Tag Archives: transgender

First, let’s get confused (Rune Cards)

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Here’s my first reading with the Rune Cards.

—1—
2—–3

I’m going to look at the card image alone first and will then consult the little white book (LWB) that comes with the deck. I’m giving the Anglo-Saxon rune names first, followed by the Elder Futhark names (if applicable) in parenthesis, if only so I can learn all names. The images are borrowed from another website that I sadly haven’t bookmarked, so I can’t tell you the source.

1. Where am I in terms of my spirituality right now?Aurochs / Ur (Uruz)

Two big drinking horns lie on a table, together with a die that has the rune of “ur” carved on it. One of the drinking horns has metal decorations at the rim and point, the other is left plain. A male aurochs stands in the background, facing the left and looking slightly to the front. (Actually, the animal looks more like a buffalo than an actual aurochs, but for now I’m willing to accept that as artistic license.)

The opening of the decorated drinking horn is facing the viewer, looking a bit like an entrance to a cave or something. That makes me think of the oft-quoted tunnel-like passage that many shamanic journeyers encounter at the beginnings of their journeys (particularly to the Lower World). From the outside, it’s just a drinking horn, but there’s no telling where the inside passage leads. The fact that there are two entrances also suggests that choosing one (the right one?) might be of importance here. And the die makes me think that consulting an oracle (or, if you prefer that view, making a choice by a random method) might just be the way to go.

The aurochs itself makes me think of wild cattle and the role they played for our ancestors (I’m only referring to what is now roughly considered European territory here because that’s the cultural background of the runes and the illustrations of this deck. That’s not supposed to suggest that aurochs or other wild cattle weren’t present elsewhere.). Aurochs were hunted (I assume that all parts of their bodies were used for food, clothing, and tools)  and paintings of them appear in several prehistoric caves, such as Lascaux or Chauvet. All in all, it makes me think of a very early time in human history, and different ways of connecting to that ancestry (such as shamanic journeying, experiential archeology, scientific research, etc.). And that suggests that there is always more than one method to reach the goal of connecting, and that most likely a combination of them will bring the best (= most useful, most reliable, most respectful) results.

The fact that the animal depicted on the card is not actually an aurochs makes me think that I need to keep checking the “facts” of whatever I’m told is the “truth” about any spiritual path. While a bison or buffalo is probably closer to an aurochs than a Holstein dairy cow, it’s still not the same, and the difference may indeed matter. So this is not about just believing everything, even if it comes from an “expert” but to do my own research and verification process to get confirmation of something.

So, let’s see what the LWB has to add to that. The rune poem given for Ur consists of four stanzas and centers on the value of strength and the will to fight, as well as on the need to temper it with courage, determination, wisdom and cunning. In other words, “Those who have strength but lack strategy will become the captive of others.”

The divinatory meanings mention assertive strength again (not necessarily physical strength, though) and also speak of the need to conserve strength, to rest and recuperate.

All in all, I would say this card is about allowing for some time until I actively go into that cave/tunnel again (that is, before I take any further steps, especially on a shamanic path). Instead, some reflection of whose values and “truths” I want to take on as mine seems to be in order. And that makes a lot of sense, because I’m still busy shedding all the expectations of my former workplace and related environments and reconnecting to my “roots” (mostly of my own life history for now).

2. What’s the next step for me? What should I do?Weapon / Yr

This shows a scene of hands-on battle. There are a lot of helmets, swords, arrows, a few shields, and some faces contorted in yelling. Bolts of lighting strike down from the night sky, ravens (or crows) fly above the battlefield, and a big battle axe with the “yr” rune engraved on it is held up in the foreground of the picture.

I know that thunder(bolts) are associated with the hammer-wielding Northern god Thor, but I’m not sure that the ravens aren’t borrowed from Celtic/Irish mythology here (as related to the war goddesses Badb and Morrígan). However, Wikipedia tells me that “the word [for raven] was frequently used in combinations as a kenning for bloodshed and battle,” so I might be mistaken here.

The battle looks like a scene of much chaos, violence and fear to me, and it’s certainly not a scene that I’d happily enter. I’m in no way the type to engage in physical battle (although I believe I would be able to defend myself against a physical one-on-one attack), and even shy away from peaceful demonstrations or big concerts because I never trust “the masses” around me to be on my side when push comes to shove. However, the battle axe with the rune suggests a guiding principle which might just give structure (if not sense) to the chaos. The lightning bolts make me think of divine intervention, for better or worse, and suggest there might be a bigger plan to all of it, even if I can’t see it from my current point of view.

