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.

Patrick Gale: ‘my mother stole my thunder by outing my father to me’

Listen to British novelist and Emmy award-winning screenwriter Patrick Gale telling his coming out story, and sharing what makes him so hopeful about the LGBTQ community today.

Patrick Gale is a best-selling British novelist, Emmy-winning screenwriter and artistic director of North Cornwall Book Festival. He shares his coming out story with Rosie Pentreath, and reveals how his own father had been secretly gay – but he had never been told.

Hear Patrick’s coming out story on OUTcast Podcast.

Photo: Jillian Edelstein
Illustration: Sam Osborne

Patrick Gale’s novel, Mother’s Boy, is out now published by Headline Publishing Group. Visit galewarning.org.

Clementine Ford Transcript

OUTcast S1, Ep 8 • 15 Nov 2021 • 38:45

[00:00]

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’re about to share.

You can follow us on social media @OUTcastLGBT and you can find us online at outcastpod.com. 

[01:00]

Rosie: This episode is dedicated to the memory of my Mum, Sue Pentreath, who we lost too soon.

Our final guest on this season of OUTcast is Clementine Ford.

Clementine is an Australian feminist, freelance writer, broadcaster, public speaker and advocate for social justice and equality, based in Melbourne. 

She’s celebrated for her refreshingly frank, searingly intelligent, and no bullshit writing and thinking. She’s famously unafraid to call out trolls who, in turn, have sent her the most vile and abusive content you could think of over the years – all because she simply champions true equality.

Clementine is the author of three books – Fight Like A Girl, Boys Will Be Boys,  and now her new book, How We Love. It is a set of essays on love, but also very much a memoir about Clementine’s life. She describes it as containing the themes crucial to life: themes of grief, rebirth, faith, magic, hope and – above all – love. 

Clementine describes her sexuality as fluid, and she has dated both men and women, and her first love was a woman.

[02:11]

Rosie: Clementine, welcome to OUTcast. It’s amazing to have you on.

[02:15]

Clementine: Well, it’s so wonderful to be here Rosie, thank you so much for inviting me. 

[02:19]

Rosie:  You write in your new book that, “to love is to know more of yourself”, and for me, I think knowing yourself is such a big part of coming out, which is of course what OUTcast is all about – coming out as LGBTQ+. 

And it’s funny, I’ve spoken to so many guests about their sexuality, about coming out, but we haven’t spoken about love. And sexuality, I suppose, at the core of it, for me, is love, very generally. So it’s incredible to have you here talking about love.

What inspired you to write this book, and why now?

[02:55]

Clementine: Well, I’d love to say that after the pandemic we all needed some human connection, but unfortunately that would be a little bit of a fib, because I pitched the book back in 2019, well before we realised that the world was going to change, as we know it.

It just happens to have been quite serendipitous that it’s come out at a time where I think we do need a little bit of a reminder about what human connection and love looks like. So that’s been a nice kind of silver lining for me I guess, which is a terrible thing to say, I know people have suffered so awfully through the pandemic.

I do think that one thing it has been able to do for us is – I don’t want to sound as twee and trite as to say, “remind us of the things that are important”, but obviously that is true in a practical sense. We’ve been reminded of which people in the world are really essential, and generally speaking the feminised low-paid industries ended up being essential to the running of the world.

And, I think, to a degree, we’ve been able to see that a lot of that work is… obviously people don’t do it for the love of it, and to say that is to dismiss the practical realities of living in a capitalism – but I do think that there’s an underpinning of love that exists in those industries, for example health care – a love for your fellow humans. 

[04:12]

I’ve just been fighting with anti-vaxxers all day, so I feel like we’ve been shown the best and the worst of humanity, as a result of this pandemic in particular. I feel like love is so essential to kind of unpacking what all of that is. 

And maybe more broadly speaking in my work – because I think that love is so essential to social justice too – it seemed to me to be a natural companion to write a book about love, and a book about the interior lives of people, and how we love each other, and the ferocity with which we love. 

[04:45]

Rosie: Mm hmm.

[04:46]

Clementine: You know, people make the mistake of thinking, well, if you’re a feminist or if you’re politically active, or if there are certain connotations associated with your work, as there are with mine, “oh she’s angry, she’s this, she’s that or the other. Oh, she’s very divisive.” I hear that all the time.

But it’s a way of dismissing the reasons for why you do that work, and for me, love is so much a part of that.

[05:08]

Rosie: The book has got that memoir feel, as well as being so about love. Had you thought you might write a memoir around about now? How did that emerge? 

[05:19]

Clementine: It’s actually not all that radical a departure for me to do this kind of writing, because obviously parts of my first book in particular had some quite kind of very personal stories in it. But also, throughout my entire writing career I’ve done a lot of life writing. It’s just, it’s very easy for people, I guess, to ignore that part of me and suggest that, ”well this is the only kind of writing she’s well known for, is the more political kind of robust sort.” 

But, I mean, for example the first chapter is about my mother, who died of cancer when I was 25, and it’s a reflection on not just her illness and her dying, but also on our relationship as mother and daughter, and what I’ve learnt now 15 years after her passing as a mother myself. I’ve written a lot about my mum over the years, and, you know, addressed a lot of the themes of grief and loss, and being a motherless child, and a motherless mother. So, to me, the idea of, like, adapting that writing into a book was kind of just a natural progression.

[06:21]

Rosie: Yeah. I want to talk a bit about your mother, and your mother’s death, and how that shaped your life, in a bit. But before we do, I want to talk about your first love. You write about her in the introduction of your book – you had had boyfriends, you’d kissed girls, but she was your first big love, and the first woman you’d ever slept with. For listeners who have yet to read the book, how did you meet and how did the relationship unfold? 

[06:47]

Clementine: It was one of those meetings – I was 20, 21 – and it was one of those meetings that after it happened seemed destined to have occurred. And in which you felt like every part of the puzzle just fit into place and explained a lot, but also seemed gifted somehow, by some kind of, you know, twist of fate. 

And of course, it’s really easy to look back on things that brought us immense joy and immense happiness, and even sometimes immense pain, and think, “well, it must have been fate.” Whether or not you believe in fate or not, I think fate’s kind of a fun thing to think about.

[07:26]

But we met one night. I had been living with a mutual friend of ours, we’d been housemates, but I’d recently moved out. And she invited me back to the house for dinner, and she said, “my friend’s here from inter-state.” And I’d heard about this friend, but not much. And she said, “she’s coming over for dinner, she’s staying for the weekend, come and have dinner with us.” 

And I walked into the house, kind of loudly announcing myself as I’m sometimes prone to do, and I said, “where’s this friend of me that you want me to meet then?”

And she was standing out in the garden, and my friend said, “oh, she’s outside.” And I popped my head around the corner, and I said, “hello”, and I felt that instant kind of frisson of something. And, again, whether or not it’s just you’re able to rep-con these things in your mind, it just feels so real to me, that it felt to me in the moment, “something magical’s about to happen.”

[08:18]

We chatted and we flirted that night, and neither of us, I think, necessarily knew that that’s what we were doing, but as the night progressed it became more and more obvious. We kissed at one point, and then we ended up in bed together, and that was the first time I’d ever slept with a woman.” 

But it all just seemed so natural and revelatory at the same time. And just part of the exciting landscape of being young and alive. And afterwards I remember she told me, “I heard your voice before I saw your face.” And that always seemed to me to be a magical thing that someone could say to you: “I heard your voice before I saw your face.”

And we just fell in love. And we had a beautiful love affair that was kind of tortured in some respects, as all good love affairs when you’re 21 should be a little bit tortured in some respects. 

It lasted for the season that it was meant to last for. And then we became friends, and now we are two women who live in the same city, who have a lot of regard for each other, but don’t see each other that much because that’s just where life has taken us. 

[09:24]

Rosie: That’s often the way with big loves. It sounded really beautiful, and like it unfolded really naturally, but did you have apprehensions that this big love was with a woman?

[09:36]

Clementine: I was so excited by it. I was just so madly in love with her. I think she was in love with me, and we certainly said it to each other. But, you know, one of the things she said to me, which I think is also in that introduction, which has always stayed with me, is that falling in love with someone is really about learning who you are. And when we’re young, as I still was at 21, as I still was probably at 30, as I am in many respects now still young inside, when you’re young you don’t know who you are. You’ve no idea. You have a sense of who you want to be, and you have a sense of different personas and characters that you’re trying on. And you also know the ways in which you protect yourself moving through the world, particularly if you are queer and you’ve not been really out about that.

[10:24]

And so this experience of falling in love with someone, and also as part of that coming to know who you are, or having a better understanding of who you are as a person, is really transformative. 

And I feel like we have these really false ideas about what love is valid and what’s not. And it’s not just about heteronormativity defining a valid kind of love – obviously we know, and when I say, ”we” I mean you and I and the listeners of this show, know that all love is valid and that queer love is just as beautiful as straight love. And, in fact, it’s ridiculous to even have that conversation, because the comparison is just so absurd. 

But, I think we should also talk about how there’s a validity that’s applied to love that quote-unquote lasts. And so people think that, well if your relationship only lasts six months, or if it lasts for two years, and then it ends that somehow it’s a failed relationship. Because we’ve been culturally indoctrinated into this idea that we need to pursue ‘the one’. 

And I know that lots of people live outside of those parameters. I’m talking about mainstream culture – even mainstream queer culture still kind of has this very Western ideal of, like, the one that we find who we spend the rest of our lives with. 

And you know now that, particularly in Autralia, same-sex marriage is allowed, it’s a sort of a melding of that kind of very conservative view of love, I think. When actually, some relationships are only meant to last for as long as they last for, but it doesn’t make them any less important or life-changing, or valuable as a relationship that lasts for 40 years. Because every love that we have and experience, comes to us hopefully at a time in our life where we can appreciate it for exactly what it is.

[12:26]

Rosie: I agree, I think there’s almost a heteronormativity about how mainstream LGBTQ+ culture is progressing. And that conservative view of love as being based on longevity has stuck. Linked to this, and your experience of queer relationships, how does feminism intersect with your experience of being LGBTQ+?

[12:48]

Clementine: More than anything, I feel like we should all be in control and in charge of our sexuality, and that all love is valid and all expressions of self are valid, and I don’t know that I have a neat answer for how my feminism intersects with it, because it’s all just part of the same thing. 

[13:06]

I have a lot of insecurity about my place in the queer community, not becasue I’m not queer, but because I’m kind of a nerd. 

And actually I’m sure that this is something that probably a lot of people relate to, because I came out when I was 21 and spent a lot of my teenage years not just hiding it from other people, but also hiding it from myself. And so there’s a lot of internal… I wouldn’t say internalised bi-phobia, or internalised homophobia in myself even, it’s more I just don’t feel cool enough to be a part of the community. 

And I feel quite… having said all of that before about conservative ideals with relationships, I don’t feel conservative in terms of, like, I’m not interested in marriage. I think marriage is a regressive state – and again acknowledging that my opposition to it, as a political moment, is also one built out of privilege, but I sort of don’t really feel like white queers earning the right to be married is all that transgressive. I say white queers in particular because that’s obviously the perspective that I speak from, and I would never try and claim that for anyone else who doesn’t have those layers of privilege. I also feel, you know, I feel kind of like conservative when it comes to love and sex and stuff like that. I’m not super adventurous.

I still feel, in many ways, like the 15-year-old girl that’s just daydreaming about kissing girls, and sort of worried that even if I do get to the point where I’m able to do it openly, that they’ll know somehow that I’m not, like, cool enough to be there. 

[15:00]

Rosie: It’s interesting what you say about feeling like that kind of 15-year-old girl wanting to, like, imagining kissing girls and stuff. I feel similar, I feel like one minute I feel very mature in my sexuality, and then the next, I’m like, “Oh, I can’t believe I kind of had those thoughts and feelings” you know, ten years ago, eight years ago, five years ago… it sort of goes in waves, perhaps.

[15:20]

Clementine: Yeah. There was definitely a period, as well, when I first came out where I was, like, feeling myself, you know? I was feeling so cool about it. Which is not to say that I thought it was a cool thing to do – I mean, I did think it was cool, and I do think it’s cool – but it wasn’t like a performance. I just felt very connected to it. And then I suppose, as you were saying, like, that you move in and out of different phases in your life, and for me personally sometimes I feel more inspired into physical connection with other people and sometimes I don’t. 

The complexity of the A part of the identity in LGTQIA+ is still, I think, being grappled with more broadly, and people think, I think they hear something like asexual and think, “well that means that you’re just like permanently in state of asexualuty.” 

But there have been times when I’ve thought to myself, “can you go through periods of asexuality?” or can an asexual identity be – and I apologise to any listeners who are very well versed in this and who are sitting here maybe thinking, “well, don’t be bloody ridiculous, of course you can!” or “of course you can’t” or whatever it might be. This is something that I’m beginning to think about. I’m interested in how much that can ebb and flow in your life. And, honestly, like exploring that is more frightening to me than exploring same-sex attraction.

[16:42]

Rosie: Yeah, that kind of resonates. I think it is a bit of an unexplored area, at least for some of us in the LGBTQ+ community.

[17:05]

Rosie: Let’s talk about your mother. I said I wanted to pick up on your writing about her in this book. Your experience of her dying so young, at 58, it actually resonates with me. My mum died when she was 59 as well, so I kind of know what it’s like. 

[17:21]

Clementine: I’m so sorry.

[17:23]

Rosie: Yeah, I know what it’s like to have a mother just die so suddenly, when you’re so young and still a child yourself. I mean, you’re never ready for it, we’re never ready for our mothers dying, but… I would love to hear a bit more about how it felt. Of course you’ve written so beautifully about it in the book, but for our listeners, you know, how it felt and how it shaped your life.

[17:42]

Clementine: Mmm. Oh gosh, well firstly I am very sorry for you, because as you say there’s no time when you’re ready to lose your mum and I was 25, and in many respects so grateful that I had years that other people didn’t, you know. I’ve heard from people who’ve read this book, in particular, who’ve said they lost their mother at 16, or even younger than that.

I mean, I have a very sort of, without being too “fairies at the bottom of the garden” about it, I have a very kind of philosophically optimistic way of looking at things. And, although I wish that I’d had so much more time with my mum, I’m glad that I got the time that I did, because I know that not everyone has that.

[18:25]

So she was diagnosed with cancer when she was 57. We thought initially that she might, you know, it might be treatable, but it turned out… they were going to do surgery on her, and when they opened her up, they were like, “oh my God, she’s bloody riddled with it!” So it turned out to be not possible. 

And then eight months after she was diagnosed she died. And a big part of that chapter is that she could have had a little bit longer, but it wouldn’t have been much longer, it would have been maybe four months or something, but she chose not to have a surgery that would have extended her life by this tiny amount of time. And she chose to basically die. 

