Friday, February 10, 2012

Celebrating our wild diversity

10th feb 2012

A talk I gave today at the rather wonderful “Including Intersectional Identities” Conference organised by the equally wonderful Equality Network.

"A few years ago I went to see Wagner’s Ring Cycle at the Metropolitan Opera House in New York. Wagner wrote very long operas. He also created very long queues for the toilet.

I was in the very early stages of living publicly as a female and didn’t have enough confidence to join the queue for the women’s toilet.

At the same time, i suffered hugely in the men’s. People sniggered and made remarks and felt unbearably out of place.
I couldn’t see any gender neutral toilets anywhere, but thought there had to be some, so decided to ask.

And ask. And ask.

Eventually I was taken down to an office in the very bottom of the building. There was a sign on the door that said SECURITY and behind it was a huge and very tough looking guy, presumably an ex New York policeman, who looked me up and down, grunted, picked up a ring of keys, and took me to a door marked STRICTLY PRIVATE. He unlocked it, locked the door behind us once we were through, led me down a corridor, unlocked another door marked DISPENSARY, and then unlocked another door inside.

This was the only gender neutral toilet in the whole of the Metropolitan Opera House.

Ever since then, it’s been a symbol to me of how much our culture wants to force into categories, often on he basis of our genitalia, and how threatened it is by anyone who steps outside the boundaries.

I’ve been very concerned these last years with challenging these boundaries in my writing and my performance and sometimes people find this hard to take.

When I tried to imagine what Jesus might have said or did had she been a transexual woman I enraged fundamentalist Christians to such an extent that around three hundred people turned up to protest outside the theatre.

I did my bit for church unity: Roman Catholics and Baptists were briefly both united in a common cause: their hatred of me.

Because they hated and feared transsexuals like myself, they assumed I must hate them and be only interested in denigrating and disrespecting what was for them a sacred and central of their faith.

The fact that I wasn’t interested in anything of the kind meant that I tended to disappoint and anger many atheists as well.

It’s fear, I suspect, that’s behind all this: fear of life in all its richness and diversity. And an especial fear of sexuality and gender.

I feel it, too: the suffering I experienced in the toilet queue at the opera house was an echo of the suffering I experienced as a child.When everyone told me I was a boy, I seemed to have a boy’s body and a boy’s identity and yet didn’t feel like a boy at all.

I was never one of the boys, and couldn’t be one of the girls either; and so felt like I somehow wasn’t a proper human being at all.

Perhaps it was that, above all, that drove me down the road of transition; and particularly on the absurd and humiliating journey down to London to see two psychiatrists, get myself certified sane, and so be given their permission to get my body surgically modified to have a vagina and so be in conformity with the gender I had always felt so much corresponded to my true self.

As the date to se the surgeon approached I found to my surprise and mortification that something deep inside me revolted against the full gender reassignment operation.

I couldn’t make any sense of tis at first, but eventually came to understand that all I needed was the removal of my testicles; to stop them so continually and so uselessly pumping male hormones like an enemy into my body and blood.

The surgeon was furious. He said he had to give me an orchidectomy, since i so insistently asked for it, but I’d be back. I’d come back to him within six months to ask for more.

He was wrong. I’ve since discovered that my deep impulse, however shocking and surprising I at first found it, was actually totally correct: and my hybrid, intersectional genitalia profoundly correspond to a deep sense of who I am.

One of my many joys has been to find a partner, a woman, and embark on a whole new journey of sexual expression that proves that all the myths around the state of emasculation are completely wrong.

Does that make me a lesbian?

Can a Lesbian have a penis?

What does this say about my partner’s sexual orientation?

And do these questions really matter?

I’m beginning to suspect that maybe at the heart of our human sexuality is something that transcends gender; and that it maybe connects with that mysterious dimension we sometimes call spiritual.

When I told my daughters I could no longer bear to go on living as a man and had to start living as a woman, I told them I would always love them, whatever happened, and that I would always be their dad.

My eldest daughter got married just over a year ago, and she told the registrar that she wanted me to be one of the witnesses of her wedding. “So what’s your father’s name?”, the registrar asked, and my daughter said “Ms. Jo Clifford. She’s still my dad, but she has gender registration and so is female”.

And the registrar went pale and had to leave the room.

She said she needed to talk to her superior.

People like us, who refuse to stay within boundaries, make authority very uneasy; and I think that’s one of the joys of our situation.

Last Sunday my daughter came to tell me she is expecting her first child. “Dad”, she said, you are going to be grandma”.

And how wonderful is that?

It’s something I want to celebrate in my work: the great joy and great gift of diversity and freedom. More and more I think this is connected with the freedom of the spirit; and more and more it matters to me to explore the language of spirituality, which is so often used against us, and use it to celebrate the possibilities of liberation.

This is how I put it in my SEX, CHIPS AND THE HOLY GHOST, which we performed here in Glasgow last week:

“You may hear a voice “This is my beloved child in whom I am well pleased” And you will know it is true. Because, ladies and gentlemen and transsexuals, whoever we are, the spirit is pleased with us. The lord saw us all in our mothers womb and formed us to be the people we are and called us by our true name and blessed us.”
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