Friday, August 23, 2002

22 August 2002
Radio Tarifa
I keep thinking of how Spain used to be.
When I first lived there, in 1971, when Franco was still in power. Old then, ill, enfeebled, but still holding on, holding on with all his remaining strength. His petty vindictive, mediocre, narrow minded strength.
Mary Nash described the Franco regime as imposing an “enforced collective historical amnesia concerning the Second Republic and the Civil War” (Women in the Spanish Civil War, Arden Press, 19995, p 3). And that was exactly how it was. But it was about more than the Second Republic and the Civil War - it extended to the whole area of Islam, and the enormous Islamic presence in Spanish history and its utterly significant contribution to Spanish culture.
And that’s a collective amnesia that extends right across Europe and North America. And is fed by, and contributes to, the current disgraceful and catastrophic burst of Islamophobia.
An amnesia that feeds and is fed by self-deceit and lies. A Spanish friend said to me “We have been lied to about everything”.
It was quite an appropriate place for me to be, too, trying to enforce then an individual amnesia, a blanket of forgetfulness, a blotting out, of my own femininity.
And then the horrendous secretive compulsions that went with that - furtive staring at dresses and underwear in a shop that sold wedding dresses, convinced that if I lingered for more than 10 seconds someone would point the finger at me, denounce me, and... what? Arrest me? Whatever it was, I was too scared to even contemplate it. I would hurry past the shop window, torn by longing.
And all that energy, individually and collectively locked up in maintaining a system of repression....
I think of all this at the concert. Radio Tarifa are a group that consciously and deliberately set out to connect with Moorish roots and find a form of expression that marries them with flamenco and jazz and rock and the result is just amazing.
An astonishing outburst of joyful, passionate energy. People are dancing in the Queen’s Hall, it’s impossible to keep still...
And that’s how it is when you release oppressed energy.
And I think of THE GIRL ON THE SOFA at the Lyceum, and for all my admiration for the work David Harrower and the director and the actors have done to it what a miserable wretched play it is. And what a waste of energy to leave the audience stuck in this image of endless isolation.
What a contrast with the boundless collective energy of this audience.
If all theatre really thinks it can do is make people miserable then we might as well close down the theatres. This very minute. They’re an utter waste of space.

Singing again. Something else about vibrato is that is that it works best if you really drop your jaw. Open your mouth wide. Something to do with the direction of air flowing over the vocal chords.
It’s strange how hard it is to drop my jaw. It’s as if something wants to keep it clamped shut.
An old prohibition against making too much noise, perhaps. How often is that said to children: Do be quiet. Don’t get so excited. Generally when children are really getting in touch with their real energies.
How often has that been said to us?
Often enough for us to quieten ourselves down, dull ourselves down.
It is amazing, singing, how simple some of it apparently is. What could be simpler than just dropping your jaw. But then what could be more complicated..? And what does the difficulty with doing it imply...?
And there’s a feeling associated with vibrato. My lip tends to quiver. It feels strange. And that somehow connects with a much deeper kind of tremble.
I suddenly find it starting to remind me of orgasm. Not an ‘outer’ orgasm that goes with ejaculation, but that amazing inner release of energy that isn’t really connected to the penis but more, I suppose, in men, to the prostate.
That sets me thinking about Wilhelm Reich: The Function of the Orgasm. And how he connected it with whole areas of emotional and energy release. And posited the notion of ‘body armour’ that locks the body in defence. That we’re afraid of taking off.
And I remember the king’s dream in my Inés:
“My armour has become my skin”.

23 August 2002
Two more drag shows:
Bruce Devlin’s show was called One Fat Lady: Diva to Dosser. Only he wasn’t fat. And although he advertises himself in drag he hangs onto a trace of stubble, like a kind of insurance policy, as if his drag persona makes him a little nervous and he doesn’t want to lose himself in her.
And then he changes out of her fast enough. So fast you wonder why he changed into her in the first place.
And perhaps because his audience was so small, and he was upset and discouraged by the size of it, he kept himself utterly inside his script and hardly engaged with his audience at all.
And he has an interval. Which was a mistake (helost two out of his audience of six).
Tina C’s Twin Towers Tribute was, I guess, the best. Polished, impeccable, witty, with sharp songs, it was a really intelligent and angry attack on U.S. hypocrisy and cultural imperialism, all presented with beautifully polished irony and barbed charm.
I pay tribute to all this, but feel a kind of deadness creeping over me as I write. The mask was complete; dead somehow. The layrs of defence so impenetrable.
I shouldn’t complain: we need our defences. We keep them high.

