PLEASE NOTE: For the last few days, I’ve been riddled with insomnia, getting maybe two hours of sleep tops at any one time, and exhausted pretty much the whole time I’m awake. I’m probably not going to be terribly cognisant, but I’ve had a few things on my mind and I feel compelled to say it.
First off, as some of you may already know (if only from previous posts), I’m female-to-male transsexual or, as I prefer, a man who just happens to be a transsexual. Generally, I don’t care who knows, so long as I’m generally treated no differently than non-TS men, cos really, as long as I’m socially functioning as a man, it generally doesn’t matter what is in my pants.
The key word there is “generally”. I can actually imagine more situations than merely sexual ones where a person’s genitals might matter (though typically, I rarely put myself in a situation, save for sexual, where it would matter) — or, more accurately, what would matter is less form and more function of said genitals. See, Pagan/Polytheist religions are full of fertility rites where, in many, if not most traditions, it’s not “symbolic” fertility that matters, it is less often “the fertility of ideas” that matters, and it is, quite frankly, the classic fertility of baby-making that matters.
Unlike (apparently) a lot other of TS people with Internet access, I live in reality. I’m also not so insecure in my gender that I need to perform mental acrobatics to rationalise to myself that my body is something that it is not. Even if I won the lottery and got the best-looking and best-functioning phalloplasty in the world, I would not have a penis, I’d have a phallos, being “a penis-shaped object or mimetic image of a penis, especially an erect one” (for serious, google the physiology of phalloplasties, even most of the better ones pretty much ape a 24-7 hard-on because of the nature of the operation). This does not weigh down on my psyche to live with and accept this reality; “man” is a social role, a male lion is not a “man”, but it is male; a baby boy is not a man, but it, too, is male. While “male” is implicitly synonymous with “man” in layman speech, in biological fields, “male” has a specific meaning, so I don’t really see a contradiction in accepting the term “female-to-male treanssexual”, though I admit that it can cause confusion amongst people who aren’t really as familiar with the actual medical and scientific definitions of things as they think they are (there seems to be a growing population of TS/TG activists who are dead-set on pushing the notion of “there’s no such thing as biological sex”, which, in short, not only oversimplifies the notion that “biological sex” is a complex series of traits including hormonal, physiological, and chromosomal, but also is deliberately ignorant of the fact that the ultimate definition of one’s “sex” in biological terms is one’s potential reproductive function; basically, YES THERE IS SUCH A THING AS BIOLOGICAL SEX, but no, it is no-where near as simple and clear-cut as your high school science class may have led you to believe it was).
That said, if we took current TS surgeries to ancient Hellas or Rome or Aegypt or Britain, or at least if Christianity had remained the fringe Jewish cult it was intended to be and these surgeries were developed independently, I have no doubt in my mind that I and other TS/TG persons, even in our surgically corrected bodies, would be barred from certain traditional polytheist rites that are dependent on people displaying traits that suggest specific potential reproductive functions. If, prior to a planting,1 a priestess who has menstruated in the last three weeks has to perform a certain rite for fertility blessings of the gods, and a menopausal or otherwise barren woman would have the potential to curse the field if she were to do the same rite, then I can’t imagine a TS woman being allowed to perform that rite. Sure, you could argue that socially there’s no difference, and her soul is female, and perhaps she cannot have babies but she “has the right to have babies”, but if that was important to the rite, then clearly a twenty-year-old with Turner’s syndrome and thus barren may still have a woman’s soul, but she’d be too no more welcome to perform that rite under the strictest definitions of the rite, either.
Now, not being a woman, this doesn’t concern me as much as it would a TS woman, and surely she’d have more say in what does and does not count as “woman enough” for certain rites — it’s also her call, and maybe her group’s (if she’s a part of one) if she doesn’t have to adhere too strictly to the traditional rules of certain rites — rules can obviously be broken, and if no ill is shown to come of them on the spiritual realm, then by all means, spread the word, but at the same time, any one group may still desire the most traditional approach possible.
I admit, I do maintain a few “radical traditionalist” sympathies, but for me the emphasis is on the radical, all Derek Jarman-style. Traditions are meant to be periodically examined, weighted, and maintained when determined that it’s best for the community to do so — for whatever reason the community decides is best, even if “merely” cultural identity is cited as the reason to maintain a tradition that has no observable benefit (this would be why I don’t whinge too loudly about Orthodox and Conservative Jewish circumcision of infants, because even though I idealogically side with the Liberal Jewish sects who feel it means more for a boy to enter the covenant of Abraham of his own free will [even though this movement is still in its “infancy”, even amongst Liberal Jews], I figure as long as people realise and admit that there’s no reason to circumcise infants aside from a. cosmetic preferences or b. tribal identity, then they will gladly accept any risks associated with cutting baby penis). To blindly follow traditions that harm others just because “it’s what we do”, without ever taking a moment to examine why it might need to be done a certain way is the height of illogical, if only cos that which cannot adapt cannot survive; the dodo was very well-adapted to its island, at first, but proved very ill-adapting to changes to its environment. In purely social terms, what it means to be a man or a woman is changing and this can be a good thing on many levels.
On the other hand, religious practises are not merely social events, no matter how much some pagans and polytheists want to re-imagine them as. The spiritual world is very important to religion, obviously, but the very fact that there are so many rites throughout history that are directly tied to the physiological world suggests, at the very least, that our meat-bodies can influence our aetherial bodies.
To cut the body open surgically has all sorts of spiritual effects, no matter what the reason for the surgery. Not only is your body forever changed, but the soul, too, is reshaped, and spiritual recovery is far more unpredictable. To say that, even spiritually, I am absolutely no different from a man who lacks a transsexual medical history would be a lie, even if socially I prefer to be treated no differently because of the fact that the differences in men doesn’t render one man any more or less “real” than the rest — a Manx cat with no tail is just as much a real cat as any other, a Basenji dog who cannot bark is just as much as real dog, and likewise, cats who have lost a tail or leg or claws, and dogs who have been de-barked are just as much “real” cats and dogs as those who have not been.
While I generally support any religious group’s right to conduct their rituals as they see best, I take issue with the infamous CAYA/”Amazon” Lilith rite on the grounds that (according to many people who were actually there) it was described in the event catalogue as open to the public — the fact that one ostensible man was turned away re-affirms this, but even if I were to give the benefit of the doubt in his case, it would be logical to assume that the event was marked as “open to all women”. Even if the ritual is “skyclad”/nude, well, while I understand the desire to play devil’s advocate on account of “penis = trigger potential”, well, frankly, Woman A could have scars all over her body that could end up as some-one else’s trauma trigger because Woman B lost her children in a house-fire or her mother was stabbed to death. Hell, a woman could have had a formerly abusive relationship with another woman, so any other woman at the ritual who has a similar trait to her abusive ex-partner — from skin-colour to hairstyle to breast size — and that could be just as triggering. If it’s wrong to turn away scarred women or Chinese women as “potential triggers”, then turning away trans women on the same grounds is clearly prejudiced.
At the same time, though, I acknowledge that there is likely to be a distinct spiritual energy at an open ritual for all kinds of women, including TS women, and that energy will be very different from the spiritual energy of a ritual open only to menopausal women, or open only to girls after having their first menstrual cycle and their mothers, or a ritual open only to pregnant women, or a ritual open only to trans women, or a ritual open only to women-loving women, and so on. A mixed group, even if it’s a mixed group coming from the same gender, will always be of a different energy than an elite group.
I’m not a “scene pagan” who’s into this primarily for the social aspects and the occasional high from “group magic” energies. My oikos practise is solitary, as I have no family or partner to practise with; I also lack a local group for regular rituals, and my own practises are primarily spiritual practises and experiences, or performed with spiritual intent. I’m not going to therefore rush to demand the CAYA Amazons either allow TS women or switch to private rites only, but I admit that it would be far more convenient for everybody if they were to do so; after all, when it says “all women” they should be prepared to expect all kinds of women to show up, including those who, by virtue of some peculiarity of their birth, they assume are somehow “lesser women” — though, honestly, I’d LOVE to see a group of TS/TG activists bring a “plant”, likely a woman with Turner’s syndrome, and so barren and never having experienced “the menstrual mysteries” just to out herself to such “open invite” rites, and see what the reactions would be; I figure if such a group is that intent on ACTUALLY CELEBRATING THAT SORT OF “WOMEN’S MYSTERY”, then they’d turn away any woman who has never experienced it — on the other hand, if they’re truly more invested in telling trans women they are “really” the dreaded NotWoman™, then the evidence will be given in their admittance of a woman possessing of a single X-chromosome and who has never been “initiated in the menstrual mysteries”. It’s like that time my mother’s cousin invited my mother and father to a party, but the invitation also clearly stated “Bring your family” — except that when we arrived, my mother’s cousin pulled her aside and very loudly “whispered”, “Couldn’t you get a sitter? Your middle one is creepy and makes my husband and my eldest uncomfortable.2” People generally don’t want to be where they’re not wanted, so really, it doesn’t seem that difficult for this so-called “Amazon” group (who probably all have both breasts and don’t worship Ares as their father — doesn’t sound very Amazon to me) to specify that they want their rites vulva-only and all vulvae should come bearing a certificate of authenticity, lest the dreaded neovagina wander in.
