Thursday, June 07, 2018

Open Letter to Marcelo Crivella, Mayor of Rio de Janeiro and Bishop of the Universal Church of the Kingdom of God

Dear Bishop Crivella,

I am Jo Clifford, the author of the play "The Gospel According To Jesus Queen Of Heaven" whose performances you are doing your utmost to prevent on the grounds that they are offensive to religion.

I am so glad that at least we both agree on the importance of religion. Like you I don't want to see it insulted or denigrated in any way.

It matters so much in this sad and cruel world that we all try to live the way Jesus taught us and that we try to love and respect each other as best we can.

I am sure we can agree on this. And I have to tell you, my friend, that this is all in my play if only you could see it.

I am sorry that you can't. Sorry, too, to see so much suffering and confusion in your eyes as you try to justify the censorship of the play.

Of course you'll know the story that Jesus told of the woman who was making bread and who mixed a tiny amount of yeast into the dough and how it worked its way through "about sixty pounds of flour".

He said the Kingdom of Heaven was like that.

Me and my play, and the brave devoted souls who are producing it, and all the good people who have seen it and will see it in the future in your beautiful city of Rio de Janeiro and all over the world... We are that yeast and we are changing the world. Bit by bit it is becoming a more open and loving and accepting place. Somewhere where all God's children have the right to live in justice and in peace.

And you cannot stop us.

I understand you cannot see the play on this occasion but please read it. I can easily arrange for it to be sent you in Portuguese.

Of course you don't have to agree with it. I would never dream of interfering with your freedom to feel and respond to my work in any way seems best to you.

In the meantime I send you all my good will and my deep wish that you find peace and happiness.


Jo Clifford

Tuesday, April 24, 2018

Dear Scotland

Four years ago, the NTS asked me to write a monologue inspired by a picture in the Scottish National Portrait Gallery.

I chose this - 'Poet's Pub' by Alexander Moffat - and I gave voice to the faceless woman sitting on the left hand side.

It was beautifully performed by Sally Reid at the time and then, later that year, not so beautifully performed by me in pro-Independence rallies.

A dear friend has aksed to read it because she says it sounds important still.

And I think so too...


Nothing dear about you Scotland. You vile country.

You with your cold dark days.

You with your rain that stings my face 

You with your hard grey streets, your dirty windows

You with your niggardly closed off minds.

You with your instinct to cut everyone down to size

You who find it so hard to praise anyone or anything.

You who always want to fail

Because you’re frightened of succeeding.

Always happier for things to go wrong

So you can blame someone else for it.

I hate you Scotland.

I hate your poets.

Look at them. So-called alpha males.

Look at them talking talking talking.

They never stop. Never.

Look at the way they toady up to that old man  

Or say vile things about him behind his back

That old man with his filthy pipe and his tartan scarf

Praising Lenin and the power of the people

Declaiming all the time in that ridiculous made-up language of his

That’s supposed to be Scots but which no-one can understand

He looked up words in the dictionary and he learned them off by heart

Not because he wanted to communicate but because he wanted to impress and intimidate.

And them in their pecking order all about him.

Look at them. Bunch of pricks.

Not that their pricks are up to much.

I know because I’ve had most of them inside me,

Waggling about or pumping up and down

Up and down up and down in the dreariest kind of way

And then me afterwards smiling saying you were wonderful

It was a skill I had.

And they all loved me for it, and the way I moaned

And that’s why I’m painted naked with my red stockings on

To show that I’m available.

But then see how it’s also kind of hidden that I’m naked because that. dear Scotland,

That’s just the way you feel. Just the way you feel about sex,

Kind of furtive and ashamed, and the way you feel about feelings too.

Why you will keep drinking just to blank them out.

You’ve blanked us out too, dear Scotland, kept us at the edge of things

Me and Liberté and Jenny in the courtyard

Not even bothered to paint our faces and denied us names.

So it’s the names, Scotland, it’s the names I’ll tell you first:

Liberté’s name is Marie Deschamps and she fought on the barricades

And that’s Jenny in the courtyard.

And I’m Stella and I belong in the stars.

Jenny’s dead now. She worked the streets to support her child

And she was a better human being than the whole lot of you.

You with your fine words and your frightened hearts.

You’d have used her for your furtive pleasures only she made you pay.

But me I gave it you for nothing.

I let myself be used.

Don’t judge me for that, Scotland, because you’re the same.

