‘This is what a gay person looks like’ – Rosie Jones shares her coming out story in thought-provoking podcast

Rosie Jones has become a regular fixture on our TV screens, and now she has joined us on OUTcast to share what it was like coming out after achieving fame with her comedy.

British comedian, writer and actor Rosie Jones has shared her coming out story in an open, honest and thought-provoking interview in the final episode of the second season of OUTcast.

Rosie took to the microphone to tell OUTcast host Rosie what her first gay thought was, why it took her a long time to reconcile it with herself, and what it has been like navigating being an LGBTQ+ person with a disability.

“I remember when I was 16 Googling ‘Can you be disabled and gay?’,” the 31-year-old comedian says on OUTcast. “Google did not help me with that question! So I literally believed the internet more than I believed my own head and my own heart. And I thought, ‘well, nothing on the internet is telling me that I’m a real person, so I guess I’m wrong.’”

In the enlightening interview, the comedian opens up about the importance of representation for people with disabilities, and how she has learnt to overcome the negative voice in her head to pursue what she loves.

“It was an honour and career highlight to speak with Rosie Jones for the season finale of the second season of OUTcast,” host Rosie says. “Rosie was incredibly generous with her time, and was wonderfully open and honest. I think her story will resonate with people with disabilities, and with LGBTQ+ people all over the world, as well as with allies and anyone listening who has ever had a nagging voice of doubt in their head. Rosie is truly a force of nature, and her positivity and resilience is totally irresistible.”

With her infectious laugh and high energy, Rosie Jones has quickly become a must-see act on the UK comedy circuit. She has written for, and appeared in, numerous comedy shows on TV and radio, and is the author of the children’s book The Amazing Edie Eckhart.

Hear Rosie Jones’s coming out story on OUTcast Podcast.

Illustration: Sam Osborne
Photograph: Aemen Sukkar

Season 1 of Trip Hazard: My Great British Adventure is now streaming on Channel 4 in the UK and on SBS in Australia, with Season 2 coming soon.

Visit rosiejonescomedy.com to discover more of Rosie’s work.

Rob Harkavy Transcript

OUTcast S2, Ep 5 • 28 March 2022 • 34:37

Rosie 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 that they’re about to share. You can follow us on social media, at @OUTcastLGBT, and you can find us online at outcastpod.com.

Rosie 00:01:00 Rob Harkavy is the Editor of OutNews Global, which dubs itself the world’s most fabulous LGBTQ online magazine. And he’s also Weekend Editor at the Tony Blair Institute for Global Change. An experienced journalist, he’s been published in the Times, Diva Magazine, Gay Star News and other publications as well. He’s an ambassador for the mental health charity SOS Silence of Suicide and a patron of Jan Trust, which promotes inclusion for ethnically diverse communities, and educates and empowers women against extremism and hate crime. In the nineties, Rob co-founded Respect Holidays, a travel agency designed to help LGBTQ+ people travel safely and affordably, and it quickly became the largest gay holiday company in Europe. Rob’s also been an ambassador for Stonewall and he’s passionate about championing diversity and inclusion, often through public speaking. Welcome, Rob. It’s great to have you on OUTcast.

Rob 00:02:00 Thank you. It’s great to be here.

Rosie 00:02:02 So, where does your coming out story begin?

Rob 00:02:06 I came out before coming out was a thing; before it was called coming out. And this was, um, this was when I was still at school. And, I knew from a very, very early age that I was bisexual, again, not even knowing what bisexual meant. I mean, I know people out there in Podcast Land can’t see me, but I look amazing, but in fact, I’m 57 years old. So we’re talking sort of in the seventies, you know?

Rosie 00:02:40 Yeah, I can confirm, I can confirm that!

Rob 00:02:44 Thank you. Thank you, Rosie. You’re not so bad yourself! So I knew that I kind of, even before I kind of knew what sex was, I kind of… you still find people attractive don’t you, when you’re quite young? And I knew that I kind of liked girls and boys, and what sort of really made me feel it was okay was Bowie: David Bowie, who really was the only public figure who was openly bisexual. So I went to an all boys school, or at least it was all boys until the sixth form, and so my first sexual experiences were with boys. But I knew that wasn’t the be all and end all of it. I knew that I liked  girls and then it sort of evolved. So I know this is coming out story, but I didn’t actually come out. It’s just, I lived my life and, you know, my friends, my family, my work colleagues just kind of knew who I was.

Rob 00:03:45 They talk a lot about bisexual erasure, but actually if you’re bisexual, it’s kind of – back then at least – it was kind of, there was less of a necessity if you like to come out. It was a bit feeble, but you could still always kind of attend an event or something with a girl, you know, and not be lying because you’re bisexual. So a lot of my gay friends did do the thing, and maybe you did that too, where you sat down with your mum or your dad or your family, whatever, and said, “Mum, Dad, I’ve got something to tell you.” But I never did that. I never hid it. But if I was going out with a guy, when I was in my teens, my mum said, you know, “where are you off to tonight?” You know, “I’m going out with Jimmy” or “I’m going out with Debbie” and, you know, neither seemed to matter to my parents, and it certainly didn’t matter to me. So my coming out story is one of evolution into my lifestyle rather than a specific moment or moments where I kind of had to bare my soul.

Rosie 00:04:50 That’s really inspiring. I think it sounds like there was a lot of self-acceptance in you early on, perhaps, and there’s a lot of shame stuff around being LGBTQ+ sort of whichever generation you’re from, but it sounds like you had this sort of, not unique, but you had this wonderful experience of having self-acceptance and you had, yeah, the Bowie role model and the kind of nice natural way of evolving into it.

Rob 00:05:15 Yeah. Yeah. I mean, I was very lucky. I talked about my parents, but actually I was brought up by a single mum from the age of five. She’d done a little bit of work in the theatre and stuff, which back then was the kind of clichéd home of the homo, as it were. It’s different now but, you know, back then when perhaps society was less liberal, the kind of creative arts or the performing arts were something of a haven. So she certainly had a lot of gay friends and there were gay couples who used to come to our house when I was little and bearing in mind it wasn’t legal until 1967 when I was three years old. So I thought it was normal, but actually it was more special for these people to kind of be out, than it was for me.

Rob 00:06:00 Because you know, when you’re a kid, you just, you accept things, don’t you, nobody is born prejudice. No baby is born homophobic or racist. You know, it’s what they’re taught. And I’ve been lucky in my upbringing from my mum, that there was never any… there wasn’t a hint of homophobia. And I remember, I remember one occasion – I really can’t remember what the story was because I was really quite young – but it was a story of someone’s ruin, basically, for being gay. Maybe an MP, maybe a TV presenter or something, but you know, all over the papers, certainly over the tabloids; a massive fall from grace. And I remember my mum – I must have been about seven or eight or something – actually sitting down and talking to me. And she said, “remember the least interesting thing about someone is what they do in their bedroom and with whom.” And, obviously, that’s not quite right. If you want to date them, that’s a very interesting thing. But I think the point she was making was, it’s the content of your character, what you do for a living, how you treat your loved ones, whatever, you know, that’s what matters about somebody, not who you shag. And that’s something I’ve always carried through my life.

Rosie 00:07:17 Yeah. It sounds like she created almost a non-homophobic world. A non-homophobic sort of beautiful, yeah, environment. Just a utopia really. She sounds like an incredible woman.

Rob 00:07:28 Yeah. I mean, I was lucky, you know. I lived in, we were talking before we came on air that, you know, I live in north London. I’ve always lived here in north London. It’s not that, you know, the streets are teeming with film stars, but it’s always been a kind of quite a liberal media friendly place, I suppose, north London. And by the accident of birth, that’s where I’ve ended up. I know there’s people who may have been the same as me, but growing up in different parts of the country, back in the seventies who would have had a very, very different experience. And I’m actually very mindful of that in my work. Even now when I write about homophobia and stuff like that, it’s tempting to just say we live in a post-homophobia world. You know, the fact that the gay scene has been desimated in London is a bad thing, but also it’s a good thing because 20 years ago, if I went out with gay friends, we’d go up to Soho to a gay bar. Now we just go to a local near where I live because it’s completely accepted. And I always have to pull back from that. I think, “well, yeah, Rob, you work in media and you live in north London. It’s not, it’s not the same for everybody, is it?”

Rosie 00:08:37 That’s very true. It does sound like you had a really positive experience, but continuing with this thread, were there ever situations where, even though you had such an accepting, self-accepting experience and accepting experience, of being bisexual, can you remember consciously hiding it at any point?

Rob 00:08:55 Yeah. Yeah, yeah. Absolutely. Without a doubt. I’m a football fan. I don’t go so much now, but I used to go, you know, not every Saturday like a mad fan, but, you know, I used to go maybe ten, twelve games a season when I was in my teens. Certainly back then anything other than kind of stand up heterosexual, anything other than that would have been completely unacceptable. So it wouldn’t even have crossed my mind to have discussed dating a guy with the guys I used to go to football with, because a lot of the people I went to football with weren’t actually my friends, they were my football friends. So we only ever saw each other at the game. Do you know what I mean? In fact, if any of them are listening to this, it’s me Rob. Yeah. I’m Bi! Because I never told them back in the eighties.

Rosie 00:09:47 Rob Harkavy comes out on OUTcast Podcast, to his football mates. I love it. 

Rosie 00:10:10 I’ve seen from your social media that you’re Jewish. How does Judaism genuinely approach it – being bisexual, being LGBTQ+?

Rob 00:10:20 Well, I’m no expert on Judaism. In fact, I’m probably the worst Jew in the world. Although I’m very, very proud of my heritage and the wonderful long heritage of Judaism. From a religious point of view, I’m probably not the right person to ask. Certainly I think like with all religions, the more Orthodox are the other more homophobic. And I say that with a small aitch, maybe I should say less accepting. But certainly I was Jewish enough, for example, to have a Bar Mitzvah, and very many years ago, I think 25 years ago, the synagogue that I had my Bar Mitzvah in – and I’m going to name check them: Finchley Reform Synagogue – got a lesbian rabbi.

Rosie: 00:11:02 Oh Fab.

Rob 00:11:05 You know, so that was way, way before ministers in the Church of England – I mean, there have always been gay ministers in the Church of England – but could be out and proud. So, let’s not do a Jew lesson, but there’s, you know, there’s effectively three branches: there’s the Orthodox, which is the strictest, there’s the Reform, and then there’s the Liberal. Most secular Jews from north London, like me, grew up in the Reform tradition, which is more Liberal than Orthodox, but not as hippy-dippy as Liberal. And certainly within that environment, as I say, we had a lesbian rabbi in my synagogue 25 years ago. So yeah, I’ve never felt any pressure as a Jew to hide or be embarrassed or ashamed about my sexuality.

Rosie 00:11:52 The number of people I’ve spoken to on this podcast who are either religious, or it’s come up, or they’re a religious leader, is actually quite surprising. So it sounds like there is that kind of very open approach, the same as you would in a liberal Christianity, or things like that.

Rob 00:12:10 Yeah. I mean, what gets me about religion as a whole is that all religions, at their fundamental base, you know – Christianity especially, but all religions – have love at the centre of it, don’t they? You know, even these idiots who misinterpret the religious texts for, sort of terrorist purposes and stuff, you know, they should reread them because really most religions… obviously they were written years ago and there is a bit of vengeance and war and stuff, because that was what life was like then. But on the whole, religion is about looking after your fellow human and stuff like that. So many religious people have such a blind spot to homophobia. I know even less about Christianity obviously than I do about Judaism, but I do know from hearing what Jesus Christ has said, or said in his life, he never, you know, the New Testament doesn’t mention homosexuality. But you kind of know that Jesus would have been cool with it, don’t you? 

Rosie 00:13:13 Very cool with it! Like honestly. Yeah, that’s it. It’s about love, it’s about an openness; accepting anyone. So yeah, it completely is compatible with LGBTQ+ issues and I will never hear otherwise. Let’s talk about your career for a bit. You’re so integral to the LGBTQ+ community, I’d say from a business point of view, from a journalism point of view, and from an activism point of view. But in 1993, you co-founded Respect Holidays [to] provide affordable and safe holiday packages for LGBTQ+ people. Why was a speciality LGBTQ+ travel provider needed in the 1990s?

