Dawn: Full Interview

Duration 15:26


This interview is provided in the format of a written transcript, which can be accessed by clicking the button below marked ‘READ THE TRANSCRIPT’. 


Interviewed by Ray Larman
27th July 2019

RL: This is Ray Larman for West Yorkshire Queer Stories, it’s the 27th of July 2019, and I’m here with Dawn in Hebden Bridge.

DAWN: So, I’m Dawn – and did you want my date of birth?

RL: Yes

DAWN: The 16th of the third, ’79.

RL: OK, and how do you identify?

DAWN: And I am a cis woman, who is a lesbian, who is currently going out with a trans man –

RL: Ah! OK.

DAWN: – which is interesting in terms of identity [laughs]

RL: OK! Oh, well we could maybe take a [unclear]

DAWN: [Laughs] Sure.

RL: So, so tell me about living in Hebden Bridge, I know you’ve been here for a while.

DAWN: So, I’ve lived here – yeah, I’ve lived here 18 years, and I went to university in Leeds, and met my partner who then became my wife, and… did the whole stereotypical thing, ‘Ooh, let’s get married and have babies – oh, we don’t want to raise them in Leeds, let’s move somewhere in the countryside but where it’s still safe to be lesbians, and where it’s safe to raise our child, and they won’t get, kind of, homophobic abuse in schools, and where we can go to the GP and kind of go, yes I’m pregnant and I’m a lesbian and they won’t sort of, have kittens’. So, so our choices were really staying somewhere around Leeds, or moving to Brighton or moving to Hebden. And Brighton wasn’t practical because of work, and we looked at places around Leeds, but there kind of wasn’t anywhere that we could afford to live in, in Chapel Allerton [laughs]. So, that was, that was kind of the choice. And I’m originally from Cumbria, so I quite like the hills and the rural-ness. So we ended up in Hebden Bridge.

RL: So what was it like when you first moved here then?

DAWN: It was really interesting. I think, it was, the first time that I’d lived amongst so many lesbians, but it was also quite odd because moving here at 22, I was one of the youngest around. And there were lots of lesbian groups that I joined, like the lesbian walking group and the lesbian bridge club. And most of the women were a couple of decades older than me, and… yeah, it was… kind of like, being, sort of… a baby dyke all over again. And it was interesting because acceptance was quite hard in some ways. Acceptance both because I was young – my partner’s ten years older than me, and so everybody related to her – but also, I… was very femme-presenting, probably even more so than I am now. And that’d been an issue occasionally, kind of coming out in Leeds and kind of, you know, being stopped going into all the gay clubs because I had long hair and was wearing a skirt. It was like, ‘do you know what kind of club this is?’ ‘Yes, I’ve been coming here for three years!’ [Laughs]. But moving to Hebden, there was a similar kind of vibe from some of the older lesbians about, ‘well, you’re not a proper lesbian if you’re wearing a skirt and having long hair’.

And then having a child here was also interesting because I had a boy. And that was… by some people seen as sort of letting the side down, to have a boy and not a girl. So, there’s sort of this whole thing about it being very accepting of the fact that you were a lesbian, but then within some of the lesbian circles, it can be quite cliquey if you’re not the right type of lesbian. So…

RL: OK. So tell me a little bit about – you mentioned the situation with your, with your sons. So what – can you say a bit more about that?

DAWN: Yeah… I think, partly because at the time I was hanging out with a lot of older lesbians who’d maybe chose not to have children, or who’d had children many years ago… and then… sort of having children, I, I ended up moving in different circles so it ended up being, like, the lesbian parents group and things like that, and that was, that was different, that was quite safe. But at the time, hanging out with maybe some of the, original lesbians who’d settled in the valley, who were in their 50s plus, it was [pause] – I think it was seen – and I do see the kind of dilemma – you know, it was around the time that civil partnerships came in, we were civilly partnered. [Pause] Not – maybe a year after they’d been introduced, and it was kind of seen as settling for the heteronormative in terms of, kind of going down that route of getting married, having children, kind of… buying into that patriarchal culture, rather than kind of, being radical and living in communal housing, kind of doing that stuff.

RL: So what other kind of clashes of views did you come across then with that sort of generational…?

