On 25 July 2010, I performed the monologue below at Jet Moon's Speakeasy at the Arcola Theatre in Dalston, London. The piece was written in collaboration with Jet Moon, who directed all five pieces in the show, which included performances by Greg Renegado, fellow Guardian contributor Natacha Kennedy, the sublime Jason Elvis Barker, Iris Abras and myself - Jet co-wrote every piece except for Jason's, where she provided some input. The show also included a monologue by Jet (who introduced each performer) and a dance by Josephine Wilson. My script, entitled 'Justin and Juliet', is below.
Justin and Juliet
I was about 12 years old when my mum bought me a video: the one with Justin Fashanu’s goal of the season. Maybe you’ve seen it: Norwich versus Liverpool, the champions, in 1980, with Norwich, the underdogs, 3-2 down.
Norwich pass the ball round in midfield, pulling Liverpool’s defence all over the place. John Ryan passes to Justin, who has his back to goal, 25 yards out, and races out right, expecting it back. Justin flicks the ball over the defender, turns and hits this incredible curling shot between the goalkeeper’s hand and the post. There’s this split-second pause before the stadium erupts. As the commentator screams “That’s a magnificent goal!” Justin stands, one finger raised, as his team-mates run to kiss him. It was the coolest thing I’d ever seen.
That was around the same time that I realised I was a cross-dresser – that’s what I called it back then. I didn’t have the word ‘trans’: I just knew that I liked dressing up in my mum’s clothes and that somehow this made me ‘different’.
Putting on a dress, I was floored by the surge of energy. Momentarily, I felt completely at ease: then total confusion. Why was I turned on? Was I a "transvestite"? Did I want a "sex change"? What if my family caught me? What if my classmates found out? Nobody must ever know, I told myself, panicking when my parents' car pulled up the drive before I'd covered my tracks.
The main reason I wanted to play football was because I loved it. The second was because it was a way to fit in. But I just wasn’t a team player. I wanted to get the ball and light up the game. But even when I scored with a 25-yard shot, I wasn’t one of the lads.
I just didn’t relate to football like my team-mates. I liked the art of it. Heaven forbid that I’d sound pretentious but when football is played well there’s real geometry to it: visionary movements in space, that sublime pass that splits a defence or the long-range shot that nobody saw coming.
The other boys didn’t care about that: they just wanted to win. They were more bothered about the camaraderie of the team, and that the girls thought they were fit. Nobody spoke about the homoeroticism. They just called anyone who didn’t tackle hard enough ‘gay’.
Isolated, I scoured the mainstream media for like-minded individuals, but it seemed the closest people to me in the public eye were objects of ridicule. I refused to admit how drawn I was whenever I saw the word "transsexual" - usually in my parents' Daily Mail. The coverage tended towards lurid stories, usually accompanied by cartoons of burly men in floral dresses with stubbly legs. But I knew I’d had it easier than Justin.
Placed in a Barnardo’s home when they were very young, Justin and his younger brother John were eventually fostered by a white family in a leafy Norfolk village, becoming keen footballers in their school – and Norwich’s youth team.
Justin broke into the first team when he was just 17. Before he was 21, he’d scored that famous goal – and dozens more, getting into the England squad and then becoming the first black million pound footballer. Meanwhile, his younger brother rose from a slow start to become the Gladiators host and notoriously tough Wimbledon centre-forward.
I knew all this about Justin when I was at school. I also knew that he was gay, as I kept seeing snide innuendos about him in football magazines. Here was someone who brought together two worlds meant so much to me. But by the time I was in my teens, Justin seemed to have vanished.
Once I was 16 I’d grown tired of trying to fit in. I declared myself gay and a cross-dresser: "gay" because although I felt attracted to males who were somehow female, I still considered them men; and "cross-dresser" because it seemed the most innocuous term. I picked an image off the post-punk peg and started cross-dressing with female friends, periodically scandalising the people of Horsham by wearing makeup and women's clothes around town. Mostly, though, I kept my femaleness private: I didn't want my gender to become sensational (at least, not all the time). But I still supported City and I still remembered Justin.
Then, Justin re-emerged. On the run from Interpol, who wanted him for sexual assault, he’d killed himself in a lock-up garage in Shoreditch.
Through the wave of media hate, I pieced together his life story. Manager Brian Clough found out about his trips to Nottingham gay clubs and confronted him:
“Justin, what do you get if you go to the butcher’s?”
“And what do you get if you go to the baker’s?”
“So why do you keep going to those bloody poofs’ clubs?”
Fearing for his future, Justin became a born-again Christian. But Clough hated religion even more than homosexuality, and banned him from training. So he joined Notts County, just over the road, and got back on track, until a knee injury forced him to retire, aged just 25. He spent thousands on surgery in America, but he was never the same. In the hope of recouping some money, he sold the story of his sexuality to The Sun.
Justin may have been a great footballer but being a tabloid celebrity is a much trickier game. Selling more of his private life to the tabloids He started playing football again and became a celebrity. But it wasn’t being a gay footballer that undid him: it was the realisation that he could make easy money from selling stories to the tabloids.
He finally came unstuck in 1994 when he claimed to have slept with Tory MPs. It wasn’t true: his club sacked him and no manager and no editor would touch him again. Wandering the globe, apparently considering Christian reprogramming to ‘cure’ his homosexuality, he finally re-emerged in 1998 after the sexual encounter with a 17-year-old American boy that led to his death.
Justin’s death was the final straw for me: football was a world that I would observe but couldn’t be involved with. But I couldn’t keep away from it: the more it conflicted with the highbrow genderqueer persona I was striving to create, the more I wanted to play.
In Brighton, aged 20, I went out as Juliet for the first time. A friend took me to Harlequins, where trans people were made especially welcome (its toilets were designated 'Gents' and 'Ladies/TV/TS'). Its music and decor resembled the campest gay clubs – there were drag acts followed by a hyper-cheese disco. Although I hated the playlist, I loved the atmosphere, and the liberation it provided: I'd never felt so myself.
After moving to Brighton, I found that Justin wasn’t the only gay footballer – even though he’s still the only openly gay professional player in history. There was a whole underground gay football scene: a national League and even a World Cup. I put my boots back on, joining the Brighton Bandits in time for the lesbian and gay World Cup in London in 2008. With me at centre-forward, we won one of the trophies. Now, I’m writing my own blog about transitioning for the Guardian. Yes, I’ve had a lot more advantages starting out than Justin: now, I’ve become the media. As The Rocky Horror Picture Show and the alternative media activists say: “Don’t dream it – be it.”