Rob 00:13:56 Back then, we were simply the gay holiday company. Why was it needed? Well, we weren’t the first, but there were sort of little niche gay tour operators, holiday companies before. But, to be brutally honest, they were very sex-based. So they didn’t do glossy… This is before the internet, so they didn’t do glossy brochures. They might do kind of black and white leaflets. And it was all about staying in a sort of seedy hotel, somewhere with a basement or, you know, a cellar, with, you know, whips and chains and sex and leather. And that’s fine, you know, whatever floats your boat. But what didn’t exist is what I can now say [is] a Tui for gay people. You know, a nice glossy brochure, a good honest brochure, good convenient flight times, all licensed AFTA, and all that kind of stuff, but simply aiming at gay people in the same way that at the time there were niche holiday companies or people who liked to play golf or people who liked to go yachting, or for straight singles, or for that matter Club 18-30. You know, the travel business has always had niches, but there wasn’t a gay niche apart from this, kind of, very seedy sexual side of it.

Rob 00:15:19 So, to be cynical for a minute, from a business point of view, the early nineties were just the right time. The homophobia was becoming less and less acceptable, and so, to start the company was viable. But, and this is the cynical bit, there was still enough homophobia around for gay people to feel that they wanted a safe space to go on holiday to. So it was that the nineties was that sweet spot where it was needed, but it was viable and acceptable at the same time.

Rosie 00:15:59 That’s it, so in the nineties, LGBTQ+ people would have been coming out relatively safe, out and proud at home largely, but the relative safety from homophobia and abuse might not have extended to travel. So you hit that sweet spot with your business.

Rob 00:16:16 Absolutely. And we got more resistance overseas than we did here. So obviously when you’re setting up a tour operator, basically what you’re doing is you’re buying the components of a holiday, putting them together and then hopefully selling them for more than what you bought them for. Those components are flights, accommodation, an overseas rep, coach between the airport and the accommodation, you know, all the bits that make a package holiday. And when we were setting up the company, obviously there was no Zoom, there was no internet. So we actually had to get on a plane, go over to Gran Canaria, Ibiza, Mykonos, all over to actually meet with hoteliers to say, “we’re starting a gay holiday company. What rates will you give us?” Um, you know, and “can we have some photos please, to put you in our brochure?” and lots and lots of these accommodation owners said, “we don’t mind… basically,” they said, “we don’t mind taking your money, but I’m not having my property in a gay brochure.”

Rosie 00:17:15 Yeah. I was going to ask what was the reception to Respect Holidays from the providers?

Rob 00:17:22 The reception was generally very good, because we tended to focus on places where there was already a gay infrastructure. Like Ibiza, like Mykonos and also like Sitges, you know, near Barcelona and so on. But there were some kind of older, more traditional people who perhaps had owned family properties rather than, you know, a hotel chain, you know, family businesses, things like that, perhaps, the older people, traditional, they might have been farmers or something until the tourist boom in the seventies, and then decided to get rid of the goats and build a hotel on their land. But they were still very traditional people. And it was them really that said, you know, they wanted the money because they knew the gay market was – a phrase I hate, but they recognised the Pink Pound.

Rob 00:18:12 But didn’t want the, and I will say it, the shame of their mates in the bar saying, “oh, look, you a big queer, your hotel’s in a gay brochure.” Of course we did have to stick to our guns and not deal with [them]. You’re either in or you’re out, you know, there’s no way we were going to give people our money if they didn’t let us publicise the fact that they were accepting gay holiday makers. We also got a bit of resistance, I have to say, from the travel press in the UK. Even though I left the gay travel business back in 2007, I still keep in touch and I still read the trade press and I still find it really irksome when they’re doing massive features on LGBT holidays.

Rob 00:19:01 And they’re speaking to people from… well, I’m not going to name any big companies, but you know, from large household name organisations, who talk about how they value their gay customers. And I think, “well Christ!” How we were banging our heads against a brick wall back then to get any sort of PR outside the gay community. In other words, within the travel industry as a whole. I mean, what was important at the time, Rosie, was the PR within the gay community. So all the magazines and the papers and stuff did give us PR, so we did well. But I’d just say, I do find it slightly irksome. Now, you know, LGBT holidays are flavour of the month to the travel industry, but back then, nobody wanted to know.

Rosie 00:20:02 What’s changed for LGBTQ+ people over your lifetime?

Rob 00:20:07 I’m going to tell you a bit of an anecdote here. It will make sense in the end. My father was a big fan of rugby – rugby union. And up until, I think, the late eighties or nineties, it was an amateur game. So when you watched England playing Wales on television, the people playing were policemen and school teachers and accountants, you know, they all had other jobs. But they were out there representing their country. And there was something wonderful about that. Now, since then, it’s become professional and it’s a much, much better game. But something has been lost. There was something nice about seeing amateurs turning up and playing for England or Scotland or Australia, you know, and then knowing that they’re going back to work in their solicitor’s office on the Monday morning or whatever. And I draw that parallel with the gay scene, the LGBT scene. There used to be a sense of sort of – I won’t go as far as a siege mentality – but it you know, the language Polari was there to make us all a bit exclusive and a bit of ‘them against us’ and, you know, straight people never went into LGBT bars and it had a kind of quite a nice sort of community underground feel to it.

Rob 00:21:29 Well, mostly in the UK, that’s gone. Now, as I said to you earlier, you know, if you want to go out for a drink with your gay mates on the whole, in London, on the whole – well, certainly I do – I just go to any one of the three pubs within a five minute walk of my front door, none of which is a gay pub; although there are gay people who go in there. 20 years ago, even 15 years ago, I would’ve got on the tube to go to the Black Cap in Camden or somewhere in Soho or whatever. So in the same way that professional rugby is better than amateur rugby, the increased acceptance that you don’t need to be ghettoised is of course better, but something has been lost. I also think that the, and I’ve got to be very careful what I say here, because we live in such an angry world where any misstep is picked up on.

Rob 00:22:22 But I think what some people very disparagingly call “The Alphabet Soup” – LGBTQ Q I A K for kink. So basically you could be straight, but you like being spanked. And some people think that is part of the LGBTQ+ community. Well, it doesn’t affect me, if that’s what they want to be, that’s what they want to be. But I think there has been a kind of dilution. I think now perhaps some people who are basically straight, but might have had a bit of a fumble with someone of the same sex after six lagers – and I hope I’m not being too uncharitable – but are now kind of adopting a kind of, and people, you can’t see this, but I’m doing air quotes, a queer identity to kind of make them feel perhaps a little bit special. And you know, it’s like nobody’s straight anymore. Everybody has to have some sort of queer identity. And I dunno, I dunno why that annoys me, because live and let live, and each to their own, but I think it kind of dilutes the identity in a way. If everyone’s part of it, then nobody is part of it.

Rosie 00:23:28 Yeah. I’ve thought about this recently. I think there’s been a tipping point that potentially we’re over. So I think to diversify the meaning of LGBT and add Q and + I think welcomes in as many people as we need, but I think you’re right. If then it’s so accepted that it then becomes adopted by absolutely anyone who’s just touched another person of the same sex, whatever, it loses any meaning. And then it becomes this broad soup again. But within that soup, then those of us who do look different – so a woman who has a wife, or someone who’s transgender – we become the odd ones out again, within what was meant to be the odd one out. So I think there is something to be said for it. I think you’re right. I think we have to be careful of what we say, but basically if everyone adopts it, it shows in general, there’s a good level of progress in the UK, like you say, but yeah, if we broaden it out too much and welcome everyone in, all those people we’ve welcomed who are normal – or more normal than us, again, to use air quotes – they’re going to then start bearing down on us less usual ones again, and we’ll just go round in full circle. And so it does… it’s worth saying, I think,

Rob 00:24:42 I mean, I was at pride a couple of years ago… pride in London… it must’ve been 2019, that was the last one. And there was a load of male middle-aged adult babies in the parade. Now I don’t know what their sexuality was, but style-wise, I’d be very surprised if they were gay. But they were fine. Look, if you get off on dressing like a baby, um, and sucking a dummy and a giant outsize bottle in public, you know, all power to you. None of us should be judged on our sort of sexual proclivities, otherwise we’re all going to be judged. Who are we to judge people’s sexual preferences? And I’m not judging them, but you know, gay pride, really? Some middle-aged straight bloke, sucking a dummy wearing an outsize nappy? Is that really what the gay scene has become? And that does slightly concern me.

Rosie 00:25:38 Yeah. It’s interesting. I mean, adult babies specifically – I’ve I’ve only seen like one documentary about it, but I would say, I don’t feel like that’s got anything to do with the sexuality spectrum. It’s a social commentary on having too much responsibility, and wanting to regain a sort of infantile lack of responsibility to fix probably a mental health kind of crisis and loneliness, and all that stuff. But yeah, that’s got… that really doesn’t have anything to do with gay rights.

Rob 00:26:05 Yeah. I think it’s gone beyond same sex attraction now. I mean, it definitely has. I mean, as I said before, something has been lost when we move beyond same sex attraction. It’s better to be inclusive than not. But I think it’s still fair to ask questions about if everybody is under this umbrella, well, who’s left outside it?

Rosie 00:26:27 Yeah. Perhaps we’re in a strange transition and it’ll all start firming up again soon.

Rob 00:26:32 Yeah. Yeah. I mean, each to their own. This is not really a niggle, you know, live and let live. It’s better to be nice than to not be nice, and it’s better to be inclusive than exclusive, but there, I suppose, there is still a discussion to be had and questions to be asked.

Rosie 1 00:26:47 Very much so. And yeah, lesbians, bisexual, gay, and trans people were all kind and inclusive. So we do what we do, don’t we. But it’s a very good point. What are the biggest challenges, do you think, facing the LGBTQ+ community today?

Rob 00:27:03 I don’t think it is just necessarily the LGBTQ+ community, but I think it’s all communities, if you like – and I blame social media – but we are starting to see very intolerant silos of intellectual purity, where it’s almost like, kind of, Stalinism where any deviation from what somebody somewhere has said is the truth

Rob 00:27:31 Is treated as heresy. And I can certainly see within the LGBTQ community, the community turning it on itself, because they don’t necessarily share the same beliefs as everybody else. You see it in politics. You know, I’m not here to discuss my personal politics, but I will tell you I don’t vote Tory. But the truth is that the Home Secretary is Asian, The Chancellor is Asian and the Secretary of State for Health is Asian. And they’re Conservatives. Now left wing Twitter goes mad at this. And I vote Labour, but Left Wing Twitter goes mad at this because, “oh my God, they’re people of colour. They should be labour voters.” But what are they doing, they are Conservative ministers? And, you know, you can almost see the smoke coming out of their ears: do not compute, do not compute. And a similar sort of thing happens in the gay community.

Rob 00:28:27 You know, in fact, talking of politics, gay Tories. Well, so, what? If you believe… I’m not a Tory… but if you believe the free market is the best way to further society, it’s a perfectly legitimate view. All over the world, people believe in the free market. But then to sort of be expunged, if you like, from the community, in a kind of Orwelian way, for having a belief that sits outside the kind of group think. The short answer is the biggest danger, I think, is the community turning in on itself because some people don’t subscribe to the current group think.

Rosie 00:29:03 Yeah. Social media makes everyone snap to a decision about what they want to say about something, and has just eradicated all listening and thinking time.

Rob 00:29:13 Yeah. I mean, I try to not repeat myself when I write editorials and opinion pieces, but one thing I have repeated a few times is I do not believe that Twitter and others, but it’s mainly Twitter, that seems to be the most poisonous one, should be treated as a platform. They should be treated as a publisher. If somebody writes a letter to OutNews Global defaming you, Rosie, and says something about you that is blatantly untrue, and I publish it, you can sue me: OutNews Global. Not them, not the person who wrote it. Me for publishing it. Same as a mainstream newspaper. If I write a letter to The Guardian or The Telegraph alleging something, and they’re stupid enough to publish it, you can sue them because they published a defamatory comment about you. Twitter is not, in law, a publisher. It’s just a platform.

Rob 00:30:05 So they say, “well, it’s not us who said it,” but actually they are a publisher. They are, you know, by any definition, they’re a publisher. And they should take responsibility for what is on their platform. And the excuse – I’m getting on a soapbox now – and the excuse that they’re just dealing with so much traffic that it’s not possible to regulate it, is nonsense. You don’t see, thank goodness, you don’t see child porn on Twitter. You see all sorts of images, but I’ve never seen, thank goodness, any abuse of children. Why? Because Twitter is perfectly capable of regulating their content before it’s published. So to say that they can’t do it, it’s, well I’ll say it, it’s a lie. They can clearly do it.

Rosie 00:30:52 People talk about freedom of speech all the time. And when they’re on social media, they’re talking about freedom of speech. But what they’re forgetting is that, like you say, that they’re getting freedom of platform in that environment. It’s not freedom of speech. They’re getting a free platform to circulate hate speech, which is a completely different thing. It’s not speaking freely, it’s publishing hate, which usually wouldn’t be allowed because there would be editorial standards, or there would be regulation of publishing platforms.

