Tag Archives: queer

O is for Other

Standard

This post is part of the Pagan Blog Project (PBP). It’s the first one for the letter O. Or rather, it’s the only one for the letter O because I’ve just decided to officially go with one post per letter for a while because there are so many other things that occupy me right now that spirituality has taken a definite backseat.

At some point last year I realized that a huge part of my identity was tied to the concept of being “other.” In fact, the one thread that runs through my entire conscious life is feeling different from (nearly) everyone else.

I’ve been the only kid in my class who could read before she started school (I somehow taught myself but have no memory of doing that – one day I just could read). I was the only kid who didn’t belong to any religion during my childhood. I felt like the only girl who never understood the dynamics between boys and girls when puberty hit us all (and what I understood seemed incredibly stupid to me). I was the only girl who repeatedly got the key for the boys’ locker room at the local swimming pool (which was hugely embarrassing to me since I wanted to be good at being a girl so much). I was a very late bloomer in terms of physical development (and therefore was excluded from all teenage girl bonding over menstruation and such). I was the only one in my social circle who never had a “real” boyfriend during adolescence (and the two I was with barely lasted longer than a week or two that consisted mostly of me feeling pressured to be more sexual with them than I wanted to be, and I definitely wasn’t in love with either of them). I was the only one who read books on anti-psychiatry in eight or ninth grade (age 14/15) during school breaks (which got even weirder when people learned that I did this out of personal interest, not for a school project). I was the only one with tomato-red hair in my entire school when I was around sixteen (and got harrassed by strangers on the street for that on a daily basis). I was the only one in my class who would speak up on sexism and ask the philosophy professor to do a unit on feminist language philosophy (which he seemed delighted to do, earning me even more annoyance from my classmates).

I eventually became a lesbian along with being a feminist, which at least meant I wasn’t the ONLY one anymore. Suddenly, there was a whole community I could belong to. How completely exhilarating! If only I had managed to be the “right” kind of lesbian for that social circle. I was an utter failure at being butch or even androgynous (although I didn’t have the vocabulary to even talk about these things), I soon became fed up with sexuality being discussed only in relation to violence and abuse, and I – horror of all horrors! – wore a bright red gown from the second hand store to the ball to celebrate an anniversary of the local women’s (read: feminist and lesbian) magazine. With my big Doc-Marten’s-eque boots and a strange haircut. There was ONE other woman in the room who was also in a dress, and she was straight at that point (I think). Then I wanted to spend time with men again, because some seemed really great people to create really great events with, so I eventually lost my place in the lesbian feminist community for good. Instead, I reconnected with the leftist/punk subculture and went on to be the only punk lesbian in my city (an identity I was told I couldn’t take on by a so-called friend because it didn’t exist).

A bit later I was the (then-)only female member of a group of otherwise gay men who organized a weekly non-profit queer bar night. I went on to become the only self-identified femme in my queer-dominated social circle (I didn’t have much in common with the only other femme I knew of in that city), which got me ridiculed, laughed at, dismissed, and reduced to my outward appearance. It also meant that people questioned my queerness and my commitment to the queer community on a regular basis. When I went to a women’s dance every now and then, I still was the only one in a skirt. But hey, at least I had a queer social circle that made me feel like I belonged, even though I made people uncomfortable occasionally! That queer circle stayed home for large parts of my soul for about a decade (and I’m ever grateful for that). I could even integrate my interest in BDSM into it (and also gained a whole new community when I started exploring it in practice, even though I definitely remained at the fringes of that as well).

Then I got a partner who didn’t identify as a woman anymore but considered himself a transgender butch and went by a male name and male pronouns. We were the only couple of that kind in the local queer community (I was asked if I was straight now by people who had personally and directly witnessed me as a mover and shaker of the local queer community. I also lost an important lesbian femme friend and mentor over the transness of my then-partner). When I stopped drinking and smoking I also was the only one who did neither in my circle of friends (which excluded me from all those bonding rituals over getting drunk together, cast me as a party-pooper, and eventually played a large role in my stopping to go out or organize events with them altogether). In my new circle of friends(?) I was the only one with lots of tattoos and piercings and emotional ties to punk and DIY queer culture.

Eventually, I got back to university where I was almost the only student in all of my classes who was already over thirty (which at best helped me take up an unofficial co-teacher role and at worst isolated me once again). I often was the only one who seemed genuinely interested in the subject matter, and who had read all the homework assignments (at least this time I proudly claimed an identity as a “Streberin” – which doesn’t have an English equivalent but roughly is a combination of nerd/geek and teacher’s pet – instead of letting people shame me for my interest in learning things and thinking deep thoughts and discussing them in class). By that time I had also learned that I was “highly gifted” with an IQ that placed me in a minority of 0.13% of the population. While that explained a lot, taught me immediate patience with my fellow human beings to a degree I had never felt before, it also meant I suddenly had an acute sense of how different I actually was in that area, and that I really didn’t have much of a choice about that, either.  So I joined the local chapter of Mensa, where I was the only one who was that queer (even though I was barely out about it) and found that I could have a nice, fun conversation with some of the people some of the time, we never really shared enough areas of interest to turn these conversations into actual friendships (not to mention the casual sexism, racism, and queer hate that seemed to be a part of many equally casual conversations, or the general disdain for anything spiritual). Perhaps needless to say, I’m not a Mensa member anymore.

About six years ago, I started exploring spirituality, initially by reading tarot. Once again, I was doing something that was definitely not considered good and worthwhile in the vague queer academic-activist culture I felt most connected to (when I finally started coming out about my interest, however, I discovered that there were indeed others, even though that still didn’t make a community). To this day, I haven’t told my mother or sister about my spiritual explorations (my father would also be on the list if he hadn’t died) because it’s just not something we do in our family. I found a good place to learn in the Aeclectic Tarot Forum, but I still was the odd one out whenever it came to things like sexual orientation (I was neither straight nor was I a lesbian or any other easily named queer identity), which impacted my readiness to even ask for relationship readings (especially after I once had a reader tell me that my transgender partner shouldn’t get surgery – and only admitted she hadn’t gotten that from the cards at all when I directly asked her about it, not to mention that I hadn’t asked about that at all). Nevertheless, it was nice to have a virtual environment where we could talk about a subject we were all interested in, where our identities didn’t matter that much. I met some really nice people there, including some who I now consider friends (and I don’t call anyone a friend easily).