You know, I describe in that chapter going home for dinner where my parents said that this is the last time that they wanted us to be home, and they wanted us to say goodbye, and then we would go away and then they would wait for it to happen. 

And obviously it was devastating and I mean, incredible to write about. And I feel like my mum would laugh at that, because my mum was such a huge reader. I guess when you are a writer, and particularly when you’ve had the benefit of distance – it’s been fifteen years now – you’re not so overwhelmed by your grief that you feel consumed by it. And now I feel like I can walk alongside the grief and I can capture it in a way that is quite beautiful, and that might be meaningful to other people. There’s almost a thrill that you can do that with something that’s been so hard: you can turn it into something beautiful, which is what artists have always done, is turned terrible things into works of something that is hopefully meaningful in some way.

[20:07]

And I think the hardest parts about that grief were, you know, not just becoming a mum myself without the benefit of a mother there, but realising now that I’m 40 and I’m so much closer to her in terms of understanding than I was then. But still not quite where she was, that you then just miss out on all this opportunity for discussion, and for learning. And going back to what we said at the start of this episode, about love being knowing yourself, but love also being knowing other people. 

And I loved my mother so much, but I was never able to have the opportunity to know her, if that makes sense. Obviously I knew her as my mum, and I know lots of stories about her, but there’s a layer to her that will just be forever out of my reach. 

The musician Clare Bowditch, who’s a musician here in Australia, has a beautiful song called ‘The Thing About Grief.’ And she sings, “the thing about grief is it knows what I did and it knows what I did not say. And it’s sentenced me to a long long lifetime of excavating the things this little head of mine cannot yet understand.” 

And it feels like that when you’re in grief, and maybe you feel that too Rosie: that you spend all of this time excavating the earth around this person, trying to find some clues as to who they really were.

[21:38]

Rosie: Yep, it’s so true. It resonates so much. I mean, it goes without saying I read that chapter and I just couldn’t stop crying.  It means so so much to read something so beautiful that resonates like that, so I know there are so many people that will appreciate it. And yes, I think that’s what hit me the most – I remember when you wrote that when you do get to the age your mother was when she dies, the profound realisation of that is so profound, and there are all these little markers – so yeah, having your baby and yeah, not being able to have those conversations with her. Yeah, I think it just really resonates and it really, yeah, it really packed a lot home.

[22:20]

Clementine: Well, thank you, I’m so glad. And I love, with no joke at all, I love to hear people say that my writing made them cry, because it’s such a huge privilege to be able to make people feel those things, you know.

It’s great to make people laugh – I love making people laugh too – and I love making them feel rageful and inspired, but to make them cry as well, what an amazing thing. 

I feel like with my mum, the beautiful thing about it now is that my grief has settled to a place of obviously there’s acceptance, there’s gratitude… I also feel really grateful, and I’m interested to know if you feel the same, I feel grateful for having the grief. I feel like losing my mum so early was devastating, but it was also incredibly formative and it forced me to grow up in a way that I might not have done otherwise. 

I feel very aware of her when I’m parenting my own child. Mainly, actually, I laugh a lot thinking about how she’d, you know, her prophecy of, “I can’t wait for you to have children one day so you know what it’s like,” when I was being so awful to her as a teenager. “I can’t wait.”

I sort of laugh along at that. And I feel like she would have really loved my son. She would have made a great grandmother, but she couldn’t be here and him be here at the same time, which is part of philosophical acceptance of the ebbing and flowing of life and love.

[23:52]

Everything that happens to us, both big and small, is the result of an infinite number of completely random choices and happenings. 

Everything that led to my son being born was totally random, but it necessarily involved my mother dying, because otherwise I wouldn’t have been set on that track. And so there is some kind of acceptance in that: to have known these two profoundly great loves. Rather than feeling grief-stricken about them not knowing each other, and of course my son knows his grandmother through stories and I believe for my own personal satisfaction, I believe that in some sense the energy and the essence of my mother knows her grandson –  but I also feel like rather than feeling sad about that, or rather than feeling overcome by fury at how unfair it seems, how lucky am I that I had these two people in my life?

[24:55]

Rosie: Yeah.

Clementine: And that I’ve known the love of a mother and I’ve been a child. And I’ve also now got the opportunity to know the love of a child, and to know what it’s like to be their mother. And she taught me everything I needed to know. 

[25:10]

Rosie: Yeah. That’s it, there is a gratitude and there is a sort of cyclical connection, even if things aren’t literally connecting. Like, you’re the connector between those two great loves and those two people. 

[25:24]

Clementine: Well, and there’s a wonderful scientific fact that some of your listeners might know or not know, but if you are a person who is born with eggs and a uterus, and you have a baby – say you get pregnant with another person who is forming eggs and a uterus, then all of the genetic information for any egg that may be carried to pregnancy later on is formed in the womb at around 27 weeks. Which means that my mother, not only was she carrying me, but she was carrying half of the genetic information that ended up creating my child. Having that knowledge is so powerful, particularly when you find out that when people are pregnant, and they carry a baby, there’s like a chimera thing that happens where some of the genetic material from the unborn child enters the genetic make-up of the birthing parent and stays with them for years. So, you can test their DNA and their cells, and you’ll find celular evidence of the child that they carried maybe 20 years before. 

So, my mother in particular carried me with her and some sense of her, or some sense of my child, is in me. So all of that stuff is really cool to think about, because it makes it easy to kind of let go and say, “the wonderful thing about life is that we’re born, but we have a season.” The same way that all loves have a season, we have a season and one day our season will be over, and what counts or what we have to make count is how we experienced life while we were here. 

[27:12]

Rosie: Exactly. Yeah. I couldn’t agree more. It gives you an appreciation, as well, when you do see a season close. But, like you say, we all continue anyway, through memory and things like that.

[27:23]

Clementine: Yeah. And through people’s grief. And that’s not even… someone doesn‘t have to die to have made a lasting impression on someone obviously. When we say goodbye to lovers and relationships end, if we’re grief-stricken about it and we cry and we wail, and we shake our fists at the sky, and we say, “but I love them, I love them!” 

And then even that passes. One day the storm subsides, and you realise that you can move on. And there’s something really beautiful about that.

[28:08]

Rosie: What has it been like being on dating apps, and going back into dating after having been with your son’s father, after you separated. How’s that been?

[28:19]

Clementine: Quite demoralising, ultimately. Oh, you know, it’s tricky because I don’t want to really like first dates. Wow, I’m so unique in that way! Who likes first dates? They’re so awkward. 

You know, this is weird to talk about because it’s sort of a little bit… I don’t know, I don’t want to sound like a dick, basically. Oh, sorry I should rephrase that: I don’t want to sound like a wanker. It’s hard to trust people, particularly in Melbourne, because I am reasonably wellknown, and it’s really hard to come to dating situations where you are at a disadvantage because the other person knows so much about you, and who they think you are, than you know about them. 

And I worry in particular with dating women that I am aware of my shortcomings and I am aware of my fickle nature, let’s put it like that, and I also don’t have a lot of time. And I guess I’m more concerned about wasting women’s time than I am wasting cis men’s time. Which is, whatever, like a terrible thing to say, maybe, but… 

I think I worry with women that I’m going to disappoint them with the reality of who I am. And with men, I worry that they don’t really want to date me, they just want to tell their next girlfriend they dated me. 

[29:55]

Rosie: Yeah. I mean, there’s so much to unpack here, like more than we probably have time for in a podcast episode. It’s interesting that you’re kind of more cautious around the women. I suppose women have such a complex sort of maternal, empathetic way of being, so I don’t know if that comes into play. Obviously, you’ve explored [in your work] the kind of toxic masculinity that makes men at least perform the way they can be. 

[30:20]

Clementine: Mmm. Well, I’m a very cautious person when it comes to, and always have been very cautious, when it comes to intimacy with other people. 

I have a lot of… I wouldn’t even say it’s walls. It’s the Groucho Marx school of thinking that you don’t want to a member of any club that would have you as a member, you know. That I have this weird messed up thing of like, “if people are interested in me, then there must be something wrong with them.” Which is not a very uncommon way to feel about yourself – everyone has that kind of self-doubt and insecurity. 

But I suppose it’s just made me incredibly cautious about getting involved with people at all. And I don’t know, yeah, I am a little bit more cautious around women’s feelings. That sounds so arrogant, like, “oh, I’m going to break their heart.” It’s not that at all. It’s that I feel, I guess, more conscious of taking care of their heart. 

Which is not to say that men don’t need their hearts taken care of as well, it’s just that my experience has been they don’t need their hearts taken so much care of when it comes to internet dating. 

And the thing about telling their next girlfriend: we all know the very self aware, progressive kind of feminist man, who is actauly not very feminist in their real life. I’m very wary of men who call themselves feminists – not because I don’t think men should be feminists, but I always wonder… I always think, ”well don’t tell me, show me.” 

And I think that some men feel like I’m too much trouble, because they have to be on their best behaviour around me all the time. If that’s the way you feel then there’s something wrong with you, mate. 

But also the reason as well, that I’m cautious, is that I’ve had a lot of experience of women telling me that men that they’ve met, or they maybe have matched with on a dating app, that they’ve dated me! And I’ve in some cases have never even met these men. I may have just matched with them on an app once, or met them through a friend, maybe, and they’ve described us as being friends. Like really wrapped up and hyped up their connection to me, if it even exists, as a means of tricking women I think. As a means of making them seem safe.

So I feel like I’ve got all of this paranoia and insecurity, some of it – well, it’s all really born out of stuff that is happening but that it makes it very hard to trust people.

[32:38]

Rosie: And we do all know those men that sort of tell you about how many Laura Bates or Clementine Ford books they’ve read. 

[32:44]

Clementine: Oh, yeah. Proudly displayed, you know.

[32:47]

Rosie: Do you have a sort of memorable date you’ve had with a woman or non-binary or trans person? A favourite, or a funniest, or a, yeah, nice date anecdote there?

[32:59]

Clementine: The best dates I’ve been on have been the ones where, obviously, it feels very natural from the beginning and from the get go, but where even if it didn’t work out, that you’ve ended up having a deep connection with someone.

The book is dedicated to Alice, who I mention at numerous times. And I sort of explain the very first time Alice is mentioned, I say how I met her, but I don’t go into too many details. And then I just reference Alice throughout the book. 

My editor said to me a few times, “do we need to, when she appears in different chapters, do we need to remind the reader again who Alice is?” And I said, “no, I want her to be just this figure that is in the book,” because Alice and I began romantically…

In fact, there was a great article that she sent me just yesterday, that was in the New Statesman, and it’s about Iris Murdoch and Philippa Foot, and how they had this intense love affair throughout their entire life, which was really platonic romance. And in the article they say, you know, oftentimes it’s suggested that relationships like this were secretly sexual in nature but hidden. But in this piece they said, but actually no, that’s not the case here, because Iris Murdoch and Philippa Foot did have a sexual relationship at one point, but then realised that the love that they had for each other was too big to reduce to just a sexual relationship – and that it needed to be expressed in other ways.

[34:28]

And that, for me, is what Alice is. You know, that she’s one of the great loves of my life and she’s demonstrated to me that that love can exist in a way that’s not quite platonic, but also doesn’t have to be sexual.

And, in fact, that’s something that my first girlfriend said to me when it was kind of wrapping up between us. We tried again – you know, we broke up for a bit and then we tried again – and we ended up realising that it wasn’t… I’ve just remembered this now… that it wasn’t going to work in that way. And we had this very frank discussion about how when we met, it was like our souls had met in some way, and the only way we had to understand what that meant, to have this deep love for someone else, which is exactly what happened to Philippa Foot and Iris Murdoch too, was to have sex; was to make it sexual. And for a time, that was great. But then, that ended up seeming too limiting. 

[35:40]

Rosie: What gives Clementine Ford hope? 

[35:42]

Clementine: I think the fact that, in our own experiences and what we witness in other people, I am made relentlessly hopeful by the fact that we keep trying. We keep trying, even when things haven’t worked out, whatever it might be, we remain in a constant state of trying. 

And I think that’s one of the most beautiful things about humans, all of whom are obviously flawed, and we can do terrible things, but it’s like I said in the Acknowledgements [of the book] I think, the very last side of the Acknowledgements, is that humans are terribly flawed, and we do awful things to each other, but my God, how we love.

The title is not meant to “how we love” as a descriptor, “these are the ways that we love.” It’s actually meant to be, “oh, how we love.” How we as a species continue to pour ourselves into love. 

And I just feel hopeful about that. You know, there’s that old sort of adage that the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over, and expecting a different result. But I actually think that when it comes to love, and doing the same thing over and over, and expecting a different result – but still trying anyway – is just one of the most beautiful things I can think of. 

We all want to be loved, and we all want to be known, and we want to see other people and we want to be seen by them in return.

And that’s just a wonderful thing.

[37:14]

Rosie: Yeah. It’s really beautiful.

Well, thank you so so much for your time. Thanks for coming onto OUTcast, it’s been amazing to chat.

[37:21]

Clementine: Thank you so much, Rosie, it was so nice to talk to you and thanks very much to all of your listeners for listening in and tuning in. And I hope you all have wonderful lives!

[37:30]

Rosie: Amazing! Thanks so much.

Thank you for listening to OUTcast, the podcast with interviews and coming out stories from inspiring LGBTQ+ people all over the world.

That was our final episode of Season 1. I really hope you enjoyed hearing all about Clementine Ford’s thoughts on love, life, grief and experiences of being LGBTQ+. 

Don’t forget to go back and listen to other episodes if you are new to the show and you’re here because you’re a fan of Clementine’s. 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 do hope you can join us for Season 2 of OUTcast in 2022. Have a great day!

Clementine Ford on the power of love: ‘we should all be in charge of our sexuality’

Clementine Ford discusses her first love with a woman, the beauty of the LGBTQIA experience – including the complexity of the asexual aspect of it – and why the human capacity to love, and love again, gives her so much hope.

“All love is valid and all expressions of self are valid,” Clementine Ford emphasises, speaking about how her feminism intersects with her experience of being LGBTQ+ on Episode 8 of OUTcast Podcast.

“More than anything, I feel like we should all be in control and in charge of our sexuality.”

The Australian feminist, writer, broadcaster and public speaker has shared her story of falling in love with a woman and coming out at the age of 21, in the finale of OUTcast Podcast’s inaugural season.

“I came out when I was 21 and spent a lot of my teenage years not just hiding it from other people, but also hiding it from myself,” Clementine confesses on OUTcast. “I wouldn’t say I had an internalised biphobia, or internalised homophobia, in myself. It’s more that I just don’t feel cool enough to be a part of the community. I’m a bit of a nerd!” she laughs.