Rob 00:31:20 Yeah. Freedom of speech is a myth. Freedom of speech has never existed. There’s laws. You’ve never been allowed to libel or slander someone. So what’s that, curtailing freedom of speech? You know, or to incite violence against an individual or a group of people, you know, if you say, “kill all Jews, let’s go out and kill all Jews.” That’s not freedom of speech. That’s incitement of violence. That’s illegal. You know? So this myth that you can say anything because of freedom of speech has always been nonsense. You know, there are regulations; there are laws. 

Rosie 00:32:09 What gives you hope for the future?

Rob 00:32:12 I actually think, even if it’s a hundred thousand British people being poisonous on social media, well there’s nearly 70 million people in this country. I actually think that the majority of people are warm-hearted, welcoming and kind.

Rob 00:32:30 There are a load of far-right meatheads in this country. There always have been. I mean, you know, we’re not talking… I mentioned before going to football, you know, when I used to go to  football in the seventies and eighties, outside certain clubs, there were people with swastikas selling, like National Front, you know, the precursor of the BNP, the National Front newspaper. Me a Jewish boy, going to the football. You know, there’s always been, kind of, right wing meat heads, but there is a reason why, unlike most European countries, the far right wing has never really had, well, they’ve never had an MP. The BNP occasionally used to get the odd counsellor, but then they’d lose their seats at the next election because they were useless. Because I think the British people are fundamentally tolerant, humorous, welcoming, and have a sense of the ridiculous. I think when anyone is too bombastic and too basically right wing or, for that matter, too left wing like some Corbynista people, I think the majority of British people see them for what they are, laugh at them, and then go about their business. Which is basically being nice, decent human beings. And that’s my hope for the future. That people are basically nice.

Rosie 00:33:44 Yeah. That’s very hopeful. And I agree. I think there’s so much to be said for kindness in people and seeing that. Rob, thanks so much for speaking with me today and coming on OUTcast. It’s been incredible to meet you and to catch up.

Rob 00:34:03 Thank you. It’s been an absolute pleasure, Rosie. Thank you so much for having me on.

Rosie 00:34:09 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.

Rob Harkavy: ‘From an early age I knew I was bisexual’

The OutNews Global editor shares his experience of coming out and being a leader in the LGBTQ travel and media industries.

Rob Harkavy is the editor of LGBTQ+ online magazine OutNews Global, Weekend Editor at the Tony Blair Institute for Global Change, and a charity ambassador. He is bisexual, and shares his experience of being a leader in the LGBTQ+ travel and media industries.

Hear Rob Harkavy’s coming out story on OUTcast Podcast.

Illustration: Sam Osborne

Hanna van Vliet Transcript

OUTcast S2, Ep 4 • 21 March 2022 • 25:35

00:00:05 Rosie: 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 outcastpod.com.

00:01:00 Rosie: This week, we’re welcoming Hanna van Vliet to the show. Hanna is a Dutch actor known for co-creating and playing the lead in the brilliant Dutch LGBTQ+ coming of age series and film ANNE+. She studied Drama and Contemporary Music Theatre at Amsterdam University of the Arts, and since graduating she’s appeared in the films Quicksand and Lost Transport, and she’s currently filming for the Dutch drama series, The dream of Youth. In 2020, Hanna was nominated for a Golden Calf Award at the Netherlands Film Festival for her portrayal of Anne in ANNE+. And she’s also been nominated for the Musical Award twice at the Prix Europe. 

Hanna, welcome to OUTcast It’s so good to meet you. Where does your coming out story begin?

00:01:48 Hanna: I guess my coming out story begins at the moment that I fell in love with a girl for the first time. From that point on you are occupied thinking about when you will maybe tell your friends, or maybe tell the girl or maybe tell people. I didn’t right away, of course, but I think that’s where it started in a way. And that was when I was 16. And then when I think back on my earlier years, I feel like I might’ve been attracted to girls way earlier, but, yeah, that might be relatable for a lot of people.

00:02:27 Rosie: Yeah. And you sort of realised yourself, but what about, like, telling people? Did you tell friends first or parents first?

00:02:36 Hanna: I was in a youth theatre company with another friend of mine, a guy. And at the same time that I fell in love with this girl, he fell in love with a guy for the first time. So this was in a way, a very safe space or a safe way to discover a little bit and talk to each other about it. So I feel like I’ve always had this one friend and then like the two people we fell in love with, we were like a group of friends, the four of us. So there was this weird safe environment. 

00:03:08 Rosie: Yeah. So, lovely.

00:03:10 Hanna: Yeah, I think that’s really nice. It helped me to not feel too weird about it, I think. But then in school, like in high school, I didn’t tell anyone, ever. Which is also interesting to me because I don’t remember struggling that much, or I don’t really remember having like a traumatised high school time because I couldn’t tell anything about the girl I was in love with. But still I didn’t tell anyone, so I bet I did struggle because otherwise I would have told my friends. Right?

00:03:47 Rosie: Yeah. And you’re wanting to talk about crushes and stuff of that age. That resonates with me. I didn’t feel like there was a struggle that I was aware of, but I certainly was … I was very delayed in telling people. It took me to go to university, and I didn’t talk to school either, yeah.

00:04:05 Hanna: No. Me either no. And maybe also not even to myself in a way. I kept telling myself, “oh, I think I’m bi.” I really think I thought I was bi also because I fell in love with guys before as well. And so I thought, “well, oh I’m in love with a girl now, but maybe there will be a guy after, I don’t know.” But I kept telling myself this for quite some years where I was actually maybe also a bit sure that wouldn’t happen again.

00:04:37 Rosie: And it turned out that it didn’t, I’m guessing?

00:04:40 Hanna: It didn’t. I would be very surprised if it would happen!

00:04:45 Rosie: And what about telling family or parents?

00:04:48 Hanna: Well, I remember talking with my mum a couple of years later already, but then she made it quite easy for me because she was like, “oh yeah, well, haven’t we all felt something for girls?” So I was like, “oh, okay.” But then I told my parents in the car, like another year later when I had my first girlfriend, I was just like, “Hey guys, I have some fun news. I’m in love. And, it’s mutual.” And then I was like, “and it’s a girl!” And then my parents are both doctors, so they were very, medical about it in anyway, they were like, “yeah, it’s a scale, sexuality is a scale.” And that was quite nice, yeah.

00:05:36 Rosie: Yeah. And supportive.

00:05:38 Hanna: Yeah.

00:05:39 Rosie: So you’ve mentioned high school and things, but since coming out to yourself, to your parents, since knowing you’re queer, are there any places where you still couldn’t come out or where you struggled to come out?

00:05:52 Hanna: Well, I think we all have days that we don’t come out right? In different situations. But, um, no, I have to say like all the big environments in my life, I’ve just been open about this luckily. But I mean, every time you go on a vacation and you’re in front of the reception desk and they keep telling you to change your double bed into two single beds. And you’re like, “no,” all those moments, they stay, right?

00:06:28 Rosie: Yeah. And you have to come out all the time, and…

00:06:31 Hanna: Yeah. Yeah. And then sometimes of course we’re not walking hand in hand all the time in every city in the world on every time of the day.

00:06:40 Rosie: Yeah. Yeah.

00:06:42 Hanna: I feel like it’s important to be open about this actually. Also sometimes when it’s a bit awkward, I also actively come out sometimes.

00:06:51 Rosie: Yeah. That’s it. Because you’re breaking down any kind of shame or perceived shame. And, you know, you’re trailing a path for people who are less able to be out for whatever reason, whether they’re in the country in the world where it’s illegal or if they’re struggling or they’ve got a difficult home environment.

00:07:11 Hanna: Exactly. Yeah. And sometimes when I’m like in countries where it’s not allowed, or not accepted, I do want to walk hand in hand, even though it’s weird. It might be weird. Or maybe my girlfriend’s like, “please, come on. Not here.” But then I feel like, yeah, but if they never see lesbians in real life, it will always be a big issue.

00:07:36 Rosie: That’s it. I had a guest at the beginning of the season talking about this and he said that if we come out in that tertiary way, every single day, we might just change the person who’s just heard that opinion, just very slightly. And we can make a, kind of, great change through all of those small coming outs.

00:07:56 Hanna: Yeah. Through a micro revolution.

00:08:13 Rosie: What are the biggest challenges facing the LGBTQ+ community today? We’ve made so much progress, but are there any sort of areas where you’re like the fight isn’t over and we need to keep talking about this?

00:08:27 Hanna: Oh yes, of course. The fight isn’t over at all. I mean, there is still a way higher rate of violence against LGBTQ people – either, physically or mentally, even in the Netherlands. I live in Amsterdam and we are considered one of the most open-minded countries or cities in the world. And we were the first to legalize gay marriage 20 years ago. But here it’s also happening. I mean, a trans woman was killed two weeks ago in the Netherlands. That’s a different fight now here, because people feel like they are very open-minded and progressive, but they’re not. So that sometimes it’s like an unclear enemy to fight, in a way. You know what I mean?

00:09:18 Rosie: I think some people think they’re so intelligent or woke or whatever it is, or they’re on the left side of the spectrum so they don’t need to worry any more. That they don’t need to think about things. I think that’s where you get these backlashes. I don’t know if it’s the same in the Netherlands, but coverage of trans rights and trans lives is so divisive in the media at the moment, all over the world, and arguments about trans rights are then coming into feminist discussions.

00:09:47 Hanna: Yeah.

00:09:48 Rosie: Especially mainstream feminist discussions. And it’s really frustrating because everyone’s losing the point that we all need to support each other.

00:09:58 Hanna: Sometimes I have the feeling we’re going back, a little bit, also in Amsterdam.

00:10:03 Rosie: Yeah. You go so far forward that then the backlash really takes traction and spoils it all.

00:10:11 Hanna: Yeah. But that’s hard to understand, I think. Even though I know that this is like the, a normal movement in time, but as a queer person, that’s really a weird feeling, you know? Because it’s so fundamentally about your self, about just being alive, about being in love, about the right to just walk on the street. I love Amsterdam and there’s a lot we have accomplished, but it’s weird that we still have this conversation about what we have accomplished. Where it just shouldn’t be a conversation at all, of course.

00:10:51 Rosie: It’s very interesting. And very interesting to hear the Netherlands perspective, especially. Because I think we do, I think we all go, “oh my God. Imagine living in Amsterdam?”

00:11:02 Hanna: It’s also true. I mean, there is a nice queer scene here. There’s bars and clubs and festivals and pride is fun and a very big mainstream event where a lot of straight people come to have beers and to have fun. But at the same time, that’s also the danger, you know. That pride here is pretty commercialised actually.

00:11:25 Rosie: Yeah. Yeah.

00:11:27 Hanna: But if you ask people; straight guys who are drunk, watching the boats, if you ask them, “why are you here? What is this day? What does it mean?” They have no clue. Where we should still have this conversation, you know? And sometimes it feels like the conversation doesn’t get the same amount of space as the commercial version of pride and they should both exist, I think. But it’s important to realise that it’s, that it’s not a party actually. It’s still a protest.

00:11:59 Rosie: Such a good point. I was speaking about something similar with another guest. We were talking about how it’s almost like we’ve sort of minimised ourselves and become a palatable version of things, to allow mainstream media, the mainstream in general, to support us whether it’s, you know, marriage equality or yeah, pride and Mardi Gras in Sydney as well, being super commercial. So that at least the heteronormative culture can get what it needs from us. And we all just sort of happily go along with it. So you’re right. I think we need to remember what it was all about and what we were fighting for. And I think having equality is so important. So marriage equality is important, as long as we can have it in our way and be queer people and celebrate being queer.

00:12:43 Hanna: Yeah. And we also should be inclusive. You know, also in pride. The Dutch pride is also very white. Very white and a lot of CIS gay guys.

00:12:56 Rosie: Yeah.

00:12:57 Hanna: But this is also something that’s not that widely discussed.

00:13:02 Rosie: Yeah. And I wanted to touch on that. How as an LGBTQ+ community, can we support the diversity of our community better?

00:13:11 Hanna: Well, I think it all starts with listening and with the realisation that you don’t know everything. Well, actually you don’t know anything about the life of a black trans person, even though you’re in the queer community. It’s a different experience. And I think if we would all just put down our egos and just have the ability to listen, really, that would be… that’s like the start, that’s a good start, I think.

00:13:42 Rosie: Yeah.

00:13:43 Hnna: And not be possessive about our, you know, our experience as queer people in a way.

00:13:50 Rosie: Yeah. Listening and reading.

