Sensible Footwear: A Girl's Guide

A graphic guide to lesbian and queer history 1950-2020
£17.99 Buy now Recommend

Shortlisted   —Bread and Roses Award for Radical Publishing2020

Shortlisted   —Polari First Book Prize2020

Shortlisted   —Wordsmith category, 2020 DIVA Awards2020

Longlisted   —Comedy Women in Print: Graphic Novel Category2020

Best Graphic Nonfiction   —Broken Frontier Awards2019

Sensible Footwear: A Girl's Guide will be a crucial cornerstone in building our future by making sure we remember our past. And Kate’s style—feisty, questioning, open, witty and sometimes angry—is the perfect vehicle to communicate that lived history of feminism, activism and liberation history in a uniquely accessible way. I can’t wait to get my hands on it.’—Val McDermid

Cartoonist Kate Charlesworth presents a glorious pageant of LGBTQI+ history, as she takes us on a PRIDE march past personal and political milestones from the 1950s to the present day. Peopled by a cast of gay icons such as Dusty Springfield, Billie Jean King, Dirk Bogarde and Alan Turing, and featuring key moments such as Stonewall, Gay Pride and Section 28, Sensible Footwear: A Girl’s Guide, is the first graphic history documenting lesbian life from 1950 to the present. It is a stunning, personal, graphic memoir and a milestone itself in LGBTQI+ history.

In 1950, when Kate was born, male homosexuality carried a custodial sentence. But female homosexuality had never been an offence in the UK, effectively rendering lesbians even more invisible than they already were—often to themselves. Growing up in Yorkshire, the young Kate had to find role models wherever she could, in real life, books, film and TV.

A fascinating history of how post-war Britain transformed from a country hostile towards ‘queer’ lives to the LGBQTI+ universe of today, recording the political gains and challenges against a backdrop of personal experience: realising her own sexuality, coming out to her parents, embracing lesbian and gay culture, losing friends to AIDS. Kate’s ex-navy dad said to her: ‘You shouldn’t have told her, love… you should have just told me.’ But it turned out her mother might have known a bit more about life, too.

Sensible Footwear: A Girl’s Guide  has received many accolades since publication, awarded best graphic nonfiction by the Broken Frontier Awards 2019, longlisted for the Portico Prize in 2019 and shortlisted for the Comedy Women in Print Prize 2020.

Times Literary Supplement, Ella Braidwood

1 May 2020

The landscape of LGBTQ+ rights has changed remarkably since the cartoonist Kate Charlesworth was born in Barnsley in 1950. In her graphic memoir Sensible Footwear: A girl’s guide, she maps that progress, from the decriminalization of homosexuality in England and Wales in 1967 to the introduction of same-sex marriage (starting in England and Wales in 2014), merging the modern lesbian and gay rights movement with her own personal history. Peppered with humour, it’s an accessible, gripping account which also celebrates the best of lesbian and gay culture.

Charlesworth shows us her whole life, starting with her childhood in Yorkshire and her move to Manchester in the late 1960s, where she studied graphics and stage design. We see her growing in confidence on the path from her first awkward same-sex sexual encounters to the emotionally charged moment when she comes out to her parents. ‘It’s unnatural!’, is her mother’s response. ‘She should see a psychiatrist.’ These autobiographical tales are skilfully interwoven with notable historical moments, such as the appalling treatment of Alan Turing after the Second World War and the trial of Lord Montagu in 1954, the outrage over which paved the way for legal reform.

There is a strong focus on lesbian and bisexual women throughout the book; Charlesworth argues that their lives receive less attention than those of their male counterparts. There are her early role models – among them the broadcaster Nancy Spain and the singer Dusty Springfield – and inspirational figures she would go on to work with, such as the lesbian rights activist Jackie Forster, who co-founded Sappho magazine in 1972. Charlesworth’s drawings are a delight, incorporating an impressive amount of detail in lively short captions and speech bubbles. We find not only colourful gay rights symbols and protest slogans but also scenes from a recent holiday in which Charlesworth reminisces with her partner and friends about some of the more recent milestones that have been achieved for LGBTQ+ rights.

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Bernardine Evaristo, Instagram

26 July 2021

Loved this graphic memoir by @kate_charlesworth - the story of her life alongside UK queer history from the 1950s onwards. It's so entertaining and original. You probably won't have heard of it because it's gone under the radar but trust me, it's a treat.

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Heather Lindsay, twitter

1 February 2021

Edinburgh based Kate Charlesworth's brilliant graphic novel is a memoir and study of LGBT history from 1950 to present day. It's packed full of info and so relevant this month.

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Shelflife Cardiff

29 January 2021

To continue our graphic novel obsession, we're celebrating the wonderful Sensible Shoes by @kate_charlesworth/@auntie_studs. Half personal memoir, half graphic guide, this beautifully drawn, chunky tome charts the course of LGBTI+ history in the UK (1950-now) with an extra joyous emphasis on lesbian life!

The first of its kind to concentrate on lesbian history, it's absolutely jam-packed with key moments in LGBTQI+ history important political developments, gay icons, deeply relatable personal experiences and poignant observations of the hostility suffered by the queer community in post-war Britain and - *still* - today. It's recently been shortlisted for the Bread and Roses Award for Radical Publishing, the Comedy Women in Print Prize 2020 *and* scooped Observer Graphic Novel of 2019, as well as plenty of other nominations and prizes! 🏆🎖️


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Elaina's Bookshelf

22 December 2020

Favourite Queer Books Read in 2020

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Jodie Reads Books, Bookstagram

21 December 2020

Sensible Footwear is published by the brilliant indie press @myriad_editions who seem to publish a great selection of queer books, in amongst everything else they do. It’s a graphic novel/memoir/LGBTQ history and it’s extremely hard to put down.

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Quick Book Reviews, Bookstagram

21 December 2020

My “Quick Book Review” of #SensibleShoes by @auntie_studs = 9/10. Glorious! This is the most wonderful, endearing, heartbreaking book. One to read and reread.

