70 Stories

#8 I Am

‘Valuing our stories helps us to learn to value ourselves.’

I Am is a book of stories by trans people from all over the world, created by the Mental Health Foundation and the National Theatre of Scotland and inspired by the National Theatre of Scotland shows Eve and Adam, two powerful portrayals of transgender lives. Below is an extract from the book’s introduction, which was written by playwright Jo Clifford, creator of Eve

Perhaps the worst thing I suffered when I was young was that I felt so completely alone.

I was born in the 1950s and nothing then was ever written or said about being trans. There was no information anywhere. There were no words to describe me and nothing to help me understand who I was.

The few representations of people like me that I came across in plays or films or books showed me I was grotesque and ridiculous. Profoundly sick and often downright evil. I felt so horribly ashamed of who I was that I really believed that if anyone found out about me I would die.

For in those places and times when the world around us hates and fears us for being trans and we are made to feel horribly isolated and alone, it does something worse to us as well. We internalise the hatred and prejudice that surround us and part of us believes that it is true.

And so we hate ourselves. We feel we’re worthless, disgusting somehow, and a huge part of our struggle to live is bound up with our struggle to discover our self worth.

The one thing that saved me was the fact that something within me drove me to become a writer. Creativity saved my life. And even though I’m successful now, and living and working openly as a woman in ways I could never have hoped or imagined, creativity is still central to my life and the writing and performing of EVE has done so much to heal me.

In 2008, James Morton and the Scottish Transgender Alliance helped me run a writers’ group for trans people, and we spent several months meeting every week to tell each other our stories and craft them into pieces of writing we could share with the world. The experience affected all of us very deeply. I’ll never forget the day I was sent a poem from one of the participants who told me how despairing she’d been feeling the previous night and had been on the point of self harm when she stopped herself and wrote the poem instead.

That made it so beautiful on so many levels. Because there is something so powerful about telling one’s own story, and hearing the stories of others who share our experience. For discovering the capacity to tell one’s own story means learning to value it. And valuing our stories helps us learn to value ourselves.

I Am is on sale as a paperbook and e-book at the National Theatre of Scotland’s website. Buy your copy here.

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 in 2019.

Keep an eye on mhfestival.com/70stories for new entries in the series. If you are connected in some way to SMHAF or the Mental Health Foundation and would like to contribute a piece of writing to this project, please contact aeaton-lewis@mentalhealth.org.uk.