Rosie Wilby Transcript

OUTcast S2, Ep 3 • 14 March 2022 • 24:08

Rosie P 00:00:05 Welcome to OUTcast, the podcast where we catch up with some of the most engaging, courageous, and inspiring LGBTQ+ people from all over the world. We ask our lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans, and queer guests where their coming out journeys began, what they’ve gone through along the way – the joy and the pain, but we promise there will be more joy – and what gives them hope. I’ll be interviewing people from all walks of life, from hardworking queer people behind the scenes to more familiar faces you might have never known even had the coming out stories they are about to share. You can follow us on social media at @OUTcastLGBT, and you can find us online at

Rosie P 00:01:00 Today we are joined by Rosie Wilby. Rosie is an English comedian, podcaster, writer and public speaker. She regularly appears on radio and TV commentating on sexuality, dating, love and breakups. She hosts a podcast called The Breakup Monologues, and this year she turned the successful show into a book that delves into the essential nature of heartbreak and relationship endings. It’s much more joyful than you might think at first, and a life affirming read. She’s become such an expert on the subject that BBC Radio 4 has dubbed her The Queen of Breakups. Before her latest book, she explored monogamy in her first book Is Monogamy Dead?. Rosie is a seasoned stand up who’s performed at numerous major festivals, including Edinburgh Fringe, Glastonbury, and Latitude. And she’s written for publications like The Guardian, Sunday Times and The New Statesman. Rosie – welcome to outcast. You have a great name! It’s great to have you joining us. What’s your coming out story?

Rosie W 00:02:06 Well, I grew up in the UK. I still live in the UK, although we may come onto the fact that I have spent some time over in Australia as well, where you are now. I came out when I was a teenager, at the end of the 1980s, which here in the UK was a pretty horrifically homophobic decade. We had a government in place who brought in a lot of policies so that teachers could not actively promote homosexuality in schools. Anyone listening in the UK may remember this or have read or heard about it. Homophobic attitudes were at an all time high in this country. You know, if you look at studies showing how many people voted in surveys that gay relationships were wrong and bad, you know, that was almost everybody who said that at that time.

Rosie W 00:02:59 So it was, a pretty hostile time towards gay people. Um, particularly, of course, we had the HIV and AIDs crisis in the 1980s. So there was a, you know, pretty horrific assumption that gay people were diseased in some way, because that had been so strongly associated with the LGBT community. So yeah, I emerged as a teenager falling in love with other girls into this hostile atmosphere. But having said that, one person who was quite embracing and liberal, and quite interested in different ways of having relationships, different relationship narratives was my mum. So, you know, whilst I had teachers and friends who, kind of, would habitually say a lot of very homophobic things, thinking that was just normal, that’s what everybody thought, that’s what everybody said, yeah, my mum was a bit ahead of her times. She was an English Literature lecturer at a college of higher education, which was near my school.

Rosie W 00:04:10 And a lot of the lesbian students would all kind of go and confide in her and talk to her, even though ostensibly she was straight, in inverted comas, and she was married to my dad, she was quite progressive. And she taught the students a lot of feminist literature, so when I was thinking about being gay and sort of was hanging out with who would become my first girlfriend a little bit, you know, my mom just started saying things like, “oh, I wouldn’t mind if I had a daughter who was a lesbian” and you know, it was all sort of quite jolly. And she would be digging out volumes of lesbian poetry and reciting it to me and my dad over the tea table. But it was a little bit too aggressively embracing of it for me to handle, because I hadn’t worked it out yet for myself. So I sort of do some affectionate comedy about how, you know, I sort of tried to come out, but she started telling me all about her and her friend Joan on holiday. And you know, it was too embarrassing, you know? Um, and I think there’s that thing when you’re a teenager, it’s too cringy to think about your parents having a sexuality themselves, even though obviously your existence indicates that they did have sex, at least once.

Rosie P 00:05:32 That resonates with me. My mum did a very similar thing. She kind of identified where I might be going and wanted to be super supportive and kind of preempt anything I might be going through and proceeded to tell me about her own experience. And, yes, it’s a little bit too much. You want it to be forging your own path when you’re a teenager and perhaps when Mother’s a bit too keen, it kind of puts you off for a bit. Yes. But also what I wanted to pick up on there was that friction between your home life and then the institutional homophobia that was being generated and then how we might take for granted especially in current times where we can get married in some countries and where we can hold hands in some countries in public, we have to remember you can’t underestimate institutional homophobia or racism, or whatever kind of ‘ism’ it is and how that act goes through society, even in places where you wouldn’t expect it.

