Wednesday, January 31, 2018
Beginning to sing again.
When I was young and forced to live as a boy, I was always taken to church on Sundays.
We would sit in a row on the horrid church pew, and however bored I was I was supposed to be a good boy and sit still. And when it came to the hymns, I remember feeling embarrassed at the tuneless sounds that came out of my father and big brothers.
My mother's voice I don't remember.
It made me feel self-conscious about singing. I knew i didn't want to sound like them.
And then I was eight and sent to boarding school the music teacher was a terrifying man, with his bald head and his bushy eyebrows, and he used to call the new boys up one by one to stand in front of everybody and sing.
He would call up maybe two boys a week and although I liked music the classes became a torment because I was so afraid of being called up to sing.
I think he called me up last of all and so I went through a whole term like this. He had taught my big brother ten years before, and had obviously failed with them, and so he looked at me with great hostility and disdain.
And then he played "Three Blind Mice". No-one else had been asked to sing a nursery rhyme, and I felt so humiliated he'd asked me to sing that.
So of course I couldn't sing it, and that made the humiiation a hundred times worse.
I never sang in that school again.
We had to go to chapel twice a day, and I loved some of the hymns and I am sure would have loved to sing them.
But I couldn't. I just couldn't somehow.
In the next school the music teacher saw us on our own and he was gentle and encouraging and kind. He played a note, and to my surprise I could sing it, and another and another.... And I could sing them as well.
He asked me if I'd like to join the choir.
I was thirteen years old and my voice hadn't broken and I felt ashamed. I had a sense that there was something wrong with me and I wasn't a proper boy and I couldn't bear the thought of standing in front of the whole school with my high voice on display, somehow.
So I said no.
And at that school we had chapel twice a day and I never joined in the hymns there either, though some of them I loved, and my joining in was all part of my being so unbearably alone.
I've had a very good life on the whole and there's very little I regret.
But I do regret that "no".
I keep trying to get through this hurt and this pain; and so there I was this afternoon in front of my lovely teacher trying to sing "My favourite things", I think because Julie Andrews is so lovely to the Von Trapp children in her care, and I want to be kind to the hurt child inside of me too.
Music is so beautiful. It makes me cry to think how absent it has been from my life for so long.
And I wonder how much beauty we are denying ourselves in our lives because it's been blighted by trauma.
"Be careful", went the second song, "Be careful, it's my heart".
Tuesday, January 30, 2018
Queen Jesus is changing the world
This morning I got sent this picture. It made me very proud.
It's of Renata Carvalho, the Brazilian Queen Jesus, and Natalia Mallo, her director and translator. The man they are with, Eduardo Simplicy, is one of the founders of the Workers Party in Brazil. He is also a city councillor of São Paulo and is here with Renata to launch a bill to end discrimination against trans people in the workplace.
The book he is presenting to Renata is about Universal Basic Income. He is one of the first and most important proponents of the idea.
In my eyes, this makes him one of the most significant economic thinkers on the planet. The fact I haven't heard of him, and that he is in fact hardly known at all outside Brazil, only goes to show how mistaken are the priorities of the media.
They are giving him my GOSPEL ACCORDING TO JESUS QUEEN OF HEAVEN in English and in Portuguese.
An interesting & significant exchange...
Monday, January 29, 2018
Why trans rights matter. My statement for trans visibility day in Brazil.
Today is trans visibility day in Brazil.
And so, of course, there's a performance of "The Gospel According to Jesus Queen Of Heaven" in Sao Paulo, and interview being broadcast with Renata Carvalho, the trans actress who plays Queen Jesus.
(This makes me proud)
A Brazilian newspaper asked me why the struggle for trans rights is important.
And I said:
Some years ago, when I was beginning to live as a woman, a man stopped me in the street and said “Excuse me madam”.
Everyone was misgendering me those days and the fact that at last someone had got it right made me so happy.
But then he started to apologise.
He said he was sorry over and over again. He said I should kick him up the arse.
And at first I couldn’t understand. Why did he have to say he was so sorry?
Then I understood. At first he had seen me as a woman. But now he was seeing me as a man. And for him calling a man a woman was a terrible insult.
So he helped me understand that at the root of transphobia is misogyny.
