Sunday, 7 August 2011

Read all about it!

When I began my research into the lives and experiences of older lesbians in the UK, it never crossed my mind that so many other people would become involved in it. One of the warnings given to everyone starting on a PhD is, 'This is a lonely journey. Don't imagine that anyone else will be all that interested in your research. By the time you've finished you will know more about your chosen subject  than anyone else, but no-one else will care a damn about it.' In my case, none of these things are turning out to be true.  Some days it feels as if the entire older lesbian community is helping! I was overwhelmed by the response to my initial request for help, and in particular by the many messages of encouragement and interest which filled up my inbox and my letter-box in those first few months.  Many of these people asked to be kept in touch with the progress of the research, and this blog is a belated attempt to do just that.

So where have I got to so far? I spent most of 2009-10 planning the project. If Older Lesbians are the most invisible minority, how was I to find them? In the end it didn’t prove terribly difficult – I discovered that, while we don’t want to be personally ‘outed’ to all and sundry, we are, as a community, more than ready to make our voices heard.  Literally hundreds of women got in touch - if we ever needed proof of the existence of a lesbian network, this was it. Enquiries and completed questionnaires came from all over Britain, and encouraging messages from as far away as Holland, Canada and  Australia. 
But making contact was a big step for some women.  One correspondent (90 years old) simply signed herself ‘A Well-Wisher.’ I shall never know who she is, but I thank her for her courage. The questionnaire itself was completely anonymous, and that helped a lot, I think. Nearly 400 people accessed it online, and another  40 or so asked for paper copies to be posted to them. In the end there were about 380 completed questionnaires – three or four times as many as I’d originally hoped! Unsurprisingly, the very large majority of women who responded to the survey are in their sixties. However 45 of them are aged 70 or over, and 9 are over 80.
I’ve spent the second year collecting all those responses, and interviewing many wonderful women, aged from 60 to 91, about their lesbian lives. Some of those, who were too far away to meet, very kindly wrote or recorded their stories themselves. I now have about 40 life-stories. The next stage is to finish getting all the interviews transcribed (typed out) so I can send a copy to each of the interviewees.
And then begins the huge task of analysing all this data and seeing what it reveals about us. (And of course at some point I have to write the DPhil thesis, which is the official reason for doing this research J. But I’m already looking beyond that, because I do so want to write a book afterwards which can be read by all the people who have contributed.) 
Meanwhile, I will post on here little nuggets of knowledge / fascinating facts, as they emerge. Also questions and requests for your opinions. So please keep coming to look, and let your friends - especially the older lesbian ones) know about it too. 

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