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

Trisha McCabe

Trisha McCabe, born 1956

Summary

Trisha’s decision to identify as a lesbian came about through her political convictions that ‘men were the enemy’, the thesis of the Revolutionary Feminists in the late 70s/early 80s. She offers a perspective on the politics of the time and the splits within the Women’s Liberation Movement between various factions, triggered at the Birmingham Conference of 1978 and continuing in the context of the Women’s Liberation Day Conferences. She talks about lesbian mothers, boy children, and a lot about working with girls and a media disaster advertising a fund-raiser for a young lesbian group. She refers to various conferences, events and venues and reflects on changes in feminism politics within the context of Thatcherism and beyond.

Contents

Getting involved with the women’s movement 10
Pressure to adopt lesbian feminist dress code 20
Organising the Women’s Liberation Conference in April 1978 30 35
Squatting the refuge 40
Toe in the water of lesbian sex 50
Eureka moment at the Rev Rad conference – September 1979 60
Friends concerned about becoming a political lesbian – 1979 65 66
Coming out through the women’s movement 70
Being a political lesbian 80
Setting up the Birmingham Revolutionary Radical Feminist Group November 1979 90
Under attack as a revolutionary feminist 100 105
Patriarchy Study Group – Birmingham different from Leeds and London 110 115
Fissures at the Birmingham WLM Day Conferences 120
Jewish women 130
Other Women’s groups 140
Combating pornography and violence 150
Mixing at the Old Mo 160
Hierarchy of ‘right-on-ness’ 170
Socialist feminists v revolutionary feminists 180
Birmingham Women’s Newsletter  180
Star Club Socials  190
Uptight about the past  210
Thatcherism negated need for extremism in feminism  220
Impact of HIV / AIDS on lesbians  230
Post-modern Queer Politics  240
Current personal politics  250
Lesbian Mothers  260
Changing status of lesbian mothers  270
Lesbians choosing to have children 280
Withdrawing from the lesbian social scene  290
Lack of support for same-sex relationship violence  300
The National Lesbian Conference London 1981  310
Working with girls  320
Keeping the lads out of girls only space  325
National Association of Youth Clubs  330
Getting into training around single sex work  340
The problem of lesbian youth workers  350
‘Lesbian Film Show banned’  360


10 Getting involved with the women’s movement
Trisha came to Birmingham in 1974 aged 18 to go to University. She was engaged – it hadn’t occurred to her that she was gay. She stayed on after graduating to do some research in 1977 and tried to get involved with the Women’s Movement, going to the Women’s Centre on Brighton Road. She found it difficult to relate to those women, most of whom had kids and were involved in the Women’s Liberation Playgroup. She subsequently got to know other feminists through other activities. She was still living with a man at this time.

20 Pressure to adopt lesbian feminist dress code
“I used to go to women’s discos, and remember taking my frock off and putting on trousers and then thinking ‘What am I doing, I’m censoring myself’ and putting the frock back on.”

30 Organising the Women’s Liberation Conference in April 1978
Trisha got involved in organising the 1978 national Women’s Liberation Conference, held in Birmingham, through that. This was a significant point.
At the time, she was living in a house with five men, one of whom she was having a relationship with. “We opened the house to women to stay during the conference, and had a load of Australian cowgirls staying, all of whom were lesbians, they didn’t speak to the men, just took cups of tea off them, complained that there wasn’t enough room, but as I was sleeping under the kitchen sink I wasn’t that impressed!”

31Trisha’s main roles were with the practicalities of organising the conference rather than the content. “I was looking after lost children at that point having spent all my time Gestetnering endless reams of paper, the only one I wouldn’t print was one from the Revolutionary Feminists, slagging off a transsexual who was at the Conference, I made them print their own. The other things I remember are cooking huge amounts of brown rice, and unblocking toilets - the school could probably never been used again!”

32 “During the plenary there I was with a microphone, it made you a target because the plenary was thousands of people in a room and women just getting hysterical, it was impossible to manage. The Leeds Revolutionary Feminists, like Sandra McNeill and Sheila Jeffreys were there; all I remember was having the Bradford Dykes on one side saying ‘give us that microphone you middle class wanker’ and the Leeds Working Class Women on the other side saying ‘would you like to join us’ and thinking, ‘ I don’t know where I am here!’ (laughter). It was unbelievable!”