Around the same time another man stopped me and said: “But you’re a man”. In incredulity and disgust. As if to say: “How could you so debase yourself?”
So each time trans women assert ourselves as proud to be women we are resisting misogyny and patriarchal oppression.
At the same time, these men were making it clear that I represent something in themselves thatchy were terribly afraid of: their own feminine selves.
For every man has a woman inside him just as every woman has a man inside her.
Wisdom and happiness come from honouring both.
So the liberation of trans women is connected to the liberation of women, and to the liberation of men as well.
And so also to the liberation of humanity.
And that is why it matters.
Sunday, January 28, 2018
The joy of sharing a beautiful film
"Andrei Rublev" was such an incredible joy to watch tonight. It is such a pleasure to choose a film I love for the Filmhouse, and then introduce it. And sit in front of the huge screen of cinema one, in the middle of a full house of utterly rapt spectators.
It wasn't an easy film to introduce, and I'm not sure i did it very well. bright lights were shining in my eyes, so I couldn't sense what was going on in the audience. I had a real panic earlier this afternoon, because I couldn't remember exactly what it was I intended to say. And here were some tricky little steps up and down onto the stage which I found hard to negotiate.
And then when I'd said my bit and sat down again, and I was watching the first scene, yet again I was bowled over by the power of the film's artistry, which I'd underestimated somehow.
And I felt what I'd said was so inadequate. But that doesn't matter.
What mattered was the overwhelming beauty and power of the film.
And the intense privilege of being able to share it...
Saturday, January 27, 2018
I was walking down the aisles of a supermarket and I had a dream.
I dreamt that everything that was on sale in the shop that was bad for our health just disappeared.
Of course in a second the shelves were mostly empty...
And as I stood in the queue for the checkout, ignoring all the checkout machines and waiting, in my obstinate way, for a brief encounter with a human being, I wondered what would happen if supermarkets had to pay for all the damage they cause us.
Pay for the healthcare for all the alcoholism caused by the profits they make selling cheap alcohol. Or pay for the diabetes caused by sugary drinks or over-sugared food.
Just like I wonder sometimes what would happen if car manufacturers had to pay for all the time we lose in traffic jams or somehow compensate for the suffering caused by road traffic accidents. Or the appalling lung diseases caused by air pollution.
We can't make any of this happen, of course. But we can imagine it...
Friday, January 26, 2018
we all need to be creative about creative funding
There are powerful currents of outrage swirling around the Scottish theatre community just now. Creative Scotland, the Scottish government body responsible for funding the arts, has just announced its choices of which companies are receiving fixed term funding for the next three years.
As always, this is causing furious outrage, deep hurt and total confusion.
It always does. I have to try hard not to get caught up in it.
I have my own memories of discovering that theatre companies who were given funding to commission a play from me have then be denied the funding to produce it. And I've written so many angry letters in the past about it.
And the people I know who work for Creative Scotland are intelligent good hearted individuals who care deeply for the art forms they are trying to administer funds for. I haven't the heart to join in the chorus of condemnation against them.
I'm aware, too, of how arts practitioners in countries like Brazil and the USA envy us for having an organisation like Creative Scotland that attempts, in all its imperfections, to distribute arts funding in an equitable way.
And they envy us for living in a country that apparently values the contribution artists make to society.
But this doesn't help me, really. I feel sad for the fine artists of the companies whose funding has been cut, for no very good reason. And whose distress is now probably compounded by the confusion of the discovery that there may be another new touring fund coming on stream that will rescue them.
I think about my own theatre company, Queen Jesus Plays, that tiny group of 4 of us who I so love and cherish. And how we've structured the Queen Jesus play so as to be able to function as far as possible without public funding. And how that also hampers our activities...
I don't know what the answer is to any of it.
Except that we mustn't be content with just hurling insults at the authorities. The fury is justified, but we need to get past it.
We need to be creative in identifying more effective funding models that truly respect artistic activity and address the structural problems that cause us such intractable economic difficulties.
And then get on with the business of making them happen...
Thursday, January 25, 2018
The human face in the gospel of Matthew
Last night I introduced Pasolini's "Gospel According to Matthew" at the Edinburgh Filmhouse; and having said more or less all I intended to say I sat down and watched the opening scenes.
