Interview with Philippa (P) and Helen (H) and Liz Kiely (LK)
LK: So Philippa and Helen, as you know we are collecting stories about the LGBTQ families in Ireland through objects and your object history interview will be made available in a collection of material that will be held in the RIFNET project for a period of five years. It will be available as a transcript and a three minute short snippet. Images of the website will be preserved by UCC for a period of five years. Your photographs and your memorabilia will also be displayed on the website, so in your case the fanzine. The data collected will also be permanently held in the Digital Repository of Ireland, so is that okay with you?
P: Yes, of course.
LK: So then let’s proceed with the interview. So what I want you to do for a start is just to describe this object here on the table in your own words.
P: Well, what it is, is a Star Trek fanzine with same sex relationships described, quite explicitly at times. The reason we brought this along was that when we bought this fanzine it was at a Star Trek convention in Leeds in 1980 and it was the first time that we met. Somewhat a few years later we became romantically involved because Helen was in Leeds, I was in Dublin and our love of Star Trek has always been important to us, it being a very positive and very important in that it kind of led to us thinking about a brighter future and a happier future for humanity. And in the 1970s and 80s, there was the problem with potentially nuclear war and so on, the Berlin wall was still there, and Russia was… or the USSR as it was then was very threatening and we felt that Star Trek gave a very positive view of the world. But then also, the fact that there was a LBGTQ element to this fanzine was an eye-opener for myself as a trans woman. I kind of felt that… I’d never come across anything like this before and it was a very interesting fanzine to read. I don’t think I was particularly interested in it. I mean it’s not quite pornographic but it’s not far from it, there’s lots of things in there, and yeah. So the fanzine itself is an indication of our mutual interest in Star Trek and positive view of the future and so on but it was only later as our relationship developed that the LGBTQ aspect of this really came to the fore and I think that’s where maybe, if Helen wants to say something about that?
H: Yeah, whereas Philippa says, she’s transgender so we actually met as an opposite sex couple and became friends before we got married. So these fanzines, I mean you’ve got loads of fanzines, you’ve got all sorts of aspects, people wanting to write adventures stories and that but these particular ones are called slash zines and the slash is between Kirk/Spock and that kind gave to the rights of the whole genre of slash fanfiction. So this was my first introduction into any LGBT aspects of the world. I mean the only other thing you saw on TV was people like Danny La Rue, who was basically one of the most famous drag queens of the time. So this was an intriguing aspect for me and certainly, as Philippa says, it resonates in our later life and in fact, I’ve written a bit of slash fiction myself but not in this genre, not in Star Trek, but I do know that it is mostly females who do write fanfiction through all different genres but this was a way of kind of eye-opening really (laughter) as to LGBT, so I think it kind of softened the impact of Philippa’s transition in that I knew something about LGBT people, even through a sensationalist magazine like this. So it was a… and the thing about science fiction and science fiction fandom, is it’s generally extremely accepting. Star Trek itself in later years when all sorts of books have been written it turned out that they did want to feature same-sex relationships but obviously at the time, 1960s, that wasn’t going to be possible. In fact, in Star Trek they had the first on-screen inter-race kiss between Kirk and Uhura in an episode and that was fought and fought against by The Powers That Be and the actors fought and fought for it to be included and it was so Star Trek was ground breaking as Philippa said, and for me, eye opening, very friendly, you got to make lots of friends through it and we got very involved for quite a long time and it has been science fiction and other examples have featured throughout our life. I remember when… we have a daughter, Jenny, and I remember she was something like six months old when we brought her to her first or six weeks old…
P: Six weeks old.
H: when we brought her to her first science fiction convention.
P: Which was the World Convention, so
P: some very nice memories there of her sitting her in the arms of… what was it?
H: A guy was dressed up for charity as a cyberman from Doctor Who
P: That’s it.
H: and the local paper, it was in Scotland, the Daily Record wanted to take a photograph of a very very small baby in the arms of a cyberman with two fans reading their books beside them on the bench. It was so funny. We still have the picture.
P: It appeared in the newspaper the following on the cover, I think it was.
