Monday, January 15, 2018

Saying thank you to Dil

When we began to research our EVE, me and Chris good made a time line. A time line of my life.

We stuck a big roll of paper to the rehearsal room wall, and began to make a timeline.

Or rather several timelines. We used post it notes in different colours to represent:

the external events in my life
the internal events that were decisive
the titles of the plays or stories I had written
the titles of plays or books or films or anything that wrote or spoke about being trans.

This last one was very sparse. In fact after panto, and two horrible films that portrayed me as evil or ridiculous or grotesque, there was nothing for years and years until I was in my forties and THE CRYING GAME came along.

We stuck the sticker on the wall and looked at the enormous empty spaces each side of it.

And I realised it really was the first time I had seen a representation of myself as a rounded and recognisable human being. Someone who was out to her lover and her friends and who was respected and loved.

And I realised I had never questioned that fact. It had never struck me as unusual or strange or wrong.

And it was, and is, certainly wrong. Everyone needs to see themself portrayed in literature or drama or art. Because otherwise it is very hard to reach a proper understanding of who we are.

That is something I seem to have dedicated my art to.

I wonder when I see the film tonight what I will make of the character of Dil. I expect there will be things I disagree with.

But I'm still grateful to her. As an artist she started me off on an important path; and she was the first to teach me that it was possible for me to live openly as a human being.

Sunday, January 14, 2018

Being a trans pillar of respectability

I was reading the lesson in church today. It's something I love doing; I treat the bible passage as a script and perform it as if it were a part I was playing.

The role also involves doing the collection and standing at the door to greet people as they come in. I love doing this too. The people who come to my church - Augustine United on George IV Bridge [] are so varied and so fascinating and so lovely it's the hugest pleasure to greet them.

And there is something incredibly liberating about being openly trans in a church. Because when I was forced to live as a boy, and then a man, I had to hide myself very firmly away. Because a church was somewhere where you were supposed to be good. And I knew I was terribly bad.

But this church is about becoming yourself.

I used to do the door in my first boarding school.

I certainly wasn't supposed to greet anybody. I had to stand in my school uniform with my hands behind my back and look solemn when everyone filed in. Then close the doors when the service began, and open them again when the service ended. And then stand in my grey shorts and blazer and shirt and tie, which I so hated wearing, while everyone filed out the door.

Services used to be such a torment when I was a child. You had to sit still and not fidget. Which was so hard, because everything was so unbearably dull.

And I couldn't join in the hymns, because I'd been told I couldn't sing, and was so profoundly ashamed of the sound of my voice.

And me not joining in while everyone else sang was somehow part of the profound isolation I felt in those days, me with my secret wish to be a girl that no-one must ever know about, and that made me, in my eyes, the most despicable creature ever to walk the earth.

Sometimes the vicar would tell us that God could see into our secret hearts and see all the sinfulness there, and that felt like a terrible threat.

We sang a psalm a bit like that this morning. But it was completely different. It was one of those passages that occur quite frequently even in the Old Testament that say it doesn't matter who we are, we are still known and accepted and loved.

And I joined in, because I could, and because this is somewhere I now belong.

Saturday, January 13, 2018

Two ducks dancing

Two ducks were dancing outside my window this morning.

They bobbed their heads up and down in a rather lovely manner.

Then the male duck got all excited and did an aquatis pirouette, and the female laid herself down a little lower in the water.

As soon as she gave her consent, the male got on top of her, she disappeared under water, and the male jerked up and down for something less than a minute.

And that's how, on this grey and sad looking morning, new life began.

Friday, January 12, 2018

Why theatre matters

Today was difficult, for all kinds of reasons. I’d arranged to go and see a show at lunchtime, and that didn’t make the day any easier because they’re building student flats next door to the venue and had blocked every access to it except the longest and least accessible and when I eventually got there I was seriously out of breath, convinced I was late, and in dire need of a pee.