However, my attempts at connecting with spiritually similarly-inclined people outside of the internet (e.g. at meet-ups or workshops) and at were not so successful. Neither have I found any spiritual path/tradition that I would have been able to adopt more or less as-is. The biggest part of this were issues around gender and queerness (about which I’ve written before (here, here, and here), so I won’t repeat all that.

After university, I started working my first full-time job (at the age of 36!) as one of two queer (but not out) employees of a small company of maybe thirty people. I was the only one who hadn’t studied what she was doing (so I lacked the cultural background of that discipline my coworkers and boss had), the only one with a decidedly crooked “career path.” I also was the only woman who wasn’t into fashion and who refused to conform with the femininity standard of that company. That excluded me from both the women and the men, and I think I was the only one who was never invited to a social get-together with my coworkers. My Beloved had by then decided to take some of the “official” steps that law and medicine offer for trans people in this country, so it became increasingly hard for me to even share my own queerness and that part of my life. Again, I was neither straight (and I think it showed), nor was I out as something people recognized.

With the decision of my partner to start living as a “man” full-time, I lost even more ties to the queer community because I just didn’t feel represented and invited anymore. Most of the time, there wasn’t even a label I would use for myself on any flyer that spoke to “lesbians, gay men, bisexuals, trans people, intersex individuals, and their friends” – I’m sorry but I’m way more than a “friend,” I’m very queer myself but my queerness doesn’t even have a name (especially not in German). I started living in a strange place that really belonged nowhere (which is both figuratively and literally true because our apartment is in exactly such a place), and that made it hard to feel at home anywhere except in my own room.

There was a brief time where I found a place where all those identity markers didn’t seem to matter much at all, and that was during my training to be a hospice volunteer. We were human beings there, and everything that usually is oh-so-important either came up only a long way into the training or not at all (I still don’t know everyone’s day jobs or family status, for example). That was astonishingly nice, and it made me realize that I have no space like that anywhere else in the world. And that’s not because I don’t want to belong, because I want to be different at all costs. I just don’t, and I just am. There are hardly any spaces at all that aren’t fraught with all kinds of stories that usually end up reaffirming that I’m not “normal,” that I’m always the exception and never the rule, that I don’t fit in easily, and certainly not painlessly.

Sometimes I wish I could be a round peg in a round hole, just once, so I get a break. Because being different is exhausting. It costs so much energy. You constantly have to provide a running commentary of the world where you have room, where you can exist, where you are okay. All the time. Every day. Year by year. And then you haven’t even started to look for others like yourself so that maybe, on some days, you can have someone else tell you these things because you’re too damn tired to do so yourself (and do the same for them on other days). And then you haven’t even started to speak up and do something about it. Which takes even more energy, because then you will have to explain yourself over and over again, to people whose idea of a good time is provoking you on purpose, to people who tell you that you should be grateful for all the good things you have (and look how bad it is for those people over there in that other country!), to people who end up hurting you over and over again while telling you they didn’t mean to and therefore you shouldn’t be upset.

However, whenever I think of that theoretical fairy and the wish she’d grant me, no questions asked, I never ask for being “normal.” Because I like being different, as hard as it often is. I like being able to see how things like norms work. I like constantly having at least one foot on the outside for the perspective that gets me. I like the creativity required by having to come up with alternative narratives of mainstream stories, or repurpose and remix existing cultural content to include my experiences (this is definitely one reason why I’m very much in love with the idea of (non-canon) fanfiction/slash).

And, to make this post at least somewhat complete, I need to admit that it completely ignores the areas of my life where I am indeed a round peg in a very comfortably fitting round hole. Where I am not at all “other” in a way that would put me at a disadvantage. For example, I am white, well-educated, carry a passport of the Western European country I’m living in, and have grown up speaking this country’s standard language without any strong dialect. I have easy access to good, affordable healthcare and clean water. I am healthy and able-bodied and feel mostly good about my body. I have access to the Internet and several local libraries and can read/speak/write/understand two languages, one of them being English. I have a solid roof over my head and enough money to cover all necessities and then some. My family has very few issues with my queerness. I am constantly read as a cisgendered person (there were a few exceptions earlier in my life but they’ve all been a long time ago), and I seem gender-conforming enough to not be in immediate danger of being beaten up, raped, or killed for my deviations from gender norms (at least that’s true for where I live). I have never experienced a war in my country, I’m free to vote and say pretty much everything I want without serious danger of life and limb. And these are just off the top of my head.

But that’s the thing about privileges (and all of these are privileges in the grand scheme of things, so let’s call them that): they are very hard to notice unless you don’t have them all the time.  It’s only when you lose a privilege you once had or when you gain one you didn’t have all along that you even notice the effects of your own privilege without having to make a conscious effort. (Personally, I found this computer-game analogy an awesome way to think about having privilege and what effects it has on those who have it. Note: It can easily be adapted to also work for people who are not straight white men but still benefit from the privilege that comes with being one or two of these things.)

Nevertheless, I  still consider “being different” a basic aspect of my life experience (if only because there simply aren’t many contexts in my everyday life where my otherness is entirely irrelevant and I experience pure “normalcy”/privilege, especially long-term). And yet, I wonder… What do I gain by repeating “I’m different” to myself over and over again? Is this nothing but special-snowflake syndrome and a case of first world problems? Would an increased awareness of my own privileges/”normalcy” (which I try to gain step by little step) eventually make me realize that my experiences of being different don’t really “count” compared to the lives of others? Why can’t I just see myself as belonging to the category of “human” instead of spending so much time focusing on what makes me different (I have been asked that and could only say that “human” is a much too large category to feel meaningful and provide me with a sense of belonging…)?

Yes, there will always be people who are a whole lot more different than I ever was or will be. Yes, they will usually also have a whole lot less privilege than I do. I definitely believe I need to work on at least acknowledging my “normalcy” privileges and then do my part in making things less unfair in general. I can’t just focus on my own minority aspects and ignore all the ways that place me in a position of undeserved and unequal power. But that doesn’t mean I have no negate my own experiences of being different and being shut out of the “center” and their emotional truths, nor do I have to beat up myself for having privilege that I mostly got completely by coincidence (no, I don’t believe in our souls choosing all these specifics of our life so that our souls can learn a certain lesson during yet another lifetime). Getting the balance right between the two is the real challenge here I think…

P.S. And now I’m wondering if this topic is “spiritual” enough to be posted on this blog and as part of the Pagan Blog Project… You know what? I don’t really care. Especially not since I have a hard time drawing a line between my politics, my everyday life, and my spirituality anyway. And why should I?

