have spoken to people on the phone using a text phone too.
AZ: Very cool. And also, a nice bit of trivia about the minicom – which is a word that is heavily used in the Switchboard log books in this period – is that abbreviations like BRB and THX …
TW: PLS ….
AZ: Right, for please.
TW: And GA ,,,
AZ: For ‘go ahead’ which is like over and out which is – out of all the other ones – didn’t spill out over into text message speak.
TW: True, but Adam, we’ve still got time!
This is the log book entry from April 8 1992:
Night Shift. Jeff from Middlesborough with a speech impediment phoned. He has cerebral palsy. He’s promised to see his social worker about getting a minicom system – at the moment he types into his voice synthesizer machine with his nose. I’ve said to try and hurry up to get the minicom so we can justify the expenses. What a guy!
P.S. he just loves boys in white shorts with their football shirts tucked in. Sounds different with a voice synthesizer!
P.P.S. the voice synthesizer is very important - give him time and he types it in. The voice is sort of 1970s Star Trek, but he gets there! With a minicom there would be no stopping him.
JS: I remember being able to communicate quite easily by phone with deaf people – it felt like a great advance.
My name is Judith Skinner. I was a volunteer at Switchboard from 1990 to 2001. The way it happened was that we spoke on the phone - there was an intermediary who made what we were saying appear in text to the caller and they would then text back – and I think … did we then see it on a screen? I can’t quite remember how it happened. But I just remember that it just felt like a great thing to be able to do – to have that accessibility for people who couldn’t just make a phone call. Of course, that was – you know – there’s lots of other techno solutions for this now that didn’t exist then. But it was … it was … a breakthrough.
This is a log book entry from the 25 December 2001:
Have just received a very irate and angry call from a straight friend of a young gay man. The gay man is deaf, and he had read on our website that we were equipped with the minicom device. After trying unsuccessfully to get through he realized that the information was false. His straight friend wanted to know why we were giving out misleading information. Apparently, the deaf man was very upset about the breakup of his relationship, and in the end, I had to use the straight friend as an interpreter -which was not the best scenario. I think that this man has a very valid point and all I could do was apologise profusely.
JS: For people with hearing difficulties, we had a service where they could type messages and one of the early developments was people being able to send messages through the system that we had at the time. And that was very helpful, but we didn’t get a huge volume of calls- it was quite surprising how low the numbers of calls from people hearing impaired were. We would get quite a lot of calls from people who were physically incapacitated – they would find it very difficult because there were very few venues that they could go to where they could gain access to that venue or support when they got there. I believe at the time there was a number of clubs in London for … organisations for people with physical disabilities. And we would refer them to that organisation. But I think it was only maybe one or two places - and so it very difficult. And we had, towards the end of the time a couple of volunteers who themselves had disabilities – and that really changed things quite a lot because it made everyone very aware of how difficult the premises were for people with disabilities.
AZ: Let’s talk about venues!
TW: It’s really so shocking – so shocking – how many venues are not physically accessible but then I was thinking about this, and I suppose the fact I find this so shocking shows how little I’ve had to think about it, right? Also, venues don’t always have quieter spaces which is something we are understanding more of today – that some people need.
AZ: Yeah, exactly – especially neurodivergent people. I went to see this show by Dan Dorr – who is an amazing performer - just recently. And at the beginning of the show, he said ‘Let’s bring up the lights as far as they are gonna go’ so that people could see how bright the show was going to be and ‘let’s bring up the music as loud as its gonna go’ so you could hear how loud it was gonna be. So, you were prepared for what was going to come in the show. And those are just some examples of things that performers and venues are doing to make places accessible. And, if you are organising a film screening you’ve got to think about captions, you might have to think about audio description. If there’s talks that you are organising you have to think about including British Sign Language and, of course, there is all of the physical access issues as well like step-free access, wheelchair spaces, wheelchair accessible toilets. All these things.
TW: And it’s such a battle to try to improve these things - because we’re working with infrastructure and buildings that don’t have any of these things in mind.
This is a log book entry from March 11 1993:
Took a call from a young disabled man who was disappointed that we were unable to help him regarding accessible accommodation he could use after going out on the scene in London. Perhaps we could find some additional info on disabled access to London hotels. restaurants etc and have this as a supplement in the info files?
Ruth: My name is Ruth and I’ve been a volunteer at Switchboard since 1996 and I’m still a volunteer today.
