Sunday, November 30, 2008

30th November 2008

We'll all haunted just now by images of what happened in Mumbai.
What haunts me more is the imagining of the lives of the young men who did this.
Who planned it, trained and prepared themselves for it, and then went ahead and did it: killed people at random out of a rage-filled, despair-filled desire for suffering, death and destruction.
I try to imagine what drove them to do it.
I can't help but connect it with other events this week. The so-called epidemic of violent death in Latin America. A report in the Sunday Herald

talks of an Accident and Emergency unit in a hospital in Rio that tread 967 victims of gunshot wounds in 2007.
A report in today's Guardian records the huge increase in so-called 'honour' killings in Basra. To call them 'honour' killings is a euphemism: these are murders of women who have attempted to escape male domination. Even in ways we would consider trivial:

It's a list one could compile endlessly: of an atrocious crisis in masculinity.


Friday, November 28, 2008

28th November 2008

I showed the film of "God's New Frock" at the LGBT Health Centre Film club tonight.
It came after a short film about a gay football team in Edinburgh; and before two short films about the assassination of LGBT people in Iraq.
And I left before the showing of a feature length comedy about an Indian lesbian agreeing to be a surrogate mother for her sister...
A slightly weird context then..
But there were lots of people there.
I hadn't seen GODS NEW FROCK for years. I felt uncharacteristically defensive introducing it.
But I needn't have.
It's a film to be proud of.
However, after watching the documentaries about Iraq (and the killing is justified because of the male monotheistic theology we look at, and condemn, in our film) I came away feeling frightened.
In a way i have not felt for ages.
It's such a paradox: 'telling it like it is' in an honest way, and with the best intentions, can still disempower.
I am left struggling with the question of how to be honest - in our tiny oasis of relative safety - and how to empower.


Monday, November 24, 2008

24th November 2008

Last Thursday was Transgender Remembrance Day, and I was organising a Vigil in Glasgow LGBT Centre.
I wrote the script around the work of my Trans-Gressive Writing Group, and they performed their own work.
It was immensely moving: I felt intensely proud of them.
We read out the names, each taking a turn with the name, and each lighting a candle as we did so. We fumbled, and hesitated, and it slowed the whole thing down in a way that deepened its resonance and dignity.
And then on Saturday I was involved in the Vigil organised by the MCC. I read out some names, and a beautiful story about a young trans woman running away from home written by one of my group members.

And this time I felt incredibly proud for myself, somehow: looking back to the years of the most intense struggle against the profoundest fear and shame to enable me to get to that place where I can openly identify myself and participate in our struggle.

And that seems to me worth celebrating.


Sunday, November 16, 2008

16 November 2008
There’s a couple being exposed to ridicule just now who met in one of these virtual reality worlds.
In this life they look fat and unattractive; their selves in the virtual world are glamourous and rich.
They met in cyberspace, and got married there, as well as in this world.
But she found him being unfaithful to someone else in cyberspace and is now divorcing him in this life.
And they are briefly being besieged by the media.
I feel so sorry for them: it’s so easy to mock them, or condemn them for spending energy on perfecting their cyber selves when if they’d maybe spent a fraction of the same energy improving their actual lives they could well have been so much happier.
And it’s sometimes only in the imagination that we can truly and fully live.
I found myself watching an old Stanley Baxter clip on You Tube. There he was, pretending to be Liza Minelli (“Gosh, I’m gauche”) and I fell in love with him all over again.
I went straight back to the boy I was watching him on television in my parents’ house, in a state of desperate anxiety in case my father would disapprove, watching him with a kind of guilty pleasure because he was one of the desperately few representations of who I was.
The memory of that hunger – hunger for representation, even of a laughable kind – fills me with sadness.

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Tuesday, November 11, 2008

11 November

I've been dreaming a lot about my late partner recently.

Usually she's silent, and quite detached from the scene, although also very much a part of it. Which does, in fact, represent how she is in my life.

But last night, very unusually, she spoke. She was telling me to assert myself more and make my wishes felt.

Suddenly tonight I've started to change my profile picture. I couldn't figure out how to do it on this site, but I did it on Facebook.

I changed it to one of the pictures Neil took last week:
(and it's not ended up here...)

And found myself feeling intensely anxious about it.

It really is true that our identity is so fundamental, even in such an apparently trivial thing... no wonder being trans can be such a torment.

Thursday, November 06, 2008

6th November

Today I did a photoshoot.
A dear friend of mine who is an excellent photographer wants to make a photographic essay about transition.
I said i would help.
So I put on a shirt and tie and a man's flat cap and stood in our flats' garage looking miserable for him.
And then changed into my own lovely clothes and sat up in my lovely upstairs writing room and went through the moods he was looking for.
I have always been afraid of cameras. When I was a boy I was terrified of looking in the mirror because the boy I saw reflected there was not me, somehow, and I could not understand why.
It terrified me. And I could not understand..
Mirrors were bad, and cameras were worse, because they captured that confusion and that fear and that awkwardness and shame for everyone to see.
And I desperately wanted to hide it all, because I was sure this was all a sign of something most terribly wrong in me.
But one of the things that most amazes me about this whole process of transition is how much i feel at ease in myself now: and all kinds of things that felt impossible for me then now seem more than possible.
And I have started to love being photographed.
Suddenly the camera seems to have become my friend.
And I found it incredibly exciting..
Even the very sad parts. he wanted tears; and, to my amazement, I found I could enter a sad place, cry genuine tears, and then come out again.
I write this filled with a sense of wonder, as if something quite miraculous has happened.
Partly because he is a very safe person, and I could trust him absolutely: but partly also, I think, because I can trust myself.