And thought: I just haven't mentioned the most important thing here.
The faces. The incredible humanity of the faces.
Of the Virgin Mary luminous with the mystery of her child. Joseph holding the baby, finally transformed with pride and happiness. The wisdom and beauty of the wise men...
And then there was king Herod. He had a bourgeois face of the kind we all know only too well: The face trained to become a mask that lie and dissemble for the sake of power.
The other faces could not lie, somehow.
And they were just so beautiful.
Wednesday, January 24, 2018
Sourdough, Queen Jesus, and the persistence of life
In my fridge there's a horrid grey sludge in a tupperware container. I took it out this morning to throw it away.
And then thought again. It's a sourdough starter for rye bread and it's been in my fridge for years.
Sourdough is an extraordinary thing. You can use it to make bread instead of the dried yeast you buy in tins.
It's the simplest thing in the world to make. You mix flour and water and leave it in a warm place. The next day you add a bit more flour and a bit more water and so on every day for 4 or so days after which you'll see it slowly bubbling.
That means it's alive. Somehow it's picked up wild yeasts in the air. You can add it to your dough mix, keeping a bit back for your next loaf, and bake it and it'll rise and make the tastiest bread you can imagine.
It's a miracle.
The last time I used it regularly was to make Borodinsky bread for when I was performing "Jesus Queen of Heaven" in St. Mark's church during the 2014 Fringe.
That is such a lovely bread, but complicated. And sourdough is slower and sometimes a bit erratic and ever since yeast I've used tinned yeast.
I must have just shoved this in a container and put it back in the fridge.
And today, all those years later, just out of curiosity I thought I'd add more flour and water and leave it on my kitchen table.
And when I looked this afternoon it still looked pretty revolting. But had bubbles on the surface...
I'll be making rye bread soon.
And it makes me happy to think of life still persisting, in spite of everything.
We're a bit like that, too...
Tuesday, January 23, 2018
Bye Bye Bike Shed. Thank you so much...
I'm remembering the Bikeshed. The Bikeshed is two cellars somewhere in Exeter.
The first cellar is a cafe bar - scruffy and friendly and warm-hearted somehow and I felt very much at home there.
Then you can pass into the next cellar, where the theatre is. I remember it being cold and dank and smelling of damp.
The seating was made up of old cinema seats in rows and I was supposed to be performing Queen Jesus there that night and I had no idea how to do it.
I hadn't performed the show that often after its traumatic opening, and a colleague I was extremely fond of had just left another project we were both working on and I was really insecure as a performer even at the best of times and this piece was so different from anywhere I'd performed before and I didn't know what to do so I burst into tears.
I was there with Chris Goode and Jonny Liron and we were there to a workshop for a project that would eventually turn into Chris's beautiful "Albemarle Sketchbook". The idea was, I think, that we would work together during the day and then share something with an audience in the evenings and quite what this had to do with Jesus Queen of Heaven I can't remember.
But anyway there it was. And there was me crying. Jonny is a tall man, and when he hugged me he felt like an eight foot tower of strength. And Chris, who I hardly knew and who i was a little bit scared of, was skilful and supportive and amazing and between them they got me onto the stage that night.
And once I was there and doing the show the space became a beautiful friend, somehow, and I remember getting incredibly excited by what could be done inside its suddenly warm and fabulous brick walls.
Afterwards we went to the bar, and they'd made a cocktail especially for us and it was delicious.
The theatre writer Maddy Costa was there too, I remember, and it was a happy creative few days. And the Albemarle Sketchbook which eventually emerged is something I am so proud to have been part of.
I'm remembering all this because I've just heard the Bike Shed is closing. As so often happens, its presence has transformed the neighbourhood, other trendier bars have opened, and theirs can no longer generate the profits to keep the theatre running.
Sometimes I think theatre's financial problems are a question of accounting. If its actors could be counted as assets (as of course they really are) and if they could just get a tiny proportion of the wealth they generate for the cities in which they are, then theatres would never have to struggle financially ever again.
But as it is, there's another wee centre of creativity closing.
There's a lovely tribute to it here http://exeuntmagazine.com/features/farewell-bike-shed-theatre/
And as that writer and the theatre itself both point out we shouldn't be that sad.
Something else will emerge.
