You are not logged in. Signup to contribute or login! Not recieved your activation email? Click here to send it again.

Rob Gibb

Rob Gibb, born 1963


Rob Gibb was born in Scotland in 1963; in this interview he talks about his early life in Scotland, moving to Birmingham. How Birmingham has changed significantly in a ten-year period. He talks about places men met men for sex including cruising areas and saunas and he discusses the rise of the Internet and its effect on gay culture.


Cruising - 80 100
Saunas - 90
Changes to Birmingham - 20 110
Work - 30 50
Relationships - 40 70
Gaydar and the Internet - 120
Homophobic Abuse - 60
Out of the Shadows - 150
Civil Partnerships - 130
About Rob - 10 140
Art - 150
Police reaction to gays - 60

10 Background

Rob set up a photography studio in Scotland; he did mainly commercial work in Edinburgh, did an MA in Edinburgh and fell into teaching in Edinburgh. He taught part time in Scotland. His second partner and he broke up during this time and in 1996 he decided to move South to get away from the ex boyfriend.

20 Cultural Shifts in Birmingham

Rob took a job at the University of Central England as he thought Birmingham was central and he thought the cultural aspects of Birmingham were superior to other cities he had looked at. He has been here 11 years and he likes Birmingham. He says the city has gone through a massive renaissance including the types of people, civic spaces and cultural activities.

"I think there is a cultural shift in terms of what the city sees itself being rather than saying 'we are industrial'. I think over the past five or six years there is a significant difference in that we are not living in the past we are aiming towards what we can do in the future. That's happened in a very short space of time, for example in Glasgow the European Capital of Culture happened in about 2002/03 and it was a point where things changed significantly and it changed to the point where people started to see them self as less retrograde in terms of what had been and started leaning towards the future, what they could be. That's a seminal shift that you can see happening in Birmingham, and I don't just mean in the tearing out of the Bullring and the building brand new materials, you see it in the nature of the people, people took pride in what they looked like, what they did and culturally where they would go, for example you could not go to Raymond Blanc ten years ago it, didn't exist in Birmingham but it does now. You couldn't go to a place like the Ikon and say this is culturally significant whereas it is now. Those kind of fundamental shifts happened, not just in one place, they happened across a large spectrum and that made a large difference."

"If you compare Birmingham to, for example, places like London, you see a kind of slower progress in London that appears to have happened outside the Greater London area where the shift in cultural identity seems to be much, much faster. That's nice to see!"

30 Work

Rob works at BIAD (Birmingham Institute of Art and Design), where he lectures in photography. He says he took the job, as the quality of work was very high.

40 Relationships

Rob says when he first arrived here in 1996 with another partner, they lived together and ended up 'killing' each other. They split up and his ex moved to Luton.

50 Moving to Birmingham

Before 1996, Rob had only previously visited Birmingham twice, once to New Street Station in the eighties and the second time to the job interview. He did not know anyone in the city, the geography, or culture of the city. When he arrived he stayed with people he worked with in West Bromwich, which he described as like "middle England in 1955".

60 Homophobic Abuse

Rob then moved into a house in Ladywood in 1996, which he says was a very interesting area, "The car was only broken into once and the graffiti on the back of the car read 'gay bastards'."

"Birmingham is the only place I've been to that I have experienced homophobic abuse, which is cancelled out by the lifestyle and the people. The police have always intervened and helped"

70 Relationships

Rob Gibb talks about how he engaged with the city differently when he was single compared to when he was with a partner. He had another partner which went OK until his mother died and then they dumped each other and he has been single since.

80 Cruising by the Telecom Tower

Rob talks about cruising by the Telecom Tower in the city centre and how it was more about social networking than sex "I used to go cruising for sex on the canal under the BT tower in the city on the Birmingham and Fazeley canal, along the Farmers Bridge Locks. I found these places through talking to people. There were lots of men who like to have sex with men and I chatted with people there. There was an enormous social aspect to the cruising areas before bars like 'Boots' opened. I met a lot of people there ten years ago and I still talk with them. Cruising was underground and subversive. Public spaces for sex have been culturally stripped of their significance, and this has happened all over the UK."