Well, we love “nerds.”

Clementine also talks about grappling with her own experiences of asexuality at times. “There have been times when I’ve thought to myself, ‘can you go through periods of asexuality, or can an asexual identity ebb and flow in your life?’ Honestly, exploring that is more frightening to me than exploring same-sex attraction,” the writer admits.

The writer speaks openly with our host Rosie about her first love with a woman, the beauty of the LGBTQ+ experience – including the complexity of the asexual aspect of it – and why the human capacity to love, and love again, gives her so much hope. 

Listen to the full episode of OUTcast featuring Clementine Ford below, or wherever you usually enjoy your podcasts.

Clementine Ford’s first love: ‘it was like our souls had met in some way’

Clementine begins her new book, How We Love: Notes on a Life, by sharing the story of how she met her first love. They had a whirlwind romance, and Clementine fell hard for her. 

“It was one of those meetings that, after it happened, seemed destined to have occurred,” Clementine shares nostalgically. “It felt like every part of the puzzle just fit into place and explained a lot, but also seemed gifted somehow, by some twist of fate. It was like our souls had met, in some way.”

Clementine describes falling in love for the first time, and it being a woman, as something she was “excited about” and thrilled by. 

“This experience of falling in love with someone, and also, as part of that, coming to know who you are, or having a better understanding of who you are as a person, is really transformative,” Clementine philosophises.

She continues: “I feel like we have these really false ideas about what love is valid and what’s not. And it’s not just about heteronormativity defining a valid kind of love – obviously you and I, and the listeners of this show, know that all love is valid, and that queer love is just as beautiful as straight love. But there‘s a validity that’s applied to love that quote-unquote lasts. People think that if your relationship only lasts six months, or if it lasts for two years and then it ends, that somehow it’s a failed relationship.”

Indeed, the validity of queer love is “ridiculous” to even talk about, according to Clementine. Amen to that.

She reflects more on this notion of long relationships being more valid than short ones and the fact we’ve been culturally conditioned to find ‘the one’:

“All loves have a season. And we have a season and one day our season will be over, and what counts or what we have to make count is how we experienced life while we were here.”

© Sarah Enticknap

Clementine Ford on the grief of losing her mother

As well as being members of the LGBTQ+ community and feminists, and being writers, our host Rosie and Clementine Ford have a big thing in common in that they were both around the same age when they’re mothers suddenly died. 

“Your experience of your mother dying so young, at 58, actually resonates with me,” Rosie confesses in her interview with Clementine in Episode 8 of OUTcast Podcast. “My mum died when she was 59 as well, so I know what it’s like to lose your Mum so unexpectedly.”

“I think the hardest parts about that grief were not just becoming a mum myself without the benefit of a mother there, but realising now that I’m 40 and I’m so much closer to her in terms of understanding than I was then,” Clementine shares. “I then just miss out on all this opportunity for discussion, and for learning. And going back to what we said at the start of this episode, about love being knowing yourself, but love also being knowing other people.”

Clementine continues: “I loved my mother so much, but I was never able to have the opportunity to really know her. Obviously I knew her as my mum, and I know lots of stories about her, but there’s a layer to her that will just be forever out of my reach.”

© Clementine Ford / Instagram

‘The thing about grief is it knows what I did and it knows what I did not say’

“The musician Clare Bowditch, who’s a musician over here in Australia, has a beautiful song called ‘The Thing About Grief.’ And she sings, ‘The thing about grief is it knows what I did and it knows what I did not say. And it’s sentenced me to a long long lifetime of excavating the things this little head of mine cannot yet understand.’”

Rosie and Clementine continue to ponder the hope that’s contained in experiencing love in spite of loss, and the beauty of humanity’s capacity for love.

“I am made relentlessly hopeful by the fact that we keep trying,” Clementine muses. “We keep trying, even when things haven’t worked out, whatever it might be, we remain in a constant state of trying. I think that’s one of the most beautiful things about humans.”

There’s an old adage that the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over, and expecting a different result.

“I actually think that when it comes to love, and doing the same thing over and over, and expecting a different result – but still trying anyway – is one of the most beautiful things I can think of,” Clementine concludes.

Absolutely. Here’s to love.

Click here to listen to Clementine Ford on OUTcast. Clementine’s new book, How We Love, is out now, published by Allen & Unwin.

This episode of OUTcast Podcast is dedicated to the memory of Sue Pentreath (1958-2018).

(📸: Sarah Enticknap + Clementine Ford / Instagram)

Libby Pentreath Transcript

OUTcast S1, Ep 7 • 08 Nov 2021 • 23:33

[00:00]

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’re about to share.

You can follow us on social media @OUTcastLGBT and you can find us online at outcastpod.com. 

[01:00]

Libby Pentreath is a singer-songwriter, charity worker and radio presenter based in West Penwith in Cornwall. 

The name is a giveaway, so you may have guessed it – she is a relative of mine; my grandfather and her father are brothers. It’s really special to get the chance to catch up with someone in my family for this podcast and have a another gay member of the Pentreath clan on OUTcast.

Libby spent her career working with children and in child support, and on the side she pursued her passion for music, playing guitar, and gigging and touring around the country.

She moved to Cornwall in 1998 and worked at Falmouth University nursery while continuing to develop child support programmes, and initiatives to support children with autism.

Since retiring, Libby has continued to be generous with her time, supporting children and also a small charity that raises money for Yezidi children in Iraq, who lost their homes and schools during Isis occupation in 2014. 

Libby also presents on local Penwith radio station, Coast FM, and continues to play and record her own music. 

[02:15]

Rosie: Libby, welcome to OUTcast. It’s great to have you on.

[02:18]

Libby: Thank you.

[02:19]

Rosie: Thanks so much for your time. We spoke recently, and you said that you never came out as such. You kind of got on with your life, you happened to have female partners…

[02:29]

Libby: Yeah.

[02:30]

Rosie: …You lived in Surrey in the 80s, and we spoke about how you kind of got on with it, and it was very positive. But let’s unpack it a bit – can we go back to the beginning and hear where you were born and what your childhood was like.

[02:42]

Libby: Well, I was born in Wells in Somerset, so not too far away from Cornwall. The family, obviously, are Cornish, going back a long way to dear old Dolly [Pentreath] and beyond.

But I was born in Wells in Somerset. I’ve got three siblings – Andy, Sarah and Nick, and there are two years between each of us, and it was girl, boy, girl, boy. 

[03:03]

Rosie: Mm hmm. Very tidy!

[03:05]

Libby: Very tidy. I can’t imagine how it was so tidy then in my youth. Because my dad was a vicar, he was a curate, we moved all over the place,  to Leatherhead, to Hazelmere, to Elstead. 

And I remember in Elstead being an angry teenager, but I don’t know what I was angry about. I think I probably do now, but at the time you don’t know when you are a teenager, and the eldest. I suppose there was a lot of responsibility on me, and the other children and looking after or being with them. But they probably would say that I didn’t do that very well.

[03:39]

Rosie: In terms of being angry, do you reckon that you were realising that you might be different, or gay in a time where it wasn’t necessarily an easy time to be gay or different?

[03:49]

Libby: I wasn’t a girl that liked dolls and prams and girl’s toys, and things like that. I would rather go out and play football, and go off on the bikes of my male friends. 

But I was going out with guys, you know, when I was old enough to. I was engaged to a guy for a long time, and I’ve been engaged a couple of times, but they didn’t work out. But it didn’t work out in terms of their reliability, rather than anything else that I wasn’t liking or anything, I was fine in those relationships.

[04:21]

Libby: I loved guys and girls, women and men. I guess I was a bit “muxed ip” – mixed up. I think people, children are, and I think it’s very difficult for them to ascertain what it is that’s making them angry. I guess we get this angry teenager thing, don’t we? Not always angry – not all teenagers are angry, and I know that – but I think with me it was just, the more I look back on it now, the more I understand.

[04:49]

Libby: But I also remember my dad being attacked. Having a church, people would go into the church and steal things. You know, they’d steal, and in those days they didn’t pack everything away, like the candlesticks and silver this and silver that, and they’d be out in the church and the church would be open. There was a gang around trying to get into the church and my dad went out to sort them out, and I was really worried about Dad. I can’t remember how old I was – maybe 12 or 13, maybe a bit older. Went out with a broom, me, to get them!

They did go off, which was good, but things like that happened all the time. My dad had… there were flowers on the doorstep once, and there was a little thing written in remembrance of him, and I thought, “what?”

We didn’t really know much as children what was going on, but Mum and Dad obviously did. And then a couple of days after that, the village hall burned down, which was just a house away from us. It was all tied up together. I remember my dad woke up in the middle of the night and said something like, “I know the writing on that card.” It was obviously going around his head because he was trying to work out who had sent this awful thing about him dying, and it was a really difficult time.

[05:58]

We went through some stuff as kids. Actually, talking to you is kind of knocking up memories and things, it’s really good. It was difficult for Dad.

[06:08]

Rosie: And what strikes me is obviously Harvey was a vicar. As a gay person or an LGBTQ+ person, you might think it’s not compatible, but how was that relationship once you were realising you were gay?

[06:21]

Libby: It was good. But, to start with, I was the one that was concerned about telling Mum and Dad that I was now living with Chris, who had a daughter who was three, Helen; we were all living together. 

We’d moved in together and everything, but I wanted to make sure that Mum and Dad knew the whole, all the ins and outs about it.

I was talking to Chris about it, because I’d said that I was talking with you, and I said, “We were really happy weren’t we?” and she said, “Yeah, yeah, we were happy, but it was very difficult at times, and we lost friends.” Which we did.

Helen was three, so it was about 1980. We moved in together in about 80, 81 sort of time, and like I said, when I moved in with Chris in New Malden, we wrote, I wrote, to Mum and Dad and I think Dad was a bit better about it than Mum to start with. But then when they met us, when we came down to Cornwall and they met Chris and everything, it was just like normal. 

[07:17]

Rosie: Yeah.

[07:18]

Libby: For me, and I guess it was a bit of a life-change for Chris because she was married before. And we met because Helen came to the Nursery and I met Chris, and we were just chatting and we just got on so well. 

I had been with women on and off, but not hugely. And guys, I mean I told you. I’d probably be bisexual or something probably.

Rosie: Yeah, if you need a proper label.

[07:41]

Libby: And with Chris, we just moved in together and we were together for a long time – 23 years, or whatever. And had Lauren in 1991 – I can talk about that! That was doing it ourselves. We had a book called Doing it Our Own Way.

[07:58]

Rosie: Brilliant! I do want to hear about this, yeah. 

[08:01]

Libby: And we read that, because we were thinking, “How can we have a child?” You know. It’s not done to, you know… But I’d asked around a load of friends, I’d asked around a load of guys that I knew, and said, “look, do you want to, you know, offer something to us?”

And one of them said, “yeah, actually, yeah I would.” A couple of them said yeah, but one of them was serious about it and came round and did the deed in the bathroom. And we had quite a laugh trying to sort it out! And Lauren was born in 91, and you know, she’s 30 now, she’s got twins and a one-year-old (nearly one), so five-year-old and one-year-old, and she’s married and been with Scott a long time, and they get on really, really well. 

And she loved growing up with two mums. I think it was difficult with Helen. I think if you spoke with Helen, when Helen was three in that sort of 1980, when was it 79, 80 kind of era? I think she had difficulty at school, the fact that she had two mums. But that’s all we said was, “you’ve got two mums.”

[09:06]

Rosie: Yeah. 

Libby: And Lauren had two mums and she was happy about that. She has met her biological father.

[09:11]

Rosie: What strikes me, first of all, having Lauren you were able to have quite an organic experience. We had a guest on the podcast recently who, at least when we spoke, was going through an IVF process and it was very expensive and very complicated and very risky. 

It feels like it’s just getting more and more complicated, and more and more heartbreaking, and more and more expensive.

Libby: And more and more form-filling.

Rosie: Yeah. And more tests for this, tests for that… “Oh, but you don’t tick this box. Oh, we can have another few grand here and perhaps you will.”

[09:43]

Libby: Exactly! And that wasn’t what it was like with us.

[09:46]

Rosie: Yeah. It’s great to hear.

Libby: It was just a natural kind of normal kind of process. I mean, it was… I think, because Chris had Helen, and I didn’t want to live my life without having a child, but I obviously only had the one, but it was kind of like an organic thing. It was like, you know, then you could just ask somebody and they’d say, “Yeah, alright,” and they’d go in the bathroom a while and…

I mean, we had lots of friends who went through that IVF, and went through awful costly [experiences]. And Lauren has been, because they’ve had to have IVF. And they’ve got three beautiful kids now.

And I feel lucky that it was that time of our lives, or that maybe I didn’t even look into anything else. I just thought, “well we’ll ask, ask around.”

[10:38]

Rosie: It feels so organic and nice.

Libby: It did feel organic and nice, it just felt okay, and it wasn’t anything big to kind of write home about. Obviously Mum and Dad were like, “What, now you’re pregnant?” “Yeah, yeah yeah.” But they were fine about that.

[10:51]

Rosie: That’s good. It sounds like you were fairly open with Lauren if she had an opportunity to meet the donor and things.

Libby: Yeah.

Rosie: So she was able to have quite a healthy approach to it. Did she have any struggle, or like you say, was it mostly pretty open and she had an okay time having two mums?

[11:08]

Libby: I think lots of children have sort of bullying and stuff when people find out things. I think it was very difficult for Lauren at certain times, but I’m not exactly sure of the basis for that sort of bullying. 

But some of it, I know with Helen, I know that she had difficulty, but all her close friends were round at ours all the time, and they were supportive of her, and she got through stuff.

[11:33]

Rosie: Yeah, I mean it sounds so wholesome and beautiful, and I think it’s good to hear that all these different families can exist. And, yeah, it’s just wonderful to hear that it was a kind of natural process. And wonderful to hear that your parents, as well, were… 

[11:48]

Libby: …and my aunts… The family were good, and okay about it. Dad was very much – he was a canon of Guildford Cathedral and Truro Cathedral. However, he was very much a man of the people – it’s a bit of a cliché – but he very much was that. He didn’t want to go any further up in the church. He wanted to be working on a good level with people, because that’s what he was good at. 

[12:14]

Rosie: I think, being gay and non-religious, you have an outside look in at religion and you forget all these special things.

[21:25]

Libby: Mmm. Religion, for me, is the physical doing, is the physical helping others. It’s that. It’s offering your love, and your care, and your listening skills, and your pointers if you can give pointers – it doesn’t mean everybody can. And it can be very stressful at times, because you have… I mean, my work was stressful working in social care and things like that, and it doesn’t leave me. You know, I’d go home but I wouldn’t go away from what I was worrying about, you know, it was really difficult. But, yeah, I think that, for me, that’s what the basis of religion is is the care, and the love that you feel for other people.

