‘ You’ve got to carry on that fight ‘: strangers swap life-changing ordeals

How does it feel to campaign against racism, come out, have an abortion or lose a parent to suicide? People who went through the same things, times apart, share their stories

‘ The biggest achievement of the anti-abortion lobby is stimulating women feel guilty’

Sam , 26, and Diane Munday, 88, had abortions five decades apart

Sam and Diane are sitting in Diane’s front room in Hertfordshire, sides warmed by beakers of coffee, chit-chat as if they are old friends. In fact, they have just filled, brought together by their similar personal and political suffers, which has just taken place some 50 times apart.

” Back in the 1960 s , nobody has spoken about abortion. It was a word that was never said, never written ,” says Diane. When her dressmaker and friend, married with three young children, died as a result of a backstreet abortion,” it knocked me between the eyes ,” she says. She thought of her again when, married with three children herself, she got pregnant at 29:” I knew the time that maternity was confirmed that I wasn’t going to continue with it. I had reached my restraint in my environments .”

Her choice, in 1961, was between an illegal abortion, and paying a doctor to say that a law dismissal was necessary for health reasonableness; she opted for the latter. Diane’s abortion took place on Harley Street in London.” Oddly, I came round from the anaesthetic remembering the young woman who have been killed. She was dead and I was alive because my husband and I, borrowing from my mother, could render an abortion. I told us to myself:’ I will fight for other women to have the privilege of being able to control their own fertility .'” Diane went on to play a key role in helping to change the law:” And here you investigate me, aged 88, still contending .”

She turns to Sam:” So “re trying to tell me” about your experience .” Sam justifies, that after she suffered appalling side-effects from hormonal contraception she and her then-boyfriend tried natural birth prevention, which miscarried.” The first time I was pregnant, 2 years ago, I was startled. I didn’t have a stable tie-in, a good job, a proper residence I could promote a child in. I was too young .” Diane reacts, gently:” It wasn’t right for you .”

Thanks to activists such as Diane, who fought for the Abortion Act 1967, Sam had a legal end at a Marie Stopes clinic.” I decided to have a surgical abortion under general anaesthetic because I was so afraid, but it was fine ,” she says.” The only occasion I certainly felt scared was going through to the operating theatre. I started to cry, and expected someone to hold my hand. Then I was out.

” There’s still a lot of silence. I determined the stillnes so suffocating, I decided to talk about it on Twitter. I was scared of anti-choicers harassing me, but within a few cases hours at least 40 people had messaged me, giving their subsidize. It was mostly women who’d had abortions, saying they had never spoken about this before, that the families of such didn’t know .”

Sam is appalled to hear that Diane had a same ordeal, half a century earlier. She met the Abortion Law Reform Association( now Abortion Rights ), in 1962:” The first public fulfill I spoke at, I exited in shudder. They were respectable maidens wearing hats and gloves. I stood up and said,’ I have had an abortion .’ During the tea delay these girls came up to me, one after the other, saying,’ You know dear, I had an abortion back in the 30 s, I’ve never told anybody before .’ I wasn’t alone .”

Despite Sam’s openness, she still felt a sense of shame when she needed a second abortion after emergency contraception miscarried; by now, she says,” I knew the relationship was not one that I could have a child within .”

” Again, you made a responsible decision ,” Diane reassures her.” I genuinely think it’s the biggest achievement of the anti-abortion lobby: drawing females feel guilty .”

Diane drank only half a glass of champagne when abortion was partially legalised in 1967, and is still waiting to drink another half glass: she says she will not rest until it is legal for everyone. Sam, who safaruss for Marie Stopes, agrees:” The only thing left now is for abortion to be taken out of criminal law and be treated as a healthcare problem across the UK, including Northern Ireland. It’s for us to continue the work. I’m so grateful that you all fought so hard for us to have those rights ,” she tells Diane.