Hear my review in episode 71 of the podcast:

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The Book Hive Bookshop, Norwich

15 December 2020

Rainbow colours! LGBTQI+ icons & history! Personal experience AND historical facts, celebrations, set backs, triumphs…with ADDED LESBIANS! The Paperback Feminist loved this brightly coloured ray of rainbow stories; it’s the perfect Christmas gift for graphic bibliophiles, feminists, women, men and all lovers and supporters of the Equality Act in its myriad forms. Kate says this of Roger Baker, journalist and gay rights activist, on page 191: ‘Roger was always inclusive in his writing and journalism. Genders, sexualities, ethnicities, abilities. He got LGBTQIA+ in a pre-hashtag age…’ And Kate Charlesworth gets it in this one.

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Star Planet Books, bookstagrammer

8 July 2020

I read this graphic novel for Pride Month and i am obsessed with the art style 🎨 i bought Sensible Footwear by Kate Charlesworth from Gays The Word bookshop on a whim last year because it was signed and said it was a lesbian history 📚 this seems to be a pretty obscure book but i thought it was really informative - it is packed full of factual and anecdotal history of the Gay Rights movement in the UK but also the life experiences of Kate as a lesbian woman✨ i have a full review on Goodreads, if you are interested I’d definitely recommend picking it up because its always great to support small authors especially from marginalised groups 🏳️‍🌈🌸

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Last Lovers Arc, bookstagrammer

8 July 2020

#bookstagrampride2020 Day 24 is Susan Stryker - LGBTQ+ history. My opportunity to do more fawning over 'Sensible footwear' by Kate Charlesworth, a mammoth undertaking of a graphic novel that serves both as a queer history manual, and a memoir of the author's life as a lesbian in the UK from the 50s until now. While it's an intensely personal and intimate work, 'Sensible footwear' also chronicles LGBTQ+ history extensively and wants to spark curiosity about its forgotten figures. You'll want to take notes! It's clear a mountain of work went into this book and it deserves its place on your bookshelf!
#pride2020 #katecharlesworth #sensiblefootwear #queergraphicnovels #queerhistory #lesbian #lesbianhistory

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Ida Know Thyself, bookstagramer, 4/4 star review

11 June 2020

Sensible footwear: a girl's guide by Kate Charlesworth
Want to know more about British LGBT history, mainly focused on lesbians and a personal memoir? This book is for you.
I learned so much, and even though I knew some of the legal discrimination against the community was only rectified in recent years, some of the facts still absolutely floored me. Why are we not taught more of this in schools?
The book is full to bursting with LGBT history and features lots of LGBT icons. Sometimes there was so much information on the pages that it felt less like a graphic novel and more like a scrapbook, which I really liked.

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Oliver Arditi

3 June 2020

A viral disease is sweeping the world, killing indiscriminately. Well, nearly. Its fatal impact is concentrated in a particular minority, one that many in society seem to regard as expendable, as less valuable than the average. At least in the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, it’s socially unacceptable to vilify older people openly, or to characterise their deaths as an acceptable cost, but during the height of the AIDS pandemic, before any effective treatments had been developed, gay male humans had to endure the most horrific abuse and exclusion, and the most hurtful things imaginable were said openly in the mainstream media. It should be matter of intense national shame that our society was so unpleasant, so unbelievably horrible to a group of its members who were not only not doing anybody any harm, but who were living in ground zero of the most appalling tragedy to strike affluent societies in the post-war era. I feel ashamed, just for having continued to hide behind the performance of convenient social roles like ‘man’ and ‘heterosexual’ when I should have been shouting my natural queerness in solidarity at the top of my voice. I continue to perform those roles to this day, for convenience, for ease, despite knowing very well what tenuous constructed categories they are, and how riddled with entrenched interests.

Kate Charlesworth lived through that era without such luxuries (or cop-outs), and Sensible Footwear: a girl’s guide is her graphic memoir of life as a lesbian in a society which has gone from ‘what you two need is a man to sort you out apiece’ to an openly homosexual woman leading the Scottish Conservatives. She shows the impact of AIDs on lesbians, who were not likely to contract HIV themselves, but who lost huge numbers of their friends and allies, and had to contend with society’s hysterically homophobic response to this hard-to-transmit disease. By the time I got around to reading this comic, a new pandemic was shutting down everyone’s accustomed behaviours, and Charlesworth (who was born in 1950) was a member of its most vulnerable group of potential sufferers. It was her depiction of the AIDs epidemic that started my tears, but I soon found myself overwhelmed with regret for all the bigotry and nastiness that has been directed at a subset of our people whose ‘difference’ isn’t even a difference, when it comes down to it, so much as an honesty.

The book elicited this powerful response in me through the simple expedient of telling it how it is, without melodrama or sentimentality or self-pity—and anyone who isn’t moved by it, I would guess, must be either a bigot or a stone. There’s a framing narrative, in which Charlesworth is on holiday in Tenerife with her partner and two friends, reminiscing—and the autobiography which this encloses is interrupted in turn by pages of history, outlining significant events in LGBTQ history with illustrations. These pages work like a museum display, using objects like badges, concert tickets, business cards, magazine covers and posters to articulate a narrative whose schematic text panels serve the ancillary function of labels in a display case. This is a very effective technique, which creates an impression of an era far more economically than narrative might. Alongside some more discursive sequences which combine dialogue with brief passages of text, this enables Charlesworth to broaden and contextualise her personal account without heaping a great weight of exposition on the reader.