00:14:11 Let’s talk about ANNE+. It’s amazing. You’re the co-creator and the lead of the TV series, which is now a film…

00:14:18 Hanna: Yes.

00:14:19 Rosie: Let’s go back to the beginning. How did it all come about?

00:14:22 Hanna: It started five years ago when Maud Wiemeijer and Valerie Bisscheroux, the creators, the writer and the director, were having a beer in a gay bar in Amsterdam. And they were talking about the lack of lesbian representation in the media, in film and TV. So they were like, “yeah, we should, we should try to make something. We should make a web series that would go all around the world and set in Amsterdam.” And then a couple of weeks later, I think Maud came with an idea for a show called ANNE+ with six episodes where we see six different, or five different, girls. And then it moved very quickly, I think. Then they sat together brainstorming about who should play this role. They found it very important that it should be a queer actor. And then they also saw me sometimes in this gay bar knowing I was an actor. It was a much smaller project back then.

00:15:25 Hanna: It just felt like, oh, this, you know, off-Broadway small, um, YouTube idea. So I said, “yes”, because I felt like, “oh, that’s cool. I can play a lesbian for once. I always play straight girls having to do like sex scenes with guys. It would be nice to, just to, play something that’s a little bit closer to me.” We tried to sell it to mainstream media, the idea, but a lot of people thought it was niche. It was quite hard to find the money. Actually it didn’t work at all. We also were very young of course, with like not big curriculums. And I have to say this as well, but also this point of, “oh, it’s a lesbian series. That’s such a small group, such a small audience. It’s never gonna work.” It turns out to be a big mistake!

00:16:18 Rosie: Every day, nearly, me and my partner were like, “we need something good lesbian to watch!”

00:16:23 Hanna: Yeah. Yeah. We needed to find the money. So we did a crowdfunding, there was a lot of enthusiasm in the Dutch community. And then the Mill Street Films, our producer, stepped in and we could finish the first season. And then from there, it just went on. We got to travel the world with our first little season, you know, that was really cool. And to meet other communities all around the world. I travelled to São Paulo for instance, to Brazil, with this very Dutch, very light happy series. And of course they live in a very different reality there with the president, like Bolsonaro. But to meet all those people and talk about the show and talk about the films they made. And it was really just such a big joy, not only as an actor, but also as a human being. This all happened, and then we were able to make a second season for Dutch television, and then Netflix was interested in buying the seasons, and they were interested in making a film with us. That’s of course a dream come true.

00:17:37 Rosie: Amazing. We discovered it in England and we just fell in love with the series. It’s so positive and it’s so ordinary, but beautiful. Why do you think it has resonated so strongly with audiences all over the world?

00:17:54 Hanna: I think, what you say. Like, it’s, it’s ordinary in a way. I think it’s relatable because it has very universal themes, like being in love and being heartbroken and being a 20-something person, not knowing what to do with your life. And I think it’s relatable for a lot of people, probably. Also for straight people, by the way. We also have a straight audience who likes the series and is surprised by it also because they were like, “oh, I don’t know why I started watching because yeah, I’m not sure if I’m the audience… and I like it so much in the scene where you, where you get this Tinder message, and, uh, it was so relatable and well…” that’s very funny to me that straight guys come up to me in the streets, telling me that they saw and like the show.

00:18:47 Rosie: I love that. It’s so relatable. Like I think a lot of the scenes, probably us in our twenties or thirties even can be like, “uh, yeah I remember a moment like that.”

00:18:58 Hanna: It’s the big talent also of the writer Maud Wiemeijer. I’ve never had a scenario, I think, with such natural dialogue, for instance. And there’s so much space also because of the director, there’s a lot of space to improvise or they like, they really like us to bring a lot of ourselves to the table. And I think those are all things you feel in the show. And also because we started it off all voluntarily, nobody got paid, a lot of the people cast and crew are queer themselves and do understand the importance and the necessity also of the show.

00:19:42 Rosie: Yeah, definitely. And did it feel very different? I mean, it sounds like it’s been a bit of an evolution, but did it feel different being on a set for the TV show compared to the film? Like, does that just involve a completely whole new world in terms of setting up production and things?

00:19:58 Hanna: Making a film, relatively you have more time and money for a film. Less days and more time. So you feel this, of course, that there’s more possibilities. If the director had an idea, the production team would just say, “oh yeah. Okay, well, we’re going to try, oh, that’s fun.” Where normally, always, it always was like, “yeah, but that’s too expensive. It’s impossible.” So all of a sudden there were, like, possibilities to grow up also in the way it looks in the cinematography. And I think on all levels, the film is a step for all of us.

00:20:36 Rosie: You’ve touched on it, but how did it feel getting that call or that news that it was going to be a feature film?

00:20:43 Hanna: Amazing, of course. Because Netflix has such a big audience. Yeah. It’s just an amazing feeling that you might be able to reach the whole earth, almost the entire world, like 190 countries. That’s insane for a web series that started so small. I mean, in the beginning we were all like, “yeah, okay. But will it really happen?” You know, so when we were on set, it was like, “oh my God, we’re really, we’re doing this!”

00:21:28 Hanna: In the beginning, there were people who were telling me like, “oh, Hanna, shouldn’t you, you know, be careful because you, you know, you play this lesbian role and then you talk in the media so much about yourself being a lesbian, and don’t get type cast. We’re a small country. If everyone thinks you can only play lesbians.” It’s true. I mean, there is a lot of typecasting in our world of course, but it really proved to be not true because the only thing that happened is that a lot of very nice, cool filmmakers just recognised something in the style of ANNE+ and came up to me and now we work together, you know, it’s really… it has been one of the best decisions of my life, I think, to join ANNE+.

00:22:18 Rosie: It reminds me of coming out in general. I don’t know if you’ve ever had friends or family, or acquaintances or anyone sort of warn you about coming out in general, but sometimes people can say, “you know, just leave it at home. Don’t come out at work.” And it’s a similar thing to typecasting. It’s like, “don’t risk it, you know, you might not get that promotion or you might not be able to rent that flat.” But actually when you come out and as time progresses and as we do make progress, it’s so worth it. It’s never a thing you regret.

00:22:49 Hanna: No.

00:22:50 Rosie: But it’s interesting you say that in the film world and in acting that that is, sort of, said.

00:22:57 Hanna: Yeah. I don’t know if it’s true anywhere, but I also think that it has something to do with being yourself, being able to be yourself. And in that way also work on your highest level.( The topniveau as we say….)

00:23:14 Rosie: One thing I love asking guests is what gives you hope, for now or for the future, as an LGBTQ plus person?

00:23:23 Hanna: I think that social media, like Instagram and TikTok, is good news, really for the community and for young people, because they can choose their own role models. And even though they might feel a bit alienated in high school, they can still find people who look like them or who, you know, who have the same feelings and they won’t feel this lonely or this weird. And by not feeling weird they can speak up. And by speaking up queers will be normalised. And by being normalised, there will be less violence. So I think this is nice. This is really nice. Also indeed, also for people who are not in this community, because I also learned so much from activists I follow that are in a different community than I am. So I also think that that might be the case for straight CIS people.

00:24:25 Rosie: Yeah. You can watch black activists documenting their work and speaking to millions, or you can watch trans heroes documenting their journeys and comforting people. So of course, like, of course, there is so much good.

00:24:40 Hanna: And this is something I didn’t have when I was younger. I grew up without Instagram. I feel so old now!

00:24:52 Rosie: Aww no! Well, Hanna, thank you so much for joining us on OUTcast and telling us about your coming out story, and also letting us in on what it’s been like to create and star in ANNE+.

00:25:04 Hanna: Thank you!

00:25:06 Rosie: 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.

Listen to ANNE+ star Hanna van Vliet’s coming out story

The Dutch actor on what it was like coming out in Amsterdam, and being an out LGBTQ actor.

Hanna van Vliet is a Dutch actor, and co-creator and star of the TV series and Netflix film, ANNE+. She tells Rosie what it was like coming out in Holland and being an out LGBTQ+ TV and film actor.

They also discuss issues in the LGBTQ+ community today, and what it was like developing ANNE+ from a popular indie digital TV series, to a successful TV show, to an international Netflix feature film.

“My coming out story begins at the moment that I fell in love with a girl for the first time,” Hanna smiles, as she shares her coming out story on OUTcast Podcast. “From that point on, you are occupied thinking about when you will maybe tell your friends, or maybe tell the girl, or maybe tell people.

“I didn’t right away, of course, but I think that’s where it started in a way. And that was when I was 16. And then when I think back on my earlier years, I feel like I might’ve been attracted to girls way earlier, but that might be relatable for a lot of people.”

“I feel like it’s important to be open about this, actually. Now [I’ve got the the point where] sometimes, even when it’s a bit awkward, I actively come out.”

Hear Hanna van Viet’s coming out story on OUTcast Podcast.

Illustration: Sam Osborne
Photo: Romy Treebusch / Netflix

ANNE+: The Film is streaming worldwide on Netflix.

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 outcastpod.com.

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.

Rosie Wilby: ‘Queer concepts are flooding through society’

British comedian and writer Rosie Wilby discusses monogamy, the paradox of progress, and navigating long-term relationships as a member of the LGBTQ community.

Rosie Wilby is a British stand up comedian, writer and podcaster. Off the back of her podcast and new book, The Breakup Monologues.

“It’s really interesting to think about how being gay, being queer, being other, has altered the course of your life in quite major ways,” Wilby reflects in Episode 3 of Season 2 of OUTcast. “Sometimes in very good way, celebratory ways.”

OUTcast host Rosie Pentreath says, “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 effort in the much younger generation. We shouldn’t forget how much progress has been made.”

Wilby shares her story of navigating coming out in 1980s Britain under Thatcher’s discriminatory Section 28 legislation, and the stigma that it helped spread. She also discusses queer relationships, monogamy, how far LGBTQ+ rights have come and the ‘paradox of progress’ that comes with that.

“Queer concepts are flooding through society and I have hope that the younger generation will continue to just not accept binaries, just not accept anything that’s holding them down,” the comedian and writer of The Breakup Monologues says.

Hear Rosie Wilby’s story on OUTcast Podcast.

Illustration: Sam Osborne

Rosie Wilby’s book, The Breakup Monologues, is out now published by Bloomsbury. Visit linktr.ee/breakupmonologues.

AJ Clementine Transcript

OUTcast S2, Ep 2 • 7 Mar 2022 • 32:08

00:00:05 Rosie: 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 outcastpod.com.

00:01:00 Rosie: AJ Clementine is an Australian TikTok and Instagram influencer, model and creator. As well as her love for fashion and modelling, she’s known for her LGBTQ plus advocacy. She’s passionate about sharing her experience of being transgender and being open about her gender confirmation surgery to help the next generation of trans and LGBTQ+ people feel inspired and supported in their own journeys. Her book, Girl Transcending is part memoir, part guide book for navigating the trans journey. And it’s packed with resources and advice for fellow trans and LGBTQ+ people, as well as allies. AJ writes, “When you’re growing up and forming your sense of self, every casual comment adds up: a racist comment, a transphobic joke, a slur whispered under someone’s breath. It all piles up in the back of your brain, feeding the negative preconceptions you hold about aspects of your identity. That’s why coming out to yourself is by far the hardest thing to do. At least it was for me.” In telling her coming out story so honestly today, AJ hopes others may one day find it easier to tell their own stories and truly be themselves. AJ, welcome to OUTcast. It’s amazing to have you on.

00:02:14 AJ: Thank you so much for having me.

00:02:15 Rosie: Your book, Girl Transcending, is fantastic, fabulous, and it’s a beautiful, beautiful read. So I can’t wait to get into that with you. In your book, you write about being born in this shell, this magical body, that made you look like a perfect little boy on the outside, even though you were a girl. You describe it feeling sort of darker and colder inside as the years went on, as you got older, which you can now recognise as gender dysphoria. For listeners who haven’t read your book yet, what were those childhood years like?

00:02:49 AJ: I guess it was… it was very conflicting and confusing as a child to navigate those feelings without knowing what it meant or why I was having those feelings. It felt very, like, alienating and just separated me from every other kid because I’d never thought why, why was I different to all the other girls that were just growing and maturing as I got older? And then again, I was also being categorised in a box, which I did not feel was me, and resonated with me. And it wasn’t just because of, like, toys or interests. It was down to like the core and soul and all those kind of things that as a kid I was recognising. I was recognising that there was a physical thing called gender and our society where we group certain things for girls and certain things for boys.

