Your body may be a vessel for your spirit in this world, but it is hard to argue that it is just a vessel.
For most humans, the experience of being embodied defines their life. Their gendered training and the expectations placed on them are based on their body. Their experience of desire and being desired are based on their body. The way people respond to them is shaped by the way that others see their body.
Transpeople, though, feel a disconnect from their body. Their path to desire leads them to imagining having a different body, feeling how that psychic body responds. We pray to have our body change, wanting not just to seen and be responded to in a different way, but also to feel like our body hasn’t betrayed us, isn’t wrong.
If you feel profoundly disconnected from your body, are you less likely to be distressed at the idea of killing it off, at the idea of terminating the life of your body so you can free your soul? Is suicide somehow easier when you already feel disembodied?
Many transpeople try to reclaim a connection to their body by reshaping it with the help of medical intervention. This is useful for many, but it is far from a magic bullet, as it can never bring their body and their experience in it back to a normative position. At some level we will always have a passing distance, a zone within which our body seems to contradict the expectations of a heterosexist culture and we are seen as trans and passing.
This sense of being disembodied is very tough to explain to other humans who tend to see themselves as their bodies. Their lives are deeply embodied, often to the exclusion of spiritual understanding and growth. So much of culture tells us that we are our bodies, from fashion magazines to pornography, as it is easier to sell to bodily desires than to spiritual ones.
From the moment we are born our flesh starts to die and our story starts to grow, and when the flesh dies to the world, all that is left is story. The leap to understanding that in the end we are defined by the story we create and not the flesh we inherited.
The older we get, the more we understand that we are not defined by our body because sooner or later every body lets us down. This may be why so many people who do academic work around trans also work around disability, examining how those who are disembodied by their own physical challenges.
From my earliest days I believed that no physical intervention to change my body, other than the divine one I prayed for as a child, would magically change who I am. While I supported and even encouraged others to do what they wanted to do to become more comfortable in their skin, I remained what I call “transnatural,” without hormones or surgery.
I didn’t come from a very embodied family. The joys of the flesh were not well respected around the house; no touching, gunky food, no dancing. My father did the RCAF 5X exercise plan, running every morning before it was cool, and loved working in his garden, but my mother loved her recliner much, much more. At the end, their disconnection from their bodies was a challenge in keeping them healthy and fit.
Girls would assume that because I had a male body I only wanted one thing, but I was never, ever cocky & embodied enough to be effective that way. I was twenty when I lost my virginity to a woman who later identified as a soft butch, with sex acts that were only a success in lesbionic terms. Others read this disembodied nature, like gym teachers or college counsellors who advised me that if I didn’t do BioEnergetics, I would be dead in a year or two.
My disembodiment meant I was always more of an observer in the world. People couldn’t figure out how to get to my base emotions, for good or for bad. Bosses couldn’t figure out how to get me to chase shiny things and women found it frustrating that I was “emotionally un-castratable.”
To be effective in the system of sexual desire we pretty well have to be embodied. Today it may be possible to exist in a kind of virtual sexuality, just images, messaging and voices, but that will always be about actual touch, about sensuality and surrender, stripping away polite identities to become creatural.
To be effective in the realm of spirituality, though, we have to transcend the limits of our body and touch the soul within. We have to feel the connection that comes not just from skin to skin contact but also from soul to soul contact, becoming a part of something much bigger than the bag of skin other people can see.
Getting naked, really naked, means going beyond physical intimacy to emotional intimacy, intellectual intimacy and creative intimacy. The conscious denial of the physical is designed to help increase our awareness of other areas, moving beyond the sensations of the body to the experience of the spirit. Being embodied is not a bad thing, but not moving past sensationalism is.
Trying to explain to people who feel that they are their body the relationship and disconnection transpeople have with their own body, their disembodiment, is very, very difficult.
We are not human beings having a spiritual experience, we are spiritual beings having a humans experience, says Pierre Teilhard de Chardin. Transpeople know this to be true; our spirit is truer than our body, leading to a disembodied experience in the world.
Our continuous common humanity transcends individual bodies. Our bodies, though, are the sensory organ through which we experience and share that common experience.
Finding a way to be both embodied and disembodied at the same time is one of the challenges of a human life. Personally, I have worked hard to be disembodied, learning those lessons and teaching them in the world. While I am still here, though, with a decaying body, can I own some of the lessons of embodiment?