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‘Belinda’, born 1947


‘Belinda’ is a 60 year old American bisexual musician, who was a political lesbian at the height of the women’s liberation movement in the 80s. She talks about being a co-foster parent, about the politics of the seventies and eighties, being involved in women’s music and a performer in a number of different guises including The Women’s Swing Band, The Cuckoo’s Nest - a ceilidh band and Rainbow Voices.


Early attraction 10
Coming out through feminism 20
Becoming bisexual 20
Women’s Liberation Conference 1978 30
Women’s Liberation Movement 30
Revolutionary Feminists 30
Wages for Housework 30
Boy children 40
Co-parenting 40 60
Lesbian mother 60
Fostering 60
Peace Centre 50
Gay News 51
Homophobic abuse 50
SCUM manifesto 52
‘Coming to Power’ 52
Women’s Music Scene 70 75 80
Women’s Music Day 70
Strumpet 70
Women’s Swing Band 75 80
Greenham Common 80
The Cuckoo’s Nest 90 100
Birmingham City Council Women’s Unit 90
International Women’s Day 90
Women in Ireland 90
Boot Women 100
Henrietta’s Out 110
Deaf Women’s group 120
The Fox 120
Bad Girls Disco 120
The Matador 130 140
Switchboard discos 130
Police 140
Rainbow Voices 150

10 Early attraction to girls
Born in 1947, an American, she spent her early teens in Germany in the sixties because of her father’s work. Belinda explained how she was attracted to girls – “I had ‘close emotional friendships’ that caused no trouble apart from when I bought a very expensive birthday present for a girl I was attracted to, and the girl’s mother was suspicious of the relationship and tried to stop it”.

20 Lesbian feminist becoming bisexual
Having moved to London at 14, Belinda started dating men and didn’t act on any lesbian feelings until 1977 when she was 17 and “whole gangs of us were becoming lesbians because of the Women’s Movement”. However her primary relationships since 1990 have been with men, and she would now describe herself as bisexual, although she says “I refuse to put a definition on myself. People have to like me the way I am.”

30 Women’s Liberation Conference 1978
“There was beginning to be a feeling that the Women’s Liberation Movement was on a downward slope and everyone metaphorically threw things at each other at the National Women’s Conference in Birmingham in 1978 which was the last national conference. Revolutionary feminists versus socialist feminists versus Wages For Housework versus one or two other groups.”

40 Boy children
In 1980, Belinda moved to Birmingham because she had started a relationship with a woman from Birmingham but was living in a radical feminist household where she found herself “more and more alienated in that setting because I was involved with a woman with a boy child and that started to make life very difficult. The woman I was involved with was also living in a communal household with a heterosexual woman with two boy children and when I was in Birmingham I was a participant in all the parenting so I left London and came to Birmingham.”

50 The Peace Centre, a gay gathering place
Belinda was employed at the Peace Centre near Moor Street, next to Reddington’s Rare Records, from 1981 until 1985 when it closed. The core of its clientele were anarchists, anti-nuclear activists and gay people. “At the time there weren’t many ‘gay gathering places’ and the ones there were tended to be short-lived or without a fixed venue so the Peace Centre provided a focal point. The gay boys from a teenage group would come on Saturday afternoon to do each other’s hair”. A small group of fascists came to harass people at the Peace Centre because they were left wing and because they knew there were gay people there. “They came in once and threw paint over a woman who was behind the stall and then they used to write things in the underpass. One of my treasured memories is of one of the gay men who was rather tall, the partner of the man who ran the place, was sitting behind the counter and these three young lads came in shouting something hugely imaginative like … you know… communist faggot… and this man then quietly got up and rose to his full height of six foot five and you never saw anybody run out of the door so fast – that’s all he had to do!”

51 Gay News on sale at Peace Centre - 1981
“The Peace Centre was an intellectual centre; we sold gay and lesbian books at a time when these were difficult to buy. We sold ‘Gay News’ when the only other place that sold it was Leesons, a local newsagents, noone was gay but they’d taken the decision on civil libertarian grounds to sell it; Smiths weren’t selling it.”

