Oral History Interview -Terry Lewis

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Oral History Interview -Terry Lewis

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Video recording of an interview with Terry Lewis who was born in Lewisham, UK in 1989. Terry is an actor with Access All Areas, a theatre group that works with artists with learning disabilities. At the time of the interview Terry had come out as a transman in the last year. In this interview Terry discusses having a learning disability, use of a wheelchair, representation of learning disabilities in the media, the LGBTQI+ community and experiences of discrimination.



Q. So Terry could you start by telling me your full name, when you were born and where you were born? [0:03]
TL. My name is Terry Lewis Huggett and I was born on the 1st of March 1989 and I was born Lewisham Hospital.

Q. And did you grow up in Lewisham? [0:38]
TL. Yea

Q. Could you tell me a little bit of what your childhood was like in Lewisham? [0:42]
TL. I was kept in for most of my childhood because of my cerebral palsy, I was without my mom and dad which annoyed me a little bit so I was a bit of a spoiled brat. Every chance, yea, so

Q. In what ways were you a spoiled brat? [1:12]
TL. Well my mommy and daddy used to get me little presents every week just to keep my occupied.

Q. Can you think of any examples? [1:26]
TL. Toy cars, ‘cos I was a real tom boy and still am. So toy cars, action men, toy guns, that sort of thing.

Q. Would you say your childhood was a happy one? [1:46]
TL. Yes, yes it was ‘cos we had family and pets and family was around me every week, every sort of real family film.

Q. Could you explain to me today how you are connected with Hackney? [2:08]
TL. Well a part of Access All Area, which is a theatre company and one of the projects was that Access All Areas did was Madhouse, My House which we made an exhibition in Hackney Museum is showing it right now.

Q. Could you tell me a little more about Access All Area? [2:41]
TL. A theatre company that works with learning disabled and special needs

Q. And how did you come to be involved with Access All Areas? [2:55]
TL. Through my girlfriend.

Q. What’s your girlfriend’s name? [3:03]
TL. Charlene

Q. And how long have you been with Access All Areas? [3:07]
TL. Nearly 4 years, now

Q. Wow, it’s quite a long time. What type of things have you been doing with Access All Areas? [3:17]
TL. Well I started in their course central school of speech and drama and I did a year of that and now I am working with them teaching and being a workshop leader.

Q. Excellent. You mentioned the madhouse Project, can you tell me more about how that came together and what that involved? [3:41]
TL. It’s about long stay hospitals from the Victorian times to now and it shows you how things have changed and what they had to deal with when they was in it.

Q. Can you tell me a little bit more about the long stay hospitals? [4:12]
TL. Yes, people with learning and physical disabilities had to be in the hospitals and they had to stay in there with no contact whatsoever with the outside world. They were just kept in the hospitals and they had to get jobs within the hospitals and they didn’t have their own clothes oh, they did have photos and that but their own clothes and toothbrush they didn’t have.

Q. How did you feeling learning about that? [5:14]
TL. Well, being a disabled person myself I felt really upset and bewildered that that happened to people like me and I’m glad to not be in that situation now.

Q. And what has being involved in the Madhouse Project meant to you? [5:45]
TL. It meant a lot ‘cos I am a bit of a big mouth shall we say and I like having my own opinions so doing the Madhouse project I can use my voice for good things, getting the message across that disabled people are not just shy they can be out and proud and can do normal things that everyday people can.

Q. How do you think today’s different from the long stay hospitals that you’ve studied? [6:30]
TL. I think society has accepted us a little bit more ‘cos we don’t have to be put into hospitals now if we don’t want and we can do more things. We are freer.

Q. Are there any things that you would like to see change in the future? [7:10]
TL. Well probably for trains to be accessible to wheelchair users and blind people and deaf people

Q. So what are some of the problems that you face now as a disabled person who used public transport? [7:29]
TL. Well, if I had to use a train I have to ask the staff for the ramp, now it is ok at the station you are getting on at but if you are coming back, the station that you go to and ask for the ramp on the station you are getting off at you have to take it that they have phoned ahead, but if they don’t I am stuck on the train waiting for someone to come with the ramp so it makes the train delayed and everything like that so that is not good.