Besides the idea that finding my own guiding principles probably is a good idea before I enter any “battle” I’m not quite sure what this card is telling me to do.

Let’s see if the LWB can shed some light on this. The rune poem praises the use of the axe-hammer as a piece of war-gear and suggests it is a useful thing to have with you on a journey. The divinatory meanings for the card list several verbs that describe violent destruction of a thing or person and state that the “enemy could be an opponent or an illness, or anything that could be harmful to you.”

Right now, this seems to underline the wild aspect of the Ur card, so perhaps my reading of that as waiting some more before action takes place isn’t quite right? I hope the third card will clarify this matter some more!

3. What should I avoid?Ing (Ingwaz)

A big fire burns upon an otherwise snow-covered hill surrounded by a forest in the night. Its flames merge with a Green Man-like face made of what looks like oak leaves.

The depiction of a god or land spirit (I think that Ing is another name of Freyr, but I need to check that later on) makes this card different from the other two that only used things that are on the more material side of things (or symbols for deities like the flashes of lightning). In terms of something not to do as my next step I would think this means I’m not supposed to attempt any direct spirit communication at this point.

Okay, let’s check Wikipedia first. Ing, or Yngvi, is indeed an older name for the god Freyr. From what little I already know about the Northern deities, Freyr is a Vanir god and embodies a fertile masculinity that is much tied to the land and to sunshine and prosperity. Thor, on the other hand, is an Aesir god who is associated more with battle, protection, and physical strength. In other words, there are two different kinds of masculinity that appear as “do” and “don’t” for me in this reading.

That alone is rather interesting, since masculinity has indeed been an issue for me in the more recent past. Not only has my partner transitioned into an everyday life as someone who is almost always read as a “man” (despite his remaining self-identification as a third-gender butch), I have also been read as an “unfeminine” woman, especially in work-related contexts (despite my remaining self-identification as a queer femme). I have struggled (and continue to do so) with how the way his gender is perceived now changes the way my gender is perceived by others (no matter that the changes of his gender as I perceive it away from the rest world have actually been minimal – although that kind of separation is of course an illusion possible only for the sake of the argument). As a result, I’ve come to the realization that outside perception plays a much bigger role in one’s gender reality than I initially thought, and that includes the perception of the gender of the people we’re with. While this is all really fascinating in an academic way, it still means that I’m rather unsure of how to deal with this in my practical life.

I’m also wondering if this emphasis on traditionally “masculine” aspects is just a feature of this reading, or if it is part and parcel of Northern Tradition Paganism as such. I have touched on my own gender issues before, so I’ll just say here that it would be a problem for me if femininity and masculinity in Northern Tradition Paganism were divided along the same old lines of warrior and homemaker/caretaker.

But before I continue to draw the different parts of the reading together to make sense of them all, let’s see what the LWB has to say about the Ing card. Once again, I’m not sure how “purely” Northern the story of the Lord (Ing) and Lady (his sister Eostre) and Ing going to sleep over winter and being roused again by burning holly is (Wikipedia says that Freyr’s sister is Freya, not Eostre, and a superficial Google search finds no relation of Freyr to holly). In fact, the whole “Lord and Lady” business sounds awfully Wiccan to me (although, admittedly, Freyr and Freya actually mean Lord and Lady), and holly is mostly mentioned in relation to the twice-yearly fight of the Holly King and Oak King. At any rate, the LWB rune poem mentions Ing as a hero, and someone who traveled over water. It also lists a lot of positive associations along the lines of hope, optimism, fertility, rebirth, etc.

Well, that doesn’t help me much, I’m afraid. I think I shall continue with my own takes for now.

So let’s go back to whats actually on the cards. One thing that stands out to me is the very similar shape of the Ur and Yr runes. Yr looks like Ur with an extra line down. If I leave everything aside that I have read about the runes/cards during the assembly of this reading, I would say that it could be an extra grounding line. In that metaphor, Ur is the idea, the potential and Yr is the application, the manifestation of it. Nevertheless, the Yr and Ing cards are similar in how they show mostly sky (and spirit) and only a little bit of the earth/ground…

Well.

I think we can safely say that I’ve successfully managed to confuse myself to the point of wanting to scratch the reading in its entirety. I guess that what happens when I mix up research and divination to a point that goes beyond checking a fact that I already have in the back of my mind or looking up the translation of an idiom. The part that confuses me most is the battle scene of Yr as my “do” of this reading because I really can’t relate to that imagery at this point in my life. I don’t want to jump headfirst into any kind of battle, but I want to reflect and heal and go slowly instead.

