THE LOG BOOKS
Season 3 Episode 8 - “Interested and willing”
Presenters: Tash Walker, Adam Zmith
Contributors: Sali, Anne, Lyn, Elaine, Tim, Dave, Marguerite McLaughlin, Femi Otitoju, Kath Gillespie Sells, DJ Ritu, Ruby, Alice, Amanda, Aubrey, Finn Greig, Pete
Producers: Shivani Dave, Tash Walker, Adam Zmith
Music: Tom Foskett-Barnes
Artwork: Natalie Doto
TW: This episode contains homophobia.
[telephone dial tone, music]
This is a look book entry from October 19 1997:
A woman may call back to discuss issues of custody with another woman this evening. I’ve given her the Rights of Women’s phone number and Lesbian Line already. She got a phone number for a solicitor from us earlier but called back to say it’s wrong. I’ve checked this and now have the right number, but she may well be able to get a better referral from the Rights of Women. Please pass this on anyway. Cheers, Monty.
This is a log book entry from October 27 1994:
A woman rang in asking for info about artificial insemination and parenting. I said that I’d leave addresses on the log for her as she said she’d ring back. I referred her to the Lesbian Alterative Insemination Group.
TW: Having kids!
AZ: Are you asking, Tash? Shall we?
TW: Don’t - you are throwing me, Adam. Some of my friends are looking into that but the options are so different now to back then.
AZ: And it’s definitely not equal to heterosexual experiences - if you are trying to start a queer family of one form or another – there are so many more logistics and mechanics involved.
TW: And not to mention all the laws too!
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 8: “Interested and Willing”
TW: Talking about becoming a parent and queer families. We will be hearing from lesbians seeking sperm in the 90s and gay men who became dads, people needing information and support on having a baby, and the Switchboard volunteers who took those calls. With a wide range of perspectives on what queer family can mean.
AZ: Throughout The Log Books we’ve been looking at the different prejudices LGBTQI+ people have faced- many moons ago in season one we were talking about the 70s and early 80s and we learnt about how lesbians leaving their husbands struggled to get custody of their kids because they were seen as unfit mothers. And now - moving through the 90s more and more lesbians and gay women experience prejudice when they wanted help to start a family.
Sali: My name is Sali. I’m 54. I am a parent and an entrepreneur. So, in the early 90s it still was quite unusual to be a lesbian parent. And it was still not that easy to get information. I remember at that time I had a very close friend and they had been turned down by a London hospital for a laparoscopy – which is what they needed in order to be able to conceive. And they weren’t in a relationship and just because they identified as a lesbian that medical treatment was refused - so I supported them to make a complaint to the hospital. We were successful - and now I’m pleased to say she’s mum to a 22-year-old young woman.
Anne: I’m Anne. I was a volunteer at Switchboard from 1997 to 2012 and I’m 68. I think this was the start of the time where more and more women were wanting to have children. And wanting to do it without … a partner… or with a female partner. From experience of friends who we are doing this at the time and, I think it was influenced by much more visibility of lesbian parenting on TV programs. I think there was soap opera- although I can’t remember which one – where someone was investigating parenting through insemination. And of course, there was a great concern at the time - about 1994-95 - that the sperm that was used in these inseminations might itself have not been cleared for HIV/AIDs. And so, I think a lot of women wanted to go through more formal insemination rather than casual insemination with male friends. And it was very difficult to find referrals for them that they could afford because – as always – if you have the money, you can get the service but at the time for many ordinary lesbians there was very little opportunity to go to clinics who would support them.
Marguerite: Initially there was no ability to access sperm banks. They refused to deal with or acknowledge lesbian couples. What ended up happening is that people realised that fertility is actually quite a low-tech issue. If someone is fertile it’s not that difficult to get pregnant - all you needed was a cooperative man. What became the norm was - a whole range of ways of people working out for themselves how to not only become mothers or parents but lots of women would want some involvement from men and very often would look to do some form of parenting with gay men. Or there were also … there is an interesting example that went on in Manchester - where a group of left-wing medical students who were ... many of whom were either gay or bisexual … but very aware of the kinds of challenges that lesbians were facing in order to become mothers decided not only to be group donors for lesbians, so they could become mothers, but to support the ability for women to have anonymous fathers -because of the issues to do with birth certificates and custody issues. There were lesbians who did not feel safe if a father was identified on the birth certificate.
Femi: There is no doubt that I think that more than any time that I was aware of that people were being quite bold about asking other people to have children with them. And I remember being somewhere and a guy I knew quite well and had been working with and considered a friend was there with me. And two women that I knew said ‘do you know that man?’ I said, ‘Yeah … yeah I do’ and one said, ‘Go and ask him if he wants to be a donor?’ I said ‘What!’ ‘Ask him if he wants to have kids?’. Alright. I thought this is a new take on -my friend fancies you! So off I went and asked this bloke, and I said, ‘that woman wants to know if you want to have a baby with her’ and he said, ‘why have they asked me - they don’t know me!’. And I said, ‘I don’t know!’. So, I went back and said, ‘He wants to know why you’ve asked?’ and they went ‘He looks Jewish. We’re Jewish and want a Jewish baby!’. So, I went back to him and said, ‘they think you looks Jewish’. And he was like, ‘I’m not Jewish’ and I said, ‘they don’t think you are Jewish - you look Jewish!’. He got the right hump. So, he wouldn’t do it. I think if they’d just said he was gorgeous or something he might have done it. But he didn’t like the idea.
