“I never actually said ‘Hello, my name is Lesbian’”, says one anonymous 84-year-old woman. Ever since her young days in the Denmark of the 1950s she has lived out her lesbian life on the quiet. “We stole each other’s women”, she says, because there just weren’t that many around, and even if you’d broken up you only had the same few places to go to. Loneliness lurked just round the corner.
In the 1970s the women’s movement flourished, with the celebrated Femø island camp, international women’s days and women’s communes. The result was not only promises of freedom but unprecedented norms by which long hair, bras and make-up were regarded as brutally oppressive. Today Maj, Jutta and Berit laugh at the masturbation groups in which members investigated whether women from other countries masturbated differently, and the more militant lesbians propounded a revolution in which a few carefully selected men were retained in special reserves as sperm donors so that women could take their rightful place in society.
Katrina and Vibeke’s chance encounter ended up with a traditional wedding with their relatives seated around the horseshoe-shaped table, and to the tones of a Hammond organ the two brides entered in their white wedding dresses. Vibeke would never dream of a registry office wedding. “Going up to the alter to have my union blessed by the church is hugely important to me”. “Lose you and I lose life”, goes Vibeke’s love song for Karen.
This idyllic picture is interrupted by the buzz of urban youth as 19-year-old Ena literally tumbles onto the stage to perform with her partner as the MC duo Fagget Fairys. She tells us what it is like to be a fumbling teen dashing the expectations of her Muslim family by being gay, and about her breakthrough on the international club circuit with the hit Feed the Horse. “It’s a journey of passion and inspiration”, she says of her present life with a smile.
“You can’t tell a queer from the outside, because it’s something inside you”, says,, who has a woman’s voice and a woman’s curves, but is completely bald and sports a moustache. The queer scene has reached Denmark from the US, where it developed in particular. There are queer festivals, which are, according to Iben, “A gender and sexual vacuum in which [queer] is not just an idea but a practice in a heck of a lot of people’s heads. When you bring them together it comes out, a proper little Utopia”. Queer means new opportunities for Iben. “I think it’s a dead beautiful thought that we can go somewhere where you can be practically whatever you like”.
The way they see it, Stine and Leise have three beautiful, intelligent children. “Three shots produced three kids. Now, that’s a world-class donor!” as they put it. In many ways they live like any other young family in Denmark. But there are differences. They hope that the different family background their children enjoy will give the kids “a bit more freedom to be human, whether you’re a boy or a girl, and as to how to live your life. There are many ways of living your life”. “I want to protect my dearest treasure, and that’s my wife”, Stine says. So she is careful not to make her love for another woman too obvious in public.
“One of the benefits of lots of partners is that sexuality doesn’t die a lesbian bed-death. And that’s not going to happen to me”, says 42-year-old Birgitta, with a hearty laugh. “Or maybe it will”. To Birgitta the mainstream gay scene means “feathers and lousy taste”. They don’t do it for her. But the new scene in which gays, heteros, queers, men in women’s clothes, and women in men’s clothes can play with their roles is somewhere she can let rip in a clown outfit and dance the night away. With a feisty glint in her eye she says “I love being lesbian: it’s fun. I love women. They’re fantastic and they’re … nice.”
Penetration was an absolute taboo of the 1970s. It’s a taboo that the young lesbians have banished. Elvira talks frankly and matter-of-factly about dildo variety. “It’s well wicked being able to choose if we want the thin red one, the lifelike one with its lovely skin colour, or the lovely big mother-of-pearl penis”. Product development also applies to dildos: “Many of our dildos are made of organically-based silicone. They’re just so juicy and the surface is really wow”.