Rosie W 00:06:30 Yeah, I think at school it was pretty vicious. You know, I can remember having RE lessons – Religious Education – where there would be a discussion about homosexuality and it was, you know, the teacher was kind of policing this homophobia really and encouraging and nurturing it. I mean, it wasn’t quite like people would say things like, “oh, gay people should all be killed” and then the teacher would go, “yes, that’s right.” But, you know, it was almost like that. So yeah, it was pretty terrible. But it’s interesting how, you know, all this in the end has fed into my comedy work. And I think that I have been interested in speaking and writing and thinking about relationships and being sure to include diverse narratives.

Rosie P 00:07:23 Yeah. It’s so, so important. It’s important to be seen and then see yourself as well in public life. So I think there’s a strand of that in there isn’t there? And it sounds like they could also have been working through those microtraumas from things like your RE lessons and from the Government policies and things. But do you find that your comedy and your writing, the writing you mentioned, helps you work through things that you’ve been through as an LGBTQ+ person?

Rosie W 00:07:53 Absolutely. I think comedy is, like you say, a way of processing things and understanding things and also a sort of accessible way into saying things that then make other people think. And I think particularly the work I’ve done now around breakups and celebrating, in some ways, celebrating breakups almost, and the things of relationships and how they can be transformative and healing and we can grow and learn from them. It’s also been about marking something about a relationship, because as you say, we still can’t get married everywhere in the world, and certainly you couldn’t, you know, when I was growing up. So, you know, I think there is something about, at least if you mark the end of a relationship and you acknowledge that it happened, because I think so many queer relationships are invisible.

Rosie P 00:08:45 Yeah. I really like that way of putting it. I think there’s such a, at least historically, but it’s still happening now, a tendency to diminish the LGBTQ+ relationship. I think, yes, wrapping that up in your work and exploring relationships and relationship endings, and acknowledging queer and diverse types of relationships, is absolutely vital. Over the time that you’ve been an out queer person, what are the things that have really struck you as having changed? What does progress look like from the 1980s to now?

Rosie W 00:09:20 Things have progressed immensely, you know, and the kind of happy ending to the story about Girlfriend and I in The Breakup Monologues, where in the latest book that you’ve read, I talk about learning from all my breakups, learning how to finally keep a relationship going, how to commit to that, how to sort of accept the natural ups and downs of a relationship – the tensions, the challenges, but to sort of keep embracing the love that underpins all that. The happy ending to that is that Girlfriend and I are engaged. Um, we are planning our wedding.

Rosie P 00:09:57 Congratulations! 

Rosie W 00:09:59 Yeah. There’s a whole mix of feelings about that because obviously it’s really, really happy and wonderful and a thing to celebrate that we can now do that. But I also think it’s kind of… also, it’s been weird to get my head round it and I think for her to get her head around it as well. Because we just assumed it was something that wouldn’t happen for us, that we wouldn’t get married. And then it feels hard to plan it and think about how you’re going to do it. Neither of us are girls who had planned our sort of fancy wedding, because you just sort of put it to one side because you think, “well, that’s not part of my narrative, that’s not part of my life.” But of course it’s huge progress that we can do that. We’re starting to see many LGBT people have families, have children, in various ways.

Rosie W 00:10:45 And again, that’s something that I had just completely put to one side. I assumed no lesbians would have children. And there’s an article that I wrote recently here for a magazine called Stylist, for their website, which touched a lot of people where I talked about sort of feeling like a narrowly missed out on that window of, being able to have children and that becoming a more popular thing for people here in the UK. And maybe I wouldn’t have anyway, but I didn’t really feel that was an option that was on the table really when I was, you know, younger and really would have been at an age where I was considering that. It’s really interesting, you know, you sort of think about how being gay, being queer, being other, has, you know, altered the course of your life in quite major ways and sometimes a very good way, celebratory ways.