The remainder of the book, the comic-strip part, distinguishes the framing narrative by giving it a more decorative, brightly coloured cartooning style, and for the most part, freer layouts. The autobiographical sequences are drawn more precisely, and use colour more sparingly, either to tint an entire scene, or to highlight significant features. Charlesworth pays a good deal of attention to page-layout, not simply as an aspect of visual storytelling, but in its own right, ensuring that the book is varied and engaging. Clearly it’s possible to produce a very readable comic in which the pages have a consistent appearance throughout (Charles Burns’s Black Hole springs to mind, as I’ve read it recently), but Charlesworth’s approach suits an account in which multiple narrative threads and multiple historical eras are in play. Her pacing is also very varied, with relatively few pages entirely marked out by the regular beat of a rectilinear panel layout.

There were some double spreads in which it took me a moment to realise I needed to read right across (although this was signalled by the panel border styles), and it is sometimes difficult to parse the order of speech, especially in phone calls, but for the most part Charlesworth’s visual narrative is both clear and propulsive. Similarly, there are moments when the dialogue is a bit too expository to ring true, but my predominant impression was of characters realised with vivid transparency. Charlesworth is alert to the limitations of memoir—she interrupts the framing narrative’s dialogue at one point, with a curtain inscribed ‘because some things really are private…’ This only enhances her capacity to immerse the reader, and to solicit their empathy with her characters, not least with her synonymous narrator-protagonist. There are a couple of concluding revelations, which are reserved and prepared so adeptly as to thematically unify and cast a light back on the entire preceding narrative—no mean feat, given that it’s been long and complex.

Charlesworth’s drawing style is free, but only loose when it needs to be, and she produces a commendable sense of spatial coherence—some quite successful and accomplished comic artists basically draw characters on scenes, but she locates bodies in spaces. Her faces are expressive (and very recognisable when she’s drawing a public figure), and she modulates their position on a continuum from ‘fairly cartoony’ to ‘fairly representational’ according to the needs and tone of the moment. The result is an ease of identification with the experiences she describes, putting the reader in the centre of a network of ideas and recollections—she uses her autobiography to relate the big historical events to the nitty-gritty of life, to social history, and as such her book is as vivid a history of queer life as the general reader could hope to find. What happened (Section 28, Stonewall, AIDs, equal marriage, all the rest of it…) is only meaningful when we have the wherewithal to imagine what it was like. This beautiful and generous memoir gives us that.

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Sallychinaski, Bookstagrammer

9 April 2020

It tells how the history of the LGBT community has been mainly in the UK (with special emphasis on L) from the 50s until now, mixed with the author's personal career as a lesbian woman. A must in LGBT readings. And with illustrations as camp and eclectic as, sometimes, very real and harsh.

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Swithun Cooper, British Council Literature

5 March 2020

My favourite place to be is partway through a book that I have just realised is becoming an all-time favourite. This month, it happened with Kate Charlesworth’s graphic memoir, Sensible Footwear: A Girl’s Guide, a political history of gay rights in the UK and a personal history of her place in the struggle.

Born in 1950, Charlesworth left for university as a not-yet-out lesbian in the year that homosexuality was decriminalised. She renders her childhood home, cramped yet somehow empty, with stark precision, then offers sweeping full-page drawings of her first gay bars – or rather, spaces coded as gay because of their dingy corners, daring clientele, and raucous singalongs of Gilbert and Sullivan. Gay rights marches, Section 28, the AIDS crisis, second-wave feminism and the journey towards civil marriage all appear, threading in and out of Charlesworth’s life in traditional comic book panels, or captured in colourful spreads like a dreamed scrapbook.

Beyond the fight for rights and recognition, Sensible Footwear also celebrates the joyful community spirit of queer culture, where a single kiss on television, or a shared passion for a poet, can have a deep emotional resonance for LGBTQ+ people to connect over. From the overlapping dialogue balloons as Kate and her friend Jacky both dance around coming out to one another – each trying to admit their sexuality in subtle, abstract ways – to the page on Drew Griffiths of the Gay Sweatshop Theatre Company, who stands on a bare stage as the lights go out, narrating the details of his still-unsolved murder, it’s hugely visually inventive, sometimes tragic, often hilarious. Finishing it, I felt bereft.

Swithun Cooper, Research Manager

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Farah Mendlesohn

3 February 2020

I wonder if Kate Charlesworth’s title, Sensible Shoes [sic - Cathy], is even meaningful to today’s young queer?

I loved this book. It’s mostly a linear story of her own experiences which, despite the ten year age difference, aren’t that dissimilar to mine (the town-uni split in particular).

It’s written v like Alice in Sunderland (she’s a friend of Bryan Talbot) and much of the joy is the combination of learning new things and recognising faces.

One double page spread is given over to drag artists. I was about to complain that Hinge and Bracket had been missed out when I turned the page “...and Hinge and Bracket...”.

Two issues only: one that her time at New Scientist was missed out but it’s where I met her work; and also that sometimes I couldn’t follow the narrative.

Otherwise, lots of fun. Intersectional. Not TERFy. And gives the best account of the trajectory over the 80s and 90s of that space between Clause 28 and repeal that I’ve seen.



Sophie Clay for The Comic Lounge 9/10 star review

3 February 2020

Rating: 9/10

LGBTQ+ fiction is something that’s hard to get right. It’s often a struggle to find stories with relatable plots that go beyond the associated clichés – the soppy teen romance that’s oh so unrealistic, the idyllic accepting parents that so many of us never had. However, this isn’t a problem for Kate Charlesworth, whose work presents some of the most intriguing non-fiction narrative I’ve had the pleasure of reading in a long while.

Sensible Footwear documents Charlesworth’s life as a lesbian, incorporating non- fiction documentation of the LGBTQ+ movement from the 1950s to present. Charlesworth has created a detailed look into the world of gay culture and the gay rights movement, using her own life experiences as a basis for the inclusion of relevant events and developments that were happening around her at the time.

The result is a highly unique format: a combination of digital collaging techniques integrated with a graphic memoir, which results in a sophisticated and impressively composed visual diary. Historical points of reference thematically combine with fragments of Charlesworth’s own experiences of growing up in an era when it was a lot harder to meet other people in the LGBTQ+ community.