DAWN: Well I think more of the clashes of views have, have, have become more and more pronounced whilst I’ve been here. So [pause] having… got divorced from my wife and ending up going out with somebody who then transitioned… whilst we were together and [phone rings] the… [laughs]

RL: Sorry! [Laughs]

DAWN: The [laughs], the transphobia in the valley is really high, it’s higher than I’ve experienced… pretty much anywhere else. And depressingly it’s from within our own community. It is largely lesbians who are the transphobes in, in the valley. And there’s been whole things about when the gender recognition consultation was going through, the whole of Hebden ended up being stickered with stickers saying ‘lesbians don’t have penises, get the L out’, all that kind of stuff. And today, I mean – the Happy Valley Pride committee were warned that the, the local Women’s Space group were quite likely to come and protest with their banners, which is really unfortunate, both because it’s, it’s an LGBT inclusive event, and we shouldn’t, we shouldn’t be protesting each other. But also it’s family event, and whilst protest is part of the history of Pride, some of the banners and the slogans and things like that are not necessarily things I want my kids seeing. And I, I want to tell them the success story, I want to tell them that their family is now included, and, ‘look, we can have a party of that celebration’, I want to tell them about the dark history of… you know, when I first came out, the age of consent wasn’t equal, Section 28 was still in, there was no protection employment. My oldest child only I could be registered as his mother, my youngest child me and my wife could be registered as mothers. And I want to tell them that’s all passed. But I think when that kind of… transphobic stuff comes along, and they now have a step dad who is trans, and that’s kind of… it makes me really sad for them, that they’re going to grow up still experiencing that kind of hate and that kind of lack of inclusion.

RL: So… so with your new partner, have you, have people distanced themselves from you, has there been changes in attitude?

DAWN: Yes. Absolutely. Very definitely. And I think… that’s been an ongoing thing… He was… always identified as a lesbian and was very butch, vocal, you know, booted, crew – you know, sort of crew cut or shaved head kind of – piercings all over, worked in women’s refuges, kind of stereotypical butch lesbian who then transitioned. And it’s been an ongoing process from people… distancing themselves from him and me, from when he first came out they’d kind of go, ‘no, I can’t deal with that’. And then people who’ve kind of stayed around but then… latterly as, as the kind of tensions between the… women who would like to exclude trans men and women from… queer movements, from feminist movements, have happened…there’s been more friends who’ve kind of said, ‘do you know what, I can accept it so long as, so long as it’s just you… but I can’t accept all the rest of the trans people, I can accept you because you’re a trans man, but I can’t accept trans women, they’re not, they’re not women’. So…

RL: So how does that make you feel living here?

DAWN: It’s frustrating. I mean, it’s… it’s… it’s really lovely to see some of the reactions to that. It’s, it’s really lovely to see that the reaction to that last year was that we set up a group called Trans Allies Network Calderdale, which, has all sorts of people in it, it has some trans people in it but the majority are not trans people. It has some lesbians, it has some, just, you know, straight people in it which is – the really nice thing about Hebden is that everybody’s kind of – lots of people are kind of… very right-on and, and, and really feel that stuff strongly. [Pause] So that’s, that – and, and Happy Valley Pride’s reaction to it has been amazing, that they’ve kind of been aware this is happening, and so have made sure that every single stallholder today is signed up to the fact that their stall is safe place, so… if, if there is some sort of protest of the fact that trans people are allowed at Happy Valley Pride, that every single stallholder knows that they are then to contact security and kind of go, ‘this is not happening here’. It’s nice that it’s been so vocal – like, you know, a comedy performance that we went to the other night, in the spoken word... night. It, it’s all been very trans inclusive and that’s great… but it’s still really sad to see that happening, in my town. And it’s really frustrating to hear, because, I, I, I feel like I’ve become one of those [laughs] older lesbians because I’ve been out quite a while. But remembering what it was like amongst my kind of, female feminist group at university when I was 18 and coming out, and… it was kind of like, ‘oh, yes, well, you know, we’re, we’re all for equality, but, you know, should lesbians be around in the feminist movement because does it give feminism a bad name, and, and are they safe to be around in kind of, women’s refuges and on rape helplines and things like that’. And now it’s the exact same arguments about trans people, you know. And it’s that kind of, ‘oh but think of the children’, kind of attitude. And, and, you know, ‘protect women, poor vulnerable women’, so… yeah. That’s frustrating.

