Tuesday, 20 December 2016

Problem Pages of the Seventies and Eighties

Letters of Desperation,
kPhoto Copyright Janet Cameron
Letters to Britain's Agony Aunts revealed the secret desperation of ordinary people confused by issues of gender and identity.

Problem pages of past decades provide fascinating insights into everyday concerns. In the late 1900s, Agony Aunt columns began regularly publishing gay-related problems. These are some letters written to Agony Aunts in the 1970s and 1980s.
Not My Daughter
A woman wrote to the Argus and her letter was published on 21 January 1975. Her daughter had a crush on an older girl at school, a prefect on whom she doted. The young girl was just fifteen, but her whole life centred around the admired older girl. "Although I hesitate to say this, it's almost asif she's in love with her. One reads so much about relationships between the same sexes these days that I am desperately worried my daughter is a little abnormal in this respect."
The woman was unable to discuss her concerns with her husband, who was away on business, and was afraid to talk to her daughter. This was a chance, one might think, in this decade of supposedly increased tolerance towards gay people, for the Agony Aunt to reassure the woman that if her young daughter had lesbian tendencies, she should be supported and not made to feel as though she was abnormal or unnatural. Instead she simply pointed out that schoolgirl crushes are a natural phrase of growing up. "In my day, nobody suspected a girl might have lesbian tendencies, which, clearly, is the thing that is worrying you."
She advised the mother to ignore the subject and trust that her daughter would "grow out of the phase fairly soon." After that, her affections would be transferred to someone of the opposite sex. Regrettably, there was not one positive piece of reassurance, guidance or advice to support the writer of the letter in the event that her daughter actually was a lesbian.
Is the Man I Love Gay?
On 12 September 1984, a young, divorced woman with two children wrote to the Argus's Agony Aunt about a man she'd met. They were compatible, with a familiar sense of humour, and they had fallen deeply in love. The man revealed to her that he had had a homosexual relationship when he was younger. She was devastated and scared to commit, in case he decided he was homosexual after all and abandoned her.
The Agony Aunt explained that many young, basically heterosexual men experimented with homosexuality in their youth - some found it wasn't for them and moved on to becoming heterosexual, others became bisexual and some decided that they were definitely homosexual. Sensibly, Agony Aunt, Georgette Floyd, suggested the young woman should seek help from the Marriage Guidance Council, who were willing to help people in unmarried relationships.
Scared to Ask
A young mother of a ten-year-old child wrote to the Argus problem page on 28 June 1986. The previous year, a young bachelor had moved into her road and for the first four months, the two of them exchanged "hellos". Then they began to become real friends and spent a lot of their time in each other's company. He was kind and thoughtful, everything she longed for in a man, and she started to fall for him.

The problem was he didn't seem interested in moving the relationship forward and she wanted to know whether she should make the first move. She was cautioned to wait till she knew him better. There seemed a possibility he might be gay, and making a move on him might spoil the friendship and scare him away. Today, it's hard to see why she made such a big deal out of it, and didn't simply ask him. After all, their friendship had been going on for some time. But this was the eighties and many people still believed that men should always make the first move - and women should wait to be chosen.

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