Advertisements

Checking the chakras with Morgan’s Tarot

Standard

Since I wanted to do at least one reading with the actual deck before I move on to the next one, I decided to do a chakra spread as a general check-up on things. It’s pretty straight-forward: one card for each of the seven chakras, starting at the bottom (associations are the ones I learned in a chakra harmonization class I once took).

1. Root chakra (self-preservation, security, survival, root)You are experiencing an illegitimate feeling

The image of this card immediately reminds me of the scene at the drive-in cinema from the movie Grease, which I rewatched a short while ago. True to the gender stereotypes of the 1980s (when the movie was made) studly Danny wants to get some physical action while uptight Sandy is all about hands-off romance. Of course this leads to misunderstandings and frustration for both of them (which seem to be made even worse by the fact that none of them clearly owns their desires and instead expects the other one to just agree with them without communication or even negotiation). Of course, this card lets us know, feelings aren’t “illegitimate” – they just are. Neither Danny nor Sandy are “right” or “wrong” in their desires.

I believe this is alluding to my decision to leave my (arguably) good job – which has been called a “courageous” step by many people. It doesn’t feel so courageous to me, though, because I simply don’t feel it’s a threat to my basic existential security. I trust in my ability to find a new (and better!) way to make a living when it’s time to do so, and I know that I have enough money in my bank account to support myself for the time of my ‘sabbatical.’ I suppose it’s a good thing that this is an area where I feel quite secure indeed for now.

2. Sacral chakra (emotions, sexuality, sensuality)Freak

This freak is a female one, if her three breasts are any indication.I’m not surprised by seeing her appear here, since so much of my emotional and sexual inclinations easily fall into ‘freak’ territory. At the beginning of my identification as a femme, that meant a passionate determination to explore as many facets of human sexuality as I could in theory, and many of them in practice as well. I studied sexuality like other people learn a musical instrument. Eventually I got to the point where I felt like I was actually good at this.

More recently, however, I have been feeling like a very different kind of ‘freak’ due to my almost complete lack of emotional, sensual, and sexual passion. I still don’t know how much of this is just a ‘normal’ part of being in a (theoretically polyamourous but mostly monogamous-by-circumstance) long-term relationship because I’ve never been together even half as long with anyone than I am with my current partner. Nor do I know how much my partner’s gender transition (that is, mostly his decision to take testosterone and the resulting social consequences) has impacted this. I just know that I don’t feel curious and excited about sexuality anymore, just jaded and tired. On some level, I still feel ashamed of this development, like I am a queer/femme failure. Maybe the focus on sexuality that is apparent in much of the queer community also plays a part in this. Or maybe it’s really mostly just me and my very own, very personal issues.

At any rate, the Freak card is very apt here!

3. Solar plexus chakra (self-worth, power)Maya – The Field of the Lord

A baby carriage stands next to a wheelchair facing the opposite direction, the sun is setting, the moon is rising. If there were any people in these vehicles, they would likely be able to look at each other. But no one is there. I’m not quite sure what to make of this…

I suppose the baby carriage and wheelchair are supposed to symbolize infancy and old age, but what comes inbetween the two? Maybe I’m supposed to let go of the idea that life happens on a one-way path from birth to death and to question what is appropriate for any given age. Because, yeah, I’ve mentioned my age rather often during the last few years, and maybe that wasn’t always so useful (but instead created artificial boundaries between me and people of different ages).

The image also reminds me of the Pagan triad of “Maiden, Mother, Crone” and its focus on fertility and a predetermined course of life for any woman (read some of my criticism of that here), including the need to justify ourselves for the ones who don’t comply with that way of life.

Maybe the card is a reminder not to get too hung up on any of these categories (age, gender, etc.), without denying their influences on us. But influence does not mean determination, right?

4. Heart chakra (love)I still don’t understand

This must have been the height of technology back when the deck was created: a computer so big that it takes up and entire room. Sounds also a bit like Terry Pratchett’s Hex… But I’m sure this is not about my lack of love (or understanding) for the contemporary height of technology.

It could be a simple reminder that love is not an intellectual endeavour, but I don’t think (ha!) I’ve approached it as one recently. Hm… I’m afraid I still don’t understand this card right now… (Ideas, anyone?)

5. Throat chakra (self-expression, communication, giving/taking)There are no others

A lone sea serpent looks out from a body of water. Since I’ve been reading Northern mythology these days, I’m of course thinking of Jörmungandr here, even though this snake doesn’t bite its own tail. But there is no reason for it to limit its power if there are no others, right?

I take that to mean that I should express myself as if there are no others who would approve or disapprove. However, if there are no others, what’s the point of expressing anything anymore? Or does it just mean that I’m not supposed to listen to their judgments of whatever it is that I may be expressing?

The LWB tells a little story that ends with this sentence: “But if all pronouns are abolished there is only one god in the bouncing universe.” Which is precisely what I’ve come to doubt more and more in the past months and weeks. Yes, I still vaguely refer to “the Universe” when I mean non-human powers in general, but I’m not so sure I actually believe there is a single “Universe” (Higher Power, God/dess, Whatever) out there. Instead, I’m slowly coming round to realize that I really seem to believe in many different gods and goddesses and other spiritual beings from many different pantheons and traditions. I don’t have much proof (that is, what I would consider proof) of that so far, but it still makes sense on a fundamental level. No, I don’t think that belief in a certain deity automatically leads to worshipping them. But for now, I find it easy to assume that all those deities and other spiritual beings exist somewhere (including the Christian or Jewish God and the Muslim Allah), even though humans may choose to actively worship just a few of them (or just one), from one pantheon or several. I suppose that makes me at least a semi-hard polytheist, if I learned my vocabulary right. Who would have thunk it?

So yeah, that probably needed expressing at some point.

6. Third eye chakra (visions, goals, purpose)And there I was… surrounded

A big flower, surrounded by lots of little flowers. I read this on two levels: Being supported by like-minded individuals. Realizing I’m a part of a larger whole anyway, even if I don’t actively try.

Maybe I’ll actually find some like-minded people the more I realize what my (next) vision for this life actually is. Discovering a German-language Heathen/Asatru forum that is populated by intelligent people who actively work against racism in Heathenry/Asatru may be one step into this direction. Actually knowing one of them personally already may be another one. I’m also finding roughly like-minded people as I explore other contributions to the Pagan Blog Project, so that’s a third step. Maybe I’m not as alone and ‘freaky’ as I thought!

