Clive: Full Interview
Interviewed by Gill Crawshaw
2nd May 2019
C: I'm Clive, my pronouns are he and him. I was born in 1956. I live in West Yorkshire and I identify – well, I don't like labels, but – mostly gay, sometimes bisexual, somewhat fluid.
GC: Great, thank you. Thanks, Clive.
OK, well, shall we start then, in the late 1970s, and about...
C: Well, when I got into my late teens, well, I suppose mid-teens really, I was, I became very religious, and sort of fundamentalist, and never knew much about sex, sexuality, from school or anything. And certainly, when I heard of homosexuality, mentioned from the Bible, it was always completely, in a completely negative condemnatory way.
And so, when – I did a course at college, a year's course. And after – which I thoroughly enjoyed – and after that I was unemployed for a year, and very lonely, and I just couldn't get a job and I was missing people from college, missing people. And I had, I was still very religious, but having doubts and questions and confusion. And I was getting lonely. And I thought, I need to maybe find a girlfriend or whatever. And I went to see a counsellor, and eventually this counsellor suggested to me, 'Do you think you might be gay?' And, I'd always been bullied at school, actually, for being, in inverted commas, "queer". But I just thought that just meant sort of girly or effeminate. I really didn't know anything about sex, and so on, and homosexuality.
Anyway, I decided to take this counsellor's suggestion, to try go and meet some gay people, I said, ‘Well, I don’t know any. And she said, ‘Well, there's a group in Leeds, I believe’. So, I decided to go to this group, on a Friday night. Actually, I was terrified when I met these people because they were all very academic, intellectual, clever. I just felt – all the ones who talked, anyway – I felt very uncomfortable, you know, and I just didn't feel clever enough, I had nowhere near that level of education, partly because of my religious-nonsense background.
But, I persisted with this group a little bit and then one – and it was difficult to get to, it was a long way for me to travel. But I did go, I did keep going for a bit. And then my mum asked me, where I was going, where I'd been going on Friday nights. So I told her, and she said, 'You'll be damned!' and she was really upset. And my father said, 'If I find you've done anything like that, you're out of this house'. So, I, I think my sort of religious legacy, I was determined to find what was true and to know what was true about me and about life, regardless of the cost.
And I decided to continue going to this group and to look for somewhere else to live, and that's how I came to leave home. Although, actually, over the years my parents grew to understand, understand it much better, and they were great, they were just lovely, eventually, but it took a long, long time for them to come round and to respect my decision and so on.
But, so, I went to live on my own in a little council flat, and I had no money. And again, I was lonely. I had no telephone, I don't think I had a job at first. Anyway, so, I got involved with the Quakers at this point. I'd gone from being a Jehovah's Witness to being – to join the Quakers! I went to meetings, and I found them completely liberal and accepting and friendly, very comfortable. And I saw this advert in one Quaker meeting about this Friends' Homosexual Fellowship and I – oh no, no, I saw that in Gay News, that's right, in Gay News, and I was still going to the Quaker meetings. So I wrote to this group, and eventually I went to some meetings in people's houses in Manchester. And found these other gay people who were, who were very much like me in some ways, I could identify with them, and you know, a sort of sense of, I suppose a holistic and spiritual sense as well as sexual interest – women as well as men.
And I thought, well, I'm going to try and set up some kind of gay group myself. So I advertised in the local paper, the Wakefield Express. And – just a tiny little advert. The result of which was, one of their reporters came to see me and did this front page spread [laughs], interviewing me about what I wanted to do! By this time, I think I'd had about 100 people contact this little box number from this little advert in the personal column. And, you know, I'd got this tiny little council flat and we couldn't have meetings there, eventually. So, we hired – no we didn't, we were offered for free the use of a room at the local Labour club in Wakefield – the Red Shed, which is still there. And, so, but I was doing everything only, I was doing absolutely everything and everybody was letting me do everything to organise this group, and so on. And I got a bit fed up of it, and I got in – I was getting more and more interested in, sort of, mental health.