Wednesday, November 05, 2008

5th November

I woke about 3.30 this morning.
Couldn't sleep again, thinking of the US election.
So I ended up on the sofa under a blanket at 5am watching Obama's acceptance speech.
Crying, deeply moved, aware of a sea change.
A sense of waking up, perhaps, from the long nightmare that began with Thatecher in the 1980's. From that dreadful era in which there was, apparently, "no such thing as society" and the only task of the individual human being was to enrich himself in total indifference to the needs and conditions of others.

Susie would, I know, have loved his reference to the centenarian woman voting yesterday who when she was born could not vote, being a woman and black. She would have loved the shot of the four of them walking hand in hand to the front of the stage. She would have been so proud of the little girls.

She was so proud of ours.

Maybe she welcomed Obama's grandmother into her new life and they were there, somewhere, watching and relishing it all.

I fell back into the most luxurious and happy sleep, waking with intense reluctance to the daily routine, phoning Susie's mum, preparing her shopping list, leaving for the gym.

On the desk was a beautiful, effeminate and impeccably made up young man. The gym brings back so much distress and panic in me, and there he was, confident and professional. Such changes...

In the afternoon I went to Marks and Spencers with a dear friend who had offered to help me buy bras. She used to fit bras when she was a student in a lingerie shop in Morningside and she guided me expertly through the shop, pointing out all the different kinds, the pros and the cons of each, effortlessly selcting a budle to try on and guiding me into the changing room.

And then leaving to put some back to get more.

I realised I actually had no idea what it felt like to wear a properly fitting bra. That in a way this was something I should have been taught when i was fourteen but the fact that I am learning it all now, at the age of fifty eight, is somehow miraculous. It exposes me to the intense discomfort of my utter ignorance - about bras, about my own dear self.... - but also opens me to the joys of discovery.

I bought four, and we went to the Dome bar next door to celebrate.
I don't know what I've done to deserve so amazing and kind a friend.
Or what we all have done to deserve, finally, a hopeful result.
It probably doesn't do to ask: just enough to be grateful.

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

4th November

I went to the dentist today and he had to do a little drilling. To save time, to get it over, I said it would be fine without an injection.

It wasn't, in a way: it was really unpleasant, as drilling always is, and I squirmed a bit. But not very much, and he congratulated me, in the cheery way he has, calling me a "brave little soldier".

Which was kind of bizarre, but weirdly enough its association with being a little boy, and being complimented, comforted me. Even gave me a warm glow...

These ghostly remnants of the past do live on.

"Os mortos nao sao mortos". The dead are not dead.

Someone at the meditation this lunchtime was saying how coming to the church always made her think so strongly of her dead partner. He was a devout Buddhist, and so coming to the practice makes him very present for her.

And I thought immediately of how often Susie comes to me in dreams. The last time was Saturday night: and there she was, sleeping happily, lying in a vegetable bed beside newly planted vegetables.

When I told my daughter she smiled and said: "What a good place to find mum".

And it's true: there is something comforting in this. The ones we love do live on.


Monday, November 03, 2008

3rd November

Here's the second poem:


It was in this doorway that I used to do it
Away from the gaslight
In this doorway in the dark
In my own life’s darkness.

The man who raped me
Gave me a cast off scarlet dress
I’d hook them off the streets wearing it
I’d land them down the alley
And here I’d make them gasp and writhe
As I took them in my mouth
Or jerked them off by hand.

It all depended on the price, of course:
Though after the man had had his cut
I’d always end up with pennies.
I sold myself so very cheap those days
I was young and innocent
Still only just a boy.

When they beat you just hold still
Curl up and try to protect your face.
A cut lip or a black eye
Is just so very bad for business.

It was the third time that I understood
There were men who just couldn’t bear to see me
Living on this earth.
A voice told me. A voice in my head.
The dingy sooty angel of this place
Whose wings are stained and filthy
But whose face
Is pure, untainted, glorious:

“Run!” she said.
And so I ran.
Down the alley, down the street
Into the arms of a lion tamer.
She was walking down the street in top hat and tails
And I almost knocked her in the gutter.
She picked me up in my tattered tear stained cumstained dress
And said: I’ll take you in.

Years later I came back here
Glasgow Pavilion, top of the bill:
A juggler, rope dancer
An acrobat of wild desire
Who had mistressed the flying trapeze:

And when I died
Peacefully, in my sleep
After a happy and disgraceful old age
I came back to hover here
In my grimy dress and tattered wings
My heart still glowing
From a caravan’s warm, spangly, grease painted darkness
And I whisper to the young ones shivering here
Huddled in deep fear and shame:
“We can survive
We will arise
Pass it on
Pass it on”.

Jo Clifford Friday, 12 September 2008.


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