So, I’ve been blogging for the Upper Delaware GLBT Center as part of my internship and unfortunately today I had to blog about something very disconcerting regarding one of our trans-members. I strongly urge all my followers to read the article in the link provided and commit to holding Daniel Tosh accountable for this transphobic episode.
As someone who’s always been fascinated by mythology and the archetypes that evolved from those timeless stories, I find it enthralling to see how many cultures have developed similar symbology regarding the same things. Though the symbology may have differed, based on the specific phobias and hang-ups of each distinct society, the same figures emerge time and time again. One such figure is the Snake Woman. Before I delve into this any further, allow me to divulge my original source of inspiration for this topic.
I had taken an Anthropology class called, “Magic, Myth and Religion,” when I first started college and my professor had mentioned something that really struck me. He told us that numerous cultures have “snake women” or “serpent-goddesses” in their folklore, which must be challenged and defeated by some virile, sweat-soaked (not at all homoerotic, *coughcough* yeah, right) champion typical of male-dominated societies at the time. He then went on to equate their serpentine parts with penises, which seems to make sense considering a woman with a penis (whether it be a figurative or literal one) might potentially pose a significant risk to the patriarchal status quo. Whenever a male-born person relinquishes the privilege bestowed upon them by a patriarchal socio-cultural system, they are shunned. They are denigrated for essentially denigrating themselves. And as this pans out across ancient cultures, the fear of the feminine bubbles up into self-righteous indignation and “The Outcast” becomes immortalized forever as “The Monster,” in myth and legend. In the case of female monsters, many are given male qualities, the most prevalent of which are aggression and outspoken natures, at least compared with the ideal of womanhood as concocted by the male.
We are then left with beings like Medusa, who fornicates in the temple of Wisdom and as punishment for asserting her sexual power is cursed, her crowning glory taken from her and replaced with a mane of unruly serpents and a petrifying gaze. Or the child-eating Queen Lamia, who is turned into a half-serpent and who according to Aristophanes, sprouts a phallus “for monstrosity’s sake.” Throughout the world we see Nagas, Shirabyoshi, primordial sea goddesses, and even the biblical Lilith becoming conflated with gender-variance and almost always they are then demonized in some way. The snake has always been a phallic symbol, and by extension a symbol of power. What better way to illustrate the adoption by a woman of a powerful role than to physically morph that woman into a half-woman, half-man? In this way, folk tales and myths were able to be understood by masses which were by and large, uneducated.
It’s funny how a lot of the cautionary tales against the Snake Woman in myth mirror the “trans panic defense” that’s so often used to murder young transwomen today without consequence. Demonizing us in the same way that these seemingly primitive-minded people used to; responding with “justified hatred” against any threats to their patriarchal societies and, by extension, their collective sense of manhood. If it’s a monster, it’s okay to kill it. And monsters are deceptive, in the same way transwomen who deceive men into thinking they’re natal females are. That’s the erroneous line of thinking anyway. However, isn’t a delusion that the human being in front of you is a demon just so it makes it okay in your mind to hurt them a form of self-deception too? That’s the problem…far too many people never question the myth and as a result, our roles have become perpetually engrained in black and white, to the extent that in modern-day China, Thai transfolk or Katoey are referred to as “renyao,” a term which, when analyzed, can mean both “enchanting” and “monstrous.” The sad reality is that in today’s world, too many victims of hate crimes are still held to be exactly that. Until we replace the myth with a new one – an empowering one, filled with heroes and heroines who confront transphobic ignorance wherever it sprouts we will remain, to many people, “enchanting monsters.”
It’s not often I use the blog to address my personal life, but as the year is nearly at an end, I’d like to take some time to reflect on just what this year has brought me. Lately, I have been very stressed out. No, not even stressed out…I would say “slightly derailed,” better describes how I’ve been feeling. For me, 2012 has been a year of sudden change and sustained effort, two things I typically despise. Between the 20-page research papers and hazards of my daily hour-long commute both ways, I’ve been thrust by providence or fate into the proverbial spotlight. Doing speeches, and panels and attending board meetings and functions and lots and lots of parties. I’ve met many people, some of whom I simply adore, and others I decidedly don’t. Handling these waves of new personalities is a challenge in and of itself as I’ve found it’s integral to alter your approach depending on who you’re dealing with and I think that’s something a lot of us fail to take into account. This world is full of people and people are like little machines you’re constantly having to punch codes in…the wrong codes lead to breakdowns, the right ones lead to updates. Not sure if that allegory even makes sense (it’s early!), but it is a demanding process that never seems to end.