Rosie W 00:11:40 You know, I think, I think being LGBT makes you think about relationships and family and friendships in a much more sophisticated way because you have to think outside of the box and then you do think about connection. And I think you do investigate things like monogamy that I’ve looked at and what that means. And, you know, I think you’re freer to leap out of all of those assumptions about things, how things should play out or have to play out. And maybe you can feel less traumatised by a breakup because you have a different understanding about the value of connections and relationships and their longevity. And you’re not completely chained to this narrative that you have to live together and have two children and be married.

Rosie P 00:12:36 Yeah, that’s it. You’re already out of the box so that it kind of trains you in this elastic thinking and kind of extra empathy, and extra way of thinking outside the box like you said.

Rosie P 00:13:03: It’s interesting that as an LGBTQ+ person, to a very micro level, the generation you’re from means that you’ve had a very different experience. So it’s interesting that you say that you did narrowly miss out on having children, if that had been something you’d wanted to do. It’s true, there’s been so much progress that there’s a fear that we take things for granted if we’re in  the much younger generation. We shouldn’t forget how much progress has been made.

Rosie W 00:13:29 Absolutely. Yeah. You know, and I in turn look to older lesbians who experienced much more prejudice or, you know, had to keep their relationships completely hidden and secret. And, you know, would not be able to be out in the ways that I have, or speak about themselves in the way that I have. So yes, we do really need to keep looking to people older than us to see the progress that has been made and not be complacent because I think we can forget that, you know, there are still equalities to fight for and still visibility to fight for, because I guess we’ll always be a minority numbers wise.

Rosie P 00:14:10 And you never know what’s going to change, or what’s going to turn back. Like, history has shown us that things can rewind. You point to nuances between straight and LGBTQ+ relationships in your book. And we’ve been talking about it here, you know, lots of rights have been achieved throughout the world. Do you think LGBTQ+ relationships are resembling straight relationships more than ever? And in your view, is it a positive thing?

Rosie W 00:14:36 Yeah, and I touch on this a lot in both of my books, actually – my first book was called Is Monogamy Dead?, which was all based on a survey asking what counts as cheating and understanding that that is a more sophisticated narrative than just this kind of black and white question of whether you or your partner might have sex with somebody else. It’s like actually about falling in love with other people, or your connections, or your flirting, or kissing, or, you know, all of these things that we might have individual and different and unique boundaries around things we might feel comfortable with, or not comfortable with. So, yes, in that book, I talked quite a lot about how we are sort of starting to merge with the heteronormative community, or certainly the sort of privileged, white, affluent gay man or, you know, or kind of CIS gay woman might be sort of starting to, yeah,

Rosie W 00:15:39 you know, live just like a straight person. And to some extent, I think there is a danger in that. Obviously it’s great to celebrate these equalities, these rights that we have. But I think the danger in that, is that the people who still feel they don’t really have access to that life, the people who still feel marginalised, feel even more lonely, sort of out there on their own. You know, when we were all outside the big tent together before, you know, all fighting and shouting and saying, “well, this is a load of nonsense. Let’s actually change the world. Let’s actually overthrow the patriarchy. Let’s kind of change systems. Let’s get rid of marriage and have something else.” I think it can feel lonelier if you’re still saying, “actually this, this isn’t working for me, this isn’t the narrative I wanted.” If I’ve ever talked to some of the members of the Gay Liberation Front who were activists in the 1970s here, uh, beginning with some of the very first pride marches in London, they sort of say, “oh God, that, wasn’t what we were after at all!”

Rosie w 00:16:41 “We wanted to celebrate being different and changing the narrative about how we wanted to live and be, and we wanted to be accepted as rebellious and, you know, we enjoyed being outsiders because we had a certain freedom to do things differently. And we wanted people to come and embrace that.” It’s almost like, you know, when civil partnerships came in, there was a big discussion about whether straight people could have access to civil partnerships. And it almost seemed to many people, it seemed like a nonsense. Like, why would you want that? But I think there are straight people who want to legally and formally acknowledge and have their partnership recognised, but don’t like the sort of patriarchal baggage that goes along with marriage. You know, when women were sort of traded as property between patriarchs. I think there’s a lot to be said about reinventing things and actually saying, “Hey, straight people, you know, come over here and do things our way.”