LK: And did you buy the magazine there, is that how it worked?
P: Yes, as you can see it says on the cover it was a pound. I mean, there were only, maybe, a couple of hundred copies of this produced, at the most because in 1980 it wasn’t as easy to copy things, there were photocopiers of course but they weren’t… they were expensive and it was difficult to produce a lot of magazines, copies of magazines. So we bought it at the conventions in what was known as the Dealers’ Room and there would be tables lined up with fans or professional outlets, shops, and so on with uniforms or jewellery…
H: Books and memorabilia basically and then, like I said, the fans liked to write. You’ll find that in any genre that there are ones who want to go beyond what they see in the TV shows or the film and try to imagine their own stories and this was just one aspect of it. But yeah, the Dealers’ Room you could get almost anything.
LK: Great, and could you describe, I know you have talked a little bit about this but maybe in a little more detail, talk a little bit about what it meant to you then and I know you’ve touched on it by saying, you know, it was the first time you got really a sense of representation of people like you. Is that the meaning of it for you, do you think?
P: I suppose the meaning of it was… it really was an opportunity to see… at that stage I hadn’t really even come out of myself as a trans woman and to read this and to see that there was a possibility of different relationships and different ways to live and to be your true self was just eye-opening to me and mind-blowing, it was literally just like a new universe was revealed to me and, at the time, I don’t think I realised just how important that was to me but looking back now, it was definitely a pivotal point within my life. As… I’d met Helen, of course, but at that stage, we weren’t a same-sex couple, at that stage. It was quite a few years later that I transitioned, but it gave me the possibilities, it really did open the world to me and see that there were people like me. I don’t think there were any trans people within the Star Trek fanzines as such but within… in the new series, I think (to H) isn’t there a trans woman in Star Trek Discovery? I think there might be?
H: There’s definitely a gay couple in it.
P: Definitely a gay couple anyway, yeah. So, it was more important later on when I looked back than it was at the time. And of course, you don’t want to stand out. In some ways, Helen and other friends of ours could read this and get enjoyment out of it whereas as a guy you don’t want to be seen within the fandom as potentially… because in 1980, I mean, the same-sex couples and the gay relationships and so on were not really accepted in Britain or particularly in Ireland, so I think… I think this was very useful for me looking back but at the time I’m not exactly sure how important it was to me.
H: Yeah, I agree, that at the time it was more of interest reading, almost titillation.
P: Titillation, yeah.
H: But with regard to LGBT representation in science fiction and Star Trek I think it really helped a lot of people who were gay. And in fact, I remember quite a few gay people at the conventions and not because they were there saying ‘I’m gay’ but you’d have a lot of fans dressing up in various costumes. I do remember one guy, Teddy, who was noted for going into masquerade competitions etc., genderbending basically. So I think it was much more… the atmosphere at these conventions was much more accepting. Which, was possibly a way for us saying… you know, feeling more comfortable. But as Philippa says at that time we were in an opposite-sex relationship so I don’t think it impacted on me until later, until retrospectively I could see that perhaps it helped during her transition and helped me
H: because basically, I’m heterosexual in a same-sex relationship, (laughter) I mean we can say it but yeah. And I think in many respects it has… these kind of fancies, these kinds of things opened people’s minds and as Philippa says, in the 1980s there was all the AIDS scares and the very heavy, dark, especially in the UK, very dark TV adverts with the grave stone with AIDS.
P: Yes, yes.
H: Anybody who has watched the film Pride will see that in that represented in that time by that advert showing up on the TV for one of the characters and the whole… so this was a positive whereas all the threatening AIDS warnings were negative and it was very hard to see things being represented in a positive light. You had people like Quentin Crisp coming out and so forth but otherwise normal relationships that we all accept now were just not even thought of at the time.
P: (Agreeing) No.
LK: Okay, and you said earlier that you became friends at the Convention? So this was your very first time to actually meet?
P: Yes, that’s right, yeah.