Rosie: Mmm hmm.

Libby: Even if they’re really difficult at times, which they can be!

[13:13]

Rosie: It’s incredible, it’s so incredible how leaders like your dad, and how you were able to touch people and help people.

[13:35]

Rosie: So you worked with children, and in social care. How did your work and also being a woman who lived with a woman, being a gay woman I suppose if you were to use a label, how did they coexist? 

[13:47]

Libby: I think it was difficult at one stage in the school when people used to equate, you know, bad stuff, that gay people may be bad with your kid, or may be a bit abusive or whatever, which is rubbish.

Rosie: They did, yeah. We’ve had so many guests say that – from a Nigerian refugee who fled Nigeria and a very religious family who believed that if you’re gay of course your a paedophile, and we’ve had a British guest who said the same, who was gay in the 70s and 80s. And it really was a common association.

[14:21]

Libby: Yeah, it was in that time. It was lovely working in the school [though]. Like I said, I was there eleven years, and I did my work experience in my second year of NNEB [National Nursery Examination Board] at this school, and was then asked by the headteacher to stay on and, “can you please take the job”. And I said, “yeah, yeah, I would love it!” 

And I was doing music. I was a guitarist and doing all the songwriting and singing with the children all the time – so I’d have a little line of children with little ukuleles sitting next to me and playing, it was lovely. 

Rosie: Beautiful.

[14:51]

Libby: But yeah, it was difficult at times, but we just kind of got through it. I did eleven years in the school, and then I went to the Early Years Service as a Social Work Assistant, and I worked in the Early Years Service as well, so I was always with children. 

Then I was a Senior Social Work Assistant, which meant we could do everything except ASW-approved social work, because I was a Senior Social Work Assistant in Kingston, and it was great working there with them.

[15:23]

Libby: But then, I was so busy, because if I wasn’t working I was gigging, in restaurants and bars and Pizza Huts and goodness knows whats everywhere, and writing my own stuff. And I was in a couple of bands. I was in the Jim Reeves Tribute Show. I went round, travelled round and did a tour of England – up to Scotland and back down again doing these “Welcome to the world of Jim Reeves!” concerts, with this guy who was a fish and chips owner.

[15:54]

Rosie: Obviously we’re from the same family, and growing up we always heard about your music, and how…

Libby: Did you?!

Rosie: Yeah! …and how much you played around and gigged and stuff. How did you get into music?

[16:03]

Libby: I started playing guitar when I was fifteen and because I could play C, F and G okay, then I could learn all the other chords.

And I learnt ‘Patrick McGinty, an Irishman of note’ and from there, I started to write stuff. And I was in a religious rock band called Virtual Image, and we released a single called ‘The Age of Fire’, which is visible on YouTube. And then I was with some friends of mine, and I’ve just been in lots of different bands really.

I started off in 1976, Bethany. We were a folk group – young members of the congregation – and we won Guildford Diocese’s Song Contest with one of my songs, which was great. 

Because I’ve just recently written a song called ‘A New Home’ for the children of the Isis geneocide in 2014, the Yezidi children, and I wrote a song and produced it, recorded it and produced it on a CD with three other songs of mine.

[17:04]

Rosie: Yeah. And the charity you mentioned with the EP – is that the charity shop you work for here in Penzance? 

[17:10]

Libby: I used to work with Refugee Aid here, who were basically an aid drop, and people volunteering going out to Calais – to the ‘The Jungle’, as it was in Calais, and Dunkirk – and we were doing pop-up shops then, but popping up for a couple of weeks or a month at a time.

And then myself, Shelley and James were chatting and we decided we’d start our own charity, and we called it One And All Aid – ‘One and All’ being the Cornish thing, of course. Ostensibly we were an aid drop for Calais and Dunkirk, and Greece, and our main project was the Angel School, this school in Sinjar for the children who had run for the hills when Isis took over Sinjar and razed it to the ground really.

And they ran to the mountains and the hills, and some of them, a lot of them, are still living in tents there, or living in makeshift places that were really only supposed to be lived in for about a year, but they are still there. This was 2014, that the last genocide happened.

[18:12]

Libby: And of course, the children lost so many people. So many women were taken away as sex slaves, or slaves, and so many of their fathers and grandfathers and families were killed. And the children were playing in the streets, and there were tunnels under the road where there were still bombs and things, and they’d just gone.

And we found this building. I interviewed, on the radio, Anna Ronya, who was a nurse who went off and worked out in Sinjar with people because of their medical problems. I got her in, and she inspired me to do this – take over this building that wasn’t razed to the ground, and had a big wall and everything – and we changed it into the school. And the guy that owned the building allowed us to have it for two years for free, so that we could set it all up and everything, and now we’ve got two education projects running, and 300 children in school, not hurting themselves or doing nothing.

Rosie: Wow. 

[19:16]

Libby: We work with Yezidi Emergency Support, yes, we work with them, and we work with the Woven Foundation in America who give us a good amount of money every year to pay for a couple of teachers. And we sell stuff on ‘Bag-a-Bargain’ on Facebook, and we have a shop when we can. And this latest shop we’ve got in the Greenmarket in Penzance, we have it for fifteen months, which is a long time when you’re retired, to be working three days a week, flat out!

For me, this is one world, this is one home, we’re all on this world and we need to be able to help where we can. And we do – we help with Street Food Project, Food for Families; we help with all sorts of growing links; we help with all sorts of charities that we can; resettlement charities for refugees… So, whatever we can do we can do.

[20:09]

Rosie: Yeah, incredible! I mean, you’ve retired and you’re doing so much incredible work, it’s amazing.

Libby: Yeah. Tell me about it! 

[20:29]

Rosie: And of course you’re a grandma now, so you’ve got the kids.

Libby: Nanny! Nanny, darling. Yeah.

Rosie: It feels like our conversation’s sort of spanned generations. You know, speaking about where you were born and then speaking about you meeting Chris, and her daughter and having Lauren, and now Lauren’s got kids and things, and you’re grandmother. It’s incredible.

[20:48]

Libby: I know. How does it happen?! 

Rosie: I know! Life just suddenly [finger snap]!

Libby: I know, but how does that happen?! Inside, I’m playing guitar and I’m still maybe 25.

Rosie: How have things changed in your lifetime, do you think for gay people, or for LGBTQ+ people, what has changed?

[21:04]

Libby: I have such difficulty saying “LGBTQ plus.” And I wouldn’t want to say it in case I get it wrong, because I wouldn’t want to disrespect anybody at all.

For me, it’s changed because there’s a label everywhere. It feels like you can say the wrong thing, or it feels like it’s almost too… that you have to be absolutely right and on the nail when you speak to people, whether it’s about their fluidity or their binary, non-binary, all that kind of stuff.

But I don’t know everything about it, and I don’t want to talk wrongly about it. 

Rosie: Yeah.

Libby: And people may think, you know, “she’s gay and bisexual, whatever, so she should know about it.” But I just live my life, helping people when I can, writing songs, putting them out there, looking after the kids. It’s just life for me. I think it’s changed possibly because there is so much labelling now.

[22:03]

Rosie: Yeah. Being gay, and being LGBTQ+, wherever you are on the spectrum, however you identify, is – in general, in the West – getting more accepted. Once it’s out in the open, it means that there’s room for that backlash against it, all these definitions come from the fact that it is better now, in general it’s easier to be LGBTQ+ than perhaps in the 80s and beforehand. 

It is about having role models, and I think the more we have the more we can all just become human beings. I mean, coming back to labels, I think also it’s important that you’re Libby and you’re a grandmother and you’re working for this wonderful charity, and you are a musician, all those things – and you’re gay. It’s just one more facet of your self

[22:52]

Rosie: Thank you so much for coming onto OUTcast and speaking with me. I wanted you as a guest from the beginning!

Libby: Aw, bless your heart. Thank you so much, it’s been lovely talking to you. 

[23:03]

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.

‘I just live my life’ – the inspiring ‘anti-coming out’ story from a beautiful corner of Cornwall

“It’s just life for me.” Libby Pentreath can take or leave LGBTQIA labels, instead living for her family, music, and the chance to help countless people through charity and kindness.

“I just live my life, helping people when I can, writing songs, putting them out there, and looking after the kids,” Libby Pentreath, this week’s OUTcast Podcast guest, modestly laughs.

“It’s just life for me,” she smiles, speaking with Rosie for Episode 7 of OUTcast. The name is a giveaway, so you may have guessed it – she is a relative of Rosie’s.

“My grandfather and her father are brothers,” our host Rosie shares in the episode’s introduction. “It’s really special to get a chance to catch up with someone in my family for this podcast, and have a another gay member of the Pentreath clan on OUTcast.”

Singer-songwriter, charity worker and radio presenter living in Penwith, Cornwall

Libby Pentreath is a singer-songwriter, charity worker and radio presenter based in West Penwith in Cornwall. 

She spent her career working with children and in child support, and on the side she pursued her passion for music, playing guitar, and gigging and touring around the country. She tells Rosie about navigating her teenage and early adult years loving “guys and girls”, and by 1980 moving in with Chris, who would be her same-sex partner of 27 years, and Chris’s three-year-old daughter, Helen.

Libby moved to Cornwall in 1998 and worked at Falmouth University nursery while continuing to develop child support programmes, and initiatives to support children with autism. She had had her own daughter Lauren, in 1991, and now Lauren as her own family, making Libby the proud Nanny of three boys.

Since retiring, Libby has continued to be generous with her time, supporting children and also a small charity that raises money for Yezidi children in Iraq, who lost their homes and schools during Isis occupation in 2014. She’s a very busy lady.

“Tell me about it!” she laughs. “We work with Yezidi Emergency Support, and we work with the Woven Foundation in America who give us money every year to pay for a couple of teachers.” This is for the school Libby’s Yezidi charity has helped to build. 

“And we sell stuff on ‘Bag-a-Bargain’ on Facebook, and we have a shop when we can. This latest shop in the Greenmarket in Penzance, we have it for fifteen months – which is a long time when you’re retired!”

A life dedicated to helping people

Libby has dedicated her life to helping people – at work, as a child social care specialist throughout her career, and in retirement working for, and setting up, the charities she talks about on OUTcast. 

And, on Sundays, she’s a DJ for local Penwith radio station, Coast FM, fulfilling a dream for her younger self. She also continues to write and record music, as well as writing poetry and special stories to help children with autism and complex needs navigate everyday life.

“For me, this is one world, this is one home, and we’re all on this world so we need to be able to help where we can,” Libby says on OUTcast. 

And help she truly does.

Click here to find out about Libby’s charity One and All Aid. And head to Bandcamp to hear Libby’s music. You can listen to Libby on OUTcast Podcast here.

Mark Abrahams Transcript

OUTcast S1, Ep 6 • 01 Nov 2021 • 25:44

[00:00]

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’re about to share.

You can follow us on social media @OUTcastLGBT and you can find us online at outcastpod.com. 

[01:00]

Rosie: Welcome to another episode of OUTcast. It’s Episode 6, I can hardly believe it. I remember just this summer when OUTcast was just a kind of dream in my mind; an imagination, so it’s incredible to be bringing you the sixth episode. 

And for this episode we have a very inspiring guest – a leader from the British military. 

[01:22]

Wing Commander Mark Abrahams OBE is a strategic engagement and international relations specialist at the UK’s Ministry of Defence.

He is responsible for formulating and advising on British Royal Airforce engagement strategy, policy and defence for the Americas, Canada, and the Asia-Pacific. 

He was formerly the president and chair of the RAF LGBT+ Freedom Network, which works to ensure that the LGBTQ+ community in the Royal Air Force is supported, valued and empowered. 

The context for this is that homosexuality was actually banned in the military until 2000. Mark is married and has a fascinating story of being gay and working his way up the ranks of the British military over a time when homosexuality went from being banned, to being treated with a “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy, and finally to being celebrated today.

[02:18]

A small disclaimer for Mark’s interview as well. We had some technology issues between the two of us and I spoke to Mark via speakerphone, so you’ll notice that the quality is slightly lower than in other episodes of this podcast. The conversation is no less enlightening and fascinating, so do bear with us.

Also, in a rather fitting turn of events, there seemed to be little light planes flying over where I’m recording in my little home studio, so whilst I was speaking to an esteemed member of the RAF, there were planes flying over.

[02:53]

Rosie: Mark, welcome to OUTcast.

[02:56]

Mark: Thank you, first and foremost, Rosie, for having me. I’m delighted to be able to take part in the podcast. 

[03:02]

Rosie: Your background is as a leader in the British military, and the Ministry of Defence, and you’re gay and you’re married. Let’s take you back – where does your coming out journey begin?

[03:13]

Mark: I guess, a very long time ago in many ways. I recognised that I always thought that I was probably slightly different, and I may potentially have been gay, from a very young age to be honest with you. But, you know, when I was growing up in the 70s and 80s, the world was a very different place. 

And the reason I pushed all these thoughts away from me is because I had always wanted to join the Air Force. My uncle had been in the Air Force in the Second World War and after the war, and always encouraged me to do it as a good career choice.

I was in the Air Cadets as a youngster as well, so I’m a sort of product of the Air Cadet system joining the Air Force afterwards. 

[03:52]

Rosie: Am I right in thinking homosexuality was actually banned in the UK military until relatively recently, about January 2000?

[04:00]

Mark: During the 80s and 90s, being gay and being in the Air Force was illegal. It just wasn’t a compatible choice, so given that, first and foremost, I wanted to join the Air Force, I guess I was driven further and further into the closet into denying exactly who I was and what I was. 

Whilst I was successful in achieving my career aims, I was less successful in, I guess, realising who I was and what I was, because I put my opportunity to join the Air Force first and foremost. 

So I guess that’s where my journey really started. But I never realised the full me, if you like, until much later in life.

[04:47]

Rosie: You were focusing so much on your career you didn’t necessarily even think about your personal life, and go down that road really. So, I’m guessing you weren’t exploring it as a teenager or a young person at all to speak of?

[04:59]

Mark: I did experiment a little bit, very very rarely, whilst I was a teenager as well, which I guess further fuelled the idea that I was potentially gay as well. But I put that very much down to just one-offs, and part of life’s rich tapestry and experimentation.

And because I wanted to join the Air Force, I never saw that as being a choice for me, if you like: that I could accept who I was if I was going to accept being gay. I couldn’t be gay and be in the Air Force, and first and foremost I wanted to join the Air Force.

Rosie: Mm hmm.

[05:40]

Mark: Society was very different then as I say, in terms of it wasn’t as accepting, certainly in the 80s during the prime of the Thatcher years, it wasn’t a place where you would have necessarily have wanted to be gay.

