On Re-Staging “THE GOSPEL ACCORDING TO JESUS QUEEN OF HEAVEN”

When I first presented this show I hardly got any reviews because the press all chose to see a show about the Broons instead.

I did, however get denounced by an Archbishop, which was something of a first, and learnt that “it was hard to imagine a greater affront to the Christian faith” than my show.

I treasure this review, along with the New York critic who said of my “Light in the Village” that it was plays like that are “responsible for the decline of the drama since Ibsen”; and the Observer critic who said the opera based on my “Inés de Castro” was “pornography” and the product of so disastrous an artistic error on the part of Scottish opera “that all further performances should be cancelled forthwith”.

It’s reviews like that which make me think I must be achieving something; I was just a bit disappointed that the Archbishop of Glasgow hadn’t actually seen my “Jesus Queen Of Heaven”.

I remember sending him a copy, which he did not acknowledge, but it was probably a waste of time to do so because seeing the play or reading the script was not apparently necessary according to the hundreds of demonstrators who picketed the Tron theatre at the time.

As one of them said “You don’t have to go near a sewer to know that it stinks”; and there’s no denying it’s a forceful metaphor, though, speaking as the sewer in question, I think I would want to question its accuracy.

These were all minor considerations to the literally hundreds of thousands of bloggers throughout the world that tended to agree with the Archbishop and the demonstrators; and though I also got some lovely messages of support I found the level of hatred directed at me something very hard to bear.

When i was fifteen I had realised that if I continued acting people would get to know I wanted to be a girl, and would hate me; and all this was far far too close to the hatred and prejudice I had internalised then, while I was still very vulnerable and young.

I felt guilty, too, for the very vicious abuse suffered by the Tron staff and the Glasgay! staff and even felt responsible for the fact that soon after the show closed Glasgay lost a considerable portion of its funding from Glasgow City council.

None of this was quite the result I intended. What I had meant to do, with this play and its predecessor, “God’s New Frock”, was to look at the fact that Christianity is often used as a weapon against LGBT people to deny us our rights. I wanted to see how this could be justified by the source texts; and in “Jesus Queen of Heaven” make the simple point that Jesus never attacked us and assert our human rights to justice and respect.

I didn’t imagine it would be that controversial.

And so I guess I want to bring the play back now because it still needs to be said.

When I was adolescent, I felt completely alone in my suffering. I was not, of course; prejudice, oppression and injustice are suffered by just about every trans person in the world.

And the global struggle against oppression of LGBT people is profoundly connected to the wider struggle for women’s rights throughout the world.

In that context, this play’s very simple human message is one that needs to be repeated as often and as strongly as I can.

It’s only right to say that not every institutionalised church is hostile to what I am trying to say. The Unitarians are hosting us for the Fringe, and I’ve been so supported by the United Reformed church too. Not so long ago, one of their ministers wrote to me and said:

“Two and a half weeks ago, I read your Jesus play to a trans woman who is dying in hospice.  Her eyes got as big as saucers and her smile even bigger.  She loved it.  It really blessed her.  Thank you.”

I’m frightened of doing this play again. I’m frightened of arousing hostility; and I’m frightened of it being received with indifference.

But whenever I ask myself why I am doing it, I think of that trans woman in the hospice and know why.

I am doing it because I must.

JO CLIFFORD



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