Jen's voice - LGBT+ History Month
Attitudes to sexuality have changed a great deal in Jen's lifetime – from her childhood in rural Scotland to her involvement with Opening Doors London today.
To mark LGBT+ History Month, Jen talks about her experiences growing up.
It’s really quite amazing, the difference in attitudes over my lifetime. You think 75 is old, but looking at history, it’s really not. In that short space of time, so much has changed.
I had a very happy childhood – a ‘Janet and John’ Ladybird book childhood, you could say. I was born just at the end of the war, and our generation was very privileged in many ways. I grew up in rural Scotland and I had an amazing amount of freedom with huge sandy beaches, golf courses & outdoor play – so different to many childhoods nowadays.
I was sent away to boarding school in Edinburgh when I was quite young, and that was quite traumatic because it was a long distance to travel. It taught me resilience. It was a very ‘Miss Jean Brodie’ approach – tweed skirts and felt hats and that sort of thing. I grew up there really. I had crushes – I must have known my sexuality as quite a young woman. But I didn’t really use any language about my sexuality or discuss it with anyone.
I managed to convince my mother she was wasting her money and to let me do my Highers in our local school, and then I went on to become a teacher. I trained in Aberdeen, where I lived in a boarding house full of women, but that was perfectly comfortable for me. I had friendships with both sexes. I fell in love with a young man called Rod and we got married when I was 21. He was a lovely bloke but he felt like a friend. We had two lovely daughters, born in 1971 and 1973, and I was married for 20 years.
I knew I was attracted to women and I had a couple of flings. I think my husband knew – at least I’m pretty sure he did. In the late 1970s we moved to London when my husband was headhunted for a role there, and that was when I had a big epiphany. I got involved with the Greater London Council and the Inner London Education Authority, and it just blew my mind. I got so caught up in it. I was elected as a councillor, and I just realised that I had to change my life. I stopped working and became a councillor full time.
We’ve got a lot of scared older people who go back in the closet.
That led to me feeling I was strong enough to come out, and I left the family home and went to live in a tiny shoebox flat in Shepherds Bush. I was 40 then. It took a long while to sort things out in an emotional, maternal, and familial way. My family were superb – both my biological family and what I would call my ‘logical’ family – those not biologically related but who were very important to me.
When the GLC was disbanded it was a hammer blow. It completely blew away my new foundations. However I was lucky enough to have a career to go back to. I met my Partner/Wife in 1994, we celebrated our relationship with a Civil Ceremony in 2008 and are living reasonably quietly in our London suburban home. Time passes… then when I got into my 60s I could sense that there was a definite loss for me of any LGBT+ community involvement. There didn’t seem to be as much happening, and certainly not for my age group.
I came across Opening Doors London, about three years ago. I came across ODL very luckily. It wasn’t quite as dramatic as the GLC but it was just as important for me. I was thrilled. As far as I’m concerned there should be an ODL in every locality. It’s important because as a community having gained lots of headway politically in the late 60s + early 70s we lost it through the Thatcher years. We nearly lost it all, especially things like clubs, spaces and big names. But now at least an LGBT perspective is not seen as an odd, add-on any more. I think it’s seen as central & essential to most policymakers.
We were the oldest people in the parade, and that was bloody marvellous.
The most important thing I think is to be sensitive – for everyone to be sensitive. ODL has proved that for example in the social care sector there’s not enough emphasis on difference and tolerance, and not enough emphasis on training care staff. Every care home in the country should have an LGBT policy. We’ve got a lot of scared older people who go back in the closet. It nearly happened to me in the sense that even though I didn’t know I was doing it, I didn’t feel as I got older that I could express that I was part of a LGBT+ community anywhere until I joined Opening Doors London.
When I went on the London LGBT pride march two years ago that was probably the best march of my life. I was 73. And I’ve been on loads of marches! But that was one of the proudest marches I’ve ever been on. We had an ODL bus and we were the oldest people in the parade, and that was bloody marvellous. There’s a picture of me there with a pride flag and I feel like a teenager. I felt like a kid. It was wonderful.
Then there was COVID.
We’re still here! Doing the best we can: telefriending and Zooming till we can meet up again. Well done to all the ODL staff and volunteers and friends who are keeping things going. Thank you from me – only one of the many.