Jock Tamson's Bairns
“My daughter.” He hesitates, as if not sure he should continue. He is the only male member of the group who wears a tie. His suit is threadbare and the trousers have a tell-tale shine of age and wear. “My daughter,” he repeats, then takes a deep breath, “has just become a man.”
He looks relieved after completing his sentence and looks at the rest of the group with a faint, nervous smile, trying to gauge reactions. All five other faces remain neutral; all process what had just been said. They are quiet for what seems a long time.
“Gruff,” says Terry, a thoughtful but troubled member of the group.
“What?” asks Maureen.
“Her voice will sound gruff now,” says Terry, to further silence. He adds: “That’s all what I mean.”
Annie, the leader of the group decides to break into the discussion because the gaps of silence continue and wants more to be said about the poem they had just read: “Is there anything else you want to say about your daughter George, or about the poem we’ve just read?”
There is a long pause, then George says: “It’s was how it started that got me, ‘Lie back daughter’. Reminded me I had a daughter and don’t now. How life can change.”
“Billy goats gruff,” says Terry.
“What does that mean?” asks George.
“Don’t mind me, free associatin’, like my psychiatrist said like,” says Terry.
“We could go on and read something else now if you like,” says Annie.
“No, it’s interestin’,” says Maureen, who usually says little. She is the youngest of the group. The group know to leave space for each other to continue when they put the spotlight on themselves. Maureen is aware she has now put herself there. “It’s interestin’ in bein’ about learnin’ to swim. I never learned see, never had a dad s’pose. Did you learn your daughter to swim, George?”
“Yes I did,” says George, who sounds like, as some in the group say, an educated man.
“Funny to think you was learnin’ a son to swim instead of a daughter,” says Terry.
“Can’t say it’s the kind of thing you think about at the time,” says George.
“What? You mean to say you didn’t think about any trans-gender issues that might have been present,” says Nat, another of the group who is not always happy about speaking out. Unable to say anything else he sits back in his seat and crosses his arms and legs.
“Was this idea thrown up for you by the poem, Nat?” asks Annie, before George could formulate an answer.
“It was in my mind as we read it, yeah,” says Nat looking down.
“Do you have a daughter?” asks George.
"Nah, not my cup of tea.”
Again discussion stalls until Maureen says: “There’s none of this stuff in the poem, it’s just... about a bloke learnin’ his daughter to swim.”
"Well the thoughts, if you remember Maureen, were generated by George being reminded of doing just that with his own daughter, who has recently changed gender,” says Annie.
“Has to be more than a bloke teachin’ his daughter to swim,” says Terry.
“What d’you mean? Asks Maureen.
“Well, some of it seems a bit pervy to me,” says Terry, who looks away as he pronounces his key phrase.
Annie, anxious that that there should be more discussion says: “Would you like to tell the group where you see examples of this, Terry?”
“Like when he’s holdin’ her head in the water – keepin’ her up like,” says Terry.
Does that mean because you see these things, it means the guy who wrote it was a perv, or is it readin’ into your own pervy way of seein’ things?” asks Nat.
“Take that back!” says Terry, angry and rising partly from his seat in the circle.
“Expressin’ an opinion, like it reminded George of his daughter becoming a bloke,” says Nat calmly.
“Don’t think I like the poem anyway. The guy was probably a poofter,” says Terry, still angry, but returns to his seat.
“Even if he fathered a daughter?” questioned George.
“Could still have done it,” says Terry.
“It was my uncle touched me up,” says Maureen. “At least it was one of the bloke’s came to the house my mother always said was an uncle. Never knew my real dad.”
“Makes you wonder if a daughter who has a sex change can be a paedophile,” said George.
“My name used to be Natalie,” says Nat, “and I’m not a perv or a pedo.”
“I became a bloke and just kept my name,” says Terry, “but I’m not a perv or a pedo either.”
The sixth member of the group sits on the sidelines of the group, chair strategically backed out of the circle. He speaks one sentence a session. His name is Malcom, a small man with a distinct Scottish accent. His face is fringed by a beard long uncut and head topped by an old flat cap he never removes. His baggy clothing is from another time. The sentence today is: “Jist goes tae show we’re a’ Jock Tamson’s bairns.”
Nobody says anything.
“Thank you all for sharing today,” says Annie. “It looks like time has beaten us again, so that wraps up the session for today. I look forward to seeing you all again at the same time next week?”
* The poem the group looked at is “First Lesson” by Philip Booth.