The card also tells me that I’m a part of ‘nature’ already, no matter if I consciously think of it or not. I live on this planet, I’m a part of it. End of story. What I make of this realization, in those moments that I consciusly have it, is another question. I believe the goal is to be more aware more of the time so that it becomes more and more obvious and tangible just how interconnected everything on this planet is. There is no ‘outside’ of it. Which is both comforting and frustrating, depending on my degree of optimism on any given day.

7. Crown chakra (spirituality, connection to the divine)Door to the Akashic Records

Clearly, someone is watching…Bolts of lightening? Thor? Zeus? Xolotl? One eye only? Odin? A cyclops? A sun symbol? Sunna? Ra? Sekhmet? I can’t be sure at this point.

I don’t really know what the “Akashic Records” are (although I think it’s a great name for a music shop that sells old vinyl) except that they are some kind of library that is supposed to hold all knowledge about all humans and their fate (hmm, not bad for half-knowledge!). And now I wonder how similar the idea of Wyrd is to that… But let’s not get into a huge theological research project here.

At any rate, someone is paying attention, and there is at least the opportunity for making a more direct connection. Sound good to me.

Or maybe it means I can (theoretically) access these “records” – although I wouldn’t quite know how to do that, because I don’t think reading oracles the way I do is enough for that…

I’m glad to report that I seem to be able to actually read with the deck. And despite some dated references to the New Age ideas of the late 1960s I much enjoy the weirdness of it.

If only the cards were a bit smaller, say, playing card size. Then it would be even better. Not because I have any shuffling-related complaints, but because this is one of the rare decks that would be better if it were a bit smaller. More intimate. More back pocket of a well-worn pair of jeans-size.

F is for Female. Feminine. Feminism. Femme. … Fertility?

Standard

This post is part of the Pagan Blog Project. It’s the first one for the letter F.

For a long time, I couldn’t even think of a blog-worthy F topic, but today yesterday I suddenly knew what I wanted to talk about. In a way, this is a first part of a future blog post on gender, but since that one is going to be quite substantial anyway, I thought it couldn’t hurt to split it up a bit.

I also need to add a disclaimer before we begin. My very broad generalizations about different pantheons and deities and about all kinds of subcultures here are not meant as accurate, objective reports but as highly subjective descriptions of what I saw and felt and otherwise perceived to exist. So if you experienced something different, that’s probably just as true as what I talk about here. Furthermore, my claims that I didn’t find a deity with certain attributes does not mean that I claim there actually is none. Just that I didn’t come across it.

When I was a kid, I lived in a world where gender wasn’t anything that placed any boundaries on what any of us could do. Sure, we (my sister and two neighbor kids who were also sisters) were girls, but that wasn’t an issue because for the most part there weren’t any boys around, so it became a meaningless category in our daily interactions. I never heard I couldn’t do this or I should do that because I was a girl. I was a person, and I was interested in some things and not so interested in others, and that was that.

This changed when I grew into a very awkward and terribly shy teenager who never seemed to be as much a girl as the rest of them – but without a solid tomboy identity to make up for that. I just landed in “gender-neutral land” somehow, and I wasn’t very happy there – for one, it was a damn lonely place to be! It also was hard to feel good about being different when all I wanted was to be normal like the other girls. But no matter how hard I tried, I mostly remained a “girl failure.” Much of my ideas about being a girl at that age were tied in with being attractive to boys and managing to find someone to “date.” That never happened. The only “Do you want to go out with me? Check [_] yes [_] no [_] maybe” letter I ever got was a joke. I truly didn’t understand the rules of all the little “girls vs. boys” games, and I didn’t even like any boy in particular. No one ever expressed an interest in holding hands with me, let alone kiss me, and so I completely skipped that phase of early romance and “relationship” experimentation that everybody else seemed to go through.

Nina Hagen, early years

When I was 14, I decided I had enough of that. Over a period of a few months, I consciously remade myself from that shy, uncool wannabe-popular girl into a punk(ish) one – one who was outspoken and rebellious, one who didn’t have to be “pretty” anymore (which is not to say that the local punk scene came with its own beauty norms – but they were less emphasized), and one who was valuable as herself and not just by way of being some boy’s girlfriend. What a relief! I finally started liking myself again. I was still somewhat of an outsider, even in the punk/leftist circles I hung out in, but at least I didn’t stick out like a sore thumb anymore. (Eventually I got my first “real” kiss from someone I barely liked at 15, motivated by sheer fed-up-ness with my state of “un-kissed-ness.” After that, I often made out with boys at parties, which was usually nice, and had two major and mostly unrequited crushes, but I never even called someone my boyfriend until I was about 18 or 19 – and even that lasted only a few weeks.) This was also a time of strong emotional bondings with a series of best friends (all of them girls), many of whom seemed to be much more important than any crush or fling I had. My strongest emotional relationships were always with other girls.

Around the same time as my initial make-over, I started reading about anarchism, antifascism, feminism and other radical leftist politics, and I read pretty much everything about these topics I could find (remember, there wasn’t any Internet for us back in the 1980s). Feminism led to some first encounters with witchcraft/paganism as a current form of spirituality/belief/practice as I read feminist perspectives on witch persecutions and folk healers, moon rituals and modern witchcraft. My best friends and I naively romanticized “witches” as strong female rebellious role models. To me, paganism/witchcraft seemed to be a female-ruled world, despite the fact that my best friend’s boyfriend also read tarot (by the way, he was the one who tried to tell me that true happiness was only possible for male/female couples due to the need for gender opposites to come together yin and yang-like). That female-centered world appealed to me, but I didn’t translate that interest into a spiritual practice (beyond drawing pentagrams onto my spiral notepads at school as a graphic shorthand for “rebellious, cool, misunderstood WOMAN who will kick your ass if you disrespect her”).

For a while, I still flirted with some aspects of feminism that now seem at least vaguely spiritual to me. However, soon after the newness of menstruation had worn off (I started bleeding rather late, at around 15), I stopped believing this was something “magical” and “mystical” that connected me to all the women on the planet, and all the women of history and our fabulous ability to bear children. I just didn’t feel particularly powerful during that time of the month, and I also didn’t I suffer horribly, so my actual menstruation was mildly annoying at worst and a complete non-issue at best. And I certainly didn’t feel delighted about my potential fertility when I started having sex with boys! On the contrary: by then I didn’t even think I wanted children at some later point in life anymore.

