Tuesday, April 24, 2018

Dear Scotland

Four years ago, the NTS asked me to write a monologue inspired by a picture in the Scottish National Portrait Gallery.

I chose this - 'Poet's Pub' by Alexander Moffat - and I gave voice to the faceless woman sitting on the left hand side.

It was beautifully performed by Sally Reid at the time and then, later that year, not so beautifully performed by me in pro-Independence rallies.

A dear friend has aksed to read it because she says it sounds important still.

And I think so too...


Nothing dear about you Scotland. You vile country.

You with your cold dark days.

You with your rain that stings my face 

You with your hard grey streets, your dirty windows

You with your niggardly closed off minds.

You with your instinct to cut everyone down to size

You who find it so hard to praise anyone or anything.

You who always want to fail

Because you’re frightened of succeeding.

Always happier for things to go wrong

So you can blame someone else for it.

I hate you Scotland.

I hate your poets.

Look at them. So-called alpha males.

Look at them talking talking talking.

They never stop. Never.

Look at the way they toady up to that old man  

Or say vile things about him behind his back

That old man with his filthy pipe and his tartan scarf

Praising Lenin and the power of the people

Declaiming all the time in that ridiculous made-up language of his

That’s supposed to be Scots but which no-one can understand

He looked up words in the dictionary and he learned them off by heart

Not because he wanted to communicate but because he wanted to impress and intimidate.

And them in their pecking order all about him.

Look at them. Bunch of pricks.

Not that their pricks are up to much.

I know because I’ve had most of them inside me,

Waggling about or pumping up and down

Up and down up and down in the dreariest kind of way

And then me afterwards smiling saying you were wonderful

It was a skill I had.

And they all loved me for it, and the way I moaned

And that’s why I’m painted naked with my red stockings on

To show that I’m available.

But then see how it’s also kind of hidden that I’m naked because that. dear Scotland,

That’s just the way you feel. Just the way you feel about sex,

Kind of furtive and ashamed, and the way you feel about feelings too.

Why you will keep drinking just to blank them out.

You’ve blanked us out too, dear Scotland, kept us at the edge of things

Me and Liberté and Jenny in the courtyard

Not even bothered to paint our faces and denied us names.

So it’s the names, Scotland, it’s the names I’ll tell you first:

Liberté’s name is Marie Deschamps and she fought on the barricades

And that’s Jenny in the courtyard.

And I’m Stella and I belong in the stars.

Jenny’s dead now. She worked the streets to support her child

And she was a better human being than the whole lot of you.

You with your fine words and your frightened hearts.

You’d have used her for your furtive pleasures only she made you pay.

But me I gave it you for nothing.

I let myself be used.

Don’t judge me for that, Scotland, because you’re the same.

You’ve made yourself available

You’ve let yourself be colonised.

They’ve colonised your resources and they’ve colonised your minds

And then you believe them, Scotland, when they tell you you’re no good

And can’t be trusted to run your own affairs.

That’s why the Scotland I lived in was so very small.

Why I’m the same, Scotland, the same as you

Why I let myself be despoiled

Why I wrote my poems in the darkness

And never let them come to light.

That’s why I drank myself to death.

But it doesn’t have to be this way

Don’t believe them when they tell you so

the squalor of alcohol

defeat and failure, Scotland,

the resigned and twisted bitterness

That’s not for you.

The old man wasn’t altogether wrong, Scotland,

When he said poetry should be at the centre of your life.

I loved him once. I loved them all.

Maybe I wouldn’t say poetry

Maybe I’d say love

Maybe I’d say creativity

Maybe I’d say they should be at the beating heart of things.

Whatever. I won’t argue. 

But don’t leave me at the edge, Scotland.

And don’t deny my name. Acknowledge me.

I don’t mind being naked. I refuse to be ashamed.

But right now, Scotland, when school children notice that I have no clothes

They get hurried on.

You see, Scotland, you’re still so prudish when it comes to sex.

But your children should be fearless, unashamed.

Don’t perpetuate abuse and shame.

Don’t believe them when they tell you there is no other way

Don’t believe them when they tell you they cannot help committing crimes.

They’re wrong. They’re very wrong. There is another way.

I was gifted, Scotland.

I was different, Scotland.