Diane smiles.” That does me feel very happy. There are only a couple of us early colonists left now – you’ve got to carry that oppose on for other women .”

Sam has weepings wheeling down her buttocks.” Do you crave another coffee ?” asks Diane, gently.

‘ We’re hearing the exact same slurs and knows as we did 40 years ago ‘

Roxy Legane, 28, and Nona Ferdon, 91, civil rights activists

Roxy
‘ In the UK, we’re good at covering up our racism ‘: Roxy Legane and Nona Ferdon. Photograph: Kensington Leverne/ The Guardian

Midway through their conference, Nona Ferdon proudly proves Roxy Legane a photo of her tolerate with Martin Luther King Jr, depicts that were taken on a march from Selma to Montgomery in 1965. Nona explains how, as a clinical psychologist working in Hawaii, she was part of a medical section that joined the civil rights demonstration.

” The atmosphere was very tense ,” she says.” Two weeks before, parties had been stampeded with mares and police. We gleaned around at a chapel, and it was the first time I hear We Shall Overcome. The second lyric was:’ Black and grey together, we shall overcome .’ That was very much the feeling .” Her eyes brightened as she talks.

Five decades later, Roxy is combating racism- and, as a woman of colour, suffering it. She works with anti-racist groups and guides the community project Kids of Colour in Manchester. Her own retentions of intolerance go back to childhood.” My dad wasn’t welcome at my mum’s mothers’ live. He was from Mauritius, and they were white, and thought he couldn’t support what they wanted for her, and for me there was racism wrapped up in that.[ Likewise] grown up in a mainly grey situation, being around a lot of micro-aggressions .” She tells Nona that progress feels slow.” Last year I put one across an episode about intolerance in the area of education, and a 13 -year-old talked about his experiences of violence and self-control at school. Older people in the chamber were saying,’ We’re hearing the same innuendoes and events that we heard 40 years ago .’ That is sickening and annoying .” She describes being contacted by a mother whose seven-year-old, a mixed-race child, was spat at by a white child of the same age, and told she could not play with white children; and meeting young people of colour who, dropped by the oppression they face, say,” I simply want to be grey .”

Nona agrees that progress is slow. But, she says,” There ought to have extraordinary changes in the US. I recollect the working day the Voting Rights Act was passed in 1965, people of colour curved around, block after block, trying to vote .” Before this, they had been prevented from voting because they had flunked hopeless, deliberately obtuse literacy exams that included questions such as, How many illusions in a rail of soap ?, she interprets. While Nona still feels the expectation is dismal, with Trump in the White House, she tells Roxy:” Please believe me, there are still such massive varies. If you could put your mind back into 1950- it was a different world .”

” I feel aware of how far we’ve come ,” Roxy says.” But similarly aware of how much there is to be done. In the UK, we’re good at covered under our racism- but it can be seen in who is most likely to have poor housing, or be in the prison facilities, or unemployed, and that comes back to people of colour. We look at the US and think: how can they do that to migrant children? But we split up and destroy households here, too .”

When Roxy talks of how drained and helpless she can feel, Nona encourages her to talk, to take care of herself.” You’ve got to have someone you can sit down with and say,’ My God, you won’t believe what he said to me …'” She contributes,” I’ve tried to teach my grandchildren this: every day you live is a footstep in tomorrow, and a brick in the person or persons you want to be .”

Once the conversation has drawn to a close, Nona’s daughter takes us to visit the 10 leonberger puppies they have engendered.” Now “its what” I call self-care ,” says Roxy, as she impounds one close.

‘ I was 19 and I’d drive to work crying my eyes out’

Alex Evans, 45, and Paul McGregor, 29, lost their father-gods to suicide, 18 years apart

Alex
‘ There was certainly a stigma ‘: Alex Evans and Paul McGregor. Photograph: Kensington Leverne/ The Guardian

When commercial administrator Alex Evans, 45, meets entrepreneur Paul McGregor, 29, at the Guardian’s offices, it examines from the outside like an everyday business meet, all handshakes and nice-to-meet-yous. But in the area there is a tension, as if we are all containing our breath.

