A reflection on Rituals for Change – two years on. (reworked from a text written for Sick of the Fringe Festival at the Wellcome Trust, Feb 2017)

The radical act is to exist

the radical act is to be seen

to allow others to see these radical bodies

to allow ourselves to heal is the radical act

Returning to perform Rituals for Change has been interesting as it is a performance (a series of rituals) that are fundamentally and explicitly about change.

So much has changed in the past two years, but the thing that has really struck me as different, perhaps problematically so, is my attitude towards the complicated bio-technologies that are administered to my body – my hormone regime, my HRT and my relationship to it.

There are expected timelines for a human body. For example, an able-bodied human body in Western Europe that receives no medical intervention. Any sickness or difference can cause a diversion from these expected norms.

I am in my 30’s – I should not expect to be experiencing menopause or puberty and yet I experience both.

In Rituals for Change I say “now now now”, the whole show is an illustration of the impossibility of marking a moment in time and yet is that what the show has become?  a time capsule, a frozen moment – a suspension.

Because it is impossible for us to remain in suspension….

stay like this, stay like this, stay like thisNow, change.

Two years ago I was hopeful, nervous, apologetic of claiming the word woman, of daring to share stories of abuse.

Now I know I am a woman, that I am abused and I am angry.

And I am powerful.

But what has changed?

I cover myself in china clay

Ink pours from my breasts

I dig deep into the earth

I pour the salt to protect me.

The salt does protect.

The earth feels cool and good.

The ink doesn’t always cry how I would like it to. But my body can now cry…

The road has been bumpy.

In the original text, I say:

I hold in my hands a pill. A small blue pill. A small blue pill made of chemicals and sugar and clay.

I did not know how sick I would become. That this small blue pill would cause a year of pain, a year of investigation, a year of being unable to be touched.

A small blue pill became

a silver sachet of gel

a silver sachet of gel made of chemicals and petrol and water

A silver sachet of gel that made my oestrogen levels rise and fall with such alarm that the doctors did not know what to do. So now I wear a patch…

a small clear patch made of plastic and chemicals and glue

I place this patch upon my skin and chemicals enter my body – they combine with my hopes and there… they change.

But what comes next? Along with the expected timeline of my body, the timeline of my transition has altered – has entered a queer time scenario. I cannot predict what the future will hold – cannot say where I will be in another two years… but the call for change in this moment is still significant.

stay like this, stay like this, stay like thisNow, change.

revolution now.

change now

There is still much that is relevant in Rituals for Change. Is there truth still in the action?

The show consists of constructed rituals that feel more important every time I enact them. I perform them as if the ritual somehow is part of my gender transition and will save and protect me from the difficulties – the medical shit. The shit in the street.

A ritual becomes a ritual when it is repeated – an action that can be repeated which holds a significance or intention.

After 2 years these constructed rituals – originally representing a hope, skin, my beard, a look – have taken on their own energy. It is hard perhaps to imagine they ever needed to be brought into being…

So each performance of this show reinforces the rituals, they grow in power and the audience’s presence is important to that.

We who are changing

We who invite trouble

We who watch

We who listen

We who are here today

But when was that? When is that “today”? I borrowed the form of this speech from a poem written in the 1920s by Alexander Rodchenko, a constructivist poet.  Are we the same “We” they were? When I borrow it for the next performance who will “We” be?

We will find out.

This piece requires performance in order to exist and I am excited about the forthcoming performances – as part of the Gender Roadshow in Leeds and at Battersea Arts Centre in London. In that way it becomes something more than a suspended snapshot of my transition from two years ago. Like all of us – creatures bound in time – we can only exist in the present moment… together.

visibility

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This is a post about being seen. It is about trans visibility.

 

Not all visibility is good visibility.

 

My visibility when I walk home late at night.

My visibility every time a news outlet or TV show represents a trans woman in a two-dimensional or unfeeling way.

 

These are not good.

 

But over the last fortnight I have been very visible, touring with the American podcast ‘Welcome to Night Vale’ as part of their live show. I’ve joined them onstage in five European cities (Stockholm Oslo, Amsterdam, Munich and Berlin) and three cities in the UK (Brighton, London and Manchester) and we have been seen by many thousands of people.

 

Which is how I came to be standing last night on the stage of the London Palladium under the gaze of 2,200 people.

