Celebrating the histories of Edinburgh's LGBT communities.

Remember When

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A joint initiative between the City of Edinburgh Council and the Living Memory Association.


Which Way is Out?

Part One: Finding the Words

`How dare you presume I'm heterosexual` badge.

How do you know what you feel or who you are if you do not have the words to say it?

…the difficulty there is in Scotland about words …That thing about words is a real Scottish thing. I've just been up in Angus at my brother's silver wedding. …It is now known that I am gay but nobody, nobody said anything at all. People had met an ex-partner of mine and nobody said 'How is he?' or anything like that at all. And that's not because they're nasty people. It's just because of that whole thing - there weren't words that you could use to talk about your sexuality…

Bob Cant, brought up in Angus in the 1950s

Lesbians found it even harder to make any connection between their own sense of themselves and a world elsewhere: Commotion Festival 1996

I always thought I was different but you don't know why for a very long time and then there are all sorts of reasons why you may have been different … I may have been different because I was coming from a single parent family in a place where that wasn't the model; I may have been different because God was it fun going to primary school with a slightly German accent. There might have been all sorts of reasons for being different …

Helen Chambers, born in the late 1960s

That moment of revelation, when "my world changed in that second" is part of so many of our stories, across all the decades and generations. Gregan Crawford, for instance, speaks of his student days in the 1960s:

When I was an undergraduate I was not out, in fact I wasn't even sure what my own sexuality was then. Because back in those days it wasn't as obvious as it is today. The social climate was completely different. The only people that one associated with being gay were very flamboyant people who usually liked to shock, or really just had nothing to lose, very much pariahs of society, as it were, but, of course, brave pioneers in many ways themselves.
It was in 1972 that I finally came out. One of the really major influences in my coming to terms with myself was seeing the film Sunday, Bloody Sunday. I know films do that for people; different films do it for different people.... it's a film where Peter Finch plays a major part. He comes across as a very normal sort of guy who is suddenly caught in the middle of a clinch in the hallway with somebody who also looks completely normal and apparently straight. And then suddenly I realised 'Wow, I identify with these people; that's me! They're not particularly camp or anything like that.'

Part Two: Coming Out

Coming out inside our own heads is just part of the process. Most people have had to come out more than once, in many different ways - to family, to friends, to workmates or fellow-students and to the world at large.

My coming out is a bit like a dam cracking and bits of water trickling out and then - whoosh!

Helen Chambers

Badge depicting a clenched fist and a betterfly with the words 'Come Out'

It has always been a turning point - and something of a gamble. And for older members of the community, coming out at a time when the very concept of homosexuality was still "the love that dare not speak its name" it was also an enormous gamble.

Bob Cant, writer and former Edinburgh resident born in the 1940s, tells of:

…going into Paddy's Bar one night during the Festival in 1970 - I'd been to see a show and this was towards the end of the evening. After a while I noticed this guy making eye contact with me - I didn't know how to respond and I actually left the pub - but I must have left in such a way that he knew I wanted him to follow me. I didn't know the term 'cruising' but that's what we were doing along Rose Street and into Hanover Street or somewhere like that.

When she found out I was gay, wow! I mean, you know, I was like, you know, the spawn of Satan. … Subsequently, we became really good friends.

D, an Edinburgh lesbian, describing an encounter with a friend in the 1980s

Because the world at large makes so many assumptions about the nature of heterosexuality, LGBT people who have been in heterosexual marriages and/or have produced children speak of a coming-out process that literally never ends. As Paula Williams explains:

When you are a lesbian parent, there's something about having to come out all the time. So you can find yourself standing at a queue in the butchers, and having to come out in the most ridiculous situations. It's quite hard work.