Rosie W 00:17:40 To some extent we have influenced mainstream heteronormative society with a lot of the thinking that I was talking about – that more fluid and emotional, agile thinking about relationships and connection. Because we see a lot of concepts that have been pioneered in the queer community, like friends as family living apart together, thinking more progressively about non-monogamy, and consensual and ethical ways of having more sort of open relationships. You know, all of those ideas have originated within our community and then sort of become big talking points in the wider straight community. And you know, the articles now about all of these sorts of ideas in, you know, glossy women’s magazines. I think we have pioneered some concepts that have caught on, but equally the opposite is happening. And, and you do see LGBTQ people embracing what was previously seen as a very straight life.

Rosie 1 00:18:43 Yeah. There’s a lot to be proud of in the history of LGBTQ protest and activism in that it wasn’t just LGBTQ issues. It would be support for race issues, support for all the kinds of social issues that needed movement. We were one big team, and you’re right, I think that there could be a tendency for a more privileged LGBTQ+ generation, especially cis people, to just sip their lattes and enjoy having their dogs and enjoy their lovely flats, which, you know, that’s just completely forgetting the people that still need the help.

Rosie W 00:19:19 Yeah. Paradox of progress.

Rosie P 00:19:21 Yeah, absolutely. I think there’s a lot in, in the small gains we’ve made and then we’ve sort of minimised ourselves and made ourselves palatable to fit in with the heteronormative agenda. So it’s being careful not to do that. But like you say, queer concepts are kind of flooding through society and I have hope that the younger generation will continue to just not accept binaries, just not accept anything that’s kind of holding them down. So hopefully there’s hope.

Rosie P 00:20:04 Whilst we’re on hope. I love asking all of my guests at the end of our chats, what gives them hope today, and for the future?

Rosie W 00:20:16 You know, obviously I’m really involved in the creative arts here in London and in the sort of obviously queer or kind of feminist, or, you know, slightly activisty creative arts, and all the filmmakers and performers and writers and people who are doing things that are gently pushing the narrative forwards and continually promoting a sense of inclusivity. For many years, whilst I was starting out as a comedian and, sort of, in the early days before I started writing my books and doing The Breakup Monologues podcast, I was hosting an LGBT kind of magazine show. All kinds of creatives and interesting people would come through that show and tell me all about their work. So I think what’s exciting is how there are just all of these creatives who are just doing amazing work. And I think that ties in with this emotional agility that we see in the LGBTQ community.

Rosie W 00:21:18 I think that makes for incredibly interesting creativity and work. And, you know, I hope that I’ve been a part of that with my comedy shows, and my two books and podcast and have sort of contributed to that and can inspire younger people to make interesting art that asks questions about how we have our relationships, and how we maybe shouldn’t make assumptions about how those should play out.And also to make people laugh as well. And I do see lots of interesting comedians coming up on the comedy circuit now, which is, here in London at least, becoming much more diverse and inclusive. So I think, I think that gives me hope, that the arts will be – despite terrible funding cuts and the pandemic really hitting the live sector really, really badly – I do still think the arts has such a vibrancy and an energy that we can say things, we can open up discussion here in this creative world.

Rosie P 00:22:20 Yeah, absolutely. That joy in comedy and the joy in your books. We’ve talked about The Breakup Monologues, but it really is a really joyful unpacking of the ending of relationships. And it’s funny and enlightened and, yeah, so we’re so grateful for that kind of work that you’re doing.

Rosie W 00:22:37 I think “the unexpected joy of heartbreak” subtitle gives people the sense that there is, there is a lot of hope in the books.

Rosie P 00:22:47 The other day, it rubbed off on me because I was having drinks with a friend who’d sadly gone through a breakup – a while ago. So she’s sort of quite healed. And I think I had been reading Rosie Wilby too long, because I was like, “oh, breakups are so wonderful.” It was simply, I had in my mind, like all the beautiful reassessing of trauma and how you build yourself as a human, and all the memories, and once you get through it, you have your wonderful single stage and then you might meet someone else… And I totally forgot about the pain, uh, thanks to your books, so…

Rosie W 00:23:20 She must’ve wondered one earth you were talking about!

Rosie P 00:23:24 Thank you so much. It’s been wonderful to chat to you today and learn your insights into coming out and heartbreak, but joy as well, of course. Thank you so much for your time.

Rosie W 00:23:36 Thank you, Rosie.

Rosie P 00:23:38 Thank you for listening to OUTcast, a podcast with interviews and coming out stories from inspiring LGBTQ+ people. I’m your host, Rosie Pentreath. I hope you can join us again next week.

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