Fast forward a few years to my early twenties when I came out as a lesbian (my first but not my last coming-out). As a consequence of that, I encountered feminist spirituality again (again, mostly in theory), if only as something that was “around” in the lesbian-feminist subculture I was in touch with. In this world, spiritual or not, women were better than men on principle, inherently peaceful and more connected to nature, etc. (and lesbians were also better than straight women because we didn’t “sleep with the enemy”). For a while, that was a great thing to believe in, because it made being female and lesbian into something cool and even superior, especially as a counterpoint to the countless occurences of sexism and homophobia in my life. It was great to have a space where women could do everything they wanted (unless “men” and “the patriarchy” violently kept us from doing so) and where women’s strengths and capabilities were not only acknowledged but even celebrated. Or, rather, some of our capabilities were.

I quickly realized that a quick mind and a sharp tongue didn’t win me many friends among my fellow feminists if I used it to criticize them. More than once I was accused of “being dominating” in conversations, which always carried a subtext of “you behave like a man!” (which of course was a very harsh insult for the kind of feminists we were back then). I even left a feminist magazine collective due to my unwillingness to stop believing (and pointing out) that sometimes(!) there is a whole lot of power in claiming to be a poor victim in need of being saved and protected. And don’t even mention my re-awakened desire to spend time with some select men who really, honestly didn’t seem like sexist assholes and potential rapists to me. Given all of that, it seemed pretty clear pretty soon that I wasn’t quite getting with the program of female superiority and ever-peaceful sisterhood.

My sex life was mostly non-existent during that time. I kept having unrequited crushes on the least feminine women I could find, but somehow the sisterlyness of it all (not to mention the seemingly inevitable connection of sex and abuse) didn’t spark my desire much. Needless to say, the issue of fertility or motherhood was now even further from my mind than it was when I still occasionally slept with men. Even though I thought for a while that pregnancy and giving birth seemed like a fascinating thing to experience physically (if only you didn’t end up with a baby to deal with), it was pretty clear I’d never use that potential ability of my female body to bring a new human being into this world.

Gina Gershon and Jennifer Tilly in "Bound" (1996)

Fast forward again, to my mid-20s when another coming-out of mine took place: I started identifying as a (lesbian) femme, at first somewhat embarrassedly, but quickly with a lot of defiant pride. I had finally seen the error of my ways: I didn’t want to be one of those tough, sporty women with short-cropped hair and men’s clothes – I just wanted them! And I wanted to wear skirts and/or make-up and/or nail-polish with my big boots and big mouth while I did so. I wanted to be the “girl” to their “boy.” So I embarked on a dedicated mission to rediscover, reclaim, reconstruct, and celebrate many aspects of femininity for myself – this time as a conscious choice instead of the default-by-way-of-genitalia. As every glance at the butch objects of my desire affirmed, our gender expressions were in no way an automatic result of anatomy. Gender became something flexible, something we were able to change in subtle or drastic ways, depending on our needs and wants. I was finally free to explore femininity as something detached from heterosexuality and sexism. Femininity stopped being something I couldn’t achieve no matter how hard I tried, and it stopped being something that made me into a (potential) victim. Instead, it became something that made me strong on many levels. I could finally prove that I, too, could be pretty – even beautiful – if I wanted to. I could feel and be desirable to the ones I desired in return, not in spite of being who I was but because of it. Suddenly, it was easy and pleasurable, and that included sex. Doing my femininity for someone who didn’t take it for granted just because I was female made a world of difference. Finally, gender polarities made sense to me and became something that felt good to me because I had a choice about them (the polarities never again became binaries, though, because I saw so much gender variance around me that any idea of stuffing all of that back into only two boxes seemed both ridiculous and cruel). It was a glorious adventure for many years.

Eventually, in my early 30s, I slowly became interested in spirituality again. I read lots of stuff, mostly from the neo-pagan corners of the Western world. And, inevitably, I came across gender duality again. Goddess and God. Or even, goddesses and gods. Sometimes a singular Goddess. But there were no “femme” deities or any kind of queer, femme role model of pagan spirituality that I could find. I looked for suitable female deities first. But the ones I found (I looked mostly at the Greek and Roman pantheons, but also at the little bits I knew about the Hindu, Norse, or Egyptian ones) all seemed to be about being some god’s wife and the mother of several children – unless they were some kind of monstrous, scary killer or something. Anything else they did seemed secondary to their relationships in the way they were described in the mythology I read.

That made it hard for me to identify with any of them. I didn’t see my gender and relationships and way of life mirrored in the relationships within the various pantheons I read about. I couldn’t relate to all the family business – not because my experience in my family of origin had been so terrible, but because my life was simply structured around completely different ideas of living together and taking care of each other (the theoretically interested amongst my readers may find Judith ‘Jack’ Halberstam’s article What’s that Smell? Queer Temporalities and Subcultural Lives an interesting source for a few more thoughts on this, especially the first page of the online version). Reproduction and physical fertility just weren’t defining issues in my life. Not having a child isn’t a one-time choice that then changes your life irrevocably (as opposed to having one). It’s not even an issue I think about anymore, unless someone asks me if I want to have children sometime, or assures me that my “biological clock” will start ticking soon (yeah, right…), or otherwise let me know that being a woman at a fertile age who doesn’t even want a baby is somehow monstrous in its own right.

Which also made it difficult to impossible to identify with the Maiden/Mother/Crone idea that seems to ubiquituos in much of Paganism, especially anything Wicca-influenced. At 30+ and after , I really was no maiden anymore, no matter how drawn out my youth had been in some ways (again, see Halberstam’s article linked above). I was no mother and had no intentions of becoming one – my physical fertility seemed basically wasted in me. I also didn’t identify with the Mother archetype on a less literal level: I’d been creating things and taking care of them all my life, and it seemed absurd to me to restrict this aspect to a certain age/phase. And I wasn’t old or experienced enough to be a Crone, although I liked the idea of finally becoming free of all that fertility-associated stuff after menopause. That seemed a time where women could become people in their own right again (because, interestingly, the Crone never read as “grandmother” to me).