Paul, his expres steady, leads first.” “Peoples lives” was straightforward until I was about 18. I grew up in Essex with my parents and older brother. I was quite academic at academy, played a lot of football. My mum and dad were childhood sweethearts. On the outside it was like a happy household. But when I was 18, my pa just infringe. His eyes were remote, he was saying things- we didn’t know what to do .” After taking antidepressants and being admitted to a mental hospital, he killed himself on 4 March 2009, at the age of 45.

Paul now tells his narration at events to raise awareness of mental health issues; but Alex, from Sussex, has not spoken at length about his father’s death before.” My category was broken ,” he begins. His father was an alcoholic, and in the year before his suicide he lost his driving licence, his responsibility, and the phone was unplugged. He kill herself on 29 October 1991, aged 44, when Alex was away with friends.

Before leaving for that journey, Alex says,” I got home after my Saturday shift at McDonald’s, and understood Dad asleep, slumped in the angle of the kitchen, absolutely paralytic, all the dirty dishes piled up. I tried to wake him and he went for me. He kneed me in the pellets, tried to headbutt me .” His brother broke up the fight.” The emotion interruption. I was outside, crying and indignant. Something inside clicked and I said,’ I’m never going to cry about this again .'” His jaw clenches as he explains what happened next: his father tried to apologise, but Alex slammed the door and stepped out. That was the last time they realise each other.

Paul, the younger man, distinguishes the link between their experiences.” I think you’ve probably instructed yourself not to show your excitements. But as you were talking, one emotion came through that I can relate to massively, and that’s guilt. As you were talking about what you didn’t do, I could see you starting to well up. It’s the same with me .”

Both humen spent their young adulthood hiding their agony.” I was 19, and I’d drive to work crying my eyes out ,” says Paul.” Then I’d working on this, and it was:’ Everyone all right ?’ and then I’d get back in the car and cry .”

” In the year or two subsequentlies, I was the archetypal angry young man ,” says Alex.” I had my head shaved, a big gold earring, I was like a red cloud on a hair trigger. A fortune of parties saw this horrible gentleman when I was out- and then I’d be in berthed grieving, with no one to offload on to .”

While Paul saw a therapist, Alex has never felt enabled to.” My wife says,’ You’re so unemotional, Alex .’ She doesn’t see that sometimes when she goes to bed, I get some old photo albums out, with the suicide word. I can get quite weepy, and I feel very lucid in myself about my spirits. I can have discussions with myself about how I feel. But when she walks in, I’ll freeze. We have no secrets and I adore her dearly, but I still find it hard to let go .”

Both agree that social postures around mental health have changed for the better- but not around suicide.” There was clearly a stigma ,” says Alex.” I ever joked about it: when people asked how he died, I’d say,’ The customary lane- he stopped breathing .’ I used to hate myself for doing that .”

Paul visualizes little had changed by 2009.” I remember my pa saying’ Be careful near the local psychiatric hospital, because there’s quantities of weirdoes and nutters that might be round there ,'” he says.” If that’s what he was situation to believe, then that’s probably why he was silent for so long .”

When Paul asks how it felt this year to outlive the age at which “his fathers” died, Alex says that he felt as if a heavines had been lifted.” I’ve almost receive it’s freed me up a bit. I’m writing my own fib now. I’ve got past the spot where he was, and it’s uncharted domain .”

For Paul, it is talking that has been freeing.” But that doesn’t mean I’ve dealt with it- there were meters when it’s horrible ,” he says. Alex agrees.” Part of me anticipates- even knows, deep down- that you never get over it. There’s something about it that merely wrenches you. But this is the longest I’ve waste speaking about it. It’s part of the is of the view that the road is opening up .”

