Saturday, September 13, 2014
I've been thinking recently about what archetypes might be of service for trans* folks. What bridges our life experiences, speaks to different stages we grow through, touches both transsexual women and men and those of us with non-binary gender identities? The results of my musings are hard to swallow in places, but that seems about right. Being trans* is hard at times, too.
Many of us begin our journey by being accused, either overtly or subtly, of being traitors. We are called traitors to our gender, to what it means to be a man or a woman, to our communities, to feminism, and sometimes to our sexual orientations. Transmen who love women are particularly vulnerable to this last accusation.
So what is there to celebrate about being a traitor? I look to mythology to give me a broader picture. Prometheus, who brought fire to humanity, was no doubt called a traitor. When Inanna kept the me (divine powers) that Enki gave her while intoxicated, or when Isis forced Ra to giver her his secret name, betraying the trust those gods had in them, they acted as traitors. To be a traitor is to betray something or someone. In these myths, we see that to be a traitor is to be a revolutionary, to overthrow or threaten the current power structure.
To embody the archetype of the Traitor as a trans* person means to question whose power we are being asked to uphold. It means to acknowledge that, YES, actually, in many ways we are betraying the gender binary. It means to be a wedge, a hammer, creating cracks through which others might see that they are walled in. It means giving others space to question what they support and why. It means doing all of that from a place of deep integrity with the intent of doing good.
A lot of us hear "trickster" as well. Gender tricksters are not what we seem. What's under our clothes and especially what is in our pants is a surprise. We are fakers somehow, illusionists intent on messing people up. The voices that call us tricksters most loudly are those that are outraged.
Many mythological tricksters do not blindly cause mayhem. They have specific targets. The fey who whisk away greedy mortals for a night of dancing that turns out to be a century in the human world are tricksters. Rabbit feigning fear of Coyote to lure him into defeat is a trickster. Hermes trading his lyre to Apollo in return for the cattle Hermes had stolen and a share of Apollo's power is a trickster. Odysseus claiming to be Nobody to the Cyclops is a trickster. Tricksters take on the arrogant, the power hungry, those who are too certain of themselves and what they deserve from the world.
To be a trans* Trickster is to acknowledge that we unmoor gender from its fixed point. We are a sign that sex and gender don't always align, or even conform to binary categories. We are not fooling anyone about who we are, though. Rather, people are fooling themselves. We are (or at least, I am) not trying to pass as something other than what we are. We are just living our truths. Our targets create themselves. How people choose to read us is up to them. Their outrage is the result of finding out that their assumptions were wrong. It is on them, not us, to come to terms with this newly revealed world.
Many of us literally change our shapes, making additions or subtractions to the upstairs and downstairs, as it were. We take hormones to harden or soften our lines. Others of us use more temporary means: binders, carefully glued hair, the cut of our clothes, soft or hard packs, make-up, and body language to pull people's perceptions one way or the other.
Shapechangers abound in mythology. Loki, who brings the end, appears as both male and female. A number of mortals, male and female alike, have their shape changed in Greek mythology as punishment, to escape an untenable situation, or as a sign of respect for their life. Cerridwen changes shape in the pursuit of Talisman and in the end consumes him and rebirths him with many gifts.
Changing shapes signifies an end to one thing and a beginning to another. It is a new life. Shapechangers also bring to the forefront of our awareness the connectedness between human beings and animals and plants.
Embodying the Shapechanger archetype as trans* person means holding space for all people to change. It means recognizing the subtler shifts in gender expression in ourselves and others. It means giving people space (physical, emotional, psychic) to not be something anymore and instead to be something new.
There are, in straight up numbers, not very many of us. Statistics suggest 3% of the population is trans. In queer communities, which are generally more welcoming than straight ones, we are still on the outside. As one person put it, we are the Gl(b)t community. If we are recognized as trans*, many doors are shut to us.
Pagans, too, are outsiders. We have been the old woman at the edge of the village, the medicine man who goes into the forest, the monk on the mountain top. We pagans know the power of crossroads, of being outside the normal stream of things. Many circle castings include some variation of the words, "In a space outside space and a time outside time."
Trans* Outsiders consider the unique gifts we have to offer our communities. We take the time to see patterns invisible from the inside and call attention to them. We tap the medicines and knowledge from the wild places accessible to us through our unique positions. We gather together to share and celebrate. We are deeply rooted in our sense of Mystery.
These archetypes will not resonate for everyone. They were drawn from my personal experience as a genderqueer pagan and from conversations with others in the pagan and trans* communities. In grand pagan tradition, please disregard what doesn't work for you. Or, better, figure out what does work for you and share it. The more options trans* pagans have to draw from, the better!
What archetypes resonate for you? Share in the comments.