I did learn a few things about this deck and about the runes as such during this reading, though, and that’s always a good thing. I realized that my usual way of reading cards (or other oracles) probably isn’t working very well with this deck as long as I want to use it to learn the runes as such, because what I see in the images is not what I read about the runes and what I would associate with the rune names, the respective stanzas of the rune poem translations, or the rune shapes themselves. I’m not giving up on the approach of doing both things at the same time (reading with this deck and learning the runes as such) just yet, but if future readings turn out to be equally confusing, I might have to do just that. In that case, I might have to decide whether to take this deck as a paper version of the runes (and ignore the images – which would beg the question why I would then use an illustrated deck) or to use the deck as I use my other oracle decks (and ignore the runes – which would lead me to wonder if it’s possible to learn the runes in some other way and still not get distracted by their presence in this oracle).

For now, I’d be grateful for any input on this reading by any of you. Maybe you know more about the runes and can give me some useful pointers about how to interpret what I drew here? Or maybe you see something in the card images that has escaped my attention? All reading methods are welcome!

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Taking stock of the transition

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It seems a good time to look back on the past years during which my partner’s transition took place.  (Perhaps I should point out that drawing a finishing line here is a bit random since there really is no clear start or end to this process. Just some landmarks to attach meaning to.) At any rate, I also wanted to try out the spread I developed this week. I modified it a bit to better suit my current situation.

Note: I’m not going to explain everything the reading touched upon for me in depth, so please don’t assume that I thought of the same things as you do when you read it.

—–8—–
—6–7—
2–3–4–5
—–1—–

1. This symbolizes my partner’s transition seen through my eyes.Heart

It really hit me hard/heart. It put my love to the test. Emotional rawness.

It just went on and on and on, seemingly without end.

It was all about cutting open the chest – that’s where it started (with his desire to get rid of his female-looking breasts) and that’s where it ended (with this desire fulfilled).

It brought up the question of where my heart leads me many times. There has been a lot of pressure. And I (re)visited some places I’ve been at before, in a quasi-circle.

2. How the transition affected my sense of identity/how I feel about myself.Batter

I was practically put through the blender… Parts of me got broken open and reintegrated in new ways, other parts got discarded. I know the bees in the picture are supposed to symbolize sweetness, but today they rather feel like the flies from the Housewives Tarot’s Death card to me. And yes, there were parts of me that died, and not always a gentle and easy death.

The batter in the picture will probably end up as a delicious dish, but for now it’s in a preliminary, in-between state that’s neither here nor there – and that’s exactly how I feel (and have been feeling for a long time). So the real frying pan is still to come? And if so, should this make me feel hopeful or fearful or both?

3. How it affected how I feel about my partner/our relationship.Clean out Closet

Oh yeah, I really went through the whole damn thing, looking at every single item trying to decide whether to keep it or throw it away because it doesn’t fit anymore. The clothes rails have become rather empty at times when I felt there really wasn’t much I/we could still wear! As the heap of clothes on the floor indicates, this work isn’t done yet. The next step will be taking stock of what’s left, and deciding what “pieces” we need to replace with an updated version, which ones we need to exchange for something else entirely, and which ones we don’t need anymore at all.

For me, this card also already implies the issue of erotic attraction since clothing has had major symbolical value for both of us in that area. And I did literally change the way I dress and how I feel about clothes. Let’s just say that I didn’t exactly end up in a happy place with that, but I’m still hopeful that I can change that again. Possibly by literally going through my clothes.

And finally, there’s the closet as a metaphor for being out as whatever non-majority thing one is… I certainly had to change what I could truthfully come out about, and doing so became a whole lot more complicated than it ever was before (there just isn’t any short way to explain who I am and what we are together anymore). In this context, the untidy heap of stuff on the floor is all the messy and complicated things that I usually just left out of conversations. But not talking about them didn’t make them go away, and they kept (and keep) burdening me. Sometimes I really wish there was a simple way to tell the truth about us…

4. How it affected my sexuality/desire (for my partner and/or generally).Swimming

At some point I stopped trusting that the waters would carry me safely. I thought I had to conform to certain patterns (like the synchronized swimming that’s happening here), and that didn’t work well. And just as we never went swimming together (to be fair: this wasn’t entirely due to the chest situation), there wasn’t much desire/sexuality happening for me in the past few years.

