The Homosexual Woman & Venereal Disease

19720914-08In Issue No. 1 of Gay News a Consultant wrote a feature on Venereal Disease mainly concerning himself with the male homosexual and the symptoms which surround these diseases, but female homosexuals are not exempt from them, so I shall try to clarify and enlighten women as to their symptoms and the process of going through a Clinic for treatment.

At one time female homosexual patients used to express surprise that they could in fact have been infected with Venereal Disease by contact with their own sex, but the germ Syphilis (spiral shaped) can only live in warm moist conditions such as those which occur in the vagina, mouth and anus, therefore if a female homosexual often practices “cunnilingus” ie the act of tickling the woman’s clitoris with her tongue, she is therefore spreading the infected area simply by kissing, or if there is a very small abrasion in the anogenital region it will enter and can spread through the body in a matter of hours. I must stress here that Syphilis, if left untreated, can kill. This disease progresses through Four Stages and is identified by diagnosing the germs in the sores and by blood tests.

The First Stage

The first sign of syphilis can make its appearance any time between ten days and twelve weeks after infection. The first sign is usually a single, painless ulcer on or around the sexual organs. Although these ulcers are painless and might even appear to clear up all on their own, they should not be ignored they are highly infectious. In fact, if there is an ulcer on or around the sexual organs, it is always sensible to assume that it is syphilitic until proved otherwise at a clinic. If syphilis is not treated at this stage, it might appear to clear up, but usually all that is happening is that the infection has spread to various parts of the body and that the second stage of the disease is developing. As this first stage can be so easily missed, the only really sensible thing to do is to have a check-up, even if there’s only the remotest chance that you may have caught it.

The Second Stage

The most obvious and most typical sign is a body rash which cannot be missed. Usually this rash doesn’t itch or cause discomfort.

This stage may be accompanied by general signs of ill-health, loss of weight, poor appetite, and so on. Because the rash will eventually disappear, this second stage is sometimes ignored. It is, however, the most acute and highly infectious stage of syphilis.

The Third Stage

If untreated, syphilis will continue to develop, and the possibility of infecting others will remain. This third stage is called the latent stage because it is a time when the infection appears to have disappeared since it shows no symptoms. It can last from a few months to a lifetime.

The Fourth Stage

At this stage, the damage caused by the infection becomes apparent. There is absolutely no means of curing the damage. All that treatment can do is to alleviate the symptoms and prevent complications. In one out of every three untreated cases the disease at this stage may have attacked the heart or brain or any other organ.

Treatment of Syphilis consists of a number of injections of penicillin or another antibiotic, and it may be injected daily for seven to fourteen days. Occasionally, a different, longer-acting preparation may be injected. If the disease has been present for quite a time before the patient goes for treatment, the doctor may decide to institute long-term treatment to make sure that the spirochaetes do not have a chance to survive. It is vital to follow the doctor’s instructions on medication if the disease is to be properly eliminated.

Let us now take a look at gonorrhea.

Gonorrhea is the commonest form of Venereal Disease. Its cause is a fragile germ which survives and multiplies in the sexual organs of a woman and should one woman have had intercourse at any time with a male

and picked it up, the germ may be there without her knowing it. In homosexual women, when one sexual passage comes into direct contact with another, the gonocci have a chance to move – a chance which they usually snap up – and when they are settled

Under the microscope, gonococci, the bacteria causing gonorrhoea, are seen as pink, coffee beanshaped germs, lying inside white blood cells.

in their new home, usually at the neck of the womb, they begin to multiply. Sometimes the gonocci may invade the anus as the vagina is very close. When gonorrhea occurs in the anus and rectum the person may not notice it because the symptoms are very mild. Sometimes, however, they will suffer from a discharge or itching or a feeling of dampness at the anus. Also, there may be mucus (slime) or pus in the faeces (shit). Sometimes the symptoms may be severe with a lot of mucus being discharged and a great deal of pain on defaecating. If the condition remains for a long time untreated, warts may develop around the anus.