Color and texture is used to emphasize the individual themes and messages portrayed in each layout - the attention to detail is phenomenal. The reading experience consistently reminded me of looking through a stunning scrapbook filled to the brim with historical significance.

Flashbacks are included in a range of illustrative styles used to differentiate between the various eras. Charlesworth’s certainly not afraid to play around with media. From grey-toned watercolors, to vibrant pencil sketches, to watercolor studies bursting with primary color, each style chosen integrates so well with the current theme.

My favorite style used is by far the technique used to represent present day: vivid watercolors topped with loosely lined colored pencil in a zesty orange hue.

Sensible Footwear is not only a historical record of the UK’s gay scene - it’s one woman’s struggle to fight for who she is, despite the isolation created by society. It’s the story of Kate blossoming into a politically aware cartoonist, struggling with a non-accepting parent and experiencing relationships and friendships. In my opinion, these relatable issues make Sensible Footwear a graphic work of educational importance that every LGBTQ+ individual can relate to. I appreciate the courage it must have taken to allow us as readers to take a deep look into her personal struggles and accomplishments.

Personally, I’ve experienced many people outside of our community presuming that parents just accept their children. Sadly, this just isn’t true. So many of us are estranged from our parents, and although Charlesworth’s story doesn’t result in that, she does consistently reference the difficulties she experienced with her mother, which I applaud. Sensible Footwear is the realistic LGBTQ+ material we’ve all been waiting for (along with Tamaki’s Laura Dean Keeps Breaking Up With Me).

I can’t recommend this multi-media masterpiece enough. It presents such a detailed account of the development of gay history that I don’t think it’s possible to read this without learning something. Charlesworth has created a strong sense of voice, including a not-so-subtle anti-Tory narrative that I loved. This book was near-perfect – my only qualm was the jumbled order of cultural references, such as the jump from 1972 back to the 1950s. As the work is quite long, I feel that could be slightly confusing. Overall though, it’s a fantastic read. So kick off those trainers, make yourself a cuppa and dive into a copy of Sensible Footwear.

Simon Savidge: Top Five Nonfiction Books for BBC Radio 5 Live

6 January 2020

"This is part graphic-memoir and part graphic-history text which starts in the 1950s when author Kate Charlesworth was born.

"As a child, Kate says she was appalled when she realised society expected her to marry a man, the book then follows her life growing up as a queer woman and how her family reacts to that, the friends she makes and her relationships.

"As well as being a memoir of her life, the book is also a document of what has happened in queer history. One little tidbit I got from the book was that Calamity Jane was an undercover queer classic!

"The book makes you think of things much more politically. I as a member of the queer community had forgotten just how recent all the changes are, good and bad, and it was really good to be reminded of that in a non-preachy way."

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Turnaround 2019 Graphic Novels Staff Picks

11 December 2019

This book has been a highlight of my year. Not just reading it, but also going to the launch at the Cartoon Museum (where they hosted a little exhibition of queer history), and listening to Kate talk about the book with Myriad publisher Corinne at Gay’s the Word. I met some amazing new people at these events, which is kind of what the book is about – our community and how it has evolved. The comic is a personal history of growing up queer set against a political history of the LGBTQI+ movement. From 1950, when gay men could face custodial sentences, violence against queers, and lesbian invisibility, through to Stonewall, Act Up, Section 28, and the Lesbian Avengers, and onwards to equal marriage and trans rights, Sensible Footwear is a real achievement and something I’ll definitely keep going back to.

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Stephen Holland, Page 45

8 August 2019

Sensible Footwear, A Girl’s Guide (£17-99, Myriad) by Kate Charlesworth.


What a superbly structured, brilliant but biting history and vital entertainment this is!

Shoes! Shoes! Sensible shoes!

You are hereby ever so warmly invited to walk a mile or twenty-six in somebody else’s – Kate Charlesworth’s and the growing LGBT+ community’s – in a personal insight, education and entertainment spanning 70 years from the 1950s onwards!

All education should be an entertainment and this one comes vibrant in colour, comedy and variety without a po face in sight:

Yes, Cinders!” it proudly proclaims on its title page, “You shall go to the Rugmunchers’ Ball!”

It is laugh! It’s a riot! It is a genuine milestone.

It is a declaration of unequivocal and inalienable pride and ownership, as well as an acknowledgement of childhood innocence and naivety which is overwhelmingly inclusive because, hey, weren’t we all – gay or straight – utterly baffled and confused aged 5, 7, 9 or 11 either by what others have got going on down there or by increasingly wild, schoolyard hearsay when it came to matters of love and sexual congress? Of course we were!

You’ll be privy to Kate’s own mystification then awkward, uh-oh education; the disinformation then elucidation; timidity, discovery, further confusion and gradually figuring it out. It’s never a straight learning curve, is it? Now imagine all that… before the age of internet information! Before the love that dared not speak its name spoke its name! Before you might know where to go, or whom you could confide in, ever so carefully even those closest to you!

Because ostracism is a bitch, and its prospect’s pretty daunting; potentially even more so when they’re your friends.

But this is mischievous, it’s irreverent and I did promise you “variety”. I meant it in both senses for as well as a personal reflection – shared between four fast friends in the present day – of growing up gay in sequences artfully differentiated in both line-style and colour, this is a pageant of past performers who paved our way in one way or another (Divine, Dusty Springfield, David Bowie, Josephine Baker, Tom Robinson, Gay Sweatshop, Rhona Cameron, April Ashley, Dana International, The Pet Shop Boys, Sandi Toksvig, Nancy Spain and so many more) and if you’re a Gilbert & Sullivan fan then Charlesworth pays tribute with her own Three-Act gala performance of several “lost” compositions based on extant tunes which could not be more witty in their word-play, delivery, or in the way that they repurpose each musical play for their larger-than-life stroll down the local dykes’ bar of yore with all its behavioural idiosyncrasies and points or order, characters, customs and politics.

They could take some finding back in the bad old days – and they could be rough!

