SCORCH / Prime Cut Productions

‘My body is a weird black hole I drag around with me’

Amy McAllister plays the gender-curious teen Kes in Stacey Gregg’s monologue revealing society’s lack of understanding towards gender fluidity.

Based on the real case of Justine McNally, Scorch shows the law’s gender binaries when Kes, born female but uncomfortable in her gender so presenting herself as male to a girl she meets online, is accused of gender fraud and sexual abuse. In the eyes of the law a woman can’t rape another woman, as according to the Sexual Offences Act 2003, the penetration can only be done with a penis. Where the law stands on the concept of being gender fluid with regards to accused rape is unclear due to its rarity.

Language is also questioned in Scorch as we learn queer slang, with ‘cute boi’ meaning a biologically female person who presents themselves in a boyish way, often genderqueer. Though the internet provides a safe place to explore or hide gender, when real life romance crashes and burns, Kes is dropped into a seething pile of accusations and assumptions. When the press get a hold of Kes’ story they call her ‘lesbian’, automatically defining her gender as well as her sexuality. They label her before she’s decided, without providing her with a choice.

McNally called herself ‘Scott’ when presenting herself online, forming a relationship over several years with a young girl. Gayle Newland is another accused case of gender fraud. Calling herself ‘Kye’, Newland insisted the woman she had sex with wear a blindfold, and would penetrate her with a prosthetic penis. Newland’s justification was that she was body-conscious, but in preventing her partner from seeing her strap-on, she hid her biological identity. Gavin Haynes writes of women such as Newland and McNally, ‘Theirs were attempts to push back against the physical realities of the world in which they found themselves at an almost atomic level.’ The law is not up-keeping with more modern, fluid understandings of gender. When McNally was taken to court, her judge called her deception ‘selfish and callous’, rather than attempting to understand her reasoning and questioning her gender identity.

Kes’ family’s views aren’t made entirely clear, and the details of the court case yearn to be explained, but Scorch brings to light the lack of support for people going through a gender identity crisis. It is an area that is far too under-researched, and Scorch reveals this lack of understanding, urging us to do something about it. (KW)

Scorch was on at 18.05 at Summerhall through August 28. - https://tickets.edfringe.com/whats-on/scorch

Sexual Offenses Act 2003 http://tinyurl.com/zkjnx3o

Justine McNally: http://tinyurl.com/oeomtxk

Queer slang http://tinyurl.com/36jxfr

Is the law on rape sexist?: http://www.blmsolicitors.co.uk/2014/03/is-the-law-on-rape-sexist/

BBC rape briefing: http://tinyurl.com/zjn2hl7

Raped by a woman: http://www.marieclaire.com/culture/a19495/women-raped-by-women/

A forum for expressing gender curiosity: http://emptyclosets.com/forum/gender-identity-expression/154319-gender-curious.html

Understanding your gender identity: http://teenhealthsource.com/giso/understanding-sexual-orientation-gender-identity/

Gayle Newland http://www.theweek.co.uk/65251/what-the-gayle-newland-sex-deceit-case-means-for-transgender-people

Strap-on dildo morality http://www.vice.com/en_uk/read/justine-mcnally-scott-gemma-barker-strap-on-dildo-morality

There’s been a modest but welcome uptick in the media’s ability to report sensitively on transgender issues, recently. Outspoken campaigners like journalist Paris Lees have helped dispel some of the very worst cliches of tabloid outrage, celebrities like Caitlyn Jenner have brought a new glamour to trans life, and Stonewall have finally added the ‘T’ in LGBT into their consciousness-raising remit.

But the case of Gayle Newland was too complex and too unusual for newspapers to attempt anything like tact. 19-year-old Newland developed a male online personal and built up a long online friendship, then relationship, with a woman. They met up on multiple occasions, and the woman wore a blindfold during their sexual encounters - before pressing charges for sexual assault when she discovered she’d been ‘tricked’. Following the Newland case, legal observers have pointed out its serious potential ramifications for transgender people: if they don’t disclose their trans status, they could be liable for charges of sexual assault through deception.

Stacey Gregg’s Scorch is directly inspired by the case. But where Newland’s voice has necessarily remained silent, Gregg presents the story entirely from Kes’s point of view. Kes is naive, in love, and incapable of understanding how badly their actions hurt the girl they forms a relationship with. Kes’s life online is a rich community full of resources, help and support for trans teenagers - they make assuming a new gender identity feel natural, and normal. But in the world Kes lives in, it’s anything but: “I feel like an alien”, Kes says.

In one particularly moving passage, Kes reels off all the completely legal ways people can deceive their partners: by hiding the fact they’re married, by giving a false identity, or even just by saying they love them when they don’t. It’s a passage that shows the intricacies of human relationships and gender identities, and the bluntness of the laws designed to govern them.

Newland didn’t claim a trans identity in court. And nor does Kes. In an interview, Gregg has stated that although Scorch intersects with trans questions, it’s a piece that “boils down to something that’s actually much more mundane, which is just misogyny.”  The responses Kes faces from family and friends highlight the fact that trans men are often either invisible, or mistrusted, in a world that’s suspicious of attempts to claim masculinity.

Away from the crystal-clear transformation narratives in mainstream media, gender identity is more murky. Gregg’s piece shades in all its intricacies, and shows how difficult a place the world is for teenagers who aren’t ready to choose their own identity, outside the world of video games. (AS)

Scorch was on at the Edinburgh Fringe, Aug 5-28 https://tickets.edfringe.com/whats-on/scorch

Interview with Stacey Gregg in the Irish Times http://www.irishtimes.com/culture/stage/stacey-gregg-on-gender-identity-and-the-theatre-s-gutting-lack-of-women-1.2424367

Impact of Gayle Newland case on trans rights http://www.theweek.co.uk/65251/what-the-gayle-newland-sex-deceit-case-means-for-transgender-people

Increased risk of mental health issues in transgender young people  https://www.hsph.harvard.edu/news/hsph-in-the-news/transgender-youth-at-risk-for-depression-suicide/