Clare: Full Interview
Interviewed by Rachel Larman
18th June 2015
RL: So how do you identify?
C: Um, Well that's the nub of it really in a way because I came to being a lesbian very late on in my life. I was fifty. So, so um, that's why a lot, a lot of this and the experiences of other lesbian mothers doesn't really apply to me because I am a mother who became a lesbian rather than a lesbian who became a mother [chuckles].
C: [laughs] and it is, it is quite different in terms of experiences and experiences with the children because my lad was 15 or so when I split up with his dad and then when I had my first relationship with a woman he was about 17. So he was not a little kid. He was still at school and he still had friends who were probably... so he was probably quite sensitive about it but it wasn't the issue for him or the bo..., the pair of us that it would have been if he was a toddler or going to school as a primary school or something like that, so, yes well....
RL: So tell me a little bit about your son
C: Well, he's nearly thirty now, so - ooo what to tell? just, um...[laughing] Do you mean in terms of how he reacted or just…?
RL: yeah, yeah, in terms of [unclear]
C: He was remarkably grown up about it actually. He was upset about the split, with his dad. Um..., he never expressed any discomfort with it and he really liked the first woman that I saw. They got on really well. I don't suppose he shouted about it to his friends, but he had his friends in the house and it didn't seem to put him off having mates around and things. It didn't seem to bother him. And when I did ask him about it directly sometime later he said he was just glad I'd found someone. And I think...
C: ...I think it was probably a real relief to him that I had in the sense that he stopped feeling responsible for me I think, because I think there was a point that he did feel that a little bit, you know he was sort of the man of the house and all that. So, yeah, so I think on many levels it was a relief actually. I don't, don't think it’s given him huge - he might say different - but I don't think it’s given him huge problems really. I don't think it has.
RL: OK. Um,... [sound of cut off]
C: Um, I suppose it’s quite late to have a transition to relationships with women really, I suppose - fifty - [laughs], but actually I'd, I'd always known that if I ever I split up from my husband that I wouldn't go, have any more relationships with men. In a way it was one of the things that kept me with him almost and I think one of the reasons that I didn't have relationships with women earlier on was because I was a coward basically. I actually think there was a lot around that. Partly because I wanted a child and I was a bit - I don't know - narrow-minded, perhaps - I don't know what the word is really. I came from a very sort of Catholic background and all that sort of thing so I was quite sort of... not particularly rebellious or any of those things. I sort of... I don't know I hadn't... um I think I probably hadn't wanted to get into all that when it was going on really and I'd... but I knew that once I'd split up with Bill that that would be - if I had another relationship - because I was in my late forties - that would be with women and so... so he did me a favour really, d'you know? [laughs] In some ways it could have been ten years earlier but it wasn't, so, so. That was just the way it was really and I've never looked back.
Reactions of other people were, were remarkably fine, I mean, unless I was oblivious [laughs], which was quite possible. Well, I think in a way I delayed coming out until it was a lot safer place to be really because I think the last twenty years have been exceptionally different from the twenty years before that and the fifty years before that. So I mean in a way um, ten years... well no it’s about fourteen or fifteen years ago, isn't it. You know it was a much more open thing, people were... you know there were women on the telly and relationships between all sorts of films and programmes. And it just a much more... was becoming much more accepted so in a way I had it very easy compared to loads and loads of people I know - both men and women - who, who had to really go underground in their youth... which is what I didn't want to have to do I suppose, which was why I avoided it. But by the time I came out people at work knew. Nobody said anything to my face - God knows what they said behind my back - but nobody treated me any differently that I was aware of really.
And we had a big party for me fiftieth birthday and me girlfriend at the time - the first woman I went out with - came and, you know, which would have been perhaps the first friends [unclear laughing] knew about it, but I remember that Christmas writing Christmas cards to everybody and saying 'Guess what? I'm having a relationship with a woman'. But I didn't get any... well, except for my mother! It was quite strange really. She never said anything about J... [EDIT out name in audio] about J... - you might have to edit that - in terms of motherhood, or well there might have been the odd comment about 'bad example' I'm not sure; I don't remember that, but her big thing was that it was 'sin', cos we were Catholics, well she was a Catholic and I used to be - and actually even having... it was such a secretive thing when I was brought up nobody ever mentioned it, so actually I don't think I knew it was sinful [laughing], do you know what I mean? I mean I kind of knew sex in general was, so, you know, sex of any sort wasn't allowed. But actually I don't think I registered that gay sex was any different from any sex, do you know what I mean?
