Janis Hetherington – Part 8: "Polyamorality"


“Polyamorality – that was the dilemma!”

Janis Hetherington was the first UK woman in an openly same-sex couple to be artificially inseminated… In this, the eighth part of her exclusive autobiographical series for Biscuit, Janis looks at the sticky subject of having more than one lover – and the implications that had for managing her own media portrayal.

“Polyamorality” – that is the dilemma that we had to juggle with once our private little world had disappeared into the fog of media smoke and mirrors.

You may have read the previous bumpf I have written about my insemination yonkeroonies ago and how suddenly in 1978 we were in and out of papers and TV more times than adverts for devolution (the first time round) but what was never put straight was that all this game playing of happy families was a complete farce – nay, a fiasco even.

I had not and have not one monothingy bone or marrow or piece of even shredded skin in my being. In fact I come from a long line of “wick dippers”, as we used to be called.

My pa had at least three illegitimate sprogs whilst spliced (if indeed on my ma’s side it wasn’t bigamous) to Mama and at least one before. As for Ma? Well who knows indeedy?

She certainly had a son old enough to be my father when she took Pa to be her “lawful wedded whotsit” whilst being very “friendly” with a lady from Folkestone.

To cap it all Ma was 10 years older than Pa and Toyboy was probably almost appropriate since she held a far superior position to him in the Oscar Deutch Empire when they met during the war.

So what chance had I?

Even Grandma had run away to be with my step grandpa, taking Ma and two siblings with her, so you could say I was genetically predisposed to put it about quite a bit.

In fact I stole my first serious love affair from my pa when I was just blossoming at 14. He’d lusted after the same fascinating woman and even Ma had thrown more than a few too many compliments her way . By the time I entered my brothel career at 16 I had also bedded most of the women I’d rubbed up against as a “walk on” at Unity Theatre and several more from the artist’s studio where I earned a crust as a “model”. Fidelity was not my middle name. Rampantly promiscuous? Yah, bring it on by the barrel-load!

When the shit hit the fan with the publicity about inseminations in ’78 I was hardly the ROLE MODEL MOTHER I was expected to portray. It was anathema to my very nature. Yet here I was landed with a major part in a universal drama that had defining lines and borders.

How to cope…Well live a lie of course. The alternative was to be portrayed as the very reason why lesbians should NOT play happy families and we couldn’t let THAT happen. With my son Nick likely to be pilloried if we couldn’t carry it off (I lived with the beautiful Ladye B), we had to put on a damn good show. And we certainly did.

It seemed as if we popped up in the media every few months or so for the next 10 years following that original onslaught of ’78 but a lot of the stuff was just re-hashed and the intrusion therefore minimal. Which was just as well, since I’d managed to get entangled with a totally bonkers Middle Eastern millionairess. The fact she was also a political rebel and was determined to bring Women’s rights to her native Kuwait had a sublime attraction for me along with her magnanimous nature and sado/masochistic tendencies. To add to this intrigue were the numerous highly connected ladies she brought along as part of her “entourage” who were seeking a haven in which to conduct their illicit female affairs. Well, our in Kentish Town House was certainly large enough and with Nick ensconced on the top floor we could conduct our naughtinesses with the utmost discretion.

Friday night and Sunday Lunch time were Gateways “gads”. That infamous ladies “cellar”  had been featured in the 1st openly gay film The Killing of Sister George, actually written by Frank Marcus whom I had met way back in my days at Unity. It had been my favoured pick up joint for Yonks.

"Happy families..."

“Happy families…”

There was even the famous Gateways crawl, which required you to form a sort of dance whilst your leg was stuck inside your partner’s crutch!! Ok if you were about the same size but a very odd sensation if there was more than six inches difference between you. Then it became more like the Gateways stoop!

The convenience of Salwa and her harem was they only stayed in London in short spurts of two to three weeks four or five times a year so whilst the activity was fairly intense , “normality” reigned supreme for the rest of the time when it did indeed look as if we were the compact family unit.

Except for our weekend soirees which, even if less elaborate when Madame GoldenBalls (no she did not strap on) wasn’t in tow, still saw us put on a fair old spread after draining the bar at the Gates Ghetto on Sundays. The great thing about Sunday Gates was that gay guys (and a few fag hag male equivalents) were allowed in by Gina (the ten gallons of vodka a day owner) to boost the coffers in the wake of the beer swilling, Greenham Common types who were the regular evening trade.

The chaps were part of our London scene and always enhanced an evening’s entertainment with their bitchiness and queenery. And how they could gossip… Wow we all knew what went on at BUCK HOUSE!!!

Also in tow were a smattering of some ex punters from my brothel days who’d evolved as friends with useful business connections to keep our finances happy and the Château Margaux flowing.

Included in the latter were literati like Willie Donaldson who was hell bent on going through yet another fortune having penned the hugely successful Mr Roots Letters. It was he who had dubbed me THE COUNTESS when we’d been seducing half of London in the late 60s.

All in all a very pleasurable time except for the odd blip when Salwa was in self-destruct mode and managed to encompass the odd feat like nearly chopping off her fingers or leaping out my car whilst I was speeding up on some mission to get her somewhere on time. I’d learnt to read her body language after the third trip to some hospital A&E (where she always used my name to avoid “complications”) and made sure I dropped a few double brandies down her before she could cause havoc. To illustrate a point she was photographed on the cover of Time magazine in the mid 80s firing a Kalashnikov (admittedly, harmlessly into the air) but then that’s another story you’ll have to wait for.

And the paps and media? All they saw and heard was ST Janis preaching about the moral values of staid lesbian life! Job done.


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Janis Hetherington

Outrageously, rebelliously outspoken. Sexually incontinent. Avid supporter of lost causes: ever hopeful they will be transformed, ever fearful that once they are they will become the monsters that trampled them. Janis is the author of "Love Lies Bleeding: Memoirs of a Sexual Revolutionary".

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