TW: All these stories of people trying to make it happen - as we’ve seen from so many log books in this period.
AZ: And Sali was someone doing just that. We’ve heard from her before in The Log Books. Now in the late 90s, Sali with her lesbian partner began to investigate how to start a family.
Sali: So, at that time we didn’t know anybody else that was looking to have children. And there wasn’t much information available – there were no – there wasn’t really a guidance of this- is how you do it and this is the best way. So, it seemed like everybody was experimenting and trying to find a way through. So, we knew that we wanted to use an own donor because we had heard of people who went to clinics had one child and when they went back to have the other child that donor’s sperm had all gone. So, the children ended up having different genetics - which for some people that’s absolutely fine. I certainly wouldn’t advise people on what to do. But for us - we wanted our children to genetically be the same and I guess because I didn’t find my birth dad till 23, we wanted the children to at least know who the donor was. But we didn’t want them to be part of our family. And again, that … that’s different for every person doing this - but we were very clear, I think, what we wanted.
First of all we asked a few friends and they very sensibly declined - I have to say - because I think whilst you would like to think you know what you would do when you have the child I think it brings up a lot of intense emotions for people and we felt actually, in the end, it was easier to advertise and recruit somebody specifically so we would then be able to say well this is what we want. And so, we advertised in the Pink Paper. Well, we thought by advertising in the Pink Paper we would get some people that were maybe about our same age, maybe were in London or the surrounding areas - so not too far to travel. We just thought -you know- it might be a good publication for us to find somebody. I do remember roughly what we wrote: we were looking for a donor. I think we might have said limited involvement required and I think we also said no financial assistance required - because that can muddy the waters - so we wanted to make it very clear …we were parents of the children and whilst we did want the kids to know the person -they were not part of the family group. More like an extended family member. We were very clear we didn’t want to use a heterosexual male as the donor - because we felt they wouldn’t fully understand our family and appreciate that they were not part of that - so we felt by selecting a gay man we’d have more opportunity to keep our nuclear family secure. We wrote ‘we are a lesbian couple looking for somebody over the rainbow to make our dreams come true.’
This is a log book entry from December 9 1992:
One last message from me. I don’t usually write in here at all. A lesbian friend of mine is trying to become pregnant and is looking for a gay man who would like to be donors with minimal involvement. If there is anyone out there who’s interested and willing could you ring me, and I tell you more and put you in touch. Thanks, Sarah.
Sali: After we placed the advert, we shortlisted a few people and we met a few – some here individuals, some were couples. The first couple we selected were in Leeds, and unfortunately, because the donor had a low sperm count that kind of stopped after a few months. And then we selected another donor - who we thought was suitable for what we wanted - they seemed very easy going, a nice person and they didn’t want to be involved as a parental figure. And so, we took some time getting to know him - we’d have meals, we went on a short break away together - just to make sure that we were really comfortable with what we were doing. And then in terms of insemination we would either do that in a hotel or in one of the houses. He would do his bit separately - deliver the material that we needed to us and then we would have sex and inseminate at the same time. And the reason we did that - much to the horror of our children – was because we wanted them to know that they were born from love and so that it wasn’t just a mechanical process. That be mortifying for them -if they listen to this. They will be ‘Oh fuck mum - did you have to tell the world!’
Lots of people in the LGBTQ+ community were thinking about how they could have children and there is quite a well-known couple who were living in Essex at the time who used surrogates to achieve that - and for a lot of lesbians they were looking more at donation, but people were also looking at fostering and adoption as options because - whereas that had not been approve now it was suddenly starting to open up as a possibility. So, I never like biologically wanted to have children, but my partner did so for us it was a very straight forward discussion between us. I think there was a lot of concern about - would our children be bullied; would they be very different, actually what we found after we had them was that they were other people in the same situation as other – other women that had children via donation have to say most of them had used clinics. But they were not the only kids - and I have to say like everybody was really supportive - so the schools, the health services -we didn’t face any discrimination from those avenues at all. And at the end of the day, you have to make the decision for yourself about how you want to live your life and having children was very important to us - to complete our family. I didn’t care what the children called me. initially they called me ‘Da’ and then they called me mum and by my first name, Sali. I don’t mind. I think it’s … I don’t feel the need to impose a label. It became apparent as they got older that actually they wanted to have my name - that was important to them - and because I wasn’t able to go on their birth certificates so where it said father it was blank whereas now, I would have gone on there. So, we changed their second names by deed poll to include both our names. I worked and my partner looked after the children mainly -but we were both very actively involved in looking after them.
AZ: You never really know what you are going to have to face until you have the kids! But it sounds like Sali and family handled it with openness and honesty.