35 “It was the end really, because it had become too big to manage. The splits were obviously already there in a big sense because it was clear that there were real tensions between different groups of women, but in Birmingham, on the one hand we were very proud of ourselves because we managed not to split too badly, but on the other hand, there were tensions particularly around race and sexuality and to some extent around class”.

40 Squatting the refuge (2nd June 1979) see Women’s paper article PDF)
Trisha went to a meeting about setting up a women’s refuge, and “Literally at 6.00 a.m. the next morning, I was breaking into a beautiful, Chamberlain designed house on Priory Road (now the Priory Hospital) which we squatted to try to get a refuge, as there wasn’t one in the city at that time. My house had the main phone line, when women would ring and say ‘I need to get out, come and rescue me’, I’d be the one who’d ring the mini-bus, and go and get the woman and kids and drive them to the refuge. I was spending a lot of my time around women, keeping the squat going and getting involved with Women’s Aid”.

50 Toe in the water of lesbian sex
“Soon afterwards I had my first relationship with a woman, I’d been quite keen to find out what lesbianism was like, and had started sleeping with someone but it was more out of curiosity, I figured if you sat up and talked with someone all night you went to bed with them, so I thought, right, let’s do it! But it wasn’t one of the big passions of my life by any means, but I’d put my toe in the water and thought this is all right.”

60 Eureka moment at the Rev Rad conference – September 1979
Shortly afterwards, Trisha went to the Revolutionary Feminist Conference in Leeds in September 1979. “Ideas have always been more attractive, will grab and pull me in a particular direction. It crystallised it for me, it was like a kind of ‘eureka’ moment, an absolute guillotine that came down, and that was it! I came back saying ‘I’m a political lesbian’. Which was a lot easier than trauma about ‘Should I or shouldn’t I?’, it made it very easy. I’d had a relationship with a woman but was still in theory in a relationship with a bloke, so I came back from Leeds and I immediately ended the relationship. It wasn’t big news to him, I just came back and said ‘Sorry, I’m a lesbian, no hard feelings’.

65 Friends concerned about becoming a political lesbian - 1979
Everyone I knew thought it was highly dodgy, they were concerned that I’d got some sort of missionary zeal about being a lesbian, but I never changed my mind and 25 years later, I’m still here, a lesbian”.

66 “But a couple of things happened that really disturbed me. I shared a house with a bisexual friend and was very friendly with and babysat endlessly for her small daughters. She was appalled at where I’d ended up politically and was quite hostile and there was a real shift in her attitude to my being around her kids. I’d lived with them since they were little and we’d all have a bath together, if I was babysitting it was a good way of calming them down and we’d all pile in and out – I remember her getting quite anxious about me having a bath with them when before there’d never been an issue. I interpreted the problem to be because I had decided to be a political lesbian. She wasn’t uptight about relationships between women, but a lot of those women were still married to their blokes. I used to call them the ‘wife-swappers’ because they all had affairs with each other. Only one woman from that group was a lesbian and I used to feel really sorry for her, none of them were going to commit to anything other than their relationships with men. Those women really struggled with me being a political lesbian and became much less friendly to me, I was quite surprised”.

70 Coming out through the women’s movement
“There was a group of us who came out through the women’s movement, and that was a different experience from that of a lot of other lesbians, who struggled to come out in other environments, it was relatively easy. I was lucky in that respect”.

80 Being a political lesbian
“As a label it was simply saying that sleeping with men was sleeping with the enemy and the phrase didn’t necessarily mean you had relationships with women or you were massively attracted to women. It could but didn’t necessarily, but it did mean that you very definitely didn’t sleep with men, and you were woman-identified. I noticed then, as now, that that’s not very helpful. It was odd in that it defined your sexuality in terms of what you weren’t, like straight women saying I love gay men because they’re non-threatening, defining homosexuality in relation to heterosexuality, not on its own terms”.

90 Setting up the Birmingham Revolutionary Radical Feminist Group November 1979
After the Revolutionary Feminist Conference in Leeds, Trisha and Stacey and a couple of others set up a revolutionary feminist group which lasted around five years. “Almost everyone in it was a lesbian, there was one woman I remember who wasn’t and one who had relationships with men although she identified as a lesbian, and I remember there were women who identified with the politics, but had relationships with men, they were welcome but we weren’t going to take responsibility if they felt uncomfortable about what we said about women’s relationships with men”.

