I’m very lucky in that I’ve always enjoyed speaking to an audience; so communicating my research is a pleasure, rather than the ordeal I know it can be for some. A few weeks ago I took my old lesbians to a conference in Australia – Melbourne, to be exact. The conference, ‘After Homosexual,’ was arranged to mark both the fortieth anniversary of the book Homosexual: Oppression and Liberation (an ur-text in the early Gay Liberation movement) and the imminent retirement of its author, Denis Altman. I spoke there about the legacy of feminism – because, looking back over those forty years, it seemed to me that the history of gay liberation cannot be told without also talking about the effects of the Women’s Movement. Feminism is one of the main ways in which lesbians have experienced the last half-century differently from gay men. Interestingly, most of the other speakers on my panel (all women) seemed to agree: the session formed a kind of feminist oasis in the programme.
There’s still an active population of radical lesbian feminists in Melbourne, I found, who are organised, loud and proud. I was given a friendly and generous welcome by several women in Melbourne and Castlemaine, and I thank them for their hospitality. I marched with some of them (a group of older women circus performers called, appropriately, POW!) at Victoria’s Pride, the day after the conference.
There was just time to get over the jetlag before I was off to give another version of the same paper at the nineteenth ‘Lesbian Lives’ conference in Dublin – another hospitable place with good food and good company. Presenting to a LGBT audience is a very different business from presenting at a ‘mainstream’ conference. In some ways it’s easier (they ‘get’ what I’m saying, there’s less need for
laborious explanation); but in others it’s more challenging (‘Am I actually saying anything they don’t already know?’).
At Dublin, following two papers on the lives and experiences of older lesbians, one of the questions that arose in discussion was, ‘How we can make our work more visible outside the LGBT community?’ This made me realise that, although it may be pleasant and reinforcing to spend time with my own tribe, it’s probably more important to get out into the mainstream of Cultural Studies
and Gerontology, and help make the silenced voices heard. In this spirit I am looking forward – even though with some apprehension – to the British Society of Gerontology’s Annual Conference in July, where I’ll be taking part in the first LGBT symposium in the conference’s 41-year history. That’s a bit scary, but it must be good!