I wrote the Gospel According to Jesus Queen of Heaven because I want to resist.
And that’s why I perform it, too. As an act of resistance.
Resist the profound and damaging shame and fear and guilt that has been with me almost all my life.
The shame and the fear and the guilt that comes on almost all of us trans* women and men born into this hostile world.
It first hit me when I was young: when I first felt I didn’t really fit as a boy.
That redoubled its grip on me when, some years later on, I came to understand I would actually be far happier living as a girl.
A shame and a fear and a guilt that completely prevented me from realising my vocation as a performer and came very close to silencing me as a writer too.
I’ve only been working regularly as a performer for about five years after forty years of silence.
Years in which this silenced performer channeled her frustrated creative energy into writing plays for others to perform instead.
I am proud of what I wrote, and continue to write as a trans* playwright.
Because it is being trans* that gives me my distinctive creative voice.
Proud of my performance, too. Because each time I perform I contradict deep fear and shame.
And I know it’s not just about me and my trans* sisters and brothers. It’s about everybody: because we are all made to be afraid and ashamed of our deepest selves.
I wrote it as Queen Jesus because the Christian church has been, and sadly so often continues to be, such a ferocious source of hostility and prejudice.
But everything I know about the Jesus of the Gospels completely contradicts this.
And that’s where the script comes from.
So it’s ironic that when I first presented this show as part of Glasgay! back in 2009 the street outside the Tron theatre was full of angry churchgoers protesting against what the Archbishop of Glasgow called “an affront to the Christian faith”.
He knew nothing about the play, and neither did the protesters. As one of them said: “You don’t need to go near a sewer to know that it stinks”.
I was frightened by the protest and traumatised by the massive online expression of hatred my performance provoked.
But it taught me that what I was doing was important. And I’ve had much support from other Christians, and especially from the Unitarians and the United Reformed church.
One of their ministers told me that she read the script to a trans*woman dying in a hospice: “Her eyes got as big as saucers and her smile even bigger. She loved it. It really blessed her. Thank you”.
I think of her when I perform.
I think of all of us who continue to be abused, tormented, murdered or bullied into suicide.
I think of the amazing women I met in Brazil last year. Brazil is notoriously dangerous for us trans*women and we go about in fear of our lives.
I think of Viviany Beleboni who represented the crucified Christ in this year’s Pride procession in Sao Paulo to express, she said, the sufferings we go through every day.
And I think of Veronica Bolina, who so horrifyingly embodied Christ’s suffering in the photograph that was circulated of her with her head shaved, her breasts exposed, hands and feet handcuffed, and face so savagely beaten it was unrecognisable. And who is still being held in a men’s jail.
I want to dedicate this play to her.
Written and performed by legendary trans playwright, performer and poet Jo Clifford, The Gospel According to Jesus Queen of Heaven is a unique and extraordinary show combining theatre with storytelling, spoken word and ritual in a way that, according to one audience member, ‘leaves everyone feeling blessed’. Join Queen Jesus for a revolutionary queer ritual in which bread is shared, wine is drunk and familiar stories are reimagined by a transgender Jesus. The Guardian’s ‘shows not to miss.’ Featured on BBC Four’s Edinburgh Extra. ‘Reaffirms everyone’s right to live free of discrimination and prejudice’ (Lyn Gardner, Guardian). www.madeinscotlandshowcase.com
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Jo Clifford is an award-winning playwright, translator, poet and performer, who has also worked as a journalist and academic. She was instrumental in establishing the reputation of the Traverse Theatre Company in the 1980s. Jo Clifford is the author of over 70 works in every Dramatic medium. Her work has been translated into many languages and has been performed all over the world. She lives in Edinburgh and is a former Professor of Theatre at Queen Margaret University.