Q. Have you had some bad experiences before with public transport? [8:31]
TL. Yes, I got attacked on the bus by a school girl and got a concussion from it. She knocked my head with a duffle bag and it was full whack, she knew that she had done it, because I was in a wheelchair she thought she would give me a knock and see what happens.

Q. Were you able to do anything in that situation? [9:13]
TL. No

Q. Do you think things are getting better? [9:17]
TL. They are but they need to get slightly more better.

Q. What can people do to improve situations? [9:28]
TL. Just by talking to people like me. We are not aliens we can talk and if you ask us stuff then we can talk back.

Q. You have told us a little bit about Access All Area and the Madhouse project. What other things does Access All Areas do? [9:57]
TL. Well they help us get jobs on tv, like acting jobs, that kind of stuff. So they help us do that

Q. And what’s the importance of that? [10:28]
TL. Getting more and more awareness of people with disabilities

Q. What other projects apart from Madhouse project, you mentioned teaching? [10:41]
TL. Part of Access All Areas they do workshops with different theatre companies, museums and that sort of stuff and they use us as members of Access to be workshop leaders and to show the people we are teaching that people with disabilities can do teaching

Q. You mentioned about getting people with disabilities on TV and increasing visibility, to what extent when you were younger did you see other people with disabilities? [11:42]
TL. Never. It was very disconcerting when I found out that my favourite characters from film and TV weren’t disabled at all

TL. I know we put my effort into liking that person, like ‘Dancing Inside’ [Film - Inside I’m Dancing, 2004] the character with cerebral palsy ‘cos that’s what I’ve got cerebral palsy and I looked up the actor that was playing that him up and found out he didn’t have cerebral palsy so I was really annoyed, upset and angry about it.

Q. And do you think things are improving? Or is there still a long way to go? [0:45]
TL. Yes, the character with cerebral palsy in Breaking Bad and also there is a comedian that was on Britain’s Got Talent with cerebral palsy so things are looking up.

Q. What does it mean to you to see more people with cerebral palsy and other disabilities on television? [1:13]
TL. It’s good especially when I see one of my friends that I know on TV.

Q. What have you seen your friends in? [1:30]
TL. One is in Holby City another one was in Take Away [?] and Doctors

Q. Going back to when you were growing up again to what extent would you say you were aware of people in same sex relationships? [1:44]
TL. Mainly on TV, the first character that I knew was in Emmerdale and that was Zoe Tate.

Q. What was your reaction to seeing that character? [2:15]
TL. Well I was very young at the time so I just thought it was normal. I had no idea how people thought about that sort of thing, I thought, oh.

Q. So as somebody of a generation that grew up with LGBTQ+ characters and people in the media, what is the impact of that would you say? [2:44]
TL. Now I think a lot differently, I can understand why people hide because there are still people who don’t like that sort of thing and will say stuff to the LGBT+ community.

Q. What about people who don’t identify as the gender that they were told they were at birth, were you aware of that as a child? [3:51]
TL. No, and I wish I was ‘cos now I am transgendered myself. I am female to male. But I wish I did know about people that were transgendered ‘cos it would have helped me and saved me a bit of time and heartache.

Q. Do you remember when you first became aware of transgendered individuals? [4:40]
TL. It was around about when I was 10 ‘cos I was watching a documentary about transgendered people.

Q. And what was the documentary like? [5:07]
TL. A bit disconcerting ‘cos the people that was around that person didn’t really understand and every time that person was going clothes shopping they would be stared at. It wasn’t really that good but I talking still in the nineties.

Q. And at what point do you think you started to become aware that you were transgendered yourself? [5:48]
TL. I think I knew in my heart of hearts when I was a teenager but I kept that feeling down in my mind and I only came out this year.