Monday, August 19, 2002

15 August, 2002
Practising vibrato. when you hit a note truly, give yourself over to the note, and control the diaphragm to expel the air a little more strongly, it all sets up this amazing, uncanny vibration that is immensely powerful.
The first time I got close to it I found myself crying very hard: it opened up some wellspring of grief in a way that took me utterly by surprise.
I know that grief is still there, somewhere. If nothing else it has to with possessing this ability, however minor it is, and it being blocked for about 40 years of my life. I find it frightening: the prospect of connecting with it.
Maybe it’s because of it that singing still frightens me, I don’t quite believe I am doing it, I don’t quite recognise that voice that comes out of my mouth. It feels like a stranger’s.
So it’s as if I’m not ready to really give myself over to it. Give myself body and soul without reservation. Without holding something back: without a safety net.
I get lost in “Because I can’t have you”. I find I am switching registers, more or less at random, and then I can’t remember where it is I am supposed to be. Marion, my teacher, patiently unscrambles everything.
As I sing it again after that disastrous beginning, I notice a temptation to go sullen, to stop trying, somehow, to fail: because the pain of not trying and failing will somehow be less tan the pain of really trying, really committing. And then failing.
At a certain point there’s a two octave jump from “now” to “I” which I can somehow manage without difficulty in practice (locked in the loo where I think no-one can hear me) but now when I start to think about it, I think about it in the wrong way and so censor myself and miss it.
You have to learn to think without thinking. I imagine.
And then a new song. Utterly beautiful. “By the River”. Words and music by Maury Yeston. A ballad. It b rings tears to my eyes. Marion explains she is to sing it in the autumn. She will sing it beautifully, I know. But the thought of being able to sing it myself is astounding.
It's about being in the body. When I was 14, 15, 16, really do desperately struggling with my being transgendered, I tried to resolve it by detaching from my body, because it frightened and disgusted me.
So I bought into the whole mind/body split with a vengeance. Singing is such an incredibly powerful means of healing that split.
I saw STIMMUNG at the Usher Hall. A vocal piece by: Stockhausen writing alone in a frozen landscape, at night, silent, not to disturb his children, celebrating sex and spirituality. Because they are, in the end, one.
Even in Bach, in the Goldberg variations late the following night. The Usher Hall packed to the rafters. The fascination of watching an artist operating within a strict form, that perhaps we mostly cannot understand but whose existence we can somehow intuit. And the extraordinary variation of feeling and tone within those limitations.
I heard it after watching Fosse's GIRL ON A SOFA at the Lyceum theatre. English version by David Harrower. Amazing opening, the actors miked behind a gauze screen. Mysterious figures peopling a landscape of memory. It looked beautiful, it was evocative and mysterious, and I got so excited about the form of it. Its confidence and its experimentality. But then after about twenty minutes I had a nasty feeling it was getting trapped, that it would go nowhere, that it would simply spiral ever further inwards into one individual’s misery. And that’s how it was: ending with the central character alone, unable to paint, trapped in her isolation.
The weirdest thing about was that was written as if the outside world didn't matter. As if the society she was living in somehow didn't exist or impinge in any way. It was utterly focused on the individual in a way that just won't do. Won't do at all.
But although I reject the play most fiercely, it must affect me profoundly. The following night I have to talk at a Book Festival event about translation. I come home tired, weary beyond belief. Feeling as if I am the only man in the entire world trying to express gender in the way I do.
Two more plays in my mind: IRON, by Rona Munro, at Traverse. A really beautiful piece of work: accessible, multi-layered, well constructed, compassionate. A young woman goes to visit her mother in prison. After a long absence from her: because the mother killed the girl's father.
And the young woman can remember nothing of her childhood.
Which made me think how little I remember of mine. My mother died so suddenly when I was 12: and I remember so little of her, and so few details of my life before she died.