In the midst of all that melee, it has been integral to do one thing: take care of myself. For my own personal self-care routine (and I’m assuming, for many of my readers as well), balanced hormones are fundamental and the only way to maintain them balanced is by taking them every day at a regular time and scheduling periodic blood tests with your physician. I haven’t been and finally it showed yesterday before a holiday party I attended. I was in my car, crying and had, in a manner of minutes fallen completely out of love with life and the people in my life. Almost systematically, I became disillusioned and livid all at once and when pressed for the reason, I had none to give. I felt a loss of control and an utter dearth of joy. It just spilled out of me and it was a mood-swing. One of the side-effects of estrogen therapy many of us fail to take into account because we don’t think it’s as “serious” as stroke or thrombosis. But I assure you, it is. I know because I was one of those people who scoffed at the “mood-swing thing” as being something I could easily handle. And I realize I must admit my fault in all this, too. In the frenetic chaos that my life has been this past year, there have been many times when I’ve gone to sleep after pulling an all-nighter at some ungodly hour and forgotten to take (or just been too lazy to take) my hormones. Thus, I’ve experienced spikes and lows and kept pushing them aside, brushing them off until the holidays rolled around and my seasonal sadness became the catalyst for a mood swing that left my nerves jangling when they should have been jingling.
The world can wait. It’s important that you and I know this. It won’t fall apart if we take the time to take care of ourselves, but we will. If we allow ourselves to grant importance to our problems, even when others we confide in may not consider them very important at all, we also grant ourselves importance. We don’t put on the “I can do it all” facade and power through it. We each have differing levels of resistance to outside stressors, and it’s important to be respectful of that. My pain may not be the same as yours, but it is just as significant. And as a tg woman who’s been undergoing long-term HRT, I sometimes forget the element that was missing from my life during last night’s mood-swing: balance. So, I had a rare moment of practicality and made an alarm on my phone at 10 AM sharp that reminds me to take my hormones every. Single. Day. No matter what. Equally helpful is my return to this blog and being able to take solace in my writing process again. Never ignore your outlets! For me, that outlet is writing…but lately it’s been something I haven’t had the energy or time for…or at least that’s the excuse I give myself. And that’s another thing: Be mindful of your own excuses and analyze ways to break them apart, because most of them just injure you in the long-run. So, sisters, my advice for the new year…cut through the garbage you give yourself ABOUT YOURSELF…cut through the garbage other people fling at you and just focus on you. Sounds so simple, but often, it’s exactly those simple things we fail to remember.
I opened a window back to his world
A world of “I could be’s” and “maybe”
A world of prattling prayers and possibilities
That the “me” in the mirror could not yet see
Maybe I could be a Queen…that steals all the boys’ hearts
Maybe I could be a Queen…that’s completely off the charts
That zigs and zags every which way…just like they do in all the chess games
Maybe I could be a Queen…enthroned and scheming to fill her humdrum days
Maybe I could be a Queen…of riches…all of which, I’d give away
Maybe I could be a Queen…that trades her crown for love
Maybe I could be a Queen…that never bites her tongue
Maybe I could be a Queen…dipped in blood and hard as stone
Maybe I could be a Queen…armor-clad and barbed-wire bad…to the bone
Maybe I could be a Queen, a Queen and not a pawn
Maybe all my rights of manhood could be willed away…long-gone
Maybe I could be a Queen…a lion turned to lamb
Then maybe I remember…I already am.
Hey guys, so this is that snippet I promised you a few weeks ago of the fantasy story I’ve been working on…It’s centered around a Mystic named Martine who just so happens to be a Eunuch, as well. In this scene, Martine is roused from sleep by a vision of impending doom. I’ve never written anything like this before…so, hopefully it isn’t completely atrocious…but if it is…lie to me, anyway and tell me how amazing it is…no, j/k…give it to me straight!
Black clouds of sulfur darkened the horizon. I could smell the stench of destruction. Bright flames swirled amidst the grey shambles of Arcadia’s Royal Palace. I find myself running. I can hear my own footfalls slapping the dry, ashen ground as the frigid pearls of sweat rain down my body. Behind me, there are men giving chase. Men in elaborate suits of armor, glinting gold and crimson under the torched city’s light. I know this, though I only see them in my mind’s-eye. I know what I’m running from. What am I running to?
Just then I spot Calliope, my childhood friend and the resident court jester. Her bright garments, now blackened by coal. She is in disarray.
“Calliope! What’s going on? We have to get out of here!” I shout.
“Martine. Look up and you can see.”
“What? See what?” I ask as I tilt my head toward the sky.