There was very little playing around in an element that I both enjoy being in tremendously and that also scares the shit out of me. I definitely spent a lot of time being scared and therefore avoiding even the smallest kind of exploration. To be fair, I can’t even tell how much of that loss of libido was really caused by the transition and related issues, because life isn’t so cut and dry. It still happened around the same time as the transition, so I have a hard time separating the two occurences.

At any rate, I practically lost all of my libido, with few exceptions to that rule. And this wasn’t just about my partner and the ways he changed. I also rarely felt any attraction to anyone else (real or fictional) and basically stopped being interested in sex generally (which is quite a big change for someone who used to basically study sexuality only a few years before).

I hope that I can find a way to change all this because it doesn’t make me happy.

5. How it affected my relation to the queer community.Grandma’s Handbag

It made it something that didn’t belong to me and that I couldn’t relate to (my grandmother never had a mysteriously-exciting Hermione-Granger-ish handbag with all sorts of things to take care of small emergencies). Instead, I often felt like I was the “old” woman who kept telling stories about how much better the butch-femme past had been, when there wasn’t such an emphasis on transitioning and femmes still were considered a fundamental part of the community instead of being shoved to the edges of the new trans(masculine) scenes. I couldn’t identify with the concerns of the new generation of queers who in turn couldn’t care less for my concerns. It just made me feel inadequate, unattractive, outdated and out-of-touch. That resulted in me not going out anymore and even leaving an online community that had been my virtual living room for many years, which in turn didn’t help with feeling as if I belonged to the queer community.

6. What I can do to best take care of my own needs from now on.Kitchen Table

I obviously need to find me a community again. I’m sick and tired of being isolated and alone, of never feeling included, and of also thinking of myself as a horrible host and a not much better guest. Maybe I even need to consider ways to live that aren’t limited to two people in a relationship sharing a tiny apartment that is located somewhat outside of everything.

At any rate, I miss cooking together and spending hours sitting at the kitchen table, talking about anything and everything. I miss having guests, especially spontaneous ones.

I miss being part of a group that works together on creating something important to all its members. I have no idea where to find all that again, but this card really speaks volumes to me about the need to seriously look for it and help create it.

Of course this is also about having someone to talk to about all of this (which I have, and I’m tremendously grateful for those people), so that’s something I’ll definitely continue!

7. Where I will find support as I continue to deal with the changes that the transition brought.Hairdye

I’m grinning here because this reminds me of the joys of dying my hair in all the colors of the rainbow (although not usually at the same time) and the excitement because you never knew how it would look before it was done. It also makes me think of spending time on one’s outward appearance (including hair, clothes, make-up, and jewelry) and not considering that a waste of time at all. It’s been a looong time since I felt like that! So yeah, I can see how I would find support in front of my mirror, transforming myself into this or that or that.

Perhaps there really is a spiritual element to these kinds of transformations, as the halo-like glow around the hairdye suggests. It might be interesting to explore the intersections of spirituality and outward appearance (which really never is about how you look but how that makes you feel)…

Either way, this card suggests that I need to change myself, possibly with the help of others (try coloring hair that is nearly waist-long with henna on your own and you’ll see why you’ve been provided with some fellow human beings who can wield a dyeing brush!). I believe the goal is to both make apparent who I am “inside” and to help me enjoy my body and the many different ways to make it look again.

8. Summary of where his transition has taken me.Truck

Somewhere else! It has put me in a possibly permanent in-between state. It has put me in a situation where I had to pack up the essential things to take with me and leave the rest behind. There may be a new home waiting for me somewhere else where I want to settle down, but I may also end up being permanently “nomadic” – always changing locations but still having my own space to withdraw to when I need to.

I’m heartened by the fact that the truck has a winged heart on its door, which to me suggests that love needs to be free to go where it needs to. It also means love will be with me, whereever I go. And since I can’t drive, I’m probably not going alone here. ;)

Which brings me to the U-Haul theme of moving together, symbolizing entering a committed relationship. Well, we’ve moved together already several years ago, but there may be another level of commitment to each other that the transition has made apparent. If we can handle that kind of crisis together, we can probably handle a lot of other potential crises as well (not that the transition was the only major crisis we already went through together!).

The truck also speaks of carrying a heavy load from one place to another. And it has been a heavy load to carry at times.

Finally, the heart on the door ties the reading back to the heart in the first card, suggesting that it may have been the experience (the path) that was important, not the goal.

—–

Well, that was an interesting rollercoaster of a reading alright! I still think there’s more depth to the reading than I could access right now, so I think I’ll leave out the spread for a few more days.