I do remember talking to people that have lots of issues around access. Now I don’t know what … what … year it became illegal for there not to be access to public buildings. Certainly, in a lot of gay clubs’ access was difficult. And I do remember talking to people who had had difficulty in gaining access to gay spaces before the days when people had internet at home. And so, they wanted to be able to go to clubs and bars - where they knew they could get in whether they had a visual disability or whether they were physically restricted. I do remember that. Because a lot of gay clubs at that time had difficult access – they were down windy narrow stairs, blacked out windows, or up very high – in rooms above pubs, things like that.
KGS: If you are a wheelchair user, and you need personal assistance to get somewhere - then to start with you’ve got a barrier. You know – have I got the facilities? Have I got the wheelchair to get out? If I have got the wheelchair to get out – if good old social services had provided something or I could afford to buy one, given that they are very expensive, then at least I can get so far. Maybe I’ll be able to get to my front door. If I need PA’s – are the PA’s homophobic? If they are not – and they come with me – are they going to forget and just tell someone back home – where we come from? Are they going to mention it in front of mum, or dad, or auntie jess or whatever? All these are major concerns – so unless you can sit down and have that conversation with your PA’s comfortably – and be reassured that they understand how important these issues are …how crucial these issues can be. You can be making someone homeless by talking out of … still in this day and age.
And if you look at each impairment – there could be something different within that but the first thing – and this is where the social model comes in – the first thing you have to establish with each, and every disabled person is what are the barriers? Are there barriers to your inclusion in that? And if you are a deaf person or a blind person it’s possibly going to be different than if you are a wheelchair user. One thing that is sure is that you will face barriers. And so, it is an important question to ask – what do you need?
And more particular for a lot of gay men and for lesbians … was the issue of the clubs and the pubs – because its where gay men meet – not so much lesbians – maybe more these days …. but certainly, in the 80s and early 90s it was much more about clubs – and probably still is. Trying to get the access information about clubs was an absolute nightmare, trying to get the gay community to take on clubs as an issue … Soho was an issue … it was like pulling teeth. Just hard, hard, hard graft. And you may get very little in response. So, coming out is a big issue obviously to start with – and how are they going to come out, who are they going to come out for and where are they going to get the support to come out? All those kinds of issues are much much harder -often- if you have a disability and as a consequence, you end up isolated and not in part of your community. You are not empowered to go out and find others like yourself - which in our experience - the majority of disabled people that came to us were in that position.
This is a log book entry from March 4 1999:
Just had a call from a man using an electronic voice simulator – looking for friendship and to talk about his speech with a gay organisation. According to our files, there are no groups specifically dealing with speech and communication issues - so I suggested ringing his local Switchboard who offered befriending. We had quite a long conversation and he may ring again.
RD: I find that particularly interesting, although it wasn’t a call I took, because having had mouth cancer I was treated in the head and neck cancer unit at UCH. And there were quite a few people I would meet there who had had to have larynxes removed – who had to breathe through tubes – who had considerable surgery and who had to use voice simulators. This is actually pertinent when … how isolated you could be … but thanks to Switchboard they were able to help and – I hope – this person did go on to meet other people.
This is a log book entry from October 31 1994:
Had a very challenging call from a guy in Southwest London who suffers from a progressive kind of autism. He had a bit of difficulty speaking and was very despondent and says he is planning suicide -such is the degenerative state of his condition. He said a lot of things about disability – prejudice, hierarchy, patronisation -that increased my understanding. A very intelligent and rather humorous man but in a pretty desperate situation -made much worst by the inability of others to understand. Try to do this if you get to speak to him. You may learn something! Sam.
TW: Another volunteer underlines progressive kind of autism there - I’m not sure what that means but now autism sits within the wider umbrella of neurodivergence. Which is a relatively new term that simply means someone’s whose brain functions differently in one or more ways that is considered typical. For example, this includes people with ADHD, Autism, Dyslexia, Dyspraxia – just to name a few things that fall underneath that umbrella.
AZ: What we can see in the log book entries from this period is Switchboard volunteers really trying to get better at handling this. Like thinking about how to know whether callers had disabilities and whether that should be noted down.
This is a log book entry from August 5 1996:
Should we be logging disabled calls? We don’t always know if the caller is disabled -but it would be good to see how often disabled people call us. Also, shouldn’t we be training volunteers to use minicom? I know there is info in the folder but minicom calls are panic-inducing and often abortive.
TW: Like anything it so often takes the person who is disadvantaged or left out to push for these changes.