But I wasn’t late, when I finally got to the foyer it was full of excited young children and their parents who looked happy because they knew they were giving the children a treat. And so I felt happy to be there too .

The show is called “The Attic” ( ) and it’s the story of a girl and her granny in an attic full of all kinds of unexpected treasures.

I don’t want to review the show, because a long time ago I used to review shows when I couldn’t afford to buy tickets to see them. And I got to loathe reviewing and I somehow have a dread of going back to it.

Really all I want to do is say thank you, because this was a beautiful show that reminded me of something very important. Something that happened years ago when I was about to write my first professionally commissioned play, a thing called LOSING VENICE. 

A time when me and my partner were playing with our daughter in an Edinburgh pub that’s now called The Blind Poet.

Rebecca turned the whole pub into an ocean where the tables were islands and the chairs were boats and which we had to cross, very carefully, because the ocean was infested with sharks.

We weren’t allowed to touch the floor, and people did begin to look at us a little strangely,  and it became so complicated when we had to leave. There was a huge gap between our island/table to the door and we didn’t know how we were going to get out without being eaten by the sharks. 

But Rebecca said we just had to run as fast as we possibly could, and we did that. And then when we got to the bottom of the stairs that led to the exit we relaxed a bit but we had to run up them as well because, as Rebecca said, these were sharks that could climb up stairs.

That set my imagination free to write the play, somehow.

And it helped me understand that the world of make-believe which we inhabit so easily as children never altogether deserts us, however fiercely and cruelly the adult world tries to block our access to it.

That’s the world “The Attic” inhabits, simply and warm-heartedly and irresistibly. So by the end I’d drunk pretend tea out of a doll’s tea cup, and it tasted delicious, and eaten the most amazing piece of knitted chocolate cake, and put on a remarkable hat and danced to the most beautiful music.

We all had, grown-ups and children alike, and came out all the better for it.

Because we all need to go to that place. We all need to witness a piece of drama, in whatever form, whenever we can.

And if we don’t we suffer.

And that’s why I create theatre, and need to keep doing it. And am proud to do so.

And I’m so glad “The Attic” reminded me.

Thursday, January 11, 2018

Another kind of manhood

If you end up having to sleep in the daycare ward, they wake you at six. They turn on all the lights and make you get up: because the night staff have to have all the beds made up by the time the day staff come on duty at 7.30.

So I got dressed and packed and moved across to the day room, where I was sitting in a geriatric chair trying to eat a breakfast, hospital tea, hospital toast, and rice crispies, wearily trying to stop myself listening to the conversation of the men all sitting together the other side of the room.

They were all complaining. They all gave the impression that they really all knew better than everyone else else what a bad state the world was in and if only they had been given a chance they would fix it.

All except one man who was sitting silent, and who suddenly turned blue about the lips, keeled over and fainted.

He soon recovered and said he was sorry.

He was moved over to a bed and the others carried on their conversation as if nothing had happened. But you could tell they were frightened. They just couldn't talk about it. One of them was speaking about a time he'd tried that full strength cider, and it tasted disgusting, and when he got out he was going to try to go to the pub.

None of them went over to see how he was, including me. He represented something we were all afraid of.

I felt bad about this, and was glad when later on in the morning we ended up being wheeled to the same locations - X Ray, and ECG - and were briefly in the same place just long enough to exchange a few words.

He still wasn't saying much. He was being stoical. He felt a bit embarrassed at causing trouble.

I felt I knew him very well. He was the kind of man I was brought up to be.

I was happy to be able to smile at him and wish him well. His whole face lit up. He had a beautiful smile.

And then we were taken off to different destinations. I wonder how he is.

I hope he's well.

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

The slow death of a kind of masculinity

When I got to the hospital yesterday they put me in a men's ward. Apologising profusely: the hospital's in a crisis, they said, we have to put people wherever we can.

Opposite me was a man lying on his bed dressed only in boxer shorts. He was plainly very ill, his skin blotchy and mottled, his body seriously overweight. He was on oxygen, and breathing with difficulty.

