When I first came out secretly to myself age 16 I saved up my pennies, jumped a train from Essex and sneaked off to London and the big new gay world. My first stop, maybe a little over ambitiously so, was the disco mecca nightclub Heaven where I was shocked to be greeted on the door by the words “no fish tonight dear!” I went home crestfallen. My new gay life shuddering to a halt as I returned to Tendring High School wondering if I would ever find my queer tribe.
Several weeks later I resumed my mission, this time heading to Gays The Word bookshop in Kings Cross where this angst-ridden teenager tried to find anything to read other than bleeding Desert Hearts or a horse-obsessed Radclyffe Hall. The greeting was warm and wonderful, the books life changing. There were no judgements, no fish bar, no divisions. I had found my queer tribe.
When I moved to Brighton in 1991 I hunted out my queer kind once again and after a few false starts, it would appear the “no fish tonight” policy had followed me to some of the seaside’s nightclubs, I found myself finally fitting in. The sore thumb had found its place in life. Yes there were debates about which tribe played with which tribe (apparently some lesbians were deemed more lesbian than others), and I often found myself defending some femme lesbian’s sartorial choice of lipstick and frock or a lesbian mother’s right to bring her 12-year-old male child to a female community event but we got there eventually, together, not separately. And when my love of house music ensured I found myself on the dance floors of Club Shame, the Coco Club, The Escape and Wild Fruit, gender, sexuality and labels became as unimportant as the need for an early night and a cup of cocoa.
33 years since I first came out as I read the current headlines reflecting exclusion and division I have to wonder why when we’ve come so far as an LGBTQI community, some are still determined to continue to drag us backwards, ready to do the bigots work for them all over again. Having lived through headlines of hatred thanks to the Tories Section 28 and the media backlash to the AIDS crisis in the late 80s / early 90s, I can’t help but wish we would stop creating spiteful 21st-century versions. As a lesbian, I’m not being erased by the actions of transgender activists or gay men and have never felt I have been or will be. The only time I’ve ever felt close to erasure as a lesbian in the LGBTQI community was through the camp antics of Andy Bell and that was only Sometimes. (Sorry I couldn’t help myself!). But dodgy 80s synth pop aside isn’t it time we all respected the contributions every one of the L and G and B and T and Q and I and A in our glorious rainbow acronym have made to our community.
As a certain sister who soundtracked so many of my early queer disco days once sang We Are Family. Yes like all family we have our fault lines but we are a family our wider global LGBTQI community look to for inspiration and support. A family that shouldn’t be wasting our energy on division when we could be campaigning for real changes, supporting LGBTQI asylum seekers as they battle a discriminatory Home Office decisions, challenging funding cuts in HIV services, demanding fairly funded mental health services for our LGBTQI youth and, as Trump bulldozers his way through Washington, fighting the Pence lead onslaught on Trans rights in the US. Because we are a family that should be working together to ensure we all get to take those final steps to full equality.
The idea that in 2018 a young transgendered woman about to make their first steps towards their new life in the UK could be judged by activists as not being a woman, that the body they were born in will forever determine their gender identity, (surely arguing the same line as supporters of the many Bathroom Bill’s in the USA), and that they could be labelled as part of a transsexual movement that is anti-lesbian and pressuring lesbians to have sex with them, means we’ve come no further than those dark days of the 1980s and we are no better than the bigots who made it so.
To read the social media accounts of seasoned transgender campaigners now openly questioning if they may be offending me if they enter any women only spaces saddens me greatly when I know how much we owe to these courageous women. Without Trans women of colour there would be no Stonewall Riots. Without the Stonewall Riots, there would be no Pride Movement. Without the Pride movement, we would not have the global visibilty, campaigning and fundraising might we enjoy today, making the global fight for equality a must-do for individuals, governments, organisations and businesses.
Having lived through those dark times when I was a person without full rights, acceptance, support or safety, having grown up listening to others judge my sexuality and having to live with the resulting mental health damage that did to me and many others, I just hope this latest Trans-Exclusionary Radical Feminist action will see every one of us come together as one and say no, no there is no debate. Trans women are women end of. Because no matter where it comes from, within or without, hate has no place in our LGBTQI community. You hurt my sister, you hurt me – and you really don’t wanna do that to lesbian thrown out of Heaven, raised on Radclyffe Hall, forced to endure Erasure and forged in the heat of a gay nightclub in Brighton.