Let us be clear, however: there is so much that’s sobering to be learned or recalled about the shit which we’ve been subjected to over these specific decades plus the courageous and enterprising inroads against social adversity and legal persecution / prosecution which pioneering souls far braver than I have turned from vindictiveness, ingratitude or invisibility into official recognition in terms of equality, individuality and outright acclaim.

Take shy Alan Turing, the mathematician who historians now estimate was “personally responsible for shortening the Second World War by two years” with his breaking of the Germans’ Enigma Machine messages. How many millions of lives did he save? Arrested then trawled through the courts simply because he was gay – for being caught having a consensual affair with a 19-year-old man who then robbed him – Turing was sentenced to chemical castration “which made him fat, impotent and, worse, affected his ability to think and concentrate”.

His inability to think and concentrate…

He committed suicide.

“Prime Minister Gordon Brown officially apologised for Turing’s treatment in 2009, and in 2013 he was granted a Royal Pardon. In 2017 this posthumous pardon was extended to thousands of gay men.”

Trenchantly, one of the Charlesworth’s best friends there interjects: “’Forgiving’ us? We did nothing wrong!”

And I adore all this solidarity: lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer or questioning, intersex, and asexual or allied, plus, plus, plus we are all in this together.

Alan Turing is about to appear on the next generation of £50 notes.

But if the last 50 years has taught me anything, it’s that progress towards that which is even bog-standard enlightenment can never be taken for granted – just look at today’s news – so we still need to stand up and be counted and embrace diversity in all the joy which it grants us otherwise the bullies on the high street, down the back streets, in the media and in legislature win, and we are all reduced to a powerless, unquestioning, homogenous hole.

Badges! Don’t you love badges?

I do love badges, and Kate Charlesworth reminds us of so many I’d forgotten by scattering them across the nuggets of history interspersed between the autobiographical narrative (where chronologically or thematically appropriate) in single or double-page info-burst collages, mostly line-drawn from photos so as to maintain the mood.

One of my all-time favourites is “FEMINISM IS THE RADICAL IDEA THAT WOMEN ARE PEOPLE”. It’s not a big ask, is it?

My best friend Anita wore a badge proposing that “9 out of 10 men are bisexual”, knowing full well that so many post-punk lads wouldn’t be able to resist declaring they weren’t. “Ah,” she’d smile quietly, delightedly, “Then you must be one of the ONE in 10”.

Also books, plays and films: you’ll have quite the reading list when you finish this, should you want seminal works to watch out for!

And so to the story of Kate Charlesworth herself, co-creator with Mary and Bryan Talbot of SALLY HEATHCOTE SUFFRAGETTE and full creator of Aunty Studs, jacket-studded star of the strips which she sold to City Limits then later The Pink Paper, and from which she derives her Twitter handle.

She was born in Barnsley, Easter Sunday 1950, when the nurse was said to say:

“’The child that is born on the Sabbath Day is bonny and blithe, good and gay!’”

Sometime in the 1980s, and her Mum’s leafing somewhat unhappy through the family photo album:

“Oh, well. At least you were good.”

They probably need to have that conversation. Or perhaps it’ll be best if they didn’t.

Kate’s early years are narrated in soft, grey, pencil-and-wash focus with delicate colours picking out details as she brandishes wooden swords, rakes saws across lawns, admires military parades or bangs nails into planks to fashion a carpentry reproduction of the HMS Birmingham. Mum (Joan) isn’t impressed but Dad (Harold) is much more relaxed.

“Nay, she’ll be reyt!” is his cheerful refrain.

Then there’s the secret stuff you do with in the shed, tent or some other sort of den. You didn’t?! I did! Kate makes Colin scream. “I was always hands-on.”

School years with their inevitable, attendant humiliations are rendered as a girls’ comic complete with their telling Ben-Day dots, her teen wardrobe playfully parodied as a paper-doll page. Gradually, as Charlesworth grows older, the pencils become sharper then delineated in ink, the memories perhaps more permanent, clearer and less fragmented.

Subtly, this helps differentiate between the time periods as an intriguing, wider, substantial, troubled and at times troubling family history unfurls, going all the way back to Kate’s maternal Grandma, thence forward once more to her Mum. Memories of Dianna Rigg in ‘The Avengers’ catalyse another, much later on, during a visit to see her perform in a musical:

“Love, loss, vaudeville. Pain, angst, tears.”
“Why d’you always have to say something miserable, Kathryn?”
“It’s Stephen Sondheim, Ma! It’s the law! Besides, I’ve already seen it three times.”

During these many mother-and-daughter outings in all kinds of environments, mother Joan can flip swiftly from disapproval to animated enjoyment, depending on what’s distracting her. Of Diana Rigg, strutting her high-heeled, split-dress stuff, she cannot help but declare,  “Well! She’s certainly managed to keep her legs!”

And it seems a puzzle because Joan’s reactions are unpredictable, all over the place, basking in company you’d suspect she’d flinch from, yet at other times growing distant, walling herself off….

Anyway, eventually it’s off to art college in Manchester during the late ‘60s and it’s time for family to take a temporary back seat while fresh friends are made, digs are dug or not dug (and so swiftly swapped), and all the metropolis has to offer is explored along with Kate’s tentatively emerging thoughts and feelings.

That we begin the graphic novel in Teneriffe, 2016, with Kate hooked up not with Ness but Dianne (and, along with friend Wren, all basking joyfully in the brightest of rainbow-coloured combos) cleverly adds a level of eager anticipation on our parts, as well as the certain knowledge that there is a whole lot yet for Kate to enjoy and endure. Most of life comes with mixed feelings. And yeah, it’s pretty eventful.