You’ve made yourself available

You’ve let yourself be colonised.

They’ve colonised your resources and they’ve colonised your minds

And then you believe them, Scotland, when they tell you you’re no good

And can’t be trusted to run your own affairs.

That’s why the Scotland I lived in was so very small.

Why I’m the same, Scotland, the same as you

Why I let myself be despoiled

Why I wrote my poems in the darkness

And never let them come to light.

That’s why I drank myself to death.

But it doesn’t have to be this way

Don’t believe them when they tell you so

the squalor of alcohol

defeat and failure, Scotland,

the resigned and twisted bitterness

That’s not for you.

The old man wasn’t altogether wrong, Scotland,

When he said poetry should be at the centre of your life.

I loved him once. I loved them all.

Maybe I wouldn’t say poetry

Maybe I’d say love

Maybe I’d say creativity

Maybe I’d say they should be at the beating heart of things.

Whatever. I won’t argue. 

But don’t leave me at the edge, Scotland.

And don’t deny my name. Acknowledge me.

I don’t mind being naked. I refuse to be ashamed.

But right now, Scotland, when school children notice that I have no clothes

They get hurried on.

You see, Scotland, you’re still so prudish when it comes to sex.

But your children should be fearless, unashamed.

Don’t perpetuate abuse and shame.

Don’t believe them when they tell you there is no other way

Don’t believe them when they tell you they cannot help committing crimes.

They’re wrong. They’re very wrong. There is another way.

I was gifted, Scotland.

I was different, Scotland.

I laughed. I danced

I loved my body and I loved to live.

Yet I destroyed myself because there was no place for me.

I was clever when there was no space for women’s cleverness

So I drank myself stupid and I felt ashamed.

Don’t be ashamed, Scotland

Don’t be ashamed to be women

Don’t be ashamed to be men

Don’t be ashamed to be people of both genders or of none

Listen to those of us who don’t fit in. Cherish your outcasts.

Because on that day, Scotland, 

That day you’ll build the road to freedom.

That day freedom will be at the centre of your picture

And the face she’ll wear will be your own.


Monday, April 23, 2018

Transphobia kills

A friend died last week. I say “friend” though I hardly knew them. 

It is just I so wanted to know them more.

Several years ago they came out to me as trans, and I so wanted to help them.

It was difficult because they said they had given up hope. They didn’t believe it was possible they could ever be open about who they were because they felt so deeply ashamed.

I told them…I told them all the things you would tell someone in such a position. I was sure they would feel better if they could be open about who they were.

I said that in my experience the whole process of transitioning had been very difficult, but far less difficult that I had thought it would be.

It was hard to believe, sometimes, in the torment they were suffering. Because they came across as an outgoing, friendly person, always with a kind word. 

But they said sometimes they just couldn’t bear to see anyone or to be seen at all.

I said I was sorry but the feeling would not go away. The only way through it is to do the one thing we are most afraid of but also want to do more than anything in the world. I said that if they decided to begin to live as a woman people in our church would support them, because I know they would. 

And I said I would help them in any wayI could.

And they smiled  sadly and said they didn’t think they could do that.

And then I started to see them less and less.

And now they’re gone.

I heard the news just as I was about to go on stage. I was performing with 12 other women in a remarkable and visionary art installation by Tai Shani at the Tramway. She had created a beautiful space that represented the City of Women imagined by the 14th century Cristine de Pizan. And we were to embody the free citizens of a post patriarchal future.

And so I did that as best I could.

I thought of how when I was still forced to live as a man I was at heart so ashamed that performing was completely blocked for me. Of the twenty years of struggle it took me to find my voice as a writer. Of the catcalls and the shouting and the insults and abuse that pursued me as I started to go out as a woman.

Of the women who, when last year I was awarded the award of being one of the Ten Outstanding Women of Scotland, took such a venomous pleasure in telling me I was a man. And who said that if I had a single shred of human decency in me I would renounce the award. Because it was not mine.

The hatred we face is still so real and often, too, it is lodged deep inside ourselves. I know it caused the death of my friend.

In the words of our Brazilian sisters: “Transphobia kills”.

And I so wish, my dear, I could call you by your true name. I hope at least you told someone so that it has not remained unknown for ever.

Whenever we met she, and I will call her she, she would greet me affectionately and call me “Big Bird”in the tender playful way of hers.

Fly into the kind night, little bird. Fly into the unknown darkness. I hope you come out in a safer and more loving world.

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