My first stage play, called Mama Dragon, was commissioned by a company which named itself the Black Co-op Theatre.
“The moon, they said, was a woman
With a dark side to her face
The bright side has its dark spots
Is the dark side such a disgrace?”
From Cleopatra Ni Machchhi by Bachchoo
There has been an attempt by a minister in the present British government to introduce proposed legislation to allow citizens of the country to choose their gender. If the proposed legislation becomes law, a man could say he was a woman and, for all public and official purposes, he would have to be recognised as one. And women could assert they are men.
This would absolve men who thought they were women trapped in the wrong body from having to undergo brutal surgery to have their genitals removed and suffer hormone treatment to grow the secondary sexual features of the female human.
So also, women who profess that they are men trapped in women’s bodies would not have to undergo plastic surgery to acquire mock penises. Declaration becomes all.
The discussion on such a law would have to take into account the absolute fact that some humans are born with an XX chromosome in the DNA of the 40 trillion cells in their bodies which constantly reproduce, making them birth females; or they are born with XY chromosomes in the same number of cells, which makes them birth males. Whatever people think, that can’t be altered. Yet.
The principle of choosing your gender is predicated on the great principle of living your life without being constrained by what your DNA and nature bestowed on you. Libertarian freedom supported by the state will mean men who assert that they are women will be free to enter women-only facilities and stand for Parliament in seats reserved for women.
This great step in the libertarian respect for choice should logically be expanded to embrace race and even species. I am not aware of anyone alleging that they were mistakenly born in a human body, when they are really crocodiles or unicorns. No plastic surgeon or DNA-transformation-therapist has yet offered assistance to any such individual to get them to grow scales, jaws, horns on their noses, etc. But — watch this space!
However, there has in Britain this week been an outcry over a race-swap issue. A man who calls himself Anthony Ekundayo Lennon, who acknowledges that his parents are both white Irish, has been given a grant of $406,500 from a foundation which gives grants to black individuals to train as theatre directors. The foundation which hands out these grants, the Artistic Director Leadership programme, had 113 applicants for three positions. Lennon got one of the three.
When challenged after he had been granted the cash, he admitted that he was by birth a white man but had always “felt black” because his skin was slightly dark and he had been discriminated at school and through his life and had experienced the reality of living as a black man. He had changed his middle name to reflect the fact and had now been given the official stamp of being what he wanted to be by an institution that handed out money to try and compensate for and correct the supposed imbalance of black and ethnic people in “the Arts” in Britain.
I must confess, gentle reader, to have played a small part in this battle for the new, non-white communities of Britain appearing on its creative platforms — theatre — and on its principle forum of national discourse, the box which brings the world into the room — television.
My first stage play, called Mama Dragon, was commissioned by a company which named itself the Black Co-op Theatre. The cast that performed it, at first in community venues and subsequently that and other plays in the West End — were all but one young black of West Indian working-class parentage. It was at the time important that they performed in theatre and that writers from their background or parallel backgrounds wrote plays reflecting their experience. Theatre is about eternal values reflected in stories from anywhere in location and time but it also needs to be and can be about crystallising what’s happening around us.
There’s a long tradition of it. Though it may not have ever been said, Shakespeare’s Merchant of Venice is clearly about what Marx three centuries later characterised as the clash between usurer’s capital as embodied in Shylock and merchant’s capital as vested in Antonio.
Restoration dramatists in their comedy of manners reflected the confidence and subsequent frivolous concerns of a nation which owned an empire. The plays of Oscar Wilde and Bernard Shaw reflected an unease with Victorian hypocrisy and in the modern era the “Kitchen sink” playwrights such as John Osborne and Arnold Wesker put on stage Britain’s thriving dilemmas of the new post-World War II meritocracy, of miner’s sons returning home as educated professionals.
So it was apt and predictable that the new communities of Britain, immigrant labour from the West Indies, from the former colonies of the subcontinent, would demand a space on Britain’s thriving theatrical platforms to reflect their experience and struggles in a globalised and even resistant Britain.
Again, gentle reader, with no intention of a boast, I can genuinely claim that I was appointed as a commissioning editor at Channel 4 in the UK and given the brief of incorporating the new ethnics of Britain into its national conversation and display.
The enterprise has succeeded, but not in the form that penetrates the narratives and communities of ethnic Britain. It has succeeded in casting Julius Caesar as a black man, in casting several Asian and black actors in any and every Shakespearian role and in the initiation of programmes of promotion such as the one which accepted Mr Lennon as a black man because he said he was.
Descartes said, “I think, therefore I am”.
Now Rene Descartes should be updated. “I am whatever I think I am!”