But those memories are still there, somehow, even if inaccessible, because certain incidents, moments, ways of talking or being can affect me so profoundly.
David Greig's play, OUTLYING ISLANDS, also at the Traverse, had two young men at the centre of it, steeped in the English upper class culture, ways of speaking and being, that dominated my childhood. So, because Greig had caught the essence of it all so skilfully, I found myself so profoundly irritated by them I could hardly see the play at all. I wanted to shout abuse at them instead.
And then last night, Sunday night, I saw OEDIPE, opera by Enescu. In a concert performance at the Usher Hall. I was surprised at myself wanting to go to this. I’ve never understood the Oedipus story; it always seemed repellent and incomprehensible and I couldn’t see why everyone, especially Freud, attached so much importance to it.
But this was amazing. Enescu (1881-1955) started work on it in about 1912, but lost all the work he had done in 1917 when a trunk of his manuscripts was sent to Moscow and disappeared.
He started again in 1921 and drafted the whole opera, on a kind of piano reduction, in two or three staves, in less than two months. But he didn’t finish the score till 1931; and it wasn’t performed until 1936. It was a huge triumph. Enescu said of the premiere: “This is the greatest day of my life.” He said he felt like someone “in a dream, or a legend”. It was revived the following year and then disappeared from the repertoire. This is the first time it has been heard in Britain.
Enescu’s last years were spent in a basement flat in Paris: poor, neglected, crippled by a spinal disease, but composing to the very end.
There’s a real artistic heroism in that story that moves me profoundly.
And he saw, he must have seen something in this story that no-one else did, because I have never understood anything about It before tonight.
It’s like it’s the opposite of all those 19th century stories, in which the heroine always dies. Poisoned, or strangled, or jumping off a tower or dying of consumption... it’s always very sad, of course, and the hero is left broken hearted, but it’s in the ‘natural’ order of things, somehow. It is what the growing boy has to do under patriarchy. He has to separate himself from his mother, kill her in his soul. Renounce the feminine within him: kill her stone dead.
And this is all very painful and tragic, but necessary also. And life goes on.
(In an educational sense, these values informed my upbringing. One reason for sending boys to boarding school at the age of 7 or 8 was because it was thought to be good for them. To separate them from what was felt to be the ultimately harmful closeness of the mother, and turn them into men.)
Oedipus goes the other way. His ‘crime’ is to become too close to his mother. That’s what ‘marrying her’ means symbolically: he wants to become one with her. And instead of following the father, he kills him.
This is why he becomes so overwhelmed with guilt that he blinds himself (Jocasta kills herself, but in a patriarchal world that tragedy is secondary). His daughter saves him: she is the guide who leads him through the darkness.
Leads him to his final resting place: a holy spot, sanctified by the mother goddesses, the Eumenides. He has become blind: like Tieresias, who lived both as a woman and a man, who lived to the full both his maleness and his femaleness, Oedipus has lost his masculinity.
Creon and Thebes want him to return to their city, to bring them victory in their patriarchal war. But he refuses. He returns to his Mother, to the Eumenides, peaceful deities:
"Déesses qui veillez au fond du bois sacré! [You goddesses who keep watch deep in the sacred wood]
Vous fûtes autrefois les Erynnies fétides [You were once the fetid furies]
aux visages sanglants aux ongles meurtriers [With bloody faces and murderous nails]
Vous êtes devenues les douces Euménides [You have become the gentle Eumenides}
et par vous, remplaçant la vengence homicide [And through you, instead of murderous vengeance]
la Justice et la Paix règnent dans la cité! [Justice and peace now reign within the city]."
The furies pursued Orestes after he had murdered his mother; they are the angry feminine forces turned murderous through repression.
Oedipus has made his peace with them: because he has made his peace with himself. He has married his mother and has overcome the guilt and shame attached to it.

Here’s a play I want to write sometime....

