The year 2015-2016 was a big year for me, coming to Edinburgh after working in the Middle East for several years. One of the first things I did was visit the Festival Theatre, where I fell in love with modern dance (I hate dancing, so don’t switch off if you are also not a dancer). Although I intend to continue visiting the Festival, I will also be trying out other venues, for modern dance, drama, ballet and opera.
You've Changed (Drama, Edinburgh Festival) 14.08.17
After the crude and clichéd anti-climax that was Testosterone, I approached Kate O'Donnell's one-woman show about her transgender transition with trepidation. You've Changed as it turns out is both less offensive and less of a risk-taker as a show; true, O'Donnell strips and presents her vagina as a prop two-thirds of the way through, but this skin-deep spectacle epitomizes the show's limitations. The themes, for example, are those you'd expect of someone transitioning to what they regard as their real gender, with a very binary-based perspective. She talks of an abusive childhood, but then quickly jumps to the decision in her thirties, taken on an inflatable mattress, to come out as trans.
These isolated moments of the light-bulb-moment have their drama, but it's difficult for me to empathise with, much as I failed to connect with the movie The Danish Girl and its presentation of the historical figure Lili Elbe's accidental, single moment of self-realization which changed everything. Being trans has surely never been so dramatically simple.
Do I dare – or even have the right – to challenge another transwoman's experience, in this case as implausibly simplistic? Or at the very least, frustratingly shallow? O'Donnell lived for 38 years as a man – can this be brushed over so quickly? Is our social experience so inconsequential to our identity? Can identity be something so innate that a solution becomes so simplistic?
Instead of ruminations on gender as a label, O'Donnell thus embraces a simplistic notion of a gender binary, where she was simply located on the wrong end, hiding herself until the fateful decision to transition. This could, of course, be O'Donnell's real perspective, but this is a show about transitioning, an opportunity for insights and, perhaps, unexpected revelations, the things we couldn't have guessed.
O'Donnell's show doesn't descend into these kind of reflective depths. Instead, we get an amusing list of stupid things people say to her on discovering she's trans, and a great deal about her visit to a trans-specialist in London and the later reassignment surgery. We also get some dance routines that felt unnecessarily drawn out, again suggesting a stress on style over substance.Ultimately, then, this is one more transgender show which barely goes beyond the surface. Is changing gender really so simplistic, beyond the complex, surface surgeries? Based on my own experience, I've yet to see a show at the Festival which truly explores the psychological complexities of transition; my search goes on.