‘ Gay marriage is a symbol; it’s society trying to do better

Tochi Onuora, 20, and Jean Thomson, 90, were both outed at academy

Tochi
‘ There is still a feeling that this isn’t fairly OK ‘: Tochi Onuora and Jean Thomson. Photograph: Kensington Leverne/ The Guardian

Sitting in his host’s living room, surrounded by her volumes and newspapers, Tochi is telling Jean what it was like being outed at school, 70 years after she was. He was 13 and had come out to close friends when, abruptly, everyone seemed to know he was gay.” I had a support network, and people’s actions weren’t bad, so I was fine- relieved, nearly. But I don’t think that’s the usual experience ,” he says.

It was not Jean’s experience: at 12, she fell in love with a girl of 14 at her Scottish boarding school.” She was going to be a musician, and if you had some time off during the day you could go and see her practising the forte-piano .” Love memoranda between this musician and a few other girls were discovered in their lingerie drawers. Her voice descends as she described in the painful school disciplinary process that followed, in which Jean was forced to admit they had caressed.” I was called as a witness. It was humiliating. She didn’t play the forte-piano after that. It was a atrocious thing to do to her, and it was a dreadful thing to happen to me, extremely. I never really recovered ,” she says.

Jean feels an bear feel of separation. Tochi’s experience of growing up gay has been less lonely, he says, in part because of technology.” I have a sense of being different, but I’m an ethnic minority, as well, so I’m not unused to that. Then again, I’ve grown up with the internet, and if I hear something negative and I want to find reassurance, I’ll do some experiment. And then I can say, actually, I’ve speak these 10 sections and seen this person talking about it on YouTube. I might attend someone has posted on my university’s LGBT+ social media canals, and I’d feel cozy approaching them in real life. It’s less isolating .”

Jean tells of a season in her life when “shes been” obtained their home communities. While lesbianism was not illegal- unlike male homosexuality, which was only partially decriminalised in 1967- it still felt that way. Jean’s singer filches as she describes developing a curve of homosexual ladies friends through the Minority Research Group, modelled in London in 1963.” I read an advertisement for it, and recognised that it was a gay thing .” There she convened two women activists, Esme Langley and Diana Chapman, who” had decided there were too many isolated lesbian ladies. Maidens from all over the country flocked there; it was really the beginning of the homosexual women’s movement .”

Jean expects Tochi how the history of the criminalisation of homosexuality changes him.” At school, I knew if someone said something homophobic, I could go to a teacher ,” he says.” I think that privilege of not having to think about it on a legal tier is quite different. But there is still a feeling that this isn’t fairly OK, and that means you might delay coming out, or just get very good at performing.

” Sometimes, at a time when some of the legal versions of discrimination have been addressed, it entails, when you do complain about something, beings think they resolved it 15 years ago. But I still I feel I can’t go to certain places. When I consider a St George’s flag I cross the street, because I feel like that’s a symbol of someone who doesn’t is in conformity with my cosmo. People think we solved racism and discrimination against LGBT parties. I’m like , no, we didn’t .”

Their considers differ on the issue of gay marriage: for Jean, it is” an unnecessary addition to the gay world. I don’t see any reason to be the same as people who are having heterosexual partnerships .”

” I was really happy about it ,” says Tochi.” It’s society recognising that it hasn’t been good enough, and trying to do better for LGBT parties .”

” I guess things have changed quite considerably, but it’s still difficult ,” says Jean.” I don’t think I could have had this conversation with a gay person 20 years ago- there would have been much more of a sense of danger about it all .”

Tochi titters.” Twenty years ago! That’s when I was born .”

* If you would like a comment on this bit to be considered for inclusion on Weekend magazine’s words page in reproduce, satisfy email weekend @theguardian. com, including your name and address( not for publishing ).

Comments on this piece are premoderated to ensure the discussion remains on the topics raised by the article. Please be aware that there may be a short delay in comments appearing on the site.

Read more: www.theguardian.com


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *