Belgian artist Vanessa Van Durme is in Calgary this week performing in her autobiographical play, Look Mummy, I’m Dancing, at the High Performance Rodeo.
The play is a heartfelt monologue that leaves the viewer with a lingering insight into her life as a transsexual woman; leaving an artistic impression of both the pain and triumph it caused her. Born male in 1948, Van Durme struggled with her gender identity, coming into conflict with her parents and society at large. As a young adult, she turned to prostitution in order to survive in an ignorant and marginalizing society.
However in 1975, her life took a turn when she travelled to Morocco to undergo a sex change operation. The operation was conducted at the Clinique Du Parc, in Casablanca, which for decades was a spot of international pilgrimage for those suffering from “gender disphoria syndrome.”
Clinque du Parc was founded by Dr. Georges Burou, an innovator and pioneer of modern male-to-female sex reassignment surgery. He invented the technique in 1956, and by the time Van Durme had her surgery the clinic had performed more than 3000 operations.
British born April Ashley (née George Jamieson) underwent the gender reassignment surgery at Clinique Du Parc in 1960 and found herself later in high-profile divorce proceedings with her aristocratic husband. The case hinged on a court deciding her gender and caused ripples through the Commonwealth. Her husband was successful in nullifying their marriage by establishing that she was not legally a woman (whose precedent in England did not get overturned until 2004’s Gender Recognition Act).
Clinique Du Parc had Canadian patients as well. In the early 1970’s, Canadian Provinces struggled to amend their vital statistics laws to allow transsexuals to change gender on their birth certificates – controversial in its day. Alberta amended their Vital Statistics Act in 1973 to allow post-operative trans-sexual persons to be able to change their birth certificates.
I will be interviewing Van Durme about her artistic practice this evening at 6:30 PM in the Laycraft Lounge, EPCOR CENTRE for the Performing Arts, 225 8th Ave SE (2nd floor). Please come out to this free event.