 

I was emotional and it took me a little while to realise why I felt that way. It made me consider where I am in my personal journey and what it is to be a transsexual in public in 2016. It took me back to some years ago, the fear I felt stepping into the night as a (then) male-identified cross dresser. I felt so much fear in those days – of how I would be seen, judged, of the repercussions on my life should this be discovered, of the repercussions on the street. These past experiences often still inform my present sense of self… although things are different, I still have a close relationship to the judgement of others and to fear.

 

It’s hard to comprehend how much has changed in those years and that I can step out in a gold lamè two-piece onto an iconic stage and claim space – not as a cross-dresser or in drag, but as myself… this was why it was a big deal.

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To join the Night Vale company has been great fun, on the road with an awesome, warm and talented group of people. It’s an honour to be in a show playing a non-binary character (Sheriff Sam) who uses the pronoun they/theirs/them but whose gender is otherwise as unremarkable as any other character.  Where my presence onstage is not a plot point or a case for diversity.

 

With the character of Sheriff Sam, the writers have created a strong minded person who carries a high position of authority within the town of Night Vale – they are the Sheriff of the Secret Police Department and they are “very shouty”.  They are also a loveable asshole, not because they are trans just… some people are assholes.

 

I am thankful to Night Vale for showing that trans and non-binary doesn’t need to be a punchline, that it can exist without comment.  For giving me a script to make people laugh at what I am saying rather than what I am.

 

Now we need more trans and non-binary characters in predominant roles in other fictional universes and stories – and the same in real life… trans and non-binary people represented in all areas of our lives and while we’re at it lets extend this desire beyond gender variance and also demand that we regularly see bodies of every shape and size, of different ethnicities, physical abilities and ages.  As Night Vale puts it, “Listeners of every kind”…

 

Lets render the term ‘visibility’ redundant once and for all.

 

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Written by Emma Frankland  (@elbfrankland)

Photographs courtesy of jacob lovieie, @JephPixie, Katy Schutte

to listen to Welcome to Night Vale visit http://www.welcometonightvale.com/listen

 

 

 

 

New Podcast!

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The first ever None of Us is Yet a Robot podcast is now live! You can download it here: http://notyetarobot.podbean.com or at iTunes: http://notyetarobot.podbean.com/feed/ if that’s more your thing!

It was a conversation with the wonderful Brighton based musician, writer and activist Maeve Devine (pictured).

Maeve and I talked about trans life, robots, cyborg sex attachments and awesome brothers.

A new episode will follow soon….

New Year, New Face?

For the past three and a half months I haven’t recognised my own face.

I have been suffering from a violent skin reaction. My body’s response to a combination of emotional stress and busy-ness, laser beard removal and (potentially) also metal elements within the China Clay I was working with last year during ‘Rituals for Change’.

Along the way I have also discovered an allergy to Penicillin and steroids which were prescribed to help and made things much, much worse. It’s caused a prolonged series of swellings and rashes and other misfortunes, making me look like a boxer with two black-eyes or a zombie (and at times both).

It’s been really hard. Of course it is always frustrating to be ill, and it’s hard to be ill when you are working a lot, and when you are self-employed, and when you are the parent of a small child. But that’s not what I mean.

Carrying this infection on my face for 14 weeks has really highlighted that I hold myself to high standards of appearance. That I feel pressure, as a transgender woman, of looking bad, of making a fashion mistake, of Getting It Wrong. It’s not about what gender strangers read me as, that’s always going to fluctuate (and is out of my hands since we cannot control how other people think). But like many, many other women I hold myself to unrealistically high beauty standards – so at times over this period, while I couldn’t wear make up or shave because it was too painful, it has been hard to remain positive about other things too.

Thankfully it’s getting better – I have stepped away from conventional medicines and given my trust to several wise women who have been working more holistically and that trust seems to be working. The swelling has gone down and the redness has faded. I’m still allergic to the make up I would usually wear (and ironically, allergic to the hypo-allergenic lotions that are supposed to be helping) but I’m feeling more in touch with myself again and hopeful to move forwards with a greatly renewed sense of thankfulness for what I have and with the knowledge that this was a passing moment in time.