When I was still forced to live as a boy, I was immensely inspired by a wise saying of an artist whose name I have forgotten but whose words I remember when he said:
"We love life, and we don't want it to end. Not so much because we want to go on living, but because we want to go on loving".
And the love that inspires the Bike Shed's work, and my work, and Chris and Maddy's work, is not going away.
It will find new forms of expression....
Monday, January 22, 2018
This morning I'm going to Glasgow. 6 carriages pull in to Edinburgh Waverley but it turns out only 3 are pulling out. It's the first off peak train of the day which means it's busier than most. Which means there's a scramble for seats and it ends up overcrowded. The train back, on the other hand, is leaving at a quiet time; has six carriages; and is almost empty.
When I get back I need to leave by the Market St. exit It's difficult these days because the escalator has been taken down. There's evidence of work of all kinds in the spot where the escalator used to be; but no sign of anything being done to replace the escalator. Or of any actual building activity at all. This puzzles me a moment, until I see the name of the builder on a notice board: Carrillion.
My journey home is complicated by the fact that I have to pick up a parcel from a grocer's shop in an out of my way street. I'd ordered something on line that was being delivered by a private delivery firm that doesn't deliver to your home any more. Only to delivery points. And I'd somehow chosen the wrong delivery point. And then, because the the delivery firm is a US based multi-national, been unable to communicate with them to get it changed.
The delivery point is a grocery store that obviously can't make a living just selling food. It's not equipped to be a parcel depot, either, and packages are in disorganised heaps. Luckily, I'm able to spot my parcel. And remember that we used to have a pretty good state run delivery service. It was called the Post Office.
It's a pity the grocery shop can't make enough of a living selling groceries. Given that we all need them. There's no sign of any fruit or veg there, though we need them too. Presumably it's because the Market doesn't allow the store owner to make enough of a profit out of fresh food, and it's getting harder and harder to get hold of. Though we all need it.
On the journey I've been reading the testimonies of people whose lives have been ruined by addiction to Fixed Odds Betting Terminals. Of course they're everywhere. And often open twenty four hours day. Although we absolutely don't need them.
I've also been reading a report about income inequality. It turns out that in Scotland the richest 1% owns more than the bottom 50 percent combined. I remember the year the 7:84 Theatre Company was founded. It took its title from the fact that then 7% of the population of Scotland owned 84% of the country's wealth.
And how cross we all were about that...
But 1% owning more than the bottom 50 percent combined? Can you even put a percentage on that?
And this is where the Market is taking us. I wonder if and when we will ever say:
Sunday, January 21, 2018
The racism that dare not speak its name
I've been trying to imagine Henry Bolton fighting for his political life.
Or so the news says. Bolton is the leader of the "United Kingdom Independence Party" whose National Executive has been meeting today to consider a motion of no confidence in him.
What a miserable kind of political life to be fighting for.
I'm puzzled by it all. He's at risk of being censured because his ex-girlfriend tweeted racist remarks about some royal prince's mixed race fiancee.
But racism is what this party is all about. Everyone knows that. Why is it that they can't admit it?
Perhaps it's my upbringing that makes it so easy for me to imagine their mindset. And be so grateful it's not my own.
But I know if I was one of them I know I'd be upset at the prospect of a mixed race princess. Who was american.
My dad would be. He's my spirit guide for these things.
It's almost as if we're entering a new Victorian age where inconvenient truths and unacceptable feelings have to be silenced in the vain hope they will go away.
The trouble is they don't. Which is why in the end I can't support attempts to silence or no platform speakers like Germaine Greer, hateful as so many of their views are.
They have been seen in the light and exposed for the falsehoods they are.
Besides, people have tried to silence me enough times to show me how ineffective these attempts always are. I'm not going to be silenced. If anything, these attempts strengthen me.
People should be allowed to speak. Forbidden words should be spoken.
And then what pops up into my mind is a particularly vile epithet my dad used to use to describe mixed race people.
And immediately I know I must keep it silent.
Nothing is easy. And then I see that Bolton lost the vote of confidence. Unanimously.
He's the sixth leader they've got rid of in 16 months.
It's an occupational hazard, I guess, of founding your politics on nothing but hate. It can only function if you hate yourself. Or hate each other.
