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Notes on Brexit

Originally published on Facebook and Instagram, 31 January 2020

photo: Paul Wade

I never felt at home in the United States, where I was born and grew up. I felt at home in my parents’ house, when I danced or skated, at university and in Philadelphia’s theatre community, but never fully in the culture at large. My sense of humour didn’t work there. People often didn’t “get” me. They asked me what was wrong a lot. When I was a child, I used to sit in the park not far from my parents’ house and face East, as if through regular performance of this ritual, I could will myself across the ocean, to Europe, where I had never been.

When I first lived in a European country - the Czech Republic in 2005/2006 - I experienced a transformation in my wellbeing and sense of self. I began to dismantle the toxic association of a person’s wealth with their intrinsic value as a human being. I learned delayed gratification. I felt sexier than I ever had in the United States. I made dear friends who shared my values and encountered art that inspired me to make the work I have gone on to make. My parents came to visit me and said they had never seen me so happy and so well.

My move to the UK was not so charmed. I found great love and dear friends. I experienced, at the end of the Blair administration, a healthier relationship between the citizen and the state than the one I had grown up with, where a poorly-timed health crisis could mean financial ruin. While I eventually fell in love with London and the international community of friends I made there - many from the EU - I struggled on a personal level with Englishness, with resistance to the sort of emotional authenticity that is a big part of my understanding of integrity, with a toxic combination of arrogance and insecurity and, politically, with a system that more and more came to resemble what I had left in the United States.

Still, like many immigrants, pragmatism prevailed and I pursued British nationality. For me it was always actually EU citizenship I was pursuing - the right to live and work across the European Union, particularly in the Czech Republic, which was always my refuge from the UK and is once more my main home. As I was reminded yesterday in a journey that took me through three EU countries into one that would like to join, rarely do I feel more myself than when on the move in this way, grasping at remnants of languages akin to ones I know, revelling in the electric mix of the familiar and strange and my right to all of it, my right to be there, to live in it, to share that space.

I appreciate that I retain a significant degree of privilege in this situation and my heart breaks for those who will be impacted negatively by what follows and will not be as able as I am to access alternatives. There will be much work to be done, but today, it’s personal. Today, it feels important to say - to England especially - that I have not lived my life for you. If you thought it was ever about you, you’ve misunderstood me. It was always about that space, that freedom, the idea of a progressive alliance that respects difference and embraces complexity but says that fundamentally we all win more when we collaborate. England, your attention and consecration can feel wonderful, but you’ve caused me to doubt myself, to fear, at times, the sound of my own voice. To question, at times, the validity of my own experience. With the act of self-harm you commit today, you are demonstrating values which run counter to everything I believe.

Just so we’re clear, you’re not the hill I want to die on. The most important words on my red passport have always been European Union. That’s where I dreamed of being when I sat on that hill in Palmyra, Pennsylvania. It was never, never, never about you. It was always this beautiful more, where I hope always to be welcome.


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