HowWe Met

Nancy Kline and Christopher Spence

Marina Cantacuzino@@MCantacuzino
Sunday 18 September 2011 06:41

The writer and campaigner Nancy Kline, 48, was born in New Mexico. She is author of Women and Power: How Far Can We Go?, and founder of the Leadership 2020 Campaign, which aims to put more women in positions of leadership. She married Christopher Spence in 1990. Christopher Spence, 50, had been openly gay for 20 years when he met Nancy Kline. A former private secretary to the Speaker of the Commons, he opened the Aids charity London Light-house in 1988 and was made an MBE in 1992. He and Nancy Kline live in Oxfordshire.

NANCY KLINE: I first met Christopher in 1983, at a conference on social change I was leading in Connecticut, but we became acquain-ted before that through our writing, which was looking at the effects of classism on people raised with money. At that tim e , Christopher was a freelance consultant working with different organisations and developing personal effectiveness courses. Although my experience of talking to him on the phone had been positive, a colleague of mine had described him as a "handsome, ow ning-class, arrogant, white, English, gay man", so I wasn't that predisposed towards him. On top of that, when I got to the conference it had been decided that Christopher should have the honoured bedroom which was meant to be mine.

Once he'd arrived and was in his room, I thought I'd better go and greet this person - that was the professional thing to do. As I walked into the room, he was deep in conversation with colleagues, but as soon as he saw me he got up and we started walking towards each other. We didn't take our eyes off each other and everyone else in the room faded into the background. Then he said, "So you're Nancy Kline," and I said, "And you're Christopher Spence."

I was waiting for him to become arrogant, but he didn't, and I was impressed by how warm, relaxed and even humble he was. He had the kindest eyes I'd ever seen and somehow I knew this was very important. I decided from that moment on to be completely honest in this relationship, which meant asking to sit down because my knees had grown weak. We found the nearest chair and he stood next to me and said, "You have beautiful hair." "So do you," I said. I remember thinking, this man is able to notice aesthetic and beautiful things, not just political theory.

During that weekend we spent a lot of time together. I remember one evening in which we agreed we'd follow this relationship to wherever it would lead. I was coming out of a marriage and he was heavily involved in a long-term relationship with a man, so there was nothing at all to guide us.

For a long time I didn't know where it was leading, except that it was the committed relationship of my life. The relationship developed on the phone. We spoke to each other every day for just an hour, which meant that when I spoke to him it couldn't be indulgent.

At the same time, his work was becoming focused on Aids, and my work was becoming focused on writing and developing my consultancy business. In 1985, around the time that Christopher was trying to get London Lighthouse up and running, and not getting anyaction from the authorities, he said to me, "I think I'm going to have to do this myself", and at that moment I knew it was absolutely right that this should happen. The fact that it would mean an intolerable upheaval in our lives wasn't to be considered. This relationship was a combination of how beautifully we communicated and how committed we were to social change. One important thing was that we'd both survived life-threatening illness at the same age. In 1970, Christopher had serious liver damage from hepatitis, and in 1972 I was diagnosed with ovarian cancer and given one month to live.

We were married in 1990 in a medieval banqueting hall in Oxfordshire. Soon after, I moved to England and for the first time Christopher and I shared a home together. I have carried on with my writing and leadership development work, while Christopher manages the development and growth of London Lighthouse.

Christopher's historical and political gay identity has never been a problem for me. I am proud of his choices and his history and the way it's always reflected his feminist values. But people's prurient observations about what it must mean about our marriage is an issue. Recently, I gave Christopher a 50th birthday party. I'd written a love song for him 10 years earlier and I arranged for a singer to perform it as a song from me to him. Also, I felt the occasion was an opportunity for me to give a speech about Christopher in front of a large group of people who I guessed had many perspectives on our marriage. I wanted to go a little bit beyond the bounds of what's usually done on these occasions, particularly in England, and appr e ciate him publicly in a way that he and I appreciate each other all the time.

CHRISTOPHER SPENCE: I'd been inspired and excited by the quality of Nancy's writing, and so it was her mind that I had gone to meet in Connecticut in 1983. As she came into the room, I recognised that I was walking towards something important. There was

the excitement of something new and different, and the ease of something very familiar. I don't know what went on at the conference, because I was so taken up with the intensity of this meeting, but I do know that periodically she would spring up and be absolutely scintillating and incisive before this group of people.

I don't know if we were talking about being in love at that stage, but we were certainly talking about love. Nancy was, after all, a heterosexual woman in a marriage and I was a gay man in a gay relationship - not an obvious basis on which to be talking about a love affair. But it wasn't very long before I realised I was in love with Nancy, and when she came to England a few months after our first meeting, we went away together. The assumption we shared was that love has to be the basis of effective social change. The result of our conversations was the book, At Least a Hundred Principles of Love. We started out by writing 10 definitive things we could say about love, and then it grew. When we got to 78, we thought it was time we wrote it down in a form that could be published.

Although my partner and I didn't part for another three years, I think my relationship with Nancy was perhaps an opportunity to make a move. To me, gender was irrelevant in my decision to commit in a gay relationship - it just happened that I fell in love with a man. Similarly, it just happened that I fell in love with a woman. My identity as a gay man was as much a political statement about gay oppression as it was a statement about my sexuality.

Early on, even though neither of us could defend marriage as an institution, we had a shared sense of wanting to commit long-term. It wasn't, however, for another six years that we spoke seriously about marriage. The first step for both of us was to be single, as neither of us had ever lived on our own. It was also at this time that I realised I couldn't avoid the issue of Aids any longer - I had recently lost two close friends to Aids and I had a realisation that my future work lay in HIV and Aids.

Simultaneously, Nancy was building up her training work, in particular developing young women's leadership programmes. By 1985 we were emerging publicly in each other's lives. Once, during a three-week visit here, Nancy came to three funerals with me, two of which were for gay friends who had died of Aids. Also, we started doing workshops together which were very popular in the early days of Lighthouse, particularly the one called "Love, Power and the Immune System".

The discussion about marriage began in 1989, and by the end of the year we'd decided to marry. We were assuming we'd have to go back and forth to America all the time, but between being engaged and getting married that idea went by the board. In the end

it became obvious that Nancy could move here because her work was mobile.

People who knew us well were supportive of the marriage, although my family, who had spent 20 years being supportive of me as a gay man, at first thought a radical readjustment was being required of them. Also, the gay community was very critical. Our e n gagement was mentioned in the gay press and the next week there were letters demanding "get this heterosexual shit out of our newspaper".

We disagree, but we don't fight. One important thing about us is that we're both twins, which means we both know a lot about intimacy.

There's one incident which I think is indicative of our relationship. We were climbing in the hills and there was a moment when Nancy stopped and said, "Isn't it lovely? Look at the view." And I, from a bit higher up, said: "It's lovely where you are, but come and look from here." That's what we do for each other all the time, challenge each other to go right up to the edge of every possibility.

Join our new commenting forum

Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies

View comments