90 Darlaston Sauna

Rob talks about going to a sauna for the first time, at Darlaston. "It was really quite a complete eye opener as I'd never been to one before. We (in Britain) assume that if you go to a sauna it's disgusting, sleazy, filthy and full of filthy old men. But it wasn't, it was full of normal guys who couldn't or wouldn't engage in public sex for reasons of safety or maybe they were married. There are individuals in the saunas you would never see anywhere else."
Rob says there are different demographics in the different arenas of gay life, for example the saunas, parks and bars. He says the gay bars represent a very small percentage of gay people.

100 Sex clubs in London

Rob goes to sex clubs in London and he always meets a lot of people from Birmingham who travel away for an experience they may not get in Birmingham.

110 Europeanisation of culture in Birmingham

"The Europeanisation of culture (in Birmingham) seems to have been influenced by TV and the internet, and also there are three universities with lots of people coming into it from different cultures, especially in the last three to five years, there is a significant difference. I can go out now and I can guarantee I would bump into someone who has not lived in Birmingham for more than five years, you see Spanish, Italian, French people. Whether that's because of the fact we are a university city and people are coming here to learn things or the fact the internet has opened peoples perceptions as to what's possible now as opposed to ten years ago."

120 Gaydar

Rob Gibb talks about Gaydar and its influence on gay culture 'the Internet essentially, when the kind of Gaydar stuff kicked in about 1997/8, that had an effect on how you meet people. Rather than meeting someone face to face in a bar or a sauna, you could talk to someone in a virtual space and suddenly people begin to make relationships, which are based tenuously on what they think someone is rather than what they are, and that had a huge knock on effect. As suddenly the amount of people you could meet online is significantly different, and the notion of a small insignificant boundary is limited by how far you can travel whether by public transport or your own transport or how long it would take to get from A to B in one night has altered completely. You do find that suddenly people are much more European in their outlook without necessarily having been to Europe, they have suddenly become aware of what is feasible, what is possible."

"I think (the way people used the scene because of the Internet) for a short time, it changed in the late nineties and early 2000s where people were hung up on staying indoors, meeting people (online), creating conversations and that's a different kind of mindset. When you actually meet someone you have to react quickly, you read their facial expressions, their body language; you know what they are talking about you can communicate through eye contact and engage with someone quite quickly but realise that this is quite interesting, as opposed to talking to someone through pushing some buttons and typing some words in. I think there was a point where everyone went "I can meet people, aren't they all fantastic". Then there came a point when people just went "This is all bollocks" and the Internet collapses and people start to go out and meet people again as opposed to virtual people. In the last few years it has started to happen again where people have online relationships with 'ideals' as opposed to real relationships with normal people."

"People who are twenty seven and upwards tend to stay online a little longer as they feel they are too old to go to some of the clubs which are geared towards younger people who are twenty years old."

130 Civil Partnerships

Rob talks about civil partnerships, which he feels could help people form stronger bonds than just living together.

140 Charity Work

Rob says in Edinburgh he has worked for HIV and other gay organisations, but in Birmingham he has only worked very occasionally for or with gay organisations, due to work commitments.

150 Out of The Shadows exhibition

"Out of the shadows was a group exhibition organised in 2006 by David Viney and curated by Rob Gibb, and shown at five separate venues in Birmingham between May and June 2007. Its primary aim was that of drawing together and showcasing emerging and existing artists from the gay community in Birmingham.

The rationale for choosing venues to show work, were as diverse as the works themselves. These were, BBC Birmingham, Birmingham Repertory Theatre, Prowler Stores, Selfridges and ABplus.

The range and diversity of artists submissions was very broad indeed, and the selection process, although time consuming was ultimately rewarding. The emerging themes form the broad generic umbrella that was 'Out of the shadows', were mainly about the 'human condition', 'absence & loss' and notions of universal truths that most of humanity, irrespective of gender, race, and sexuality seemed to want to understand.

The event was promoted by ABplus and without their support, endeavour and encouragement it is unlikely that this event would have been possible. The organisers decided that the ideal time to stage such an event was over a five week period, culminating at Birmingham Pride. Indeed the 'opening' event was designed to coincide with Pride weekend, and was overwhelmingly successful."