Thursday, August 15, 2002

14 August 2002
Home again. Last night I was in London, at the Arcola again for BINTOU. It was amazing.
The theatre is still a derelict basement, essentially. The basement of a carpet factory. its run down, a bit grubby, surrounded by stages, and you sit on stools, rickety chairs, cushions.
The theatre full, a real buzz in the air. menacing looking youths with dogs. violent rap music. It all felt exciting and dangerous and absolutely light years away from the beauty of Pitlochry, its great windows looking out over the river and the mountains beyond.
The really exciting, amazing thing was that I have work on in both these amazingly contrasted venues, and its going well in both.
I started singing again. The new song is: “Since I don’t have you”. Music by Joseph Rock and Lennie Martin; words by James Beaumont, Janey Vogel, Joseph Verscharen, Walter Lester and John Taylor. The words go:
“I don’t have plans and schemes
And I don’t have hopes and dreams
I don’t have anything
Since I don’t have you.
I don’t have fond desires
And I don’t have happy hours
I don’t have anything
Since I don’t have you.
I don’t have happiness
And I guess
I never will er again;
When you walked out on me
In walked the misery
And he’s been here since then.
Now I don’t have much to share
And I don’t have one to care
I don’t have anything
Since I don’t have you.”
It amazes me it took so many writers to write so few words. It means they wrote about 18 each. Which then got set to this ridiculously bouncy tune that gives the impression that she (“I”) is actually DELIGHTED to be shot of you. Life seems to have got ever so much better all of a sudden.
That must be one reason why I so love singing it. It’s a good antidote to my solemnity.
Another is that it’s full of utterly crazy and amazing octave jumps that are such a huge delight to sing.
Elvis used to sing it, apparently, but I don’t feel it as an Elvis song. I feel it as a girl’s song. A kind of bouncy hairdo song. A bouncy hairdo, wide belted, full skirted swinging petticoats kind of song, and that must be another reason I like singing it.
It offers an outlet for thatv whole side of me - so long neglected, so long despised, so long suppressed. It gives me a new voice.
The more I think about being transgendered, the more important that seems to me. To find a voice.
It’s no coincidence that when we perform so often we deprive ourselves of speech. I guess for years I felt I had nothing worth saying: or that however impossibly good I might hypothetically manage to say, my voice would always betray me.
Or maybe because it seemed to me my wishes were so absurd, there was no way I could ever find my true identity.
So perhaps then I would have gone to see something like the Lady Boys of Bangkok, which consists really of nothing else but young men in tawdry dresses lip synching to female stars, Britney Spears, Kylie Minogue, whoever. Maybe I would have gone and been excited, or filled with longing or envy. Maybe that would have been something I could have aspired to.
As opposed to being bored by.
Boredom I was not expecting. But there it was, and pity, too. So many of the boys looked tired and confused and not a little lost. Poisoning themselves with hormones and implants. The respectable family friendly edge of a viciously exploitative sex industry.
A whole spectacle based on repression. That expresses, celebrates, reinforces it.
And makes huge sums of money out of it, too. I was looking around, making my calculations:
250 people in, paying 17.50 each. Two shows a day running 7 days a week for a month. At that rate that means that during the run they’ll take in quarter of a million at the box office.
Which says something for the power of drag.
Power that everyone is afraid of: including ourselves. Which must be one reason why the boys go to such extraordinary lengths to utterly efface all traces of maleness: and actually convince that that it is not drag.
But what would drag be like if instead of being founded on repression it was a celebration of pride? Dedicated to subversion?
Kandi Kane at least has a kind of defiance. A power in the voice, too, and a delight in using its full register.
But the rudeness his persona delights in is a kind of pre-emptive strike. It’s “I’ll reject you before you reject me”. Just like her deliberately over the top and in bad taste dress sense. Which is “I’ll make myself look ridiculous before you tell me that I am”.
And that’s all part of Kandi’s story: overweight, hated by her mother, filmed in endlessly humiliating episodes. Rolling down a hill on Hampstead Heath, getting covered in mud, tryingn to wash it all off and faling into a dirty pond. Overdoing the peroxide and going bald. Rejected by her lover and grotesquely eating a huge cream cake.
We’re meant to laugh at these misfortunes. I can’t laugh. Maybe because they really are too close to my own. Or maybe because the rejection, and the sense of humiliation is all too close to my own.
But also because to laugh is to somehow become complicit in the oppressive society that creates them.
I remember writing once: “I want my plays to be little acts of resistance”. And that’s what a true voice would be.
Later that week I went o an all night concert of Indian classical music. It began with Hari Prasad Chaurasia playing the flute. Breath, as the voice is. And each note had so often such a clarity and such a perfection to it I wanted to weep.
There was a singer, Shruti Sadolikar whose voice at moments had the same quality. Whose songs, whether spiritual or of sensual love, all came from somewhere so deeply, so powerfully embodied.
And afterwards, at dawn, stumbling home so far beyond weariness and yet so amazingly alive.
And the next night at Bach’s Mass in B Minor in the Canongate Kirk. The energy in that music: I could hardly bear to sit still. I wanted to dance to it. A counter tenor sang the Agnus Dei. Beautiful utterly utterly beauitful.
And aftewards I thought: “I want to sing that”.
And realised that was the first time: the first time for my voice that I had dared to

