Happily Ever After

19720914-09Patience and Sarah by Isabel Miller, (Hart-Davis, £1.75)

This is a marvellously simple book, based on the real-life character of Mary Ann Willson, an American primitive painter of the early 1800’s. If you found The Well of Loneliness rather sentimental, and La Batarde unreadable, this is for you. It’s also for you if you want to know more about one kind of lesbian relationship, for the development of the relationship between Patience and Sarah is described clearly and truly in the first person, both alternating in acting as narrator.

Patience White is a quiet lady of thirty, living with her brother and his family in a small farming town in Connecticut in 1816. She does all the things that a woman did in this sort of environment – cooking, making candles, spinning – but she also paints, has a small private income and has no inclination to marry. ‘I was still young enough to think of marriage, at least to a widower, but I’d never noticed that marriage made anybody else feel better… Well, if a woman’s not going to want marriage, she’d best get busy and want to be a schoolmarm or hire herself out as an embroiderer. All I wanted was to be a painter…’

She also wants, deeply, someone to share her life, and to make this life independant of her rigidly conventional brother and his narrow-minded wife. When Sarah Dowling, twenty-one and tough, arrives with a load of firewood, there’s immediate contact. “I’m Pa’s boy,” says Sarah, ‘he couldn’t get a boy the regular way. Kept getting girls. So he picked me out to be boy because I was biggest.” Sarah in the scandal of the neighbourhood, but she and Patience quickly find that they complement each other, sexually as well as emotionally, and the rest of the book follows their efforts to get away from the village, and to come to terms with their unique situation

The device of having a few chapters written from each girl’s point of view works well on the whole, especially when Sarah goes off to find her own way in the world, believing that she and Patience will never be able to live together. Sarah travels with a book-peddlar, who teaches her to read, and develops her thinking, without disturbing her amusing innocence. When his affection for the young ‘boy’ in breeches and boots seems to become too close, she makes the breakthrough and admits that she is a girl, and goes home to face her angry father and re-establish her love with Patience.

Eventually they do break away, against opposition but with the unexpected help of Patience’s brother, who seems to finally recognise real love, although his shrewish wife certainly don’t have it. Travelling by steamer to the wicked city of New York, and meeting with unexpected help on the way, Patience and Sarah find a small farm near a village on the Hudson, and set up home there. They rebuild the collapsing log cabin, plant their own land, even build their own bed — live there, together, perhaps even happily ever after.

The real painter, Mary Ann Willson and her lover, Miss Brundidge, did exactly that, and this basis in fact adds another delightful facet to the book. I found Patience and Sarah the best recent fiction about lesbians I have read, and a fascinating piece of social history as well.

‘On All Fours…’

The Attorney General in The House of Commons

05-197208XX 2The legal position with regard to contact ads was clarified in a Commons adjournment debate on August 2:

“Prosecutors must carry out their duty. It is their duty to enforce the law,” Sir Peter Rawlinson, the Attorney General, spelled it out. “Prosecutors do not make the law. Very many people are very alive to any failure by the prosecution to enforce the law.

“But accordingly, if people produce advertisements by males or by females advertising their wares, calling for partners, reciting the terms upon which they will associate, describing their particular tastes or giving ways of communicating one with another, these at present are offences against the criminal law.”

Gay News wonders how this relates to lonely hearts ads in magazines like Time Out, and still more to the computer dating firms – what about the ads on the tube trains?

Referring to the International Times case in 1969, Sir Peter said “…the then Attorney General had to consider advertisements by males, the kind of advertisement that contained wording such as ‘Dolly Boy Seeks Sugar Daddy’ and so on. The then Attorney General”…had discussions with the Director of Public Prosecutions and a prosecution was launched because it was held, and the courts affirmed, that publication of these male advertisements was on all fours with the Shaw case, which involved advertisements for female prostitutes.”

This was the celebrated Ladies’ Directory case in 1960, when a man called Shaw published a guide, with addresses and telephone numbers, in which Soho prostitutes bought space. He was convicted and Lord Simonds, giving judgement, said: “In the sphere of criminal law there remains in the Courts of Law a residual power to enforce the supreme and fundemental purpose of the law, to conserve not only the safety and order but also the moral welfare of the state, and it is our duty to guard it against attacks which might be all the more insidious because they are novel and unprepared for.”

Lord Reid, however dissented “There are wide differences of opinion as to how far the law ought to punish immoral acts which are not done in the face of the public. Parliament is the proper, and the only proper, place to settle that. Where Parliament fears to tread, it is not for the Courts to rush in…”

The noble Lord Reid has received a lot of support for this statement (see ‘Half A Loaf’ story in Gay News No.3), but Lord Simonds asked another question which forecast the I.T. case: “Would it not be an offence if, even without obscenity, such practices were publicly advocated and encouraged by pamphlet and advertisement.”

