Monday, November 12, 2012

Being visibly trans

It’s Saturday, and a member of the “Great Expectations”  posts a beautiful and evocative set of pictures taken backstage. 

It’s a record of hard work and skill; but the pictures move me profoundly because they somehow correspond to the images of theatre that belonged to my childhood dreams.

Theatre as a place of magic and beauty. Theatre where the people are larger than life and the emotions they express deeper and stronger than the ones we normally feel. 

Present day theatre is still so often dominated by what is so often a dreary and limited conception of naturalism; by an aesthetic that looks to express truth through reproducing the externals of life. And so this other, magic, theatre, tends to be disparagingly thought of as melodrama. 

That’s a misused word, as words so often are, but I begin to understand that that it fits this show because it profoundly corresponds to the world of Dickens’ imagination, and because it also corresponds with my constant attempt to create a poetic theatre that expresses the inner world.

Which is why I have so consistently and for so long experienced such difficulty getting my work as appreciated as it deserves.

I walk down the road to catch my train, my mind crowded with memories. Of the childhood longing to dress up, a longing of such intensity that in my anti-theatrical family I barely dared articulate it.

A longing constantly frustrated. 

Of the delight I took in rehearsing, the joy of feeling at home there, somehow, and free to be myself.  Of how all this got tangled up in my longing to be a girl; and how it, too, got also buried and suppressed in my fear and my shame.

Thinking of how that profound instinct to perform somehow found its way to be expressed in my capacity to write plays, and probably sharpened the urgency of my need to do so.

Of those recent days filming of SEX CHIPS AND THE HOLY GHOST with the  experience of being so at ease in front of the camera, of knowing just what to do, somehow, as if by a miracle, and through that being aware of how much down the years I had lost.  Of waking up one night feeling my torso was somehow rigid with grief. 

I am off to catch the train to aberdeen, on my way to see the last performances of the Great Expectations tour.  I walk up to the far end of the platform, as I tend to, and there I encounter a transman. He stands apart, as I so often do, and surely clocks me, as I clock him. He feels a bit exposed, i guess, as I do, and is using his mobile phone to try to distract himself from his vulnerability. He doesn’t stand facing outwards, but facing into a wall. As if it is too painfully difficult to be fully part of the world.

My heart goes out to him.

I think  of what we have both been through. Of that terrifying dislocation between the people we had been told we were and the person that we knew ourselves to be. Of the fear and shame that experience involved. 

“All of us have been bent and broken”, Estella says at the end of the play,
“Bent and broken by suffering. 
Have we been twisted into a better shape?”

Well. Have we?

I really don’t know. 

How alone I used to feel. But I know now I was never alone, if only because so many of us , not just trans people but all of us, have had our talents and abilities twisted and cut down to size and often also destroyed.

Maybe, I think, as the train arrives and the trans man is lost in the crowd, maybe that is why the plays matter.

Because they can tell us that who we are and what we have to say can count.

That our voices do deserve to be heard.

That we can change and so can the world.

That we don’t need to try to hide ourselves by facing the wall. That we can turn around and then, fearless and shameless, show ourselves open to the world

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