Q. Were there any particular moments when you were a teenager that really helped you become aware, that were a point that helped you start identify? [6:25]
TL. Well at first I came out as being a lesbian which was okay for me ‘cos I always liked girls, I was a real tom boy and all my mates knew so we looked at girls together, especially in the summer but there was something in my mind that was going you are in the wrong body, you are in the wrong body, and it became more and more apparent to me so I just said yea I am.

Q. Just going back for a second, for a while you identified to other people as lesbian, so when are your first memories of being aware you liked girls? [7:40]
TL. When I was 10 ‘cos I really liked a member of Steps and I used to get really tingly feeling every time I saw her.

Q. You say that you came out as a lesbian, how old were you? [8:25]
TL. Well I came out to my friends and teachers at first so I would say I was about 15 maybe 16.

Q. So you were 15/16 (when you came out). Who did you tell first? [0:15]
TL. My friends, and my friends based at school were all males so they were real men, so scared, so I sat them down and said I’m gay and they said we already knew. So we did what we always do and play about.

Q. So how did that feel, for them to give that response? [0:48]
TL. It felt quite good. It felt pretty amazing if I am honest.

Q. You told your friends when you were 15/16, was there anybody else that you told later on? [1:07]
TL. Well I didn’t come out to my mom and dad until 2016 so it was near enough the same time when I came out as transgendered. So there wasn’t much of a gap between that age that I told my parents were so amazing and just took it on board. I think they already knew.

Q. Obviously from being a teenager to 2016, that’s a long time what was the impact of spending all that time not telling your (family)? [2:00]
TL. Bearing in mind I started a relationship with that space of time so it was a little bit hair raising and nervous.

Q. So you had to keep your relationship secret? [2:26]
TL. Yea

Q. How long did you have to keep it secret for? [2:32]
TL. Nearly 7 years. So pretty long of a time but I think, like I said, I think my mom and dad knew so when I did actually tell them there wasn’t so much of a shock.

Q. Do you think being in a relationship but not being able to tell your parents about your relationship had an impact on your relationship? [3:00]
TL. Yea, big time, big time.

Q. When you recently started to come out publicly as transgender who did you tell first? [3:18]
TL. My partner, I thought it would be the right thing to do to give her a choice

Q. When you were a teenager and your friends were very supportive when you came out liking girls, what was your experience in dating? [0:08]
TL. Really and truly I didn’t date, not until college and my 3rd year of doing my performance course and I met my partner and she is the only girl I’ve been with.

Q. Would you mind telling a little bit about how you met? [0:40]
TL. Well we did a performance arts course at Lewisham College and we was friends at first for nearly 2 years and in the 3rd year we became closer.

Q. Did you know you liked your partner a long time before? [1:10]
TL. Yea I did, but was a little bit apprehensive because in school there was a girl I liked and I told her and she led me on. So I was little bit nervous to make it clear to my partner that I liked her so waited and just be friends.

Q. You said you didn’t really date before that, was there any sort of reasons why? [1:54]
TL. I didn’t know how to ‘cos at the time my parents didn’t know so I didn’t go out by myself so I got these, I’d go out wearing my sunglasses in the summer and just checking girls out.

Q. We talked earlier about restrictions you have encountered with public transport, do you think you have encountered any restrictions as a transgendered individual or somebody who likes women? [2:36]
TL. In regards to me I did get a little bit of hassle at school for being gay. I nearly got beaten up actually, for it, so I was a little bit scared and went into myself a little bit. Not making it quite so obvious. In regards to being transgendered the only barrier I got so far is having is having to say to my doctor ‘can I have a referral’ because I’m transgendered.

Q. Was the doctor supportive? [4:03]
TL. Mine was, which is quite surprising because I did my research before and the experience of some other people wasn’t very good, so I was surprised about the reaction of my doctor.

Q. What were the bad experiences that you heard other people experiencing? [4:31]
TL. Most doctors just refer them to a psychologist, thinking they’re not in the right frame of mind and that kind of stuff.

