In this podcast series, I (Yvette Taylor) speak to ‘Comparing Intersectional Lifecourse Inequalities amongst LGBTQI+ Citizens in 4 European Countries’ (CILIA) user group members, and others that I’ve met in the course of the research – whether that’s in utilizing the facilities and events space, for example, at Glasgow Women’s Library, or in learning about new activities such as the LGBTI+ Elders Social Dance Club. The podcast features an overview by me, and interviews with Dr Churnjeet Mahn, University of Strathclyde, Lou Brodie of LGBTI Elders Social Dance Club, and Professor Sharon Cowan, University of Edinburgh.
The project has involved meetings with key users across LGBTQI+ community and has held regular dissemination events, including on the 20-year anniversary of the repeal of Section 28/Clause 2a. In speaking to the worth of user groups, Prof. Cowan noted the many benefits of this participatory approach (‘ … I just think it’s always a good idea to get different folk in a room, who are working on different bits of things because it’s a quite difficult thing to see the big picture … and it’s really useful to have those conversations’). But Sharon also talks about the risk in speaking to the same people and circulating the same voices, or vulnerabilities (see also here):
‘…it’s a small community of organizations who talk with and to trans folk in Scotland, and so you end up speaking to the same people all the time and that can be quite tiring I think for people working in those organizations, because they are being asked to do lots of different things all the time and I know the same is true in the violence against women’s sector in Scotland. And so I think those are real problems of making sure that you reach beyond the most obvious organizations who are, you know, great organizations and who have really strong voices and sometimes the government really listens to those folk because they are, you know, in a position to negotiate and lobby and so on…’ (Professor Sharon Cowan, CILIA user group member, University of Edinburgh)
In undertaking interviews with 45 LGBTQI+ identified people across Scotland, there’s lots to talk about in relation to, for example, experiences of education, the workplace and retirement – as the ‘lifecourse’ has been a central concept in organizing data – but also in terms of the lives missed out, glossed over, and marginalised from community, policy and research agendas.
All research exists in a specific time and place and for the Scotland, and England-based, research teams this has involved an awkward negotiation of post-Brexit UK times, posing the question of what a comparative international ‘EU’ project might mean going forward. More personally, one CILIA interviewee reflected on the changing sense of identity in this period:
‘I guess five years ago I would’ve called myself British, because I was against Scottish independence … So I was always ardently British. I would always say Scottish UK but I would always say ‘I’m from Britain, I’m Great British’, and that was my right. I have seen that Scotland, I think, is more progressive than England and the UK as a whole … I have been slowly pulled more towards ‘I’m Scottish, not British’, and I still couldn’t honestly answer you whether I’d vote ‘yes’ or ‘no’ [to independence] if I got the chance again, but I’m certainly now Scottish not British, and that is because I’d rather be European that be British … (Lachlan, 24yr, White, Gay Cis Man)
Lachlan expressed a change and a pause experienced by many interviewees regarding how national policies, sentiments and strategies for (re)imagining LGBTQI+ lives might diverge or converge with EU policies. In Scotland, much is made of a particular ‘difference’ from the rest of the UK, aligning with a still-EU sentiment. For many of the Scotland-based interviewees this sentiments was both a cause for reassurance and a cause for concern – could hard won EU victories, such as Equalities Legislation, be retracted? Does the positioning of Scotland as more progressive – as pitted specifically against its English counterpart – elide the re-instatement of ethnic nationalism, specifically? Dr Churnjeet Mahn raises this in her podcast interview, questioning Scotland’s ‘intrinsically friendlier’ performance:
‘We often hear about Scottish exceptionalism and how social issues are dealt with more inclusively or progressively in Scotland. And there may be good reasons for why this is true, for example, the legal educational, cultural institutions in Scotland are quite distinct. And we have different structures and funding, but does this make a difference are we doing something better. And the only way to understand this is to think comparatively with other nations and to sync across the life course. Is this an enduring feeling or experience or a modern phenomenon or performance? … Scottish civic nationalism has side-stepped the inherent racism of ethnic nationalism, but it doesn’t mean that it has no strings attached for non white populations? (Dr Churnjeet Mahn, CILIA user group member, University of Strathclyde)
Churnjeet follows with asking who can identify as Scottish – not something which all of our sample did as the criteria was living in Scotland at the time of interview and did include a participant seeking asylum, resonating with Churnjeet’s concern (‘…so what about people who are here for six months for people who don’t identify as being Scottish, there must be ways in which we can learn from their experiences as well and try and stretch, some of the language we use to describe queer experiences in Scotland…’).