00:03:47 AJ: And it goes beyond just, you know, certain things. It’s also like the roles that we play in society, and understanding that and realising that as a kid was just so terrifying. And it was just really scary to see that that was the road I had to be forced down and pushed down to fit in. And as soon as I started to realise I wasn’t going to fit that mould, I just guess I just stuck to the things that made me happy and didn’t really think anything of it as a kid, which I’m glad that I did. I’m glad I had that kind of essence of not really giving, like, two craps about what other people thought, but as I did get older, it was much more difficult to hold on to that.

00:04:35 Rosie: And you talk about these roles, as well as the things you were pushed into, but that wasn’t the case at home, was it? You were very much yourself at home. You were a girl. You could follow your interests and be yourself.

00:04:47 AJ: Yeah, definitely. I feel like it was not, there wasn’t any boundaries or there wasn’t any limits on, in terms of what I could do or feel as safe as I wanted in myself and my environment. So yeah, it was never looked down upon. There were some moments where, you know, it would be questioned or would just, would talk about why I was doing those kinds of things. But at the end of the day, I would just continue to say that it was making me happy and then my family stood by that.

00:05:21 Rosie: Yeah, you describe really wonderfully in the book, your mum just allowing you to play and allowing you to grow. It’s really inspiring to read that that was happening. And I think, accordingly you didn’t really come out to your parents as such – your mum and your stepdad, your biological dad – there was an essence that people knew, but what happened when you were able to start making these realisations that were so painful and then navigate actually talking about it with your parents? Like, how did that go down?

00:05:51 AJ: I guess it was definitely something that they wanted me to talk about with them, but I felt like it was something I had to do on my own or keep to myself. Just because, you know, there was nothing really to follow. I didn’t know how to transition. I didn’t anybody that was also transitioning. There was no one to tell me how to start, and all that kind of stuff like that. I just focused on doing it myself, and I knew that my parents wouldn’t have any idea of what that meant or have any knowledge of this. So I just felt like I couldn’t really involve them in it, but I guess the real discussion with them was when it came to me bringing up wanting gender confirmation surgery. And they knew that that was something that I wanted, but they were just kind of glad that I actually brought it up with them for once, with something that was in my transition, because I kind of just did everything and kept them in the loop, but didn’t really sit down and discuss something with them until that moment. They knew that it wasn’t a phase anymore.

00:06:57 AJ: They knew it wasn’t something that was just like my interest. They knew that it was serious and they just, yeah, they didn’t really think anything of it because they knew that deep down that’s how I was and that’s who I am.

00:07:14 Rosie: Yeah. And how old were you when you talked to them about confirmation surgery?

00:07:19 AJ: I was like 19. Yeah.

00:07:22 Rosie: Speaking of when you were a teenager, you discovered trans German singer songwriter, Kim Petras when you were a young teenager. You call it your light bulb moment. How did it change things discovering a trans role model like her?

00:07:37 AJ: It literally changed everything of how I felt towards myself and trans people in general, because up until that point, I only thought trans people existed in porn or in sex work and as the butt of the joke in movies and films where it was a comic relief, or it was, you know, a villain that was just trying to fool people into believing that they are just like dressing up. And I didn’t think of it anything more than just that until I came across Kim Petras and she was living her life and she had gender confirmation surgery at 16 and, you know, it just felt like a whole nother weld. And the fact of her story reached like, you know, it went like worldwide. I just didn’t know that existed. And the way that she spoke about it as in Germany it’s been a thing for ages.

00:08:36 AJ: And like they have a whole system in order for trans people to transition without any fuss and to just get the surgeries and hormones they need. And I just felt like, wow, this is crazy. And I started to do my own research, but at the time you had to go to the family court, if you’re under 18 in order to get hormones. And it was just like a scary thing to think about, to tell my parents like, “Hey, like I want to go to the court to get hormones.” And I just kind of thought, well, I’ll just wait then until I’m 18.

00:09:27 AJ: Definitely there was a moment with my friend in high school. She took note of all the things that I would do and I was at a point where I was introducing more feminine clothing into my wardrobe. And at sleepovers I had this cheap Lady Gaga $10 wig that I always wore just to… around my friends and I slowly started to… I wore the wig, even though it was just such a bad wig, I like wore the wig to school sometimes just for fun. And my friend was, well she just took note of it. And she just was kind of informing herself about trans people. And she was watching lots of documentaries. So she pulled me aside, like one sleepover, and just asked me straight to my face. Like, “are you trans? Like, do you think you want to transition?”

00:10:20 AJ: “Because if you do, then I’m here to support you through it all.” And at the time I was just not fully ready to accept that label yet. And that was before the Kim Petras situation. So in my mind I had a lot of internalised transphobia because of all the things that I saw and consumed in terms of trans stuff. So I just rejected her help and just thought, “no, like, why would you think that? Like, I’m just me.” I am not all of those things that I was thinking in my head in terms of like being, you know, in porn or a sex worker, or the comic relief joke. It felt like an attack, even though she was just trying to be my friend in that moment.

00:11:06 Rosie: Yeah. As you say, that internalised shame is really difficult to overcome. Yeah. But I love your “someday soons” and “your time will come” mentality in the book. It’s really positive. And I know it will resonate with so many readers, and so many listeners to this podcast. How did your experience of being mixed race in Australia intersect with your experience of being trans? Because you do write about that.

00:11:33 AJ: Honestly, I was definitely, like, confused by it growing up. Just because the narrative in terms of when I was in primary school to high school, from teachers and the principal, there was this narrative of being like, “Australia’s multicultural. We accept everybody. You know, we have so many cultures that we want to embrace,” and that was true. Like there was lots of different people in our classes. And for me, when I was growing up, it was very much 50:50 Asians and white people at my school. And that was the one culture that, like, I would just see and hear lots and lots about. But when there was, like, Asians, it was mostly like… there wasn’t really anyone from South East Asia, which was like, you know, my cultural background. So it was very difficult as a kid to be excluded from that because I would always… because my Filipino mum was more of a role in my life and connected me to Filipino culture and just Asian culture in general.

00:12:44 AJ: And I was more raised like that. You know, I had my stepdad and my biological dad, and my biological dad played a very minor role in my life and my stepdad was always working. So my mum was the one person in my life, and for me, I felt more Asian than I did with white. So I would try and be friends with Asian people. Um, but then would slowly be rejected as a kid just because I didn’t look like them. It was so strange because, as kids, you don’t really see, you know, that sometimes you don’t see how people look, or their skin colour. It’s like stuff that people actually tell you to focus on and to look at because of us, like, as we kind of take note of these kind of things. And so I just kind of always felt out of place in that, in that kind of world, just because I spent most of my time in my schools just having a whole white friend group. It was just strange, because I found myself trying to relate to, you know, more of like the Australian culture and forcing myself to, kind of, change and tweak just to try and mould myself and forget about being, you know, having that Asian culture inside of me.

00:14:10 AJ: And it just added so much confusion because lots of people at my school would be like, “why are you doing this if you’re like are not white, or you’re not really from here?” And I didn’t know where I stood because for me, I thought that I looked more white than I did Asian because of the Asian people at my school being like, “Oh no, you’re not Asian enough.” And then, you know, white people would be like, “oh, like you don’t look white and where are you from?” All this kind of stuff, like the one feature was my eyes. And, like, people would just always be like, “oh, why do you have Asian eyes?” Like all this kind of stuff like that. And I never wanted to get into it. And I never really wanted to be like, “oh, I have Asian eyes because I’m Asian.”

00:14:54 AJ: I would just ignore it and be like, “oh, I don’t know why I have Asian eyes,” you know? Which was just a weird kind of conflict to have. Because then, like I said before, the adults in these schools would be like, you know, we embrace all these cultures and stuff like that. And it was, it was true. Like there was so many people like being able to just mingle and there was no differences, but then when it came to being mixed, it was like a conflict of being like, “you’re not enough of this, so what are you doing? And then you’re not enough of that. So what are you doing?”

00:15:29 Rosie: Yeah. Again, like these boxes and stereotypes that you talk about now around LGBTQ+ labels are just as bad around race.

00:15:36 AJ: Yeah, exactly.

00:15:38 Rosie: And especially, yeah, when the figureheads and the people in charge of saying, “oh, but we’re so multicultural, like we’re paying lip service,” but not necessarily understanding the nuances on the ground. Yeah. Let’s pivot to the trans experience. You’ve documented a lot of your journey being transgender on YouTube and TikTok. What role has social media played in your coming out journey?

00:16:01 AJ: It’s played like such a huge impact because, like I mentioned before  in terms of the lack of positive representation for trans people, social media really acted as a way to counteract that and show that even though mainstream media isn’t really showcasing the true, authentic stories, there’s actually lived experiences out there. There are trans people who are living their best lives, and you can follow that. You can consume that. And navigating the few years of, like, my teen years, the end of my teen years, I really grabbed onto that. And I took that as hope. And I saw that like, there was an outcome, there was an end goal and a future for me. So it was such a positive role in terms of that.

00:16:55 Rosie: Mmm hmm, definitely. In quite a frank YouTube video, fairly recently, you talked about hating being trans, but what you meant was that you wouldn’t pick something like that. You wouldn’t choose to be born in the body that you weren’t meant to be born in. But in spite of that, your advocacy work is about being really visible and telling these stories, the same stories that helped you on social media, telling those same stories and driving trans visibility. Why is visibility so important?

00:17:26 AJ: I guess, like, just because of what I was mentioning before, like with the struggle that I went through in terms of the internalised transphobia that I faced and having to unlearn that was like so difficult because it’s really ingrained into you. And I understand why people hate so much, like why they hate certain people for no reason, certain minorities for no reason. It’s because it’s learned, and visibility can act as a way of information and it provides a human-like nature to people. And diversifying that and the media adds to that because, you know, for years and years we’ve had the same narrative and it literally controls the way that we view groups of people because of our movies and Hollywood was, you know, dominated by white people, it literally creates a… a narrative in which forms a certain type of trust out of nowhere.

00:18:33 AJ: And I’ve seen that. I see that in my Filipino mum and like my Filipino culture, because it’s literally focused around whiteness and wanting to be white. And that is because of mainstream media and the desire to want to be that, and how white people will always be ‘the saviour’ in all situations. And that’s something that, like, is still an issue that needs to be tackled in Filipino culture. But that is a prime example of how visibility made that impact on a whole country and like affected it in so many different ways in terms of, you know, having babies to try and get rid of darker skin. And it’s all of those kind of things that just like shows that, because of the lack of visibility in terms of more skin colours on film, just in that, and just having more authentic people shown, could have stopped that in its tracks, and showed that like, you know, every type of person is beautiful. And that goes the same for LGBTQ+ community. People, are kind of moulded into these boxes that they feel they have to be. And it creates all of these toxic traits, for humans, and they can’t just live authentically because they don’t know any better.

00:20:00 Rosie: That’s it. I think, you know, when film and TV sort of emerged and became such a huge media, there was this thoughtlessness. The sort of people with power produced the art. And then when we started consuming the art over decades, we assumed that what we are consuming is what life looks like, and definitely should look like, and then you get this horrible affect where people just take it for granted. So then when they see different, you know, as well as all those messages about what you should like, or shouldn’t like, you just think it’s “the norm”, in air quotes. It’s really, um, it’s really toxic. Speaking about representation in film and TV that we’ve been touching on, a really negative example is Hangover 2, that you mentioned in your book. A character sleeps with a woman and learns that she’s trans and he vomits when he finds out, and it’s just the most toxic, very privileged masculine white American trope. And it’s really, really horrible. But how has trans representation sort of evolved in your lifetime? You speak about social media, but potentially in mainstream media, film and TV, have you seen a bit of an evolution?

00:21:09 AJ: Yeah, definitely. I feel like there has been in the recent years, there’s  been so many characters that have brought life to trans people. And we’re moving into a new era where  trans people are demanding  to play trans roles because, you know, you go back just like five years ago and trans characters were being created, but they were played by cis people. As much as those stories were good, you know, they were different. And they were changing the narrative of like what we discussed before, it was still, at the core, played by a cis person. And that means that they get to walk away from that role, take off the wig, take off the clothing and they’re not trans. And that also still adds to the narrative that trans people are dressing up and are just playing a role, which isn’t true. And now I’m glad that, like, you know, it’s not being given to cis people and we know that’s not right, and it should be given to trans people, and it’s so great to see that there’s an actual trans woman playing a trans super hero playing Super Girl. And there’s a main character trans woman in Euphoria who, you know, has her own struggles outside of being trans and is navigating that and gets a love story and gets to be a love interest. And it’s just new things that we’ve never seen. And it’s cool to see because like, you know, that would have helped me so much in high school and I’m glad that the next generation gets to have that.