Q. We have mentioned doctors and medical but what kind of assistance do you think is out there for transgendered people today? [4:54]
TL. Not much if I am honest because I’ve looked about for groups in my area, and there’s nothing really out there for transgendered person.

Q. What’s the impact of that, do you think? [5:28]
TL. Well the impact is great because I get a lot of dysphoria. Dysphoria is when I think “I don’t like my body – why is my body like this?” So to me, it’s really, really frustrating that I can’t get the right equipment and the right support, and being able to talk to someone that went through what I went through isn’t out there so much.

Q. What do you think needs to change in the future to make it easier for yourself and others? [6:25]
TL. Make it easy to get referred to a transgender clinic. Make sure there’s enough staff in the gender clinic to make the waiting list not so long. The waiting list now to get even seen is 2 years. So I might have to wait another 2 years to get even seen, and that’s not very good if you have mental health issues at the same time as what I’m going through.

Q. Earlier you said that some people are still hiding if they identified as LGBTQ+ and you said that is because there are people out there that don’t like that about them. Do you feel like you’ve experienced prejudice from people in your life? [7:30]
TL. Yes. One memory in particular stays with me. Me and my partner were at a bus stop and this was about 2 months into the relationship and we were hugging, just hugging, nothing like kissing. And this man was looking at us, and got on the same bus and because there is a colour difference between me and my partner, he came back and said ‘they take all our women’, and that sort of stuff so that was kind of upsetting for me and my partner.

Q. Do you think you have experienced any other forms of discrimination apart from people saying things on the street? [9:02]
TL. I said earlier I got beaten up for being gay when I was at school, so yeah.

Q. Moving on to something a little bit more cheerful. What do you like to do for entertainment? [9:30]
TL. Well, I like to go to the Vauxhall Tavern because they’ve got good club nights. I go out with a lot of friends because now nearly all my friends are gay, bisexual, everything basically. I’ve got everything in my social group of friends so it is really good for me to be part of that group.

Q. Can you tell me a little bit more about the Vauxhall Tavern? [10:22]
TL. I’ve only been there [Vauxhall Tavern] once so far but I’ll go regularly. My first time was amazing, it was the first time I’ve ever been in front of a drag queen. Drag queens fascinate me for some reason. And drag kings too. I want to be a drag king. Being a performer, I think it would good for me to be a part of.

Q. Where do you go to be involved with drag kings? [11:18]
TL. Well, I’ve been told Soho and that sort of places. There’s a few drag clubs I’ve been made aware of and need to find the right ones and accessible to a wheelchair user.

Q. You mentioned you have a lot of friends who represent all the letters… do you think there’s a community based around that group? [11:49]
TL. Yea, being a part of that community for me now, is quite different than what I was a part of when I was younger. I’m in my 20’s now.


TL. When I was 15/16, all I wanted to do was go to a gay club and do all that sort of stuff but because I didn’t have anybody to go with it was not in my remit to do, but now that I have that backup – go and do what you want to do, go and be who you want to be, which is awesome to me.

Q. Would you say you were welcomed by the LGBTQI+ community? [0:43]
TL. What I’ve met of them, yes.

Q. And you haven’t experienced any sort of ways in which they would not be welcoming? [0:56]
TL. No,no.

Q. you say you have a lot of friends in that community, do you socialise less with straight people? [1:08]
TL. No I got loads of straight friends, and they hang around with us. We’re just one big group it don’t matter if you are bisexual, gay, lesbian or straight to us, we are just a big clump of friends, that’s it.

Q. Do you go out anywhere in Hackney? [1:49]
TL. Not so much yet, but if I do my research and find an awesome club, I will be coming down here a lot more.

Q. Have you been involved with any kind of activism with your friends on issues faced by the LGBTQI+ community? [2:14]
TL. Not as yet, but I would like to. Because they say I’ve got a big mouth, so I’d like to use it for good. Not just talking about myself, but want to use it for good.
I think being gay, being disabled, and being transgendered, are the biggest two things in my life because as I see myself I am disabled, I did see myself as lesbian and that was a big part of my life and now I am transgendered, they are three big bits that I want to share about.