[05:55]

I grew up in quite a, dare I say it, homophobic household, in terms of my parents being very traditional. So it wasn’t a very conducive environment at home either. So, it wasn’t something that I could broach with my parents at that stage either.

[06:13]

Rosie: That makes sense. It sounds like it was a very difficult environment to be gay in. For context, for listeners of the podcast who might not have as much experience with the military, and the military apprpach to being gay, to being homosexual, or LGBTQ+ – what was the context once you were starting your military career?

[06:36]

Mark: There were stories all through the 80s and 90s of people being hounded out of the military, effectively, I mean it was a very corrosive atmosphere in the 80s and 90s. Things started to change with the change of government in the late 1990s. Clearly, they did a huge amount in terms of changing the public perception of the LGBTQ+ community, and they put the appropriate legislation in place as well.

And you’re right. The legislation prior to the 12th January 2000 was that, ultimately, you would have been discharged with dishonour, you would have lost all your pension rights, any financial remuneration that you would have left with having done a full service for, anything like that. It was just absolutely atrocious.

[07:18]

Attitudes started to change in the 90s as societal attitudes started to change. But it was still incompatible until there was a challenge through the European Court, and the legislation was changed in January 2000 and the LGBTQ people were able to serve with impunity in the British military. 

[07:38]

Rosie: Am I right in thinking there was a “don’t ask, don’t tell” kind of feeling after that?

[07:43]

Mark: There was sort of, I guess. If you take my circumstances, yes the rules changed in January 2000, but you can change the rules of an organisation overnight, but you don’t change the culture. 

[08:00]

And whilst it was great for me knowing that because I’d sensed I was beginning to challenge who I was and what I was even at that stage, when the legislation changed I knew that I was safe and I could no longer be discharged from the military. 

So I could potentially begin that journey proper in terms of my coming out and being who I was. But I judged the culture wasn’t right in the organisation, because there were still a number of people around who were still overtly displaying homophobic phraseaology or language. 

So, my view was, even then in 2000, that whilst I’d gone through a period of counselling by that stage, I was content with whom I was and what I was, that being a gay man in the military, but just because the rules had changed and I could no longer lose my job over admitting and being open with who I was and what I was, my judgement was, at that stage, I didn’t feel safe to come out in that environment. 

And indeed it would be another five years, actually. It was 2005 when I formally came out in the military. So, whilst I’d come out to my nearest and dearest family, by that stage in 2000 around the change of legislation in the Air Force, I didn’t come out publicly in the Air Force for another five years.

[09:22]

Rosie: And how did your family react?

[09:26]

Mark: Again, interesting. I have got one sibling, an older sister, and we were always very close during growing up. Not the stereotypical sort of brother-sister relationship where you generally squabble a lot – we’d always been very very close and shared secrets with each other that even our parents don’t know to this day.

So, I’d planned my coming out, if you like, to the family that I would come out to my sister first, knowing full well that she would be supportive. And that would help me then go to my parents.

[10:02]

I was always considered to be a Mummy’s boy whilst I was growing up, and therefore I knew my mum would be most supportive as well, out of my parents. And the hard nut to crack, if you like, would have been my dad who was going to be the final one that I was going to have to go to. But I would go to him after having got the support of both my sister and my mother, so that there was safety in numbers if you like.

[10:25]

Mark: And that was principally because, Dad being a stereotypical alpha male in terms of being a sportsman, carpenter and joiner, and being in the building industry all his life and all that sort of thing. 

It didn’t really happen that way. I ended up being in a social situation where my mum challenged me because she’d seen changes in my personality and the way I’d been behaving and there was clearly something on my mind.

She challenged me and I ended up coming out to her and telling her first, and at that stage she then said, “well you need to tell your father,” because we’re both here together, we were at a family function together. 

And once I told my mother and my father, I then ended up telling my sister, so the person I thought I would tell first ended up being the last one to know. 

In terms of their reaction, they didn’t disown me or anything like that, which I’m very grateful for clearly. And they were quite understanding. My mum had basically done some analysis on the situation, and she either thought that the change in my behaviour and personality was down to a number of things, and it was either that I’d got myself into some sort of financial conundrum that I couldn’t get myself out of. And both she and my sister had been talking about that, and realised that I’d always been pretty good with money and said, “well, it can’t be that because he’s always been good with money.” 

But I’d also been very supportive of a very great colleague of mine, Caroline Paige, who’s the first transgender female to serve openly in the British military. I’d worked with Caroline before she transitioned, so when this broke in The Sun newspaper, I’d been very vocal in my support. And I guess that sowed a seed in terms of my mother’s mind, and she said to my sister, “I think it’s either money, or it’s his sexual orientation.”

And then when I obviously did the whole coming out thing with her, she said, “well, I probably knew to be honest with you,” given what had been going on the previous six months in terms of some of the things I’d been saying.

[12:28]

But, you know, they were supportive initially. I think they found it quite difficult to come to terms with, because of the generational understanding. My parents were both born in the 1940s, they had the time of their lives in the 60s and all that kind of thing – sexual liberation, blah, blah blah – but, their backgrounds and their upbringings were very heteronormative.

[13:00]

Rosie: So, you had this reckoning period with your family, and the military was going through its own reckoning really, with sexuality and with LGBTQ+ issues. You were the former chair and president of the Royal Air Force’s LGBT+ Freedom Network. Could you tell us a bit about the network, and your involvement with it?

[13:21]

Mark: Yeah, sure. I was working in Bristol, and as I say, this dates back to 2002, so by this stage the Air Force had been finding its feet, I suppose, in terms of the LGBT+ community and formulating policy, and writing regulations, and all sorts of things for two years by this stage, following the change of legislation in 2000.

I was working in Bristol and I had already started networking amongst the military community, not just in the Air Force, but across the Navy and the Army as well, and knew that there were other people out there who were looking for support, more than anything else.

And there was a growing view, certainly from where I sat, that the Air Force was formulating policy on a whim, with the best of intentions, but they were formulating policy that was affecting a part of their personnel and community without really talking to the people that it really affected. 

And this was charting new territory, to be honest with you, because gays had not served in the military openly prior to this, legally anyway.

So, I approached the policy staff with a view to trying to assist them with formulating this policy. So rather than just writing it through a heteronormative lens, the “pale male stale” view, that they would actually consult with the community they were writing rules and regulations for, so that they would be understanding of that community more than just applying arbitrary rules and regulations.

[15:07]

So, that’s where it all started, way back in 2002. We started these very discreet conversations, and those conversations went on for about four years until the network, which started with a bunch of… well, not a bunch really – it was just three people who started the dialogue with the policy staff initially. And as word got out, it was three gay guys that started the initial conversation, so obviously we then wanted to try and encompass a broader perspective and more elements of the LGBT+ community. 

So, a number of people then started showing an interest and wanted to get involved with the things that were going on, and from that initially we grew what was called the LGBT Forum, which was effectively a small group of people, half a dozen of us, who would be used as a sounding board, like a smart customer for the policy staff. So when they were starting to look at LGBTQ policies, they would use us as a sounding board. 

[16:09]

But in 2006, we got Air Force Board endorsement of the network, or the forum, which then grew into the network, and it’s grown just exponentially from there to be honest with you. And I then effectively ran the network for the next eleven years, before standing down as chairman, and then was president for another couple of years as well.

And it’s all been really, to be honest with you Rosie, about informing, educating and empowering. And those are the three key words I would probably use. Informing the broader Air Force about what the LGBT+ community is all about; educating them and dispelling myths more than anything else, and popular misconceptions; also about empowering the individuals of the LGBT community to ensure that they can reach their full potential within the organisation; but also about empowering the heterosexual community in terms of understanding it, as much as anything else. 

[17:08]

Rosie: I love that it’s got that element of allyship and educating people within the community, and supporting people within the community, but educating outside it too. It’s really inspiring. Have you got any pieces of advice that you would give allies, or members of the heteronormative community, to support LGBTQ+ people?

[17:30]

Mark: You have to be authentic in everything that you do, and it’s about following words with deeds. Because being an authentic ally, and an authentic organisation supporting a  protected characteristic, is not just about having a statement or a vision, or a poster on a wall.

It’s about following up with real, hard evidence of how you support that community. And yes, you’ve got to have all of that legislature, and that policy framework in place to provide you with the governance process by which people work and live and exist within our organisation, but at the same time allies need to be vocal and visible in their support. 

So it’s not just about having a poster on a wall saying the good word, it’s about being leaders as much as allies in terms of providing support for the community. That works right from the very top levels of any organisation, be it the management board level, to the most junior ally that you can have on the shop floor or wherever in the organisation. 

[18:43]

Rosie: And what do you think the biggest challenges facing the LGBTQ+ community today are?

[18:50]

Mark: I think the biggest challenge is so much change has gone on in the last thirty years, with regard to LGBT legislation, and it’s not all a bed of roses out there, I absolutely get that, but in terms of where we were when you look back to the 1980s, the late 1980s, the final tenure of the Conservative government and Clause 28 and all that sort of vile period that we went through, there has been a huge softening and there has been a huge amount of progress. So there is an awful lot to be thankful for. 

And I think the biggest challenge now is, now that there is so much that is equal, if you like – there’s been such a long fight for equality – it is ensuring that we remain relevant within society as much as anything else. 

And when I say, “relevant”, it’s maintaining a profile within the broader community, because there are still issues out there where there is homophobia going on, there is still inequality, but we tread a very fine line these days because there is so much equality that people perceive that it is all now yesterday’s news. So it is a very fine balancing act that we have to tread. There is still work to be done, but we need to be very careful about how we take that forward as a community I think, to ensure that it remains credible in society.

[20:25]

Rosie: Absolutely. I mean, it’s so true, I think [about] starting this podcast, and also just situations in my life, the number of times people have sort of said, “you’re gay, get over it.” Which I think is both positive and negative: positive only because it shows that there is that perception of how much equality we have, and how far we’ve come. It’s negative because it cancels out the nuanced issues within the community now. And I think you’re right, I think there’s so much equality, I think especially for being gay and for being cis gendered. The next frontier is looking into this current backlash and transphobia that’s happening now that trans and gender rights and equality are more under the spotlight. 

[21:27]

Rosie: What gives you hope today, and for the future? 

[21:31]

Mark: I think there’s a new found confidence in the generation of people that are following behind me, which really pleases me. And the evidence of that is the fact that those people, those members of the LGBT+ community that I have seen joining the Air Force and getting involved with the network, are following their career aspirations and they’re progressing through their own careers. Be that in a number of ways, just in terms of their own personal growth and their own self-confidence, but they’re also being rewarded professionally with promotions, and other career opportunities.  

So, they are being their true selves in the workplace, and they’re bringing their authentic selves to the workplace. They don’t have to hide anything of who they are or what they are. They can perform to the best of their ability, because they are able to be who they are, and be their authentic self in the workplace. And that reaps benefits not only for them in terms of their personal development, but also for their employer, the Air Force. The Air Force gets the best from its individuals, because it’s allowing them to be who they are.

And, as I say, the remuneration that the Air Force is giving those individuals for performing well, being great professionals, and delivering both in terms of service at home and on operations overseas, around the world, is that they’re getting promoted and they’re carving their own career paths as much as anything else. And they will go on to be incredibly successful people. And that really does give me hope, in terms of, you know, I’m coming to the end of my RAF career now, but I can leave feeling really quite satisfied that the LGBT+ community in the Air Force is in a pretty good place.

[23:21]

Rosie: Absolutely. And I think what struck me then as you were speaking as well is, that as well as the military side and the defence side, there’s also this wonderful ‘soft power’ being communicated: the soft power of Western countries to have all colours of the rainbow in its people and these incredibly strong, successful, inspiring people.

[23:43]

Mark: Yeah, absolutely. We are ambassadors not just for our service, but for our country when we go overseas. I’ve served all round the globe, much like anybody else who’s in the British military to be honest with you. And, yes. I mean, I guess you can be candid in some areas, but you have to be less candid in others, in certain circumstances.

But at the same time, you can be an ambassador for your service and your country, and when you are in those situations where, perhaps one of the countries that you’re working with in a certain operation is not necessarily so forward leaning in terms of its outlook with regards to LGBT+ community policies and serving in the military, or just in general, then you can be an advocate and an ambassador for the service and your country in that sense. 

[24:43]

Rosie: Absolutely. And even it’s just bringing that extra level of empathy as a service man or service woman. It’s fantastic. 

[24:52]

Rosie: Mark, thanks so much for giving us your time today and sharing your story. I know it’ll resonate with so many listeners with military backgrounds, or partners with military backgrounds. 

I’m just feeling incredibly grateful that we’ve managed to make this work in spite of our technology woes! 

[25:11]

Mark: Yes! We got there in the end.

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.

How Mark Abrahams OBE helped spearhead the LGBTQ revolution in the British military

As part of an illustrious military career that’s earned him an OBE, Mark Abrahams has helped formulate policy, build networks and inspire a whole generation of LGBTQIA people in the British Air Force, Navy and Army.

This week on OUTcast Podcast, we’re joined by a very inspiring guest – a highly decorated leader in the British military.

Wing Commander Mark Abrahams OBE is a strategic engagement and international relations specialist at the UK’s Ministry of Defence. He is responsible for formulating and advising on British Royal Air Force engagement strategy, policy and defence for the Americas, Canada, and the Asia-Pacific.

But he has also been responsible for a whole load of LGBTQ+ policy, building inclusive networks, and driving inspiring support initiatives within the military. He was formerly the president and chair of the Royal Air Force’s LGBT+ Freedom Network, which works to ensure that the LGBTQ+ community in the Royal Air Force is supported, valued and empowered. And he was instrumental in driving the right kind of change in the military’s earlier days of accepting diverse sexuality and gender identities.

Mark is now married, and it’s quite staggering to think that throughout his working life, it’s gone from it being illegal for him to gay, to him having to treat his sexuality with a reserved, “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy, and finally to celebrating his true identity and empowering others today.

It was illegal to be LGBTQ in the UK military until 2000

The context for Mark’s early involvement with what became the RAF LGBT+ Freedom Network is that homosexuality was actually banned in the military until the year 2000. 

“During the 80s and 90s, being gay and being in the Air Force was illegal,” Mark concedes on Episode 6 of OUTcast. “It just wasn’t a compatible choice. Given that first and foremost I wanted to join the Air Force, I was driven further and further into the closet, and into denying exactly who I was or what I was,” he admits as he tells his coming out story.

Indeed, in the 70s and 80s the world was a very different place. British society was no way near as accepting, especially when it was in the grip of Margaret Thatcher and her particular brand of conservatism – a place Mark describes as somewhere “you would not have necessarily wanted to be gay.”