As I begin to feel connected again with my body and its appearance, I feel I can finally take stock of how I feel after my first 12 months of gender transition. I have been taking oestrogen for over a year now and the changes in my skin tone, hair, smell and body shape have been incredible. I wouldn’t say I feel fundamentally different – but more in focus.

I am looking forward to moving forward into the new year, to be kinder to myself and to celebrate this body and the many blessings I am privilege to.

Happy New Year.

Transgender Day of Remembrance

Tonight, I will be hosting an event for this year’s Transgender Day of Remembrance at the Marlborough Theatre, Brighton (full event details can be found here: https://www.facebook.com/events/426513740877531/)

The event began in San Francisco in 1999 and now exists as a global effort to commemorate those who have been killed in the past 12 months for being, or being suspected of being, transgender.
There are 271 names on the list this year. But this won’t be the actual number, in fact we have no way of telling what that figure might be because there are large areas of the world that do not keep these records, or do not recognise a person’s transgender identity – for example we have few names from most of Africa, Asia or Russia and these are areas of the world where we know that trans people exist and we also know that they experience great oppression. So we can also suspect that there are names that have gone unrecorded.

But what we do know is that violence against the transgender community is disproportionately high and that is why today exists. We take this moment to remember those who were killed and to acknowledge that much of the violence that is addressed to trans people is directed at trans women. And in particular trans women of colour. And in particular trans women of colour who are sex workers.

But whilst we acknowledge today, it is also vital that we do not forget these things on the other 364 days of the year. As Janet Mock says: “Transgender Day of Remembrance is not a day to remember that transgender people exist”.

And not only to celebrate and highlight the existence of trans people in the media, but to celebrate all the individuals who are here and alive. Because that is a lot and it’s not easy.

 

To walk down the street as a transgender person is a political act. We are achieving a lot when we get out of bed in the morning. Or when we don’t get out of bed but we stay alive.

So lets celebrate.

And once a year, formally we can come together to check in and commemorate. Hopefully more of us each year commemorating fewer names and better statistics at gathering them.

But we’ve got to also work hard on those other days, especially we who have privelege.

We have to be aware of our individual privileges. If I’ve learnt anything over the past few years, it is how important and complex an idea this is.

I am aware that it is a massive privelege to hold an event like this and to stand in solidarity with the trans people who have lost their lives in the last year. rather than being someone who is just another statistic.

It is a priviledge that I don’t have to fear for my life.

It is a privelege that I enjoy the safety of governmental and legal protection (flawed though it is – something especially highlighted by the announcement last night of the death of Vicky Thompson: http://ind.pn/1S7VU2h).

It is a privelege that I have access to health care.

When we don’t have privelege in mainstream society it’s hard to remember that we probably do have it within the global picture and if we want to use these deaths as a focussing, rallying point to collectively hold one another, grieve and celebrate, then we must also do what we can the rest of the time.

As well as celebrating and remembering we’ve got to also work and fight to help support trans people. Especially those whose presence on today’s list is disproportionately high. We’ve got to celebrate them while they are alive, share their stories, listen to them, invite them to speak and invite them to dinner. We’ve got to lobby politicians, send money, write to newspapers.

If you attend a TDoR event this weekend, thank you and well done. It’s tough to be visible and we are all here.

But let’s all also pledge to also take action between now and next November 20th that might assist someone further down the privelege tree.

links 

http://tdor.co/ – Transgender Day of Resilience

http://tdor.info – Transgender Day of Remembrance information

www.TDoR.org.uk – UK TDoR events listing

http://bit.ly/1LmUBKr – transgender resources

An introduction.

I thought I should write a sort of introductory welcome to me and to this blog and a statement of intent before I begin to (sporadically) fill it with thoughts.

I’m Emma. I’m a 36 year old transgender woman. I am a parent and I’m in transition. I use female pronouns (she / her / hers).

The None of Us is Yet a Robot project is a body of performance work related to issues around gender and identity. Sometimes in relation to my own body and journey and sometimes not.

This blog will be a place to put thoughts and writing that respond to the work, or to events as they occur.

I don’t intend to use it as a journal of transition or even as a cohesive body of thoughts, it just seemed right to have somewhere to comment on things within this site as a whole.

If you have any particular questions or would like to open a dialogue then please contact me via the contact page.

So… hello!

I look forward to writing more words for you.

Emma. x