Q. What are the big milestones that you have seen in your lifetime, for the big three things that you mentioned, disability, same sex relationships and transgender? [3:34]
TL. Seeing my friends on Holby City and having a big part not just one episode like my partner has been on Casualty and Doctors if she was in a lot more I think that would be really good, but she wasn’t unfortunately. Out other friends have got a big part in Holby and he’s the main character so that is awesome. Good luck to him.
For the LGBT community in my life time is equality for marriage, it’s a big thing, especially for me and my partner, because it’s been 8 years and we want to get hitched.

Q. Do you remember when the law changed for marriage equality? [5:05]
TL. Yes, I do. I didn’t make a big thing of it, because my mum and dad were sort of like saying stuff, and I thought ‘oh, I’d better shut up’, so I had to keep my cheers at minimum, but I was like [makes fist pump gesture]

Q. Do you think there are any differences in the way that the LGBTQI+ young people behave compared to your generation? [5:50]
TL. I think that do. I think they are more open which I am pleased about but I think there are still people, the minority of the people out there, who don’t like it. So I’d say to this generation to be who you want to be, just be careful because there are still people out there that will say stuff to you. Now we got social media it’s a big problem for the LGBT community, online bullying. I’ve read a lot of things, heard a lot of people who identify as being gay and they have been bullied online and they committed suicide because of bullies. So be who you are just be very careful of what you say online and don’t go overboard.

Q. In your lifetime so far, in what ways do you think attitudes have changed towards the LGBTQI+ community? [8:01]
TL. When I was a kid, there was a big debate about having the first lesbian kiss on TV which I believe was Brookside. And I remember people saying ‘oh that is not right’, now, I think they was stupid for giving up because people love who they love, they can’t help and I think it has gotten better because the people who I have told I am transgendered they go ‘oh cool’ and they ask me stuff about it, like ‘Are you?’ So yeah, it has come on a lot more. Especially with the marriage law.

Q. In what ways do you think people’s attitudes have changed towards people with disabilities? [9:48]
TL. That hasn’t changed so much. It has but it hasn’t at the same time. I think we get more respect, but that respect could go a little bit higher. I think people like David Weir have set the bar really high of people they admire, so, I think it is better but it needs to be even more better.

Q. Looking to the future, what are the main things you’d like to see changed in society? [10:45]
TL. That people that are lesbian, gay, can walk down the street and hold hands, and not have people stare at them, because that still happens to lots of people. I just want people to accept people, the LGBT community and disabled people, we’re not aliens. We know what we are talking about. So if you are asking us a question about either about the LGBT community or something to do about disabilities, we’ll tell you. We haven’t got a disease, you won’t catch it, we are willing to tell you, educate you.


Q. Do you feel safe in Hackney, as someone both with a disability and who identifies as transgender? [0:00]
TL. Really safe. Even safer then where I live, which is a little bit concerning to me. But I do feel safe. Walking to work is better then what I have in my home town.
Q. You live in Bromley, yeah? What are the differences between Hackney and Bromley that makes Hackney a place you feel safe? [0:40]
TL. Different cultures so I think that is a big part of why I feel safe because there are different cultures, but yet me and my partner are walking down the street holding hands and no one is taking any notice. We are just two people walking down the street and that is so awesome to me because in Bromley they are a bit more conservative and every time we walk down the street holding hands or my partner has her hand on my shoulders we get a look and I think, what is so wrong about doing that. To me I have seen people making out at bus stops and they’re a heterosexual couple really going for it and people walk by so why would you make a big thing out of me and my partner having a little cuddle? It’s mind-blowing to me.

Q. Finally is there anything else you would like to add? [2:50]
TL. No

Q. Thank you very much Terry that was really interesting. [2:55]


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