TW: Thinking about it. I don’t think that there was anyone in my school with gay parents – that I know of. I think it would have been pretty unusual and am almost certain they would have been bullied. Everyone called each lesbians and gay as an insult at my secondary school. But I do wonder how Sali’s kids handled it with other people they came into contact with.
AZ: Ooh, Sali’s got a cute story about this.
Sali: You know we did sometimes have to raise issues in classes because they’d … when you are trained in a certain way - it takes time to unlearn what you’ve learnt. So, a teacher might say ‘What did you do with your mum and dad over the summer?’ And you know it can make you feel - well I don’t have a mum and a dad - but that’s true for children who have one parent for whatever reason. So, they had a big responsibility on their shoulders really - to educate teachers and professionals to say, ‘This is my family’ - and I think because of that it made them more protective and more strong in their sense of identity as a family. And with other children when they say things like ‘Where is your dad?’ - they know so they could go into detail, and they would say ‘I don’t have a dad my parents conceived me using sperm’. And, you know, when a child is five or 6 and this child then relays it to their parents - that parent has to decide whether they ignore it or they engage in their own conversation with their child about different ways of conceiving children. They had no issues about who they were …some of the children did … and they would just calmly explain to them - you have a mum and a dad I have two mums. And I remember my eldest going to a soft play area and I overheard her go up to this child and she goes ‘My name is Poppy. I have two mums and two cats and a sister.’ And for the children - its very straight forward and they don’t understand why some of people can’t see their family as simply as they do.
Lyn: Hello. I’m Lyn and I’m 72 years of age.
Elaine: Hello my name is Elaine and I’m 76 years old - not that I’m boasting.
Lyn: I was quite conscious of the fact that of his feelings really.
Elaine: Well, I think it’s always difficult- I think in those days it was difficult I think even although we had …. a same sex relationship with two mums and a son - I think it was always quite difficult issue for us personally because of the sort of family dynamics that we had. I mean I welcome the fact that now in this generation -with the grandchildren- that it is a much easier environment. I really do believe that, you know, us living the life we have and do live does facilitate anybody that coming in the next generations down to be more accepted themselves. And you know that is what hope for everybody is that we can be accepting of who we are, and you know and look forward to the day when people aren’t shocked because I do believe that even in today’s world - there are just so many people that find it very difficult to accept when its within their own family. I think they can accept on television that there’s all of these other things happening, but they still harbour their own inherent beliefs that somehow a person’s life should go the way that theirs did or that they think it should. So, we are always learning, I guess.
AZ: There were so many changes happening in the 90s and early 00s …
TW: More legal rights, internet, change in representation on TV…
AZ: And shifts among fertility providers in how they work with the law and the regulations about starting families.
TW: Yeah, right so our period -in this season - ends in 2003 but it wasn’t until 2009 that two mums using a sperm donor to have a baby could both be recognised on the birth certificate as joint parents.
AZ: We didn’t find any log books of calls from gay men looking to become parents - but we know they were around so we spoke to one couple to hear their story.
Tim: My name is Tim. I’m 53. I live in Lewisham. And me and my partner adopted children in the early 2000s.
We met at university and become a couple in 1990 but Dave was living in Aylesbury, and I was living in Hove - so quite a long way apart. So, the logical thing to do after a lot of driving to and fro in various old cars - was to get a place to together kind of in the middle - which was effectively was London. And obviously Dave is a teacher secondary school so obviously there is quite a lot of schools in London so eventually he got a job in a school in south London, so we moved to south London into a rented flat. And even in those days … even that was an issue - because obviously there was no civil partnership or legal recognition … zero recognition of gay relationships. So, the first thing was I was up front with the landlord -who was a fairly conservative policeman - that we were a couple because he was offering to change the double bed to two single bed and we were like ‘no we don’t want that’ and they kind - of they sort of twitched a bit - but they went with it to be fair and it was always fine. And they always referred to us as ‘the boys’ which was, kind of, slightly deeming but at least it was friendly!
Dave: I’m Dave. I’m 56 and I first started looking into adoption with my partner in the late 90s. And certainly, in those days having children was just not part of the equation - I think for most gay couples it wasn’t really something you even thought was possible. And therefore, in a sense you didn’t miss it I suppose because it wasn’t something that was possible. And that was probably true, or it felt to be true throughout most of the 90s. Obviously I like kids - I teach - I’d always worked with kids, and I suppose that was where I get my paternal feelings or whatever out of the way. Not that teaching is particular paternal, but you know what I mean.
Femi: Of course, people started using the internet for that and many for having children and many other purposes as well, but you could I remember saying somebody saying to me I’ve ordered my cryosphere – being freezing thing that you popped your sperm in. Or rather sometimes you could order it and get your sperm in the cryosphere so it would arrive already in the cryosphere. So, the internet was very helpful for that!