Oh – I forgot to tell you, I forgot to tell you something, going back to my parents. When I told my mum I was that I was gay, she said, would I go to see the doctor, the GP? So I said, OK. So I went, and he looked a bit sort of uncomfortable, and he said, 'Well, what do you me to do?' I said, 'I've no idea'. He said, 'Well, I think I should arrange for you to see a psychiatrist.' I said, 'OK'. So I went to see this psychiatrist, and this psychiatrist said, 'Well, what do you want me to do?', and I said, 'Well, I don't know'. And he said, 'Well, you can have therapy if you like.' And I'd seen – I think I must have been about 18 or 19, I'd seen on World in Action on telly, a programme about aversion therapy involving electric shocks and sexy pictures and so on. And I said, 'Do you mean that?' and he said, 'Yes', and I said, 'No way!' And he said, 'Well, do you want to see a psychologist?' and I said, 'Well, what does that involve?' And he said, 'Talking'. So I said, 'OK, I'll do that'.
So, I went to see this psychologist over a period of maybe a few months or something. And eventually, this psychologist said, 'I want you to buy some pornography' [laughs]. So, I said, 'OK' and he said, 'Let me know what res-, what effect it has on you'. So, I didn't know where to buy pornography apart from WH Smiths, I think I'd seen Playboy or something like that. So I went to WH Smiths and I got this pornography. And so I went back and he said, 'What effect did it have on you?' And I said, 'Well, not much'. So he said, 'Well, I think you're gay. I think you should go away and be happy!' [laughs]. So, that was the end of that and I told my mum, and she wasn't impressed!
But anyway, going back to the Wakefield Gay Group, so that would be 1980, I think, '79-‘80. And I was getting tired of running it on my own and also I got opportunity to – no, I got a job. I got a job, that's right, I got a job working for Pickford's Travel. That's right, I forgot about this, this is just before the Wakefield Gay Group, I'd got this job. And, because I'd put this advert and done this interview for the Wakefield Express, she sacked me! Despite telling me when I first went to work for her, 'Oh, I have some, a couple of gay men who live next door to me and we get on really well'. But she sacked me, she said it's bad for business. And the, I was in the trade union and they offered to me to do something about it, but I didn't, I didn't want, I didn't know what that would lead to. I was nervous of it, and I said, 'No, it's OK, I won't'.
Anyway, so then I was getting interested in psychology and in mental health and so on. And I went to train as a psychiatric nurse. And, the textbooks, I remember, on the subject of homosexuality, were unbelievably negative, really, really awful. And in fact I've copied, I've got a copy of some of the worst of it somewhere, in all this pile here. And there were some patients, I can remember, I remember notes on pages – a file on a patient, and on the outside of the file, in felt tip pen, Diagnosis: Schizophrenia and homosexuality. Stuff like this. And I remember seeing some of these gay patients, I thought, well, I'm not – oh, and I forgot to say, when I went for my interview for the training, they advised me not to be open about being gay. Because they knew about me from the Wakefield Gay Group. And they advised me not to be open. But when I saw some of these patients were being, sort of, pathologised for their homosexuality, I thought, no, I'm not going to hide. So I didn't, and that brought down a ton of bricks on me, in that, I got hauled into the, I think it was called the Director of Nursing's office, and he said, 'If I hear another complaint, that there is a homosexual nurse working at this hospital, I'll see to it that your employment is terminated.' And of course, in fact, there were loads of gay nurses working there, loads of them.
GC: And who do you think was making those complaints? Do you think there were any?
C: I don't know who were making the complaints, no they didn't tell me that, no. But, some of the other nurses on the unit, once I'd been sort of warned like, some of the other nurses started to pick on me, you know, play tricks on me and stuff, really childish rubbish. And they made life very uncomfortable for me. And, in the end, I decided, oh, I can't do this, I'm going to leave. So I left, but the Director of Nursing Studies, a very nice bloke, he was called David Parry, or Passy, and he said, 'Will you write down the reasons you want to leave, because I think we should know this'. So, I wrote like an essay about it. And I said to the sister on the ward where I was working, who was a lesbian actually, 'Would you like to read it?' and she said, 'Yes, I would'. And so, I left it with her and when I went to collect my things on the last day, I said, 'Can I have my essay?' and she said, 'No, it's on the fire where it belongs'. So, anyway, that was that.