RL: Can I just pause it there? [Pause]

So, I know you’ve been to Tod Women’s Disco.

DAWN: I have.

RL: Do you want to tell me a bit about that?

DAWN: Yeah, the Tod Women’s Disco’s a real institution, and I kind of… love it… and… kind of hate it equally [laughs].

RL: OK! [Laughs]

DAWN: And I love it, it reminds me of – I used to go to The Honey Dip, in Leeds, many years ago when that was kind of out, and – in Manchester there’s the event that’s called The Shit Lesbian Disco. And I think Tod’s Women’s Disco just epitomises that – of it’s, it’s… it’s fantastic, it’s so amazing to have that space, and sometimes they have really amazing DJs, and sometimes they have the DJs that I kind of, I hope you never DJ at [laughs] [unclear] I remember, some of the DJs from The Honey Dip were, you know, you sort of got to the end of one track and there’s a big long pause while somebody sorted out the next one and put it on, and the music never went together and, you know, it’s kind of half the room who can dance really really well, and we used to call them the clitterati, rather than the glitterati, and half the room which – and I’m included in the second half – who have no idea what they’re doing, and just all dance, like dad dance, like really really badly. Yeah. So, it’s, it’s fantastic to have, it feels like a little bit of history that’s kind of just stayed the same.

RL: Do people still camp out, is that a thing?

DAWN: Yeah, yeah. People still do. And people still come from miles away to go to it, so, yeah.

RL: OK. So how often is it, you know, where is it?

DAWN: It’s monthly, it’s at the Cricket Club, which is… not a particularly, kind of gay-friendly space, but I think they’ve just entirely – it’s one of the really nice things about this valley is, the, the women’s disco happens there and it always has happened there, and everyone just accepts that, and the rest of the time it’s probably… very, kind of, male… space, and although it’s the Cricket Club, it’s kind of – being in Tod I think it’s quite a working class male space. And, then they have lesbian disco, which is not a lesbian disco, it’s for all women, but it’s mostly lesbians that go, yes.

RL: OK. So how long have you been going to that?

DAWN: I’ve been – on and off – for about 18 years.

RL: And how has it, how has it changed over that time?

DAWN: I think… not much. And that’s kind of [laughs] interesting. But they, they had a really interesting thing recently because of all the kind of – you know, are trans women are allowed or not allowed thing, which had kind of never been a real issue before. Trans men being allowed had been an issue because at what point in your transition do you stop being a lesbian and become someone who’s therefore not allowed at the disco. And that’s kind of been an ongoing minor thing. But with the – all the things that happened last year, people were asking Tod Disco for an explicit statement of, of… you know, are – do you include trans women or not? And there was pressure from both sides, but one of the organisers has a trans female daughter. And so, they were very clear that they were a really inclusive space. And that caused… problems with people who wanted it to be cis women only. And a few months ago, that got to the stage where a group of women hounded another women out of the disco. And she left very upset having been… kind of, talked about like, ‘that man over there, why is he allowed in here,’ until she left. And afterwards it emerged that this was not a trans woman. This was a butch cis woman. And I think that to me really epitomises the danger of policing gender in that kind of way, that most of – my, my wife and my previous girlfriends have all been butch lesbians, and so many times I’ve been stood in the loo with them and somebody does a double take, and it – ‘do you know, this is the women’s? You’re, you’re not meant to be in here’, and… it’s really surprising to then have that happen in our safe space, to be having that same thing of, you know, ‘you’re a butch lesbian but you look – I think you look like a man so I’m going to say that you’re not allowed in here’. To have that –

RL: What were the repercussions of that?

DAWN: [Pause] I think… [pause]. I think it really, it really clarified the issue – the person who was one of the ringleaders in that had kind of… been very vocal in a lot of spaces about, not wishing, not wanting trans women to be included. And I think it kind of, brought that to its head a little bit. I don’t know if anybody’s been banned from the disco or not. I know that there has, have been some bannings from some of the other pubs. And more pressure put on to make sure that queer spaces around the valley are actually for everybody… But that’s taking quite a long time to, to come about.

RL: OK. Is there anything else you’d like to say?

DAWN: I think that’s everything. [Laughs]

RL: OK. Thank you, thank you very much.