What's On (at the 2018 Edinburgh Festival)
First the good news, from a trans perspective: Lighthouse books has organized a month of public author-audience engagements, including talks with UK trans activist Christine Burns (25 August) and Chitra Nagarajan, co-editor of the study She Called Me Woman, of queer and trans women in Nigeria (15 August).
Turning my gaze to theatre and music, however, I couldn't see any transgender productions on this year's programme, but as always, lots of drag. I don't know what this signifies, except that drag, like diamonds and chocolate, are forever.
The Lady Boys of Bangkok are an annual draw at the Edinburgh Festival, of course, going strong for twenty years. I've avoided them these past two years; drag makes me feel uncomfortable. Perhaps it's because of how it turns male-to-female transformation into entertainment and a game, with femininity as something over-the-top, bordering on sexualized grotesque. And yes, as a trans woman, where do I stand? What do drag queens make of trans women and vice versa? For cisgender women, there's more self-reassurance in being female, but drag exposes a degree of my own artifice: as pre-op trans, how different do I seem to drag queens, in my own mind, as a bodily entity? When I go to bed at night, even after years of hormones, how different am I, physically, to a drag queen who strips away the make-up and the padding. The sensible reply, I guess, is that it comes down to how I see myself. But I've always been insecure: how genuine am I as a person? How genuine a friend am I to others, or as a professional worker, or as a PhD student? And last but not least, since I came out as trans: how genuinely female? Drag brings to the surface these kinds of insecurities, and I'm not yet at the stage where I can laugh along to the sexualized grotesquery, the artifice and liminality, safely at a distance, while the foundations of my fem identity get laughed at. Those foundations, perhaps I'm still laying down, consolidating, and interpreting as I live it on a daily basis.
Regardless, I might go this time to watch their act, if I can get a ticket (they sell out fast). They're not the only draw. As someone who grew up with the Welsh-language rock music scene, I'm interested in seeing Gruff Rhys: Resist Phony Encores. Gruff Rhys, of the band Super Furry Animals and before that, the purely Welsh-language Ffa Coffi Pawb, is performing and I find him an increasingly magnetic artist, as well as a link to a past in Wales I seldom touch these days.If this selecting of acts at the Edinburgh Festival is making me introspective, then I can also add how I realize more than ever my aesthetic. I don't care for Jane Austen, or for that matter Mamma Mia! I realize I'm drawn to dystopian, cyberpunk noir, and the dark, sometimes menacing, transcendent music of (serious) prog rock. This year's festival has productions on the 1940s real-life murder of the Black Dahlia, and the evidently Pink Floyd-inspired Cry for the Moon. I'd love to watch both. Returning to my childhood, there's also a theatrical production about The Famous Five which I think would be wonderful to see: I was addicted as a child to the adventure books penned by Enid Blyton, and I'll always have affection for these stories. However, since the Festival is also about closing your eyes and making choices to watch shows you'd never normally consider, the things I've mentioned here are only half the story, and that's the beauty of the Festival, as we break free from our algorithms, falling into rabbit holes we'd never normally consider.