And the monsters? The Harpies, the bad witches and evil fairy stepmothers, Medusa, the sirens, banshees, or female vampires? Well, I flirted with the idea of monstrous femininity quite a bit because it seemed a good way to get away from cultural ideas that “women are the peaceful gender” and “women can’t be dangerous.” It also worked well as something that tied me back to punk, where femaleness also sometimes found “monstrous” expressions. Feminine monsters broke the rules. They were destructive, dangerous, and usually pretty strong. But they also often got killed off at some point or another. And despite my tendency to embrace my own monstrosity and destructiveness, I didn’t really feel drawn to all the death and doom these mythological creatures seemed to embody. I was a terribly optimist, after all.

So, next in my search, I turned to Raven Kaldera’s Hermaphrodeities, to see if a queer author had anything useful to offer to me. But I only ended up pissed off beyond belief because it seemed that the only role available to someone like me was that of Babalon, the sacred whore and consort to intersex/transgender Baphomet. If that’s what floats your boat as a femme, fine (really!), but it didn’t float mine. By then, I was sick and tired of being reduced to being “sexy” and “supportive” to my butch and transgender partners and friends – often sadly by them as well. And on top of that, Kaldera went and even claimed Aphrodite as intersex/transgender because there is a story where she has a beard. Great. Now every single way of being non-conventionally female (not to mention crossing gender boundaries) suddenly got ripped out of my femme hands and taken over to “trans*/intersex land.” I was furious. Wasn’t there a single goddamn female goddess who existed outside of a heteronormative paradigm that was left for me?! As a consequence, I stopped even looking at deity-related stuff for a long time. (Note: I realize that Kaldera didn’t even intend to address female femmes unless they were also transwomen. It still hurt to be excluded from his world, because he seemed to be able to include just about anyone else on the queer spectrum. And even if all this is just selective reading/memory which would be proven as incomplete by a rereading of the book, my emotions back then were still as real as they get.)

For a while, I did fine with the shamanic/animistic idea of Animal and Plant Spirits, for and with whom gender didn’t seem to be so much of an issue. But even in the shamanic worldviews I encountered, there were Mother Earth and Father Sky, and a female Moon and a male Sun (which still don’t sit right with me, even if that’s only due to the fact that in my native language German the moon is grammatically male and the sun is female). The Universe was still pretty heterosexually organized, even if some Native American cultures I heard about didn’t seem to assign gender based on anatomy but based on the social role that was taken up.

But even those concepts didn’t seem to include me. I don’t see myself as taking up “the” male role socially, nor am I taking up “the” female one. Both of the roles, in whatever society, always seem limiting to me, and my own interests, behavior, and feelings never fit into any of the given options. Not even if a change of social gender is one of them. Because I don’t feel “male” one day and “female” the next. I don’t perceive myself to be changing my gender that much. I look female for all intents and purposes, but I don’t quite feel that way. I mostly do my femmeness as extremely low-femininity these days, at least in terms of looks. My behavior, however, often seems to be relatively “masculine” if the reactions of people at work are any indication. Still, I am worlds away from being butch or even androgynous. I may put on nail polish one day, sew myself a new skirt, and maybe even cook dinner, but that doesn’t make me feel more “female” than I do on a day where I put on a pair of old jeans, paint a wall, and eat the dinner my partner has cooked. To me, this is all still “femme,” even if only for lack of a better term. (Nope, “human” won’t do because gender isn’t irrelevant to me.) Sometimes it seems I have come full circle to gender-neutrality, especially since my femme gender is massively tied to my desire, and there hasn’t been much desire for anything lately. Oh, and did I mention my queer and third-gender-identified transgender butch partner who has been shapeshifting himself for about 1.5 years now? Which doesn’t make finding a Pagan tradition – or non-tradition – that has room for both of us in all our incarnations any easier.

Also, my desire to find even a single goddess with whom I felt a connection that didn’t immediately bring up a string of reservations never quite went away. The only deity that somehow stuck with me a bit was Kali. While she seemed to be heterosexual as well, that didn’t seem to define her so much. I felt drawn to her destructive aspect, the literal blood and bones. She didn’t seem to care about being pretty for anyone but was fierce and strong instead. And she was still unarguably female. After a while, I could even start to accept her mother aspect. Not that I even dared to try getting in touch with her, mind you. There were too many issues of cultural appropriation, my ignorance about and lack of connection with Hinduism, and plain old caution involved for me to feel ready to go any deeper than looking up some basic information on the Internet and print out one or two pictures of her. She may or may not have been the being I encountered on one of my early shamanic journeys, but that was a one-time occurrence (I haven’t tried meeting that being again, though). So I sort of admire her from afar, trying to make up my mind about how to proceed from here. And, of course, she’s also firmly located in “monster” territory…

As a consequence of all of this mess, I still have a hard time seeing myself practice any deity-centered spirituality. I can’t quite relate to any pantheon, because the pantheons I’ve glimpsed at look too much like a world that holds little similarity to the one I inhabit (and I seem to believe that humans and the deities they believe in are and should be much alike in many respects). Sure, “official” lore may not hold all the realities of what deities did and do, but it is a powerful narrative and it’s hard to come across anything else at all.

I’m having much of the same problems even with non-deity-centered Pagan worldviews. Doing a fertility ritual for the Earth by way of simulating or having heterosexual intercourse seems utterly alien and absurd to me (ask Anne Fausto-Sterling or any other biologist worth their salt about the ridiculousness of thinking about natural gender in male/female terms only).There has to be another way to acknowledge and celebrate cycles of growth and death, and the return of spring. Alas, I haven’t found it yet…

Well, I could go on, but I think I made my points for today. (Besides, I have to leave some aspects of the topic for my post on gender in one of the G weeks, right?)

So, does anyone have any suggestions for a Pagan(ish) spiritual worldview that has room for non-reproduction-centered concepts of femaleness and femininity? For understandings of gender that aren’t limited to men, women, and the ones that change from one into the other socially? I’d be extremely interested to hear about all that I may have missed in my own explorations so far!

A is for Ancestors

Standard

The second post for the letter A is about Ancestors. This post is part of the Pagan Blog Project.

So who are my ancestors anyway?

The first thing that springs to mind is looking at my blood family tree: my parents, their parents, their parents, and so on. So let’s take a little glimpse in that direction.

