A dif­fer­ent Eden

A new NTS dou­ble-bill tells the stories of two in­di­vid­u­als who have con­founded tra­di­tional no­tions of male and fe­male. Vicky Al­lan meets the real-life Adam and Eve

Sunday Herald Life - - THEATRE FEATURE -

IT took a few years to really un­der­stand what it is I am,” says Adam Kash­miry. Grow­ing up in Alexan­dria, Egypt, the word “trans­gen­der” was never men­tioned. “I felt like I’m the only per­son in the world that felt like this,” he adds. “It sounds ridicu­lous now be­cause I know there are trans peo­ple all over the place.” Now 26, Kash­miry is talk­ing to me be­tween re­hearsals of the Na­tional The­atre of Scot­land’s play, Adam, which is based on his life. With him is Jo Clif­ford, whose own story, Eve, is also be­ing staged in a dou­ble bill of NTS plays ex­plor­ing “two ex­tra­or­di­nary lives in tran­si­tion”.

“That was also my ex­pe­ri­ence,” says Clif­ford, 67. “Be­cause I was grow­ing up in the 1950s in the UK and there was no un­der­stand­ing, no aware­ness, no in­for­ma­tion. I knew noth­ing. I thought I was the only per­son in the world. And I thought I was such a sick, cor­rupt, evil, hor­ri­ble per­son for that rea­son. The only thing I could do with those thoughts was sup­press them be­cause it was far too danger­ous to express them. It was danger­ous for you in your world, Adam. And it was very danger­ous for me in mine. I was in a very op­pres­sive board­ing school in Eng­land.”

On some lev­els Kash­miry and Clif­ford couldn’t have had more dif­fer­ent jour­neys. One tran­si­tioned to be­ing a fe­male late in life; the other had to es­cape a con­ser­va­tive coun­try in or­der to be who he felt he was, a man. But their stories are also strik­ingly sim­i­lar. They tell us how cul­tures op­press those who don’t con­form to the ex­pec­ta­tions that re­volve around gen­der. They also re­veal how much has changed, in a short time, in Scot­land. The NTS’s stag­ing of their stories speaks, in it­self, of a pro­found so­cial rev­o­lu­tion.

Kash­miry’s jour­ney has been a par­tic­u­larly danger­ous one, which saw him leav­ing Egypt in fear for his life. One of two sis­ters grow­ing up in a work­ing­class family in Alexan­dria, Kash­miry hated wear­ing dresses and, though forced to wear one oc­ca­sion­ally, never did so will­ingly. “I loved guns,” he re­calls. “All that dolls and make-up and stuff ... I was never really in­ter­ested.”

From the age of around 10, he really wished he was a boy. “I re­mem­ber say­ing to a friend and neigh­bour that I would love to be a boy. It was in­no­cent. I thought I would just love to be a boy and play on the street and stay up late.”

But there was no-one he could talk to, and in that con­ser­va­tive Mus­lim cul­ture, men and women had to con­form to strict codes of gen­der-stereo­typed be­hav­iour. Though ho­mo­sex­u­al­ity isn’t specif­i­cally out­lawed in Egypt, LGBT peo­ple are fre­quently con­victed un­der the coun­try’s de­bauch­ery laws. And the sit­u­a­tion has wors­ened since the 2013 mil­i­tary in­ter­ven­tion which brought Ab­del Fat­tah el-Sisi to power. In the past cou­ple of years, hun­dreds of LGBT peo­ple have been ar­rested and trans peo­ple are fre­quently ha­rassed and phys­i­cally abused.

As a child, Kash­miry se­cretly hoped that on hit­ting pu­berty, he would dis­cover that he was in­ter­sex­ual (phys­i­o­log­i­cally male and fe­male), as that would give him li­cence to be a man. “Be­cause in Egypt the only thing that you’re really aware of is in­ter­sex­ual,” he says. “But ob­vi­ously as I grew up my body started to change and it was clear that was not go­ing to hap­pen.”

Kash­miry started to have pe­ri­ods. “I was turn­ing into some­thing I did not see com­ing. I started to feel at­trac­tion to women, and I was like. ‘Oh sh** I’m a les­bian.’ Sh** be­cause also that’s bad in Egypt.”

There were other feel­ings too. One was that he did not feel like ex­plor­ing this de­vel­op­ing body at all. At the all-girls’ school he at­tended as a teenager, he wore trousers, per­sist­ing even when they were banned. Though he was grounded, the trousers stayed. “It was just a com­pul­sion. I couldn’t do any­thing else.”

Aged 18, he got sacked from a job for not dress­ing as was ex­pected of a fe­male em­ployee, and his life spi­ralled out of con­trol. “I hit bot­tom,” he says. “I was a drug ad­dict, I was drink­ing lots of al­co­hol. I started to take a drug, sim­i­lar to heroin, and that really changed my personality. Then an in­ci­dent hap­pened with my dad and I left home.”

At one point, sit­ting alone in his room, he went on­line and typed: “Can the soul of a boy be trapped in the body of a girl?”

I hit bot­tom. I was a drug ad­dict, I was drink­ing lots of al­co­hol. I started to take a drug, sim­i­lar to heroin, and that really changed my personality. Then an in­ci­dent hap­pened with my dad and I left home

Pho­to­graph: Robert Perry

Adam Kash­miry, left, and Jo Clif­ford out­side Rockvilla, the NTS head­quar­ters at Spier­swharf, Glasgow

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