C: and if you weren't married - well I suppose it would be different in that sense because at that time you couldn't get married - but as far as she was concerned it was a horrific thing but she couldn't bring herself to talk about it, although she lives with us now - [laughs] hasn't stopped her getting what she needs, but you know, it was, it was really interesting because I hadn't expected that reaction. And particularly because I have gay relatives who, on my mum's side, who she knows really well and gets on really well with and has been to the house, often stayed with them; she's even been on Canal Street in Manchester with them so she's quite open minded - or she was - in many respects, so that was quite a shock really but it didn't make a great deal of difference really. She just said her bit and then we carried on as before, so...
C: Um, in terms of my child being a boy... I mean he was 17, I don't think it was a big issue, but it might have been more of an issue for a girl in terms of identifying with, um... it might have, it might have been more difficult...
RL: In what way?
C: Cos, well, cos if she, she was identifying with me one minute as a heterosexual and the next minute as... 'Well! What happened to that?' [laughs] in terms of her own sexuality it might have given her more pause for thought than I think it gave my son, um... yeah, who, you know, I don't think for him it was the issue it might have been if it was his dad who came out as gay. I think that might have been more difficult for him. Yeah, I think in fact I think it would. But, I mean, as I say I've got gay, well a gay cousin who I'm very close to who he's known all his life and, you know, spend Christmases and holidays and things together. It’s never been a deal for him at all in that regard. So, so, no, so I don't know that it would have made much difference. It might... well, if I'd had more than one - I've only got the one - if I'd had more than one I don't know how that would have gone on.
C: In terms, well in terms of discrimination, as I say, I don't think I suffered any. I mean I think possibly one of the things is when you're fifty people just don't believe you're still having sex anyway, d'ya know, there's a certain level on which it’s irrelevant [laughing]; you start to become invisible, you know; it doesn't bother people in the same, quite in the same way. But I mean I know friends of mine who had been married and had kids and split up with their husbands much earlier and there were all sorts of custody battles and their ex-husbands trying to take the kids off them because of the, their relationships, a gay relationship, you know, and losing custody battles sometimes. And a lot of problems for the kids in school and getting a lot of bullying and stuff from other kids in school, so I mean I know that from several people quite close to me that that did go on a lot so that would have been in the - when would that have been? - in the... early '70s - there was still a lot of that around. I mean there probably still is today in some, some parts, but I think it is a lot easier now. I think it’s a lot more accepted in the media and a lot more accepted - well, by law: people can't do it anymore. By law. That doesn't stop them but, but, but [unclear] leave it, it's illegal to do that now which does make a huge difference I think. Um...
C: So what, what my son thinks about it now? I don't think he has any more difficulties with me having a new relationship than he would have done with any potential step-parent, I suppose. Particularly at that age being a step parent isn't easy is it, I suppose, and I think - setting... we waited until he'd gone to uni before we lived together so that he would have, you know, that part of his life finished so he would go and live by himself at uni so that was a kind of a neat way of doing that.
I think... I don't think he would have felt any more, um... or would have had any more difficulty adapting to it had I been out with a different man. In fact in some ways it might have been more difficult because I think, you know, it might have been more difficult for him to come and be part of a new family in that way - depends on the fellow of course, doesn't it? – well, that's the thing it's a very individual thing isn't it? But I don't think there were any particular issues around her being a woman, really.
Yeah, so, so, I think probably there were less issues for me being older. Probably I was more confident by that type of age as well and people were less likely to hassle me, etcetera [laughs]. I think it's becoming more common. I know quite a few people - well not quite a few - several who've come out much later in life - women - and seem to have made a fairly safe passage through. I would recommend it [laughing], but um... [Whispering]
Yeah, just in terms of reactions to me coming out later in life. I think probably my, my husband - my ex-husband - found it harder than my son to, to get used to the idea because I suppose he'd have felt it had some reflection on him [laughing] which [laughs] probably was the case. But my brother, my brother [unclear] was kind of fascinated yet sort of slightly - I don't know what the word was - but he was definitely different with me for quite a while really; he couldn't get his head round it at all, couldn't get his head round it. I mean he's fine now and he never sort of said anything different or treated me any different but he definitely: 'Whoa! How can I have a sister who's a lesbian?' He really found the whole thing very hard to fathom, I think.
Yes, so in terms of identity and things around motherhood, until I was actually asked to do this interview I hadn't thought of myself as a lesbian mother at all really. I was a mother a long time before I was a lesbian so I hadn't ever put the two words together in the same way although I know other, other people who are in lesbian mothers’ groups and who, who very much had to, to make that decision as lesbians to become mothers but that wasn't my experience, so, yes, doing this interview has had to make me think around it quite a bit.