I was thinking about what I would tell your wife about what I have learned about trans spirituality.
Most women who are coming to Goddess are coming because they have spent lots of time being who others expect them to be, serving the world, and now that the world isn’t giving back in the same way, we are looking to commit to something more spiritual, more universal, higher and more eternal.
Women learn to serve the community – their mothers, their men, their children, their bosses, etc. – and eventually, they have to learn to serve something higher, to trust their own still, small inner voice rather than just doing what the outer voices tell them to do.
This is the same challenge with transpeople born male too, of course. We learn to play a role to get what we need, but that role requires us to deny the still small inner voice we have heard since we were little.
The big difference between “women assigned as female at birth and raised as girls” and between people “identified as male at birth and raised as boys but who know themselves to have a trans nature,” is that the second group has never learned to trust that their own beauty can be visible and can help heal the world.
Years ago I was at Holly Boswell’s house while she was partnered with Zantui Rose. It had been a hard week – my transmission had burned out going up into the mountains, prompting memories of when my father tried to butch me up by insisting I install a new Tourqueflite onto the 318 in my Plymouth Satellite wagon.
I was leaving and Zan noted that we hadn’t talked about my inner challenges. I told her that I didn’t want to, that I didn’t feel safe talking about them with her.
Zan pressed on. I told her that I knew that she would dismiss my needs as trivial, frivolous.
Zan insisted. I told her that in many ways, I was a 14 year old girl, and I needed to trust in my own beauty.
Zantui scoffed. “You don’t need that,” she huffed. “You need to meditate and disconnect from the world,” her own Buddhist path kicking in my own truth.
So I had told her and what I predicted would happen happened – she pooh-poohed me, and told me that I needed to go eternal.
She was wrong. I had spent my time doing the eternal, the theological, the connection to the godhead. What I didn’t trust – what I still don’t trust – is my connection to creation, to the world around me. Living in the closet is living outside the world, and that’s where we transpeople born male have had to learn to live, very different than women born female.
The koan I have been meditating on for the last week is simple:
Participant: “I really admire your courage.”
Kate Bornstein: “Thanks. But do you think I am pretty?”
I understand that, so much. It’s easy to look at trannys as symbols, but hard to look at them as people, people who need to be assured that others see the beauty, the possibility, the vulnerability and the humanity in us.
I wrote a blurb on a spiritual website about the challenge of having faith in the still small voice when it calls us to do things society says are perverse, beyond the pale, and worthy of intense stigma.
The host at that site wanted to tell me that I am not unique, so they wanted to find someone who shared the same challenges and transcended them. Problem was that the only one they could find was Vida Boheme – Patrick Swayze’s character in “To Wang Foo, Thanks For Everything, Julie Neumar.”
You know, I know lots of queens, brilliant, bold and beautiful queens, but none of them are two dimensional cartoon characters like Vida. “I don’t think of you as a man,” Stockard Channing’s character tells Vida at the end of the movie. “I don’t think of you as a woman. I think of you as an angel.”
Vida replies “That’ll work.” But Kate, the real person, would reply “Thanks. But do you think I am pretty?”
It’s amazing how people have challenges with trannies learning to trust that voice, and then learning to moderate. So many people want to tell us that we have to obey strict limits, but until we can swing the pendulum wide, we will never know where the center is. Humans always find the center by going a bit too far and coming back, not by creeping up on it.
And that center is about transformation. I gave this speech eleven years ago now
How do we find our power without learning our power in the world? We aren’t worldly creatures now finding our divine parts; we are creatures who have locked down our own divinity because the world says it’s scary and sick. And when we touch it, people think we are separate, different, special, courageous, not just humans who have a role to play as much as any shaman of any tribe who helped others see the beauty that transcends the barriers that comfort us and limit us.
You know, you have too many funerals in your own life, killing off the part of you that speaks from your creator so you can satisfy the expectations of the world, and eventually, it becomes harder and harder to climb out of that grave and claim your own grace.
I understand the traditional role of theology, which is to take the raw and natural we have been living and put it in a bigger context.
But for transpeople, that is not the challenge. It is to take the raw and natural we have been denying and put that in a bigger context. And the first step is to stop denying that essence and start affirming it, start trusting the expression of it in the world.
The first three questions people ask us are almost always the same:
- “Why do you have to be TG? Isn’t it just an affectation you can drop?”
- “Well, if you have to be TG, why do you have to express it?
Isn’t just being it enough?”
- “Well, if you have to express it, why do you have to do it in public?”
I took a stab at these questions ten years ago. But the ultimate answer is simple: Until we can dance in the sunlight and see our reflections in the eyes of others, we will never be able to separate the false & disturbed from the authentic & potent.
We aren’t some symbol, some kind of metaphor or parable. Our essence isn’t set for us to be courageous, enlightening or empowering to others.
We are humans, and our essence is the song our creator gave us to sing in the world. Spiritual practice that doesn’t start by affirming our trans expression as expression of a part of us that is both divine and human doesn’t serve us very well.
The limits of any group are set by the fears of the people in the room. For example, it was amazing to me to see how Helen Boyd’s view of transgender was so circumscribed by her fears for her marriage. Those fears limit every place she is, but since so many people share those fears, those fears form a place where many are comfortable.
It’s hard to affirm choices you would never make for yourself. It’s hard to affirm choices that trigger your own fears. It’s hard to move beyond the assumption that the path that has helped you is the right path, and is the one others need.
But any celebration of transgender spirituality has to be grounded in the affirmation of the choices of others, even choices that trigger our own fears and challenge our own assumptions. Our coming together has to start not with a contextualizing of what we have been showing the world, but rather to start with an affirmation of what we have been denying in the world.
“I think you are spirit living a human life.”
“Thanks. But do you think I am pretty?”
It’s the same koan, the same leap beyond fear to affirmation of denied & damaged humanity. To celebrate our creation, we have to first move into celebration of what we have have left to grow in the closet without the light that brings strength, without the water of human affirmation, without the grounding of feedback for our choices.
I know this may make no more sense to you than it did to Xantui all those years ago.
But for someone who has been playing small too long, who can’t easily act from the gifts her mother in the sky gave her, these are the lessons I have learned through all those little deaths and momentary rebirths.
And transformation always starts with respect for the raw materials at hand, the ones that contain within them all the beauty that will ever come out of them.
And that’s what I have to share.