Clare Summerskill’s Transformational Essential Theater

Last night in Oxford I attended a performance of Clare Summerskill’s Gateway to Heaven, a play that spans much of 20th century British LGBT history through personal narratives acted out by four performers.

Summerskill, “Lesbian Comedienne who performs an original cocktail of stand-up and comedy songs to Gay audiences up and down the country,” skillfully crafted the play, so that while educational and didactic as times, it never felt forced or phoney.

I must run to breakfast and then catch my plane back to CT, so I don’t have long, but a few quicky observations.

  • How refreshing to hear LGBT history other than Stonewall and US-based narratives. I learned of people, places, organizations and movements in the UK similar but still distinctive to the UK.
  • Many of the narratives from the 1950’s and 60’s spoke explictly about sex and more sex. It reminded me how for many gay and lesbian people during those times, that was virtually the ONLY way to express one’s sexual orientation. Hearing it now, it helps me realize how much we have grown as a people.
  • Most of the characters spoke about being in very clearly defined gender roles. Women were butch or fem and dressed like men and woman. Men were queens or butch. One lesbian character spoke about how she dressed “in drag” all the time. As a result, she couldn’t get regular work, often got evicted from her home and ran into trouble with the police. Still she did not question her committment to dressing and appearing like a man. I wonder if she existed today, if she would pursue the possibility of being a transgender man (ftm).
  • Some LGBT people of faith (like the gay Muslim character) have had to choose between their faith and sexual identity.

The play moved me deeply seeing the struggles that others have done before us, and I hope that every LGBT person under the age of 40 in the UK gets to see Summerskill’s play or one like it. As came up over lunch this past June with Steve Schalchlin and and queer historian C. Todd White, I am reminded that we are a people, with a history, a growing identity rooted in the past.

Sunday night I met a goth trans MTF lesbian Christian submissive (BDSM) at a Queer Christian event at a church in Oxford. An identity like that has a history in our own history, and although she faces difficulty from many of the communities in which she moves (which indicates some of the work we still have to do) how amazing that we are more and more free to discover and embrace the diversity of ourselves.

Off to the airport!

This post has 7 Comments

  1. Willie Hewes on October 4, 2006 at 8:10 am Reply

    “a goth trans MTF lesbian Christian submissive”

    Well, that IS pretty complicated… The kind of thing you need to read three times before it all fits together. 😀 Especially the Christian goth thing, how does that work?

    Gateway to Heaven sounds very interesting, I’ll look out for it.

  2. Anonymous on October 4, 2006 at 3:14 pm Reply

    Willie – sorry to be ignorant – but I don’t understand how Christian goth would not work … what contradictions do you see there?

  3. Anna HP on October 4, 2006 at 4:41 pm Reply

    I hope you arrived safe at home, and I just wanted to say that I really enjoy reading about your adventures in your blog. Tomorrow I will have my first lesson with my kids on my internship. I will be doing some of the exercises you did with us. Promise to let you know how I did 🙂

  4. CrackerLilo on October 5, 2006 at 4:32 am Reply

    Very, very, very interesting.

    I’m so grateful for the work these people did to make a better world for us.

    I’m a bisexual femme secretary/writer/future interior designer with callused hands. That identity wouldn’t have been part of the past, either.

    Thank you for sharing this.

  5. scotmagicman on October 5, 2006 at 7:25 am Reply

    By chance I got to see this show while it was touring the UK. I was amazed by what I had forgotten. Much of what was presented and performed was part of my suppressed-gay past. Yes, it was a trip down memory lane, but also a moving lesson: how important to learn the lessons of our history and not to take today’s freedom for granted. Our’s is a free and easy status in society. Yes, for so many it is just that – just look again at the situation of 50 years ago. But we need to keep on building on our rich heritage; keep on striving as they did, doing it with great fun, deep passion and not letting the sdaness and the obstacles drag us down. Tomorrow must have a greater freedom for all the oppressed.

  6. Willie Hewes on October 5, 2006 at 8:52 am Reply

    Hm, well, the goths I know all tend towards the nihilist, solipsist, pic n mix end of the spiritual scale. I always thought that was part of the culture, and I don’t really see how it rhymes with following Jesus.

    Though I guess if you’re a sub it makes slightly more sense. God as the uberdom, maybe. Let Jesus spank you.

    OK that’s not funny. I’ll shut up now.

  7. Jennifer on October 5, 2006 at 4:42 pm Reply

    Sounds like you have had a busy but enjoyable schedule while on your stay in Europe.

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