There was something aggressive about his nakedness. As if , in spite of his illness, and his weakness, he still desperately needed to assert himself.

It distressed me to see him, and I was glad they closed the curtain around me. But no-one could shield me from his voice. He needed the toilet. He told everyone how he needed the toilet. But he wouldn't use a bottle. He was determined to go to the toilet.  But he couldn't go without oxygen. There wasn't an oxygen cylinder on the ward, so someone went to look for one.

And eventually, coughing and spluttering, I heard him dragging his his feet  to the toilet.

We could all hear him in the toilet, too, he was making the most astonishing amount of noise. And afterwards, the staff were figuring where they could find he wipes to mop up his mess.

We're all used to this kind of man, because one of them is president of America.

Probably if I'd still been living as a man I would have found his presence completely intolerable. Instead I found myself feeling sorry for him. In his atrocious, insatiable need to assert himself as life and dignity slipped away.

And then a man came to wheel me away. Somehow he managed to manoeuvre my bed out of the impossibly cluttered and congested ward and I found myself telling him what a good driver he was.

And I wonder how much my need to flatter his ego was somehow connected with the aggressively naked and atrociously suffering man I had left behind.

Who I never saw again. Because I came back to the ward to find I'd been moved over to the women's side.

And I don't think it was just all the sedative they'd given me they made it seem just so very much nicer.

Tuesday, January 09, 2018

Are we really "fine"?

On Sunday, somebody said hello to me and then "How are you?" and I meant to say something along the lines of:

"My heart has been beating too fast for months and month , I had a pacemaker put in just before Christmas, and on Tuesday I'm goigback to hospital for a little procedure that will make it fullt operational. And I'm geeting very tired these days, and I expect my heart is getting tired too, so I'm looking forward to hopefully getting it fixed. But I'm also a bit scared, because heart procedures are scary, and I'm not altogether happy at the thought that from now on, instead of my whole self controlling the beating of my heart, it will now be controlled by a machine."

But what I actually said was: "Fine thanks". And moved on without thinking about it.

And I do wonder why we keep asking ourselves this question which we're not really able to answer.

And I do want to note in passing that today is Tuesday, and it did happen, and it went very well, and here I am home again and able to type this with any trouble at all.

And so I feel hopeful.  And thank you for your concern.

Monday, January 08, 2018

Theatre and the fight for justice

There's a cis male actor in Brazil called Luis Lobianco, who has written a stars in a play called GISBERTA currently running in Belo Horizonte.

The play tells the story of a trans woman who was tortured and murdered in Portugal in 2006 and who has since become a symbol of resistance against trans women's oppression.

Not tactful or clever, then, for a cis man to play the part and exclude all trans women from the cast.

Especially not in the context of the atrocious murders of trans women that occur almost daily in Brazil, or the fact that the grotesque inequalities in the labour market force 90% of trans women in Brazil to work in the sex industry.

It's fantastic to see so many trans organisations in Brazil protesting about this casting, denouncing what they call "trans fake" on stage and screen.

I so strongly support them, and what makes me personally very proud is to see Renata Carvalho in the thick of these protests, and to know her activism has been inspired by performing my "Gospel According To Jesus Queen of Heaven".

Because art does make a difference.

Sunday, January 07, 2018

The taxi driver whose dream seems to be coming true

I got in a taxi last night and the driver said "I know you. You've been in my taxi before".

And so I had. Last time he was just back from a holiday in Orkney and he'd been so happy he was dreaming of going back to live there.

And now he is. "My wife's divorcing me", he told me, "and I'm going to live there in April."

His plan is to live on North Ronaldsay and and work as a full time dry stone dyker on repairing the wall.

North Ronaldsay is the most northern of the Orkney Islands. It's a tiny island, surrounded by a wall that was built in the 19th century to keep the seaweed eating sheep off the cultivated fields.