52 Controversy over selling the SCUM Manifesto
“There was a controversy over whether to sell copies of Coming to Power by Samois, published in 1983. It was produced by the Californian coalition of sado-masochist lesbians. At the same time there was a controversy over whether we were going to sell the book by Valerie Solanis, the woman who shot Andy Warhol, the SCUM manifesto (Society for Cutting Up Men) (published in 1968). In the end, it was decided that we would sell the SCUM Manifesto because it was specifically political, not to sell the Samois book Coming to Power, because it could be misunderstood as titillation and we could get men coming in there and buying it for all the wrong reasons, but to keep it under the counter if people actually wanted it which people did. I remember having a huge argument about this and I accepted the compromise. We had another prominent Birmingham lesbian working there as well and she came up with it. We also sold a lot of obscure lesbian classics, not the Well of Loneliness, which was felt to be a bit self-oppressive!”

60 Co-fostering as a lesbian mother
“The woman I was in a relationship with had one child but wanted to foster, which came to fruition in the late eighties. My role was an unofficial one as I spent a lot of time with the household but didn’t live there but I was a key part of the children’s lives. The social workers knew very well what was going on but chose not to question it because the person that was the official foster parent was stable and adequate enough to take these children and give them a life and therefore whatever else went on, it was presented to them as friends who came to help out…to spend time with the children, including gay male friends. Most of the people that the children were in contact with were lesbian or gay but there were others who weren’t.”

“Although the social workers knew what was going on, nothing was made explicit, partly because we didn’t want to make it explicit with the children. In retrospect I regret this, because I feel that if we had been able to be more explicit with the childrenabout our sexuality and their choices, there would have been some confusions that were less likely to happen. I’m sad that we had to function in a slightly oppressive, denying way because of our circumstances.”

“I’m still in contact with the children who are all now in their thirties, they’re all heterosexual though none of them are married and none have children – they all came from households with difficulties”.

70 Women’s music scene
Belinda was also involved in the alternative women’s music scene, establishing a reputation as a lesbian feminist musician. Before she came to Birmingham “I had a brief moment of fame in London with two other women, each performing their own material, largely at lesbian/gay/feminist venues such as the Drill Hall, even touring Sweden in 1980.”

Belinda’s reputation as a musician preceded her move to Birmingham, where “I was called upon to join with people and do things which was very satisfying for me. I was involved in a feminist initiative to have a Women’s Music Day in 1981. I was also in a band called Strumpet; I was the only lesbian although they performed at women’s events which were predominantly lesbian. This was the early days of punk and new wave, attracting audiences of a new group of lesbians coming out for the first time, particularly some younger women who became quite prominent in the Birmingham alternative arts establishment. They wrote a lot about music and established ‘Fanzines’, exploring music and culture and had links with the Centre for Contemporary Cultural Studies at Birmingham University”.

75 Women’s Swing Band
Belinda recalls being asked to join the Women’s Swing Band, “I don’t think we were ever very good but we had a great time!” We mostly played Glenn Miller, somebody got all the parts, and photocopied them, it was a good laugh. I think it was three quarters lesbians, many younger women”.

80 Greenham Common
“The Women’s Swing Band had a link during the 1980s with the anti-nuclear movement, there was input from women involved with the protests at Greenham Common, ‘Oh you generals in the military, what’re your atom bombs for?’ with a brass backing, that was all fun. I was down at Greenham, there were plenty of lesbians there, we were routinely accused of all being lesbians, and being there because we were lesbians….it was meant to put people against us, and that came out in songs where we ‘took the p***’ out of the ideas that we were all lesbians and it didn’t matter anyway and who the hell cares.”

90 Cuckoo’s Nest 1989 - 90
“I was recruited to Cuckoo’s Nest, a women’s ceilidh band, because the (Birmingham City Council) Women’s Unit had put up some money to organise a women only ceilidh and they wanted a women’s band to play. Pam Bishop was going to put together this band, when the whole thing fell through, they hadn’t got it together and there was no gig, but a group of us by then was playing together, I think I was only one still, just, identifying as a lesbian. I later kind of came out of that life; we weren’t a lesbian band but we were relevant because any feminist or lesbian groupings wanting a women only band would have to look to us whether they like folk music or not, because we were the only game in town, other than a few rock lines up that came and went”.

