Why Linda is #AgeingWithPride
“I wanted to show that we've all got something to offer, whether we're young, or whether we're older. Everyone deserves the spotlight at some point."
To mark Pride Month 2021, Linda, 67, talks about drawing inspiration from the lesbian diarist known as ‘Gentleman Jack’, her wedding plans, and the importance of being visible.
I remember my first marriage at 19. When it came to signing the registry, I looked over at my mum, I was thinking ‘what am I doing!’. Next summer, nearly 50 years after my first wedding, I’m going to be marrying my partner, Anne. This time we’re doing it our way. It means a lot to me that our children and grandkids will be there. My grandkids call me Nanda, a combination of Nan and Linda – I didn’t want to be called Grandma!
My attire, which includes a top hat, is inspired by the life of Anne Lister. Lister was a wealthy Yorkshire landowner and diarist who became known locally as ‘Gentleman Jack’. Her famous diaries were the first saucy lesbian novels. We know from Lister’s diaries what she thought, and that she was aware of how other people viewed her. One of Lister’s phrases was ‘I rise above it’; I’m having this tattooed.
Anne and I got engaged at Trinity Church, York. It’s where Lister and her lover, Ann Walker, took the sacrament together to seal their union. Anne and I are having a humanist ceremony. Like Lister, I don’t need to be told how to get married. They didn’t feel that they needed permission from the church, straight people, or anyone else – and neither do we.
Mum accepted me straight away. When I came out to her, she said, ‘OK, I’ll just make the tea’. I still imagine that when she went into the kitchen, she gripped the worktop with gritted teeth thinking, ‘Oh my God!’, but she came back in with the tea, like everything’s cool, no problem.
I’m proud that throughout everything, I’ve stayed being me – and survived. That sounds a bit dramatic, but there have been some really difficult times.
Outside of home, the same level of acceptance didn’t always exist. If you went to a gay club in the 1970s or 1980s, you’d have to creep down a side street and knock on a door then wait for someone to open the hatch. They’d take a good look at you (for safety) before deciding whether to let you in. One night leaving a gay club, someone shouted at me, ‘You queer bastard’. I shouted back, ‘right on both accounts!’ then I ran like hell.
Another time on a night out in Nottingham, a group of friends and I were attacked in a pub. I just remember everything going in slow motion, I felt myself being lifted up and landing on the floor. No one stepped in, not even the bouncers. When we got outside, bloody and buttons missing, we saw a police car – we averted our eyes and walked in the opposite direction. I think it was instilled in us, by society, that somehow, we were the ones in the wrong. We certainly didn’t feel as if we had any rights.
There’s still discrimination but it’s so much better, the difference between now and then it that we thought we just had to ‘expect it’.
In my 50s I used to sing at Manchester Pride. I’d sing classic love songs that everyone knew, but I’d change the words from ‘he’ to ‘she’. I wasn't a professional singer, but I wanted to show that we've all got something to offer, whether we're young, or whether we're older. Everyone deserves the spotlight at some point.
Being seen was a form of activism. I joined lots of marches, whether gay rights, women’s rights, and the anti Iraq war marches. Recently we’ve joined the Black Lives Matter protests – it’s about time. I have also volunteered and been a committee member at Manchester’s Pankhurst Centre. It was a sanctuary for women, whether they needed a refuge or required support with their mental health. It included transwomen who also needed a safe space.
Over the past 15 years I've come to feel somewhat invisible. We used to be dancing the night away – now I’ve had a knee replacement! Not that that stops me doing anything. I was up and about after four or five days, with a Zimmer. I use my Fitbit to motivate me to do 10,000 steps a day. You don’t get a manual for becoming ‘old’, you still feel 20 inside your head!
Doing this photo-shoot has made me feel like me again. I realise that I’ve had a really fun, full, life. I wish everyone could tell their story, because we all played a part in it just by being there – being visible meant being part of the movement.
I’m proud that throughout everything, I’ve stayed being me – and survived. That sounds a bit dramatic, but there have been some really difficult times. For Pride this year, we’ll probably go to Shibden hall, where Lister lived. They have a Pride flag up there. It’s amazing to go there, to walk in her footsteps, in the same place – 180 years later.