There’s a whole career to come involving design, animation, comic strips… romances and relationships to be cautiously explored in all their up-and-down diversity… movements to emerge including CND, anti-apartheid and gay liberation in all its multiple facets from Stonewall and Sappho magazine (run by the ever-inventive Jackie Forster) to the first times that the love which dare not speak its name nor certainly appear on national television without being cushioned in camp finally did so in the form of soap-opera kisses and Gaytime TV, “a queer take on daytime programming”… and inevitably, unfortunately, the most horrific adversity to be challenged.

Although I’m not at all sure that “adversity” is adequate to describe the detonation of the then-fatal ‘80s AIDS epidemic which ripped through our individual lives and the gay community, robbing so many individuals of dozens of friends. It ignited and renewed an even more vicious, physically violent homophobia whose flames were fanned by opportunist politicians and Christian clergy in collusion with the media, were institutionalised by the likes of Manchester Police Chief James Anderton, and were then legislatively endorsed and enforced by the Tory government of the day in the form of Clause 28 which became Section 28, with Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher declaring:

“Children who need to be taught traditional moral values are being taught that they have the inalienable right to be gay!”

Which I do, thanks very much.

It’s all documented here, with real headline quotes – so many duplicitous – that will make your skin crawl.

But you know what? We did stand up and were counted, including the comics community: Alan Moore, Debbie Delano and Phyllis Moore invited all their top-tier comicbook-creator pals to contribute to their Artists Against Rampant Government Homophobia anthology. More vitally, the Terrence Higgins Trust was born to educate the public, confidentially test and treat those diagnosed as HIV-positive, the Red Ribbon Project gave everyone the opportunity to show public solidarity against a prejudice so severe that many lost their jobs and – no small act, this – Chief Anderton’s daughter was so ashamed of her father that she outed herself in the News Of The World.

Its headline was not censorious but relieved, even celebratory, iconoclastically co-opting the language of organised religion’s venomous hatred to declare:

“HALLELUJAH! Anderton’s daughter is a dyke”

That’s surprisingly supportive, isn’t it?

There’s so much more besides inside to surprise!

Most especially this, oh so much this: SENSIBLE FOOTWEAR carries one heck of a personal punchline which – unexpectedly, startlingly – resolves so much of what’s said before. Families can we well-funny things, can’t they?

Posy Simmonds MBE, creator of graphic novels TAMARA DREWECASSANDRA DARKE et al declares:

“A stunning achievement – as a graphic study of LGBT history, and as a memoir of growing up gay from the 1950s onwards. Kate’s fluid and tellingly detailed drawing reveals not only the frustrations of and traumas of lesbian life, but also the laughter and camaraderie… and a glorious cavalcade of gay icons.”

For further reading, please see Page 45’s LGBT+ non-fiction and Page 45’s LGBT+ fiction


Buy Sensible Footwear, A Girl’s Guide and read the Page 45 review here

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Steff Humm,The Artful

4 August 2019

Kate Charlesworth’s new book, Sensible Footwear: A Girl’s Guide, has become “urgent”, as the prologue explains, because of the current rise of intolerance that is threatening the civil and human rights of historically marginalised groups. Charlesworth’s ethos is that we all deserve to know our history, and that without that knowledge we remain vulnerable to such histories repeating themselves.

The book combines memoir—focusing on Charlesworth’s art education and career alongside her understanding of her identity as a gay woman against various contexts throughout her life—with the progression of LQBT+ rights in relation to popular culture since her birth in 1950. The narrative isn't completely linear, and does not claim to be a comprehensive history of everything gay, but rather brings together the personal and political to show how individual ideas and celebrity culture have contributed to an overall movement that has gradually moved closer to equality and mainstream representation, despite numerous attempts to drive it back.Although there are by necessity a lot of stories included about men’s persecution, activism, and relationships, Charlesworth’s own story, and the cultural moments she has chosen to depict, remind us that there is a gap in the histories of other people who consider themselves to be queer. From the beginning of Sensible Footwear, it is clear that the book prioritises intersectionality as a way of understanding queer lives and their triumphs and oppositions throughout the latter half of the 20th century and into the 21st.  

What all of these books have in common is that the subjects—which in the cases of Sensible Footwear and Queer also includes Britain and its people and queer theory scholarship respectively—have been formed by every page and acknowledge at the last that they’re still not done changing. Individually, they reveal different lives and accomplishments that enrapture in their own way, but together they show that graphic memoir is almost evidence of queer theory, in that it demonstrates how multiple identities are worn in different situations across a lifetime.

Sensible Footwear encourages the reader by example to think of possibilities for behaviour and community outside of the bounds of what already exists. The parity of rights across genders and sexualities is necessary to protect people from discrimination based on their preferences but, as both Charlesworth and the creators of Queer discuss, offering the right for anyone to get married, for example, does not pare down the dominance of the insitution of heterosexuality (for more on this read Adrienne Rich and Monique Wittig). Instead, it invites people outside the institution to subscribe to its ideal as it continues to reign supreme.

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Sue Sanders, LGBT History Month UK

3 August 2019

Kate Charlesworth (born 1950) is a British cartoonist and artist who has produced comics and illustrations since the 1970s. Her work has appeared in LGBT publications such as The Pink Paper, Gay News, and AARGH. She has produced science comics for New Scientist ("Life, the Universe and (Almost) Everything") and The Independent.

In 2015, her graphic novel Sally Heathcote: Suffragette was included in a list published by The Guardian of the "top 10 books about revolutionaries".

She has now published a graphic memoir and LGBT history book in one and I love it! She realised that as she had been doing cartoons mainly about LGBT life since the 70's so she had quite a grasp of LGBT history. In reflecting how she coped with being a lesbian in those years she hit upon a winning project. Kate takes us through her life’s journey, her coming to terms with being a lesbian, the politics the art, friendships and challenges. The personal is political and “What is most personal is most universal.” ― Carl R. Rogers, On Becoming a Person: A Therapist's View of Psychotherapy 

So in following her journey I am reminded of my own as we are about the same age however I am sure that younger lesbians will find many echoes of their lives reflected here as well. She is unflinching in her honesty and records what so many of us have had to deal with in coming out to our families. She also uncovers the harm of internalised homophobia
The history pages are fascinating and I learnt new stories and was reminded of old stories and issues I had forgotten. 