AZ: Which brings us to the work of people like Kath to get Switchboard and other organisations to recognise disabled people. Kath founded an organisation called Regard as a network for LGBTQI+ disabled people - and to lobby for reform including the Disability Discrimination Act which was passed in this period. One of their big achievements was reforming the Pride in London organisation so that their actual Pride march not only included disabled people but also gave them a prominent space there.
KGS: But whatever we did these isolated voices would come through. It was … it was … impossible to ask people their opinions or try to be truly representative if you weren’t going to talk to those people that … you know… that you were really all about. So, it was inevitable that you were going to do a certain amount of supporting. We married them as and when we could – it seemed much easier to do a campaigning than it was to support somebody over a period of time. To get them to … to even come to London or as and when we could get us – Regard - to go out into the community so we did that. We rotated the meetings so we went North and South and East … as much as … and a bit of West – as much as we could. But ended up having really North and South meetings which got more people coming.
And then the big event of the year obviously was Pride, and it took us a long time working with Pride to get them to take on what the issues were for disabled people – and what they needed. SAD … I was a member of - the Sisters Against Disabled group – years ago – I had developed an access code so looking at that as some kind of model we devised – obviously differently and in much more detail- an access guide for Pride and we got the … when Pride was meeting as a community group ... we got Pride to take that on and they did take it on. And so, for a number of years when a lot of isolated people – a lot over time – came to London they came to Pride. And it was a massive deal for them – they felt safer when they knew there was a part of the parade where all the disabled could come together and it would be stewarded, there would be access stewards to support them – if they needed it etc. That was part of having disabled people at the front of the march – to set the pace was our doing. Having raised platforms for people to view from that was our doing. The whole way through … from beginning to end. Of course, whenever you went off to Soho you couldn’t do that – that was never going to happen. So, we have our own – sort of – event –after get together. I don’t think there was an awful lot of energy left to party – you start so early at these events. Yeah, kind of 6 in the morning kick-off to get everybody there, the banner sorted – those weeks sewing the banner. It’s amazing – you think of the intricate things that you do that make up part of a bigger group in an organisation. It was massive – it was a huge eye opener – and a relief in many ways to feel that they weren’t alone there were other people like them. That when they were speaking that it wasn’t like they were talking to the wall or speaking another language – people recognised what they were saying and said ‘yeah, we felt that, or we thought this’. So, there was a lot of linking and exchanging of stories and whatever. And it was … they were very very important times, and we were able to help them in a lot of other ways - which their own social services should have helped them, but they haven’t been. But between us – because we had done it for ourselves as well as other people – we knew about how to get things for your home, we knew how to adaptations, we knew how to get benefits and what you had to do – how to fill out a form etc. Between us we had a lot of information we could pass on to people that really hadn’t got a toe in the door, really didn’t know which way to go and between us we could answer most of their questions.
Getting the Disability Discrimination Act was huge because it meant that people had to make reasonable adjustments – you could turn around and say ‘Well actually no it’s not down to me it’s down to you. It’s down to me to tell you but it’s actually down to you to make changes.’ What we needed was a Civil Rights Act … you know, a proper bill …my feeling and the feeling of a lot of disabled people – not all - but a lot of disabled people is that once you marry disability legislation into others it loses a lot of its strength. And people get confused about what the issues are – don’t know them so well. So … I feel it has lost a lot of its strength.
AZ: Kath is amazing. Listening to Kath’s stories about the work she’s done with Regard and the achievements they’ve made today it’s still apparent how forgotten people with disabilities are.
TW: Yeah, and not just in society in general but especially within the LGBTQI+ communities because we live in an ableist society, and our eyes are still so firmly closed. We have to start opening them!
KGS: In Regard I don’t want to … what we achieved was enormous in such a fairly short space of time. We made connections with each other. And we set up a network. So, there were people all over the country that we knew we could contact about something - get some feedback. So, we created a network to start with. So, from that get go you are building and supporting local groups – if they can establish them - we can fund them in some way. We also have the expertise to give them some advice about what maybe works and what maybe doesn’t. So, from the network we started working within the lesbian and gay community – largely with Pride – because there wasn’t a lot else going on. Yes, there were more small groups doing some things - doing great things like Switchboard – but there weren’t as such similar groups. But where they were we talked to them. So, raising the profile all the time – talking to whoever will listen. So this is what I say – you have to you have to put it out there -sometimes it works and its great and sometimes it doesn’t and you are disappointed. But that’s part of putting yourself out there. We also developed a newsletter, and we sent that around. And obviously, it would go in any format that was needed. So that went around every couple of months. And that was quite an achievement -again- for a small group working from my front room. All the photocopying and stapling and getting articles in and getting photographs in … you know what’s it’s like – am sure you have done it yourself. It’s exhausting. Don’t forget we are all disabled people – all working on quarter of a bar of energy usually. But – you know – it was also a lot of fun. I like it was to think it wasn’t all hard work – it was also a lot of fun. And we established a phone line. So, we got money for the phone line, and we operated that so many afternoons and evenings a week. So, we had to divvy up a rota and get people in – and you know what’s that like. And it’s all working for one or two people – largely me and another -until you can get it more established.