I laughed. I danced

I loved my body and I loved to live.

Yet I destroyed myself because there was no place for me.

I was clever when there was no space for women’s cleverness

So I drank myself stupid and I felt ashamed.

Don’t be ashamed, Scotland

Don’t be ashamed to be women

Don’t be ashamed to be men

Don’t be ashamed to be people of both genders or of none

Listen to those of us who don’t fit in. Cherish your outcasts.

Because on that day, Scotland, 

That day you’ll build the road to freedom.

That day freedom will be at the centre of your picture

And the face she’ll wear will be your own.


Monday, April 23, 2018

Transphobia kills

A friend died last week. I say “friend” though I hardly knew them. 

It is just I so wanted to know them more.

Several years ago they came out to me as trans, and I so wanted to help them.

It was difficult because they said they had given up hope. They didn’t believe it was possible they could ever be open about who they were because they felt so deeply ashamed.

I told them…I told them all the things you would tell someone in such a position. I was sure they would feel better if they could be open about who they were.

I said that in my experience the whole process of transitioning had been very difficult, but far less difficult that I had thought it would be.

It was hard to believe, sometimes, in the torment they were suffering. Because they came across as an outgoing, friendly person, always with a kind word. 

But they said sometimes they just couldn’t bear to see anyone or to be seen at all.

I said I was sorry but the feeling would not go away. The only way through it is to do the one thing we are most afraid of but also want to do more than anything in the world. I said that if they decided to begin to live as a woman people in our church would support them, because I know they would. 

And I said I would help them in any wayI could.

And they smiled  sadly and said they didn’t think they could do that.

And then I started to see them less and less.

And now they’re gone.

I heard the news just as I was about to go on stage. I was performing with 12 other women in a remarkable and visionary art installation by Tai Shani at the Tramway. She had created a beautiful space that represented the City of Women imagined by the 14th century Cristine de Pizan. And we were to embody the free citizens of a post patriarchal future.

And so I did that as best I could.

I thought of how when I was still forced to live as a man I was at heart so ashamed that performing was completely blocked for me. Of the twenty years of struggle it took me to find my voice as a writer. Of the catcalls and the shouting and the insults and abuse that pursued me as I started to go out as a woman.

Of the women who, when last year I was awarded the award of being one of the Ten Outstanding Women of Scotland, took such a venomous pleasure in telling me I was a man. And who said that if I had a single shred of human decency in me I would renounce the award. Because it was not mine.

The hatred we face is still so real and often, too, it is lodged deep inside ourselves. I know it caused the death of my friend.

In the words of our Brazilian sisters: “Transphobia kills”.

And I so wish, my dear, I could call you by your true name. I hope at least you told someone so that it has not remained unknown for ever.

Whenever we met she, and I will call her she, she would greet me affectionately and call me “Big Bird”in the tender playful way of hers.

Fly into the kind night, little bird. Fly into the unknown darkness. I hope you come out in a safer and more loving world.

Monday, April 09, 2018

Kindness and collective creativity with Queen Jesus in Dumfries

We took Queen Jesus to Dumfries yesterday.

Dumfries is a handsome town, with a rather sad town centre full of empty properties.

Somehow it was no surprise to find our venue, The Stove, was at the heart of a community initiative for urban renewal. As well as being a crucial centre for the LGBTI community


That made it very good to be performing there. Our performance was part of an incredibly important collective effort to create a community.

And i could feel it as I sat on the first floor landing of the venue in my costume, ready for the call to begin. There was a great buzz of engaged conversation and a beautiful vibe floating up the stairs.

It was especially good to hear it, because we'd only had about 4 hours in the venue to prepare.

Queen Jesus turns up at her venues with some bread, some tea lights, and very little else.And we tailor the shape of the performance to the shape of the space.

The Stove is basically a shop that's used as cafe. We decided to put all the tables into a long line and have the audience sit at them, as if at the Last Supper. There was just about enough space at each side for me to move around, perform at either end and sometimes in the gap in the middle that we needed for the fire exit.

I operated one set of light switches, our director St Susan of the Light Switches the other. The windows were more or less covered with blinds. We had time for one stagger through, working out where I would be more or less in this performance layout we had never tried before... and we were off.