Kate Fearnley on Bisexuality

At the time I identified as a lesbian. mostly. And then I met, a straight man and got involved with him. And that complicated things no end because that's not really what lesbians do.... So then I decided I was obviously bisexual. It didn't really compute for a lot of people. It wasn't an identity you were really allowed to have, and certainly not if you were already out.... It was a second coming out which wasn't by any means as easy as the first.
When I came to Edinburgh I was out to everybody. You know, wore my Lambda badge and all of that sort of thing and was very active in Gay Soc and so on and very out and proud about it all. So then, you know, getting involved with a man was really a shock to most of the people I knew then, 'cos the straight people just saw me as lesbian, the lesbian and gay people saw me as lesbian. And they had a lot invested in their sexuality, and saw it, I think, as a betrayal or a backsliding or something. And assumed immediately that I was going to disappear into heterosexual obscurity and ceased to be politically active or interested in any of that. And that just wasn't what I wanted to do, but it actually was very difficult to remain involved and a member of Gay Soc because I just didn't fit. ... most people's views were, well, bisexual people haven't fully recognised their lesbian identity or their gay identity and once they see the light and find the right woman and all of that, then they will. I didn't know anybody else who identified as bisexual. There was no one else around. And the effect of it really was that I did actually withdraw fairly much from, well, from Gay Soc and anything else that was going on for the duration of my relationship with this guy. And, yeah, I missed it. It was not a good time really.
I think there's still prejudice out there. There's stuff about bisexuals being somehow less faithful than other people because, you know, even if we've got a partner of one gender we would constantly have an eye out for the other. That's not the case for me and that's not the case for a lot of bisexual people. And it is the case for a lot of people who are heterosexual or lesbian or gay: that, you know, they're not necessarily faithful and they do have an eye out for other people. And I think there's still amongst the old guard, here and there, the perception of bisexual people as copping out and not having made a proper decision, which continues to annoy the hell out of me.

Ailsa Spindler on her emerging Transgender Identity

My mum was at work, so I used to go home and wear her clothes. And there was this really nice period from when I was about 12 to about 14 where her clothes fitted me quite well. But I didn't sort of put them on and then masturbate or do anything sexual, I used to put them on then do my homework or something. I just felt happier like that, you know.
There were drag queens and entertainers who cross dressed and it was something you laughed about.... And then I thought, 'Am I closet gay?' And I thought, 'No, because I really don't fancy men.' It was quite hard to find the label to put on it because there wasn't any information. There wasn't anything out there that said, 'Hey, let's talk about this.' If you searched in dictionaries and encyclopaedias, before the dear old internet, you couldn't get anything useful. You got some really strange references to historical figures and you'd think, 'what is this crap?! Will somebody tell me what I am doing?' It never really gelled into my mind... there was probably a little tickling point - and by the time I was in my late 30s I was already thinking, I'm not sure I can carry on with this confusion....
There were bits of the stereotypical male that I thought I quite enjoyed. Not least, I never felt I had to be subservient to anybody, and I know that sounds very stereotypical but that is the reality, or was then. Men had the power - it was quite nice being a part of that powerful club. But I didn't like the attitudes to women because inside I identified with the female, so things that were discriminating to women were discriminating against me... I think I liked the ability to do things that were more adventurous and unconventional....
I didn't make a conscious trade off: if I pursue my gender identity issues I'm going to have to give these things up. It was just that, the discomfort I felt about my male role wasn't a consistent thing. It wasn't like all this time I hated it.
My wife had a magazine.... In the classified ads in the back there was a little box ad about mental problems, stress, whatever: 'Phone for confidential advice.' It wasn't the Samaritans but it was kind of like that. But not necessarily for people who were suicidal, just for people who have issues they wanted to discuss. I phoned this person up, not really because I thought he could give me the answers but I actually felt that I needed to rehearse the things I wanted to say to a 'real person'. They had gone through my head enough times but I actually wanted almost to feel what it was like to say to somebody, 'I am transsexual, or I am weird,' or what ever words I was going to use.
I think I said something like, 'I have come to the conclusion that I have gender dysphoria'. But that was because the research I had done had come up with some of these terms. I thought that probably seems to be the best way to describe it. ... And they gave me some advice, in the form of a couple of contacts. But that wasn't what it was about. It was rehearsing the moment when I told my partner, my wife. She was the first person I told. And I think we'd been married at that time for 13 years. To describe her as gobsmacked I think would be something of an understatement. She had absolutely no idea, no suspicions. It was tough for her, very tough. First of all, because she said, 'What does this mean for the future?' and I said, 'Well, I don't know'. I really didn't know.
There was a pattern when I started telling people. Their first reaction was shock, and then their second reaction was how they realised quickly how little they knew about it. I don't know if it's that second reaction that explains why there was no hostility. No one got angry with me, people got upset and confused but no one ever said, 'but you can't be.'
I went down to see my mum and told her.... She handled it so well. I will always be close to my mum but she actually said, 'Well you will always be my daughter just like you will always be my son.' And we wept while we were walking and we got chatting about it and it was really nice. She was really supportive. I didn't think she would do anything different.

