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We cry, we dance

  • Posted on May 28, 2012 at 8:10 am

In the land where all is pink and blue
the purple has no face.
We cry, we dance, we love like you
but cannot find our place.

There are countless stories, wherever the gender variant gather to share, of lost families, lost friends, lost lives. Such is the detritus of being trans*. It isn’t that we do strange things, nor that we love differently, though I do increasingly gain the impression that there are insights on life and love unique to the gender-blessed. We see things in a way others cannot, but that insight sets us apart in a world where we cannot expect to share it. In my last post Miscarriage of justice, I wrote about the inability of any of us to convey any self-knowledge to any other. We can show evidence, we can be persuasive, we can argue, but in the end no-one can know what we know. The truth is: ‘know-man is an island’. Others can be persuaded, the evidence may hold true for another who copies that knowledge for themselves. But is is cloned, not shared. And so we may lose our most loved, our closest, as well as old friends.

Among the stories and tragedies, stands Janus. He’s the Roman god, depicted with two faces, looking forward and back. He is the god of beginnings and transitions. For all trans* people there is this gateway, where Janus stands, between a past and a future, seeing both ways, marking the transition into realisation of ourselves, but as a portent of change that places us apart. We too become ambiguous. Are we two people? Are we two-faced? Are we deceivers (past or present)? Are we a different person, standing on new ground, requiring reassessment for love, for friendship, for acceptability? Or are we still the same person as when remembered in a different gender presentation? Janus is a lonely, if commanding, figure. And like Janus, people look into our faces confused, and back away.

Some trans* people insist that we are not the same, once settled into our gender of comfort. That we have left something (or all) behind. We speak differently to be more appropriate, we walk differently for the same reason, we make adjustments simply to fit in and be comfortable, and make others more comfortable. Are we adopting a different persona? Are we someone else? Are we acting a role? Whatever it is, we are not just differently presented, we are not the same person.

The alternative view is that we are very much the same person. If we (male to female trans*) used to fix cars and write computer code for a living, that’s what we do now. Hormones might reduce muscle mass over time, but we still be the one to pick up six chairs from the stack, not drag two across the floor. I really respect trans* people who are not in denial of their gender history, but are living with it, drawing strength from all that they are, comfortable with who they are. But is is more than that. We are more than our memories, though they are all still there. We are still parents, lovers, partners, we still love, we still get up in the morning with the same aspirations.

I love you because …

But of course you are on the outside, and what you see is what I do, not what I am, and I look different. Very different. But I do not love with my outside, I love with my inside, that same place where my unique truth lies, where you cannot go. That’s where my love has always come from. But this lack of access means that for all of us, perhaps a large proportion of our love is what another reflects back at us. I love you because … you make me feel complete. I love you because … being a man makes me feel more of a woman. I love you because … I can cook and you can fix things. I love you because … when people see or think of us together we are normal. I love you because … you complete my image of what life should look like. I love you because … you play a role that anyone who is just a friend cannot.

I love you because of what you make me.

And if you change, I too am changed. The reflection in the still pool is disturbed, the image gone. But I am still here. And yes, I really was there at every moment of love, at every life event, at every trivial point and in every crisis. We can both recall the same shared memories of times of wealth, of times of real constraint (maybe we were never poor), we can both remember what it was to enjoy bounding health, but to care in hospital or sick at home. I called the ambulance, you booked Pilates, I watched you prepare for and run a marathon, you called the doctor when I screamed in agony in the night. Like you, I knew better and worse. Every shared mountain top, every quiet stream, each moment of birth, each stirring of shared joy, each carefully chosen and share acquisition, each precious gift. Like you I was happy and I was scared, doubting and elated. Each loving touch with the same hand, from the same heart. Am I really so different, now the pool is disturbed, the image gone?

Coming to understand ourselves is something we all do, and for trans* people it is just a bigger-than-average thing to do. We drop a great stone in the pool, the ripples spread and spread, and we are gone from your eyes. The real question is not whether we were there, but why we were loved when we were there, and how we can become so easily un-loved.

We cry, we dance

The other two familiar faces are the theatre masks: one comedy the other tragedy. But Janus is usually depicted impassive. He watches, he doesn’t judge. He isn’t comparing past and present for good and bad, not to separate the two. And yet if there was a trans* Janus, I wonder how he would depict simultaneous grief and joy. Maybe not like the masks, but both, on both faces.