100 Under attack as a revolutionary feminist
“At times we felt quite attacked; for example one time I was flogging tickets for a lesbian disco and went up to a mixed group of women and said, ‘I’ve got tickets for a lesbian disco, it’s for lesbians only but does anyone want to buy a ticket?’ I was offering it even though I knew some women weren’t lesbian, but from their point of view they interpreted this as me deliberately having a go at these women for being heterosexual”.

105 “We didn’t understand why other women were so uptight, when you’re in the eye of the storm you can’t tell how big it is. We were involved in Women Against Violence Against Women (WAVAW) but could take the moral high ground, because we weren’t involved in those messy relationships with the perpetrators”.

110 Patriarchy Study Group – Birmingham different from Leeds and London
A Patriarchy Study Group was set up, which met for the weekend in Leeds, London or Birmingham. “They were always vegetarian except in Birmingham when Stacey would cook and we’d have chops or a chicken. I remember her sticking her hand up a chicken and dancing around at Al Garthwaite’s house (in Leeds) which went down incredibly well!”(said with irony). It was about saying ‘we’re different’; there was quite a strong feeling that we were different from the Leeds and London versions, that we were up for the ideas and interested in being involved, but we thought it was silly not to talk to male taxi drivers to tell them where we wanted to go, we saw ourselves as a bit more sensible really but no less committed to the ideas”.

115 The Patriarchy Study group wrote ‘Love your enemy’ and other articles by Sandra McNeill and others. “As a set of ideas revolutionary feminism was very interesting and it produced an analysis of heterosexism that I don’t think has been improved on. We just got a bit up our own arses, it was all a bit narrow, there wasn’t really any point in defining ourselves in opposition to other women but it seemed like a good idea at the time”.

120 Fissures at the Birmingham WLM Day Conferences
Birmingham Women’s Liberation Day Conferences were held regularly at Tindal Street School, Balsall Heath. “There was a lot of paranoia at the time, but it was interesting. I remember the one conference where we were saying that the local Women’s Liberation Movement, is anti-lesbian. It wasn’t just the revolutionary feminists who were saying this conference is anti-lesbian and we’re not going to do it again; the differences outweigh the commonalities, especially around race and sexuality. It fissured around that one issue. It’s difficult to distinguish between Revolutionary Feminism stuff and the sexuality stuff, because they got very mixed up together. But I thought that maybe it didn’t matter if it fell apart around race and sexuality, because just being a woman wasn’t enough of a common bond to hold us all together. I wasn’t over anxious about it but it was an upsetting time. It was naďve to think it could stretch to accommodate the degree of difference. There were a lot of women, lesbian and heterosexual, who found the politics and tensions too much. It did get quite tense and split, but we always prided ourselves at being able to get on regardless. From our point of view as revolutionary feminists we thought we were much nicer and more open and less uptight than the Leeds and London lot. In Birmingham we just tried to get on with it. For other women, it often felt very extreme. It was a strange place to be. There are a lot of people around who still have very strong feelings about what happened, and very different memories. It amazes me how strongly women still feel about it.”

130 Jewish women
Trisha recalled “There were some difficult issues between Jewish and Arab women in the women’s liberation movement, and in Birmingham, the Jewish women’s group and Palestinian women’s groups had dialogue, which just wasn’t happening elsewhere”.

140 Other Women’s groups
Trisha recalls “I was involved with the Women’s Self Defence group, through Women’s Aid, and we used to go round and teach self-defence to women, it was good fun. Outwrite, Insist, and Women and Words, were all writing groups. There was the Socialist Feminist group. There wasn’t really a radical feminist group, the more radical ones used to hang out with us. There was Women Oppose the Nuclear Threat (WONT) and the Women against Racism and Fascism group which some of us were also involved in, more straight women and socialist feminists in that one.

150 Combating pornography and violence
“We (the revolutionary feminist group) were involved with WAVAW (Women Against Violence Against Women) and the anti-pornography stuff. We were always very active in the marches against violence against women; we marched to and invaded a couple of porn shops, and got locked in, and I remember turning round and seeing through the window, Stacey with a great big brick in her hand shouting ‘Get out the way’ and she just chucked it at the window and smashed it and we all got out. It all went a bit wrong, that one, we’d done a press release which had been Gestetnered on the machine at my house, and the stupid woman who was in charge had already delivered the press release, and of course everything had gone wrong and we’d done criminal damage, so I had to race home and get rid of the Gestetner machine in case anyone caught me! That wasn’t just us." (the Revolutionary Feminists).