Transgender Communities

by Lewis Payne

Transgender people have been a vital part in the struggle for LGBT human rights over the last 40 years. From Sylvia Rivera, the 17-year-old drag queen from the Bronx who led the charge at the Stonewall riots to activist Stephen Whittle, campaigning for law change at the European Court of Human Rights we have continued to make our presence felt and to refuse to be marginalised. In Scotland, a vibrant, visible and diverse transgender community exists and flourishes. This community is at the centre of the LGBT community, political activism, and social activities. Transgender people are teachers, builders, office workers, artists, writers, parents, partners, children and young people. We are in every walk of life, we are of all ages, sexualities, cultures, races and religions. We are as diverse as you can possibly imagine.

The search for identity is most keenly felt amongst those who do not easily fit into society's definitions of male and female. Transgender people have emerged into the public consciousness over the last 40 years, but are not an invention of the late 20th century. Transgender people have existed throughout history as passing women, mollies, shamans, eunuchs, and those imbued with community wisdom and special respect. Historical transgender identities have been interwoven with lesbian and gay people, and often we have claimed the same individual as our historical ancestor [- for example, Doctor James Miranda Barry has been identified both as a lesbian and as a trans man.] Whatever the merits of this, it is undoubtedly true that Doctor Barry, and other people with similar life stories, challenged social norms of both gender and sexuality.

Language and the ability to name ourselves are important elements in the search for visibility, human rights, and recognition. The transgender communities are no different. The term transgender refers to all those who do not fully identify with their birth gender and includes transsexuals, cross dressers, drag kings, drag queens, third gendered, two-spirit people, and many others. What all these identities have in common is that the people who claim them describe themselves as 'other' than simply male or female. For this reason, the term transgender has become a banner under which all who are differently gendered can co-exist.

There is a close connection between those who are intersex (born with ambiguous physical gender due to hormonal, genetic, or physical differences), and those who are transgender (differently gendered due to their perception of their own gender). Many intersex adults have forcibly undergone surgery during childhood and have been incorrectly assigned a gender. Intersex people--like those who definite themselves as transgender--go through a process of transition, allowing them to move out of the gender previously assigned to them and enabling them to live and be fully recognised as a person of the other gender.

Intersex children born today still face a difficult and uncertain future, as decisions may still be made in early childhood that prove to be incorrect in later life. The development of an intersex rights movement is still in its infancy in the UK.

Transgender people's identities are significantly medicalised and pathologised with the requirement for 'diagnosis' and 'treatment'. Transsexuality is still defined as a mental illness, thereby pathologising trans people as 'mad' and the subject of medical intervention. It is worth noting that not so many years ago homosexuality was defined in such terms. Today, we would baulk at such views.

Medical, hormonal, and surgical procedures can enable many transgender people to live more comfortably within society's rigid gender norms. However, for others, to express fully one's gender identity means living 'in the middle', between genders or beyond genders. The development of third gender, androgynous or gender queer identities provide liminal spaces where the edges are blurred between male and female. These spaces are transient and vulnerable, often rendering a transgender person highly visible and subject to external scrutiny, abuse and violence.

We see that the transgender communities consist of many identities, often multiple identities. These identities intersect with the lesbian, gay, bisexual and heterosexual communities as transgender people are themselves people with diverse and varied sexualities.

The beginning of the 21st century has seen Scotland and the rest of the UK take enormous steps towards fully including transgender people within the protection of equal rights legislation. Since 1999, transgender people have had their employment rights protected. In 2005, the Gender Recognition Act finally allowed trans people to obtain a new birth certificate in their preferred gender identity.

Acquiring full legal status and protection under the law is a tangible step towards real equality and liberation for trans communities. Full access to healthcare, not dependent on postcode, discriminatory attitudes or arbitrary medical requirements are still battles to be fought and won.

Transgender people have been at the heart of the liberation of LGBT people and will continue to be so as we move towards a society that does not discriminate or marginalise its members for any reason. The freedom of transgender people to fully express their gender identity brings freedom to us all to live lives that are not constrained by rigid gender norms.