But… I went to one … one of the very last efforts I went to at Stonewall and – a lot of self-congratulatory stuff going on. And you know it’s fine – it’s what they do – they get money in by putting on great dinners and all of that. For the great and the good! They are all sitting around and for every community, there was something happening, and people were applauded for their efforts and whatever. Not a jot around disability – not a single thing. I had to sit on my hands, but it was also the last event that was going to happen, and I was not going to sabotage that. So, I sat on my hands.
So, there is never any excuse not to do work on disability. Talking to people that are angry – is part of what you have to do, and you might change the world. People have been sat upon; people have been shat upon – if you like – from a great height for a very long space of time. And they are angry. And if you can’t go and talk to someone that’s angry because their lives have been … well basically … their lives have not been what they’ve hoped for. A lot less than – you know – and if you can’t cope with that then really then what are you doing?
TW: That image of Kath in an activist space and the disability points still being forgotten – is pretty hard to hear.
AZ: Yeah. We mentioned neurodivergence earlier. Today Switchboard gets a lot of calls from people who are autistic and LGBTQI+ - and that is because there is a wider understanding of autism today.
TW: So, we spoke to Erin Ekins who is an autistic queer person about the challenges she and other autistic people face in LGBTQI+ communities.
EE: I’m Erin Ekins. I use she/her pronouns and I am a queer, autistic, writer, and speaker. A lot of my challenges stemmed from the fact that I … when I was coming into my queer identity… I wasn’t diagnosed. I wasn’t even self-diagnosed at that point. It wasn’t something I was considering. So, I was going out and trying to kind of create my queer identity whilst also not being able to cope with the clubs and wondering why I was finding friendships so hard.
And it was just this missing piece – like I didn’t slot – when I went to university I didn’t slot as neatly into the queer community as I thought I might do. So, it was like coming home but not quite. So that was really difficult for me - and it did make me question my place in the queer community. But I know for other people who had, for example, an earlier diagnosis I know they have had issues with people taking their queer identity seriously at all. So, because I didn’t have a diagnosis when I was coming into that identity …. that had its own issues but if I had had the diagnosis earlier then there would have been an issue with people accepting that I even had a sexuality.
We know that autism is a really key argument of a lot of transphobes as to why kids aren’t transgender - because they will point to the fact that a lot of autistic people are trans and they’ll say, ‘well autistic people definitely can’t know this thing about themselves which means they must be taking advantage of.’ Autism is a developmental disability that impacts the way that people experience and interact with the rest of the world. So, it’s quite a broad term – there is lots of different ways it presents itself. Some of the main ways it presents itself can be in kind of how we experience things from a sensory perspective and so touch, taste, sound …. brightness is a big thing for a lot of people! But also, how we interact with other people- how we read social cues, how we communicate.
Some autistic people are completely nonspeaking so use other ways to communicate. Some are partially speaking and then some, like myself - I’m considered fully speaking even if sometimes words come a little bit harder - if I’m very very overwhelmed. And so, it’s kind of a broad brush stroke to describe this kind of cluster of neurodivergence that often overlaps with other neurodivergence such as ADHD for example.
A lot of our historical spaces have been kind of quite shut away from society because of – you know – the queerphobia and transphobia in society which means that they’ve kind of inaccessible, I think, particularly to physically disabled people but also to developmentally disabled people who have sensory issues like myself. I can’t go to clubs, for example. And even bars are sometimes a bit too much for me. I went to a gay club once when I was at university, and I ended up crying in the corner and had to be kind of taken home because it was just too much – people were touching me. It was very bright. It was too loud.