She takes us through the decades from the fifties to the present and uses different visual styles to differentiate. It is a triumph to cram so much of our complex history in picture form and will I think make it a very important book that will inspire people to find out more. As she says she can't do it all , 
“may my omissions serve as a starting point for telling more stories, for making more books and comics and sharing the love”.

Kates visual style is varied and delightful and brings in little details so worth going back and checking out the pages several times. So treat yourself and get it you won’t be disappointed!

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Teddy Jamieson, Herald Scotland

3 August 2019

"MY parents would be appalled by this book," Kate Charlesworth admits as we sit drinking tea and eating Tunnocks Caramel Wafers in the front room of her house just off Leith Walk. "It would have shamed them and I feel very bad about that. They were of their age but the only thing they didn't like about my behaviour was my sexuality."

Love and disappointment. This is Kate Charlesworth's story. Yours and mine, too, more than likely.

Charlesworth, 69, is one of the nation's finest cartoonists. Over the years she has created comic strips for everyone from City Limits to Gay News, the Pink Paper to the Guardian and New Scientist. She has also spent the last four years working on her latest book, Sensible Footwear. And that’s not to mention the couple of decades thinking about it.

And now it is here, with all the baggage that any and all books carry. All that hope and fear and love.

Sensible Footwear tells her own story. But it is also the story of gay and lesbian life in the UK since 1950 (the year of Charlesworth's birth). It follows an arc from homosexuality as a criminal act (for gay men, at least) to civil partnerships, from shame to pride (and Pride), from the chemical castration of the scientist Alan Turing to a moment when he is now set to appear on legal tender, via Sir John Gielgud (arrested for cottaging in 1953 and feared his career was over), Joe Orton, Dusty Springfield, Mary Whitehouse, Brookside's lesbian kiss, gay pride marches, the lesbian sex wars of the 1980s, the Aids virus, Section 28 and Ruth Davidson.

All of it filtered through Charlesworth's personal story of moving from Yorkshire to London and then to Scotland, of coming out and finding her place in the world and navigating politics, passion and, yes, parental disapproval.

It's a wonderfully colourful and candid book, full of Charlesworth's crisp, clean, simple lines and her nuanced vision of human complexity.

Along the way, it takes in Charlesworth's love of Gilbert & Sullivan and reminds us of semi-forgotten lesbian lives such as Nancy Spain, whose "butch" look and sexuality was repackaged as eccentricity for British TV in the 1950s, the journalist Jackie Forster, who came out in Hyde Park at Speakers' Corner in 1969 and co-founded Sappho magazine (where she published some of Charlesworth's early cartoons) and Labour MP Maureen Colquhoun, the first openly lesbian MP elected to the House of Commons in 1974 and treated badly by everyone in it, including members of her own party.

"I was going to illustrate her life story at one time. I remember going around to her house in Hackney. She was an eccentric. I think Maureen's still alive and giving it to them in the Lake District. She was outrageously forthright and an extremely strong character – she probably would have had to be to have the guts to do that."

Read More: Jessica Martin on life and light entertainment

Charlesworth herself grew up in 1960s Yorkshire where her parents ran a corner shop. "I was never particularly interested in sexuality," she says of her childhood and teenage years. "I never had the stirrings. I'd heard about lesbianism and one night a penny dropped, you know? 'Oh my God, I wouldn't surprised if I turned out to be one of them.' I had a dark night of the soul for about 24 hours. And then I thought: 'Do I fancy anybody? No. Not blokes or women or anything.' And quite pragmatically I thought I'd leave it until I do. Which was quite a while, it turned out."

It wasn't until she went to Manchester to study art in the early 1970s that she began to explore "the misty unmapped world of feminine homosexuality," as her hidden copy of lesbian magazine Arena Three had it.

"When I first came out there were these rules about what you could do and what you couldn't do. You had to be butch or femme and you were looked at with great suspicion if you didn't seem to be declaring for one or the other."

That extended to what you wore. "When I was a baby dyke a lot of the butch dykes styled themselves on Rod Stewart. I don't know if he ever knew that. For younger butches, fashion was changing. They started throwing off the gents' natty suits and they were wearing loons and scarves around their necks. And mullets. Some of them looked a bit like the band Mud, which is not perhaps so great. But the raffish ones favoured Rodney."

That lesbian self-policing of look and behaviour didn't end there. "It happened again in the eighties in the lesbian sex wars. It's almost too ghastly to go into. What sort of lesbian are you going to be? There was a slogan: 'lesbianism is feminism in practice' or words to that effect. And quite a few women were political lesbians who had declared themselves lesbians because that was the logical conclusion. You don't sleep with the enemy."

Of course, in the 1970s and 1980s when the battle for gay rights was such a livewire issue it would have been almost impossible not to find the political in the very personal.

"Being a dyke has never been illegal,” Charlesworth points out. “So, I never had that struggle. I was never under the threat of imprisonment or fining or shaming or blackmail. What guys had to go through is a completely different scenario."

Even so, Charlesworth was willing to march and stand up for gay rights in the face of abuse and oppression and "that vile" Thatcher government which introduced Section 28, which banned the “promotion” of homosexuality.

"That legislation was intended to send us all back under the stones from which we'd apparently crawled,” Charlesworth says. “But it had the opposite effect. These quite disparate communities were knitted together. Leather men and dykes walking along together, shouting: 'Stop Section 28.'"

Charlesworth’s life inevitably filtered into her work. She was an illustrator by day, but she also started creating cartoons for lesbian magazines and Gay News. "I was gradually being politicised as a feminist, but also a lesbian. But I was never a separatist. I had extremely good gay male friends and I didn't want to go to that extreme. I never have."