And then you do end up silencing your own unhappy self.
Saturday, January 20, 2018
Overcoming anti trans hatred
The other day a Facebook friend shared the story of a woman called Sandy Stone who was sound engineer and a member of a radical lesbian feminist community in the USA in the 1970's.
She was driven out of the community by a writer called Janice Raymond and her followers who decided she was not a woman and therefore had no right to be part of a lesbian collective.
You can read the details here:
Re-reading that story struck a profound chord with me because Janice Raymond went on to publish a book called "The Transsexual Empire" in 1979, a book which was hugely successful in its day and that me and my partner both read with passionate interest.
We were both feminists, were both struggling with my deep feeling that I wasn't a proper man, somehow, and my wish to live as a woman instead.
The book told me that whatever I did and whatever surgeries I had I would always be a man and that for a man like me to try to live as a woman was an act of colonialisation of women's bodies and, more than that, was an act of rape.
The straight world had already completely convinced that I was a bad worthless person and now feminism was telling me the same.
I was very vulnerable at the time. I had given up nursing, I had given up my PhD, and I had still not yet discovered myself as a writer. I still wasn't able to acknowledge what I thought of as my female identity to myself; I was still unable to find ways of dressing as a woman; I was still childless.
The book pushed me back very deeply into the closet of fear and of shame and it took me many years to recover.
To a degree, I'd hated Raymond for what she'd written, just as I hate, to a degree, those trans exclusionary radical feminist followers of hers who, along with evangelical christians, have their outbursts of writing me hate mail every now and again.
And then this morning I saw her photograph for the very first time and saw the face of a hurt and unhappy woman woman and realised I can't hate her any more.
The sad thing about hatred is that it's stuck. It never changes. And so the anti-trans radical feminists now are still saying the same things Raymond said all those years ago. And their arguments are exactly the ones I used against myself to try to convince myself I didn't need to transition.
All those years ago.
But what has changed is the context. Raymond's hate-filled ideas gained general acceptance back then because they were basically in accord with a hate-filled society.
But at least here in Scotland the hatred isn't mainstream any more. And that is the profoundest change.
I was reminded yesterday of how I was named an "outstanding woman in Scotland in 2017". On my desk is the advance copy of a book called "Life Lessons from Remarkable Women". I wrote one of the chapters. I'm one of them.
The book is being published by Penguin. On International Women's Day.
And I look back at the sufferings of my 29 year self with amazement.
Sandy Stone's story ends happily too. My Queen Jesus says of the haters:
"Hatred is the only thing they have. And it doesn't amount to much.
Because 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."
Friday, January 19, 2018
A condition of stuck-ness
When I was a student in Spain, I remember attending a meeting that was called for a student union on campus. It was nothing very radical, i seem to remember. The students were just asking for somewhere where they could have a beer and drink a cup of coffee.
That didn't stop armed police breaking into the lecture hall where the meeting was being held. We were lucky in that we could all escape through another door. And for weeks afterwards I remember an armed policeman dressed as a stormtrooper - Nazi helmet, jackboots and all - marching up and down the aisles of the university library.
Those were the last years of the of the Franco dictatorship, and the authorities' main concern was to foster a climate of dull despair.
All this came to mind when I was introducing THE EXTERMINATING ANGELin the Filmhouse last night. Like the characters in that film, I said, we seem to be trapped in a political situation from which we cannot escape. We know things are wrong, and each day they become more and more unbearable... and yet somehow we cannot get out. Nothing seems to change.
I was living under Franco when I last saw that film; and now I'm living under a very different, and far more effective, form of dictatorship whose dimensions I can only dimly see or understand.
The rebellious young woman who led them out of the trap in the film did so by somehow reconnecting them with hope and with their own deep desires.
"We want to get out, don't we", she was saying, "We want to go home".
And they did....
Thursday, January 18, 2018
Rest in Peace, Nicky Stone
I went to Nicky Stone's funeral today. He was an extraordinary man and I was happy to attend.
He was worried in his life that his gender would not be respected after his death. Just as he was also worried about what might happen to him if he had to enter a care home, and how his being trans could lead to embarrassment and suffering.
He'd had to fight a very long and very stubborn fight to have his right to gender reassignment respected and acted upon. Just as he had also had to fight a long and stubborn fight to obtain men's jobs at sea.