Marguerite: It was really brilliant of the London sperm clinic, and they were the landmark organisation that decided that they would take lesbian couples for their clientele. Lesbian couples were subject to exactly the same criteria for becoming clients as anyone else - for the London Sperm Bank. But for a few years running -on the day of gay Pride- people would get little lucky bags of giveaways, freebies of all kinds and the one the sperm clinic used to give out these beautiful pens they were shiny, pink, pearl surfaced - just terrific pens. If you like that sort of thing. But with huge bold writing on it that said London Sperm Bank. And they were recognising the fact that gay men were target clientele.
This is a log book entry from 21 June 1994:
Anyone who is interested. Jane from Anglia TV rang -she is doing a program on gay and lesbian parenting. She asked if any lesbian or gay couples who wanted to talk about being a pregnant - especially though inseminations. Give her a ring if you want to be on TV.
This is a log book entry from June 30 1994:
Jimmy Young show on Radio 2 phoned to get someone on the air this morning about the lesbian custody victory yesterday. BBC Radio 4 phoned too.
TW: 1994 and there are still lesbian custody battles happening. We first spoke to you about that in season 1 episode 5 ‘you might well be very angry’. There are a fair few high-profile cases like that one mentioned in the log book entry - always LGBTQI+ people pushing to change the law and have their rights respected.
AZ: Yeah, there were lots of victories and lots of babies. But this stuff is hard and it’s not always successful.
Tim: I think the children’s name was several steps down the line really it was a was a long way down the priority list coz we were still talking about getting equal rights at work and being sacked and I was sacked for being gay in the 80s form a temporary job and for that reason only… so rights at work, rights of inheritance, rights of property, rights of employment and not being discriminated against were generally much higher. Amongst our friendship group who tended to be mainly gay men it was completely off the radar - it wasn’t discussed at all.
Femi: I had always thought I would have a child - at least one. I have several sibs myself… I grown up in … I’ve been with foster parents, put in houses where there were loads of children. They’d always been young people round me didn’t always feel at home with children. And so I thought that that was gonna be right for me - not that I thought it was natural a woman should have children or whatever … but I did think it was right for me and I think it was always around that I was going to have a child and then I was in this relationship and we were very settled you know it was going very well and there were just really lovely people around me and it felt like - between us we had this mini village that could raise children well. It felt to me, about this time, in the early 90s more than ever - we were getting really creative about starting our own families in different shaped families. And I certainly remember trying for a few years to do that. I kept coming unstuck a couple of times - coming unstuck going to the black gay group asking black gay men for their sperm … and then not being terribly impressed at least the ones present that night were not terribly impressed and when I thought about it, I can see what their concerns were. They were saying - do you know how for how long black men have been seen as studs … the sexualisation… the exploitation - we come to this gay black group because we expect to be treated differently and now you lesbians come along and start doing the same thing. And yes, I we just thought it was going to waste, so.
Sorry about that. So off we crept. I said it once I’m not going to say it twice. I remember quite clearly going along to the group I think with somebody else and raising that topic and getting this response. And actually, feeling a bit ashamed you know - I wouldn’t want to do that to recreate those feelings in someone. So, I just thought shit – missed that one. You know. Spending your whole life trying to be considerate with other people and then falling so badly. So, I only asked a black man for his sperm once!
So, it was a while then … a few years … before I thought about it again, I actually decided I would then have artificial insemination and that was simple enough - and you wouldn’t have to talk to anybody. But that is really expensive, and you have to talk to all sorts of invasive people, and they ask disgusting questions, and they do terrible things - so that didn’t last very long either. We had a couple of days of that and that’s not nice. And then … and then a man who is so precious to me was then and still is – said, you know, we could do this. And that was actually … it was lovely …. just being in that …. just feeling that I wanted to collaborate - to be that close - it’s a weird word, right - but it was lovely too. I was in a partnership, he was in a parentship, so we were both in our same sex relationships. But all four of us had talked about it and thought that this would be a good thing to do and there is something very lovely about a gay man - I think he arrived on a moped on a Sunday morning and he produced the croissant, the Sunday papers, and the little vial of sperm that he’d kept warm. We tried for a while. And I know a lot of others who have been very successful, raised children in non-traditional families. And have raised spectacularly lovely children - and I never did have a child it’s a sadness to me. It’s just a personal thing – I wasn’t able to have a child, so, it could have been great, and I think it was great for a lot of people who chose to do it at that time, and I know children from that era.
AZ: Gosh those kids are so lucky to have Femi in their lives.
TW: Right, shout out to Femi always. There are so many different ways to have children including being helped by a surrogate. And that was the road that Kath and her partner took.
