Monday, June 30, 2014

Resisting oppression with a smile

Yesterday I wrote about smiling. How it helps in rehearsals to smile. And a dear friend responded by saying she might try that out in life.

And suddenly her response brought back a whole heap of memories when smiling was impossible.

This was in the early stages of transition when I used to encounter a lot of hostility and abuse in the street.

I became adept at walking fast, head down, not meeting anyone in the eye. Staying alert to dangerous places or people and avoiding them. Crossing the road to avoid groups of adolescents. Especially adolescent girls. Avoiding groups of men smoking outside pubs.

My journeys through town became very erratic. They involved a lot of zigging and zagging; and it still wasn’t enough to avoid the derisive laughter, the nasty remarks, or the derogatory conversations about me that would go on in my presence as if i wasn’t there.

The problem was I was afraid. And people pick up on fear.

And as well as being afraid, I was ill at ease with myself. My new identity was a kind of ill fitting skin that still chafed me. And people pick up on that too.

Like many of us, I pinned my hopes on surgery. But the Thai surgeon I had chosen turned me down because of my recent heart surgery, and I felt devastated for a while.

Another dear friend had had facial surgery - and how I had envied her! - but that was not an option for me either. And for the same reason.

I was determined that, surgery or not, I would live the life I knew i needed to live; and as I became more comfortable in my new skin I began to be able to look people in the eye, and smile at them too, and the abuse lessened.

It only stopped completely, however, when I finally managed to have a much less invasive form of surgery that simply removed my testes.

The absence of any testosterone producing gland ended the chemical & hormonal war within me: and suddenly I became at peace with myself and with the world.

There’s been no research, as far as I know, on how we perceive testosterone in each other. Something subliminal is obviously at work; because suddenly people stopped finding my appearance incongruous.

And then I really could smile; because I really am at ease with myself and so much more at ease in the world. 

It's not a placatory smile, I should add. There's a kind of fierceness to it that stops dead in their tracks anyone who tries to invasively stare at me.

And generally, post transition, my casual street encounters are so much pleasanter than they ever were when I lived as a man.

Thinking all this today when we had a rehearsal in the church, St. Mark’s, where I will be performing JESUS QUEEN OF HEAVEN.

I so hated it there at first. I felt horribly oppressed by the weight of Christian oppression. 

It's not simply a question of the vile stuff perpetuated by fundamentalists now. There is a whole history of sytematic persecution and extermination of our gender non conforming brothers and sisters by Christian missionaries at the time of Imperialist expansion in the 19th century. A story that needs to be properly researched and which remains largely untold.

It seemed to hang in the space about me and I could only resist it by shouting as loudly and as fiercely as I could the words Jesus speaks in the play:

“I never said beware the homosexual or the transgendered or the queer
Because our lives are unnatural 
Or we are depraved in our desires.
I never said that.
I said beware the self righteous and the hypocrite
Beware those who judge others and imagine themselves virtuous...”

Which wasn’t at all fair on either the present or the past congregations of this amazing church, who live now and lived in the past according to very beautiful and enlightened Unitarian principles. 

And also not effective aesthetically. As my dear director, Susan Worsfold, was quick to point out.

And I wonder if it’s possible to create a piece that will smile that defiant smile back at these centuries of past and present oppression.

Laugh at it all, even. Acknowledge the anger but refuse to simply mirror the rage directed at us.

Can it be done? What will it look like?

That is one of the things we have to find out...

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