“I never realised the full me,” Mark poignantly admits to Rosie on OUTcast, “until much later in life.”

“Don’t ask, don’t tell”

It took a change of national administration and a new political party for things to change, both for LGBTQ+ people serving in the military and for society as a whole. Blair’s 1997 Labour government ushered in freshness and fairness, and finally some hope for more marginalised people, if you were to adopt an optimist’s view.

And things did start to change – but slowly.

“You can change the rules of an organisation overnight, but you don’t change the culture,” Wing Commander Abrahams says on OUTcast. 

On 12 January 2000, the Labour government had immediately removed the British military’s ban on lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer personnel serving in the forces, following a landmark EU ruling that personnel had been unfairly dismissed from the military on grounds of their sexuality. 

LGBTQ+ people were protected by law, but the military powers that be needed to catch up.

“Whilst it was great for me knowing that, when the legislation changed, I was safe and I could no longer be discharged from the military,” Mark says, “my judgement was, at that stage, I didn’t feel safe to come out in that environment.”

He goes on to explain: “Just because the rules had changed, and I could no longer lose my job over admitting and being open about who I was, it would be another five years before I formally came out in the military.”

There was still homophobic language banding about, and attitudes that had simply not shifted.

Forming the LGBT Forum and the RAF LGBT+ Freedom Network

Mark was working in Bristol in 2002, and there he started to form quiet networks of LGBTQ+ colleagues across the Air Force, Navy and Army. People, although grateful, were concerned that the forces leadership now codifying formal decisions for LGBTQ+ military personnel were “doing it on a bit of a whim,” according to Mark.

“There was a growing view, certainly from where I sat, that the Air Force was formulating policy on a whim – with the best of intentions – but they were formulating policy that was effecting a part of their personnel and community without really talking to the people that it really affected,” he explains.

From the informal networks Mark and his colleagues were growing for support, and then for providing advice to policy makers, a more structured approach began to form – first in the shape of an ‘LGBT Forum’, which was a “sounding board, like a smart customer” for military policy makers.

“In 2006, we got Air Force Board endorsement of the forum, which then grew into the network, and it’s grown just exponentially from there,” Mark says. “I then ran the network for the next eleven years, before standing down as chairman, and then was president for another couple of years as well.”

The network now runs supportive social media pages, organises inspiring outreach events, and even exists alongside a Tri-Service LGBT+ Parenting Handbook.

Mark Abrahams with his husband, Christopher.

What does the RAF LGBT+ Freedom Network do?

The RAF LGBT+ Freedom Network aims to inform, educate and empower all people in the service.

“It’s about informing the broader Air Force about what the LGBT+ community is all about; educating them and dispelling myths and popular misconceptions; and empowering the individuals of the LGBT community to ensure that they can reach their full potential within the organisations while also empowering the heterosexual community in terms of understanding it,” Mark enthuses.

The great thing about LGBT+ Freedom Network, and others like it in the UK military and other services around the world, is that it allows serving personnel to be their true selves in the workplace and bring their whole, authentic selves to work.

“They don’t have to hide anything of who they are or what they are,” Mark confirms. “They can perform to the best of their ability because they are able to be who they are, and that reaps benefits not only for them in terms of their personal development, but also for their employer, the Air Force.”

He adds: “The Air Force gets the best from their individuals, because it’s allowing them to be who they are. They will go on to be incredibly successful people and that really gives me hope. I’m coming to the end of my RAF career now, but I can leave feeling really quite satisfied that the LGBT+ community in the Air Force is in a pretty good place.”

“You have to be authentic in everything that you do”

What parting advice would Wing Commander Mark Abrahams OBE leave with any allies reading this?

“You have to be authentic in everything that you do, and it’s about following words with deeds,” he smiles. “Being an authentic ally, and an authentic organisation supporting a protected characteristic, is not just about having a statement or a vision, or a poster on a wall.”

For Mark, it’s about following up with real, hard evidence of how you support that community.

“And yes, you’ve got to have all of that legislature, and that policy framework in place to provide you with the governance process by which people work and live and exist within our organisation, but, at the same time, allies need to be vocal and visible in their support.”

Roger that, Sir. 

Click here to listen to Mark’s inspiring story on OUTcast now. Visit the RAF LGBT+ Freedom Network on Facebook to find out more.

Jessie Grimes Transcript

OUTcast S1, Ep 5 • 25 Oct 2021 • 42:04

[00:00]

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’re about to share.

You can follow us on social media @OUTcastLGBT and you can find us online at outcastpod.com. 

[01:00] 

This week we’re speaking to Jessie Grimes. 

Jessie is a clarinettist based in London. She balances a busy schedule performing as a soloist, chamber musician and orchestral player with teaching, presenting on TV and radio, and leading workshops. She teaches at the Royal College of Music Junior Department, and is a contributor to BBC Radio 3 as well as presenting on BBC TV.

[01:23]

When coronavirus hit in 2020, she used lockdown to establish Jessie’s Homemade Garden Jam, which is eight live-streamed concerts performed in her fruitful London garden. It looks big in the videos – it’s very tiny apparently, but abundant nonetheless. It has garnered thousands of views online, and some passionate and loyal fans. And in 2021, Jessie won the prestigious Royal Philharmonic Society Trailblazer Award for the series.

Jessie was born in Dublin, in Ireland, and came out to her parents when she was still in School. She’s now married, and they’re about to start their journey to having a baby.

[01:58]

Rosie: Jessie, welcome to OUTcast. Where does your coming out journey start?

[02:01]

Jessie: Oooh, um, well first of all, thank you for having me on. This is lovely, and I’m always excited to talk about all things queer. My journey began – it’s quite a typical one… well, I don’t know, there’s no typical anymore… When I was in school. I thought I was doing everything right, I had a boyfriend, and then I kissed a girl in my class, and it absolutely blew my mind. 

And I came home to my mum, and I was like, “okay, I’m going to do it. I’m going to do this.” And I said, “Mum, I’m breaking up with Andy to go out with Emily!” in this big kind of drama way, and Mum just kind of looked at me, and went, “You’ll do a lot more than that to shock me.”

[02:38]

And it was the best kind of response or rebuttal for this huge thing that was in my mind, I think I was 15 maybe, and it was all over. I’ve got a stack of journals from when I was a kid. I think I started doing diaries maybe when I was 12 – if I need some content for therapy I know where to go. 

I am very much trying, as a kid, to assimilate, I’m trying to just be part of the binary and the normal, and “I really want a boyfriend”, and “why can’t I blah blah blah?” And I talk all about all these boys that I want to kiss, but I’m not really interested in it. And I never talk about the people, I never talk about them apart from a boy’s name. That’s as far as it ever goes. 

And then suddenly this person that I meet in school appears, and then it’s totally different. All of the energy is different, and I’m suddenly like, “Oh I don’t know what to do” and it’s this huge turmoil and angst. 

And yeah, so I split up with this lovely guy, and then went into the stereotypical secret relationship. 

I think kids these days are so – in most British schools anyway – so lucky that, you know, there’s LGBTQ clubs and stuff happening in schools now. It’s so much more normalised, and out in the open. But when I was a kid, we were holding hands under the table, and it was a big secret. And in that trope that’s there in so many queer films, particularly from the 2000s, of the, “oh, we shouldn’t.” If you think of any kind of queer literature even, like Tipping the Velvet, it’s all about this shame stuff, and hiding. 

I had that experience and, I’m sure she won’t be listening so it’s fine, we went away on a trip to Italy, and on the trip we were secretly together. And we were put in a room, sharing a room, oh my God the excitement of it, and then on the plane home – I was Head Girl, humblebrag – she sat beside, and snogged, Head Boy. Can you imagine?!

[04:33]

Rosie: That’s horrible!

[04:35]

Jessie: Right?! It was awful! And, to be fair now, I think they’re married and have kids and they live in Australia, and they’re still together. So, like, I’m happy for her that that happened, and whatever. But I also often have a laugh at the idea that, if I was the last relationship, there’s so much unexplored things for that person.

But anyway, that was my first big gay experince, and the coming out, I was like, “will you tell Dad?” to my Mum.

[05:02]

Rosie: It always feels harder to tell Dad for some reason. The secret relationship, definitely I can relate to that. The, “I need a boyfriend”… In my diary I had ‘Top 3 Hottest Boys’.

[05:14]

Jessie: Nice, yeah.

[05:15]

Rosie: Yeah. I don’t remember actually attributing any kind of value to these people. We just perform heteronormativity I think, just to fit in. I think things are difficult enough as you’re sussing yourself out anyway. 

[05:27]

Jessie: Yeah. If someone had to give me a million pounds to go back to being that age, I would absolutely say “no” because it’s all of this thing of trying to survive socially while understanding, like, you’re sprouting from everywhere, and everything’s changing, and there’s all these insane hormones. 

And then on top of that, to try and discover who you are within a sexuality that’s been, particularly growing up in the Naughties with the Spice Girls and all of this hypersexualised girl power, which wasn’t really real feminism – it was a sort of a wave of it, but it was completely heteronormative and as a kid that age you’re just trying to survive. And I didn’t have the language for it either.

[06:05]

Jessie: You know, my uncle is gay. And I’m from a very open and accepting family in terms of that sort of stuff. I have a very strong memory of twigging and realising as a kid that Carl’s friend Tom wasn’t his friend, when they came over. And I think I maybe was 8 or 9 or something, and they came over to visit, and I remember I hid in my room. I was scared of the difference and Mum had to come up and say… I don’ t know what she said or what I said, but I kind of was like, “Are they gay?” It really weirded me out as a kid because it was not something I saw anywhere. 

[06:41]

I grew up in Ireland, which was still kind of under the spell of Catholicism that it’s finally starting to shake off. I had never seen it on the telly or anywhere else and it was, “oh my gosh, this is in real life”. And maybe in the Naughties, the only gay person you might see is the sort of tropey, flamboyant gay man. 

And I remember the reality of it being in my head as freaking me out in a way that I find really interesting now. It resonated quite strongly with me. Then I was like, “okay, I’m going downstairs”, and then I was like, “oh, that’s just Carl and Tom. That’s fine.” I know, I think there’s a lot about having a model as well, when you’re a kid, or having something there to see. 

[07:18]

Rosie: Yeah. 

[07:20]

Jessie: That certainly wasn’t there when I was a kid.

[07:23]

Rosie: So it’s kind of coming out to yourself, like we all kind of do that I think. We kind of slowly realise. I wonder if perhaps if you’ve never had to think about it, if you’re straight and happy and just it’s not on your radar, you probably don’t appreciate that I think for most of us, we have to overcome this perceived shame – or it’s real shame, actually I think. 

I feel like it took until 2012 or so, before there was more diversity in the kinds of queer people you were seeing. So suddenly the supermodel Cara Delevigne was with a woman, and suddenly there was that slight variety, and lots more men of different fields were coming out it felt like, instead of just having a stereotype to kind of say, “well, that’s not me, so I don’t really know what I am, and what’s happening.” Or “I’ll have a secret relationship”.

[08:10]

Rosie: I did the same – I had a secret relationship for about four years. It’s really damaging. If you haven’t gone through it, it’s hard to explain how damaging it is and how much shame it creates. And I think it lasts – I think even being out now, it’s a painful memory of having to hide that.

[08:27]

Jessie: Yeah. There’s loads of things in that. For a start, we grew up in different countries – where did you grow up?

[08:33]

Rosie: So, I grew up in Cornwall.

[08:34]

Jessie: Not in England England, that’s a different place, Cornwall. Culturally and all that sort of stuff.

But Ireland, again, is definitely a different country! Particularly, during that time. And it may be the same for you, but to be called a Lesbian as a slag was like a really dark slur. Like, I grew up… we did – I know this is definitely similar in the UK – that, “that’s so gay” as a thing was said all the time.

[08:56]

Rosie: Yeah.

[08:57]

Jessie: Oh, her shoes are so gay. And now, and you’re probably right – there was a little shift in maybe 2012 – where I started being like, “is it gay, is it?” I started calling it out when people would say it casually like in an office: “Is that gay though?”

But there’s such a heaviness, for particularly an under-18-year-old, to hear that in the environment they’re in, that to be gay is a casually thing is the same word as shit. To be a lesbian has got this dirty, masculine, like, really bad connotation. 

And even still I often when I’m identifying myself, I’d probably say I’m gay or I’d be queer, before I might say lesbian. Even in the way we use language, you are “a lesbian” and you’re “gay”.

[09:39]

Rosie: Yeah. I think in the context of the patriarchy, lesbian is the ultimate way of pushing back against a male power structure, or a male preference. So it’s deeply offensive in that way and it was always used as such an insult. I still struggle to say lesbian. And I sometimes struggle to say wife, because I’ve been told that introducing yourself as having a wife is subversive – it took me a long time to realise how homophobic that was.

As women, as gay women and lesbians, we’re often minimising ourselves in the way that we are just as women I think.

[10:12]

Jessie: Yeah, yeah. And this is a thing that I’ve been really thinking about because I’m reading it at the moment, about the use of the binaries. Like, I’ve found to say my wife is the easiest way. We’re permanently coming out, all the time. If you don’t fit into a heteronormative place, you’re permanently having to explain yourself, justify yourself, come out, in every new scenario. Particularly as a musician, you meet new people every other day.

And I have that moment, and I find it’s like a power thing to be able to say, “my wife”. Because it immediately identifies, a) I’m comfortably with my sexuality, and b) it’s clear I’m gay, becasue I have a wife and there’s no two ways about it. 

But I do feel slightly uncomfortable about having to set into those kind of heterosexual norms in order to justify myself, because I also think in terms of gender, which is not the same as sexuality, but there’s an intersectional thing happening there, that it’s possible that in another few years my wife won’t want to identify as wife.

She’s on a threshold of ‘she’ to ‘they’. It’s all so complicated isn’t it? You’re identifying yourself within a binary that might not necessarily maybe a binary that you identify with. But for everybody else that identifies generally with that binary, it just makes life almost easier for them. My wife – there you go, let’s just say that!

[11:27]

Rosie: It’s like we have to translate constantly, and try and slide into different ways of understanding things. Maybe one day everyone will speak our language, or there won’t have to be a language; we’ll all just be accepting and not need binaries.

[11:55]

Rosie: It would be interesting to talk about being out in classical music, or otherwise. How do you find it?

[12:02]

Jessie: I have had a big old journey with this. I did a degree in Ireland and then I did a degree in Music Education – it was a weird mishmash, basically qualified music and history teacher, whilst also having a performance major, almost in an American style.

And then I was like, “okay, I don’t want to teach. I’m going to go to the UK”, and I went to the Royal College [of Music in London] and I was like “I’m going to do a Masters”. 

And I remember standing outside it. It’s quite an imposing building, as well, if you stand on the steps of the Albert Hall and look at it. It’s like, “oh Jesus”. 