I suspect few trans* people suffer no real losses of family and friends. Struggles of many years when given up bring peace, and often we become gentler, or more assured, more genuine in ourselves; but this was never asked for and the loved image has gone, the attachment lost.

As trans* people, I wonder whether how we love changes. I wonder if we can access a deeper understanding of love – I don’t mean romantic or sexy, I mean getting under the externals, seeing others as they are, welcoming others into more personal spaces? I don’t mean we are superior or better at love, just that we really do lose our sense of gender rigidity, of the link between sex and gender, and the acceptability of either as a precondition of love. Or at least for a time. Some of us move on and merge into a new disambiguated life, invisible and apparently as gender binary as the majority. But if we do access something deeper in love, beyond gender and presentation, it can also be a lonely place, a solitary knowledge told only in pictures and allusions.

In this space of self we cry. Many of us cry in the space of months, more than others do in a lifetime. And it is the grief, not just of a lost relationship, but of entering a place where relationships and love have become very hard to find, because we are different. We are the purples in the land of pink and blue, unrecognisable and reflecting all the wrong things for others. We don’t make the pink feel more pink, nor the blue more blue. And we don’t want purple to be the reason for being wanted either. We have lost our complementarity that makes others feel more like themselves. And so we cry.

In this space of self we dance. Whether we dance with our hands, or dance all around the house, many of us dance more freely than most (at least when no-one is watching), because it comes from inside. We can dance with an inner music, or respond to the call of the music, unchoreographed. Because there is such deep joy in self-realisation, in losing resistance to who we are and can now be, in becoming an undivided person, in finding ourselves feeling utterly normal, very ordinary, instead of torn apart inside and never belonging in our assigned gender. Oh yes; we can dance.

And we love like you too. It’s just that being loved has become so much harder, and those we love may not love us any more.

In the land where all is pink and blue
the purple has no face.
We cry, we dance, we love like you
but cannot find our place.

Wild strawberries

  • Posted on May 25, 2012 at 8:22 am

wild strawberries
the size of a treat
for a hedge mouse
whose scampering feet
and tiny twitter and whistle
drew enquiring ears and
eager eyes between the leaves.

The wonder of a small world
so different from the miles
in our heavy feet each day.
A new experience of here and there
of running with seeds –
and wild strawberries.

2011 © Andie Davidson

The long and the short of love

  • Posted on May 23, 2012 at 5:01 pm

Love is a long word
made light as like,
and weighty as the world.

It is a four-letter word
illicit as you like,
if spoken as stolen or sold.

Unconditionally rare,
short and light
as a hook on a lifeline.

Long as a memory,
like a surprise
it is never – expected.

Light as the web that it is,
catching tears
like mist in a lonely hour.

Powerful as death
and long as life,
shortened to nothing by … but.

That’s why your love
is what you mean –
and can never be asked for.

2012 © Andie Davidson

 

See also: Food for love

Miscarriage of justice

  • Posted on May 20, 2012 at 9:42 am

If you read much of what I write here you may be getting fed up with my love of metaphor. I think in pictures, because they make more at-a-glance sense. But they do of course only show one aspect of a truth, and if I tell a story about a house I don’t expect to have to work out where the loo is and what it means! So don’t stretch it too far …

Some time last year I began thinking about this as a concept for a poem. I did eventually write one, but I think I want to revisit it a lot more before I let it go. It has a depth of feeling that is difficult to convey in any other way, and yesterday I was reminded of it.

A young man was released yesterday, after his conviction for murder was quashed in the courts. People believed in him, fought in places he could not, and despite previous refusal to appeal, today he is back home for the first time in eight years. It makes me think: what was I doing, where was I, how old were my kids, eight years ago. Scary.

There may not be thousands of these cases each year, but there are too many, and every one a tragedy. As usual, it was a mixture of police incompetence, processes not being followed, disadvantage feeding opinion. And my thoughts last year were about the courtroom, the trial and the intense, exclusive loneliness of being an innocent defendant. Place yourself there now, set the scene (ever done jury service? It helps.) and feel yourself in it. There is a prosecution that has just one task, to do their best to prove that you are guilty. They are being paid very handsomely to do so, on the premise that if the defence cannot succeed, you must be guilty. Yes, it’s the ducking stool again in some ways.

