With support from Creative Scotland, we commissioned three writers and artists to produce original pieces for the 70 Stories project.
We are delighted to share the second of these, a new autobiographical piece by playwright Jo Clifford, who also celebrates her 70th birthday this year.
When I was a child
I was born into a wounded world.
A world in which we humans had discovered
How to kill each other in tens of millions.
I didn’t know this.
All I knew was the story all of us were told
We’d had to fight an evil man
And that, as men, we had to fight evil with evil.
And I knew the story that only me was told
That my name was Robert John and I also was a man.
I was told I had to be a good soldier, and brave
And put on the armour of faith
And the breastplate of courage
And gird the sword of I wasn’t quite sure what
And try my best to overcome sin and weakness.
This was something I did not understand
All I knew was that men wore suits
And women wore dresses
I was made to wear a suit
When I wanted to wear a dress
And this was shameful terrible madness.
This was a story I told no-one ever at all.
When I was forced to live as a boy
Men would come up to me in the street and say
Cheer up it’s not so bad
And I would look at them in cold contempt
Because I knew that it was worse.
When I was forced to live as a man
I met a beautiful young human
Who knew he was an angel
And that his job was to save the world.
I held him down while they put an electric current through his head
He had the most beautiful wings, he said
But they did not save him.
When I could no longer bear to live as a man
When I tried to put down my sword of I wasn’t sure what
And tried to take off the breastplate of courage
I couldn’t remove my armour because somehow
It seemed to be stuck to my skin.
A man came up to me in the street and said “Madam”
And because I knew I wasn’t a sir I was so happy
Only then he started to apologise
You should kick me up the arse he kept saying
Kick me up the arse because he felt
In calling me a woman he had insulted me.
When I had finally stopped living as a man
And had taken off the armour of faith
And had abandoned the breastplate of courage
And put down the sword of whatever it was supposed to be
A man stopped me in the street and said
But you’re a man
As if I was the most disgusting thing he’d ever seen
And I felt how my breasts were bleeding
And my legs were naked
And my hands were empty
And my feet were killing me.
And how I wished I still had my breastplate
How I longed to still have my armour
And how I missed my sword
Because I didn’t want that man to see how much he’d hurt me.
But I must have found something somewhere
Because I looked him in the eye and said
Yes. I used to be a man. And now I’m not. So what?
And I walked away.
These days I am seventy and
Those days of lonely shame
Those long years of ferocious suffering
All seem a long time past
I cannot bear to be a man
I cannot really bear to be a woman either
I try to be a human as best I can.
I stumble along.
And the world is still wounded
The forests are burning.
They say the ocean is now our enemy
They say that death will come at us from the air.
There is no armour can defend us now
And there is nowhere we can go to.
I still don’t understand.
I only know I cannot bear to be alone
I know we must hold hands
As we walk into the smoke filled darkness.
70 Stories is an online project curated by the Scottish Mental Health Arts Festival to mark the 70th anniversary of the Mental Health Foundation. The project connects stories from our Writing Competition, stories from SMHAF participants, and more in a compelling portrait of mental health today.