In the early stages it is very nearly impossible for a woman to know if she has gonorrhea. She may notice discomfort or tickling and a burning feeling on passing urine. She may pass urine more frequently than usual and there may be a discharge from her vagina. Often, if there is a discharge it is very slight, though it may stain the knickers. Occasionally, the discharge is sufficient to cause a sore patch between the legs. There are all sorts of places that gonorrhea may spread to, but the most complicated is when it spreads up through the womb or uterus and into the tubes leading into it, called the fallopian tubes. Usually, this produces a severe infection of the tubes with pain low down in the abdomen on one or both sides. Often there is a temperature, fever, vomiting, nausea and a headache. The woman looks ill and the doctor may have some difficulty in distinguishing the problem from appendicitis or other emergency conditions of the abdomen.

Diagnosis of gonorrhea in women takes longer. More than one examination may be required. A correct diagnosis can be made by taking a smear of the discharge and other secretions and a sample of blood. Treatment is usually with penicillin and started at once. Often one injection is enough, but patients are asked to return to the clinic for confirmation of a cure.

There is another disease which can affect women and can be transmitted to their sexual partners; it is Candida Albicans. This creature commonly lives on the skin, in the mouth, in the bowels and in the vagina. This causes a vaginal discharge in women. Sometimes the discharge is produced in large quantities causing soreness of the inner thighs and staining of the underwear. The itching may be quite severe, and it is often worse at night, probably because of the added warmth of the bed. It can be severe enough to stop the woman from sleeping and if this continues she will become bad tempered, overtired, unable to cope with things. The itching can also be a problem during the day, and the desire to scratch the offending part can be quite embarrassing. Candida Albicans is discovered by a physical examination when the doctor will scrape the inside of the vagina with a blunt instrument (which is painless) and then examine this under the microscope having stained it with a special chemical to colour the fungus if it is present. The treatment consists of using an antibiotic called Nystatin, which comes in the form of special pessaries or cream. The pessaries are placed in the vagina and the antibiotic is released to cover the inside of the vagina. Sometimes a doctor will paint the inside of the vagina with a dilute solution of gentian violet which also kills the fungus – though one does end up with brilliant purple underwear.

Women are prone to a number of infections in the vagina and any woman who has a persistent discharge which stains the underwear should either consult their own doctor or seek advice at a clinic. It is in the interest of all homosexuals to seek medical advice at once if they suspect that they may be infected.

Suburban Unity

Harrow Gay Unity: A Case History

19720914-08In the last few months there have been a number of gay groups emerging with their own local identity. For example, there is London University’s GAYSOC, a merger between CHE and GLF, and Reading’s Gay Alliance. These have been based on the very reasonable feeling that, where the territory is limited, like in a university or an isolated town, it makes more sense to get together a united gay scene, responsive to local needs, rather than to play up the differences between nationwide bodies in a smaller arena. This is GAY UNITY’S position too, even though we are in a London Borough. We hope that this brief account of our history, aims, achievements and failures will help others to develop their own schemes, just as we have learned and adapted through hearing about others’ experiences.

We started in November 1971, as very much GLF, highly motivated to protest and take political action as a result of a spate of gay cottage arrests in Harrow. This was a time of writing letters, but in personal fear and trepidation, because we were so few, and actually operating in our home area. We eventually got ourselves a fairly satisfactory place to meet regularly, and managed to place a regular advertisement in our local paper. Then we expanded fairly slowly, and there was a constant dialogue between two points of view within the group: “We must never concede to the straight system, and if newcomers can’t accept GLF ideology we are better off without them”, versus “We are all gay, and the needs of individuals for a local social scene are more important than their political beliefs”.

About this time too, the Central London GLF meetings came to an end, and we began to feel more that we must look after ourselves since no-one else would. As an experiment, and as a result of the newcomers’ desire for structure in the group and their right to have a democratic say in how things developed, we set up a committee or co-ordinating group (5 elected, 3 to be replaced every month) to deal with the business of letters, money and arrangements. Some GLF-oriented people felt that this was too much and withdrew, while others decided to stay and keep the GLF viewpoint going. In the event, the committee never really worked, and action was still mostly taken by committed individuals and small groups. But socially we were getting more together, and public appearances in pubs and on the streets happened more often. Some of the fear about police and public hostility disappeared and a personal social network of friendship and support developed – the beginnings of a real local alternative scene.

We then decided to call ourselves GAY UNITY to appeal more to all gays in the area and because we felt we had a genuine local identity and were not just an outpost of GLF in the suburbs. But the GLF link was still there, particularly in the belief in the importance of public action and the search for a genuinely different way of life, rather than accepting the status quo of straight society.