160 Mixing at the Old Mo
“We (the feminists) had a lot of social contact with other lesbians, mainly around the Old Moseley Arms pool room. The ‘straight dykes’ (meaning non-feminists who’d come through the gay scene rather than the women’s liberation movement), thought we were really odd, we got on, and got to know each other, they always took the piss out of us, but it wasn’t a big scene so you’d keep bumping into the same women, so you had to get on at one level”.

170 Hierarchy of ‘right-on-ness’
“The main place we all came together and had our big rows, where things went a bit hairy, were at the Women’s Liberation Day Conferences. The heterosexual women in particular felt criticised for being with men and they thought that we thought that we were much better feminists than them and much more right on. Meanwhile other lesbians, who didn’t agree with us politically, also felt that we looked down on them and thought that we thought they weren’t as good as us. I can see why that happened, we didn’t have any contradictions in our lives or any guilt, we didn’t have to explain anything. It was like, years before (around 1977) I went to the old Gay Community Centre, and there was a discussion about setting up a Rape Crisis Centre, and one woman said, ‘If you have relationships with men that you value, don’t get involved in this’ which decided me not to get involved at the time, and I think later on it was just easier, you didn’t have those contradictions. I know how pointless it is to get into that competition about who is more right on. It just poisoned things, and although I don’t think we thought that way it was very much a feature of how things were at the time. You couldn’t get more bloody right on than we were, you’re in an easy position, the nastiness and falling out, the personal pain, it’s not worth that, we were all very good at doing more damage to ourselves than the wider world could do, it’s that realisation, and recognising that you don’t need to have that much in common, what you need to have is that shared commonality that isn’t just about sexuality”.

180 Socialist feminists v revolutionary feminists
“We were fairly dismissive of socialist feminism but only politically, not personally, we all knew socialist feminists and I thought got on reasonably well with them, so it was a strange dichotomy. Jackie Atkins was a communist, socialist feminist lesbian, she’d argued for years in the Communist Party about women’s liberation and sexuality, but she was one of the few socialist feminists who had good contacts and friendships with the women who were revolutionary feminists. She wasn’t afraid to speak out; there’s an interesting letter by Jackie in the Birmingham Women’s Newsletter - ‘I feel a concerted attack by a vocal minority will occur, there are sisters who don’t want to co-exist with us, who think they are the real guardians of feminist politics, who judge other women’s feminism, who don’t create space for others, and yet, are a small minority’. It’s a good feel of how it must have been for the point of view of other women and we did get a certain amount of flack. We were fairly cocooned in our little group, which was broader than people would expect, it wasn’t just a group of committed revolutionary feminists, and we were committed to developing a different view of feminism and lesbianism”.

190 Star Club Socials
“Jackie was involved in organising the women’s socials at the Star Club (Communist Party Club – there were always incidents like, someone thinking they’d spotted a transsexual in the toilets”.

200 Boy children
“There were some mad things about boy children, and I’m sure that mothers of boy children would say that there was a lot of hostility in Birmingham as well. It was bloody irritating to have older boys who would just dominate at things like the conference women’s disco, so there was a cut-off point, but I don’t think we were as nasty as people made out. I used to get involved in organising girls’ stuff at conferences, so that the girls had a chance to do interesting and exciting things, and not get stuck with looking after the little kids in the crčche”.

210 Uptight about the past
“I can see it was difficult for others, leaving aside the fact that Stacey on her own managed to attract very strong emotions; about ten years ago, a long time since we’d been involved in all that, we had a party at our house, and Stacey and some other lesbians came, and they were so uptight about being in the same space, they found it difficult enough to relate to me, I’d ended up with some sort of reputation for being purist and difficult, and having a high opinion of myself, and not wanting to co-exist with others, and judging other people and all that. I know that was how it was seen but it’s not how it felt to us at all. There are some women I know well now, who had a definite view of me in the past who discovered that that wasn’t really the case, I’m not going to jump down their throats and give them a hard time, but I think that there are others, who I’ve not got to know, who still hold that view, it’s continued over time, I was taken by surprise when I realised how uptight some women still were about some things that happened, though in my world they didn’t even happen”.

