Friday, September 30, 2011

Wednesday part two: on a double bill with Troy Perry

These are all hard things. especially as Jean just now reminds me so strongly of her daughter, my wonderful partner Susie, in her last days.

What makes it worse is that because her main difficulty is her failing heart so much of what she is going through reminds me so strongly of what was happening to me when I had heart disease, and all the suffering involved during that terrifying time.

After I finally got home on Wednesday after four hours in the hospital I had very little time.

I spent some of it putting polish on my nails to try to recover myself. Because, in spite of everything else, her total inability to accept me fully for who I am is a kind of constant attack on my deep self,existing side by side with genuine affection and love. Something I somehow I have to continually defend myself against.

I put on a favourite dress, did my make-up and hair, and left the house a little later than I'd meant to.

It was on the road to the station that I got attacked by fear. Sweating, heat hammering, massive butterflies, weakness in my legs... fear on a scale I have not experienced since 2006. When my heart really was failing. Timor mortis they call it: terror of death approaching as the heart fails to function properly.

But then I remember I was in a state of terror without being aware of the cause. This time I knew what I had just been through had weakened me.

It was through performing, way back when I was fifteen, that I first discovered I would have been happier as a girl. That it was a girl I really felt myself to be. Way back then, in 1965, there was no help available of any kind, and I had had to resign myself to a life of utter solitude. Of hiding from the world who I really was; because otherwise, I felt absolutely certain, everyone would hate and despise me. And I would die of shame.

Performing I felt would give me away: which was why I stopped it. And why for so many years the theatre was a place of terror.

The strange thing about those first performances of "The Gospel According To Jesus Queen Of Heaven", in November 2009, was that they brought those ancient terrors back into my life.

All those demonstrators, outside the theatre in their hundreds, did know I was transsexual, and did hate me.

Which was one reason why it was all so very traumatic.

But on the other hand I did not die. There I was, walking down the road to catch the Glasgow train. Still terrified, but not dying. Not even ill.

I was a little early getting to Glasgow, as I meant to be, and could sit out in George square in the extraordinary sunshine.

It was amazing to me to be performing at an event called "An Evening With Tro Perry & Jo Clifford".

The Metropolitan Community Church, which Troy founded, was and remains an incredible source of strength and sustenance for me (you can find the story here
Also, I knew the event was being filmed by Ruth Reid, the incredibly talented film-maker who is making a documentary about me.

Friends and colleagues were coming. And also (though I didn't know this) members of the Catholic and Evangelical congregations that had picketed me the first time around.

So there was some pressure. What amazed me as I walked towards the venue was the extent to which fear had left me.

I am very fortunate to be getting help from Susan Worsfold, an amazingly gifted Glasgow based voice teacher ( and part of it is down to the techniques she has taught me.

But there's something else going on. The main character in the book of "God's New Frock" is someone trying to find her voice. And with her voice find her identity.

I can't really talk about what happened at the event itself. Except that the fear left me alone. Everyone listened (somehow, I seem able to hold an audience). And afterwards, people were very warm and kind. Including the Evangelical and Catholic people in the audience.

My wonderful dream teacher, Winifred Rushforth, would say "something is happening".

That whatever all this is, it's happening because it's part of the journey I have to make. Back to an old self that I thought all those years ago was lost for ever. And at the same time forwards too: very much into the unknown.

Wednesday part one: a journey to hell

Wednesday comes in two parts. In the evening, I travel to Glasgow to perform extracts of "The Gospel According to Jesus Queen of Heaven".

But in the morning I take my mother-in-law for an out patient's appointment at the Western General.

As her health problems multiply, I notice a distinct tendency for the various health agencies to abandon her. She makes them uneasy. They know they can't cure her. They know that in the end what afflicts her is old age, and that the eventual outcome is death.

They are simply not able to deal with this. They're not honest with her about it: they simply drop her off their books as quietly and as inconspicuously as possible. They try to load someone else with the responsibility for her care.

It started with the cardiologist when the cardioversion failed to correct her irregularly racing heart. The GP passed her onto to an old people's day hospital in Leith. They have passed her on to the various specialists that are testing her bowels and her throat. The GP she knows and trusts has gone on sabbatical; the other one she came to know has left for another practice. When they have to test her blood, they always send a locum who does not know her.