GC: What year was that?
C: That would be 1980.
So, … I think cut to about 19- cut to when I went to music college now, I think, really...
C: ... which would be 1986. And I think it was in the second year or the third year, I can't remember, I was there for four years, a woman approached me, a student approached me in the corridor. She said, 'Do you – how do you find it here? Do you find it very homophobic?'. I said, 'Well, I haven't really, it hasn't really come up'. But she said, 'Well, I do, I really do'. So, I got talking to her. I said, 'Well, we could set up a GaySoc in the Student Union'. So she said, 'OK, let's do that'. So we did – or we tried to. And, you know, we put some notices round about, on the noticeboards and so on, and they got removed, these notices. And, erm… eventually it became clear that the Director of the College of Music was against it. And, a period of about 15 months, a really slow process of trying to get to the bottom of what, what people had against it, and how to deal with it. Although the process towards the end became very uncomfortable, very bloody. And I was trying to study. And she left college after so long, coz it was so uncomfortable, this lesbian student.
GC: Did you manage to recruit any other members?
C: Actually, I thought, with it being an arts college, a music college, that there'd be loads of people. People were really nervous to be involved. I mean, for a – well, the Director made it known, and some of the teachers made it known, how opposed they were to it. In fact, ultimately the Director called a meeting of all the students of the college, into what was called the gallery, what is now part of the… Leeds Museum, all the student body together, and said why he wasn't going to allow this, why he wasn't allowing this... society to operate on college premises. And, he said, things like, there'd been incidents in the past, goings-on that had caused a lot of problems, that there are diseases going round, you know, it was the late ‘80s. And of course, Section 28. I don't think he mentioned Section 28, but of course, that was very much around, on the cards, and this was, this was a local authority-funded college. And we've got young people coming into this college, and – oh, and I remember him saying, ‘I don't want their young minds being swayed by older students’. And I was a mature student, and this woman was a mature student.
And, so there was a long… We were getting hate mail, anonymous hate mail, there was a petition round all the staff, supporting the college director's decision. And to my knowledge, only two staff members actually supported us, one of whom was my course director, [name removed], who was a terrific support. And, oh, and we tried approaching the college governors and I remember some of the responses were positive, but some were incredibly negative, including from a local elderly Quaker. I was very disappointed about that one because I'd found the Quakers generally to be very, sort of, positive towards – you know, respectful of people's differences and so on.
And, we tried, we tried all sorts to battle against this ban. Initially, sort of, quietly, you know, procedurally, through, you know, business meetings and things like this – and we got there, approaching the governors. Eventually, we went to the media, and some of that was good and some of it wasn't. Some of it was distorted and… But eventually, the student union at Leeds University got to know of it, or we got, we told them. And they made such a difference, because they were… I knew they had gay societies there, you know, going back to the ‘70s. I knew that they were politically active, whereas the College of Music students weren't. Oh, and in fact, at this big meeting that I told you, where he got all the college, the Director got all the College of Music students together, told us why he wasn't allowing this to happen, I remember one student who was gay, and Black, in fact, he was the only Black student there at the time, standing up and saying, how he totally opposed what we were trying to do and he, the College of Music Director had been so good to him. And – it felt like a plant actually, it felt like something that, that had been arranged. I don't know if it was or not, it was amazing, this Black guy, this gay Black guy stood up and said what a terrible idea and how he was against it and how the Director was so great –
[There's someone at the front door. GC: I'll pause. Recording paused.]
C: So, we got the coll- we got the, a lot of help from Leeds University Union. Eventually, one of their officers said, 'I have contact with Ian McKellen.' Sir – well I don't know if he was Sir Ian McKellen then. But he'd by then got this sort of reputation for being out, and being useful to the community and so on. So, she said, 'Can I send him a – will you send him a dossier of what's happened so far?' So, I did and he phoned me up and said, 'I've read this, and I totally support what you're doing, I think you've done everything right, and I'd like to come up to Leeds and speak on your behalf at a public meeting’.
