Dr Julie Carter



You know the type of phone call—banks, dentists, doctors and the like—they need to put things in boxes on forms.

“Is it Mrs or Miss?”

But I’m too fed up to answer. I’m fed up with all this pressure to be categorised. My mind wonders back to the late nineteen eighties when I was out the streets, singing and marching. Thatcher’s Clause Twenty-Eight, banning any references to homosexuality in education, was toxic. I met a librarian who had been charged with going through all the books and removing anything gay. She had to resign. But I felt safe in the middle of the rainbow crowd and I didn’t have a lot to lose. For some people being openly gay or lesbian risked losing jobs, family, and friends. And for some it risked being beaten, raped or killed. I was having mostly heterosexual relationships in the days of Twenty-Eight. I suppose that made me bi. But I was never bi, or lesbian or straight—I just loved who I loved—and something in me always hated labels because they felt like diagnoses. Another way of containing me and reducing me, of simplifying and othering me.

Of Course, according to a twentieth century medical orthodoxy, being gay was a disease, along with a whole host of other made-up diseases by psychiatrists in thrall to sham science and encouraged drug companies. At times when I have struggled with life, because I have had things to struggle with, I’ve had some of those so-called medical labels stuck to me too, but I have always quickly peeled them off again. Instinctively I knew the labels were more of a threat to my safety and sanity then any of my personal problems.

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Twenty First Birthday Cake. Did my friends know something I didn't?

In the eighties I was proud to be marching, and I was marching for me. I had not yet met the love of my life, but who I fell in love with and stayed with had a lot more to do with their qualities than any dogmatic idea of my own personal identity. I never came out. I never identified as anything, or renounced any particular lifestyle in favour of another. Neither have I ever been too shy about being with another woman, and I’d expend my last ounce of energy to defend our hard-won freedoms. But I’d never put a label on myself because I feel like I would lose something. Labels are short-cuts which encourage assumptions; kind of off-the-peg fashions which I don’t want to wear. What I want is the complicated-mixed-up and messy reality of being a unique person. I do understand that labels and banners can help us win back some stolen power; I do understand they have uses, especially political ones. But personally, I just identify as me.

“Can you hear me okay? Is it Mrs or Miss?”, the voice on the phone persists.

In the lexicon of labels, in the hieroglyphic of LGBTQ, Q for queer can be a kind of catch-all for everyone who’s not one-hundred per-cent heterosexual but might not fit the other boxes—or it can be umbrella term for all these boxes—or can it? Thing is I don’t want to be in any box, I want to be U for undefinable—Unique. Yes, I’m proud to be associated with lesbian and gay culture but I’m struggling a lot with the idea of trans women bringing their penises into female only spaces. How terribly un-PC of me, maybe, but my fears are genuine even if some people don’t even think I should have the right to express them. Is putting all queer people together in one lumpy conglomerate similar to the rather patronising Black and Asian Minority Ethnic (BAME) label for the non-white global majority?

I know there’s good things about labels which can engender recognition, and strength, and advance rights and freedoms and help us progress to a more just community. But I also feel we won’t ever be able to look at each other as unique beings, through ungendered, uncoloured eyes, if we keep relying on them. Words are important. They don’t just describe the world they help create it.

me with FA cup 2

Showing my colours age nine, with Sunderland's FA cup 1973

“I’m not sure if can hear me but is it Mrs or Miss”.

I almost do that slippery trick of hiding behind my doctor title. But I question if this is just another cowardly deployment of self-satisfied social powerplay. Once I met a writer who titled herself Dame for a while as an anti-establishment piss-take. I think of all my married female friends and they might be in a worse pickle than me with this. The pressure to conform to a classification based on a woman’s relationship to her husband must be wearing to say the least. Women are no longer chattels, but what do we have to validate our emancipation—a difficult to get one’s mouth round word with no vowels and blue stocking connotations. No, I don’t say “Its Ms”. Because most of the time its misheard anyway and there still loads of proformas that don’t have it on.

Finally, expecting trouble, I respond, “I don’t use titles or labels, my name’s Julie Carter and that’s it. Labels are for luggage not people.”

“Oh, fine.” She says in a smiley tone, “I’ll call you Julie then.”

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