Wednesday, March 08, 2017

On being an "outstanding woman of Scotland 2017"

I spent yesterday evening with a polar explorer, a forensic anthropologist, two choreographers, a singer, an artist, a theatre critic and two activists. It was amazing.

All remarkable women. And all of us chosen by the Saltire Society and Glasgow Women’s Library to be “The Outstanding Women Of Scotland 2017”.

It is an incredible honour. I am so mood by it. To the extent that last night I couldn’t quite allow myself to fully feel it; because I knew if I did I would break down in helpless weeping.

But I held myself together, somehow, and this is (more or less) what I said:

“It is such an honour to be standing here. I’m more deeply moved than I can say. I know my daughters will be well chuffed too.

It was good of you to mention my late partner, Sue Innes, in this context. It’s really wonderful that there’s a bookshelf dedicated to her name here in the Glasgow Women’s Library. She’d have been happy too; and I also know she’s have got one of these years ago.

Pioneering feminist that she was, she always said “the personal is political”.

And she was right. The personal is  political.

And there is a very important political dimension to your giving me this award tonight.

You’re probably aware that this weekend a prominent broadcaster has joined a once important feminist thinker in asserting that women like myself are somehow not real and that  our experience and identity is not authentic.

I’m so grateful to you for so powerfully and simply and profoundly contradicting this stale nonsense.

I kept reproaching myself for it over the weekend, but I found myself repeating all the old lies I used to tell myself when I was younger: that I wasn’t real, that I could never be a proper woman, that I had no true right to exist.

And patiently refuting it all over and over again.

I know that here in Scotland we’re actually mostly past this kind of falsehood, and it’s one of the many reasons I’m so proud to be Scottish. So I feel a bit embarrassed to tell you that I also found myself spending a bit of yesterday fighting against the thought that maybe you, too, had been convinced by this and had decided to rescind this award because I “wasn’t a proper woman”.

I say this because even though this kind of stuff is so patently false and so clearly the product of ill-informed prejudice, still even the apparently strongest and most self-confident of us can be wounded by it.

So this honour and affirmation is not just for me but for all my trans sisters and brothers in this country and throughout the world.

It’s for the hijra of India, the kathoey of Thailand, the waria of Indonesia, the muxe of Mexico, travesti of Brazil… for all of us. Especially for those sisters and brothers in places where it is dangerous just to be us.

I think especially of my dear sister and colleague Renata Carvalho, wonderful actress and travesti from Brasil, who once again this weekend is  laying her life on the line to perform my “Gospel According to Jesus Queen of Heaven” in São Paulo.

And I think of Dander, a 42 year old trans woman who was dragged from her flat and beaten to death in the open street. And no-one intervened to help her.

This is in her honour and for her memory.

I too am performing “Jesus Queen of Heaven” this weekend, in London, and yesterday I was rehearsing. These lines from the play keep coming to my mind.

They are for all of us, cis and trans alike; all of us who have suffered hatred and discrimination simply for being ourselves.

“Bless you if they persecute you for being who you are. Because it means you are bringing about change.

Bless those who persecute you too. For hatred is the only thing they have. And it doesn’t amount to much.

And they will lose it in the end.
For no matter what they say or what they do they cannot stop the change that is coming.

And one day we will all be free.”

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Why do I still have to argue that it's wrong to expect people to work without payment?

I was asked to perform this week . As an LGBT performer at a poetry event. By a colleague I like and respect and for a cause that passionately I believe in.

“We promise to promote you thoroughly” the invitation went but as it's free event there will be no payment involved.

Of course Of course there was no payment involved. I didn’t expect any. It was if both the “no payment” and the” of course” were taking for granted somehow.

Generally I accept these invitations without thinking about it too much. 

Especially when they come from an organisation that is supposed to be on my side. And in many ways actually is. i think...

And anyway for a long time I thought so poorly of my performance skills it wouldn’t have occurred to me to ask for payment. 

And besides, having  suffered so much when I was young because there were no trans people visible anywhere, it feels important to me to be out there. 

Important to be visible, important to be proud. Important to show that there is an alternative to hiding away in fear and in shame. Important just to be normal.  Being there matters.It’s part of the job somehow.

So I was about to say yes when I started thinking. And then paused.

I was thinking that the event was going happen in a pub and so would make money for the pub’s management. I was thinking the event was going to happen in a back room of the pub and it wouldn't be hard to charge admission.

And I remembered I'm a member of the actors union. Of Equity. And if ever anyone tries to suggest that we should perform for no money there is the most massive uproar. And rightly so.

And then I remembered I am also a member of the Scottish Society of Playwrights, and how long and how hard we fought to establish the principle the writing is a skill and needs to be properly paid for. 

And that trying to build an industry or develop an art form on the basis of unpaid labour is a disaster for all concerned.

So I paused some more.

Did the fact that I was being asked as a poet and performer, and a LGBT poet and performer… did that make it different? Did that make it right for me to be expected to perform for no money? 

When this is, after all, my livelihood. 

I was thinking it makes it different in that all of us who suffer discrimination and oppression also suffer because we internalise that impression.

And that as a consequence we suffer from rock bottom self-esteem, and as a consequence, we are vulnerable to exploitation because it is often hard for us to imagine that our efforts deserve rewarding.

“I never think to ask for payment”, a gay colleague tells me,  “and often don't realise I don't value myself enough to even think to ask.”

And as a consequence we suffer from the prejudice in the world around us and from the prejudice we inflict upon ourselves.

Often without even realising. And it matters that we realise; and that once we have realised, we resist.

And so I didn't say yes. I said no.

 And then I heard of how someone had seen me perform at some other event, when I also wasn't being paid, at a time when they were still firmly in the closet.

And that there was something about the way I performed that helped them overcome their fears, and come out. And now their lives were so much better.

So was I being selfish?

Years ago, when I was still in the closet, in the context of all the feminist activity that was going on around me, it was easy for me to think that my suffering wasn’t authentic and didn’t matter somehow. That it wasn’t oppression. That if I was suffering it was not because i was suffering oppression. It was because I was sick. And deserved it. And anyway didn't really count for anything.

It took a long time to get past that one. But here I am, trying to reflect on this, and on the irony that ultimately the organisation asking me to work for nothing is supposedly on my side.

And the thought also keeps occurring to me that in the middle of everything else that's going on, isn’t this just so trivial?

But it's not trivial. Trans lives matter.

It matters that we learn to look after ourselves. And that we learn to look after each other.,

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

working in times of darkness

I take refuge in work in these dark times.

And, naive as I may be, I think creating art is a valid protest against the obscenity that is happening...

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