220 Thatcherism negated need for extremism in feminism
“Since the 1980s the whole political landscape has shifted so massively, it’s broadened out a lot, the changes are quite positive, it’s a kind of post-modernism thing. We (revolutionary feminists) were on the extremes, and I thought the extreme plays quite a role in being innovative and stimulating different ways of thinking, it’s where you get new and different ideas, a lot of them are crap but one or two filter through into the mainstream. Thatcherism changed everything, you could see the left fall apart, you could see the impact of it on race, equality politics, women’s politics, and being revolutionary feminist became irrelevant when everything else was so far right. When you shift politics to the right that far, the extreme becomes much less relevant and it became clearer that building alliances was more important, and the personal damage we did to each other, the slit your throat as soon as look at you kind of stuff, was just incredible”. I found it astonishing to find myself saying ‘We’re defending liberal values’, when liberal was a dirty word to me, and now here I am saying, ‘We’ve got to stop liberal being a dirty word from the right, when it used to be a dirty word from the left’.”

230 Impact of HIV / AIDS on lesbians
“In terms of the analysis of gay men as the ultimate power, men not needing women, the HIV / AIDS crisis completely exposed the fact that gay men were not in a powerful position at all. The thing that always struck me was that if HIV had been transmitted through lesbian sex, I and most of the people I know would be dead by now, because we were exactly at that time when everybody slept with everybody else. (I remember catching scabies once, it was all round Leicester and Birmingham, and you knew who’d been sleeping with who by who’d got scabies, it was just awful). You can’t maintain the moral high ground when you’re thinking actually you lot are suffering what we could have been suffering if it had just been slightly different circumstances, so HIV / AIDS changed that political analysis radically”.

240 Post-modern Queer Politics
“What I see now is much more of a continuum, for younger gay people, and some who aren’t, the whole thing of ‘Queer Politics’, saying ‘As long as you’re not normal you’re all right’ – I quite like that, so the basis on which you find something in common with people changed quite radically. Events just shifted, not particularly to do with getting older or mellowing, it’s very much about the way that the world has changed and needing to respond to that. My social circle is primarily still other lesbians but that’s not a political choice now, but a cultural phenomenon. The analysis of heterosexism (we don’t tend to use the term any more but for a while we did) – the understanding of diversity and equality that includes sexuality, in my mind still owes quite a lot to revolutionary feminism, in terms of an analysis of heterosexuality as a system rather than just a personal choice. Consequently there is a lot less activism, it feels very post modern, all about different bits going on and I could equally be as involved around racism and immigration as I could be around sexuality”.

250 Current personal politics
“I’m not really involved in any politics now, I support Stonewall and Oxfam but I’m not involved in campaigning. I’ve always been issues based never party politics. A friend is working round people trafficking especially women for the sex industry, clearly it’s a major issue. I’d be more likely to get involved through Amnesty International rather than the more radical local campaign based version. I spent a lot of time thinking my work was my politics but I can’t say that now, it does leave a bit of a gap!”

260 Lesbian Mothers
Trisha got together with Jackie (Atkins) around 1988/9; they bought their first house together in 1990. “The first thing she said to me was ‘You’re not going to have kids are you, or I’m off!?’ Jackie had kids who had by then grown up, but didn’t particularly identify as a lesbian mother, though she’s quite an active grandmother. Some of the women in our group had kids but I don’t remember it being an issue, whereas there were some women whose identity was all about being lesbian mothers, and they often felt they didn’t get support, especially around the boy children, which caused them immense trouble. The Women’s Liberation Movement in Birmingham was initially kicked off by the Women’s Liberation Playgroup, so the focus was on motherhood and having kids, but we weren’t terribly interested in all that, and it was well before lesbians started having kids on a significant level so we saw it as a hangover from your previous life.”

270 Changing status of lesbian mothers
“Now it’s more of a choice, about having kids or not having kids. It’s turned around a lot, at one time, being a lesbian mother meant you were in the minority in the movement and now it seems quite normal for lesbians to have kids. It’s almost that not having kids means you’re on the outside of it, yet most of the lesbians I know don’t have children, but some of the ones that do don’t half make a song and dance about it! I used to be a child worker at Women’s Aid and be involved with various youth work and childcare so I had a lot to do with children and young people but not biologically which always seemed fine”.

