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