There is your defence. These are people, equally well paid, who do not act out of any belief or knowledge in who you are, in what you are, or in what you may or may not have done. These too are mechanics of the court, dealing only with what they have been given, using it to best advantage to demonstrate at least a lack of convincing evidence against you.

Convince and convict. Persuade, overcome, vanquish. It is a battle, and you yourself are not even a combatant. You are already a prisoner. You get your say, but a lot of the time it is felt the professionals can say it better and more safely than you. And what you do say allows for no trips and stumbles, and when you have said it, it is just another piece of evidence with equal weight to every other utterance in the court. Imagine them, as the trial proceeds, as strips of paper being scattered over the floor. Some are partially true. Some are ambiguous. Many are irrelevant and a few are misleading, almost to the point of perjury. And there are spaces waiting for pieces that will never arrive.

You, as an innocent defendant, are the only person in that court who knows that your little, few, strips of paper are the truth. Everyone else may doubt to some degree, and all must balance your presentation of truth against everything else that has been said. Even the imputations and accusations, the seeds of doubt, the persuasive argument against you: they carry equal weight in this court.

You are the only person who has nothing to decide. What intense loneliness. We can only try to imagine what it must be like then, to be an innocent person, convicted, sentenced and incarcerated.

My truth

We do, of course, also know that many people in court have decided they are innocent because it wasn’t their fault, and they are there through neglect of responsibility, not doing the right thing, and becoming involved where they should not. There are those genuinely deluded about their actions. Each of these has an idea of their truth too, and it may quite rightly not be that of a court of law. That is not what I am painting a picture of. I am just trying to place you in the mind of a truly innocent person whose life is changed forever and irrevocably because even though they possess the truth, there is no way they can donate that knowledge to any other person. The truth is subservient to opinion, informed well or otherwise.

Each of us has our idea of the truth. It is our truth, and it is not out there somewhere. It is what keeps us safe and sane, and it is our foundation for living honestly. It is the security on which we can direct and change our actions, habits and preferences, and it is where we can release our other prisoners, those things we would like to be part of the truth, but cannot in honesty hang onto.

The context in which I first explored this feeling of being the only one in the world who knows the truth (and may come to doubt it because for everyone else it is just a discussion so maybe I am wrong after all), was of course me. In a sense I feel that I have undergone a miscarriage of justice, in which I too have been complicit, for 55 years (or as an articulate participant, for at least 50 years). And now I feel my conviction has been quashed.

Somewhere today a young man is trying to understand what it means to celebrate after eight years in prison. I expect he has very mixed feelings, with an open door, with people around him accusing him of nothing, with no preconceptions, and perhaps most of all, knowing he is no longer ‘not one of them’, the innocent among the guilty, who all presume he also is one of them. As he steps back out into the world, seeks employment, somewhere to live his own life, he will forever encounter people who think he must have done something wrong. He is an ex-con, quashed, released, or not. No smoke without fire, not ‘innocent’ just the lucky recipient of an unsafe conviction.

This week, I received another statement of unsafe conviction: my passport, marked ‘Sex: F’

It arrived a day after an unfortunate conversation, in which I was being told I was just a man underneath (they’re women’s clothes, you understand), and that for my own safety I should behave differently. I didn’t inquire as to whether this meant I should dress up as a man, in disguise, or that I should cross my legs rather than use the ladies’ loos, or whether I should go armed with a pepper spray, a rape alarm, and stick close to my Royal Marines colleagues. The threat? Supposedly, since I was playing in a band alongside children who all had ‘normal᾿ parents, I may be subject to transphobia. And for the sake of my own safety, I had better pretend that I am not a woman. Well, I stated my truth to these folk, I played a very enjoyable concert, the kids were brilliant, I helped all through the reception and interval at the raffle table. And no-one seemed to even notice me. OK, I did look rather lovely anyway – at least that’s what other people said to me!

The parallel? My miscarriage of justice is over, the assignment of ‘male’ is formally considered unsafe, and I am no longer wrongly assumed to be ‘one of them’. But everywhere there will be someone who remembers where I used to be in prison, who remembers that people are there for a reason, and who will not wish to be associated with me lest it damage their social status or sense of self. After all, I might be harmful. And it only takes one of them to call me a (potential, of course) pervert to another person, and they feel safe while actually placing me in danger. They are saying ‘I am afraid of what you are, so you had better carry a pepper spray’.