“Year on year we performed on International Women’s Day, and also the Women in Ireland, who kept going, every year they got some money from the Women’s Unit and they couldn’t get an Irish women’s band so they’d get us, and we’d do some Irish stuff, and it used to be in Zebedees, the Anarchist Café, run by Radical Roots, until it ran out of money.”

100 Boot Women Socials
“Boot Women, the predominantly lesbian women’s walking group, started in the mid-nineties, wanted to have social events and because The Cuckoo’s Nest was the only women’s band in town they would set up ceilidhs and people actually got to enjoy them, although because it was a barn dance they would turn up in their plaid shirts and their cowboy hats and their boots and go ‘Yeeeee-haaaa’ which was really not what we were about because we’re an English country dance band but it really didn’t matter…...."

110 Henrietta’s Out
“’Henrietta’s Out’ was a social mailing list operating in the late nineties, I was briefly on the list, and incorporated the Boot Women list, there would be various social gatherings, such as older lesbians events and an International Women’s Day event or whatever; I didn’t go to things much in those years.
120 Deaf group at the Fox
Belinda said "My contact with ‘the scene’ since the nineties has been limited to playing in the band (The Cuckoo's Nest) at lesbian events and occasionally dropping in at The Fox, I like because they run a Deaf BSL signing group on a Thursday and I’ve always been committed to learning that. There was a large group of Deaf Lesbians which was a prominent part of the gay scene in this town, they came to the Boot Women and the Bad Girls’ Disco, run by Ellen and Pam, in the early eighties. After the women's discos at the Star Club went belly up, Boot Women carried on with the Bad Girl's discos for a while.”

130 The Matador
“The Gay Centre discos went on at the Matador for years, alternating I think with Switchboard discos. I liked it very much, at times there were a lot of women, times more women than men, or vice versa, I always felt OK there, I never felt oppressed by the male presence, I always felt there was a balance, and it was a great place to let your hair down. I was unhappy when the women took it over, it’s one thing having a women’s disco, and another, with people feeling uneasy with each other and throwing their weight about, either women or men, and it can get uncomfortable.

140 The Police – mid-late 80s
“The Police had a 12 year old boy who had been picked up for cottaging. The police were concerned that he was being exploited by older men and directed him towards the discos at The Matador feeling that this would be a much safer venue for him even though technically he was under-age. They felt it would be better to get him with some responsible gay people than out there where anybody could pick him up and do anything. I was quite impressed with that”.

150 Rainbow Voices
“Rainbow Voices is vitally important, I had stopped identifying as a lesbian some time previously. I was dragged there kicking and screaming by another prominent Birmingham lesbian on the basis of my previous musical career as a singer, so I got stuck in, and had a lovely time. Unfortunately because our director who was not a well man, given to fits of hysterics there were dramas, and because I wasn’t working I could participate in the drama, if I’d been working I think I’d have had to quit – but there were highly sexualised arguments. There was a women’s group, which I sort of ran musically, we were meeting and rehearsing separately, and there were tensions within the men, and tensions, within the women, and the atmosphere did get ‘overheated’ which was very unfortunate. Now it has all calmed down and just become a gay choir which everyone can enjoy, which is a great relief. We did some wonderful performances where we achieved things which I couldn’t imagine, given we weren’t auditioned, anyone could come whether they could sing or not, we achieved some wonderful results, we did the Faure’s Requiem, and Mozart’s Requiem and a few other amazing works of that kind”. We had a wonderful time and we did some wonderful performances and I was allowed to solo a great deal, and I remember singing a song I had written in the late 70s, called ‘Shining Woman’ when I was still very much a lesbian, a lesbian love song, and soloed that a couple of times at Rainbow Voices concerts”.