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!