It's sad how much unnecessary suffering he had to endure in the process; suffering that left very deep scars.
Yet I knew him as a person whose immense gentleness and capacity for self-effacement concealed a steely strength.
In so many ways his life was heroic and exemplary, and it made me happy to hear that he had documented it himself in his journals and his poems.
The room was full of friends who remembered and loved him; and the funeral was conducted exactly as he wished.
He achieved a very great deal; though I suspect he may not have known that.
Certainly an honour to know him. He was a true gentleman.
Wednesday, January 17, 2018
Poverty is a crime
I remember meeting an old woman sitting on the ground outside the back of Lidl's in Leith.
I felt sorry for her. That must be one of the worst pitches there is.
My dad would always tell me very fiercely never under any circumstances to give to beggars because it would only encourage them.
My poor dad did everything he could to bring me up in the way he thought fit. One of the insights I owe to him is that it's often best to listen to his advice and then do the opposite.
I was using a stick in those days and my purse was in my rucksack and I had to take it off and fumble around and try to keep my stick from falling to the ground. Which it did anyway.
So the first lesson this lady taught me was to keep coins in my coat pockets so it's easy to give them away.
The second lesson was much more important. It came when I said hello and gave her the coin. She looked at me and smiled the most beautiful smile. Full of wisdom and a kind of mischievous humour that was just lovely to see.
And I went away feeling sad at all the gifts this woman so clearly possessed that were not being employed properly and that we were not as a society benefiting from because we were forcing her to beg in the street.
I was reminded of her by the sad news of the death of a man called Dan who used to be at the top of the steps up from Waverley station and who I always looked out for whenever I had to catch a train. He had a nice face and a lovely manner to him. He had great dignity and a positive energy in spite of the difficulties of his situation,.
It was good to be in his presence and he gave me something, even in the moment that it took to give him a coin and wish him well.
George Bernard Shaw said poverty was a crime, and he was right. All the more so in this disgusting society where no-one need suffer poverty or want.
And I think of Dan with anger and with sadness, as I think of all the other men and women being forced by a wicked economic system to sit out in the cold. Of the waste of their talents and gifts. Of our collective and unnecessary loss.
One of the many painful things about encountering people begging in the street is my sense of my own apparent helplessness. The fact that in the end I seem unable to make it better.
But I won't think of that. Whenever I go out I'll remember to make sure that the pockets of my coat have a least a few pound coins.
Tuesday, January 16, 2018
Trans rights are human rights
I chose THE CRYING GAME as one of the films in my season at the Edinburgh Filmhouse because it's one of the very few films I've ever seen with a trans character who is presented as a rounded human being capable of loving and of being loved.
When I introduced the film I said that mattered because all men have a woman inside them, just as all women have a man, and that our wholeness and happiness as human beings depend on our reaching a level of acceptance of our other self.
I said we can all see how dangerous and destructive it can be when a man hates and despises and fears his female self, because such an individual is now President of the United States.
I was glad I managed to say that. But having now seen the film again, I think I underestimated it.
Of course I love Dil and completely empathise with her. I love her courage in becoming herself - and that so inspired me. And I love the fact that she is empowered to kill the person who was responsible for her lover's death and so ruined her life.
This time round I found myself also totally loving Fergus, the male lead. The way early on he found himself feeling affection and respect for the British soldier that he knew, as an IRA volunteer, that he would eventually be ordered to kill.
The way he fell for Dil when he thought she was a cis woman and then, having been horrified to discover she was trans, found himself loving her just the same.
I understood the suffering that he feels, as a cis man, was the just the same as the suffering I used to feel as a trans woman: this unbearably painful conflict between what I knew I was supposed to be feeling and what I actually felt.
Somehow, over the years, I've found a measure of peace in this conflict, just as I think Fergus had found at the end of the film.
Dil had certainly found it: she was one beautiful whole person by the end.
In that way, I think, the film was trying to do then what I try to do now: to communicate the very simple, but still somehow very subversive, idea that to be trans is to be human and to be human is to be trans and that if we as a society deny trans rights we are in fact denying our own humanity.
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 [http://www.augustine.org.uk/] 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” (http://www.edtheatres.com/theattic ) 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.
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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