The Present Situation

We still meet regularly on Mondays in the same pub. The search for better premises which we can advertise publicly is still on, but there are fewer suitable places in the suburbs. Pub rooms to let are rare, since they are either converted into more lucrative lounges, or new pubs are built without them. Church halls are unsatisfactory anyway, and only one of the many clergymen we wrote to even bothered to reply. Other halls like those belonging to political parties tend to be expensive or to lay down too many conditions.

At our meetings we report and discuss actions and then socialise downstairs in the pub lounge. Recent actions include sniping at the local Festival of Light operations and arranging a confrontation with them. We are on good terms with the Womens Lib, and with the Harrow Youth Movement, and supported HYM with a car and loudspeaker for their candidate in a recent ward by-election. Our main effort now is a series of organised visits to all the pubs in the area. In a group of aboul 8-10, wearing badges, we just go in and have a drink and be ourselves. People stare, and some come up and talk to us, and pass remarks. Without our being aggressive or provocative, the populace is getting to know that “queers” aren’t just the funny people to be found in squalid pubs in the centre of London. We also want to reach the isolated gays in this way, apart from our regular local newspaper and library ads. We want to use leaflets more too, but the experience of other groups has suggested that street handouts don’t seem to have much effect in relation to the effort put in.

In all, this may not seem a lot to be doing, but with our numbers still fairly low, about 25 regular attenders on Mondays (more for parties) it gives us enough to be busy, without putting too much onto individuals. We have kept away from formal organisation, although volunteers can be found for most of the jobs to be done. Without formality, it is admittedly harder to organise things. But when they do happen, everyone feels much more personally involved, and there is a great sense of unity and committment.

For the future, there are a lot of possibilities and hazards. In one of the pubs we went to we were refused service. If it happens more, or again in the same pub, we are ready to make a public issue out of it. Also it looks like some locals want to get at us. for reasons best known to themselves. A confrontation with active hostility, so far avoided, will have to be faced. Also we want to get in touch with more of the gays outside the usual scene. There are the kids still living at home who need to get more acquainted with gayness, and come out more. Then at the other end, there are the older men who haunt the cottages. For them at the moment, this is often the best way to see or take part in sex. But any group that really means what it says about treating people as individuals must evolve ways of bringing all gays into a better personal and social scene. Ideas from others are welcome.

Gay Unity and GLF

Like we said before, we feel that our real affinity remains with the GLF, as the source of ideas and principles, even though we do adapt to our surroundings, and assert our own identity. We try at least to attend GLF co-ordinating group regularly, to make a financial contribution, and to help in the office. Sometimes in the past we have felt over-criticised by individuals who didn’t seem to appreciate our problems. Now there seems to be a good understanding with central GLF. Also we feel that, through our own experience (which is the only way to find out) that many of the GLF approaches are the best ways of working towards a real change in society, especially openness.

Gay Unity and Gay News

Despite the fact that two of Harrow’s original members are in the Gay News collective, in Issue 2 it was reported by someone who knew the real situation, to the effect that Gay Unity had broken off from GLF.

This ‘fact’ was then used in the Editorial of the same issue as evidence of widespread disenchantment with GLF. Gay News then failed to correct the error, partly because the collective felt that an apology to individuals they knew personally would be enough. This was unfortunate, for it was not then a purely local matter. GLF had first reacted to the ‘news’, then reacted even more against Gay News for being deliberately misleading for the sake of journalistic effect.

Other groups got all gleeful about our ‘defection’, and Harrow had to spend a lot of time making the position clear again. Now we hope that we are back on good terms with Gay News. But other groups should take heed. They should be as clear as possible about their decisions and actions when they might be reported. Also they should not rely on any of the media, however sympathetic, to get facts across accurately. Gay News is the best available attempt to provide a national alternative to the straight press. But we should still make some allowance for the pressures on Gay News to be lively, topical and accurate all at the same time – usually at 4.00 am when they finally paste up what will be printed.

Love and peace from all of us at Harrow. Do let us know what you are doing, via Gay News or Come Together or directly by phone or visit our meetings. (Alex – 422-7890 or Janie – 863-1184).

ED. Gay News welcomes articles and news from other small gay groups, whether they be affiliated to CHE, GLF, SMG or independent.