gah. bloody awful word.
so, I’ve waited almost a week to think more clearly about this piece re gay women needing more celesbians (busy busy), but am just preparing to celebrate Kate Crutchley, and it occurs to me that I’m uncomfortable with some of these ideas, primarily the suggestion that we need role models of our own age, and also the idea that fame is the spur (or the goal).
Now I’m the first to note that a sub’s headline is unlikely to be the writer’s (as I know from all too bitter experience), and – like most of us – I’ve been banging on for years about how famous gay men is not the same as LGBTQI visibility and never has been, and how that’s all to do with the basic sexism and patriarchy and all the things that women, whatever sexuality, face day in day out.
BUT, I am a little concerned about the call I’ve been hearing all too often that’s for role models OF THE SAME AGE.
Why would anyone want a role model of the same age?
Surely the point of a role model is that they’ve been there, done that, and learned some stuff.
There were even fewer role models when I was coming out, but it didn’t bother me that Martina was older than me. She was a beacon, her courage was something to aspire to. In NZ, the Topp Twins only had a few years on me (but double that if you count them as whole!), and I loved that they had been being out for a little bit longer, knew a little bit more about it than I did.
The wife and I do a lot of work with younger people, both LGBT younger and general younger. Loads of friends children have come to us to talk about their stuff, LGBT stuff and otherwise. Gay, straight, trans, we have welcomed them all. We don’t have kids, we maybe have a bit more space for other people’s children than those who already have their own nuclear families to worry about (not that we don’t have elderly relatives & extended families to care for, but that’s another story).
And I know the younger women and men who have come to us for support, encouragement, a listening ear have found us useful, because they’ve said so. I have made similar relationships on twitter. But if those young people were only looking for understanding or role modelling from someone of the same age, they’d never have talked to us at all.
So I think we do ourselves a disservice when we demand to have people ‘just like us’ as our models. I don’t want people just like me to follow and learn from. I want people who have done much more than me, learned more than me, braved more than me. I want to learn from people who have something to teach me – whatever their age. I’m sure I’ve gained as much from my friendships with people 20 and 30 years younger than me, as they have on their side of the friendship.
It’s bad enough that we go through education grouped in age, to do it to ourselves in adulthood is absurd.
It’s bad enough that success is judged by fame and notoriety in the wider world, why on earth would we do that to ourselves?
I know dozens of brilliant lesbian role models – they are teachers and doctors and nurses and HIV professionals and artists and scientists and plumbers and builders and mothers and divers and runners and curators. Some of them are even bankers. They run businesses and sign on, they build lives a and live with disease. they do everything everyone else does. I know a few who are on the telly, and I’m pretty sure they’d say they are as proud of their other roles as they are of presenting the odd TV programme.
We do not need more famous lesbians. We need more lesbians being noted for the brilliant work they do in every field and at every age.
(And, you know, if you’ve only heard of 5 of the 40 women on the Pink List, then perhaps that’s not the Pink List at fault? We ALL need to take responsibility for educating ourselves in the work – and workers – of our political past, as well as the future.)
So, my young friends who are looking for role models – LGBT or theatre – come join us to celebrate Kate on Tuesday at OvalHouse. Kate was a theatre and lesbian mentor* for me. She was a brilliant director, made fine art, and she was bloody cheeky. She was also almost 20 years older than me. And she’d earned every one of those years and every one of those years she had on me were part of why she was such a fine role model.
And as for celesbian? Someone called me that on twitter the other day. They meant well (I think), but I find it mildly offensive. I’ve been working in the arts for 30 years. I’ve been out for 32. I’ve been doing a variety of LGBT/women’s/left activist work for about the same amount of time. I think I’ve worked for any recognition I have (and that’s pretty damn little compared to many, I know), I don’t think I’m a celebrity with any of the media-luvvery that entails. And I don’t think it’s a compliment calling me one, thanks anyway.
* unofficial, as all my mentors have been. I’ve been happy to officially mentor people, but I think it works just as well when we choose people we perceive to be our mentors and choose to learn from them. They don’t even need to know, we just need to pay attention!