280 Lesbians choosing to have children
“There were very few lesbians who became pregnant through donor insemination) in the 70s and 80s but later on it became quite a feature, I know quite a few that’s had kids. A friend has a story of cycling around with a test tube in her armpit. It doesn’t matter whether it’s lesbian or heterosexual mothers, I can’t be doing with some of the sense that they have a hard time. Several women I work with say that the big divide is not women and men any more, its men and women who have kids, and men and women who haven’t, and that may well be true, because those women can’t work the same patterns as we can. I think ’You decided to get normal, go and get on with it’ – not very sympathetic!”

290 Withdrawing from the lesbian social scene
Trisha described how her involvement in a disastrous relationship with a woman who turned out to have extremely serious mental health problems, had impacted badly on her social networks. Although she eventually split up with her and got involved with Jackie, she lost a number of friends because of it. “By then I was almost untouchable, what with my previous (political) history then this, if I went out, people would have a go at me, try to trip me up, or threaten me, it was very unpleasant for quite a long time, and that’s when I really withdrew.” Recently one woman came up to me in Homebase, and said ‘Can I shake your hand, I’m really sorry, can we forget it?’, which I thought was fair enough, but some people I thought were good friends, could never get over it.”

300 Lack of support for same-sex relationship violence
“I tend to try to hang out with people who aren’t mentally ill, these days! Me and my friend, the first thing we say if anyone gets involved with anyone else is, ‘Are they sane?’ I wonder what it is about the lesbian community, I think there are a lot of damaged women around, and there aren’t the same systems for support, you’re more on your own, certainly at that time there was no awareness or understanding about violence in same sex relationships. I remember one woman came to Women’s Aid, her girlfriend had been shimmying up the drainpipe and in through the window to attack her at night, and we said ‘Go away’, we’re not interested, this is about male violence’. That’s astonishing to me now, we just didn’t understand the difference between institutionalised oppression and individual – when you’re experiencing it, it doesn’t matter that it’s not institutionalised, you feel like shit, but because it doesn’t have the same societal impact doesn’t mean it didn’t happen and I don’t think we realised that, because our view of women was so political it was somewhat idealised”.

310 The National Lesbian Conference London 1981
The first national lesbian conference was in London, in 1981 and I don’t recall there being a second one. The women I went with were a real cross over between the revolutionary feminist group and the Women and Manual Trades group, some weren’t part of our group but hung out with us because they were plumbers or carpenters and there was a link. I can’t remember anything about the conference itself, what it was for, the content, or what came out of it, but I do remember the excitement and the postcard which I thought was very cool. It had a black background with three lesbian symbols against a flash of fire. I sent one to my mother, her response was ‘What will the postman think?’, and my father was going ‘I don’t think you should worry about the postman’. I do remember there was a lot of aggro around it and the reaction of the police. For some reason the police were out a lot and a lot of different women got arrested and there was a real carry on. We must have been having some sort of protest, I remember running round on the streets, piling in when a copper tried to get someone out of the crowd, and making sure they didn’t. One woman was put in a police car, and these other women went round and opened the other door and she just got out again, but ended up being arrested again and up in court the following morning, so we did a lot of hanging around in the police station. Another friend had this huge argument with the policeman and I dragged her off and nearly suffocated her, just holding her so she couldn’t fight and get arrested. A couple of friends of mine got convictions, but I can’t remember what they were doing".

320 Working with girls
“When I was doing my research at University, I was interested in young women and the transition of school to work. The professor at the Centre for Contemporary Studies was famous for this, but his work was all about lads, so I did this research on girls. Eventually through some mad classist thing, I thought, writing about these young women isn’t the point, do the work, so I got involved with one of the earliest girls only nights, nationally, at a youth club in Acocks Green. I and my supervisor for my thesis, before I decided I wouldn’t bother writing it, established this girls’ night, and it was entirely staffed by lesbians, we didn’t say so though a few people might have guessed. Every Friday night before we went to the Old Mo, half a dozen of us, went down. It was as simple as saying ‘Do you know how to play pool?’ and they’d say ‘We’ve watched loads of times’ and that summed it up. Gradually we built a lot of support for the Girls’ Night, some of the women who worked on the other nights came along and they liked it. It was really interesting doing that area of work and it got well established as a regular night”.

