Thursday, August 26, 2010

Tuesday morning, and I'm cycling to the office.

Up on the Bridges i see a fat man walking slowly toward me, huge, his belly so enormous it has overflowed from the waistband of his trousers and the flesh is protruding, with that kind of purplish tinge to it which indicates his condition is desperate because the circulation is just not functioning properly.

Still young. Walking, with difficulty, with an air of the intensest suffering.

And not far behind him another young man, wiry, drunk.

Drunk though it's barely midday.

With a ravaged kind of air about him, and being restrained by two others, his face glowing with exaltation and pride as he shouts at the top of his voice: "Skinny! Skinny!".

As if he is saying the cleverest, wittiest thing in the world.

Someone shouting at me "Come on! Come on!" in a mocking tone of voice as I cycle slowly up the hill towards the Grassmarket.

Three fat men in a pedal rickshaw laughing at the efforts of the young men trying to pedal them up the hill towards the lap-dancing bars, and a group of people laughing and nudging each other and pointing by the side of the road.

I'm thinking about all this this morning, pedalling along to the Traverse to see a play.
It is like the opposite of empathy, or empathy gone into reverse somehow so that instead of feeling for the sufferings of our fellow humans we distance ourselves, we project all our own vulnerability and failings onto them.
We dehumanise them.
We scapegoat them.
This must be what makes war possible, I imagine.

Many plays are like this: they present intense suffering, generally of people of a class or a nationality that differs from that of the target audience.
Who observe the suffering in a vicarious kind of way, and maybe feel upset or disgusted by it, but never allow it to get under their skin.

Instead they think: "At least I'm not like that" and feel better.

Something to do with all the hatred that got projected onto me with "Jesus Queen of Heaven"... in fact, of course, it's the basis of some traditional Christian belief. That Christ died for our sins. That he was the "Man of Sufferings" who took on all the suffering of the world.

And its the role that, as a transsexual, I found myself taking on then, as I so often done.
And so often still do.
As a kind of hate object. A receptacle for everyone's bad feelings about their gender or their sex.

It's a breakfast show at the Traverse and when I get to the door there's Nick Bone, who I know, runs a theatre Company, and I like, and we chat, and actually I tease him about him putting on weight though we both know that he is, in fact, as thin as a rake, or maybe a bone, his name is very appropriate somehow, and you go down and show your tickets, and then pick up a filled roll for your breakfast.

He takes his and goes across to a table where there's someone he knows from the Traverse, who's sitting with another young woman who I don't know and don't think he knows either but who turns out to be from the National theatre.

It's all perfectly friendly and nice, and I'm thinking: "In his shoes, I would never have done that", because I would have been too shy, I would have assumed I would have been out of place, i would have been intruding...

And I'm thinking about all these little encounters, and how they help build up a career.

The play we're all going to see is Linda Mclean's in the series "Impossible Things to do before breakfast", and I'm fond of her, too, and it's lovely to greet her. Nick's telling me about my "Every One", and he loved it, and I'm so proud of it, so upset I don't seem able to make it go anywhere else, and I'm telling Nick about my "Seagull" and reflecting on the fact that I have a genius these days for doing good things in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Because, after all, there's Linda, and someone from the National theatre is seeing her play, and it's on at the Traverse, and it's being filmed in high definition and broadcast all over the country. And there's me, with my "Seagull" being put on in the middle of nowhere, by a gifted company who somehow (just like me) can't get it together to even tell the press about what they're doing...

I can remember when this started, when I started being in the wrong place at the wrong time, and it was in the early nineties, it was partly to do with a new artistic director at the Traverse just not getting what I do at all, but it was also something to do with trying, in the teeth if the intensest difficulty, trying to write about being transsexual when really that was something you definitely did NOT write about...

And am I getting paranoid?

It's getting old, too. It's something about getting old. It's as if playwrights are really not supposed to stick around that long.

Because there's me, joking one minute with the Traverse person about having my bus pass, and then discovering I've lost my ticket the next. I have to empty my entire bag at the entrance to the auditorium because I've put it somewhere and I cannot remember where it is.

It's in my notebook.

The play starts. It's based on transcripts of interviews. People Linda interviewed on a residency in New York, and the actors sit, script in hand, and read these American voices in their Scottish accent, and each extract begins with the actor saying something like "P. 23, female". Or "T. A., 48, male", and sometimes its men reading the women's voices and sometimes it's the other way round.

And sometimes another actor will punctuate with a word to describe an intrusive New Yor noise, traffic, or aeroplane, or siren, or something, and after a while I note myself getting impatient with all this, partly because I want one of the voices to come back, I want to get to know them better. And because there is a structure to all this, I know there is, this must be going somewhere, but I can't see what it is or where and this bugs me.

And also because in all this succession of initials and males and females I suddenly realise I am longing for something like a "J. 60. Transsexual", and this is bringing up the old distress of feeling I don't belong, I don't belong to the human race.

But I'm thinking of my lover, and there are tears, tears pricking the backs of my eyes. I understand something is happening, I am connecting with this apparently disconnected series of snapshots, almost unbearably vivid snapshots, of my fellow human beings, all suffering in our different ways but going on, going on.

And it is about life and hope and faith, somehow, and celebrates us.

I'm glad I'm able to tell Linda how impressed I am with her being able to write a play in a foreign language, in American, and that really is impressive (I can't even write a play in Scots) but this wonderful ear she has has its roots in something else, something deeper: in compassion, in understanding, in empathy for feeling human beings.

For us all.

There's one other thing that happens. At the start its introduced by its director, Stewart Laing, and there's a real shock of recognition because the last time I worked with stewart was on my very first performed play, the "Romeo and Juliet" I did for TAG.

Way back.

In 1984.

And this has been in the play, too, what I try to tell him:

Look at us. Here we are. We've survived.

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