Gabrielle (Gail)

Gabrielle (Gail), holding Gabrielle at 25

… I don’t think much about age. Mind you, it’s very strange to feel more or less the same as you have always felt but catch sight of yourself in a mirror every now and then and wonder, who is that?  To have been beautiful, and to accept wrinkles and still feel beautiful.

I like queer as a label – to me, it’s inclusive.  I don’t like phobia of any kind – and early on I had to stand up against transphobia in our community.  I’m happy to think of myself as a queer feminist.

Being a lesbian, I’m used to outing myself over and over and sometimes demanding visibility. I speak up, take up space, treat everyone as an equal, and I usually get treated back the same.

So I am not aware of experiencing a lot of ageism…as yet.  On one occasion I was ignored at a restaurant, I was alone, and everyone else was asked if they wanted to order a drink, then later the waiter called me darling in a patronising way. I wrote to the manager and complained, got an apology, and it hasn’t happened there again. Feminism taught me to speak up, and shout if necessary!

Since I turned 60 I’ve stopped telling people how old I am.  People don’t seem to ask, and I don’t think much about age. Mind you, it is very strange to feel more or less the same as you have always felt but catch sight of yourself in a mirror every now and then and wonder, who is that?  To have been beautiful, and to accept wrinkles and still feel beautiful.

I love wearing purple, as it’s a suffragette colour, and I like luscious fabrics – velvet and silk.  My mother always said I had beautiful feet – I’m so lucky they weren’t wrecked by high heels and narrow pointy toes, which I gave up wearing when I became a feminist.

I’ve been a lesbian feminist activist since the 70s.  I was arrested at the first Sydney Mardi Gras in 1978, and was the last one to get out of the Watch House the next morning.  I worked at the Women’s Healing Centre, and at the Bessie Smythe Abortion Clinic. For many years I joined the demonstrations on Anzac Day, demanding recognition for all women killed and raped in war. In 1982, I bought The Feminist Bookshop with my two lesbian sisters, and continued my feminist work through promoting books by, for, and about women, and acting as an information resource for women and children.  We supported many feminist endeavours through donations and spreading the word.  A friend once said to me that before there was the world wide web, The Feminist Bookshop was the world wide web!

In 2006 I received a Medal of the Order of Australia; “For service to the community, particularly through the provision of information and resources on issues affecting women, and through support for emerging authors.”  We sold the bookshop in 2011, but I am still active on several committees. I will always be an activist.

Having an open mind is important to me.  One of my best experiences recently was with the F Collective and Conference.  It was a multi-generational group and I was old enough to be a grandmother to some of the young women.  I learned so much from them, and they were so respectful of me and my experiences as a feminist. I was tickled pink to be working with them, and made some very special friends.  I have many friends of all ages.  I enjoy people and networking.

I like queer as a label – to me, it’s inclusive.  I don’t like phobia of any kind – and early on I had to stand up against transphobia in our community.  I’m happy to think of myself as a queer feminist.

In some ways I feel as if I’ve had two lives.  I’ve been married twice, both times to men.  These relationships had their ups and downs, some good times and some hard.   Back then I didn’t have any idea I was a lesbian, but I did always feel there was something missing.  And when I finally came out, and looked back, I could see many signs from my early life that I probably always was a lesbian, I just didn’t let myself know about it until I was in my 30s.

When I became a feminist I tried to drop all the trappings of femininity that caused my oppression.  I can honestly say I was harassed on the street by men almost every day from my teens onwards. One of the great things about getting old is …yippee… no more harassment! It was happily into overalls for me (pink ones)!

Androgyny was the feminist ideal in the 70s and it has always attracted and intrigued me. Beauty too is a big turn on…beautiful people, clothes, sunsets, cats (especially Ollie & Lily), landscapes, architecture, paintings. I am always looking. Possibly this comes from my pre-feminist career in advertising, photography and fashion.

I was lucky enough to become a lesbian, and a feminist, at the height of the Women’s Liberation Movement when acceptance was everything.  Becoming a feminist was a turning point in my life, and something I value with gratitude to this day.  My mother gave me Simone de Beauvoir’s Second Sex and Germaine Greer’s The Female Eunuch to read just at the right time around 1975, which was International Women’s Year. Mum wasn’t a feminist, but she made it possible for me.  Mum came many times to International Women’s Day Marches with me and my sisters and carried our bookshop banner.

I had a few shortish relationships with wonderful women, and then met the love of my life.  We’ve been together for 23 years, and happy together since day one.  When we have difficulties we talk them out.  Leaving the relationship has never been an option we would consider. And we have such good times together.  One New Years Eve we were in Florence.  Pasta and Chianti in the Tuscan hills, and in the evening a stroll to the piazza to hear the Florence Symphony Orchestra. Right on midnight they played a recording of Pavarotti singing Nessum Dorma. Hundreds of Italians were singing and crying together because he had recently died. We sang and bawled too at the tops of our voices, as champagne corks popped and fireworks lit the sky. Best New Years Eve ever!

I’ve been passionate about watercolour painting for twenty years.  I love painting landscapes, either traditional or impressionistic, and sometimes there’s a hint of a woman’s body in one of my landscapes.   It’s a hobby but I’d like to find out if I am an artist.  I also adore books, reading, and music, and there’s nothing better than a trip to the theatre, opera, art gallery, or a film.

Looking after my health is a top priority. Almost every day I go to the gym – yoga, Pilates, or the Strong Seniors class, and walk as much as I can.

I am cautious now about riding a bike, because if I fall I may break a bone.  I often look at people riding bikes and feel sad that I can’t anymore.  I rode a bike everyday to school from the age of eight – in my tomboy years.

There is a stereotype that older people don’t like new technology.  I love it.  I use Facebook every day to keep in touch with friends across the world, to learn about politics and spread the word about important issues.  I’m a regular contributor to online forums.  I know that technology has the potential to really help women – particularly women who are isolated as carers, for example.  When older people tell me they don’t use technology, I tell them they’re missing out on a lot of fun.  And like-minded people getting together can bring about revolutions.

Photography by Viv McGregor

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