My maternal grandmother (1936)

My mother (who is still alive) was born in Freiburg in southern Germany (Black Forest area) and both of her parents come from roughly the same area (Baden). Her mother (I’m told) was a cheerful, curious person who spent two years in Algeria as sort of a combined nanny-teacher in a French family in the mid-1930s when she was in her early twenties. I have transcriptions of her letters to her family about that time but haven’t read all of them, yet. Her father was a building inspector (I’m not quite sure what work that entailed back then, probably something architecture-related) and many of her other relatives were farmers.

My maternal grandfather with his father, sister and mother (1917)

My mother’s father came from a background of craftspeople, went on to become a teacher and eventually became a school principal. He also was an idealistic Nazi before and during the Second World War. I have a lot of letters he exchanged with his wife during the war but, again, I haven’t read all of them yet (because I can only digest so much of his naive glorification of Nazi Germany at a time). I believe he eventually ended up both wounded and a prisoner of war somewhere in the East. His wife (my maternal grandmother) died of cancer when my mother was 18, so I never met her. We didn’t see this grandfather very often (at most once a year), and I never really liked him. He eventually suffered from dementia and died at 90+ years when I was 16/17.

My paternal grandparents (late 1930s)

My father, who died almost exactly three years ago of cancer at the age of 69, was born in Lüchow in north-eastern Lower Saxony (Germany). His mother comes from the same area, and I assume his father did as well. His father used to be a forester/hunter. I don’t know much about him and never met him. His mother came from a family that owned a linen shop in Lüchow. She spent part of her youth in Spain, which she considered one of the best times of her life. She raised three sons basically by herself after her husband was killed in the Second World War and remained single for the rest of her life. She was very present during my childhood, which was easy since she always lived in the same city as we did or at least close by. I loved her a lot. At the end, she also suffered from dementia and eventually died at the age of 90+ years when I was 28.

As I was looking for a picture or two to go with this post, I realized that I have way more photos, letters, and transcribed diaries of my mother’s side of the family than I was aware of. Among these is a genealogy chart of my grandfather that goes back to the 1700s to what amounts to my great-great-great-great-great-grandparents. Ironically I have the Nazis and their demands for “racial purity” to thank for this, since he apparently had to fill it out to to be allowed to enter the Nazi teachers’ professional organization in the late 1930s.
The vast majority of these ancestors died in the same village near Heidelberg they were born in. Most of the men were (linen) weavers or some farmers (tobacco and asparagus were popular crops in that area), with a few other craftsmen and day-laborers sprinkled inbetween. It looks as if my grandfather actually was the first one to get any kind of higher education, and my mother was the first woman of her direct paternal line to ever attend any kind of university (not considering any siblings because I don’t have any data about them). It’s a bit strange to not see any professions listed for the women, because I suppose there was no shortage of work for them, and they probably did much of the same things as their husbands. Most of these ancestors were some kind of Protestant (Reformed or Lutheran), and one or two women were Catholic. That makes me the first child of that direct line never to be baptized in any kind of faith (my parents wanted to leave the decision what religion – if any – I wanted to belong to to me). I also saw that I share my birthday with a (great-)great-great-great-grandmother (she is both since two of her children married in two different generations), who was born in 1799.

Now that I know so much about that one branch of my family tree, I want to find out more about the other three of them. I believe a talk with my mother and a cousin of my father (who did some genealogy research of his own) is in order sometime soon.

My maternal grandfather with my mother (1940)

But let’s look at other kinds of ancestry. Most related to my blood ancestors is the national heritage of being a post-WW2 German, which I believe has a huge influence on my political thinking (which was already the case before I knew that my grandfather had been a convinced NSDAP party member and Nazi officer and several of my other relatives were at least casual Nazi supporters). To this day I often choose to speak up about injustices, even if it is to my disadvantage, because I don’t want to be accused of “not having said anything.” I don’t want to repeat the mistakes of previous Germans. I’m also very suspicious of any kind of national pride that some of my fellow Germans claim (and which has apparently become shockingly acceptable to display in relation to World Cup soccer matches again). I just can’t see how I can be proud of something I didn’t contribute to, especially a country I was more or less accidentally born into (depending on what you believe about previous lives, karma, and such things). I constantly question concepts of national or “racial” identity, point out the historical mutability of national borders, and try to show how the search for something “pure” and “original” in terms of ancestry and heritage is pretty pointless in a world where humans have always been migrating between areas, have been trading goods and customs with other cultural groups, and formed relationships with members of a different cultural background. So my German-ness is a kind of ancestry I claim somewhat hesitantly, although I also see that I am able to choose what to do with that heritage in terms of educating myself and others towards a non-Nazi-esque worldview.

So now that I’ve touched on the idea that my blood ancestry and national ancestry probably have an influence on me, even though I don’t believe they determine my fate, I would like to take my questioning the concept of ancestry a step futher.

I believe that there are influences that may have been at least equally important than these biological or geographical ancestors were to me. I mean, it’s not like my relatives played a major role in my upbringing (with the exception of my paternal grandmother). I saw them all maybe once a year, sometimes even less often. In my actual daily life, neighbors, friends, and some teachers were much more present and influential for me.

Lesbian bar (USA, 1940s)

And then there are the ancestors I also never met and with whom I share no blood relation or even geographical ties. You see, as a queer femme, I claim parts of the North American butch-femme and LGBT history as mine (I also claim small parts of German LGBT history as part of my heritage but not to the extent that I identify with much of North American LGBT history). And can I even call them ancestors when many of the more vocal members of certain generations and movements are still alive? Sure, some of this “ancestry” may be rather selective and romanticizing, but that doesn’t mean it feels any less real to me. I certainly can relate a lot more to their lives than I can relate to even my own grandfather.

It’s probably apparent by now that it’s a matter of perspective and (inner) debate who even belongs to my ancestors. Not to mention making any decisions about honoring any or all of them. Do I really want to honor a convinced Nazi? Do I ignore the political views of my grandfather and honor our shared love for nature instead? How do I handle the fact that he didn’t bring much happiness to his own wife and children (especially his daughter, my mother), even if he didn’t outright abuse any of them? Is it possible to view him as a human being and still condemn the opinions he held and his active support of the Nazi regime? What if I find out in reading more of his letters that he knew of the concentration camps and/or participated in killing people during his time in the military (at the least the latter of which seems pretty likely)? And what about my two grandmothers who were at least casual Nazi supporters for at least some of the time? I see that their main concerns wasn’t what happened in the political arena or even on the war fronts – the letters I have read clearly show that their everyday lives consisted of trying to feed their children in a war economy and getting by without their husbands instead. But still. What – if anything – did they know about Nazi cruelties? Did they denounce any neighbors? Or did they find their own small forms of resistance that didn’t endanger their husbands’ lives? Is ignorance an excuse for not doing anything against the Nazi regime?