He loves dyking, he says. It gives him the most intense satisfaction. There's no hard feelings between him and his wife, in fact he's grateful to her, because she's given him the impetus to change his life and to fulfil his dream.

And he's right, of course. Even though with sea levels rising, the chances are his work will be overwhelmed by the tides...

He sounded and looked so happy when he came round to open the door at my destination. "See you in Orkney", I said.

And I hope I do.

Saturday, January 06, 2018

My neighbourhood market

This morning it's grey and bitter cold. Hovering around zero, my computer says, and my hands and feet say it too.

But I go to the market anyway, as I do every week I'm home. And I buy my fruit and my veg and my bread and my cheese and maybe a bit of smoked fish and something delicious from whatever stall has come. Sometimes from South America, or from Africa, or Greece.

And the food costs more, no doubt, but it's better, and I appreciate being able to buy fresh food and know it's not going to poison me.

The man in the veg stall has just come back from 5 months cycling round Europe, and he greets me like a long lost friend. And that is a pleasure, that we know each a little in this market, and are part of a community. And I feel so very lucky that it happens so close to my own front door.

When I get back I warm myself with a cup of hibiscus tea that a dear friend brought back to me from the Mercado Central in Belo Horizonte in Brasil.

That is a truly wondrous place. I've never seen such an incredible array of fruit, or vegetables, or meat, or fish. There's a stall entirely devoted to different kinds of chilli peppers; and at least a couple of herbalists. So much apparent abundance...

And I wish we still had a covered market in Edinburgh, or here in Leith.

Of course it was the cold logic of the Market that destroyed such places. But I like it that our little Leith market still exists on the Fringe of things, and that even on a cold day like this people still come to it.

I guess that one thing that draws us is a collective memory we're mostly unaware of. Of all the millennia when  markets met the needs of producers to sell their wares and of customers to buy them.

A time when the market actually met human needs instead of ignoring them

Friday, January 05, 2018

A ticket for Queen Jesus

I just happened to find this in a jacket pocket and it made me so happy.

It's a ticket for JESUS QUEEN OF HEAVEN in the National theatre of Uruguay, in Montevideo.

It was the first time a trans woman had performed in that theatre, and I was happy for Fabiana Fine, the actress, and happy for me.

I remember soon after I first performed the show in 2009, and I was so hurt by all the hatred it had inspired., I'd sent the script to a minister I knew down in Oxford.

She wrote back to say she had read to a trans woman she knew who was in hospital and dying of AIDS.

"When she understood what it was about", my friend wrote, "her eyes grew as big as saucers. And she started smiling. A big big smile. Your text really blessed her."

I remember a young trans woman in Sao Paulo telling me, tears in her eyes, how much the play was helping her and helping her sisters too.

I didn't mean it to be a play that helped, and I didn't know it when I first performed it, but I know now that it does, somehow, that art can be activism, and that it matters.

I think the same about EVE. And that's why I think it's important to keep performing them.

And why, as the working year really begins, I am doing what I can to keep them both alive.

Thursday, January 04, 2018

"Mijn Vader Is Een Zij"

When I first saw this headline, I thought in my ignorance that "ZIJ" was a term of abuse. Apparently not. It's Dutch for "SHE".

"My Father Is A She".

I believe very firmly in the need to be out in the world. To be open about who I am and proud too.

And I am particularly proud of being a trans woman and a father and a grandmother too and I do think it's an important thing to confirm.

And I know this is a good article because my daughter wrote it.

Here it is. Judge for yourselves.

It's much more than good. My daughter Catriona Innes is a wonderfully gifted writer.

And I'm sure I should feel happy that, after being published in the UK Cosmopolitan, it's now being published in the Netherlands and will reach another audience.

We need these articles. Particularly in the context of the continual media onslaught against us.

I try to ignore it all, but I know it's getting to me. Perhaps that's why I feel so tired. Why I shrink a little from this new exposure.

Why I so look forward to the day when these articles are no longer necessary.