I’m very happy to see that the deck reads wonderfully for me (especially since a reading I did for someone else this week was completely off), and that it works well in a bigger spread, too. It seems to be a deck where going down more than one path in reading each card actually helps instead of confusing matters. It seems to be extraordinarily suited to accepting contradictions and weird associations. And I still love, love, love the artwork!

Tarot spread for partners of transgender people

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A while ago, I found a tarot spread for transgender people (designed by nami) that dealt with their transition. I was immediately inspired to create a spread for partners of transgender people so they can check as well how any changes might impact them. Now I’m finally sitting down to do just that.

At first, I wanted to make one huge spread that included all potential steps and aspects of a transition. But that quickly seemed overwhelming and not very useful, especially since we’re talking about quite a long period of time here (let’s face it, transitioning is a rather drawn-out process, even if you’re lucky, and how we feel about things may well change during the process). So I decided to make a general spread that can be used for whatever is the next step someone’s transgendered partner is considering/going to take. You could still use it to read about the transition in general, though.

I strongly suggest not mixing this spread with questions about how to best support your partner, but to do a separate reading on that after you’ve clarified where you stand yourself.

This is because I’m operating on the assumption (drawn from my own experience and observations) that partners of trans people are most often cast only in the combined roles of supporter, sounding board, caretaker, cheerleader, main gender identity confirmer, and general safe haven (if we are cast in a positive light, that is). There is often very little space for us to talk about our own issues with our partner’s transition, especially if we feel less than cheerful about certain aspects of it. In fact, if we voice the slightest question or criticism, we often find ourselves being accused of being transphobic and unsupportive.

Therefore I would like to acknowledge that trans partners often find ourselves in a position where we decide to stay with a partner through their transition (or at least start out the process with them) and then are subject to a whole list of unforeseen side effects of that decision, not all of which are fun and easy for us (even if they are a reason to celebrate for our partners). We may have doubts or fears or even plain old stupid prejudices, and we need to work through that in our own ways for the sake of our own health and sanity (and also occasionally for the sake of our relationships). Even if we are wholeheartedly supportive of the transition and the changes it’s bringing, we may still have things to say goodbye to and grieve about. I hope this tarot spread is one more resource that is useful for doing just this kind of work.

That said, I believe the spread can easily be adapted to be of use to a trans person themselves. Of course it could also be adapted for friends, family, or other people in the trans person’s environment who want to reflect on their own role in the process (in that case, you might want to change position 5 to something else or leave it out altogether). All it takes for either adaptation is a few changes to the wording of the spread positions.

So, here it finally is. The spread for dealing with your trans partner’s next transition step.

The layout is shaped like an arrow to emphasize that transitioning is a process, not a fixed state.

—–9—–
—7–8—
3–4–5–6
—–2—–
—–1—–

You could also lay it out sideways:

——-3——
——-4–7—
1–2———9
——-5–8—
——-6——

  1. This symbolizes the next step of your partner’s transition (e.g. dressing differently, name/pronoun change, taking hormones, having surgery) seen through your eyes.
  2. How you can best prepare for the next step.
  3. How this step affects your sense of identity/how you feel about yourself.
  4. How this step affects how you feel about your partner/your relationship.
  5. How this step affects your sexuality/desire (for your partner and/or generally).
  6. How this step affects your relation to the community (draw more than one card if there is more than one important community/family/group that is relevant here).
  7. What you can do to best take care of your own needs while this next step is happening.
  8. Where you will find support as you deal with the changes that the next step brings.
  9. Summary of where the next step is going to take you.

I’d love to hear what you think, even if you’re neither transgender yourself nor a partner or loved one of a trans person. Is this spread useful to do what I meant it to do? Is an important aspect lacking? Are there spread positions that could be renamed or removed? Is this applicable to a wide range of trans people’s partners (because a lesbian whose girlfriend transitions into a life as a man will find herself in a different situation with different concerns than a married woman whose husband transitions into life as a woman)? What do you think?

I is for Instead…

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This post is (almost) part of the Pagan Blog Project (PBP). It’s (not really) the second one for the letter I.

At first I thought I’d be able to do “I is for Interview” with someone I find interview-worthy. But that quickly turned impossible due to time constraints. Then I thought I’d skip the whole second “I” week altogether. Today I finally decided I would do a post about what I would have posted about if I hadn’t been so set on finding something that started with “I” to write about.

My brilliant friend M. just programmed a digital version of a cardboard oracle I once made her. It’s entirely text-based and consists of nothing but bits and pieces of Depeche Mode lyrics. Her digital version also comes in beautiful shades of red (including oranges and purples) and a range of different fonts. I’m not sure she’d be okay with me linking to this oracle (I will ask, though), so all you get today is a little glimpse of one of the results.

I asked about the post I would have written for last week if I had found an approach to make it fit any word starting with “I.” This is what I got:

What to say

My mind is in a state of confusion
But I can’t deny the way I feel

I would have told you about my feelings concerning my partner’s transition from sort-of-female to sort-of-male, which is now nearing an end with the surgery he’s had earlier this week. I would also have told you that my thoughts often were rather confused, so that I often didn’t even know why I was feeling the way I was feeling. Why all those tears? Did the last 2.5 years catch up with me and presented me with this opportunity to cry some more about things I may not have cried about enough (all those more or less transition-related and not entirely cheerful changes that came as side effects of my repeated decision to continue sharing my life with this wonderful human being)? Or was this mainly the immense relief that a) my partner is alive and well after the surgery, and b) the whole official transitioning process is finally coming to an “end”? I still don’t know. I just know that I apparently had some crying and grieving to do.

Why to say it

Only you exist here

Because it’s my blog and I can post whatever the damn I want. And if it doesn’t fit the frame of the Pagan Blog Project and its alphabetical order, then it doesn’t fit the frame, but I can still post it.

How to say it

Things on your chest
You need to confess

I would have dug deep into the heavy things on my heart. The worries that my Beloved might die during surgery, that he might hate the result, that he might realize that this wasn’t what he needed after all. The tense moments between us when emotions were raw and tender on both sides. The way I couldn’t share much of why I was grieving with other people (especially at work where they expected me to still function). The guilt I felt about describing him with terms he wouldn’t have chosen himself (at least not in this or that situation) because I was so full of other people’s stories.

Not to mention all the different stories I tell about this, depending on who I’m talking to. Some get the picture-book story of the “transsexual,” others get the slightly more complicated version of “he doesn’t identify as either male or female, but still found the parts of the world with the little ‘man’ sign the better fit for him,” yet others also get the information that he hasn’t stopped identifying as queer and butch and never actually identified as a transman. And then there’s my role to explain. There is the noticeably feminine supportive partner who emphasizes his masculinity/maleness when it seems necessary. Then there is the partner who doesn’t even care much anymore how her sexual preferences are called anymore because every term (except queer, which has no German equivalent) is wrong. And then there is the lesbian-to-queer femme who supports her individual partner and his choices (plus several friends and theirs) but still is critical of many things she sees in the trans* world. And the one who gets pissed off that most people consider her the “normally gendered” one compared to her partner. To name just a few of the people we’ve been in this or that context during the last 2.5 years.

All in all, it would have  shown you how messy all of this trans* stuff is for me and us, how inadequate the official terms and concepts are to describe our lived experience, and how ambiguous many of my feelings about trans*ness and physical transitions still are. Which has nothing to do with how much I support my partner in creating his own path through transition land and in a world that mostly operates on binary gender.

So, this is what I would have said. In a lot more words.

G is for Gender (of humans and deities)

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This post is part of the Pagan Blog Project. It’s the second one for the letter G.
I’ve announced this post a few times already, and now I’m finally sitting down to write it. Parts of my thoughts about gender have already been included in these previous posts:

D is for Dualities (and why so many of them aren’t very useful)
F is for Female. Feminine. Feminism. Femme. … Fertility?

Despite (or maybe because?) having a Master’s degree in Gender Studies, I still don’t get the idea of gender as a duality, let alone a binary. Sure, I experience (and categorize) some people as more masculine or more feminine than others, and I myself feel more masculine or feminine in certain situations, but that really doesn’t mean much for anyone outside my head.

Franklin Roosevelt in gender-neutral children's clothes of the time (1884)

Because gender isn’t at all a simple thing about two kinds of bodies or even two kinds of energies. What is considered masculine or feminine is so different throughout history and cultures that I can only laugh at anyone’s claims that anything about gender is “natural.” Even if we stick to one culture and one time in history, what is considered feminine or masculine still isn’t the same all over the board, and class and race/ethnicity are just two things that influence gender. To give you just a few examples: Pink used to be a boys’ color in Europe/Northern America up until the 1940s (because it was a pastel version of red, which was considered a masculine color). The most manly thing for an stereotypically Jewish man to do wasn’t (and probably isn’t) to go and prove his physical strength but to become a scholar. Anatomy is pretty much irrelevant in some Native American nations which assigned gender by way of the social role and skill sets (sorry, but you need to log in to view the link) someone took up.

Even if we limit our understanding of a “natural” gender difference to our physical bodies, things are a lot more complicated than bathroom doors suggest. Physical gender (aka physical sex) is made up from a combination of chromosomes, gonads, hormones, genitalia, and secondary sex characteristics like the amount and placement of body hair or the presence or absence of breasts. Not to mention brain chemistry that has become so popular recently for pinpointing gender differences to somewhere within our bodies. And yes, any of these parts may or may not conform to a certain human-made standard of “normalcy” for someone “male” or “female.” Actual humans are born with widely varied combinations of the factors contributing to physical gender. And we all develop from an embryonal state that is the same for each of us. (I strongly recommend Anne Fausto-Sterling’s Sexing the Body for a potentially mind-blowing biological perspective and lots more details.) Our gender is assigned to us at birth, usually by the judgment of the midwife, doctor, or nurse of what they see between the newborn’s legs. If that seems too ambiguous to them, further tests may be made to look for chromosomes or other biological “evidence” for the gender of this person. And let’s not forget the variance that occurs even among people who are genetically female (or male). Not every woman has breasts of a size that would fill even the smallest bra available (and I’m not just talking about women who’ve had mastectomies as part of their cancer treatment). Not every man has a penis of a size that would fill even the smallest condom available (and I’m not just talking about men who’ve had accidents that reduced the size of their genitalia). Not every woman is able to get pregnant and give birth, and not every man is able to sire a child. Few people would seriously argue that either of them wasn’t a “real” woman or man.

And we haven’t even talked about people of any anatomy who enjoy wearing skirts and nail polish and wielding power tools and discussing astrophysics and still fully identify with the gender they were assigned at birth. Or those who enjoy wearing flannel shirts and big boots and cooking five-course meals for their loved ones and needlecrafts who also embrace what their birth certificate always said about their gender. Nor have we talked about those who were assigned one of the two commonly acknowledged genders at birth and have eventually come to the conclusion that the other of those two commonly acknowledged genders would actually be a better fit for them socially, and/or in the way their body looks, and who then go on to legally change the gender on their official documents and/or and physically change their bodies to fit better with the gender they identify with. This includes but isn’t limited to transsexual/transgender people (male-to-female or transwomen, female-to-male or transmen), some third-gender folk, some Two-Spirit individuals, and some genderqueer people.

It should be obvious by now why I would argue that gender is one of those dualities that don’t make much sense because there aren’t any clear ways to accurately and usefully measure it or to even agree on what actually belongs to “gender.” And that’s without even getting into the “nature vs. nurture” debate.

"Thomas Beatie" by Marc Quinn, 2008

All of this has been the reality of my experience of gender within and around me for the majority of my life. The first intersex individual among my friends came out to us fifteen years ago. Many of my friends and some of my lovers/partners have been (are) transgender and I’ve witnessed their social, legal, and/or physical transitions first hand. And they are just the most obvious examples of the gender variety I’ve seen, felt, and lived for at least half of my life. This is what’s normal to me (and I haven’t even started on people’s sexual variations that intersect with all this gender variety!). It’s normal to me that people are able change aspects of their gender presentation, including their bodies, more or less drastically (and with more or less legal/medical support). It’s normal to me that no human interest or capability is inherently masculine or feminine, let alone male or female (ever since Thomas Beatie the point should have been made even to the greater public that sometimes men do in fact get pregnant and give birth). I should probably also say that it is normal to me that I can also clearly see differences in individual capabilities or interests, and that I also see the influence of larger forces like education, society, and media onto how accessible some of these interests/skills are to specific individuals or groups of individuals (aka sexism et al.).

Of course, I carry over this experience and understanding of gender into my search for a spiritual tradition (or non-tradition) that makes enough sense to me to claim it as my own. And that is where I get stuck all the time. I just can’t seem to find a tradition that sees gender like I do.

Wicca (which I encountered first because it’s so omnipresent in neo-Pagan writing) has its binary God and Goddess. It was pretty clear from the beginning that I wasn’t even going there, because I certainly won’t stick a knife into a cup to symbolize the union of gender energies by way of alluding to penis-in-vagina intercourse. Not even for me as a butch-loving femme did this seem like a good representation of gender because my femininity/femmeness can be just as active and penetrative as anyone’s masculinity and/or butchness, both on a literal and a symbolical level. Besides that, the whole two-gender system of it all didn’t make much sense to me.

Other polytheistic pantheons have a larger amount male and female deities, but none of them quite fit in with a femaleness like mine that wasn’t defined by the presence or absence of fertility/physical children. But at least there were several men and women to spread characteristics around a bit. There were even “virgin” goddesses like Athena or Artemis who weren’t mainly concerned with housekeeping and bearing children. There also were “monstrous” female deities like Kali. But still. I never quite found what I was looking for. I still felt left out. I also never quite found the same kind of masculinity I saw in my butch partners in any deity (male or female), but I’ll admit I didn’t spend all too much time on male deities to begin with.

I already described my experience with looking for queerness and gender variance among deities by way of reading Raven Kaldera’s Hermaphrodeities. Let’s sum it up with: it wasn’t helpful at all.

So what’s a person to do who seems to have a pretty androgynous mind, a queer-feminist consciousness, and a female/feminine body that she likes equally well when bellydancing as when assembling furniture and wh experiences only society dysphoria when it comes to gender?

For a long time I thought I needed just get used to the necessity of putting everything Pagan through my ever-present culture filter that translates things into queerspeak for me until I could at least accept a little corner of it. Or, if that wasn’t enough, that I needed to invent my very own non-tradition and mix up a queerly Pagan worldview of my own.

However, recently I’ve felt given in to explore Heathenry/Asatru/Northern Tradition Paganism a little more in-depth. Perhaps not surprisingly, I’ve found myself to be especially interested in the female jötnar (giants) and their not-quite-so domestic femaleness. I don’t have any conclusions to make about this, however, as this exploration is still very much in its ongoing early phases.

And then I read something in another blog a few days ago, not much more than a remark in passing, that almost made me smack my head in sudden understanding.

The gender of Gods, I believe, is part of the metaphor, the story that we humans create to fit them into our worldview.

Duh! Of course! You should think I forgot my entire Gender Studies education the way I apparently haven’t been able to realize this for myself: the way humans have talked and portrayed the gender of deities is of course heavily influenced by what we even have words for. Why would we think and speak differently about divine genders than we would about human ones? And why would our perception of deities and their gender not be subject to change the same way that our understanding and perception of human gender changes?

Zeus giving birth to Athena

Maybe I shouldn’t be so quick to dismiss all deities that are reported to have had heterosexual relationships when there are also so many stories of the exact same deities changing gender, shapeshifting into animals or humans, and giving birth to children out of bodyparts like their armpits or foreheads?! Maybe I shouldn’t take the surviving lore as “all that there is” and at least accept the possibility that deities may look different in reality (that is, in my own eyes, if I should ever be able to look at them directly) than the pictures other humans have created of them, and that they may end up being a lot more varied in their gender expressions as well? Why on earth did I ever buy into mainstream Pagan illustrations like that and simply accepted them as objective truth?! Why, oh why, did I ever think that deities couldn’t be as varied in the ways they embodied their gender as us humans (and probably more so)?! Honestly, this is all a rather embarrassing realization for me, not because I finally have it but because it took me so long to get to this point. Haven’t I read enough about “UPG” (unverified personal gnosis) and “PCPG” (peer-corroborated personal gnosis) to know there’s more to deities (especially Heathen ones) than the surviving lore? But for some reason, the connection never clicked with my thoughts about gender. Until now.

I’m not quite sure where that leaves me, but I already sense an interest to look at mythology again, this time with a queer eye for any traces of gender “normalization” (I can’t quite explain right now how that works, but it’s not as simple as nodding wisely at the point where Loki changes into a mare…). And I definitely want to examine my own assumptions about divine gender some more to see where I did my own “normalizing.” And maybe I can even try and see what happens to my thinking about deities when I don’t take their gender as one of their main defining characteristics and instead look for personalities. I think I now have some very interesting reading (and writing?) ahead of me!

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Bonus link list:

Other people have also written about gender during the Pagan Blog Project. Here are some links to articles I liked so far, to sort of conclude the topic of gender (for now).

Pixiecraft: “Gods, Goddess, and Gender from one’s Grrrl’s Perspective
Per Sebek: “G is for Gender, Queerness, and the Gods
Adventures on the Dusken Path: “Fertility (And how it’s kinda exclusive)”
Walk Softly, Witch: “D is for Duality. Or: Fuck you, Aristotle”
Máris Pai: “D… is for Debacle”
Armed Venus: “Pagan Blog Project D is for Diversity (edited)”

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Edited to add (14 April 2012):
The spelling of “Thomas Beatie” has been corrected and a link to his homepage added within the text.