In around 2001 I wrote an article for Diva magazine about Mr Gluck’s Radical Dairy, a social centre run by a collection of anarchists near my then home in Stoke Newington, North London. I’d found the place by accident, after seeing two young lesbians carrying huge pots of food there. It reminded me somewhat of the anarcho-squat scene in Hackney in the 1980s, so I was very keen on spreading the word among lesbians who might not usually hear about this kind of thing. I initially made contact with one of the women, I’ll call her C, and was invited along to their women’s night to see what went on. It all went well, they were friendly and open and I got the information I needed to write the piece.
It’s important to note that there were all sorts occupying the centre, including, C said, members of the WOMBLES anarchist group. I didn’t knowingly meet any of the members face to face, but I got the impression from C that the WOMBLES at the Dairy were male dominated or even completely made up of men.
After I’d started writing the article, I rang the Dairy to speak with C again. As soon as the man who answered the phone realised which publication I was writing for he launched into an aggressive tirade, shouting that I shouldn’t be associated with Diva as it was published by Prowler Group, who were guilty of something terrible, which I couldn’t quite catch. I managed to stay calm and tried to explain that I’d deliberately aimed to get the piece published in a magazine that wasn’t overtly political, so as to reach people who didn’t have activism on their radar. I could no doubt have placed the piece on a political website or magazine, but why preach to the converted? He raged on and to my shame I felt I needed to state my ‘qualifications’ for what I was doing and so I told him that I’d co-founded the Queeruption Festival, among other things. He didn’t have much of an answer to that and I think the call ended quite swiftly afterwards, but I found his aggression surprising and daunting. After the call ended I checked a copy of Diva and found that it was actually published by Millivres, which I think is separate to Prowler.
However, I wrote the piece and sent it to C to make sure it was accurate (as I usually do). I didn’t hear back from her for some time and my deadline was approaching, so I assumed she was happy with it. After I’d sent the piece to Diva I got a very panicky reply from her, wanting to change almost everything she’d spoken about during our taped discussion. Not because I’d misquoted her, but because she was sure the WOMBLES would be really angry with what she’d talked about (which was innocuous as far as I could tell) and she wanted to make all her quotes reflect what she thought they’d want her to say. Apart from the fact that it was too late to make any changes, there was no way that I’d have changed the piece purely for that reason. I felt for her because she was clearly upset, but I was shocked at the bullying that was going on there – which I’d experienced myself, of course.
I haven’t written about this before. I didn’t want to write about such a negative thing, but we can only move forward and evolve if we recognise where change is needed. After I read Cosey Fanni Tutti’s autobiography (Art Sex Music), which described how conservative the males in COUM Transmissions were in regard to adhering to traditional gender roles I was reminded of various experiences I’d had, not just with the Radical Dairy but years before in the anarcho-squatting scene in East London, where derisory remarks were frequently made by men about other men who were in relationships with women. He’ll be busy washing the car, won’t he? (instead of being down the pub with us). Gonna go home and watch a bit of telly, then? (to my then [male] partner when I didn’t want to go to a party). And then there was the male singer of a reasonably well known punk/glam band who, during a discussion about the way forward for punk, turned to myself and the other woman present and said, “I expect you two are overwhelmed, aren’t you?” These were serious remarks made by people who considered themselves superior to mainstream society, minor incidents in themselves but they all chiselled away at my confidence. And it seemed to me that the women of the Radical Dairy were allowed to do things on the fringes of activism, such as a tree-climbing workshop, rather than be involved in the more serious stuff. I may have been wrong on that, but I wasn’t minded to find out, frankly. Has anything changed? I have no idea, as I’m no longer involved in that kind of activism. I can but hope.