KGS: Just as it was very hard for me to lose custody of my kids – I lived with that – it was heart-breaking. A number of years which were very dark for me -until I got them back. And you know in a strange sort of way the 90s were some of my best years because my partner and I had a child an insemination child as opposed to the two from my previous manager and he’s absolutely adorable still, so I have three sons. I’m Kate Gillespie Sells. MBE. I am a 70-year-old woman – lesbian, shall I say? I am a disabled mother and grandmother and that’s me. Yeah, he is quite a character – he’s a lovely boy - very sensitive and just really takes the issues on - you know - as hard as they might be for him as well. Sorting out how he felt about not having a dad – having a donor always asking ourselves ‘is this ok thing to do?’ I’m not sure he’s biological mother was asking that, but I was asking that because that’s the kind of mother I would be. I’m sure Delis had her concerns, but he’s had his ups and downs - but he’s a great kid. For the first time as lesbians, we had control of our lives - we were doing what we wanted to do. Disabled mum. I was there when Delis was giving birth - in my wheelchair in the … the room … in the labour suite and the doctor dealt with it perfectly well - explained to me what was going on as well as Delis and it was, yeah, an amazing time. So, I know we privileged positions because Delis was a doctor and I’d been a nurse … and I was therapist at the at time … just you know you have the language you make it dead easy. Most people aren’t in that position -I do appreciate that- but there is something, whatever you are doing, which is liberating and life affirming about being the person that you can be.
AZ: I love that message from Kath coz our minds and our hearts have big ideas about who we are and what we wanna do with our lives
TW: That’s right and some people are so determined to become parents they end up being pioneers too.
Tim: We were living in Peckham at the time, and -which is Southwark councils district - and they’d got a campaign and adverts on bus shelters, and I think on buses, if I remember, which indicated they were prepared to consider adopters of all races, all genders and all sexualities. And that was explicit. I suppose part of it was a challenge I thought - well ok they’ve announced this let’s give them a run for their money and see if they … if they believe what they say! I mean what actually happened in terms of the two of us is we had a chat about it. We were actually on holiday if I remember we were on holiday in Manchester and we went to a restaurant which I think was called LiveBait, which only served cold British shellfish so winkles and whelks and that kind of thing. And we had this enormous plate of this stuff – like those tiered cake stands but with sea food on.
Dave: And it was like a seafood buffet with everything cold and wet and slimy and whelks and everything else you can imagine… it was pretty horrific.
Tim: There was just tons and after a bit you thought I’ve had enough cold, salty, stuff so anyway I used this opportunity to say to Dave well ‘I would really like to think about this.’
Dave: I was pretty gobsmacked really - because it wasn’t something I’d sort of thought about particularly. I don’t if we’d passed comment before on any adverts we’d seen - so local authorities were beginning to advertise to gay adopters.
Tim: I said well, you know, we need to agree because if you are dead against it or seriously hesitant then we can’t do it. So, you know - you need to buy in, and he agreed said ‘let’s go for it.’ Then we contacted the council. As gay people – particularly as a gay couple appearing the council wanting to adopt. We were only the second in Southwark and the other couple were only a few months ahead of us. And I think Southwark, to be fair, was fairly pioneering I don’t know if they were the first historically, but they were definitely the cutting edge in London. There’s two main stages – the stage where you are approved as an adopter by the panel and then there’s a later stage where you are matched with children and that match is approved. Both stages were very long -in our case -being approved took a good 18 months and social worker came around every couple of weeks to talk to us for several hours every couple of weeks or every week it went on and on. At one point I despaired I thought actually we have proved the point by being approved to be parents, but we are never actually going to be parents. Generally speaking, we didn’t get to visit very often because obviously we were talking to social workers in places like north Kent or Dover or Rotherham or wherever really. Great Yarmouth, I remember, Exeter. And I can remember one … one social worker said, ‘well we wouldn’t consider you because this child needs to have a mother.’ So, ok that’s a dead stop then …not going anywhere with that! And then there was one child that was from Dover and two social workers came up in the car on a Friday afternoon – and I think really, they had no intention of taking us seriously at all they mainly just wanted to see a gay couple, wanted to see what’s going on and have a look at our baths and furnishings. So, they had a good look round and … the kind of telling part of the discussion was… her saying ‘well who is going to be the mother?’ and I said ‘nobody is going to be the mother. There won’t be a mother. There’s two men but if you mean who is going to do the motherly things - the feeding, the tucking up in bed etc. Well, it’s both of us.’ And I said you know I think the idea that certain activities are only for women and certain activities are only for men is just really odd and is not true even in heterosexual families necessarily and - you know that we can both be mothers. And do mothering. I wanted to shake them - I thought it was idiotic because I thought well ok they are probably busy people and they have at least bothered to come - although probably on expenses and a way of getting out of the office - but all that journey up in the car of two hours they hadn’t talked about this between the two of them? And they were so uneducated about parenting that it hadn’t occurred to them that those kind of roles could be done by different genders. I was quite appalled actually.
And I think there were others who were probably worse, and I didn’t even get past the phone. The ones that are really prejudiced just didn’t ring back. Our children - now - were born in Southwark, in fact, they were born just down the road from where we lived, and their birth parents were from more or less round the corner. So, in terms of how the system worked they were the care of Southwark council - they had been taken into care at 3 days old in both cases and therefore been in the foster system ever since. When you ask the details of the child – this may have change now - but there was a form E and form F and I can’t remember – think form F was the child’s form and form E was the parents form. Their form E or F was very sad I actually cried – because, you know, they were taken away at birth, fostered around the place, moved around a bit, not too much – two failed adoptions - they were 5 and 6. There were two of them. They were both boys - and boys are less adopted than girls for some reason – seen as more troublesome, I think. I cried because I felt sorry for the mother who had three children - all taken away at birth, suffered a lifetime of really serious mental illness, and then died in her 40s of breast cancer. I just thought this poor woman’s life was so sad. And the children were so unlucky. You know, obviously, their social worker in the office spoke to our social worker in the office - probably across the desk and the beginnings of a match were made while they scratched their head because it was a transitional case probably, we were the first of that time. I might have been one of the first actual orders made under the new act for a gay couple - which meant all the kind of paperwork didn’t really work… and the so called birth certificate, which you get after an adoption … this is the registry office - they hadn’t caught up with the changes I don’t think anyone had told them or told them what to do so the pro forma has mother/father and they didn’t know how to fill it in and actually rang me up and said ‘What do you want to put?’ I said, ‘You can’t put mother because I am not a mother -I’m not female!’ so I suggested they get their type writer and put some XXs through mother and make it Father One and Father Two which is what they did. I think I was Father One and Dave was Father Two- and he wasn’t very happy. You can’t win can you - so what do you do?
Dave: And here were these two boys. They weren’t babies they were 6/7 - they were old enough to know … to be real human beings …to have their own minds and that was so weird. You meeting these very lovely foster parents but again you were … little thinking well … they know we are a gay couple, how do they feel about that? Because that was always an issue - how they feel about that how they feel about gay adoption - it was so new, and you knew a lot of people didn’t think very highly of it. And then meeting the two boys who were completely busy - and then it suddenly became very real because these are two human beings who are potentially going to be spending the rest of their lives with you - or not quite that but you know what I mean
Tim: We didn’t twist their arms to get us to call us dad and they never have. And that was because all sorts of adults and had been called mum and dad by them and then those adults have gone missing and rightly or wrongly, I felt it was a bit cohesive to say you have got to call me dad – other people had done that, and then they had moved on. I thought either they’d have do that – and I would have liked them to have done that – but the moment probably came when their friends came round, and they went really casually ‘oh that’ s my dad’ although they don’t call us dad, they introduce us as their dad and that’s when we think, ok.
The day we picked them up - so you go and get all children stuff and you put them in the car. And everyone whose adopted children say this is always the nightmare journey as sometimes the children scream and want to get out the car … it can be all sorts of things. And in our case, I felt absolutely dreadful that day and we got the children in the car and drove down the motor way and I said to Dave ‘we’ve got to stop the car’. They were fine ... well they weren’t fine they were probably really upset but they were quietly upset - and they just had a bit of arguing with each other. And we stopped at a motor way service station, and I threw up all over the shrubbery as I had actually got some sort of norovirus type thing and felt like shit. So, we took turns driving back and then we all got it – the whole family got this norovirus thing. So, the first week them living with us was me basically clearing up shit – clearing up vomit – there was vomit everywhere. They were throwing up on the beds - it was just horrific. In some ways it was the best thing ever because they had to rely on us as they were really unwell, and we all just had to get on with it and figure out the house and we all just had to stay indoors and sort each other out until it was over. And so, it was really …really grim - in some ways it was quite a good way to start because they need you when they are ill -and you just have to get on with it. And that’s being a parent – being a parent is holding the sick bucket.
Dave: I think gay adoption is really important because I think there are certain expectations that you have one of which is that the truth about adoption for most people for most straight people is that its second best you don’t get many straight people who want to adopt - they start off wanting their own children and for various reason they can’t have them and then they adopt. And that was never true of us – it was never second best it was always first best.
TW: Oh, such a fab story.
AZ: And pretty rare!
TW: Which is interesting - because we see that reflected in the calls to Switchboard, mainly being from women but here’s another man – a volunteer at Switchboard no less - who wrote this really sweet log book entry.
This is a card found in the log book dated August 5 1993:
Dear Switchboard, although I have just resigned as a volunteer after some eight years off and on would you mind sticking the enclosed card in the log book? Our baby arrived this morning – mothers and baby are doing fine. He has blonde hair and blue eyes and is looking forward to going on the Pride march next year. Best wishes, Pete.
The card has a blue border with balls, teddy bears and ABC blocks. It says “We are proud to announce the birth of …” Then the baby boys name, date of birth and weight of 7 pounds and 10 ounces. And where the card has a space for parent’s names there are all three – Sali, Tess, and Pete.
AZ: Ahh, that is cute. I bet that baby’s parents are really good listeners.
TW: Good one, Adam. But seriously I do feel I grew up in Switchboard and I guess that parents aren’t always parents by biology or law, right. We – queer people often look to others to parent us - even just for a moment - especially when our own parents don’t accept who we are.
AZ: Yeah, that is why this next story is so touching. It’s from DJ Ritu who runs a club night called Club Kali which started in the 90s.
Ritu: I’m DJ Ritu. I consider myself a music lover, a music maker, and a DJ and a broadcaster. Another memory that I will share with you actually came later - it was in the 1990s at Club Kali – very shortly after we had opened it. We used to be at this big venue called the Dome in Tufnell Park – it was 500 capacity. Packed. We used to get coach loads of people coming from Birmingham, from Manchester from Leicester. And I … said to my business partner …. You know what I wanna bring my mum and dad here one day and let them actually see what I really do. And also because I am fortunate enough to be out to my parents – now- I came out to my parents in 1986, after I had had some strength around me and that network of women from, you know, Gays The Word book shop -but I’m very conscious, even now, that at Club Karli - that most of the people who come there are not out to their parents. They don’t have that parental approval which - makes such a difference, I think, to people’s mental health and sense of wellbeing. So, my mum and dad came along, and they sat right in front of the DJ booth - just two elderly people. Mum in her sari, dad in his suit, you know, and probably sweltering away – it was very hot in there. And, they were just calmly watching everything that was going on around them and - one of the funny things that happened that night, though, was there was one guy who used to come …. come along to the club usually he would be wearing a short jacket and a skirt anyway As I looked out from the DJ booth - mum and dad still sitting there really calmly - and the guy in the short jacket and had taken off his skirt and his underpants and was just there in a short jacket and all I could see was buttocks and I was thinking ‘for gods sakes - out of all the nights when my parents are here this is when he chooses to go naked -bottom out.’ Right. And later on, my mum said to me ‘do people always take their clothes of when they come to Club Karli? I said ‘No! Only on this one occasion!’. I saw people – punters basically- just coming over to them and kneeling beside them and … asking for their blessing - and I wasn’t sure what to make of this because I was in the DJ booth working and so I could only kind of read in terms of body language what was going on, but my mum actually confirmed it later on. She said that she’d gone to the ladies … the women’s toilets at some point - the thing is that all our drag queens used to use the women’s toilets as well. And she said that when she was in there four or five different queens and one person that wasn’t a queen they spoke to her properly in the toilets and said to her ‘auntie thank you so much’ - auntie is a respectful term – ‘thank you so much for being here I wish my parents were like this with me. I beg you for your blessings.’ Makes me cry you know – even thinking about it now.
TW: Adam, do you always take your clothes off in the club?
AZ: And the studio …
TW: Oh, I just noticed
AZ: Where do we go from here?
TW: Well, we’ve got to like this theme with parenting today. We’ve heard lots of stories from the 90s and 00s.
AZ: So, we are gonna hear from a bunch of people talking about their own experiences of queer families… and their feelings.
Ruby: My name is Ruby, and I grew up with two mums in the 90s in London. In a nutshell -growing up with queer parents was brilliant. I remember enjoying explaining that I had two mums to my friends and strangers when I was a child and loving the shock it often caused. My parents were always very open with me about how I came about. My mum was nearing her 40s and wanted a baby so rather than forking out the money to have everything done professionally - she and her best friend Joy hatched a plan. Joy’s husband, Peter, would be the donor – would be my dad and they would help my mum get pregnant. Joy and Peter already had two children – my brother and sister – so this would be their last hurrah before Peter’s vasectomy. As this was happening my mum fell in love with a woman called Deidre who had become my other mum and helped raise me. Confused yet? The truth is - it was confusing I once bought Deidre home a Father’s Day card home from school. And asked Peter if he was my half dad – whilst I was trying to get my head around it all. But the best thing about having two mums was that I was never unsure of how much I was loved and wanted. There are no accident with gay babies - every single one is desired and planned meticulously. They have to be or else they don’t happen. My childhood was warm and fun and extremely loving. It didn’t come out without struggles and I remember the odd kids being rude at school – if they didn’t know what to say to me. I hope that happens less now. Overall, I wore my gay parents on my sleeve, and I was a lot happy for it. When I reached my 20s and wanted to come out myself - no one gave me any grief nor was there was a sense of disappointment that I wouldn’t settle into a straight relationship. Because I’m proof that you didn’t need one in order to have children - if that is what you want - and a family - if that is what you want - and to be happy too.
Alice: I’m Mamma..
Amanda: I’m Mummy.
Aubrey: I’m Aubrey. Hello [toddler chatter]
Alice: When I think about the conception of our daughter, I can’t help but think about how heavily involved the internet was. Without technology our daughter just wouldn’t be here. We decided to create our family and use anonymous sperm donors. In the UK - all sperm donations are non-anonymous so when the child reaches 18, they’ve got the details and the right to find their donor, but this wasn’t always the case. This change in the law has led to a decline in donors. We discovered this when we approached our lacklustre G.P., and we were confronted with a platter of prices and charges for what they assumed we needed. Fertility treatments, extra hormones, clinics, tests, etc. We had to fund our own attempts for six months before we would qualify for any financial support. It is a postcode lottery apparently. Our G.P. and specialist gave us minimal personal attention - and just handed us a menu of expensive treatments. We left bitterly disappointed. We didn’t want or need any drugs or clinics poking around. We were only really missing one vital ingredient. Millions of people get pregnant every day so surely it can’t be that difficult. At school everyone’s always trying to scare teenagers into next having sex for fear of becoming pregnant. ‘Even the tiniest drop of semen can impregnate you from fifty meters in the swimming pool’ and other such rubbish. Well, when you are 30 something and actually want to get pregnant you realise what a complicated task getting pregnant could be. What we needed - was sperm. We considered asking some generous friends but found this to complicated with the ‘what ifs’ scenarios: What if they wanted to become a daddy once the baby was real? What do we call the donor? What do we do if the child decides he likes daddy more? Lots of what ifs for the donor as well. There is no legal weight behind doing it this way. So, we thought again. We used the internet to help us research. We discovered that in other countries more liberal countries sperm was donated anonymously and it could be shipped directly to your door. Ah the convenience of a door-to-door delivery! So, after months of preparation and planning we browsed a Danish based international online sperm bank. We matched my wife’s physical characteristics with a donor’s. The range was immense. And you could choose from a range of possibilities each with evidence showing their credentials. You could read handwritten essays, hear voice clips of their motivation for donating, a log of their family history and medical conditions as well as sometimes even baby photos - to help you visualise how cute your future offspring might be. We chose a lucky donor and went about a complicated business of ordering and working out timings, shipping, and delivery times to coincide with ovulation. When the precious cargo arrived, it was packaged like a futuristic drink from the Adams Family – in a vat of dry ice. My wife’s job was to wear protective gloves and open and retrieve the sperm straws. Delving through clouds of smoke and dry ice as quickly and as efficiently as possible was akin to trying to win a TV game show like The Crystal Maze or The Cube. After popping the straws under my arm pit for a few minutes to defrost and get to body temperature it was time for insemination. And then hanging around upside down for as long as you can stand it. Then it’s the two weeks wait just like everybody else.
Pete: Hello my name is Pete. I’m a 27-year-old queer person from Glasgow. It occurred to me only recently that coming of age in a time where queer family making was more visible than it had ever been … that I’d assumed that if wanted to be a parent later in life I could be …or should be. That expectation turned into something more existential like my newfound right to queer parenthood meant an opportunity to do right and rectify my own childhood experience. By attempting to - in some way - perfect the childhood of a life not my own but still attached to it. And it occurred to me how selfish is that? How ignorant of me to assume that I’d have absolute influence for a curative outcome for myself via the conceptual happy childhood of another. And it made me question whether I want to be a parent for the right reasons and was the caring role superficial or an authentic impulse for me? And what is the right kind of queer parent, anyway, and particularly as opposed to the dead construct of a hetero nuclear family and the adopting a approved of system as a queer ideal. I don’t know the answer really - and am not sure what kind of queer parent I could be. Or won’t be. In the future. I am just being a queer parent to myself at the moment.
FG: Hello so my name is Finn Greig or Fin the human as my young people often refer to me. I’m 37 years old. I’m from East London. I’m a trans guy – trans masc person. I identify as trans and queer first and foremost and as a guy after that sometimes. I’m a youth and community director now of Gendered Intelligence – a youth and community of services but when people ask what I do I often go ‘youth worker!’. I mean - I am a director of a charity and do a lot more. But our own individual journeys and whether we want children in our own way, or our lives - is fascinating as queer people because you can’t just … well you can go to bed with someone make it happen. But for a lot of LGBTQI+ people you just can’t go to bed with someone, have sex, and make it happen. But for a long time – and still and probably forever I will see my organisation and my young people that I worked with over the last 15 years as my family. And, you know, I have worked with hundreds -maybe more thousands of children over the last 15 years and I love I have loved every single one of them and still do. And I say that really confidentially and really clearly because of the meaning of love that for me that is not about romantic love and I don’t know if that exists but is about real love and I think bell hooks talks about it as - respect, commitment, responsibility, listening, kindness and all of those things. So, you know, I see some of the young people that I used to work with ten years ago are now in my staff team at GI and some of them come back and get in touch with me some of them are volunteering some of them are still young, but they’ve stuck with us and they’ve been with GI. I saw a young person who is 19 I saw her on Saturday and she said ‘I remember my first group when I was 13 years old at GI’ and I was like gosh and she was ‘I’m gonna be 20 in two months’ and I was like that is seven years you have been around and you’ve come to GI. And I remember a camp you came to when you were 14 and we sang you happy birthday 14 times across the day and you didn’t know what was happening and we started having a laugh. We were on the coach on the way home and we’d hadn’t … we’d only got to twelve or thirteen times …. so, we had to sing once on the coach and then we got off the coach and we sang once in the car park - when your parents were picking you up - and they were like what’s going on they’re singing you happy birthday again. Because we had to sing 14 times. And yeah, just like I can remember tons and tons of moments like that with young people over the last 15 or so years - and starting an organisation from scratch and seeing teams and staff and volunteers go through there. For me … that’s you know … I said to friends, you know, said to my partner if something tragic was going to happen to me and I’d die soon I would go to my grave really happily thinking I have a massive community and family around me. How lucky am I for that?
AZ: This has been a very family friendly episode. The next one definitely is not!
TW: So, join us in the dark room and the play pen as we hear all the stories from the 90s about kink and fetish sex.
AZ: Tash, pass the poppers.
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.