H: I was pen-pals through a Star Trek group that we belonged to, it was one of the fan groups where you got a newsletter every couple of month and I saw a girl in Scotland asking for pen pals so I wrote to her and I didn’t know but Philippa also wrote to her. So I offered Alison that if she was coming down to this convention which was being held in my home city of Leeds and she could stay with me. And she said well okay but I’m meeting up with this guy who I’m also writing to and I said that’s fine. So she came down on the Friday, she stayed at our house and we just got the bus into town and at five minutes past ten in the reception area we all met up (P starts to laugh). And Philippa had met a nice guy called Ray and they’d got chatting on mutual interests in the bar the night before because she was staying in the hotel and after that all the four of us became really close friends for a quite a few years.
P: Produced fanzines of our own.
H: Not K/S (Kirk/Spock slash).
P: Not LGBTQ but it was a nice way to… it was a really important relationship, I think the four of us, and it was shortly afterwards when our mutual friend in Glasgow got married was when Helen and I became, let’s say, romantically involved. It always happens at weddings (laughter) yeah, from that point on then it was a case of going to conventions together and meeting up with our two friends and
H: Building up a bigger—
P: Building up a really good relationships with friends and so on. And as Helen pointed out, at the conventions it was very accepting, and it was… though the masquerade… the costume competition gave the opportunity for people to be themselves or to experiment, and as Helen said, genderbending, you know. And pretty amazing costumes and there was a huge amount of
work went into them but there was also an element of being your true self, perhaps, for some of the participants, you know. I never had any interest at that stage in costuming but if I had any sort of ability as regards making clothes, dressmaking, whatever, I think I could have been tempted. But Ireland in the 1980s was backwards basically as regards to LGBT rights so I couldn’t do anything like that at home. I was expected to be a straight guy and I was a civil servant as well. So, I mean that in itself in the early 1980s, it was not a very pleasant place to be if you were in any way different.
H: I think, especially for Philippa, but science fiction fandom was very freeing because you didn’t have any expectations, everybody was looking forward. They were very forward looking. They were very ‘we don’t have to conform.’ We were regarded as weirdos and still are in some respects, in science fiction fandom but, yeah, it was very freeing in very many respects and certainly we’ve maintained a lot of friendships over the years. In fact, there’s a science fiction convention here in Dublin in October and we are fan guests of honour because we were very involved in starting those various conventions here in Ireland in the 1990s and we’ve maintained it. We’ve still got the mutual interest in watching the TV series etc and reading but then life took over and daughter took over and her transition took over so we have stepped back quite a bit but it’s still very much a force for us in the future.
LK: And what would you say that the magazine means to you now? I know you said you have a lot of this material from your, obviously, years being involved but is this a special one in particular or is it that it’s part of a wider set of memorabilia?
P: Yes, it’s part of a wider set of memorabilia and it’s just an example of what there was and how it broadened our minds, it gave us the opportunity to see what was possible and a positive future and I think that’s the reason we brought it along today. We could’ve brought boxes worth of materials, publications and items but that was a perfect example of the crossover between Star Trek and our relationship and LGBTQ issues.
LK: And I suppose as well that it happened, you know you have a date and a time when you first met because of this event whereas if it was a more informal kind of setting you mightn’t have that detail but the fact that you were at the convention and it was something exciting and different for you as well, yeah.
H: It was lovely. The conventions were an opportunity to see friendly faces. Once you got involved in these kind of things there were various magazines and various online events later on where you got to know people. And then if you were running the events yourself then you got to know more people and you got to know them well because you were working together. I mean, it cost a lot of money putting events on and the initial pot of money comes from the committee who are running it and you get paid back if it makes a profit and then it all goes to charity afterwards but yeah it was a case of, you know, it gave us a much wider friendship base and that helped.
P: I think one other thing to mention which is worthwhile is that we ran a convention in the Grand Hotel in Malahide. Thirteen hundred people turned up and it was insanely popular and so on but our first guest of honour was George Takei who played Sulu in the series but who is a gay man, an out and proud gay man and it was again, he being there and his view of the world and the fact that he could be as open as he was was just eye-opening to us and we follow him online and so on and I took him around, I took him to Bewleys on Grafton Street, I took him down to… on various tours of Dublin and he was just such an amazing guy and again, that… possibly this was in the early 1990s and I began to transition in 2000 so thereabout. Again, that was something. To see that visible role model, if you like, was so important to me as a person who was really coming to terms with who I was. So I think George at the convention was a huge event for me, personally.
