Gwen, who writes over at The Foodie Historian, recently heard some astonishing stories from incredible women. And we are lucky that she has decided to share some of the (anonymised) stories that she heard. The right to be who we are should be a given. For many in the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender communities, that right is not absolute.
Over to you, Gwen:
I really wanted to write something witty or sharp for AOW’s International Women’s Day campaign this year, but every time I sat down to do it – or thought about it – I couldn’t. I didn’t have anything to say that I could convey in a couple of lines.
This is largely because I spent last IWD on a training course. I work in social services – most of the training courses I go on are terribly dull or frankly terrifying, but this one was different. I spent the day with a group of older (65+) LGBT volunteers, the Highland Rainbow Folk, who travel around Scotland telling stories about their experiences.
There was the lady whose parents had tried to have her “cured” because she was a lesbian. She had to move to away to be with her partner, to a place where they were anonymous. When her partner was dying of cancer, and visiting was limited to “immediate family”, the nurses bent the rules so that she sit with her for the few minutes that they had left. They understood, in the days before civil partnerships and marriage equality, that the love was more important than the label.
There was the lady who wasn’t invited to her daughter’s wedding. When she began to transition, her employer had been understanding and had quietly changed her name on business cards and documents. They informed her clients, so that she returned from an extended holiday with her new identity and a reduced need for awkward conversations. Her family had been less supportive – her children stopped contact, and didn’t want to know her, or to try and understand. She hadn’t met her grandchildren.
And then there was me, the “professional” who cried, who spent two hours humbled and shocked at the experiences that other women had been through because of how they identified themselves or who they loved. It seemed particularly pertinent to me that I was hearing these stories on International Women’s Day.
Women fight every day – both in the UK and abroad – for the right to be who they are. For some, it is everything. It is quite literally the difference between life and death, between living a lie and having the ability to express themselves and to be in love. For me, feminism is about ensuring that all of us have the choice and opportunity to be who we are. It is about avoiding judging others and the decisions they make, and being glad that they can make those decisions. It is about ensuring that others can make them too.