Lis Sutherland

This was a contribution to Quaker lesbian voices: sharing and learning about lesbian loves and lives, held on 2 Nov 2019

I was born in 1946 – an early Baby Boomer and grew up in Wanstead East London. Wanstead is in the London suburbs. I had a disjointed school life and was groomed by the adults around me to be a wife and mother and yet another suburban housewife. [The film the Stepford Wives always spoke loudly to me – the film illustrates my deep inner horror of what I was expected to be!].

The secondary modern schooling I received groomed us to be shop workers and factory workers and not to expect too much out of life. However, I learned how to use a library in the school which I have always been grateful for – this gave me access to the world outside the suburbs and the more I so yearned for.

I was raised in a Congregational Church household going to church every Sunday and Sunday school Sunday afternoons. I belonged to the church Girls’ Life Brigade group and later the youth club. Family life was very tied up in the church.

In my early teens it began to dawn on me that I wasn’t interested in boys, marriage, family life. I enjoyed football and cricket and playing with boys but didn’t get -‘being interested in boys’.

At this time I heard about Liberace (there had been a scandal which had interested me) and I got a whiff of different lifestyle opportunities. I also first came across Dusty Springfield and my gaydar was operating even then. Her distant influence was there throughout my life.

I also learned that such lifestyles were evil and unnatural.

At around 16 I remember going to the cinema with two friends – to a Doris Day film. When we came out of the cinema my 2 friends spoke of imagining themselves in the arms of the male lead – Cary Grant or Rock Hudson. I realised and noted silently to myself that I had imagined being in the arms of Doris Day with no interest in the male leads.

In my teens I tried to go out with guys and see what it was all about but I just wasn’t interested and the thought of being part of a suburban family life terrified me. So I set about making sure I could make a living for myself and be independent.

I grew disillusioned with the church especially its beliefs and teachings around homosexuality and prostitution etc. By this time was I was reading about women issues and pressures on women.

After a few bumps in the road workwise I began to see a way forward and began to search for fellow women. I searched high and low. There was no Gay Switchboard, no internet. After a long search – one Sunday I was back at my parents for Sunday lunch and an item came on the radio about The Killing of Sister George and the mention of a lesbian club used as a location for the film. Just as the name of the club was about to be mentioned my mother came in and switched off the radio saying ‘you don’t want to hear such nonsense dear’.

Untwarted as ever I wrote to the bbc and they wrote back with the address of the Gateways club. I duly wrote to the Gateways and they wrote back inviting me to come along suggesting a Thursday evening.

With great trepidation – given I was about to enter the jaws of hell and evil – I went along. There I was introduced to a couple of women from Kenric and I was off and running there was nothing to hold me back now.

I will always remember that evening – on my way home – the feeling of ‘belonging’ I had experienced in the club – the first time I’d felt I belonged and the first time I’d been able to be fully myself. Also I saw no evil – just people. A relief indeed.

During my late teens and 20s I stayed away from churches – however I began to miss the spiritual aspect in my life and at the age of 30ish I joined a Buddhist Group and stayed with that teacher for 15 years. The teachings and community I experienced in that group allowed me to grow to be more myself and supported me through many changes in my life.

Eventually I began to miss the teachings and stories of Jesus and began to wish to return to my Christian roots. I looked towards the Quakers and there found a home where I felt I belonged.

Belonging is important to me. There have been two places I have felt I belonged in my life – the gay scene and in Quakers. Both I am grateful for.

It has been through Quakers I met my partner – for which I am again grateful.