My First .....

My first costume (which I never got) was a set of wings.
I found them in an empty room of the huge rambling old house we lived in when I was a child.
They were so beautiful I didn't dare touch them.
But when a week or so later I desperately wanted to wear them they were gone.
Perhaps I had dreamt them; but I cried and cried because I so wanted them.
I think I wanted to be an angel.

My first part (which I never got) was to be a flower.
It was that or be a gnome.
It was obvious, really. I mean who in their right mind would want to be a gnome?
And I couldn't really understand why, when it came to the flower rehearsals, I was the only boy.
I remember worried grown up conversations about it all (but why were they so worried?) and somehow the anxiety must have got to me because I came down with mumps.
And never got to be a flower.

My first costume (which I did get) was a very plain yellow dress in a musical whose title I forget in my first boarding school when I was ten.
The dressing room was a dormitory and it smelt of old fashioned theatre make-up, and I loved that smell, and they played long playing records of 'Gigi' and 'High Society' and 'My Fair Lady' and I loved them too.
But I wasn't very good as a musical comedy actress because my music teacher had managed to convince me I couldn't sing. So I vaguely opened and closed my mouth in time to the music.
I was disappointed in the dress. I wanted something more frilly.

My first proper speaking part was as Sylvia in 'One Way Pendulum' in my next boarding school. And the next year I was Lizzie in 'Next Time I'll Sing To You'.
I loved rehearsals. I loved working with everyone and I loved the feeling of knowing I belonged.
I loved being Lizzie. I loved the trouser suit I wore and the long blonde wig and the make-up and the feeling of having false eyelashes.
I felt confident and happy and I wasn't shy any more.
And then my father came to see the second performance and I realised I wanted to be a girl and I felt so frightened and ashamed.
I was terrified that if people got to know who I was they would hate me and make my life a misery and I would die of shame.
I can't really say that was how I discovered I was a transsexual because the word was not then in common use. As far as I could tell, who I was was something unspeakable.
And I can't really say that was then I discovered theatre was my artistic and spiritual home, although looking back on it it's very clear I did, because at the time theatre became a place of fear and terror and the deepest shame.
And that was why finding my voice in the theatre took me twenty years.

My first original theatre play was 'Losing Venice' in 1985.
My first publisher was dear lovely Nick Hern, who published it.

The first time I was in a film was in Gateway Films' 'God's New Frock' in 2004.
(And now I so love being in films).

The first time I read a Calderón was 'La vida es sueño' in 1965. And the first time I translated it was for Calixto Bieito and the Edinburgh International Festival in 1998 (And that was a dream come true).

The first time I understood how much it mattered that I'm a transsexual playwright was in a conference in 2003. I'd always thought that what makes my work so distinctive was the fact that I had steeped myself in Golden Age Spanish plays when I was young. But at that conference, and my dearly beloved partner Susie slowly dying of a brain tumour, and me half out of my mind with pain and strain and grief, I found myself unexpectedly saying 'I'm not a male playwright, and I'm not a female playwright. I'm a transgendered playwright' and I suddenly realised what an amazing gift and privilege that is.

The first time I had 300 people picketing one of my plays was when fundamentalist christians demonstrated outside my 'Gospel According to Jesus Queen Of Heaven' in the Tron Theatre in Glasgay in 2009.
My adolescent fears had come true. They did know who I was and they did hate me for it.
But I survived.

The first play I had published under my woman’s name was, I think, 'Every One' at the Lyceum in 2010.
I know that was the first time I sat and listened to the audience's intent deep silence and realised that the funny sniffling noise was people crying.

The first time I acted in a play with another actor, and got paid for it, was 'Sex Chips And The Holy Ghost' in Oran Mor with David Walshe in 2012.
(47 years after 'Next Time I'll Sing To You').

The first time I had a play on in the West End was 'Great 'Expectations' in 2013 in the Vaudeville Theatre. I am the first openly transsexual woman playwright to have a play on in the West End, and proud of that.
(And proud to have said so in the film of the production, and to have pointed out that when I first wrote that play in 1988 I was a shy youngish man. And that now I'm a grandma)

The first time I acted in an outdoor production was yesterday. On Easter Sunday. In Theatre Alba’s passion play.
I tried to stop my teeth chattering in the bitter Edinburgh wind and told Mary Magdelene there is no need to weep.
And there isn't any, it's true, and no need to mourn either: because at last I was playing an angel.

It's true I still didn't have any wings. And that it's taken almost sixty years.

But you can't have everything.

And next time I will have wings.