I tried very very hard to assimilate – it’s the same thing again as in school. My goal was to kind of succeed in terms of what I thought people wanted. And I did very well. I graduated with a Silver Medal. 

But I think about it alot now because I would always perform… the name on my passport is Jessica. And I think for the longest time I used that name, Jessica, as sort of my stage name because I assumed, in this wealthy, white, privileged world of classical music that the audiences and people who were giving me marks, or awards, or whatever wanted to see what was most palatable – which was going to be a femme, posh, kind of person. That’s definitely not me.

I would filter myself quite a lot. You go to these sort of mingle-y events where you’re supposed to meet people. I was always hopeless at it. Now thinking about it, I was trying to filter myself, and trying to not be me in order to be what I thought they wanted me to be.

[13:29]

So, on the one hand in the recital-y, get to know all the big wigs in classical music so that you get gigs and stuff, I was trying to be a concept of posh that I didn’t really understand what it was. And then, on the other side of trying to get gigs, all of my teachers – every single one was a straight white man. They all were the people who had the jobs, and I know there were a couple of women in different colleges who were amazing in that they managed to battle through that, twenty years ago to get to the top of their game. But everyone that I came across was a straight white man.

So I’m trying to fit into what they want of me, as a young, twenty-something. I didn’t go the flirting with them route, but the whole thing is, don’t stick out, fit in and go to the pub so that when you get booked for the gig, they’re going to want to have you back.

[14:16]

All the way through college, things went well, but I wasn’t me. And even up until… I was in a trio since I started, so that was in 2009 and we went on an won all sorts of big chamber music prizes. It was pinned on my Twitter for a long time, us winning Overseas League, which was not that long ago, and I’m in a big old dress. And I’m still Jessica I think, probably, on programme notes and stuff. 

And it probably wasn’t really until I met my wife, Emma, which is now nearly seven years ago. She’s from a different world. She went to Cambridge, so another white, privileged world, but within that she found a pocket of gay women, and played rugby with them, and had an incredibly close, tight community. 

We just came back from a wedding with these guys and they’re all like super high-flying doctors and all sorts of stuff, but proud, confident gay women, and that was just part of who they were. And they connected. I didn’t have a queer comminity like that, so I think Emma was a lot more confident within her queerness, that she would happily walk into a meeting room – she ran a business with her sister for a long time, she makes films now – would walk into a room and completely be herself. Sometimes mistaken to be a boy, you know if she was from an Indegionous community somewhere, maybe she might have been identified as two spirit, or third gender, or something. She just doesn’t sit in your standard binary. 

[15:35]

But she always held herself quite confidently in that space, and I found that really inspiring. 

And it wasn’t until probably five or six years ago, I went on stage for the first time in a suit, and I played better than I’ve ever played. There were these super high-flying, classical music people at this festival, and Emma was with me – she stayed with me at the festival. So I was publicly out, I would go to the concerts of other artists with my wife. It was the first time I just stopped filtering myself, and I was finally just Jessie, and the students that I taught knew about my wife, and I performed on stage in a suit. It was like everything just changed.

[16:10]

Rosie: Mmm.

[16:11]

Jessie: It was such a struggle, and it took a long time within classical music for me to stand in a place of authenticity and say, “this is who I am”.

[16:18]

Rosie: Yeah.

[16:19]

Jessie: And it was terrifying! There’s a voice of a standard audience of classical music, the traditional audience, that says, “why does it matter that they’re gay?” But they’re also, I think, offended by it as well. 

So, there was some post – it was on Classic FM – about trans opera singers or something, and there was this big pile-on in the comments, of like, “it doesn’t matter. I don’t care what they had for breakfast”. That sort of voice. 

[16:48]

Rosie: Yeah, it’s really complicated. So, for listeners to the podcast who might not listen to classical music, who might not know the kind of ins and outs of being in it, it feels like it’s a decade or two behind where you might place mainstream society with pop culture, or media role models we might have. So that’s the context. 

[17:07]

These comments where classical music lovers say, “So what? We don’t care who you’re sleeping with, we don’t care who you used to be”. They’re exactly the people who have made it that it matters that we’re that thing

These straight white heteronormative people have made it illegal to be gay throughout history, have made it a completely punishable offence. And now that the tide is turning, and we talk about it openly to try and make ourselves genuine and be the people we are, or be role models for other people who might be struggling to come out, it’s suddenly our fault that everyone’s talking about who we have sex with or how we identify, or whether we’re binary or not.

[17:47]

Rosie: It’s the only time I’ve ever been at work, looked at social media comments… this was when Classic FM had a new show for LGBTQ+ composers, presented by Rob Rinder – quite a well-known music producer jumped onto Twitter to make that very arguement: “who cares who these composers had sex with?” And it’s the first time I lost it at work.

[18:10]

Jessie: I think it’s the same argument as, “I don’t see colour” when you’re talking about racism. You can only say that when you come from a place of privilege. “I don’t see colour because I haven’t had to. I don’t see colour because I haven’t had to ever move through the world, and be othered, or experience what it’s like to be on the receiving end of racism”. So it’s very easy for someone who is straight and never had to question. But it’s from this place of privilege that you can say, “it doesn’t matter”, because why would it matter? Because they have moved through the world and no one’s ever given a shit, or challenged or made them feel awkward about being different, because they’re not. They are perceived as the norm, so they walk through the world – they glide through the world – with no issues whatsoever. And then they can’t get their heads around why it might feel important to make things like these incredible trans artists, who have struggled so much to try and get a foothold into a career, and have gotten there.

[19:07]

Rosie: Yeah.

[19:09]

Jessie: It’s not the same, but these amazing women who, when I was studying, were at the top. Janet Hilton’s a clarinet player who is Head of Woodwind at the Royal College of Music. She was in a world of men and that is baller that she got there. The same as, I’ve got a really really talented Black student at the Royal College at the moment, and I know that her mum – her mum is awesome – basically has to say to her, “you need to be twice as good in order to get half as far, because you don’t look like the rest of these kids”.

[19:37]

Rosie: Yeah.

Jessie: And there is slowly a tide is turning, but it’s not turning quick enough for them. But that’s the reason we need to shout about amazing trans singers, or you know like this Garden Jam I just did, in drag, celebrating queer composers. 

There’s a small side of the argument that’s also true. It doesn’t particularly matter that Samuel Barber was gay, in how you listen to the music, but it also really really really does. Because of all of the struggle of the LGBTQ community throughout history, it is important to find important, prominent figures, and say, “look, they have succeeded and managed to move through the world” and understand within their expression of emotion, or whatever, within their music there is a struggle that they did go through. 

[20:24]

I just know, as an artist – I’m still struggling to say that! – that bringing my identity into is 100 percent part of it. So it is inextricably linked, it cannot be separated, and it is important. 

[20:36]

Rosie: If anyone is tempted to use that argument, I think remember that the prejudice made it matter. We didn’t choose to make it matter, we only have to make it matter now that we are open about sexuality, or gender, or whatever it is, because you guys made us do it. We’re just simply responding, and then, yeah, the third step is perhaps it won’t matter any more, but we’re not there yet.

[20:57]

Jessie: What I’ve decided now, and I can do that, it’s also from a place of privilege having worked and stablised my career enough, that I can confidently be like, “okay, all I’m going to do from now on is stuff that has an integrity to it.”

If I have any say in a programme, it has to have a certain number of women in it and on the list of composers. You know, it has to fulfil a criteria and I’m never going to not speak up when I get approached to do something, and I’m shown a cast list, and it’s all white people.

I’m always going to be the person now who says, “that’s bullshit”.

[21:33]

Rosie: Yeah.

[21:34]

Jessie: And if it means that I don’t get a gig, or I get sacked from it or whatever, it’s from the place of grafting enough that I feel comfortable like I can do that now. It’s really difficult, I think, for younger kids, or kids coming just out of college, to be able to have that same kind of ability to hold strong, and stick with what you believe in. Because it’s so difficult, particularly in the classical music world. There’s always going to be somebody else – there’s always going to be another flute player or another clarinet player that’ll do the gig.

[22:02]

Rosie: That’s so true I think it takes having a certain level of power or achievement within your field to then be able to start making those decisions. 

[22:10]

Jessie: What you said about it being like twenty years behind is totally true. You have to be brave, in any sort of – not that we’re huge whistleblowers or anything – but in any sort of whistleblowing scenario, there’s a real risk to that for the person who’s going to call out bad behavior. You can only do that if you can be confident enough that you can deal with the consequences. 

[22:31]

Rosie: The trouble with classical music is the powers that be do tend to be of a certain generation, even still. I mean, we’re kind of – I think we’re a similar age – but we’re still sort of the new new guard, almost. 

It sounds crazy, but at our age even though it would be relatively mature in other industries, it’s almost like we’re sort of the new kids, you know, sort of able to have tattoos, able to be gay, able to talk about feminism all the time.

The other problem is, the audiences we cater for are traditional audiences. So, whereas the, say, pop music record labels, they have the old guard protecting the brand, the old men at the top still, which is what we have, but at least they have to change – because their audience demands it. Whereas we’ve always got the excuse not to change, in classical music, because we might upset Old Mrs Miggins, and Old Mr Noel, or whatever his name is, so it’s very frustrating. But there is hope, there are such inspirational people and there are so many arts leaders and classical music leaders that are gay, and that are trying to open it up a bit more. So, it’s getting better. 

[23:35]

Jessie: It definitely is and I think the more us crazy tattooed people get to the top, or suddenly become in positions of being able to hold some power and privilege, I do hope the people who get there are willing to share the platform and share the power. Because that’s the most important thing to be able to do is to share what you have. 

Because, I think again, in classical music, and in a lot of industries, the kind of cut throat nature of it, and the fact that you can be easily replaced, means that people don’t want to take a risk. 

But if every person, no matter what industry they’re in, gets to a place where they have some sort of power, that they can share that platform instead of saying, “well, I’m going to take it”, and it might mean that you end up getting a little bit less, but it means that then your actions are much more meaningful as well.

[24:35]

Rosie: You mentioned your Drag Kings and Queens Jessie’s Homemade Garden Jam episode. What’s it all about?

[24:44]

Jessie: Lockdown. Let’s take you back to summer 2020… We had no work, there was no music, there was nothing. But more kind of importantly, for me and my community, we weren’t getting to play together. More than a lot of industries or whatever, being a musician is also a bit of a vocation, and when you don’t get to perform you sort of lose a sense of self. 

A lot of orchestras and a lot of organisations were presenting stuff from home, but I was asked to do one early enough in the pandemic that it was still a bit of a novelty. And I volunteered the garden, because I was terrified of COVID and didn’t want to do anything inside – because my wife has quite bad asthma and health stuff, so I was like, “I definitely would rather not kill my wife to do a live-streamed concert”. 

So we did it outside, but it was really fun and silly and it rained. I put the bassoon player in the shed, the oboe player balanced her music on courgettes, so it was really fun and really funny, and it got quite a lot of attention within that small art community.

And I then spent another couple of weeks being like, “maybe I could do something from the garden”. For years, I’ve presented things for other orchestras, so I can be Jessie Grimes on behalf of the Ulster Orchestra, or whatever, and created things – even writing songs, I do a lot of creative workshop leading. But I’ve never really done something as me, just presenting something – this is my stuff, this is who I am.

And I called it Jessie’s Homemade Garden Jam. Little pun… it’s wholesome, and it’s a really long hashtag! I have regrets about that.

[26:10]

Rosie: Yeah.

Jessie: I want to do something completely different. So basically it became sort of a madcap, vegetable garden-themed show. My first season was sort of my good friends, and we played music but we also did really silly games. We got funding from the Royal Philharmonic Society, which sounds very posh but actually is run by some real legends who are looking to support the kind of outliers and the people who are doing something a bit different.

[26:38]

We did a jazz episode and we had people who are amazing musicians, from Ronnie Scott’s; we did a toddler one where we wrote songs for people, with an organisation I work with; we had a very well-known, prize-winning string quartet to do a more posh, classical one, but even then we got them doing silly stuff; and the most recent one we did was Drag Kings and Queens of Classical Music.

And my good friend Lynton Stephens and I came up with a programme of all-queer composers, and we performed all in drag. And, I might be wrong, but I feel like it was the first classical performance in this country all in drag. It was awesome! It felt really great, and I had one of my students from the RCM came – they’ve watched all the way through, all thirteen episodes we’ve done, they’ve been a really loyal fan of the show – but they came in person to this one. And it was so amazing to be there, like fully in drag, talking about all these queer composer who, when I was growing up or when I was studying, I had no idea that these people were gay. I had no idea!

The one argument of “I don’t see race” or “why is it important?” can’t be correct, because it was such a profound realisation for me to find out that these composers of pieces that I’ve played for over twenty years now – Saint-Saëns, Poulenc, Bernstein, Copland – these people have huge concertos, or big pieces for us, that I teach regularly, and I didn’t know half of them were gay. That has to be important. 

[28:04]

Rosie: It’s so important! I really struggled with being gay. I did a music degree as well, and I’ve moved in the same sort of circles that it sounds like you have and, if I’d known that Bernstein, Ethel Smyth, Copland, Barber, et cetera, were gay, I know I would have felt better. I know I would have done. 

[28:24]

Jessie: Yeah. And I’m really kind of angry about it, actually, because I can remember sitting in these stuffy lecture halls with people talking about Hugo Wolf, or Wagner or whatever. A lot of these composers who are venerated are actually really shit people. 

Yes, they wrote masterpieces, whatever, but lots of people wrote masterpieces! So, it shouldn’t just be those people who get to be celebrated.

[28:48]

I had to work really hard to find queer women. We programmed Jennifer Higdon, who’s an incredible composer. She’s finally getting the recognition she deserves, that she doesn’t have time to teach at the Curtis Institute, like she’s a big deal, Pulitzer Prize winning.

But, I hadn’t heard of her. I’m a queer teacher at the Royal College of Music, my job is to also research music for my students to be able to play, and I hadn’t heard of her. 

You know, I can name the men – because they’re men and they’re from the past, so at least the men got somewhere – but the fact that Ethel Smyth… I get stuck after that, to find people who are like me, from the past, or even the present.

[29:40]

Jessie: You’ve mentioned that you guys are thinking about starting a family. For people who might not know, what is it like being a lesbian couple – can I say that?

[29:49]

Jessie: Yeah, I think so. 

[29:51]

Rosie: Yeah. What’s it like thinking about starting a family, and what are you guys going through?

[29:54]

Jessie: Well, before I say anything, I want to say that it’s even harder for men. For men, currently if they want to have a family with kids, they have to go through a legal adoption process still. 