Some people, including the police and, apparently, the DPP’s department, seem to support Lord Simonds, as recent victimisation shows.

These statements were quoted by Mr William Hamling, MP (Woolwich West) who raised the matter in the House. Mr Hamling is a brave and trusted watchdog for the freedom of the press and the arts, and a witty attacker upon those who whitehouse (verb.act.).

Mr.Hamling went on to refer to the Attorney General’s reply to a Bernard Levin article in the Times, on the question of the assurances given in Parliament when the Sexual Offences bill was being discussed. “The Attorney General’s statement refers to assurances given in 1964, that publishers would not be prevented from pleading the defence of public good when charged with publishing an obscene article. The assurances given did not apply where the essence of the offence was incitement to commit homosexual acts rather than the publication of an obscene article

“… I should like to direct his (the A.G.) attention to the debate in another place when Baroness Wootton (proposing a Lord’s amendment to the Sexual Offences Bill) moved a new clause specifically on this matter of conspiracy. The new clause read: ‘Conspiracy. It shall not be an offence to conspire or attempt to commit a homosexual act which by virtue of this Act (the 1967 Act) not in itself an offence.’

“The noble Lady went on specifically to refer to the Ladies Directory case and said:

‘We are still a little disturbed by the possible consequences of the Ladies Directory case, and the words used in that case … (she quoted Lord Simonds, as above)… (he) is there referring to conspiracy in a rather wider sense than my amendment, which refers only to the conspiracy to perform the act as distinct from advertising or flaunting it.”

Lord Stoneham, replying to Baroness Wootton, gave some assurances, but Mr Hamling, and others, have doubts as to what these actually meant, and the point is crucial to our freedom. Mr Hamling: “This prosecution (I.T.) and this whole question of what assurances were given raise some very great difficulties about an Act which permits things to take place which some people may consider to be immoral or offensive in the deepest sense, and yet the law says that these acts arc legal and are permitted. The question arises as to how far reference to these acts may be regarded as a public affront. There are grave difficulties about this – about homosexuals meeting, about arrangements that homosexuals may make in order to meet, particularly bearing in mind other sexual acts between heterosexuals which may follow meetings which can be advertised and which nobody seems to worry much about.”

Well set out out, Mr Hamling! Sir Peter, concluding his reply, set out the opposing view equally clearly; “(The I.T.case) was a proper case under the criminal law, as I explained in the Shaw case … the jury convicted, the Court of Appeal dismissed the appeal and the House of Lords upheld the conviction by four to one. There was in that case exactly what existed in the Shaw case, a public affront, namely the publication of advertisements by the persons seeking particular sexual services – in the Shaw case involving women and in the International Times case involving men.

”… I repeat, finally, that this being the law, it is the duty of the DPP, the police authorities and the Attorney General of the day to enforce the law as it is interpreted by the judges. It is their duty to see that that is done, and they must not be dissuaded from that because it may be the opinion of certain persons that the law ought to be changed.”

Not so much changed, as disregarded perhaps. I make no apology tor setting out the debate at such length – if we are to act constructively, we must be informed fully of the attitudes of the opposition.

It still seems, as Raymond Fletcher said on an earlier occasion, that the judges are trying to make the laws, whatever Sir Peter Rawlinson says about the omniscience of Parliament. We must note too, the equation of homosexual activities with prostitution (remember the Dangerous Doctor Rubens?), and the assumptions being made that all homosexual contact ads are for prostitution, while heterosexuals are not subjected to any such blanket condemnation.

I’m not typical

Tests For Lesbians-How Do You Tell?

05-197208xx-5“Dr. A.J. Eisinger and colleagues from London hospitals, London University, and Dundee University….set out to discover whether female homosexuals were different from heterosexual women…..they compared forty-two lesbians, all members of a lesbian organisation who volunteered to help in the study, with a control group of mothers of the same age”.

Apart from the implied assumption that lesbians are not sometimes mothers too, this seems a ridiculously small sample. Could not this diverse group of researchers have rustled up more subjects, with all the resources of London and Dundee at their disposal (especially all those gorgeous nurses)? And, surely, if all the gay girls had come far enough out to join a specifically lesbian organisation, they would not react ‘typically’ to a personality test. A minority within a minority is a dangerous choice for scientific research of this kind.

“No differences were found in the age of menarche between lesbians and the control group, nor were there any hormonal differences. It was also found that the secondary sexual characteristics, for example lack of facial hair in women, were normal for all the lesbians, and no differences were found in the external genitalia.”

What did the good doctors expect? Perhaps to find a clitoris long enough to be capable of fucking, as beloved by the Victorian porn-writers, on every gay girl! It’s a relief to know we aren’t recognisable, anyway, isn’t it girls? After all, the Nazis had measurement tests to determine who was Aryan and who a Jew, once upon a time.