Despite the length of this post, it’s all still a very superficial look at these issues, raising more questions than answering any. I’m definitely not done thinking about them, I’m not done researching, and I’m not done trying to put my thoughts into words. But for today, this post shall suffice, as imperfect as it is.

How to find new friends

Standard

I keep arriving at the conclusion that I would be happy to have a few more (close) friends in my life. I lost some former friends in relation to moving to a different city a few years ago, and at first was too busy there to get out much outside of my work. Now that has changed, my life has calmed down somewhat, and I feel ready to make new friends. I have already explored some options in the past, but without much lasting success. So I thought I’d ask the cards for input on this matter.

For the spread, I’m using this one by Caridwen from over at AT. I created this layout for it:

——-3–5—
1–2———7
——-4–6—

1. Current situationFree Spirit / Wandering Minstrel (Fool)

I would like to jump forward into new friendships, optimistically and with trust, bringing with me ways to express myself and to entertain others and collaborate with them. I’m also something of an oddity, so I don’t fit in very well in most circles but stick out like a sore thumb. Then again, that oddness is one of my main characteristics, so I need to find a way to take it with me into my new friendships.

2. What is blocking me from changing this situationTears / Five of Water

I’m focusing too much on what didn’t work in the past, what hurt me, and what made me feel alone. I (or my standards) may seem overwhelming to others, as if I’m never satisfied with what I have. Maybe I first have to deal with old emotions related to previous experiences (e.g. disappointment, sadness, anger) before I can move on into new friendships. Ivy is a plant often used as a cover, so I need to examine if my covering up of my oddness stands in my way instead of helping me move forward – or if I need to cover up more of it for the first steps of friendship to succeed.

3. What attracts people to meAwakening Spirit / Transformation (Judgement)

I’m familiar with the topic of change and transformation, and usually focus on its positive aspects (this could literally be about my familiarity with all sorts of transformations of gender, sexuality, and other identity labels). I can inspire people and be creative with them. I often seem to serve as a catalyst for changes in others. (I’m pretty sure the boots with the rainbow laces also have to say something but I can’t quite access that message right now.)

4. What puts people offSpiral Dance / Six of Fire

They may perceive me as unfocused, a Jack-of-all-trades, and may have difficulty following my flights of fancy and wild associations (I tend to be interested in many things and have ideas for many projects, usually many more than I can ever realize. I’m actually unhappy if I’m forced to limit my attention to just one project for more than a week or two. Other people often seem to translate that into a lack of commitment.). I’ve also noticed that some people have a hard time dealing with my ability to effortlessly learn the basics of many skills and topics in a very short time when they themselves had to work hard for that (I can’t help being like that, but I can see how it could be frustrating to others). Maybe they feel I’m not as grounded and reliable as they’d like (I know I have a hard time keeping in touch with anyone regularly). I’m wondering if the beech leaves and burrs point to Beech as a Bach flower, where it would be related to an overly critical stance (I could see how people might perceive me as overly focused on the negative because I often zoom in onto errors and disadvantages first, especially if everyone else doesn’t seem to see them. To me, that’s a normal part of evaluating an idea/project, but I can imagine I’d come across as harsher as I mean to at times).*

5. What are the right circumstances for me to find friendsGlow / Ten of Fire

I need to get up close and personal with them in a caring and gentle manner. This speaks to my preference for one-on-one conversations (or small groups) versus larger gatherings. Perhaps I need to look amongst older people instead of younger ones. I also may benefit from focusing on giving instead of getting. The image also reminds me of my volunteer work with a hospice service (the main part of our training will start in November, so that could also be a place to meet potential new friends).

6. What are the wrong circumstancesThe Peace Keeper / King of Air

The wrong circumstances are anywhere where “keeping the peace” and diplomacy have the highest priority over expressing one’s opinions (and hearing others), learning through arguments, and being able to be powerful. The bird of prey (falcon?) in the background reminds me of something I once said: “A hawk can’t be a chicken, no matter how hard she tries.” This speaks to my need to be able to exercise my powers/abilities and not having that perceived as negative but merely as a part of my “nature.”

7. Overall GuidanceThe Council / Five of Air

I’m pretty sure I’m not meant to read even more instead of meeting people… ;-)
The book makes me think of learning, and of writing. I may need to learn more about how “regular” people work. I still often assume that everyone is more or less “like me” and will therefore “get” me (until proven otherwise), but experience shows that that’s not a helpful strategy when it comes to living as a queer, intellectually highly gifted, spiritually interested individual. The vast majority of people simply are not like me, and it doesn’t help to pretend that our differences don’t exist. Instead, I need to find a way to be true to myself without stepping on too many toes in the process (in the past I’ve erred in both of those directions, so the right balance isn’t so easy to find). The writing part could mean that journaling (blogging?) about these issues could be helpful. I’m also thinking of taking a page from someone else’s book, but I’m not quite sure whose book would work best for me here… Finally, I take this to mean that I shouldn’t judge myself or others too harshly. Not every piece of communication can be a huge success, and it may take some time until I’ve made any close new friends.

——-

The most difficult card for me to read was the one in position 3 (Awakening Spirit). This could be because I don’t find the card image very evocative, or it could be because I’m not quite sure (anymore) what people like about me… At any rate, this has been another interesting reading.

I’m finding the deck slanted towards the positive (especially on the LWB sheets for the minors), but apparently I can read the images themselves positively or negatively as needed. I’m wondering if certain plants or animals mean something special if they’re not the main focus of the card (e.g. the choice of plants in Awakening Spirit or Glow – all summer plants? -, or the choice of a falcon over a hawk or eagle in The Peace Keeper) or if they just serve to symbolize a general connection to nature and maybe a certain season. I’ve actually just looked up ivy and beech and have then gone back to the reading to add additional insights about their (potential) meaning in this spread. This could be an interesting aspect of Waking the Wild Spirit and an inspiration for learning more about the plants and animals depicted!

ETA: * While the description in this text about the Bach flower Beech seem rather extreme, I still find worthwhile points for consideration in it. It might be useful to remember that one doesn’t have to be a “Beech personality” to be able to relate to certain points of the description.