So, he did, actually in the College of Music. The same, what's it called, the gallery, where the Director had held this incredibly negative meeting. So he came, and some press came. And we invited the College of Music staff, and only one of them came. And – there might have been two, but I mean, you know, out of, oh God knows, a hundred or something. The Director certainly didn't appear! And, hardly any students from the College of Music appeared. They were frightened to be associated any, with anything that the Director was against, that's my view, including the gay ones. In fact, in fact, after I left the College of Music, one of the students, who had been, who had accompanied me many times, at my performances, she, she, after I left, after we left, she came to visit me and she said, 'Well, actually, I'm gay'. [Laughs] And she'd kept quiet about it the whole time. This was somebody I worked with, professionally, at the College of Music. And she and a male student, who I thought were boy- and girlfriend, were actually both gay and they were pretending, because of fear of homophobia.
Anyway, Ian McKellen came up to speak and by this time, we'd gone to take legal advice, and we went to [name removed] and – by this time, just before Ian McKellen came up, to speak, we were told that the legal department at the council had instructed the college, the College of Music Director, that he had to back down. And he had to let us operate on college premises and so on.
So that took 15 months, and it was very, it was very difficult, very uncomfortable and, as I say, I was trying to do my studies at the same time. And the lesbian that I worked with left, she, she left before the end of the course, she'd certainly had enough, she left before me. And I was exhausted at the end of it, emotionally actually, with the stress of it. So I never actually did anything after that apart from study. But we won!
There were so many, um, sad, ironical bits about it. I mean, for example, the worst year, during the worst of that campaign, there was – the Gay Pride march, the national Gay Pride march was taking place in Leeds. And it – I was on it and it actually went past the college building! And I was trying to get people on that, in that march, interested in what was actually happening in Leeds. Nobody seemed to know anything about it, nobody seemed interested to know anything about it. You know, they were sort of protesting away – it was a sort of national, national, um, it was a time of Clause 28. But what was actually happening, nobody seemed to want to know. In fact, I can remember going round various gay groups at the time to tell them about it, and very little interest in what was happening in our own city, you know, or neighbouring cities. Very little interest. You know, people, people were, didn't want to know about anything sort of politically, or were frightened to get involved in it locally. And that's what I have noticed, when I've been on things like Gay Pride march and in other parts of the country, that people will go, from anywhere near, apart from their own neighbourhood. Or that's what it was like. And I just felt let down, generally speaking, by local gay people. Anyway, despite that, we won and ... so that's the end of that particular thing, I think.
GC: Well done, though.
To move on a bit further, then, and talk about the Gay Mental Health Project?
C: Yes, OK, so, eventually, in the late ‘90s, I decided I would try again to train as a psychiatric nurse and see what it was like. And it was very different, nobody was, nobody was openly homophobic, nobody. I think, it was partly coz people now are sort of frightened to say what they feel, and I am definitely in two minds about that. But, generally speaking, because of the changes in society in general, people are much more aware and, it was a much more positive experience. Although, on the course that I did, which finished in 1999, at the end of the year we still had had no lectures on, specifically on sexuality. None. So I asked for it, and they eventually did provide one, specifically on homosexuality and it was very good. But I had to ask for it. Anyway, because obviously sexuality is very much part and parcel of people's holistic health, and affects a lot of people mentally.
Anyway, I qualified as a psychiatric nurse. And wherever I worked, I was openly gay and I did so for the benefit of patients, for myself, and... you know, I worked at Mind, I worked at Leeds Mind, the project I worked for was terrifically supportive of gay people, gay issues. It's gone now, unfortunately, it was run by somebody who was excellent, and it's disappeared now. But, I continued to do mental health musical work. And I know, I know over the years that, whether in my work as a psychiatric nurse or a mental health musical worker, there had been individuals who I have helped come to terms with, it helped, my relationship with them, or their knowledge of me has helped them come to terms with their homosexuality and become much more adjusted, happier, and I know that, and I'm really pleased about that. It's been quite a privilege to do that.