“Measurements of body size did show the lesbians to be greater in stature and shoulder width than the control group, but Dr. Eisinger and his colleagues did not consider that difference to be significant”.

Thanks! I’ll stop my diet at once!

“Tests for masculinity revealed a difference between lesbians and the control group of 1.4 units, the lesbians being more masculine; but again, that is not a significant finding, as the normal difference between an average man and an average woman is 14 units. The differences in the investigation, however, disappeared when the larger size of the lesbians was taken into consideration”.

Wonder what these tests were? Saliva sampling, like those victimised athletes, I suppose — or was it downing pints, driving a three ton truck, and selecting a suit and tie? With most people’s preconceived ideas about lesbians, it could happen – almost.

“As a result of the tests, Dr Eisinger and his team conclude that there is no such thing as a typical lesbian physique”.

Something one look inside the Gateways (suitable disguised in drag, of course) would have told them — and they would have had a bigger sample, instantly!

“The only significant difference in the physical appearance of the lesbians was that they all looked much older than their age, sometimes strikingly so”.

“Poor things!” commented the gay guy who passed this report to Gay News. It seems to be the gay men who are preoccupied with the youth-and-beauty criteria, not the women, in general. Anyway, how the fuck do you scientifically determine how someone “looks older than their age”?

“Having failed to find any significant physical differences, (they) then gave the lesbians two personality tests, one of which measured anxiety, restlessness, tension and vulnerability to stress, and the other measured impulsiveness, sociability, empathy and gregariousness.

“In the first test, for neuroticism, the lesbians achieved a much higher score than normal, whereas for the second, extraversion, test, they scored significantly less than normal. That showed that the lesbians were prone to anxiety and nervousness, and had obsessive tendencies.”

Some tests! They certainly tell a lot, don’t they? They sound as omniscient as I Q tests were once believed to be – and just as suspect.

I suspect all such research, especially when the word ‘normal’ is used as above, but I do see a need for honest and thorough research into sexuality as a whole, considering the whole spectrum and relating to all sexes. As a small and lighthearted contribution, what about a Gay News poll on experiences and attitudes? any opinions and suggestions as to approach welcome . . . . . .

Who’s Whose What?

“Girl Stroke Boy” – Directed by Bob Kellett – Starring Joan Greenwood, Michael Horden, Clive Francis, Straker – Classic Victoria (834 6388) – Cert “X”

05-197208xx-8The basic idea is good, and has a lot of potential – two boys are in love, and want to meet each others parents. How will they break the news, and what will the reactions be?

Unfortunately, that is all it remains – a good idea, which gets swallowed in a mess of theatrical jokes and finally drowns in a confused sea of innuendo. Why Ned Sherrin thought this script, which flopped on the West End stage, was “a strange comedy . . . perfect for the times”, remains a mystery.

We see the whole situation from the point of view of Laurie’s parents, in their middle-class home counties residence, coping with bitchy neighbours, central heating jammed at full blast, and the nagging worry that their son has never shown any interest in girls. What, then, will his West Indian girlfriend be like? Mother, who writes romantic novels, including one titled ‘Love in Marrakesh’, feels that all will be well when she has her boy home, although her racial prejudice makes that unlikely. Dad, played with some depth by Michael Horden, wants peace after a tough week at the sec.modern school where he is headmaster, and when the young people arrive, he attempts to keep the situation calm.

Mother (Joan Greenwood) doesn’t know the meaning of the word, and the ambiguity of the girlfriend, Jo (Straker – Peter Straker of ‘Hair’ to his friends) leads to some of the nastiest bitching since ‘Till Death Do Us Part’.

The son, Laurie (Clive Francis) attempts to protect Jo from his mother, but she has her say, several times, until we see what Laurie means when he tells her he showed her books to his psychiatrist, and “he couldn’t believe they were written by a happily married woman”. While the ‘young people’ escape to the pub, Lettice persuades her husband to phone Jo’s parents – Michael Horden has his best moment panicking over the telephone – only to find that the Caribbean High Commissioner and his wife are looking forward to meeting Jo’s girlfriend Laurie. A row follows when Laurie and Jo find out about Lettice’s spying, and the story limps to a close in which the family close ranks in the face of an evil neighbour, the boys claim to be married, and Jo asks if he/she can call Lettice “Mother”. What a cop-out.

There are some good moments, including Michael Horden’s sincere but confused assertion: “I don’t give a damn if she’s a man – if she is she’s a jolly fine chap!”, and a radio weather report which refers to snow “in the homosexual counties”. The setting, a country house referred to in the credits as Faggot’s End, is attractive, if rather cramped, and one feels that the cast, especially the inimitable Miss Greenwood would really have felt happier on a stage. From the point of view of gay awareness, the film is so cramped it hasn’t even opened the closet door, and don’t let any publicist tell you otherwise.