It’s all about me, babe (or, Revelation of Self)

I’ve been pondering a lot lately what it is I write about. This is intimately related to what I like to read about, given that part of my reason for writing is to create something that Reader-Me craves.

I’ve realised that my major abiding obsession is about the revelation of self.

When I first started thinking about this question, I initially decided that my books were all about discovery of self – essentially, “Who am I?”. But whilst that is certainly true of the characters in my latest three books, the Enlightenment trilogy, it is not true of my first two books, in which I wrote about women whose true selves were concealed. These were not characters who didn’t know themselves, but rather characters who struggled with revealing themselves.

I’m not suggesting at all that all romance is about revelation of self, but for me, this is something I crave and greatly love. This theme speaks to me so very deeply – it is, for me, a golden thing and when I think of many of my favourite romances I see it there: from Pride & Prejudice to this year’s Dabwaha winner, Captive Prince.

Which brings me to the purpose of this post, namely, the beautiful film I watched last night, Romeos. This gorgeous German movie, directed by Sabine Bernardi, is the story of Lukas, a young pre-op female-to-male transexual and his struggle to find a place for himself in the world. Within the wider story is a romance between Lukas (who is not only transsexual, but gay, two things that he angrily tells his best friend are “completely separate”) and a physically beautiful man called Fabio.

The movie is very sparse on dialogue but the acting is powerful. Rick Okon is wonderful as Lukas. His depiction of Lukas’ feelings through facial expression and body language is beautifully observed and heart wrenching.

There were many many rich and wonderful things about this movie but I’m going to restrict my comments to this stuff about revelation of self and how that was explored.

Lukas is a man in a transitioning body. He has female sexual organs but thanks to the drugs he’s been taking, he looks male. His sense of his own masculinity is both robust and fragile and this is shown beautifully in his angry insistence on being treated like a male, his heartbreaking loathing of his female body and in a number of scenes in which other characters’ actions and reactions make him feel bad or humiliated or less than in some way. That none of these scenes feature violence or anything egregiously traumatic is a testament to the power of the acting and storytelling because these scenes just wrenched at me. And this was merely the ordinary, everyday stuff of life: people teasing each other, showing prurient curiosity, showing disapproval and barely concealed disgust.

I’ve been thinking about trans people a fair bit recently – for various reasons – and this film came along at an apt time for me. I can’t tell you how much it moved me – beyond anything. It took me somewhere I’d tried to imagine and made it vividly real to me.

Art is the greatest teacher because it can make us understand things beyond our experience. Because it shows rather than tells. If you’re willing to open yourself up to it, you can live another life in a small way, for a little time.

It can change you, and I love that.

Whilst Lukas is the main focus of the film, he is not its only subject. Fabio also has a hidden self that is slowly revealed. I adored the way the film both contrasted and aligned Lukas and Fabio. They are both men, attracted to one another, wanting the same thing. But whilst Lukas is gauche and lacking in confidence, Fabio is all unselfconscious beauty, male arrogance, sexual confidence. Early on, he is dismissed (by a seemingly more sensitive character) as a man slut who is only good for one thing. But it is Fabio – brash and thoughtless as he is at times – who comes to ultimately see, and love, Lukas’s true self in one of the most beautiful love scenes I think I’ve ever seen on film. One of the reasons this love scene is so good is that it follows a prior sex scene between Lukas and another gay man. Whilst that character is willing to have sex with Lukas despite his female body, his ‘acceptance’ takes the form of mingled shock, amusement and a sort of prurient arousal over Lukas’s exoticism. In other words, this not acceptance at all.

I didn’t think about this character’s reaction in anything like that detail when I was actually watching that scene. It only occurred to me later, after the subsequent love scene in which Fabio and Lukas come together. They do so, not as a man and a man, or as a man and a woman – how they should be classified, scientifically or otherwise, just doesn’t come into it. They come together as themselves, as Fabio and Lukas. What you see, in that final scene, is very lovely. Revelation and discovery. Deeply personal and individual.