P & H: (noises of agreement).
H: Great fun.
LK: And what would you say, this project is focused on alternative families in Ireland, and what do you think this object and your experience says to that issue, or you know, what do you think it says about the family because I suppose, as you pointed out, very conventional views of people, of individuals, of families, and what do you think it brings to it?
P: I suppose from our point of view, the fact that we have a daughter, she was born in 1995 and so when I started transitioning in 2000-2001, I was becoming more feminine looking and it was a challenge then to our daughter to come to terms with this and we actually ended up telling her about myself when I started on hormone treatment when she was around 12 or 11 or 12, so there was a challenge there to bring her along and the last thing I wanted to do was upset her and cause trouble for her so I stayed very much in the background of her social life pretty much, the occasional friend that she had up to the house, I stayed in the background, I didn’t kind of push it. So ours was not a traditional family but it was a very loving family and I think Jenny, our daughter, was broad minded enough to accept me for who I was and indeed, when we did tell her, that was the one thing that she said, and she was on her way up to bed, ‘you have to be true to yourself, you have to be who you are’ and that was just amazing from an 11 or 12 year old. So I do think that our family wasn’t the traditional family right from the very beginning kind of because, say for instance, my sister has a very traditional family with two kids, husband who works and she’s a stay-at-home mum and so on, whereas we both worked, we had so many friends, we were out at so many events and so on and we were passionate about our hobbies, we were passionate about our involvement in, as time went on, especially with LGBTQ events and organisations and so on. I was chair of the national organisation TENI and so, I think all this became a challenge for us and as I transitioned and then in the neighbourhood I was worried about obviously people noticing the differences and I was scared of graffiti being daubed on the house or something, you know, so there was lots of challenges, lots of challenges growing up and transitioning, and lots of challenges for our daughter who is just incredible and so accepting and so loving, which is…
H: With relation to Jenny and the science fiction, like I said we took her to her first convention when she was six weeks old and we were very involved in the Irish ones and she used to come along. She even entered the masquerade once and I made her a little costume and she had a little dragon on her shoulder. So I think, for her, knowing that we… it wasn’t really an alternative lifestyle but we had unusual hobbies and interests. She got used to being around people who had unusual hobbies and interests and quite a few of our friends at that time some of them were gay so she knew full well growing up. So our experience in the science fiction allowed her to open out and blossom a bit. I mean, she’s not that interested really now but apart from playing Dungeons and Dragons, which Philippa played for years. So, I think our experiences in fandom, the fact that we knew we didn’t have conventional hobbies and so forth, allowed us to be more open as a family. I think if we followed the more conventional roles whether Jenny would have been so accepting, I’m sure she would have been, but I think the fact that we just put it out there, ‘Oh, hi, we’re going to the World Convention in Baltimore and then we’re going to bring you down to Disney Land’ when she was three years old, she got used to being around a lot of people and around a lot of new ideas and around that… So I think Star Trek and science fiction did help the family in that respect and it means that she never… we’ve always encouraged her to think forward and never to feel restrained.
P: To be herself.
H: Yeah, to be herself
P: To be herself. Yeah, I think we’re pretty…
H: We were pretty… we were never lax as parents but I think we’re pretty open as parents and in fact, you know, sometimes issues came up and I’d be walking along talking to her about the issues and she says ‘Yeah mum, I don’t need another lecture, I know all this’ (laughter) it was things you possibly wouldn’t expect to talk to children about we were very open with that, with age appropriate metaphors maybe but she was very open and she knew our gay friends and I think that helped during Philippa’s transition. She said ‘you gotta be yourself’ and we were never normal in inverted brackets, we were always different in that respect and I think that helped her and helped us as a family to keep together and keep things on the right track.
LK: Great, that was great. Thank you very much for talking to me.
P: Thank you, Liz.
LK: Thank you.