So, eventually, a job came up to work for Yorkshire Mesmac, at a project they wanted to start focusing on mental health of lesbian and gay people, and bisexual people, in Bradford and Airedale. We didn't cover trans issues, it was just LGB. I applied for it and got it, well, I job-shared it, and we sort of set up this project. And, it was a great privilege to do, to be able to do that, for this whole area. Again, I know we helped – we did one-to-one work, we did groupwork, we did training, we did – I wrote some training which we offered, we delivered to mental health workers, counsellors, psychiatric hospitals. I did some work with my husband who, who was a sexual health doctor, a sexual health consultant. And we delivered training on... my interest was on things like risk-taking behaviour and mental health as it related to sexual health. And, you know, we did training on that and, but it was mainly the clinical work, the one-to-one work with individuals and groups that I, you know, I know made a difference and I found it very satisfying. The numbers may not have been great, and they stopped the funding, you know, for that reason, but in fact, I think it was incredibly valuable, it was, at the time, the only project in the country that was specifically LGB and mental health. I don't think there's anything at the moment, there's nothing else like it.
And I, I felt particularly, it made me aware particularly of the difficulties, despite the changes in our society, generally, much more positive, but still, for some of the ethnic minorities, you know, particularly ones with sort of strong, traditional religious cultural backgrounds, from South Asian backgrounds and so on, how still it is so difficult, it's much harder for them. I mean, things – some of them were seriously frightened, of the reactions of their communities and families. People in arranged marriages which were obviously, no good either for them or for the people who they got married to, you know, to do with honour, the shame and the image of the family, and so on. So, you know, we did what we could and as best we could. And, you know, the, the underlying, the internalised homophobia as well as the heterosexism and external homophobia still exists in society. I mean, for me it taught me that the roots of that, you know, in the society whether you're talking about, legal – the institutions of our society, which have continued to perpetrate homophobia and, you know, whether we’re talking about law, I mean, that's changed, psychiatry, which I was involved in, that's changed. But the basis of all that, to me, is religion, and some aspects of religion, religious groups, religious societies have changed for the positive, they've become much more aware of science and the humanities, but some are still stuck, where I was as a teenager in fundamentalism, in what it says in the holy book, and if God says it, it must be right. Whatever humans say about homosexuality, no! It's still an abomination. And I was reading just the other day, a charity, in this city, with a website in this city, has links to an Islamic website that's saying that homosexuality is an abomination, and all this scripture saying homosexuals should be killed in various ways. You know, I find... I think my learning, I suppose, is that most of, most of the anti-homosexual prejudice and beliefs, ideas, are rooted in pre-scientific age religious belief. I mean, like all this stuff that's going on now to do with people protesting outside schools, where kids are supposed to, by law, be told that some of your colleagues, some of your kids, some of your friends will have two mummies or two daddies. People protesting about that, saying that it's an insult to their faith and so on. You know, that persists. And it seems to me that, the major obstacle to progress, still, is rooted in ancient, pre-scientific, pre-enlightenment religious belief.
And, anyway, I think we did help a lot of people, James and I, then he left, David and I. And so, so, I think it was satisfying. And it stopped, it was stopped, because, you know, because of the low numbers of people attending. And I think that's a tragedy and I think there's still a very, very – all the research around the world, not just nationally, all the research, international research, proper scientific research, shows that the level of a whole range of mental health-related issues is much higher amongst LGBT people. Whether you're talking about depression, anxiety, self-harm, substance problems, alcoholism, suicidality. Not surprisingly, you know, when there are still, what ten countries or something that execute people for being gay, there are still religions that are going round saying things are an abomination, affecting the way people feel about themselves, affecting the restricted lives that they have to live. Not surprising there are all these mental health problems still there. So there's still a huge need to concentrate on the particular needs of people who are oppressed by these ideologies and institutions that are still in the dark ages.
GC: Thank you, Clive.