Some autistic people actually thrive in that space - because we can have sensory sensitivities, but we can also sensory seeking so some people will seek out bright lights and loud noises and really thrive in that space. So, there’s not a - gay bar club are inaccessible other spaces are accessible – some disabled people love gay clubs and gay bars and can thrive in them. So, it is about getting a balance in that space, and I think sometimes the discussion is more focused on, you know, ‘these are our historical spaces, and we need to protect them’ versus ‘no those spaces are terrible we need new spaces’ rather than ‘hey, you know, maybe we deserve to have a range of spaces that we can choose from’. That would probably be a better idea because I don’t want to shut down the bars and the clubs with all of the history because it’s such an important part of our history – those spaces. I wish I could go to them – I don’t want to shut them down.
Then at the same time having maybe more accessible spaces- quieter spaces, spaces, online spaces -which are already there. I don’t want us to start denying our historical spaces or even our contemporary spaces where you go and it’s loud. Because that’s a huge part of who we are as a community and it’s just there’s not a … there shouldn’t have to be quota on these things. It’s not either or. We should be able to have everything. For example, I might need a quiet space but someone else who is autistic might come in and one of their stims might be that they need a space where it is acceptable for them to make a lot of noise. So, our access needs are completely in contrast and in conflict with each other. So there has to be … it has to be an act of discussion otherwise it fails, and it is why I think that queer space particularly Pride and things should have this really active discussion with their disabled, queer and trans patrons to see what’s needed - what needs to change and always to keep an open mind. The best spaces are the ones that are always open for a discussion rather than saying – putting a ramp there, setting aside a quiet room and saying ‘well, we are done’. Because I can assure you - you are not done – you are never done. I feel that sometimes we overlook the validity of and the importance of online spaces. We consider them not as real. But for a lot of people they are their lifeline to the community and the connection to the community and to kind of invalidate that is to invalidate a lot of people’s - particularly disabled people’s – spaces but also the spaces of kids who maybe have queerphobic or transphobic parents and so can’t go out into physical spaces or people who live in rural areas or even countries that don’t have a lot of physical spaces – online space is so important. So, it’s as important to make sure those spaces are as safe as possible as it is to make sure that our physical spaces are as safe as possible. It’s not just a lot of there is a lot of this type of bigotry but it doesn’t matter because it’s not in physical spaces. For a lot of people, online spaces are their main real queer space, so online spaces have always been my go to - although I do love a coffee morning. I will give a shout out to one of the things my friends runs – which is called The Staying Inn – which is an online virtual pub that was set up for disabled people during the pandemic and they have Pride events - which I attended - and it was virtual and people from all over the world come. Things like that – those spaces existing is so important and the success of them is really encouraging. My hope would be that we would really embrace kind of the queer and trans communities’ history as very radical and justice orientated. And so is the disabled rights movement. So, to see them being more gelled because – you know – there’s ablism in the queer and trans community and there is gay phobia and transphobia in the disabled community. To see the kind of the queer and trans disabled people – you know -really pushing and saying … ‘I’m not this and that – I’m both of these things and they impact on each other, and they play with each other’ and when I say I have Pride I have pride in both of those things. The future to me does look more accessible not just in terms of access – allowing disabled people to be part of the movement and conversation – but also in disabled queer and trans people leading the conversation. Because we can be very stubborn and very loud, and I really think there are gaps that we are making our way through now.
TW: It’s great to hear people like Erin talking about accessibility in those ways and I think it so important we are having these conversations and I think more people should be having them.
AZ: There’s still so much for us to learn and so much to do on this point. Now back to the log books - in the 90s there’s another big shift that we saw.
TW: That’s from people wanting to be parents - especially lesbians wanting sperm donors. So many log book entries from women calling Switchboard for help with that.
AZ: Switchboard could have had a nifty little business there!
AZ: So anyway, that’s the next episode. Parenting.
TW: Calls to Switchboard are confidential so to bring the log books to life we’ve changed the caller’s details.
AZ: The Log Books is produced by Shivani Dave, Tash Walker and Adam Zmith in partnership with Switchboard: the LGBT+ helpline and supported by the National Lottery Heritage Fund.
TW: If you think other people would like The Log Books please rate and review us on Apple 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 or join the conversation on social media with #thelogbooks
AZ: Our music is by Tom Foskett-Barnes and our artwork is by Natalie Doto.
TW: Thanks to
AZ: Stef Dickers and team at the Bishopsgate Institute. The folks at Acast, Content is Queen, David Pie, the staff and volunteers at Switchboard and everyone who shared their stories with us.
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.