In 2018, on the occasion of the 50th anniversary of May 68, I was asked many times for a conference or an interview on the evolution of mores and sexuality over this half-century. I then insisted on a point which seems fundamental to me and which has not often been emphasized in this way: “In reality, there was no sexual liberation in the 1970s in the West, but quite simply a liberation of the sexuality of women and homosexuals, (straight) men have always done whatever they wanted! “
Kate Charlesworth masterfully retraces the life course of a young English lesbian who discovers her sexual orientation at the time of this liberation which settles gradually and painfully, to the extent of the reactions and very sharp oppositions aroused by the expression of a homosexuality condemned since the dawn of time in almost all societies, particularly in the three great monotheisms. When it was born in 1950, male homosexuality was still punishable by imprisonment. But female homosexuality has never been a crime in the UK, making lesbians even more invisible, including to their own eyes. Growing up in Yorkshire, young Kate has no choice but to find role models of her attraction and desires where she can: in real life, in books, in movies and on television ” .
The comic book autobiography of Kate Charlesworth is a wonderful illustration of the test of life of non-straight girls and boys in the second half of the 20th century in Europe. Positions were starting to allow behavior to be liberated, but not all minds were ready for it. The oppositions were terrible, the reactions virulent… You cannot easily erase millennia of ostracism, condemnation and persecution. Moreover – it should be known – these behaviors have not disappeared and the freedom to live one’s homosexuality, female or male, is still often very complicated today.
Kate Charlesworth punctuates her story with advances in the acceptance of sexuality through popular identifying images of artists, stars, front-of-the-stage characters who can often afford behaviors that we don’t know. ‘do not accept “in the people”, in families. And she does it in a subtle and delicate way. We thus meet Oscar Wilde, Sarah Bernhardt, Joséphine Baker, Marlène Dietrich, Greta Garbo as well as Grace Jones, Freddie Mercury and David Bowie; James Baldwin’s gay / bisexual novel, Giovanni’s Room in 1956; Odd Girl Out, the first chronicle of Ann Bannon in 1957, novel by a lesbian for lesbians! But also Tom Robinson who wrote his famous song Glad To Be Gay, ‘Happy to be Gay’ for the 1976 London Gay Pride, bearing a bitter look on people who wear gay support badges in bars but take them off at home or at work. And he denounces the position of doctors and psychiatrists when homosexuality was still part of the international classification of mental illnesses! It only came out with the DSM 3, in 1980.
Kate testifies to the terrible reactionary and conservative climate which prevailed then in Edinburgh – as at the time everywhere else in Great Britain and even in Europe – summarized in this cupboard which practices the amalgamation: “Feminism encourages women to leave their husbands , to kill their children, to practice witchcraft, to destroy capitalism and to become LESBIANS! “.
In the late 80s, Kate is 30 years old and realizes with relief – but no one talks about it – that she is not “the only homo in the village”. People know, keep quiet but condemn. The first obstacle for Kate will always have been her mother, deaf to her confidences and blind to realities because bruised, she said, “of not being able to be a grandmother”. Denying the life of her daughter, she will refuse to see Ness, the companion with whom she has lived for more than 10 years. Kate will belatedly understand the reason for this rigidity: the repressed homosexuality of her mother, which had been forbidden to her by the family.
2000–2003, the first same-sex couples sign the cohabitation register: 998 same-sex couples register at London City Hall. 2004: The United Kingdom’s Civil Partnership Act grants same-sex couples the same rights as those of civil marriage. For the United Kingdom 2009 is a landmark year: Gareth Thomas, the Welsh rugby star comes out! He is the first high profile athlete in a sport known to be straight and macho to come out. Finally, we have to wait until the last decades for the acceptance of homosexuality, and female homosexuality, to be wider, but unfortunately, it is not yet complete today.
The beautiful autobiography of Kate Charlesworth is an image of the crossing of the desert of an English lesbian woman at the end of the twentieth century to come to live fully the romantic relationship and couple that is hers today.
Kate Charlesworth is a well-known cartoonist in Great Britain – humor drawing and illustrations – long collaborator of the Guardian, she lives and works in Edinburgh.
A Pink Story by Kate Charlesworth, translated from English (UK) by Annick Evrard, Casterman 2021.
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Female homosexuality liberated
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