0:22:46 Rosie: Absolutely. And like you say, those little tiny messages that add to the bigger message that a cis person playing a trans person can take the costume off at the end of the day. It’s a really good point. Even shows like The L word, you know, the original L Word is so old fashioned and there was so much to learn. And then with Generation Q they’ve at least gone some way to trying to right some wrongs around trans representation and things like that, which is positive. Another thing you’re really good at talking about is why LGBTQ+ labels, and the huge rainbow of labels within that, are so important. I think even within our community, people that weren’t necessarily raised in the social media age, they feel out of touch with the labels or that they’re not for them, or that they don’t get them. I love how you speak about them and you hit the nail on the head. Are you happy to talk a bit about why those nuanced labels and ways of identifying are so empowering and so important, for any allies listening or kind of older listeners to the podcast who, who might’ve grown up without so many labels?

00:23:48 AJ: Yeah. I feel like we progress and we move on with different language and we understand things better. It adds to, you know, finding new identities and, you know, it’s not just that these identities are coming out of nowhere. Stuff literally has been documented in different ways in history and it’s just putting it into new words and also describing it in ways that just resonate better with people. And as much as like, you know, I understand labels and I get labels, but then also I’m on the other side as well, where it’s like, we shouldn’t have to label each other and we should just be and exist as people, but it’s validation. And it’s also a way to explain yourself to people where, you know, they can just, if they don’t want to understand it in that moment, that they can go and educate themselves if they want to. And it’s just important to have that as a way to give people a bit more understanding of, like, not only on themselves, but then for others to understand them too. It goes both ways with sexuality being on the whole spectrum and then gender just being, like, you know, there’s not one way you can be and, you know, it’s constructed in a way that you can literally just… however you feel is how you can identify.

00:25:18 Rosie: And I like how you put it, that it would be ideal not to have labels, but at the moment, I think such nuanced and such, kind of beautiful spectrums of labels actually help form a bridge to that kind of utopia where it wouldn’t be necessary. But at the moment, yeah, it’s a way of educating, explaining, empowering yourself, just celebrating yourself really. 

00:25:54 Rosie: And you do say that enough isn’t being done to support and protect trans people today. And I think especially around the world, certainly in the UK, Australia, the US, and all over the world, there is this sort of backlash against trans lives that you feel online and in the media, I think as we’re learning more. What more could be done to protect trans people?

00:26:17 AJ: Definitely education is the one thing that will protect trans people and their lives. It’s just adding the education around it and not pointing that weight onto trans people to educate. Because, just because trans people are educating on their own platforms, or however they’re doing it, doesn’t mean that everybody is listening and it needs to be, you know, in the forefront. It needs to be in places where the person’s not looking for any information on trans people, because that’s when it becomes dangerous when they do encounter a trans person and their first reaction is to be negative or aggressive. It’s just, it’s missed. Like, it’s a way in which that that could have been prevented in ways that like, just people understanding. Sometimes they literally just have their own perception on what they think trans people are like, because of all of those negative things in history or what people are telling them. And it shouldn’t just be relied on in social media. It should be just literally discussed in schools and in the mainstream as well.

00:27:33 Rosie: Yeah. Definitely. Where would you recommend trans allies go to find out more about the trans experience? I think you’re right. I think people have to do their own reading and their own education whilst it’s not available in schools and stuff. Where can people go to get some good reading? Have you got any great books or great websites or resources?

00:27:53 AJ: I definitely do vouch for Minus 18 as a great resource for anyone that’s wanting to understand, you know, the community, especially in a way that it’s constructed for youth and the younger generation, and understanding, you know, your children a bit more and like where we’re heading in terms of just like language. Also there’s lots of great resources in my book, as well. There’s a whole bunch in that, that I feel is so important for parents and for queer kids themselves to just try and understand themselves a bit better, because knowledge is definitely power and that will help us.

00:28:35 Rosie: Yeah. Yeah, listeners: AJ’s book, Girl, Transcending, does have incredible pullouts, almost, like lovely pop-up boxes of great websites to visit. It’s conscious of international audiences as well. So you have resources in the UK, US, Australia, it’s fantastic. So anyone listening to this, I really, really, really urge you to get AJ’s book, read her story, and check out her resources. They are incredible. 

00:29:17 Rosie: AJ, what would you say to a young trans person listening who was going through the same pain and uncertainties that you’ve experienced?

00:29:25 AJ: Life is our own separate journey. And as much as we want to try and compare and follow the same path as anybody else, it’s never going to be the same for us. And we don’t have to treat it as a race because we can literally just take it at our own pace and not have to have everything figured out in this point in time. And you don’t need the stress, in terms of, like, knowing that you don’t have everything that you need because we are a work in progress and it’s okay to slowly get to where you are because there is no time limit.

00:30:06 Rosie: Yeah. I love that. And I love how you put in your book, “when they look at me, people now see the person I knew I always was.” It’s such a beautiful sentence, it encapsulates your journey and how hopeful you are. What gives you hope, now and for the future?

00:30:26 AJ: I feel like definitely just seeing more representation and visibility on screen, and also just in general, diversifying, you know, the world and how we see things is just… I feel like it just gives so much hope and it gives so much more to the next generation in terms of how they see and can see themselves, and see themselves in certain aspects of their lives. And I just think that’s so important and so inspiring.

00:30:56 Rosie: Absolutely. Definitely. Thank you so much for being an OUTcast. Thank you for your beautiful book. Congratulations. {Thank you.} I know it’s out in Australia, out in the UK as well and online, and you can check out AJS channels. They’re incredible, nice and easy to find. Thank you so much for your time.

00:31:17 AJ: Thank you, thanks for having me.

00:31:21 Rosie: Thank you for listening to OUTcast, a podcast with interviews and coming out stories from inspiring LGBTQ+ people. Don’t forget to go back and listen to other episodes if you’re new to the show. We have a fascinating interview with Tilly Lawless, the Sydney-based queer sex worker and novelist, as well as the British transgender priest, Sarah Jones, and Gogglebox Australia’s Tim Lai of Tim and Leanne fame. And there are so many other incredible guests with illuminating and uplifting coming out stories in our first season, which is available online, at outcastpod.com, and wherever you usually get your podcasts. I’m your host, Rosie Pentreath. I hope you can join us again next week.

Model and LGBTQ advocate AJ Clementine on the power of trans representation in the media

AJ Clementine documents her experiences of being transgender online, and in her book, ‘Girl, Transcending’, to inspire and support the next generation of trans people. She shares her coming out story and discusses why positive trans representation on screen is so crucial.

AJ Clementine is a TikTok and Instagram influencer, model and LGBTQ+ advocate. She documents her experiences of being transgender online, and in her book, Girl, Transcending, to help inspire and support the next generation of trans people. She shares her coming out story with Rosie, and they discuss why positive trans representation on screen and in mainstream media is so crucial.

Hear AJ’s story on OUTcast Podcast.

Illustration: Sam Osborne

AJ Clementine’s memoir, Girl, Transcending, is out now published by Murdoch Books. Visit murdochbooks.com.au.

Patrick Gale Transcript

OUTcast S2, Ep 1 • 28 Feb 2022 • 42:37

Rosie: 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’re about to share. You can follow us on social media at @OUTcastLGBT, and you can find us online at outcastpod.com.

Rosie: 00:01:00 Welcome back to OUTcast. It’s amazing to be back for another series. This week, I have a guest I’m really excited about. Of course, I’m excited about all of my guests, but people who know me will know that I a) love books, and b) love South West Cornwall, which is where I’m from. And today I’m joined by the author Patrick Gale. Patrick is a best-selling British novelist, Emmy-winning screenwriter and Artistic Director of North Cornwall Book Festival. He was born on the Isle of Wight in 1962 and was the youngest of a big family. He has described not coming out as such, having been pretty much born out and he explores LGBTQ+ themes in most of his novels. He has written 21 novels, the most recent of which is Mother’s Boy, out this month. In 2017, Patrick wrote for the screen for the first time and his two-part BBC drama, Man in an Orange Shirt, won the 2018 International Emmy for Best Miniseries.

Rosie: 00:01:59 He has lived in Cornwall since 1988 and as someone born and raised in South West Cornwall I totally condone that choice. He threads wonderful descriptions of Cornwall, and especially the areas I grew up in, into many of his novels, which is part of the reason I love them so much, but they’re also wonderful books. He now lives in far west Cornwall on a farm near Land’s End with his husband Aiden Hicks. They raise beef cattle and grow barley and garden obsessively, and Patrick also fulfils his other great love, which is playing the cello. So I’m delighted to be speaking with you today, Patrick. Welcome to OUTcast. It’s great to have you with us.

Patrick: It’s a real pleasure. 

Rosie: You’ve mentioned that you didn’t come out as such in one big go. What is your experience of coming out?

Patrick: 00:02:42 My experience coming out is quite surreal. In a way, when I came out, my mother stole my thunder completely by outing my father to me. Which I don’t think, I don’t think many men or women have to go through. I was 21. I had just finished my first novel, which was a very, very gay novel called The Aerodynamics of Pork, which I had no expectation of it ever getting published, it was so gay. And in those days that was a real block to being published. And I had given a copy to my mother to read, and it was my not terribly subtle way of forcing her into having the conversation finally, because I’d been an extremely camp child. I mean, I’m sure it was blindingly obvious, but my mother was one of those very sweet, very Christian women who could just ignore evidence right under her nose.

Patrick: 00:03:35 Anyway, I gave her this book to read and I – poor woman, it was her birthday treat – I took her out to the theatre and then took her out for a meal afterwards – and about halfway through the meal I said, ‘so, what did you think of the book?’ And without drawing breath, she just said, ‘well, darling, I think it was very funny and sweet and rather sad. And uh, well I’ve given it to a father to read because I think it’ll help him come to terms with himself.’ And so of course the rest of the conversation all evening was about her trauma. Nothing to do with me being gay at all! Because she then told me this story, that when she was pregnant with me – I was the sixth of her children, only four of us survived into adulthood – when she was pregnant with me, they were moving house and she, typically bossy and interfering, was tidying my father’s desk for him, to be helpful.

Patrick: 00:04:34 And she found a bundle of love letters and she was terribly amused and excited because he’d never mentioned a girlfriend before. He was always very, very uptight and virginal. And so she thought, ‘ oh, what fun I fun, I’ve found a secret.’ And then she started to read them and realised very quickly they were not only from another man, but it was quite clear that he and this man had had, as she put it, a passion which he had never shown to her. And that it had gone on right up until the eve of their wedding. And that it was, she said it was clear from the letters, that the two men had spent the night before the wedding in a hotel together. And said man was my father’s best man at the wedding. My father was best man at his wedding. And they were both godfathers to each other’s first born children.

Patrick: 00:05:24 So he, yeah, he was a close family friend. And my mother never told my father that she knew. She did that very, very sort of upper middle class English response to a crisis, which was to pretend that it wasn’t there. She burnt the letters because she was terrified because it was still illegal to be gay then. She thought if anyone found out my father would lose his job, he might be sent to prison. So she destroyed the letters. She never told my father she knew, so they never had the conversation, which I find completely astonishing. And then the really sad thing is, because of her ignorance of such matters, she assumed this meant that my father was a paedophile. So she never, ever left us alone with him, ever. My first memories of actually being alone with my father was in my teens, by which time she had long since given up patrolling us. But it’s terribly sad, I think. Desperately sad. And so of course my coming out wasn’t really a coming out at all. My coming out was my fathers coming out.

Rosie: 00:06:36 Did you have any inkling at all?

Patrick: 00:06:38 None at all. On the one hand she thought she was telling me a sort of horror story, which she was, only it wasn’t the sort of horror story she thought she was telling me. But on the other hand, actually, what she was doing was handing me the the most wonderful coming out present. Because I think most LGBTIQ people, their biggest trauma as teenagers is the sense that they don’t belong in the family, because they don’t recognize themselves in either of their parents. They are something so deeply other. And I think this is why so many of us, especially as teenagers, are drawn to science fiction and horror, because it’s in the tropes of science fiction and horror that you find these other species, these humanoid species. It’s a huge, very handy metaphor for varied sexuality and for feeling different. But what my mother had done was basically suddenly to say, ‘look, your father is just like you,’ which was amazing. And she didn’t mean that as comfort to me at all. The really twisted Christian thing was she thought she was telling me, ‘darling, you may think you’re gay now, but don’t worry, so did your father once. And he met me and I’ve given him all these children and we’re still together. And I burnt all the evidence.’

Rosie: 00:07:58 So an incredibly double-edged sword.

