Wednesday, March 08, 2017

On being an "outstanding woman of Scotland 2017"

I spent yesterday evening with a polar explorer, a forensic anthropologist, two choreographers, a singer, an artist, a theatre critic and two activists. It was amazing.

All remarkable women. And all of us chosen by the Saltire Society and Glasgow Women’s Library to be “The Outstanding Women Of Scotland 2017”.

It is an incredible honour. I am so mood by it. To the extent that last night I couldn’t quite allow myself to fully feel it; because I knew if I did I would break down in helpless weeping.

But I held myself together, somehow, and this is (more or less) what I said:

“It is such an honour to be standing here. I’m more deeply moved than I can say. I know my daughters will be well chuffed too.

It was good of you to mention my late partner, Sue Innes, in this context. It’s really wonderful that there’s a bookshelf dedicated to her name here in the Glasgow Women’s Library. She’d have been happy too; and I also know she’s have got one of these years ago.

Pioneering feminist that she was, she always said “the personal is political”.

And she was right. The personal is  political.

And there is a very important political dimension to your giving me this award tonight.

You’re probably aware that this weekend a prominent broadcaster has joined a once important feminist thinker in asserting that women like myself are somehow not real and that  our experience and identity is not authentic.

I’m so grateful to you for so powerfully and simply and profoundly contradicting this stale nonsense.

I kept reproaching myself for it over the weekend, but I found myself repeating all the old lies I used to tell myself when I was younger: that I wasn’t real, that I could never be a proper woman, that I had no true right to exist.

And patiently refuting it all over and over again.

I know that here in Scotland we’re actually mostly past this kind of falsehood, and it’s one of the many reasons I’m so proud to be Scottish. So I feel a bit embarrassed to tell you that I also found myself spending a bit of yesterday fighting against the thought that maybe you, too, had been convinced by this and had decided to rescind this award because I “wasn’t a proper woman”.

I say this because even though this kind of stuff is so patently false and so clearly the product of ill-informed prejudice, still even the apparently strongest and most self-confident of us can be wounded by it.

So this honour and affirmation is not just for me but for all my trans sisters and brothers in this country and throughout the world.

It’s for the hijra of India, the kathoey of Thailand, the waria of Indonesia, the muxe of Mexico, travesti of Brazil… for all of us. Especially for those sisters and brothers in places where it is dangerous just to be us.

I think especially of my dear sister and colleague Renata Carvalho, wonderful actress and travesti from Brasil, who once again this weekend is  laying her life on the line to perform my “Gospel According to Jesus Queen of Heaven” in São Paulo.

And I think of Dander, a 42 year old trans woman who was dragged from her flat and beaten to death in the open street. And no-one intervened to help her.

This is in her honour and for her memory.

I too am performing “Jesus Queen of Heaven” this weekend, in London, and yesterday I was rehearsing. These lines from the play keep coming to my mind.

They are for all of us, cis and trans alike; all of us who have suffered hatred and discrimination simply for being ourselves.

“Bless you if they persecute you for being who you are. Because it means you are bringing about change.

Bless those who persecute you too. For hatred is the only thing they have. And it doesn’t amount to much.

And they will lose it in the end.
For no matter what they say or what they do they cannot stop the change that is coming.

And one day we will all be free.”

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