Friday, August 02, 2002

2 July 2002
I've just become a professor. A strange feeling.
I used to imagine it sort of happened: someone Up There decided my professor were going to be professors.
But it's more mundane. It's like a job. You apply for it.
You fill in enormous forms and try to update your cv and get people to write you references and hand it all in and wait.
And then tell yourself all the usual things like: it doesn't matter if I don't get it.
But actually it does.
4 July
But it doesn't help much in rehearsal. The play's opening soon, everyone's getting tense and nervous and being the writer I feel responsible. I have to fight off a nagging feeling that if only I'd written a better play everyone would be having a better time.
6 July
Have very little hope for the success of the play. THE QUEEN OF SPADES. It seems crazy, ridiculous and self defeating to write the way I do.
I make too many demands, I'm not clear enough how I want it done. The HUGE set they are building for it terrifies me.
10 July, 2002
Hate the play. hate the process. I want oblivion.
11 July 2002
The play opens. The usual happens: on stage, with an audience, it starts to make sense.
I've been rewriting right up to the last dress rehearsal. Bits of it still aren't right.
For all its faults, I’m still proud of it. Proud of the cast. And on the whole it went well.
12 July.
I feel a bit like a convalescent. I sit blinking in the weak fitful sunshine. I listen to music; I play endless games of solitaire.
18th July 2002
Back in rehearsals: this time for THE HAUNTED MAN.
These are happier. There's none of that horrible uncertainty hanging over us: this show's been done already, it's been rewritten, and we know it fundamentally works.
20th July 2002
In Barcelona. I feel glamourous. I soak up the heat like a sponge.
Discussing a possible collaboration between a British theatre company, and a Catalan theatre company, and between myself and a Catalan playwright.
21st July 2002
Self and Pablo on endless and amazing walk and pub crawl round Barcelona.
We dink gallons of beer, wine and an amazing distilled something or other whose name I forget and walk for miles and miles. I like him.
23rd July 2002
Hungover. Footsore. Back in London.
BINTOU opens at the Arcola theatre. The director is brilliant: she and her designer have transformed the basement into something like an art installation with at least half a dozen stages and the audience sitting in the centre. It's amazing.
The play's written by Koffi Kwahulé, a French speaking playwright from the Ivory coast, and is about the clash between traditional and western cultures. I translated it several years ago, and I've forgotten the process. This is the first production, and feels as if translated by a stranger.
He seems to know what he's doing: and the acting is fantastic.
30th July 2002
HAUNTED MAN opens in Pitlochry.
Just after an amazing downpour: a stream in the town burst its banks and flooded the co-op. The store's doors burst open in the flood, and the water deluged into the high street, carrying with it a whole mass of sodden groceries. Boys scavenging knee deep in water in the flooded street.
Big audience. The play looks fantastic on the main stage. Last year it opened in the foyer, and had to compete with an unbelievably noisy capuccino coffee machine. Now it looks at home.
It's a one man show about Charles Dickens, performed by Jimmy Chisholm. Jimmy is amazing. At the end, the audience stand to applaud.
Incredible happiness. Incredible weariness.
Another struggle begins: to make sure we can make the most of the success.

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