Patrick: 00:08:00 It’s funny because I was only just beginning as a writer, back then. What she handed me was such a powder keg of material, but I didn’t touch it for years and years and years. I kind of left it quietly fermenting in a corner of my mind and got on with writing very different, quite dishonest fiction, really. I wrote about gay stuff, but it was all willfully playful and quite light. And not really honest emotionally, if I look at it now. And it was only in my forties that I started to go back and to look at my parents’ marriage and my childhood, and I first touched on it in my novel Rough Music, which is my first attempt to write about a gay boyhood, which is something people still are very uncomfortable writing about, cause they immediately associate being gay with sex.

Patrick: 00:09:00 But of course, as we were just saying, the whole question of realizing your LGBTIQ is so … it’s about so much more than just sex. It’s about the whole, your whole sense of identity and where you fit in your family. And so I started to do that and then quite by chance about, gosh, however many years ago it was now, about four or five years ago, I was approached by a television company saying, was I interested in writing an original drama for television that would in some way celebrate the anniversary – I think it was the 50th anniversary – of the partial decriminalisation of homosexuality in the UK. And I jumped at it and immediately realised, this is finally when I’m going to write about this story, and I won’t write about it straightforwardly, but I’ll use it as my starting-off point. But what I’ll do is to imagine what would have happened if my mother had confronted my father, and where their marriage would have gone. Because I know they wouldn’t have divorced.

Rosie: 00:10:01 Yeah.

Patrick: I know they would have raised us all in a very damaging way. It’s strange, I mean, the rather lovely thing, I think, that happened though in that interval between my coming out and my getting that commission, was my realisation at just what a burden my mother had carried. And the first thing I said that the BBC Drama Department, what they said they loved the idea I put forward and really wanted to commission it, the first thing I said was, ‘well, you have to realize this is going to be as much about heterosexual women as it is about gay men.’ Because I think that generation of women, women who got married in the early fifties through to probably through to the early sixties and beyond, in the UK, so many of them – one in five of those marriages – will have been a lie.

Rosie: Yeah.

Patrick: 00:10:54 One in five of those wives, and indeed some of the husbands as well, but to a lesser extent because women weren’t criminalised for being lesbian, you know, they will have realised that the man they married was not the man they thought he was. And they would have had to make a huge compromise. And I think it’s very interesting because for my parents’ generation marriage was always about compromise. They were far more clear-eyed and far less romantic than my generation was about true love and so on. I mean, true love was something you read about in books, but marriage was something you had to work at, and you had to bear with, and you didn’t give up on it. And, in my father’s point of view especially, it was your Christian duty to get married and to have children. So there was this huge burden of expectation, but at the same time there was also, I think, a very healthy expectation that it wouldn’t be perfect.

Patrick: 00:11:49 So I didn’t want to simply say, ‘there’s a horror story, and now things are much better.’ Because actually, yes, there was a horror story, but there were also men and women making the best job of it they could. And many of them were actually really good parents and many of them did end up having some kind of marriage that was loving. It just wasn’t sexual. And now things are not perfect by any means. And now, what’s quite ironic, is we’ve got men and women marrying each other – I mean men marrying men, and women marrying women – and they’re beginning to find they have exactly the same challenges that their parents had, about making marriage work. So things aren’t all perfect and as I really tried to show in Man In The Orange Shirt is homophobia is never going to go away. Like racism, it’s something you hope you can somehow outgrow as a culture, but I think it’s so, so inextricably linked to simply being in the minority – and the way children behave towards minorities among them – that I don’t think it’ll ever go away. And I think internalised homophobia will never go away. What we can change is the way we educate children, and the tools we give them to cope.

Rosie 00:13:09 Exactly. And have more and more conversations. Minorities always stay minorities, and there’s always going to be a targeting of them, but hopefully with the right language and developing language, and developing these young people to understand things. 

Patrick: 00:13:24 Yeah. It is improving, I think. Given the enormous rise, in the West at least, of young boys and girls who are saying, ‘I’m not straightforwardly male’, or ‘I’m not straightforwardly female,’ or ‘I’m not straightforwardly straight or gay,’ or ‘I’m something in between.’ I think that’s really healthy because that generation will undoubtedly raise their children a bit differently. It’ll take generations. You know, you can get the laws in place to protect your minorities, but it takes a long time to make the difference.

Rosie: 00:13:57 Yeah, that’s so true. 

Patrick: 00:14:15 Fiction is an incredibly useful tool, as is television – the fiction of screenwriting – because it’s one of the best tools, I think, for extending people’s empathy and making them, bringing them, to understand. What you need is the occasional LGBT+ character who’s just in a crime drama. They just happened to be with a boyfriend or whatever. That makes a big, big difference, I think. Because it normalises it. I said, when civil partnerships first came in here that it was going to be amazing to have the right to be boring, you know. Not to be fabulous. And I’ve been very moved, actually, over the years, by responses to my novels. Because one of the things my novels tend to be is not urban. By and large, they are about people living in rural communities, or that is outside the big, sexy cities. They’re not about a gay ghetto and the gay characters in them tend to live pretty normal, often quite boring, lives, although exciting things happen to them. And I’ve been very moved by the responses from readers who’ve said, you know, they’ve finally felt recognised. Because they felt huge pressure, when they realised they were gay, to somehow subscribe to this cult of fabulosity, which actually alienates a lot of us.

Rosie: 00:15:40 This is what I love about your novels. You know, there are so many characters in them that, you know, just happened to be gay or they’ll be, like, oh, it could be the case. And I think that’s so powerful. I think society for so long conveniently fetishised us I suppose, and made us a bit freakish, so that to continue being homophobic was sort of allowed. And perhaps that’s where it comes from: it’s quite dangerous to suddenly say an ‘other’ is actually very normal, and we should all just love each other.

Patrick: 00:16:11 Yeah. It comes from fear. It always comes from fear. And if you can ‘other’ the person you are afraid of, it makes it easier to deal with them, in your head at least. But of course it doesn’t actually solve anything. And I think people are beginning to realise that if you stop othering, if you open the door, the fear goes with it, you know. You welcome people in and the fear goes away and actually you discover they’re just as boring as you are, and you can get on with your lives. And I think the other thing about using fiction to change minds is it’s essentially a private experience. So watching a TV show with your family, as lots of gay teenagers will remember, can be really confrontational because if you’re all sitting together on the sofa and suddenly there’s a gay kiss and your brothers are going ‘urgh’, you feel you have to as well or whatever.

Patrick: 00:17:07 Whereas if you read about it in a book, nobody knows you’re reading about it. You don’t change colour because he just read a gay bit, you know? And I think, I know for a fact, I’ve got through to a lot of gay men and lesbians’ mothers through my writing. In fact, it’s quite funny how often I get gay readers coming up to me, or lesbian readers coming up to me at a book festival and saying, ‘I only discovered your work because my mother made me read it.’ Because I’m old now! I mean, I think by the time this interview goes out, I’ll be 60. So in gay terms that’s very old indeed. So I’ve been around long enough now that I’m sort of writing for a third generation of readers. It’s definitely the way you can reach people’s mothers through novels, because no one bothers to ask mothers what they’re reading.

Patrick: 00:17:57 It’s just another book you know. The way society patronises women and their reading is actually very useful because it means, you know, you can get to people. And of course now Kindles, and the ability to read novels on your phone, again, is really useful because it means no one on the train can see the cover of the book you’re reading. And so suddenly, apparently, there are loads of men reading romantic fiction who never would have never have dared to read it before. And I’m sure the same is true of bicurious people who are now able to read material, which they will be scared to see carry the book around. But if it’s just on that phone, no one need know.

Rosie: 00:18:36 Yeah. That’s it. That’s it. Well it’s marvellous to reach so many generations. Going back … Am I right that you were born on the isle of Wight? And you speak about being a camp child, I suppose. How did it come out? What was it like?

Patrick: 00:18:51 In many ways I had an idyllic childhood because my father was a prison governor and in those days that meant you lived inside the prison in a huge mansion house. They were always these really big houses that were too big for my mother to furnish. I mean, we had whole floors that were just empty. So for children that was just magical. You could play endlessly, and my mother was very, very good at play. She ensured not only that we always had one of these great big rooms as our nursery – it was our room, where all our toys and things were – but also there was always a dressing up box. Well, in fact it wasn’t a box, it was a great big old leather Gladstone bag stuffed with clothes. And there were lots of dresses. And, you know, we only had one sister and often when my brothers and their friends were getting dressed up as Cowboys and Indians there wasn’t a cowboy and Indian outfit left for me.

Patrick: 00:19:50 So I just put on a dress and that was fine. And nobody ever said to me, you know, ‘perhaps it’s not very manly to do that.’ I think I must’ve done it with great conviction. I’m quite a bossy adult and I suspect I was quite a bossy child. And I do know, vividly, I remember going to my nursery school – so I must have been about six, five or six – in a very shabby old pink silk bridesmaid’s dress of my mother’s, and wearing it to class all day. And at no point did anybody, bless them, none of my teachers said, ‘why are you wearing a dress?’ I think they probably thought it was terribly funny, but I remember wearing the dress all day long and then coming home in it, and I remember my mother saying, ‘you probably want to take that off now.’

Patrick: 00:20:38 And I said, ‘yes, actually, it’s getting rather uncomfortable.’ It stayed with me. And I had no desire to be a transvestite or anything, but there was room for that sort of exuberant expression, I think. And maybe my parents thought it was a phase and I’d grow out of it, I don’t know, but I think looking back, my sister certainly, who’s 10 years older than me, said it was, it was crystal clear. Because my favourite book was The Puffin Book of Princesses and when my mother gave me a little male rag doll for birthday one year and said, this is Harry, apparently I looked at him with great disdain and handed it back to her and said, no, it’s Harriet. You’ve got to make him a dress. And then they sent me to boarding school, age seven, which was a very rude wake up call, because English boarding schools in the 1970s were not kind places.

Patrick: 00:21:34 And although I was very lucky in that it was a Church of England choir school, and I was there to sing, and I had amazing, amazing experiences of making music, it was also brutally masculine and conformist, and you had to do masses of sport, and you certainly didn’t get to dance around in a dress. So I suppose like a lot of gay children, I had that brief idyll followed by 10 years of education, during which the gay stuff had to kind of go underground and find other ways of getting expressed. But again, I was very, very lucky because I went on to Winchester College at 13, which was sort of closely attached to the choir school I’d been at. And that had, not only an amazing music department, but a fantastic drama department. And I was really encouraged in both spheres.

Patrick: 00:22:27 So I did masses of performing. I got to be very camp on stage, to the point I acted so much, I wanted to be an actor. I was convinced that’s what I would do when I grew up, to my parents’ horror, I think. And most preciously of all, at the age of 14, I gathered around me four gay friends who were all my age. We went through school together as a pretty formidable little gang. Because one of us, well I was quite a notable young writer – I did masses of writing and I edited the school newspaper paper, another one of us was the high jump champion for the county – so yeah, we weren’t dropouts, we were just very gay. And again, what was amazing is, although yes, we got teased occasionally, none of the teachers took us to one side and said, ‘you can’t do that’.

Patrick: 00:23:25 The school astonishingly gave us the space to be ourselves. We would have been thrown out if any of us had been caught having sex, and everyone in the school was having sex – I didn’t because I was a day boy, I  missed out – but all my friends were having sex. But then all the straight boys were having sex as well at school, it’s what happens at boarding schools. But just for being ourselves and being gay, we weren’t punished, which was very, very precious to me so that when I got through to university, and started there at 18, I of course immediately went to the university Gay Soc at Oxford, I was incredibly impatient because there were all these men there who were just beginning to come out. And of course I’d been out for five years, at least in my head. I hadn’t formally come out to my family, but I had had all these discussions over and over again with these friends. So in a way I was blessed because I had a perfectly normal adolescence in that my gay adolescence and my physical one happened continuously. Whereas I think for an awful lot of LGBTQ people, they go through a kind of secret gayness or queerness in their adolescence. They finally blossom, but it’s not until their twenties they’re really being themselves. So I think I was pretty unbearable in my early twenties, which is probably why I didn’t have the great student love affair, because I think I was just far too impatient.

Rosie: 00:24:50 This is a thread that’s come through a few of these interviews for this podcast now is the difference coming out, or rather not having to come out, if you do have that kind of early set of colleagues, friends, sort of a group of people where you can all be LGBT comfortably, versus the people who sort of hide it. Who hide away.

