I was a member of Melbourne's Women's Circus when in April 2000 a 'transwoman' wrote and asked if he could join the Women's Circus. The circus was formed in 1990 in order to work with women who had suffered from sexual abuse or rape (Liebmann et al., 1997). I joined in 1994. Circus is a place of physical and emotional trust. There is bodily intimacy in balances, in double aerials acts. There is one balance in which the flyer puts her head between the legs of the base; there are aerials movements that involve hands between thighs or on breasts. This takes trust. Over the next six months, his application was talked about by members of the circus. To my knowledge no other applicant was ever accorded this privilege. It was a privilege because in the past, membership was either accepted or denied. In his case there were clear boundaries for denying it. He was not a woman who had been subjected to sexual abuse or rape. The issue of boundaries was raised, to which I answered in an open letter:
• Women living outside of the state of Victoria are not permitted to join. • Women under the age of 18 are not permitted to join.
Is the boundary 'woman' any less difficult to define than these rather arbitrary boundaries which are already in place?
I also suggested that he be asked to withdraw his application. It took more than a year for this to happen. In the meantime, the circus was divided. Six months later, with the issue unresolved, I decided that I could not continue or be part of the end-of-year show. In late September 2000, I wrote the following in another open letter.
"Since speaking out about the transgender issue in April I have felt extremely isolated. I know a number of women feel like I do, some have said so and I appreciate that. Almost no one else, with the exception of the Dialogue Action Group women, has discussed the issue with me. I no longer feel the trust I have always felt in other women of the circus, partly because I do not know any longer what you think (I except from this about eight women who have said what they think including those whose view is the opposite of mine). For several weeks after that initial meeting in April I felt like an alien walking into the Women’s Circus space, and though this feeling has lessened over time it has not gone away. I feel that for the most part I have hit a wall of silence ... I have always thought the Women’s Circus a most marvellous organisation. Inspiring. Dedicated. Irreverent. Fun. But I now have another series of words to add to the list. Disillusionment. Sadness. Anguish.
The result of my Discussion Paper on the circus was that a significant number of women over 40 years of age (another target group for admission to the circus) felt so uncomfortable that they left and never returned. I did return a year later after he withdrew his application, but the 2001 show was to be my last. I was punished by exclusion; on at least one occasion my contribution of a show text was rejected without explanation. I had contributed many songs, poems and scripts during my eight years in the Women's Circus. I no longer felt welcome in a place where previously I had felt at home; I had felt trusted and able to trust others. I had lost an entire community, friends and a fabulous way of keeping fit.