I am not much better, really. I am terrified of being landed with her full time care, and keep detaching myself.

So there she is: increasingly breathless, struggling on as best she can.

Steering her through the hospital system on Wednesday meant I needed to confront my guilt over all this.

And try to find a wheelchair. Lothian Health Board rely on shockingly badly designed wheelchairs that steer with the back wheel which means that the only practical way to use them is to drag their occupant backwards like a sack of rubbish. They never have enough by the entrance to the outpatient departments. So the first few minutes is spent frantically searching for one.

None of the doors are really wide enough to pull the chairs through. So that's another struggle. The whole building sends forth two powerful messages:

1) As a human being, we do not think about you at all.

2) It is a huge mistake to get involved with us if you are ill.

We have to wait for 45 minutes. This is actually unusual: the doctor she is going to see is an expert in his field (blood pressure) and in his person represents the very best traditions of the health service. He listens, he takes in what he is being told, and he always does something to make Jean feel better.

He apologises in person for the delay; and explains he won't be able to se Jean immediately, but that his assistant will see her.

His assistant represents the worst traditions of the health service. She has no listening skills, no ability to show respect or concern, and is plainly completely out of her depth. She also speaks fast with a strong accent that Jean cannot understand.

I am being unfair to her. At least she has the sense to fetch her boss: who does not abandon Jean. He orders a blood test, an x ray, a review of her medication, and another appointment in a month's time.

On one level what he does may be a little futile; but on another it really matters. He leaves Jean with the sense that someone is concerned about her and is trying to make her better.

Unfortunately it means I have to drag her to X Ray. Which is about half a mile away, through largely unsigned corridors.

On the way we have to go to the loo. There is a particular toilet Jean favours; which is unfortunately not designed for the disabled. I have to park the chair in a narrow corridor which blocks two doorways.

She treats my transsexualtiy in the same way as she treats death: she ignores it in the hope it will go away.

This means I can't help her inside the ladies. I have to trust she can somehow negotiate the washbasins, the narrow spaces, and the awkwardly positioned cubicles and doors.

It all takes a very long time.

Eventually we end up in a waiting area off a corridor so inhuman it defies description.

Nothing happens. The X ray people all seem to be out to lunch.

Waiting there, I can feel myself losing the will to live. There's no reception on my phone; I feel cut off from the world. I try to run through my lines: I can't remember a single one. I feel cut off from everything that gives my life meaning and enables me to deal with it.

I try to understand why an institution as noble as our health service should have ended up like this. How a building supposedly dedicated to health should so spectacularly contrive to make you ill.

It is beyond me. Eventually we emerge. It's as if we've escaped from a journey to the underworld.

Or emerged from hell. Life can begin again.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

"An Evening with Troy Perry & Jo Clifford"

Every night before I go to bed, I think: I really must note down what's happened.

And then I'm too tired, too much going on, too much to write about.

So I don't.

So I feel as if there is this huge backlog of events that should be written about, because they mattered, but which I haven't. Written about. And they weigh down my mind, somehow, and stop me writing.

But I wanted to record that last Friday, 23rd September, I finished the first draft of the book of "The Gospel According To Jesus Queen Of Heaven".

I was in Devon, in a village called Sheepwash, staying at "Retreats For You ( which I can't recommend enough.

And that whole experience is something else I want to describe, but won't, because I feel myself getting more and more tired and because the important thing to say is that finishing that draft marks the end of something.

Because today I'm not starting another big project. That assembly line production of new scripts, which has really been going on since 1980, has stopped.

Something new is beginning instead.

I spent Monday working with Ben Harrison and Katherine Mendelsohn and some really wonderful actors at the Traverse theatre working on my "Tree of Knowledge".

And today I spent an amazing day rehearsing with Susan Worsfold ( the extracts of "The Gospel of Jesus Queen Of Heaven" that I'll be performing at the Admiral Bar in Glasgow tomorrow night.

As if that huge spell of my working life where my main business was sitting alone, writing at a keyboard, is now over.

I can't really say what is taking its place.

That's for the next weeks and months to discover.


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