The day we are fully accepted into the world. The day people look back on us now and wonder what on earth the fuss was about.

Wednesday, January 03, 2018

An anti-capitalist encounter

I was struggling at the supermarket checkout. I couldn't find my purse at the bottom of my shopping trolley, and the checkout lady gave a kind smile and said. "There's no need to hurry".

And then, "Do you have a nectar card?"

And "Would you like a receipt?"

Then she said "Have a nice day" and I said "You have a good one too"

And you might not think this much of a conversation, but we smiled and looked into each other's eyes, and I think any human contact is better than none.

I value them all the more since the companies began installing those self-service checkouts in the supermarkets, and removing manned checkouts and generally making that human process slower and more inconvenient.

Because humans are a liability on their balance sheets and automatic checkout machines an asset.

It's such a telling image of how much capitalism hates human beings and utterly devalues us. And on the way home I tried to think about how it came about that we became subject to such an anti-human system of economics, and how it might be possible to to turn it around.

And what a human based system of economics might look like.

It quickly became one of those questions that makes your brain hurt. And I felt exhausted by the time I got home.

But it matters that we imagine...

Tuesday, January 02, 2018

Finding something in the dark of night

I woke at 4am. It was cold. Through the window came the beautiful light of the deep frost, and everything had that midnight quiet that I so love.

I couldn't sleep for a while. I was thinking of this resolution I'd undertaken to keep, to record something each day that I'd noticed, and wondering if I'd see anything worth recording.

And that anxiety was shading into the anxiety about the play I am writing, and...

And it was cold. I was sleeping on the bed settee in my sitting room, so my daughter and her husband could have my bed. The settee doesn't work for two people, somehow.

And I needed to pee, and I needed some water, and I needed to find another downie because the one I had was old and full of draughty bits.

So I padded about the flat as quiet as I could, looking for another quilt, and I couldn't find it, so I tried to snuggle down and found myself thinking of the beautiful film I'd seen that evening.

It was called THE LIFE AND DEATH OF COLONEL BLIMP and is a lovely, humane, and gentle film that has at its heart a deep friendship between an English and a German officer. It was made in the middle of the Second World War, and must have been astonishingly difficult to film, given the censorship, and the wartime conditions, and the fact that Churchill wanted to stop it being made.

But I'd say it was still a masterpiece in its own quiet way, and it helped me understand that the worst obstacles are almost always the ones we create for ourselves.

And then somehow I remembered the quilt I needed was in the chest next to the settee I was sleeping on, and at the same time I understood something more about the play that I'm writing.

And that's how I also understood that often what we're looking for is actually right under our eyes. Because the quilt was there, and I was warm, and I could sleep.

And then it was morning.

Monday, January 01, 2018

A Writer's Resolution

In my writing workshops, I almost always ask people to share their name and one thing they've noticed about the world that day.

And when I remember to explain, I say that this is something fundamental about being an artist.

That we assert our right to be in this world, and express our response to whatever we experience happening in it.

It needs to be our response. No-one else's. Not the person we've been told we are or told we ought to be.

But ours.

And not someone else's response that we've encountered somewhere and that strikes us as forceful or persuasive or true.

But our own.

And it's not about judgement or opinion or condemnation or blame. It's about observation.

I've been neglecting this blog a bit for the past year, I guess because I've been so focussed on performing, and i seem to have let my writing muscles go all soft and flabby.

And that's been adding to my difficulties in writing my new play. I feel like someone who's being asked to run a marathon when all they're used to doing is a walk through the park.

So I want to see if I can do this exercise every day to see if I can get myself back into better shape.

Not being much given to making resolutions, this feels like a strange resolve to come to.

It may be exceptionally foolish, and end in failure.

Failure, I guess, would not being able to keep writing it. And if that happened, the exercise would be to accept that without judgement or reproach.

I'm not altogether sure what success would look like. Perhaps just carrying on.

And on the way to free myself of the need to please...

And so. We'll see.

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