Monday, February 22, 2016
rediscovering the fragment of a lost play
Years ago, I was commissioned by the Traverse to write a play about Lorca.
This must have been in the early nineties, when I was seriously beginning to write about being trans.
Not because I wanted to, specially, but because I had to.
And when I thought about Lorca and how I read him when I was 14 or 15 and how deeply he spoke to me without my really knowing why, it became clear to me that it must have had something to do with the fact that he was gay in Spain of the twenties and the thirties, when such a thing was utterly shameful and forbidden; and here was I, a transwoman in Scotland in the nineties, when it was still also utterly shameful and where I was only very slowly and painfully beginning to be able to be open about it.
I realised that Lorca's poems spoke to me so deeply when I was young because, even though I didn't know it at the time, they came from a place of deep repression and the inescapable urge to overcome it.
And my work was coming from a similar place, too, and that Lorca had helped me find the courage to take the first slow steps to overcome my own repression.
So I wanted to put these into my play, somehow. At the same time, when I was nursing, I had been working on a medical ward where, amidst all the other misery, were some pale and troubled individuals wandering about in the mornings in night wear and dressing gowns.
For a while I had no idea who they were, until someone finally told me that they were the people who had taken overdoses the night before and had had their stomachs pumped out in casualty and were then being held in the medical ward until they'd had their twenty minutes with the psychiatrist.
And then they'd get their clothes back.
So the main character of my play was someone who had attempted suicide, and while unconscious dreamt of a journey through hell.
In Dante's Inferno, his guide through hell was Vergil, the poet who inspired him when he was young. And my guide was Lorca, because he, too, was my poet.
Hell was made up of my memories, and Lorca's life and horrible death, and, because the play was about my early years of internalised repression, became mixed up in my painfully low self-esteem and caused me immense pain to write.
I don't know if it was any good because the Traverse rejected it, and now I've lost the script..
And it ended my long artistic association with the Traverse theatre.
Some fragments of the Lorca play I put into a radio play; and others I put into a monologue I performed for the Lorca Fiesta put on by Northern Stage in 1998.
I was both coming out as a trans person and coming out as a performer. I was very frightened.
I'd have lost the poem, too, only it was published in a book.
I'd forgotten about the book, too, only Leith Village Theatre asked me if I would perform something for their LGBT Innovators season.
And that helped me remember. And, after many years, finally get round to reading it again.
And discovering that, in spite of the discouragement and shame, it really was pretty good.
At least, that's how I felt until I performed my "Gospel According To Jesus Queen Of Heaven" last Sunday and it attracted a certain amount of hatred, and when I went back to the poem I found myself disliking it....
... Until I realised that was all part of the same dreary internalised prejudice and transphobia that led to me doubting the play and the poem in the first place.
And now, as I read and re-read it in preparation for the performance, I begin to understand I have no need to be ashamed of it. But many reasons to be proud.
Not least because it was the first time I'd tried to write directly about being trans.
So it matters a lot to me. And I look forward to performing it tomorrow, Tuesday night, in the Traverse bar.
And how satisfying to take it back to the very place that rejected it...
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