It’s difficult to find a scene on You Tube that gives a good sense of the film. The scene I’ve embedded here is an odd dreamlike sequence from the middle of the film – but it is thematically representative. The blue lighting, and choice of song, are very deliberate. There is a running metaphor of a watery voyage of discovery – dangerous and elemental – to a new land, a rebirth, that runs through the film. The drag queen in this scene is a sort of kindly siren. Beckoning Lukas, acknowledging how hard the journey is. Telling him it’s worth the fight.



This post originally appeared seven years ago on my old, much loved (by me) reader blog, Isn’t it Romance? It reminded me that sometimes happy endings aren’t luxuries but necessities.



I love the novels of E M Forster but my favourite is Maurice, a novel he finished in 1914 but which was not published until after his death in 1971.

The central character of the novel is Maurice Hall, an upper-middle class man described by E M Forster in his Notes to the novel as “handsome, healthy, bodily attractive, mentally torpid… and rather a snob.” Maurice is saved from a life of small-minded conventionality by his homosexuality (“an ingredient that puzzles him, wakes him up, torments him, and finally saves him” as E M Forster put it) and is ennobled by the love he eventually comes to share with the working class Alec Scudder.

Maurice’s transformation begins when he meets Clive Durham at Cambridge and falls in love. Clive loves Maurice too but he insists their love must remain platonic. Clive is intellectual and ambitious and eventually he breaks off the relationship – such as it is – marries a suitable woman and settles down to life as a Member of Parliament, insisting that he and Maurice can only be friends. It is on a visit to Clive’s estate, Penge, that Maurice meets Alec, who is Clive’s gamekeeper. Alec visits him in the night, and is as physical as Clive is cerebral; as touchable as Clive is untouchable.

E M Forster wrote Maurice, according to P N Furbank, because the time had come for him to “commit himself, in imagination if it could not be in life, to the belief that homosexual love could was good. He needed to affirm…. that love of this kind could be an ennobling and not a degrading thing.” And so, at the end of the novel, Maurice and Alec come together. It is not an easy coming together. Every obstacle is in their way: society, their class differences and personal pride. Yet against the odds, they overcome all hurdles.

E M Forster wrote of the novel that “a happy ending was imperative. I shouldn’t have bothered to write it otherwise. I was determined that in fiction anyway two men should fall in love and remain in it for the ever and ever that fiction allows, and in this sense Maurice and Alec still roam the greenwood.” We don’t ever find out how Maurice and Alec live, although we are given to understand that their life together will certainly be on the fringes of society. Forster at one stage considered an epilogue in which some years later Maurice’s sister comes upon two woodcutters – Maurice and Alec – but he eventually rejected it because that would have taken the reader to a time when the world had been transformed by the First World War. Maurice, Forster said “…belongs to an England where it was still possible to get lost. It belongs to the last moment of the greenwood.”

My very favourite passage of the novel comes at the end, in Maurice’s final encounter with his first love, Clive, before he disappears forever with Alec.

“Next Wednesday, say at 7.45. Dinner jacket’s enough, as you know.”

They were [Clive’s] last words, because Maurice had disappeared thereabouts, leaving no trace of his presence except a little pile of the petals of the evening primrose, which mourned from the ground like an expiring fire. To the end of his life, Clive was not sure of the exact moment of departure, and with the approach of old age he grew uncertain whether the moment had yet occurred. The Blue Room would glimmer, ferns undulate. Out of some eternal Cambridge, his friend began beckoning to him, clothed in the sun, and shaking out the scents and sounds of the May term.

But at the time, he was merely offended at a discourtesy, and compared it with similar lapses in the past. He did not realise that this was the end, without twilight or compromise, that he should never come across Maurice’s track again, nor speak to those who had seen him.”

The spirit of this final passage is beautifully realised in the 1987 Merchant-Ivory film of the book, starring a then-unknown Hugh Grant as Clive, James Wilby as Maurice and Rupert Graves as Alec.


Postscript: I read this novel first when I was at school doing the equivalent of A level English. EM Forster was on the syllabus and I ate up his small oeuvre with wide-eyed fervour. I loved this book so well that I chose to write about it in the exam instead of the three set texts set by my teacher.