Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Goodbye left knee

When I went in to see the surgeon he was staring at an x-ray image of a leg on his computer screen.

A leg so shockingly out of its proper alignment you could call it deformed.

My leg. My left leg.

“Surgery is the only thing that will help you”, the surgeon said. “This is how it should be”.

And he pulled the leg back into alignment on the screen. And said, quite casually,

“And we can do that”.

So that's why he's put an arrow on my leg with a marker pen so they all remember where to cut me open

And that’s why I’m in this hospital bed waiting for the time this afternoon when they set to work with scalpel and tourniquet and bone grinder and special glue.

With everything in the toolbox they need to fit me with a new knee.

And I’m frightened, of course, my leg not being an abstraction on the computer screen but all too obviously a thing of flesh and blood and sinew and nerves that will undoubtedly hurt a lot.

The surgeon had spoken with the calm assurance of one for whom these things were fairly routine. Fascinating too. He obviously has an abiding fascination with knees.

And so I’m also trying to get my imagination round the idea that maybe soon I’ll be on the road to not being so disabled any more.

And I realise that for the last several years I’ve been imperceptibly accustoming myself to the idea that i will never walk properly and easily again and that maybe this idea was false and that I will actually be able to walk.

And I’m thinking of the times all those years ago when I was forced to live as a boy and totally convinced that I was, morally somehow, twisted and deformed in exactly the way my leg has become.

And I wonder if all this is connected.

Or why it’s been this poor left knee that’s always been the one to get hurt. When I fell off my bike. When I fell off my motorbike. When I twisted my foot in a rabbit hole on Iona. When my knee just somehow locked and refused to straighten and I had to go into the old Royal Infirmary to have a cartilage operation.

Of how I went to physiotherapy afterwards until all of a sudden I found I was with a group of men in a gym in the old Royal Infirmary playing some appalling team sport or other  and felt too embarrassed and too ashamed to say that no. No such a thing was impossible for me. And so I abandoned physio and wonder if it would have made any difference if I’d been able to stay.

Or maybe its 'll those feelings of fear and of shame that afflicted me for so many years ended up being stored in this poor knee.

We’re taught, I think, that a knee is just a mechanical joint that doesn’t connect with how we feel.

But then we do also talk about feeling “weak in the knees” when we are in the grip of some powerful emotion and so maybe it’s not that far fetched to see a connection between our deepest feelings and our knees.

Or, in this case, our left knee.

Poor thing.

Poor thing that simply can’t go on.

And I find myself thinking of how when I was beginning the process, the serious irrevocable process, of leaving ‘John’ behind and beginning to live as a woman I was somehow in the same place.

Not able to go on. Not able to go on, yet terrified of moving on.

Proud of who I as John was in so many ways and everything I had achieved against very great difficulty.

And aware that the pain John suffered was terrible but also familiar and I knew how to deal with it.

Whereas the pain I would suffer as “Jo” was unknown and utterly terrifying

A step into a very scary unknown darkness.

Just like the step I will take this afternoon when the anaesthetic comes and turns off all feeling in the lower half of my body. And when I will probably also go into sleep.

And  suddenly life feels beautiful and precious and I feel unexpectedly affectionate towards my dear old knee.

We went for a last walk together, me and my knee, along the hospital corridors.

We ended up in a place called “Spiritual Centre” where there was a room called “Sanctuary” so we could be quiet for a while.

And I found myself feeling sad and sorry for this poor old knee. That has carried me so far for so long. And endured so much suffering and felt so much joy, and recorded it all in the very structure of the bones.

And always done its best.

And worn out now.

And about to be discarded.

So thank you, dear knee. Thank you. Thank you. 

Goodbye. Goodbye…

Friday, September 11, 2015

The Scottish LGBTI Awards and the speech that never got spoken.

I remember the last time I was at an awards ceremony it was for me and the Lyceum’s FAUST. We never won anything; and I left feeling hurt angry and humiliated and cross with myself for caring. And I said I would never attend an awards ceremony again.

But last night where was I? At the Scottish LGBTI awards ceremony. Of course.

So I spent a certain amount of the evening with the part of me that was proud to be shortlisted and knew I deserved to win arguing with the other part of me that knows that the work has to go on, whatever, go on to my own satisfaction and that awards don’t matter the slightest bit.

Both sides are right, of course, which makes the debate an endless one. 

And anyway it wasn’t me who won the culture award but Glasgay, and they deserved it too, for years of dedicated work promoting LGBTI culture. I owe them a special debt of thanks because without their support I’d never have managed to get THE GOSPEL ACCORDING TO JESUS QUEEN OF HEAVEN staged. They recently lost their grant and generally have been treated pretty shabbily, I can’t help thinking, and they absolutely deserve our strongest appreciation.

And then this morning I woke up with both parts of me somehow reconciled.

But also with an unspoken speech.

We had to prepare an acceptance speech, the organisers told us, and it had to be 100 words or less. And there it is, rattling around inside me, with every word of it still true.

So I want to write it, because that frees me up to make it longer, and perhaps a little more eloquent, and then perhaps it will stop scratching at the door of my head like a cat wanting out.

It would have gone something like this:

“ When I was young and forced to live as a boy I was also led to believe that I would never be able to live openly as myself and would have to hide for the rest of my life.

Well that wasn’t altogether true. Obviously. As you can see...

But it left scars. Scars that meant it took me twenty years of intense struggle to find my voice as a playwright. And now fifty years to begin to discover myself as an actress and performer.
I was lucky to win through.

But so many of us didn’t.

We’ll never know how many talents, how many creative skills and how many extraordinary gifts have been lost to the world because they were blocked before they came to fulfillment. 

Blocked by the oppression we LGBTI people have historically suffered and continue to suffer here and so many places around the world.

What we do know is that a gathering like this one is quite extraordinary.

In years to come, of course, no-one will think twice about it.

But for now it is extraordinary... and certainly unthinkable even five years ago.

Unthinkable to be here, 400 of us gathered to celebrate LGBTI achievement in the presence of our country’s First Minister, at an event that could have been filled many times over.

And it represents a much wider movement that is truly revolutionary and is setting free so much creativity, so many gifts, and so much capacity to love for the benefit of everybody.

I am so very proud to be part of this.

I’d never be here without your support. None of us would be here without the solidarity and support we give each other.  

So thank you. From the bottom of my heart.

And thank all of us....”

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