It all looked lovely. The tea lights, the candles, the daffodils in glass jars, the beautiful attentive face of the capacity audience... I felt safe and happy and I think everyone felt the same.

And we were looked after so beautifully by Leo Juniper Barrett, of Lavender Menace, Dumfries who had invited us.


It was one of those days when hospitality and kindness and human warmth and collective creativity all come together and create something especially beautiful

Thursday, April 05, 2018

What we say and what we do really matters

At the beginning of the Passion Play on Sunday, I noticed an old lady in the audience. She was walking with a zimmer, and she had a special air about her. An air of happiness and determination, somehow.

I saw her watching all the scenes in the manse grounds, and then in the Stations of the Cross going round Duddingston village.

She was there at the foot of the Cross also.

Then I became preoccupied with standing in the right place and saying the right words, and I lost sight of her.

But apparently she saw everything. And that night she phoned the minister, the lovely Jim Jack, to say it was the best Easter she had ever had.

And last night, suddenly and unexpectedly, she died.

Her name was Grace.

It moves me so profoundly to think that we contributed to her happiness on almost her last day on this earth.

And it reminds me that everything we say and do, and every human encounter we have, can have consequences far beyond what we imagine or expect.

I guess as an artist I'm especially aware of this. Aware of this as a writer - especially this week as I finish off my radio plays about death - and particularly aware as a performer. Because I am always encountering people, often without being aware of it, and these encounters have consequences.

I want the consequences to be good.

I want the art I create to make this world a better place, even in the tiniest of ways, and I want the experience of those who witness it to be positive.

We all have such a responsibility for the well-being of the world.

I feel so helpless sometimes, which is why it does me such good to hear of people like Grace.

And as Calderon says, "the good you do is never lost. Not even in dreams."

Tuesday, April 03, 2018

Lies lies and more lies

I know it's a waste of time to get cross with the British press for lying. It does it all the time.

But the abuse that has been heaped on Jeremy Corbyn for being anti semitic and that culminated today in him being accused of it again because he attended a Passover celebration...

It is more than grotesque.


And the abuse he suffered for suggesting that we should not rush to the conclusion that the Russians poisoned the ex-spy and his daughter in Salisbury...

His stance there, too, has been shown to be justified.


And this from the paper that disgracefully collaborated in both campaigns of smear and abuse.

I am glad at least they are correcting it.

Perhaps at least for a day or so I can glimpse the news without being convulsed by fury.

Sunday, April 01, 2018

Angelic roots....

In theory, it's quite simple being the Angel in the Duddingston Passion Play. You just have to be present.

The Angel is there from the very beginning, when Jesus blesses the bread and the wine for the last supper. She is there when Jesus blesses the children, and reminds us that we have a light and we must allow that light to shine.

She is there when Pilate and the High Priest interrogate Jesus; when Pilate reluctantly condemns him to death. When Pilate washes his hands of the crime.

And she is there when Jesus picks up his cross and carries it to his death.

She is there at the foot of the cross; there when his dead body is taken down from the cross; and there when the women are wailing at the empty tomb.

And it is there that she comforts the women and announces that Christ has risen from the dead.

All this happens in th presence of the forty or so members of the cast, and the hundreds of people in the audience. Some of whom were weeping as they followed Jesus on his journey to the cross.

It is such a profound thing to live through, and it had an added dimension because I was also with my sisters. With Annabel Cooper, showing the film of Queen Jesus to Trans Pride in Leeds. With Fabiana Fine who has so recently performed as Queen Jesus in Montevideo. With Renata Carvalho and Natalia Mallo presenting the play in the Anglican cathedral of Curitiba in Brazil.

All on Easter Sunday.

And then a long pause, while I try to think about what this all means.

Then I remember that the lines I speak in the play are directly derived from the old liturgical question and answer: "Quem quaeritis?".

This is the question the angel asks the women at the tomb. Who are you seeking? And they say they are looking for Jesus. And the angel says he is not there, he has risen. Just as I say...

And then I remember that this became the origin of a huge number of medieval religious plays. And that these plays then gave rise to European theatre.

And that means that what we are doing as we present Queen Jesus has very deep and very ancient roots.

And somehow that makes me happy and proud; and makes me all the more convinced that what we are doing is right.

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