At least for me and Emma, when we finally do have a baby, both of our names will be on the birth cert, and we don’t have to go through that legal shit. So, for the first time, maybe, women are actually slightly more privileged than the men in this scenario of trying to have a family when you are not straight.

[30:23]

But it’s really really really hard. We have also chosen, maybe, a slightly more complicated route, but when I loop back to it, it also shouldn’t seem complicated at all. 

From a position of straight privilege, also saying that with an awareness that a lot of straight couples really struggle and go through a lot of heartache and cannot conceive, but the general standard of, “let’s have a bottle of wine, have sex and the, hey presto, have a free baby!” 

I have a brother, who’s a beautiful human being, and we asked him would he donate? And I have also always wanted to carry the baby – therein lies the problem! Because it’s my brother. 

The way we’re going to do it is the closest to sort of genetically how a straight couple may have a child: Emma is donating her eggs, it’s going to be my brother’s sperm, and I will carry. So I’ll be the surrogate, kind of, but in all the paperwork, Emma is named as a donor, which is also difficult, even in the conversations we have – Emma is a donor, my brother is a donor, and I am the birth mother. So even in all the language it’s difficult. 

It’s also knowing where to start is quite overwhelming, and even friends that we do know who have started a family have all done it in different ways. We’ve got friends who have adopted, we’ve got friends who just bought sperm and have done what you call IUI so just kind of ‘turkey baster’, and we’ve got friends who have done IVF. 

It’s a bit like if you want to get your two friends dating, you can either set them up, give them each other’s phone numbers and say, “go for it!” You could arrange the date, so bring them to the place. Or, you could literally hold their hands and put them in bed together, and that’s kind of the three steps within baby-making. 

You can either just shove some sperm in there and hope for the best; you can have the next step which is IVF, which is petri dish, sperm and egg in the dish; and then you’ve got the next step again, which is injecting the sperm into the egg, which is called ICSI.

So what we’re going to do is called Reciprocal IVF, so hopefully just IVF – sperm and egg in petri dish – and then it’ll get implanted into me, and hopefully it won’t fall out. And then we’ll have a baby, that’s the plan.

[32:29]

We ended up choosing King’s Fertility, which is connected to King’s College London, because it’s the only place that we in our research – we may also be wrong – but in our research, one of the only places that doesn’t take any profit, all profit goes into research so there’s nobody getting a Masarati out of all the fucking thousands of pounds that we have to spend. Because it does feel strange to pay money to get a human life, so at least the money is going into research for fertility science. 

But it’s been an absolute struggle from the beginning, because we didn’t go maybe to a gay women’s fertility place, where we would be seen as normal. We’ve gone to somewhere that is still basically a heteronormative environment. There’s no kind of, “urgh, two women!” But when you get a little beyond the surface of it, it still is quite awkward and difficult and has been challenging from Day 1. 

With the caveat that I know that they’ve been stressed out with COVID or whatever, but it’s been really shit. The whole way through, it’s been really hard to say what we want, to have anybody talk us through or walk us through. There’s sort of an assumption, maybe, that you already know what’s going on. I don’t know, like we sort of expected at some stage we might get, you know, a leaflet or a welcome conversation, but none of that really happened. It was like, “Yeah, you need to pay £500 is the first thing you need to do, so that you both get yourselves checked out to see what your ovarian reserve is like”. 

And all of it was kind of, “you need to pay money before you have a consultation”. “But I don’t know if I want to be with you guys yet”.

[33:54]

Rosie: From the outside, you imagine that you kind of get inducted, lots of explanation, yeah.

[34:00]

Jessie: You’d think! We’ve gotten to a stage now where we’ve gone so far we’re like, “fuck it, we’re just going to continue here”. It’s easy to get through from where we are, and that’s an important element of when Emma has to go through her getting her eggs out, she has to be in and out quite a lot. So you also need to choose your clinic based on your ability to get there as well. 

So there’s lots of stuff, like there’s a list, an A4 page long, of problems we’ve had. As for my brother, there’s an extra complication in that he’s in Ireland. It’s weird, I feel like I need to justify. “We’ve chosen to make this a bit difficult for ourselves, just so we can be genetically related, so we have made it hard for ourselves, so that’s why it’s difficult.” Like, I even feel that within what we’re doing there’s some sort of inequality that’s making me apologise for how we want to make a kid, and why it’s so difficult and complicated. It shouldn’t be, but it seems to be. 

So my brother finally managed to get over in February this year, after fucking months of trying, booking, and then COVID cancelling or whatever. So he came and donated. That in itself was a weird experience, to have my brother stay for a week and know that at the end of the week he’s just having the most high-pressure wank of his life. 

We had to have counselling – it feels like I’ve had to be turned upside down, shaken and explored in every option, in order for them to say, “yes, fine, we can do this”.

[35:10]

Rosie: Yeah.

[35:11]

Jessie: There’s all these ethical questions about like, “have you considered who the legal guardian of your kid is?” Our kid’s not fucking born yet, but you have to basically tick their boxes in order to satisfy them that you have thought enough, that you’re responsible enough. It’s shit. You have to be tested in all sorts of different ways.

[35:28]

Rosie: You can be heterosexual, have sex and accidentally get pregnant, even if you’ve got no suitability and no planning behind you. 

[35:35]

Jessie: It’s really shit, and it takes so long. I know, and I’ve been told by straight and gay friends, that IVF is brutal. We haven’t even got to the IVF process yet – it’s been a year-and-a-half of battling and fighting to be recognised and to be respected, or whatever. And, there are elements that are nothing to do with the fact that we’re two women – it’s COVID and everyone’s back-to-back – but it feels just so invasive, that we have to compulsorily do all this counselling, you have to compulsorily have  all these blood tests. And I know again it’s covering their backs so they’re not legally going to get sued. 

For example, if we don’t put down on a form if either of us have any family members with a disability, our child can sue us and-or the clinic, if they then have a disability. So it’s all this shit that we have to basically tell them every single thing about ourselves, in order for them not to get sued. And it’s really awful.

And maybe there’s probably somebody listening who runs a welcoming queer fertility clinic who’s like, “fucking hell, they should have come to us!” And maybe we should have, but that’s also a thing – even researching it is difficult. You don’t know where to start – like, what do you Google? “How do I make a baby? London”.

[36:48]

Rosie: Yeah. 

[36:49]

Jessie: Any time I talk about it with my therapist – I’m a massive advocate that everybody should have a therapist and look after your mental health – she just is just angry on my behalf, and annoyed that I’m still having to go through this, and every single step feels like a fight to get to the next stage.

[37:04]

Rosie: I’m a massive advocate of therapy and things. I think talking about things helps you purge the hurt and things that are really impacting on your mental health. Yeah, it sounds like a huge, huge challenge; a minefield. Is there any other way that you and Emma have found that you can kind of unwind from it, and support each other? 

[37:24]

Jessie: Both of us are separately in therapy. I journal every day as well, so I’m still doing my three A4 pages in the morning. For me, I run and I meditate. And then, for Emma, she is a writer. She’s written three books now – they’re all brilliant. That’s her creative outlet, is writing. So it’s definitely creativity. And then doing the garden. I’m out there every day, you know, battling squirrels!

My biggest piece of advice for anybody who’s trying to go through it is to take it one step at a time. At the same time as saying take it one step at a time, I’m also hoping I might be pregnant by Christmas. But the problem with making that, “I hope I might be by this time” is that you’re setting yourself up for even more disappointment. 

And this is a debate I have a lot within therapy – is it better to defend yourself in advance by not thinking these things, and hope that the disappointment won’t be so big, or is it just reality that it will be a disappointment anyway and you have to ride through it, and maybe having those little glimmers of hope help you get there. I don’t have any good answers for it yet. The big advice is try and take it one step at a time.

[38:26]

Rosie: It sounds so hard.

[38:44]

Rosie: What one or two pieces of advice would you give allies to LGBTQ+ people?

Jessie: The first thing that comes to mind is don’t assume that you understand what somebody’s experience is. And don’t assume that you know what they want or need. I think communication and consent is really really important. And being aware that everything is on a spectrum that’s always moving. 

And perhaps just because you fit quite neatly into a binary of, for example, identifying as a cis female who is straight, doesn’t mean a) that at some stage in your life that might change for you and that spectrum might shift too, but also that my experience might shift, and the person you knew ten years ago – Jessica who wore a dress – not making an assumption that the person you know a few years ago is not always on a journey and shifting and changing.

And always just to ask, and if you’re in doubt, ask what somebody’s pronouns are. But also, if you use your pronouns or make them visible on social media, or whatever meeting or work that you have, it just makes that space a little bit easier for someone who might need to use it. 

Whether it’s because their name is not from this culture, and somebody British might not know whether they’re male or female. There’s so many reasons why, for example, using pronouns can help lots of people. Also, not assuming that everybody wants to use that as well! 

It’s kind of just about consent and communication, and that everything is always changing. And some people also don’t want to be put in a box.

My other advice is probably to do the work yourself. Don’t rely on the person in a marginalised place to inform you – do it yourself. It’s great to have conversations, but maybe the trans, or the gay, or the bisexaul person that you’re talking to is fucking sick of talking about it, and just wants to have a coffee.

You know, go and read.

[40:40]

Rosie: Yeah, that’s amazing advice. Let’s end on a really positive note – what gives you hope for now and the future? 

[40:48]

Jessie: Young people. The kids that I teach. Our younger generation who are just open to everything. The fact that I did a Drag Kings show, and my young, talented Black student came, because there’s all sorts of tropes about race and homosexuality and everything. Just that everybody is, of that younger generation – most of – are just so much more educated and open, and willing to step out of a binary and understand that things are more nuanced. That gives me hope. And that there are a lot of people in older generations that are trying.

[41:25]

Rosie: Yeah, definitely. 

Well, thanks so much. Thanks so much for coming on to OUTcast, it’s been amazing having you. 

Jessie: Pleasure. Thanks for having me on!

[41:36]

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.

Jessie Grimes: ‘It took a long time within classical music for me to stand in a place of authenticity and say, ‘this is who I am’’

The clarinettist and BBC Radio 3 contributor on coming out in classical music, growing up gay in Ireland, and why so many LGBTQIA people of her generation experience secret relationships.

“It was such a struggle, and it took a long time within classical music for me to stand in a place of authenticity and say, ‘this is who I am’. ”

Jessie Grimes – clarinettist, teacher, BBC presenter, wife, and future mother – has told OUTcast Podcast what it was like being LGBTQ+ while studying and working in classical music. 

“The name on my passport is Jessica, and I think for the longest time I used that name as my stage name, because I assumed that in this wealthy, white, privileged world of classical music it was what the audiences and people who were giving me marks wanted.”

That was a “femme” and “posh” person, according to the London-based musician. “That’s definitely not me!” she laughs.

“Now thinking about it, I was trying to filter myself, and trying to not be me in order to be what I thought they wanted me to be. I didn’t go the flirting with them route, but the whole thing was, don’t stick out, fit in and go to the pub, so that when you get booked for the gig, they’re going to want to have you back.”

What is it like coming out as LGBTQIA in classical music?

OUTcast host Rosie Pentreath has also spent her life studying and working in classical music, and is familiar with the conservative, ‘status quo’ attitudes that stick, even in 2021. The film and TV industries, and even pop music, have had their #MeToo moments, for example, but classical music still refuses to budge on its unforgivable protection of sexual harassment – and worse – perpetrated by top conductors and top artists globally. 

“The trouble with classical music is the powers that be do tend to be of a certain generation, even still,” Rosie says in Episode 5 of OUTcast, which is out now. “The other problem is, the audiences we cater for are traditional audiences.

“Whereas, say, the pop music record labels have to change because their audience demands it, we’ve always got the excuse not to change in classical music – because we might upset Old Mrs Miggins, and Old Mr Noel, or whatever his name is. It’s very frustrating.”

I played better than I’ve ever played

In this environment it took Jessie Grimes years to come out and be her true self in classical music.

“It wasn’t until probably five or six years ago that I went on stage for the first time in a suit, and I played better than I’ve ever played,” she confides on OUTcast. “There were these super high-flying, classical music people at this festival, and [my wife] Emma was with me. So I was publicly out, and it was the first time I just stopped filtering myself. I was just Jessie.”

She describes everything just changing overnight, then.

A clarinettist based in London, Jessie balances a busy schedule performing as a soloist, chamber musician and orchestral player with teaching at the Royal College of Music Junior Department, presenting on TV and radio, and leading workshops.

Award-winning series, Jessie’s Homemade Garden Jam

When the coronavirus pandemic hit in 2020, she used lockdown to establish Jessie’s Homemade Garden Jam, which was originally eight live-streamed concerts performed in her fruitful London garden.

The garden looks big in the videos – it’s very tiny apparently, but abundant nonetheless. The show has garnered thousands of views online, and some passionate and loyal fans, and in 2021, Jessie won the prestigious Royal Philharmonic Society ‘Trailblazer’ Award for the series.

Jessie recently hosted a special LGBTQ+-themed Garden Jam called the Drag Kings and Queens of Classical Music. 

“I might be wrong, but I feel like it was the first classical performance in this country all in drag,” she says. “It felt really great, and it was so amazing to be there, fully in drag, talking about all these queer composers who, when I was growing up or when I was studying, I had no idea were gay.”

Growing up in Dublin

Jessie was born in Dublin, in Ireland, and came out to her parents when she was still in School.

“I’m from a very open and accepting family in terms of that sort of stuff,” she confides when she shares her coming out story on OUTcast. “You know, my uncle is gay? But I have a very strong memory of twigging and realising as a kid that Carl’s friend Tom wasn’t his friend, when they came over. 

“I was 8 or 9 or something, and I remember I hid in my room. I was scared of the difference and was like, ‘Are they gay?’. It really weirded me out as a kid because it was not something I saw anywhere.”

Coming out in Ireland in the 2000s

Growing up in 1990s Ireland, and then coming out to her parents as a teenager in the 2000s, Jessie didn’t have many queer role models around her, on TV or in the media, and she felt isolated. She entered into a “stereotypical secret relationship” when she was still in school, before coming to terms with her sexuality.

Once she came out, she was able to start living more authentically.

“We’re permanently coming out, all the time,” Jessie reflects. “If you don’t fit into a heteronormative place, you’re permanently having to explain yourself, justify yourself, and come out, in every new scenario.” 

Jessie is now married, and amidst her busy music schedule, she and her wife are embarking on their journey to having a baby.

Visit www.jessiegrimes.com to follow Jessie’s work, and click here to watch Seasons 1 and 2 of Jessie’s Homemade Garden Jam.

Fertility Network UK, which seeks to relieve the suffering from fertility problems through the provision of free and impartial advice and information, has a range of resources and networks for anyone looking to learn about and access help with fertility.