Hastings and Rother Rainbow Alliance History Project
“To understand our present and imagine our future we must first gain insight into our past’
(National LGBTQ+ History Month Aim)
A great way to do this is to gather our life stories and celebrate our living histories. The Hastings and Rother Rainbow Alliance History Project gathers
LGBTQ+ life stories. Interview recordings are stored in East Sussex Records Office so that our histories are preserved for our communities and for future generations.
For more information about our project email email@example.com
Childhood/Growing Up LGBTQ+
I was a happy tomboy child. I didn’t feel I fitted in as a teenager, though I didn’t know why.
My feelings didn’t seem to be the same as the other boys. They would be talking about girls and that really wasn’t what I wanted to do but I could fake it. I remember once talking to a priest in the confession about my feelings and he shouted at me and it closed me up, I became a closed book.
As a young boy I tried to supress my emotions. At school I wanted to play skipping and families with girls but I dared not. I was called a sissy. When I was 9 or 10 I found a ragbag full of my mother’s old clothes and I tried them on. It was an incredible feeling when I looked in the mirror. I was very frightened not to be found out.
I grew up in a typical post war, working class, family. I remember being a fairly confident tomboy until puberty which made me self-conscious and risk averse.
I remember thinking there was something different about me. When I stopped being allowed to wear swimming trunks and had to wear a top I remember saying ‘Why?’ I used to go to the boys toilets too, it was normal for me, and I had to stop that. I was told I was an enigma but I didn’t really know why or what it was.
I remember feeling alien always, ostracised as weird or queer by my classmates and in children’s homes, to extent that I ‘invented’ a heritage for myself with different parents, as coming from Old Castile in Spain! Like E.T waiting for ‘my people’ to come back for me!!
I didn’t come out to myself until I was 26 when I fell in love with a close friend, who was straight. I didn’t seek likeminded people until I was 30, such was the pressure to conform and fear of others’ responses.
I never had any doubt that others were right: I was queer. For me that meant freely entering into relationships with male and female lovers, sometimes at the same time, sometimes multiple partners. Once a teenager, I really couldn’t understand how my choices could concern other people I didn’t know. No big ‘coming out’ event, more a lifetime of continuously doing so.
I didn’t recognise my lesbian leanings until my early 30s and then took a
while to act upon it. I had absorbed from ‘society’ that it was an unacceptable choice.
I realised I was a lesbian when I was about 14 and I had a relationship with a girl. I went to college in West Norwood and joined the NUS. I became the college NUS President and went to the NUS Conference in Blackpool. That was when I put it all together. There were other gay people there and a gay group. I went a gay meeting and I remember going down to breakfast and saying to people ‘I am a lesbian’ and that was the first time.
I enjoyed going anywhere where there were other lesbians. But it was quite isolating to be a butch lesbian.
I remember being at a party and thinking ‘these people won’t want to know me if I transition and I’m going to have to give them up’. That hasn’t happened it’s been the opposite. Coming out as trans has made a big difference, I feel a huge thing that was holding me back has gone.
I will never be straight. People refer to being queer now. It’s one of those reclaimed words, like dyke.
I think of myself as female now. My feminine self is much closer to the real me. Going out as my feminine self is very satisfying but also very draining. I would not want to come out to my neighbours and I’m not confident to go on the train alone as my authentic self.
I had to move out from the North of Ireland in the 1970s because it was illegal to have a gay relationship there. I had a relationship going on in N.Ireland and it wasn’t very good because neither of us were open about anything in our lives. It was strongly suggested to us that we move to England where things were reasonably better in that they were more open and being in a gay relationship was not illegal.
I like to think that I am now a positive example of a gay man who is happy with his lot.
Changes in our Lifetimes
It is a myth to assume that things are easier for young people today. In many ways it can be more difficult because we could hide and it is more difficult for them to do this now. When I was growing up I was hiding.
We are not far from times when there were laws that could be used to lock us up, and we have to be vigilant to make sure this does not happen again.
There have been amazing changes in my lifetime for all aspects of diversity
– both legally and with most individuals. Of course some individuals and religions are still prejudiced. I have always wondered why such people/groups are so prejudiced. Is it the fear of the unknown or something they recognise, but cannot accept, in themselves?
In some ways change is agonisingly slow. My life partner and I had been living together and co-parenting for more than 20 years before the law recognised our relationship as ‘valid’. On the other hand, somewhat unbelievable that today, many young children choose a range of sexual identities & are open to others, while it has almost come to pass that one’s own sex and gender identity does not legitimately concern others. Amazing! (And not true everywhere of course, still a great deal to be done across the world). Exciting ever widening diversity of gender and sex identities which may lead to dropping categorising ourselves and one another altogether. Hooray!
Back in the 1990s when I was teaching children and Section 28 was passed I never dreamt I would be able to have a civil partnership or marry a female partner. We have made huge steps towards equality but we must go on working to combat prejudice and discrimination.
The first time I went to a lesbian bar I couldn’t believe it, I wasn’t the only one. All those women in one place talking, dancing exuberantly,
laughing, joyful in being free to be themselves, together.
Coming out as a trans person is a slow process for me. I have to gain people’s trust first. If it changes anything for the better for me I will reveal myself.
In Hastings it is very important to have a trans group to help people who don’t realise they can live their lives as trans people.
Transitioning made me think why is it we still have so much to change? We are still hacking away to make things better.
Great relief in the past of going somewhere queer to relax, and express myself. Nowadays some nostalgia for that community fun. Now much more integrated and my ‘communities’ are not so defined by sex, gender or social identities as by affection and bonding over ideas and passions.
Discovering Rainbow Alliance, and all its social groups, was a complete
lifeline for me. It was somewhere I could be myself, feel safe and find a home. Everybody likes to be with their own kind sometimes. Being part of an LGBTQ community strengthens you to be out in the world.
Archive – History Project Events
We are still looking for people to share their life stories and be interviewed for the project. If you would be willing to be interviewed please contact us.
Sunday 26th August 2012 – History Project Film Event
Free film screeening ‘Before Stonewall’ at Electric Palace Cinema, High Street, Hastings. There was a discussion after the film. All LGBT were welcomed.
“Opening The Closet Door: A Celebration of LGBT Life Stories”
LGBT Oral History event – 18th February 2012
HRRA held an exciting event to celebrate LGBT History month. This took place on Saturday 18th February 2012, at Stade Hall, Hastings. Full details on this flyer.
This event launched our new LGBT Life History Project which aims to encourage LGBT people to share their memories. The event focused on developing an oral history of LGBT experience in Hastings and the surrounding area – there was an opportunity to share stories and memorabilia and learn how to get involved with the project and learn oral history research and interview skills. We held a day of workshops, speakers, exhibitions, recordings and film, and an evening of live entertainment.
Following the event we will continue to record life histories, with the aim of publishing extracts online or in printed form. Recordings will be preserved under guidelines determined by HRRA, within the Public Record Office collection. This will help increase the presence of LGBT voices, currently under-represented within the archive’s collections.
If you would like more information or are interested in joining the Steering group email firstname.lastname@example.org or phone 07593 444677.