Sunday, 3 March 2013

Sheila Gilhooly: Mistaken Identity

 an excerpt... 

Home Free/Sheila Gilhooly

The place was pretty deserted and so I was alone in the change-room after my swim. I was just about dressed when the outer door opened and a young woman ventured into the change room and stopped dead at the sight of me. I smiled at her as she said, “This is the women’s change room, GET OUT OF HERE.” Maybe not a full out shout but firm and loud and nasty.
At the same time, I was agreeing, “Yes this is the women’s (still smiling I might add) and I am a woman.”
She repeated that it was the women’s. “GET OUT.”
So I tried from the other end, “I’m NOT A MAN,” speaking in my own “firm” but not shouting voice.
She wheeled angrily away and bolted from the room. I hurried to finish gathering my stuff and heard the door open again and Stanley’s hesitant voice speaking from the doorway, “Hello…hello, this is the women’s change room. Is there a gentleman there?” in his lovely clipped British accent.
I wasn’t quite assembled so I hustled to the door and there was Stanley, peeking respectfully around the open door. My accuser was just behind him, wearing a face of hateful entitlement. Stanley was dumbfounded.
I said, “Stanley, I did explain to her that I was not a man. Twice in fact.”
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About the Author/About Sheila Gilhooly:
I’m a 60ish life-long butch lesbian. Raised in the conservative milieu of Canada’s capital, I came out in 1969.
After an unhappy stint in the nuthouse, where I was committed when the counsellor at my catholic college learned I was a lesbian and, worse, didn’t want to change, I found the heady and redemptive days of 70s feminism, where politics ended where sex began and vice versa.
Like what seemed like the entire Ottawa lesbian feminist cadre, I moved to Vancouver in 1981.

With Persimmon Blackbridge, I did Still Sane, a sculpture project and later a book about my experience as a lesbian in the nuthouse—sadly common in those days when being queer was listed as a psychosis in the DSM (psychiatrists’ bible).
I’ve been published in feminist periodicals, including Sinister Wisdom; and have just finished my second book, Mistaken Identity, about my experience being (mis)taken as a man.
I am doing a blog in hopes that others who have had experiences similar to mine will share them here. I haven’t seen them talked about much elsewhere.
So… write on, sisters!
[Persimmon Blackbridge's] first major collaboration was with Sheila Gilhooly, who at 19 had been incarcerated in a mental hospital because she was a lesbian. The result was Still Sane, a massive collection of sculptures made from impressions of parts of Sheila’s body. The text of the show, Sheila’s story, was written on these sculptures.
This was one of the first public representations of the treatment of patients, and probably the very first of the treatment of lesbians, from a patient’s point of view. The show rocked Vancouver and the Lower Mainland.
In 1985, Press Gang published Persimmon and Sheila’s book, also titled Still Sane. It, too, swept through the worlds of feminism and survivors of the mental health system.
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