To some extent, I see both sides to this: As a religious traditional polytheist, I recognise the interconnectedness of the physical and the spiritual, and my chest surgery and HRT changed my soul in ways that I bot was, and wasn’t necessarily prepared for — my soul was prepared for the world around me gradually accepting my face and voice in male form, my soul was prepared for the additional body hair and the lack of what was actually a VERY substantial chest prior; what my soul was not 100% prepared for at the time was the true physical mess that scalpels make, an ugliness that took my aetherial body nearly two years to recover from, my soul was not prepared for the unexpected complications, and not as prepared as I thought I was for the reduction in vocal range as a singer. When my whole sense of self-worth prior (as I now know) was seated evenly in my relative attractiveness and the skill and elasticity of my voice, I have to admit that I entered into something I was not as much prepared for as I had previously believed, and maybe a part of me wishes that there was some established Hellenic religious tradition to help me cope with all this, perhaps guiding me to the point I’m at now in, well, less time that it really did take. It wouldn’t have hurt, anyway. To say, though, ignorantly, that there is “no difference” between the transgender and the cisgender in the ritual space makes me flinch, and it worries me, because clearly (at the very least) humanity is not yet at a point where our spiritual selves can truly see past the physical selves; if one like myself, who converses with Eros and Apollon almost daily, and other deities regularly-enough, had to take two years to learn to cope with the deformities of scarring on both skin and voice, yet had such a distinctly “male experience” of life prior that I’d lost count of the times heterosexual men and the rare woman-loving-woman rejected me on the grounds that I “kiss like a man”, or the numerous sexual experiences with gay men, or simply platonic friends remarked on how I was “the only [apparent] girl who really is ‘one of the guys’ and not just saying that to get laid”, that tells me that the notion of the interconnectedness of the physical and spiritual is VERY REAL, more real than a lot of other trans people want to believe because of the false assumption that this real interconnectedness makes their genders somehow “less real” when the reality as I know it is that it makes these it all the more real!
While I agree that public rituals should be open to all, even if all people of only one gender, and that TS/TG men and women are just as much the genders we say we are as cis people of the same gender, at the same time I have to acknowledge the spiritual validity of how not all men and women have entered the same rites of life — not all women become menstrual, not all men become fathers, be they cisgender or trans, and these differences create a distinct experience that a majority who DOES experience those “everyday mysteries” tends to take for granted. But the sheer fact that so many TS/TG people seek to alter our bodies, and specifically to better align with our souls or similar rationale DOES say that the physical is deeply important to the spiritual and not just social. To then dismiss any other pagan/polytheist group for their desires to maintain a certain psycho-physical energy as somehow “unenlightened” does then strike me as a tad hypocritical; on the other hand, sometimes those professed “reasons” for desiring a certain physically-influenced spiritual energy ARE, in fact, unenlightened and deserve to be called out. It is also clear that the latest statement from Yeshe Rabbit on the topic is, at best, a half-assed mock-apology to those who were turned away and, as Kenaz Filan points out, clearly missed the point many people were making more eloquently than my insomnia-ridden self probably ever could for the next several weeks. The point is that a public ritual that claims to be “open to all women” should be open to all women, regardless of any one woman’s abilities and history. While it’s certainly difficult to write a rule that would welcome all early-transitioning trans women who may constantly get read as “old man in wig and dress” while excluding honest-to-the-gods men who just want to monkey their way in to perv on the women, if one woman is to be excluded as a “potential trauma trigger”, then all women who may prove potential “trauma triggers” logically would have to be, including any woman too loud or too assertive, too dark-skinned, too light-skinned, too scarred, too intelligent, or whatever else. It’s necessary to remove people who are proving themselves to be actual problems to a ritual through their actions, but it’s unnecessary to reject outright anybody who falls into a definition of “all” but simply falls victim to a coordinator’s fallacious logic through no fault of their own.
1: I’m making this ritual up just off the top of my head.
2: That would be me.