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Mary Dunne



Mary Dunne b. 1955



Summary, based on Midlands Zone article, pending completion of full transcript

Of Irish background, at grammar school, Mary Dunne, threw herself into sports as a way of legitimising her “difference” from other girls as she was fully aware of, though silent about, her sexuality then. Her first relationship was with a woman at University in the early seventies, which finished in 1975. At that time she was not out, knew of few gay people, and watched London Pride from the sidelines. She then spent the rest of the 1970s in a relationship with a woman who was not out and quite against being gay. She eventually went off with a bloke, which broke Mary’s heart.

 Working as a teacher in a school in Kings Norton in South Birmingham in the 70s/80s, she found some staff quite homophobic. She felt friends in her department had guessed her sexuality but still asked silly questions about boyfriends. She became seriously depressed following the breakdown of her relationship with this woman and this led to her coming out to her colleagues, who were shocked.

 This was a turning point for how she saw herself as gay woman. Realising she needed to meet more women, she joined a mixed straight/lesbian women’s writing group, which met in Tindal Street and subsequently led to the formation of Tindal Press. She also mixed on the fringes of the womens’ movement, which at the time was experiencing friction between socialist feminists and lesbian separatists. Mary felt she was a ‘real’ lesbian, not one making a political choice.

 Mary had continued to play for a netball team since her school days although rarely met any gay women through this. She met and got to know other sports women, many of them gay but mainly hockey players, through a flatmate. These lesbians were fairly obviously dykey and went drinking and socialising in town after matches, and were very different to the political, academic set that she knew, who tended to socialise at each other’s houses over dinner parties.

 During the eighties Mary visited various pubs and clubs in Birmingham including The Matador, where the old Bull Ring market was, which was quite a good gay venue, with a women’s disco every Friday which attracted a broad spectrum of women. She, and quite a lot of the sporty dykey women also went to the Jester. In contrast the Star Club, at the back end of Thorpe St., was a socialist/communist women’s club, but also attracted quite a broad crowd. The more middle class lesbians, the lipstick lesbians, the golfers, and skiers gravitated to the Grosvenor on the Hagley Road. Mary never went though some of her hockey player friends did. The Jug, round the back of Marks and Spencers, offering drag, strippers and cabaret, attracted women because of the after hours drinking. Mary and her friends occasionally went for weekends in Brighton and London and described this as “like going on holiday to gay land”. 

 During this period in the eighties Mary, as a teacher, was still paranoid about being found out by pupils, and said “You didn’t need Clause 28 to be silenced!” However she was spotted coming out of the Jester by some kids and it all blew up. The deputy head teacher dealt with them but she still had to deal with graffiti in the toilets and mutterings in the corridor. During the late nineties, working in a school where staff were much more supportive of her sexuality, she felt much more able to support gay and lesbian pupils than she had when she bumped into a gay pupil in the Matador in the eighties and reacted with terror that she would be “exposed”.  Currently working in a university context, Mary is completely “out”.