My truth? I don’t want it to be compared with all those little bits of evidence people might use to ‘balance’ what I say about my gender. It is my truth. But only I know it.

My door is open, I have people around me who helped me get out of jail. But it can still be very lonely.

Rachael’s Café

  • Posted on May 18, 2012 at 11:22 am

Rachael and LucyThis is Rachael Jones (R) with Lucy Danser (L). Both are amazing. Rachael has a café in Bloomington, Indiana, where Lucy, an actress and writer, met her. The result of the meeting at the real, original Rachael’s Café, was Lucy’s first play: Rachael’s Café. From Edinburgh to Dublin and then Brighton, it has run as a fringe theatre event to tremendous reviews. This play deserves to fall off the fringe onto the mainstream stage and go big. My review is based on the performance at the Marlborough Theatre in Brighton, 17 May 2012.

The story

Eric Wininger is in his 40s, divorced and with three children. His career has been as a printer ink salesman to some pretty important places, but there is no death of a salesman here. Inside, underneath, all his life, Eric has known that the person she should live as is Rachael. This is how we meet her, in a very ordinary post-salesman setting; a lovely, warm person tidying up the café she has struggled to establish as a place to be herself and express her own sense of inclusivity. All her regulars know and love her and she is completely at home. Now she is clearing up and reflecting on her day, and her life, without sentimentality but with great and grateful honesty. ‘You can’t have it all’ might be the close, as she deals with the conflict of being herself, wanting acceptance as herself, and finding that even now she can’t keep everyone happy.

Rachael has dreams, she knows who she is, and she accepts the enormity of being different. But it makes sense to her. We might expect to see her cry (she gets close once) but she knows she fares better than many, and can still see the humour in living with others’ bigotry. Being a woman is simply part of life. There are tensions and frustrations, compromises that we know are not going to be made forever, but no raging against the cruel world, no bitterness.

For anyone relatively unaware of what being transgender means, this ordinariness, this ability to see things as they are without great angst, without reference to sex, without the remotest tinge of the bizarre, is probably the greatest strength of this play.

The performance

Graham Elwell has to be commended for his performance. The smile! The eyes! Even the impeccable soft American accent. The timing, the expression, the mood and the tone, all carried perfectly. It was a flawless performance with immense feeling by someone who even as an actor still feels terribly awkward in heels and a short skirt. Holding an audience with a brief life story for an hour in a single room with few props other than a pink broom is an impressive thing to do so well. Put five stars on his CV for this, because Graham is most definitely not Rachael, but has captured her so well. It was almost a shock, certainly a disappointment, to see Eric emerge without resentment but perhaps some resignation, at the end. And yes, Graham had learned how to put socks on over stockings and still tied a tie badly.

The play

If this is Lucy Danser’s first play, we have a lot to look forward to. As in the photo, she makes Rachael seem a quiet giant. The play evokes huge empathy, informs without being didactic, explores without making you uncomfortable, explains without argument. It is revealing in a way that no-one can come away ever seeing Rachael as other than simply a lovely person whose café is the nicest place to spend time over a hot tea or a home-cooked lunch.

It is dangerous territory. 500 metres down the road last night a massive tent continued the annual visit of the Ladyboys of Bankok, and in anywhere as diverse as Brighton, you might expect to see rather loud drag queens on a Saturday night. So what might you expect, during Festival week, from a play about – what? – a transvestite (you might think)? Writing a play that hits the mark for both cis- and trans-gender people (though maybe not for those who only cross-dress for fun or fetish) is no mean feat. The big worry is that somewhere in the performance you know you are going to squirm or cringe, that the wrong words are going to be used, that a cheap jibe will be made, that suddenly the audience might notice you there, and that maybe you and Rachael have something in common.

Perhaps I am biased, because this play also wrote a large part of my life. It touched many of the places I have been, and did it all with respect and understanding. It is not a plea against transphobia, it hardly references it, but it dissolves it. It doesn’t mean it is a safe play, but it is authentic, it is honest, and I for one hope it reaches the West End one day, that it is filmed, and shows tens of thousands more people that Rachael lives all around them, every day, getting on with life and simply being real – maybe more real than they.

Credits

Lucy, Graham, Rachel: thank you all. And Alex Drummond too, who advised and assisted personally and through the book Grrl Alex: A personal journey to a transgender identity, and without whom I might never have known this wonderful play.

And of course to Lucy’s whole entourage who have enabled this success.