325Keeping the lads out of girls only space
“Women only space was absolutely unheard of, the lads would do everything to get in to the Girls night at the youth club, they set fire to the doors, they used to break in, my self defence came in very handy, I was very good at kicking behind me and stopping very close to their prick, so I would back-kick but not actually get them in the groin, but as close as I could, it’s hard to believe, we had to physically defend ourselves and the girls, all the time. It was just standard, there were kids running along the roof, they were chucking stuff in the windows, they would wait for you when you left, Chris’s mini, they used to push round the back, disconnect the battery, let the tyres down, we thought it was normal in that it was a very radical new idea. One time this young man came, he’d not only dressed up in drag but he’d shaved his legs! I thought that just went beyond anything so I played along and let him in and pretended that I thought he was a girl, took him into the office, and we had a chat and just laughed about it. The Vice-Principal of Adult Education had come along that night, saw this young man in drag and decided there was a real problem with him psychologically, and he would have to submit a report on him – he just wanted to get into the girls night! The lads used to run along the pitched roof, and this lad used to run along the very top of it, so he was called ‘Squirrel’ and this Vice-Principal guy wrote a letter to ‘Mr and Mrs Squirrel’! Eventually we got to know these lads, and they said, ‘Will you run a boys night for us?’ Eventually a couple of the young black guys used to ask us to walk them to the bus stop, because they were frightened of being picked up by the police, I’d not experienced that kind of thing round race before”.

330 National Association of Youth Clubs
“There was a National Association of Youth Clubs Girls’ Work Officer called Val, based in Leicester and there was this whole network of Girls’ Workers, a huge proportion of which were lesbians. I got to know Val through this, then got involved with her. She managed to get funding for a magazine called ‘Working with Girls’, and I got the job of editor. It was hilarious, this was in the days of ‘Letraset’, you literally type set it letter by letter, not like now, I had no idea how to do layout, cut the bits out, and paste them literally, with tweezers and scissors and glue. I remember sitting under the table crying my eyes out, I didn’t know what to do, but we figured it out. When I got the job I ended the relationship with Val".

340 Getting into training around single sex work
Pratiba Palmer (now a film-maker) was then a youth worker, and I remember being denounced by her in a lesbian youth workers’ forum, for some transgression I’d committed in terms of race, I’d doubtless stumbled over a word or something. It was when I was doing youth work that I first did racism awareness and people were setting you up, and jumping down your throat, it was very bad training practice. That’s how I got involved in training, I’d been doing the girls’ work and I was then asked to go along and do some training around single sex work with young women, it was about sexism and understanding women’s oppression and I didn’t have a clue what I was doing, it was a very sensitive subject, people got upset. We didn’t know how to handle that degree of emotion, we didn’t know what we were doing, there was a whole knowledge and skills base and we thought because we knew the subject, we could do it”.

350 The problem of lesbian youth workers…
“The Chair of the London Union of Youth Clubs who later became Vice Chair of the National Association of Youth Clubs was a really nice woman and had a very healthy attitude - she was straight but her mother had been a lesbian and had gone out with Vita Sackville-West! I got to know her and went to see her at her country house estate near Melton Mowbray (Prince Charles used to ride there) and it turned out I was knocking at the gate house, the house was three quarters of a mile up the path. I was at the London Union of Youth Clubs Management Committee and someone round the table raised ‘The problem of lesbians in the youth service’, and she said, ‘Yes I agree, it’s a big problem, why aren’t there more of them….?’ I wanted to die, I was so happy, and the guy who’d asked the question was just floored completely. There was a big issue, probably a lot of other people thought it was really shocking, all these lesbians doing single sex work with young women, we were quite naďve. We were doing it for political reasons, not sexual, but when you think about it now…".

360 ‘Lesbian Film Show banned’
While I was working for the National Association of Youth Clubs editing ‘Working with Girls’, Val had agreed I could have some time to set up and support a Young Lesbians Group in Birmingham, as there was a gay youth group but no girls went to it. For reasons that escape me other than total stupidity, we thought it would be a good idea to have a fund-raising event for the Young Lesbians Group, showing a couple of films by young lesbians, for young women, about sexuality, with really provocative titles, and invite lots of girls groups to come. So I did the copying and sent the invites out to all the Girls’ Groups through the National Association of Youth Clubs, not thinking twice about it. One of the Girls’ Night workers somewhere sent it to the press, because she was so appalled that we were trying to raise money for a young lesbian group, and it was on the front page of the Birmingham Evening Mail, on a Saturday, and the headline was ‘Lesbian Film Show banned’ and it was about the Lesbian Group and the National Association of Youth Clubs. I had to hide, disguised, from the press and the show had to be cancelled. It hadn’t occurred to me that it would be a problem so it was quite dramatic!!!!"