Patrick: 00:25:12 Yeah. But it’s not a straightforward thing though, is it? Because coming out, I think, most importantly is the coming out to yourself, which if you’re lucky like me, you do that among your peers, you do it with friends. And then in a funny sort of way coming out to your family is the secondary thing. And then there’s the tertiary coming out, which you never stop doing, which is to taxi drivers, to hotel receptionists. You know, all those moments where you have to say, ‘no, no, we do want to double bed. That’s not a mistake in the booking.’ That doesn’t bother me. Because I do it with a smile and, I feel, in a way, that’s the most useful political act I can make. Every time you come out in the ordinary course of your life, your day, to somebody and you do it in a nice way, you are changing the way that person thinks, ever so slightly. I think if we were all doing that all the time, it does gradually make a difference. It normalises it for people. Because you have to remember here, they can’t tell always by looking at us. So that’s the big difference between homophobia and racism.

Rosie 00:26:19 Exactly. Yeah. I love that way of looking at it. I’m guilty of sometimes just avoiding it entirely and letting someone’s assumption run. But I think after this conversation, I’m going to try not to do that as much. Because you’re right: I think the more of us who say, ‘no, my wife. No, I’m married to a woman. It’s a double bed’.

Patrick 00:26:36 Yeah. I think it’s better for your self respect because I think every time you keep quiet, you swallow a little bit of shame. You may not actually recognize it as shame, but it’s shame. Otherwise, why did you keep quiet?

Rosie: 00:26:53 Did you ever have any times where you had to keep quiet?

Patrick: 00:26:56 Yeah. I’m guilty of it. I’m guilty of it. Less now, now I’m getting old myself. But certainly in my thirties and forties, I often kept quiet with older people because I didn’t want to upset them, or shock them, or something. And I now see that was a mistake because I’m now, now I’m getting older myself, I realise actually older people are often the least shockable people there are, because they’ve been around longer, they know more. So don’t spare them, you know, they love learning new things. So yeah, always tell them. But the time you don’t necessarily want to tell people is if you’re at the start of a long-haul flight, or the start of a long train journey, and you don’t know that you are actually going to like them, and you know that you’re going to be stuck with a risk of a long conversation. Now you might not want that person asking endless personal questions for the next five hours. I think that’s completely forgivable. 

Rosie: 00:27:51 Yeah. 

Patrick: 00:27:53 But you don’t have to lie. You could just say, ‘I’m sorry. I don’t think that’s any of your business’ or whatever. Or, if they make the assumption, you could kind of make a joke about it and say, ‘well, how do you know I’m not an alien?’

Rosie: 00:28:24 Let’s go back to your novels specifically. How important is it for you to write LGBTQ+ characters?

Patrick: 00:28:31 Oh, crucial. It would be science-fiction if I didn’t. They won’t always be in the centre of the book. I have occasionally written a narrative from a straight viewpoint, but there’ll always be at least one or two queer characters in the mix, because that’s like my signature and it’s my take on life. I can’t really imagine a life without gay people in it. So I can’t really come up with books that don’t have gay people in them. I’m quite strict, in a way, with my queer readers in that I oblige them to spend time with straight people too, because I think the empathy thing goes both ways. I think it’s really important for queer people to reassess their parents, and maybe forgive them. Because a lot of us grow up extra … I mean, everyone is angry with their parents as a teenager, but I do know a lot of queer people by the time they leave home, they’re really angry with the things that parents have failed to do.

Patrick: 00:29:34 And I think you can’t really be yourself and be happy as an adult until you’ve dealt with that. And I’ve never had psychotherapy, but I’ve written 17 novels now. So that’s been my therapy, and I know through that process I can see my gradual forgiveness of my parents and coming to understand them. It’s taken a while. But I look back on them with great love and understanding, and I can see their faults, but I can also see that they meant well. And I can see how incredibly challenging I probably was for them. But I think that’s hard. I think when you’re still bruised, if you’ve had a tough teenage period, and maybe you’ve been thrown out or you’ve run away from home, if not officially then in your head, it takes a while for you to get sufficient distance to understand and forgive.

Rosie: 00:30:31 I was going to ask you that today. You know, what makes you write? But I think a lot of what you’ve just said … 

Patrick 00:30:38 Um. It’s a compulsion, it’s absolutely a compulsion. 

Rosie: 00:30:42 Yeah. You know, I grew up in Cornwall, realised I was a lesbian quite early on, but took a while to come out. So your books were often quite a solace, and quite an escape, and a kind of, ‘ah, okay, at least I’m not going mad’.

Patrick: 00:30:56 Oh well, I’m very touched to hear that. Because, I mean, things have changed so much because of the internet, but I bet, you know, when you’re a child, you really feel you’re very isolated. I have all the letters any reader has ever sent me and some of the early ones I got in the eighties were so heartbreaking because they were literally from boys and girls saying, ‘I’m the only lesbian in the village and nobody knows, and I’m only 14 and how am I going to get through this?’ And I just used to send them reading lists. I used to send them reading lists, then because this is pre-Amazon, I would send them the details of Gay’s The Word in London, the gay book shop, and said, ‘look, they’re very discreet. They will send you these books in a plain cover.

Speaker 2 00:31:42 No one will know, and they will save your life.’ And it’s lovely, actually, I’ve had one or two letters back years later from those teenagers I wrote to when I was little more than a teenager myself. But I was out and proud and living in London. And they said ‘I got the books, and they did help.’ But of course now, kids have got the internet, which I think has changed everything. Because you may be the only gay in the village, but at least when you go up to your bedroom, you can talk to other gays online.

Rosie: 00:32:30 Let’s talk about Mothers Boy, your new novel. You’re writing about the poet, Charles Causley.

Patrick: 00:32:36 Yes. He’s arguably The Great Cornish Poet. There are other poets associated with Cornwell: WS Graham and John Betjeman, but Causley was born here, which is a big difference. And he fascinated me. A lot of my novels grow out of an unanswered question or a mystery. And the mystery surrounding Causley for me has always been that he wasn’t a poet when he went away to war, he was a musician – his passion was playing the piano and he played for the dance band and he’d done that since he was a teenager. He’d written a few radio plays, that was about all. And then he goes away to war and works in the Navy as a coder. And clearly does have adventures, all sorts of adventures, and I’d always have my suspicions about those, but the poems hint at them. But then, for me the real mystery is, then, he chooses to come back home to this tiny town, in-land, not a glamorous, not a romantic town at all.

Patrick: 00:33:37 It’s not even on the sea. To teach in the little primary school where he’d gone as a boy, to live in a tiny cottage with his mother until her dying day. So more than half his life was spent living with his mother. And when you talk about poets, you always think of them having these disreputable lives. They’re either wild alcoholics or wife breeters or suicides or whatever. Causley, his public image is suspiciously like a Saint and that immediately, yeah. I smelled a rat there. I’m sure there was more going here, but I kept an open mind. I thought, okay, if I discover that actually he had girlfriends who no one else knew about then so be it. And my word, that the archive is, in its way, a kind of encoded queer treasure trove. If you know where to look; if you know to read the signs.

Patrick: 00:34:34 So in his little tiny handwriting, and in these little teeny secret diaries he kept, through his late teens into his early twenties, he records every walk he goes on with his friend, Ginger, who was clearly gay. He records every film he goes to see, and my God, he went to very gay films. He doesn’t bother to go to the westerns, but he goes to things like, A Star is Born over and over again. I mean, he’s so obviously on our bus, as we say down here. And yet, of course, when he comes back from the war, like a lot of men and women who’d discovered their sexuality, thanks to the war and the travels and the freedom it brought, they then came back to England to the worst period ever of official homophobia. So the 1950s, the early fifties, brought on this terrible savage clamp down.

Patrick: 00:35:29 So many gay men were sent to prison in that period. So for me, there’s no mystery as to why Causley kept quiet initially. But I was also fascinated by his mother, what their relationship was. Because she’s an amazing woman, Laura. She was a laundress. She had almost no education and like a star child, she gets this one baby. Her very handsome husband died cruelly young: he caught TB in the trenches. So she raises this baby, this little boy, all on her own, never remarries, he’s her all in all, and she must have worked so hard. And she indulged him in brilliant ways. So, she got him a piano. They were living virtually in a slum, they were living in a tenement. And somehow she found the money to get him a piano. And I’ve, I’ve spoken to adults, you know old men who were children in Causley’s time.

Patrick: 00:36:25 They all remember sitting on the lane, outside the house, and listening to this little boy play the piano. So what I’ve done in the book is to use evidence, you know, things I found that were true and things that definitely happened. I don’t want to give away the story too much, but that Charles has an affair with a fellow officer when he gets to be an officer. And it fizzles out for whatever reason, but then it’s brutally brought to an end by a letter he receives from the officer saying that he is now married and that’s totally based on fact. I found a letter which Charles had kept until his dying day, which only makes sense if you think of it as being to do with the gay affair. If they were just two men who had gone to the pub together, you wouldn’t have kept that letter all that time.

Patrick: 00:37:14 And you wouldn’t write to such a man and say, ‘well, I’m married now old chap, so be careful what you write in the letters.’ I think his poems are full of little secret revelations. And what I hope will happen is, when anyone reads the book, when they get to the end, they immediately go and Google Charles Causley and read the other poems. What’s so nice is I have warned the Causley trust and I said, ‘look, I’m going to queer your icon. Do you mind?’ They were really sweet, they said, ‘no, thank God. It’s time somebody did it!’ Part of the trouble is the trust was set up by Charles’s lifelong friends and the friends of his of his old age, who were all of a certain age, all heterosexual, all very protective of what they saw to be his reputation. Now I think by claiming him for queer culture, I can greatly enrich his reputation. It makes him  10 times more interesting. It won’t put off the people who love his poems already, but I think it will bring others along to read it. So I’m really thrilled I’ve got the backing of the charity whose whole purpose is to keep his name alive.

Rosie 00:38:23 Thinking about the poems, but also the letter that’s in the book, you’re queering him. But I think, you know, I think he queered  himself perhaps.

Patrick 00:38:32 I think he did. The other thing I’ve taken straight from the diaries is that moment where he and Ginger, his young friend, Ginger is cruising, to all intents and purposes. Charles is pretending not to notice, but they go for a day out in  Plymouth and they find a huge gang of sailors sunbathing on the Hoe. And in Charles’ diary, when he describes this is, it’s for him, very unbuttoned. He says, ‘oh, that I could draw’, exclamation  mark. And I thought, well, I don’t need to change that. I will put it word for word in the novel, because that’s what he said. I don’t think a straight man would have written that, somehow.

Rosie: 00:39:12 Is it more of a challenge to write real life characters in this way than it is to write about fictional characters?

Patrick: 00:39:19 It’s a good question. Um, it is initially because initially I’m inhibited by the biographer’s instinct to get the facts right. And to honour their name and to be truthful. But then there comes a point where the novelist takes over and the story has to have lifeblood in it. It has to flow. It has to grab the reader. And at that point I just got swept along. And if I’m swept along, then I hope the reader will be.

Rosie: 00:40:05 In a Guardian piece, you wrote honestly about someone who had previously bullied  you and then apologised, kind of 40 years too late. If anything, what would you say to that little boy, to the former you, for comfort, or to encourage them, or to pick them up from that experience?

Patrick: 00:40:23 I’d probably give him some books to read, that would empower him. And I would tell them that, actually, time will pass very quickly. You’ll be 18 and gorgeous before you know it. It’s fine. You’ll be fine!

Rosie: 00:40:39 And finally, what gives you hope today?

Patrick: 00:40:42 What gives me hope? The young, give me hope. My God. They’re amazing. You’re all amazing. And I get very excited, as I said earlier, by seeing the refusal in the young to be categorised. And also the speed with which they are challenging all my baggy liberal preconceptions about, not just gender and sexuality, but race, all sorts of things. And I think, I really hope actually, this pandemic crisis, one of the things that will come out of it is a great surge of useful anger from the current batch of teenagers who, yeah, the ones who’ve been sort of shat on from a great height by their schools and their universities, and their parents and everybody, I think they are going to do great things.

Rosie: 00:41:33 Yeah. It’s exciting. I’m excited to see what happens. Wonderful. Thank you so much for joining us. 

Patrick: Well, thank you, Rosie, it’s been a real real treat to talk.

Rosie: Thank you for listening to OUTcast, a podcast with interviews and coming out stories from inspiring LGBTQ+ people. 

Don’t forget to go back and listen to other episodes if you’re new to the show. We have a fascinating interview with Tilly lawless, the Sydney-based queer sex worker and novelist, as well as the British transgender priest, Sarah Jones. And there are so many other incredible guests with illuminating and uplifting coming out stories in our first season, which is available online at outcastpod.com, and wherever you usually get your podcasts. 

I’m your host, Rosie Pentreath. I hope you can join us again next week.