Project interviewees often had a versed sense of ‘intersectionality’ as a popularised term, often removed from its political purchase, and its specific Black Feminist origins and articulations, signalling a good intent ‘tick list’. It is interesting to consider the moves from intersectionality as an understanding of structural inequality to an identity or practice that one can embrace (‘…I can only do my best to be an ally’, Tessa, 50, White, Lesbian, Cis Woman):
I would hope people would perceive me as intersectional, that it’s about human rights. So I think, we have Black Lives Matter, there’s disability rights, there’s LGBT+ rights, there’s age rights. Yes, and each of these things are incredibly important. I think it’s so important that it’s just, it’s human, it’s people are just people so just accept them for who they are. (Will, 35, White, Gay Cis Man)
Not everyone is afforded a common humanity, as other CILIA interviewees have strongly expressed, especially around continued racism, sexism, homo- and trans-phobia. Lou Brodie also reflected on the need to attend to ageism in and beyond the LGBTQI+ community, highlighting the usefulness of intergenerational conversations, which reanimate LGBTQI+ ‘pasts’ and potentially imagine ‘futures’. But, as Lou expresses, there’s a risk of older LGBTQI+ people ‘… essentially going back into the closet, as they were engaging with each care services’. There’s an enduring tendency to focus on LGBTQI+ youth as ‘risky’ subject in need of protection or intervention, while others are deemed non-sexual (‘… if you have sex in your life, then that’s not something that’s invited as a kind of older person to discuss what does that look like, how can you have a celebrated sex life at that age as a queer person’, Lou Brodie).
Lou, Sharon and Churnjeet all expressed a concern for the ways that the Covid-19 global pandemic has, and will, impact on LGBTQI+ communities, where social distancing and isolation often still imagines a return to ‘home’ and a nuclear family setting, sidelining years of scholarship on the changing nature of families and households, including queer compositions and queer ‘families of choice’ – very familiar to me from a previous project on Lesbian and Gay Parenting: Securing Social and Educational Capitals. Another frustrating familiarity amongst feminist and queer researchers in these times, is how often feminist scholarship is un-done and forgotten, and how longstanding LGBTQI+ alliances might be deliberately dismissed and misconstrued. The work of feminism is necessarily, frustratingly to repeat itself, as I consider in forthcoming work with Dr Maddie Breeze, University of Strathclyde, negotiated alongside negative connotations, condensations and possible ‘stretches’ as podcast interviewees state:
‘…But it [feminism] also has a series of negative connotations, which you see with the GRA [Gender Recognition Act] but I think what to remember and think about feminism is that it is inherently a contested term … it’s a theory of practice and a theory of questioning. And a theory, which involves doing things and making mistakes and being vulnerable. So I see it as a kind of methodological approach as much as I see it as a body of thought … for me that term feminist does mean something…’ (Dr Churnjeet Mahn, CILIA user group member, University of Strathclyde)
‘… Like all the work that we [feminists] did in the in the ’70s … and so I think feminism is incredibly important. It’s important to me personally, and it’s important to the way that we talk about and understand sex and gender and work and health and all of those intersecting things but I do think there’s got to be space … in the conversation for other voices that aren’t necessarily feminist, but there are questioning and are understanding, experiencing gender in a way that we need to know about. But it isn’t only seen through a feminist lens.’ (Professor Sharon Cowan, CILIA user group member, University of Edinburgh)
‘… it’s [feminism] not something that comes up with our elders. I see it because I identify as that and it’s received really well. But I don’t know if anybody like is actively and consciously aware of the sort of pedagogy that played, especially in a project like social dance club or the Coming Back Out Ball. For me, it’s absolutely working on those sort of queer feminist pedagogies, it’s the way that we set up the space and it’s absolutely about collaboration community, all those things that really come from sort of feminist activism. For me, it’s about consciousness raising all those things. (Lou Brodie, Elders Social Dance Club)
I hope listeners will enjoy the podcast contributions made as I’ve enjoyed thinking through how questions of feminism, access and usefulness are negotiated in the course of the CILIA project, as it compares lifecourses across time and place. Thanks to Dr Churnjeet Mahn, Lou Brodie, and Professor Sharon Cowan for participating in this CILIA series, and to Amanda Stanley for production and Kim Moore for music.
You can also listen to the podcast series on Anchor FM: https://anchor.fm/ciliapodcast
Apple Podcasts: https://podcasts.apple.com/podcast/id1529860775 or