She wonders, though, if that affected her creativity. "I always think that I would have been a better, fiercer cartoonist if I'd been straight because I've not had to live with men. I've never had to go through that whole man/woman thing. Heteronormativity, as I've been trained to say."

Her parents were always encouraging about her work. Her personal life was a different story. Her mother struggled with it, particularly.

Her father, she says, was a little more understanding. "He was a sweetheart. He had been around the world in the war and he had seen a bit more of life and mum just hadn't. And because my mum was unhappy, my dad was unhappy. I think he probably wouldn't have bothered me too much, but he had to live with her."

Was it a subject that they had to draw up a cordon sanitaire around? "Kind of, but it didn't last. It would just erupt occasionally. So, I didn't go back home as much as I might."

It's a source of regret, clearly. And yet she never fell out with her parents. She was never disowned.

"No, they didn't do that. It created conflict and some distress, but that never happened. And later on in mum's life, we came to a kind of accommodation. She was never comfortable with it."

In the end her parents were both creatures of the world they grew up in. Her dad was the youngest of a Victorian family, after all. Charlesworth’s story is the story of gay and lesbian life in the UK; a journey from disapproval (at best), oppression and aggression to acceptance.

And yet, she points out, LGBT hate attacks have gone up of late. She cites the two young women who posted a photograph of their bloodied faces after they were attacked on a London bus in June, outing themselves in the process.

Young lesbians have been lucky to grow up in a post-Section 28 world, she says. "That's great. That's fantastic. But they can't be complacent. I can't be complacent."

The door opens and Charlesworth's partner Dianne comes in. "We've ate all the Tunnocks," Charlesworth confesses. Charlesworth has lived in this house for the last 17 years. She and Dianne have been a couple for 13 of them. They share the house with Sally the dog and Honey the cat.

"I think I've become an accidental Scot," Charlesworth says turning back to me. She moved up from London to the Borders with a former partner.

When that relationship foundered, she contemplated going back to London, but then realised she didn't have to move at all "and a weight literally fell from my shoulders. It felt extraordinary. I didn't realise how much I was carrying around. And I thought: 'Sod it, I'll stay.'

"And I've lived longer in this house than anywhere else in my life."

Now that Sensible Footwear is finished, she and Dianne are working how to live without this monster of a book dominating their lives.

"It's been really strange," Dianne admits. "because for the last two years I've been used to organising things with friends and going out and doing things and then when Kate had stopped doing the book, I'd completely forgotten to include her. Kate was going, 'Can I come?' 'Sorry, I haven't got you a ticket.'"

What is this? What else but a love story? Kate Charlesworth is a cartoonist, a partner and a daughter to now sadly deceased parents. She has written and published a book that she should be proud of. There's no shame in any of this. No shame at all.

Sensible Footwear, by Kate Charlesworth, is published by Myriad Editions, £17.99. She is appearing at the Edinburgh International Book Festival on August 19.

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Andy Oliver, Broken Frontier

3 August 2019

Officially published this Thursday, Kate Charlesworth’s Sensible Footwear: A Girl’s Guide underlines what a strong 2019 it’s been for Myriad Editions who, in the same year Myriad Creative Director Corinne Pearlman was inducted into our Broken Frontier Hall of Fame, have put out some of their most eagerly anticipated books to date.

Sensible Footwear is both a celebration and record of LGBTQI+ history, and Charlesworth’s personal account of living through a changing socio-political climate. From an era when male homosexuality was  punishable with prison time through to contemporary queer culture, this powerful book encompasses coming out, Stonewall, the AIDS crisis and Section 28 along the way. Undoubtedly one of the most crucial graphic memoirs of the year and one we’ll be reviewing at Broken Frontier in the not-too-distant future.

Kate Charlesworth (W/A) • Myriad Editions, £17.99

– Andy Oliver

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Erica Gillingham, DIVA Magazine

3 August 2019

Kate Charlesworth succeeds in inducing a cheeky smile with the title of her graphic memoir, Sensible Footwear, but it's so much more than a lesbian in-joke; the book is a chronicle of  an incredible life interwoven with the monumental changes the LGBTQI community has borne over the past 70 years. A cartoonist and self-professed "dyke about town", Charlesworth depicts different stages of her life from childhood to coming out, to her flourishing adulthood. Interspersed with the personal, she includes colourful spreads of the political: major moments of history retold in five-year increments from 1950-2019, often highlighting lesser-known British figures along the way. Not since Alison Bechdel's Fun Home has there been such an important graphic memoir - especially for younger generations. A striking and heart-warming achievement in comic form, Sensible Footwear should be on everyone's bookshelves.

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Paul Gravett for The Bookseller

24 October 2018

The often hidden history of lesbians in Britain from 1950 to the present comes alive through the vivid re-creations of acclaimed cartoonist Kate Charlesworth. In sensitive wash illustrations, she evokes formative experiences of growing up in the North and the gradual realisation that she was 'different'. Isolated and invisible, Charlesworth sought out role models in Dusty Springfield and Billie Jean King and devised icons of her own through her comic-strip characters. Sensible Footwear engagingly documents decades of changes in the LGBTQ+ life.

Val McDermid

I’ve been familiar with Kate Charlesworth’s work since her pioneering cartoons in Gay News in the 1970s. At the time, the lives and concerns of lesbians were far less visible than those of gay men, and to see Kate’s representations of our experiences made us feel less insignificant as well as providing an opportunity to laugh at ourselves. There was a real sense of inclusivity and immediacy in her work then and that has continued to be a feature of her art.

If we don’t write our history down, the next generation are cut adrift from the journey that lies behind their present lives. Without a sense of where they have come from and how far they have come, they are vulnerable to losing the advances they have made. A Girl’s Guide to Sensible Footwear will be a crucial cornerstone in building our future by making sure we remember our past. And Kate’s style – feisty, questioning, open, witty and sometimes angry – is the perfect vehicle to communicate that lived history of feminism, activism and liberation history in a uniquely accessible way.

I can’t wait to get my hands on it.

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