The very lovely Clementine, the Living Fashion Doll, asked me if I would go to the Southbank to review a … a … what? It wasn’t a show. It wasn’t a review. It was called Crossing over, and it was convened by the House of Homosexual Culture. A ‘Happening’? An’ exposition?’
I met my companion, Polari’s editor Christopher, at the bar in the Southbank centre, and we made our way down into the Bowels of the Festival Hall. Down, down, down to the Blue Room on the ‘Spirit Level’.
This was another one of those all-too-often occasions when performers have to give their all in less than brilliant surroundings. So, we have a rather soulless white room, a small stage 10ft wide and 4ft deep, and about eight rows of chairs.
An avuncular man moved to the microphone on the lectern. This was the very lovely Rupert Smith from the HoHC, and he told us a little about the presentation we were to see. It was to be a multi-media exploration of crossing the gender divide.
First we received a poetry reading from a chap called Serge Nicholson – by all accounts a bit of a player on the poetry circuit – who gave us a very spirited rendition of some poems under the title of ‘There Is no Name for it’, a sort of ode to the bits of anatomy we don’t talk about much in polite society. The poems were delivered with wit and style. I particularly liked his remark about being able to get on with things once he had freed up some headspace. Resolve the gender confusion and that is just how it is: more headspace for the important things in life.
Lady Ferry gave us a PowerPoint presentation with photographs of her journey, which took her from a little blond boy helping with the harvest in Scotland, to a powerful attractive blond woman with some serious attitude, via the new romantics, Camden punks, a short and glorious career as a male model and a life as a very hunky stripper. The photographs were accompanied with a very frank life story of survival and reconciliation. She seems so much happier as a statuesque blond singer. And where did that voice come from?
Lazlo Pearlman, a multilingual raconteur gave us a language lesson on the gender of nouns, a funny old concept to us English speakers, and the grammar in French and German, with I think some Italian thrown in for good measure. If he had been my French teacher at school I would have got a lot further than “La plume de ma t’ante est dans le beurau de mon oncle”. It was from his one-man show, ‘Madam Pierre’s Other Tongue’.
Diana, a short and moving film by Aleem Kahn, beautifully shot and wonderfully acted, was about a day in the life of an Indian pre-op the day after Diana died. Here we at last saw some of that pent up angst and sadness that accompanied the whole gender process in my day.
A fly on the wall view of a conversation between Jay, an extremely handsome and very young man at the start of our long and winding road, and Jan his councillor at the Tavistock clinic followed. Lady Ferry came back and wrapped it all up with a very powerful song about the mirror in the bathroom.
So, that is what happened, but as to just why it happened I’m really not sure.
The audience clearly consisted of people who were comfortable with their own gender situation, or were doing something about it, and were also comfortable with the decisions others had taken on their own journey. There was a lot of applause and support for the performers/participators, the sort of applause I get after the performance of a particularly neat card trick. The audience clearly enjoyed it and were entertained. However, all that soul searching by some of a cast who were sometimes not so accustomed to doing it in public, and some who were, may not have moved anything forward.
The presentations of Serge and Lazlo would certainly have found an appreciative audience on the mainstream poetry and performance circuit; Lady Ferry’s PowerPoint and Jay and Sarah’s conversation, if shown on afternoon television, would probably have moved some reactionary objectionists to be more comfortable with gender dysphorics. In the Blue Room though, were `the converted’ being preached at?
I suppose in the broad sweep of human existence, there is very little reason for me performing card tricks. It diverts an audience from the hideousness of their existence for a few hours. That is what the entertainment industry does. This was not quite presented as an entertainment, nor was it a political diatribe. There was sometimes the smack of the ghetto about the evening, the inmates of the asylum performing for the inmates, and I am not altogether sure that it was a temporary retreat into a ghetto for some comfort and mutual support. I got the feeling that this is where a lot of the people in the show live. Now there is nothing wrong with that in itself, but I worry that so much of the work we did in the ‘70s and ‘80s was to allow us to find our way out into society at large, and here we are plunging straight back in to a comfort zone.
Overall it was refreshing to see so many people getting on with ‘it’, apparently without the guilt that I grew up with, and that is to be celebrated. That is where real progress has been made in recent years.
I think that if one is to take a place within the weft and woof of society we need more positive role models. I do not want to jump to conclusions, but casting a probably gay man to play the part of a transsexual is only one step beyond casting a straight man or, even worse, a genetic woman. The signal that sends to the wider community is that ‘of course none of these ‘freaks’ will ever be convincing enough to move the narrative forward’, or in the case of casting a transsexual, ‘another actor might have to kiss the freak and that just ain’t going to happen.’
Am I the only ‘tranny’ offended by the picture of Tony Sheldon as Bernadette in Priscilla, outside the Palace Theatre? It was the preponderance of images of this nature, the ‘bricklayer in a frock’ image, that led my parents to think that a course of electro-aversion therapy and burning out the soul of an eighteen year old, was a fine course of treatment.
Fay Presto was forced into a public revelation of her transsexual status by her unfortunate choice of profession, and has been trying to climb back into a private world ever since.