Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Last Friday I had to make a speech.

I was to open an art exhibition at an art. It was curated by the LGBT Health Centre in Edinburgh
and it was happening at the Out of the Blue Drill Hall

I like both organisations, and wanted to support them.

As far as I can gather, they asked me because they think I am Somebody; and the nerves I felt before and after made me aware that in a part of my being, at least, I still fear I am nobody.

I rehearsed, as I do, without writing anything down before hand. If i write anything down, it always sounds ridiculous and dull.
What generally then happens is that I make the speech, forget what I've said, and then lose whatever it was I did.

But this time I wrote it down afterwards. Partly to tell my lover, who couldn't be there, and partly to resist this nobody feeling.

Because it really is not true.

The place was packed. Maybe 200 people there? Not sure. It seemed like an awful lot.

I had to stop myself imagining they would be hostile to me. Because that really was not true either.

I started off with an opening from my GODS NEW FROCK:

Hello ladies, hello gentlemen. Hello men, hello women,
Hello those of you who are not ladies and are not gentlemen,
And not men and not women
but like me
maybe something in between or maybe something that’s a bit of both or something
or somebody
that has never been thought of or imagined yet
Somebody or something this evening may even bring into being.

And got them all to say hello back to me.

And how pleased I was to be there, and how eminent I felt, and I should really have been wearing a big frock with big shoes and the most enormous hat and been able to crack open a bottle of champagne on something and bless this boat ... even though this wasn’t a boat, it was an old army drill hall I still wanted to bless everyone very seriously because what was happening here tonight was so very special.

It isn’t in our nature to be entrepreneurs or bankers but it is in our nature to be creative.

Research shows early humans invented singing before talking. That before we communicated through words we communicated through song. And then we shared poems and amazing stories and painted wonderful pictures on the walls of our caves... and in sharing our creativity we are re-entering something really profound in our humanity.

I’m lucky, I said, for two reasons. One for being transgender. And in contradiction to everything I have been taught about it, to be transgender is actually an amazing privilege and blessing.

(That got a round of applause. Typical of me, somehow, not to have expected it).

The other thing is being able to use my creativity. Because without it I’d never have been able to stand up to the discrimination and prejudice from which we all suffer.

It would have been the end of me.

And I have seen in the amazing work of the transgendered writing group, Transforming Arts, just how profoundly art transforms everyone who is able to create it.

And that’s why this is a boat because everyone taking part is on the journey, and the health centre is on a journey, a good journey through choppy waters where we re-connect with who we really are, and our pride in who we really are, and we contradict prejudice and show the world our amazing gifted diversity.

So I am cutting an imaginary ribbon -SNIP - and cracking open an imaginary bottle of champagne - CRACK! - and naming this ship “The Amazing Exhibition” and Goddess bless all of us who sail in her."

There seemed to be a lot of applause. Which i didn't really know how to receive.

I felt a bit trembly and exhausted and exposed afterwards and after being congratulated - because it really did go very well - I suddenly felt unbearably shy and tired and had to leave.

Reflecting on it all afterwards opened up a memory:

of being back at boarding school in my second term. I was just thirteen, and still raw from my mother's sudden death two years before.

I can't remember why, exactly, but a boy called Whitley sent me to Coventry. He had a kind of ascendency over everyone in my year and it meant that for most of that term no-one would speak to me.

At mealtimes we would queue up the revolting food and then carry it back to our tables. And no-one would sit with me.

Looking back on it, it sounds almost trivial. But I'm not sure I can find the words to describe the sense of fear and humiliation and shame I felt.

It had something to do with the feeling of fear of being Different, and the horror of it was intensified by the fact that the following year i started acted girls' parts. And discovered I loved it. So that experience of being rejected, and so afraid of it, all got tangled up with my awareness of being transsexual.

Not that I could call it that then. The word didn't exist. Whatever i was was unspeakable.

And there it still is: that paralysing shyness with large groups of people in social situations.

That panic and that withdrawal and that desire to run away.

Which shows just how hard it is to remain fully in the present moment. And I imagine that it is precisely because it is so hard that we value it so much, and call it Presence, or some such thing.

But it can be achieved. There are amazing possibilities of life within us.

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