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Q&A with Jo Clifford

“Whatever it has been a profound change in human consciousness, whatever it has been a profound change in the political systems, then art has been involved in them.”

How do you see the current LGBT/Human Rights situation both in Brazil and Scotland?

One of the things that make me proud to be Scottish is that a research has now shown that in terms of legal rights this is one of the best countries to be LGBT in the world. Obviously Brazil has a lot of work to do in this regard. And yet I received warmth and acceptance and understanding far greater than anything I've received in Scotland. This struck me with particular force in the hospital in Belo Horizonte. In terms of people's behavior to me on a day to day level, I would say Scotland has a lot to learn from Brazil.

You have checked at a hospital during your stay in Brazil. How was it?

I’ve had a collapse when I was performing The Gospel According to Jesus, Queen of Heaven  in Belo Horizonte and went to the hospital. At the beginning I’ve been to a public semi-intensive attendance, and although the equipment was old, they were very attentive, very kind, very professional. It’s been a difficult place to be because it was very noise and there was no privacy, but they were very kind to me, very good. Then I’ve got moved up to a private room, with a private shower, a whole place only to my own, and it was very comfortable but the nurses were quite different. This sounds very cynical but in that kind of room they were blond and attractive, but not quite such good nurses, and at the first kind of place that I’ve been to the nurses were almost all black and very amazing. I have the sense of an enormous gap between rich and poor in Brazil, an incredibly inequality, but I have to say that I’m very impressed, I’ve been very well looked after, and when I got back and saw my cardiologist, he said ‘yes, I know Brazil very well, and I’m going to São Paulo in October because I’ll see a colleague there that uses a technique that I don’t know about it, and he’s going to teach me’. That’s just fascinating.

How do you think your work benefit from the exchange and contributes to the Brazilian art scene?

My website is called Teatro do Mundo because a global perspective is embedded in the work I do. So to be part of the theatre scene in Brazil is incredibly important for me as an artist. It felt particularly important to be in Brazil presenting my work at this historical moment. I hope my work has been helpful. I know that for me I have learnt so much and my work has been so enriched by this experience.  It's moved me forward in ways I can hardly begin to describe. And of course to encounter the wonderful theatre artists involved in creating the Brazilian production of my play was a truly profound and important experience.

Which specific historical moment are you talking about?

Well I’m talking about the fact that just before I arrived an impeachment decided against Dilma Roussef just had gone ahead, and so she had been replaced by a very right wing government, and this new leader and his 12 white men had abolished the Ministry of Culture, and had abolished the Ministry of Women, and the Ministry of Human Righs… so the first thing these ministers were trying to do was get back and reverse a very slight improvement in the rights of transgender people and I also noticed that they are very much associated with the evangelical churches, what became very popular and powerful,  and that partly justified a rise the hostility to all LGBT people. And so to come as an openly trans woman with a play that portraits Jesus as a trans woman and have made it clear that there was absolutely nothing in the Gospel that actually  justified this kind of prejudiced behavior on the part of Christian churches, it was obviously very important to be there to do that at that time.

The Brazilian version of your play, written by Natalia Mallo and performed by Renata Carvalho, brings a Brazilian perspective with a hot Brazilian transsexual  – or our famous travesty –,  involved in prostitution and drugs. How do you feel by seeing your candid Jesus represented this way?

From the very beginning of my career as a playwright, as I write for theatre, I’ve been very excited by the fact that when I write a part, I give it to the actor or actress who’s going to perform it, and otherwise always have a sense in my head that sounds like ‘I know that they will always surprise me, they will always see something in it that I haven’t noticed it was there’, and this is one of the joys of being a playwright. So clearly Renata’s portrait of a queen Jesus is completely different from mine, she’s much younger, she’s much more beautiful, she’s much sexier, she has a different inches, and it’s absolutely right and wonderful the way she brings out aspects of a Brazilian spirit, her spirit too of a very intense woman in Brazil and that’s absolutely right, very moving, very beautiful.

According a research by the NGO Transgender Europe, Brazil is the country where trans people are murdered the most, where the suicide rate is far high and the life expectation is about 35 year old. However, it’s the country where the word transsexual is goggled the most. How do you see that and what do you think is the cause to this paradox?

When I was a boy, I was told to repress the female side of my personality, to hide it and bury into the ground in order to live as a so called ‘normal man’.  And what I discovered was that the more I tried to do deny it, the stronger it became, and that repressing it was just not a good idea, but as soon as I was able to begin to accepting who I was, then the pressure left and I was able to live into a much more relaxed and happy way. If you think of Brazil as a very much macho society, where trans people are particularly repressed and apparently denied, there is this pressure to repressing this natural and  great energy, but the more you pressure something greater it comes back up to you.  My impression of Brazilian straight men is they tend to be disgusted by travesties, but they are also totally fascinated by them, the two sides of the same coin. And it’s very tragic, really. Hopefully as the time passes Brazilian men will be able to escape from the pressure of machismo, and they will be able to accept themselves better because every man has a woman inside him, just as every woman has a man inside her, and it’s perfectly natural to human beings be far more complicated than the divisions between man and woman allowed. It’s perfectly normal, perfectly natural, and I think now, globally, there is somehow an understanding about it, and there’s also an understanding that machismo, that dominated the world for so many thousands of years, that’s got to end. If we continue long to this path we’ll destroy ourselves. We are living in a time which the feminism become more and more important, and more and more valued and it’s also like a pressure. So this is a time of profound changes and as Brazil is such a big, such powerful and important country, it’s crucial for the future of the world.



Jo Clifford

Playwright, poet and actress
Edinburgh, Scottland

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