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The Last Word

One verse sung a capella.

Released as a hidden track at the end of Having It Both Ways [Cooking Vinyl COOKCD097], 1996

Having It Both Ways - Tom Robinson

[Lyrics new to this version are marked in bold]

For 21 years now I’ve fought for the right
For people to love just whoever they like
But the right-on and righteous are out for my blood
Now I live with my kid and a woman I love
Well if gay liberation means freedom for all
A label is no liberation at all
I’m here and I’m queer and I do what I do
And I’m not gonna wear a ‘straight’ jacket for you

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Explanatory notes:

The title of the album works on several levels. There’s the good old-fashioned Carry On use of the euphemism ‘it’, denoting bisexuality. (This is my second favourite bisexual recontextualising of a turn of phrase – the winner is the name of the bi magazine Anything That Moves). It also uses the phrase in its straightforward sense, of being able to take the best of seemingly exclusive ideas and activities.

Tom was outed by Sunday tabloid rag the People in the mid-80s under the headline ‘Britain’s Number One Gay In Love With Girl Biker’. How does one get to be Britain’s Number One Gay? Is there a vote, and an award ceremony? Do you get a special hat or badge or something?

That the red-top scumbags want to snuffle around in peoples personal lives and rake up a titillating non-scandal was no surprise. What caught some people out was the response in the gay press. He was treated as a traitor and referred to as ‘confused’.

Just as Glad To Be Gay started out as a cynical shout out to the narrowness of certain gay people in the mid 70s, so The Last Word did it twenty years later.

In that excellent 2004 interview by JD Doyle for Queer Music Heritage (edited transcript here, full audio linked from this page), Tom said:

‘For the record I’ve never claimed to be anything other than gay. And it’s only with reluctance that I came to about ten years later say, oh, sod it, you know, if living with a woman makes me bisexual, okay, I’m bisexual. If that makes it easier for you to understand, how I fancy men and happen to be living with the person I want to spend the rest of my life with who happens to be female, then, okay, I’m bisexual. I’m proud, and I started going to bisexual pride events and said, look, I’m not the only one this has happened to. And, why the hell not?

…This is just human experience, that sexuality is a wide and many splendored thing that deviates from the heterosexual norm in all kinds of ways, and I just happened to be experiencing one of them’.

This coincided with a shift in gay politics from the alternative to straight not being a polar opposite mirror image of gay, but the inclusive term LGBT.

Simultaneously, the word ‘queer’ was reclaimed and used to include a wide, mysterious, nebulous and changeable idea of sexuality. Instead of being like straight society but with someone of the same sex, we can walk out of the cages of predetermination and see who we are and what we can become.

This means that the word no longer has the power of a caustic insult. That’s another aspect of the original Glad To Be Gay lyric that has become happily anachronistic.

Talking to Tom:

By 1996 I was just getting fed up with having to be defensive about my life. For fuck’s sake, I’ve been fighting all this time for us all to be able to just relax and love whoever we want to.

But, that said, the following year, an invitation came to appear at Pride again from the people running the Bi tent. There was a good sized crowd and somebody shouted ‘where have you been Tom?’, I said ‘making babies’ and they all cheered. And then, I think the same year, Blood Brother won those three awards at the Gay and Lesbian American Music Awards in New York. That was a kind of vindication whatever the backbiters thought here at home, a substantial number of LGBT people thought I was still doing worthwhile work.

What had caused those attacks on you in the gay press?

Once Siouxs and I had become an item and were living together I talked to the Pink Paper and I talked to Capital Gay, and in interviews I said ‘by the way, I’m living with a woman at the moment,’ and their reaction was, ‘so why are you telling us? What’s that got to do with anything? Big deal’. Non-story. So that kind of passed without incident as far as the community was concerned.

Then about a year later I was trying to publicise something, and I’d got Ned Sherrin to write a piece in his Sunday Times column, and in that I also mentioned it in passing and he thought it was a very fanciful and funny thing, and made more of it than it was in the conversation. The Sunday People read that and picked up on it and thought there’s a whole story here.

They came to the house and I told them to fuck off. So they waited outside the house for Siouxs and snapped her as she got off her bike in her motorbike helmet with her shades on, and she told them to fuck off. Then they called my dad on holiday in France and he told them to fuck off.

That Sunday I went to the newsagents and there it was, ‘Inside: Exclusive interview with Tom Robinson’. I had to buy it, and inside was the headline – ‘Britain’s Number One Gay In Love With Girl Biker – My passion for blonde by rocker Robinson’.

And there was a side column, ‘Stars Who Go Straight’, it had a picture of Elton and Bowie and Lou Reed.

The real problem came not so much with the first People story, but when our first child was born. The People rang up and said ‘we want to come and take pictures of your baby’.

How did they know about it? It’s odd enough that the red-tops want to sniff around in peoples personal lives even when someone is a confirmed ex-celebrity like you.

Somebody must have tipped them off at the hospital. That’s the only thing we could think of. Nobody else that we knew would have told them.

Anyway, we said you must be fucking joking. And they said, ‘we’ve got this other story you’re not going to like and if you don’t let us come and take pictures we’re going to run it this Sunday’. We went to the Press Council who said there was nothing they could do as nothing had been published yet. In the end a press agent friend told us the only thing we could do was publish our own baby pictures the day before. You take the pictures, you write the story, you control it. Go public, it’s your only option.

So Jill Furmanovsky took some really nice pictures. Which we then had to give to The Sun, Daily Mail, Telegraph, Daily Express. All those scummy rags had to be given these photographs of our most intimate moment, with all our names and giving them quotes. Net result, the entire LGBT community see me all over the papers apparently bragging about my new-found heterosexuality.

I even made page three of the Sun – next to the topless model there was a picture of me holding my son with the inevitable ‘Glad To Be Dad’ headline, which is the closest you’d get to a sympathetic response. It at least killed the story in the Sunday People, but it caused a lot of misunderstanding in the queer community which no amount of rebuttal and clarification ever managed to set straight. If that’s the right word

I didn’t realise any of that, I only knew about the ‘Britain’s number one gay’ story.

That was live-with-able, it was limited damage. Everyone knows the red-tops are full of shit. But in 1990 we were all over the press with intimate pictures of our baby, apparently playing the celebrity game. In fact the last thing we’d wanted to do was go public, the very last thing. No pictures of my children have ever been placed in the public domain since then, and long may it last.

As John Pilger said, ‘The Sun’s treatment of the Hillsborough tragedy was typical not only of its record of distortion, but of its cruelty. The rich and famous have been able to defend themselves with expensive libel actions; the singer Elton John won damages, before appeal, of £1 million following a series of character assassinations. But most of The Sun’s victims are people like the Hillsborough parents, who have had to suffer without recourse.’

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