The black clouds break at that very moment, giving way to a ray of sun and a torrential downpour.
“The flames…of magic.”
“Magic? Are you saying one of the mages did this, surely they weren’t powerful enough to?”
Calliope stood silent.
“Was it those men…they caused this?”
Still no response.
“Did I? I couldn’t have,” I murmur incredulously.
“Whenever there’s a sun shower, it means a fox has married.”
“Calliope, what are you saying? Why can’t you answer me?!”
Then the light seized me and it was over.
This was the third time I’d had this dream, and each time it made even less sense. I’d told Calliope, who’d of course thought it was the result of over-work and recommended I take a vacation. Recreation was her panacea and in her eyes, there was nothing it couldn’t fix. Morgana, my other friend and Court Herbalist brewed a tea for my nerves and gave me some bitter herbs to chew daily. They hadn’t been working.
I couldn’t help but re-visit my dreams, not only because I was the Chief Court Mage and took dreams very seriously as a matter of habit, but because this dream did what no other had…it chilled me to the bone. I felt this was a vision, a premonition. I’d had them before, owing to my nature as a Eunuch. We were a culture of mystics, prone to seeing beyond the veil of ordinary existence. I was no different, however, I kept telling myself that this dream wasn’t, couldn’t be. Though I suspected in my heart that it was.
What caused the fire? I had the ability, which had taken years of dedicated training to perfect, to supplicate the elements, bend them to my will, speak to the spirits, the raw essences of the very fibers that comprised our world. I could beseech the Spirit of Earth for a good harvest, or the Spirit of Rain to send a downpour, and indeed, would whenever our crops grew dry. In this way, my presence at the Royal Court of the Arcadian Empire became a necessity to our people. As a rule and a show of respect, I usually stood aside and let nature take its course, but whenever the energy became unbalanced as it was prone to do, I’d intercede and marvelous things would happen. There was pride in what I did, but also a deep reverence for the true power behind the mystic…the Spirits themselves.
Those men in my dream. They were…invaders. Nothing of them looked familiar, it was all foreign and menacing. If that type of fire broke out, well, I suppose they could have set fire to the kingdom, but our magical barriers and protective measures would surely have proven mightier than any invader. Then again, how could I know what they were capable of? Perhaps there did exist, beyond the wall we lived behind, a kingdom of stronger means than ours. But that was why the wall existed in the first place, to keep us hidden from the outside world…that world where magic could not thrive, where fantasy went to die. Long ago, we’d all been part of that Golden Age, but our cousins…they let their baser feelings take hold of them…that’s what was passed down throughout the generations, anyway.
If what transpired in my dream were any indication of times to come, then it would seem that the tales were all true. But that fire…what I asked Calliope still weighed in my mind. Why did I feel that I was responsible for it? For the very fall of my home? Did something go wrong? Did my powers betray me? Did the Spirits fail me for once? This type of senseless anxiety was getting me nowhere. I suppose the only thing I could do, was wait for the next night.
Family is a wonderful thing. And I don’t mean exclusively blood-related family, but that sense of community and “you can count on me” that you get from a group you consider yourself to be a part of, be it comprised of relatives, friends or any other type of person.
But, as transpeople, can we always count on our families to be there? The harsh reality is that we can’t. Many of us live in fear of our families. Still others, like myself, have faced disappointing attitudes despite being from tightly-knit families that otherwise have had no significant problems.
When I first began my transition, my grandmother wanted to have me visited by a pastor because she thought I was insane and her antiquated solution was to drive that insanity from me through spiritual warfare, which to me, seemed much crazier than anything I was doing. The real obstacle was a lack of understanding and dialogue. But sometimes, despite numerous attempts at fostering that kind of open dialogue, there will be people who are unwilling to or are not yet ready to listen. That kind of stone-cold silence can breed a resentment in both parties that ofttimes isn’t easy to shake. People don’t remember words or actions, but they’ll always remember how you made them feel. Still, it’s important to let go of resentment eventually. It’s fine to be angry, and in our situations we need to allow ourselves the benefit of being mad, but it’s equally important to not stay angry the rest of our lives. For me, my anger was channelled through isolation and self-improvement. I’d read, do exercise, watch old films, study how-to videos. My only ally in those days was my mother. As is so often the case, family can be a double-edged sword. Some members will protect you through thick and thin, while others can’t wait to cut you down.
I am blessed to say that I had the benefit of a truly loving mother, whose compassion and empathy saw me through those days of isolation. Some might say that isolation was self-imposed, and in a sense, it was, though it’s also true that I was driven to it. From my own experiences, I can say that isolating yourself is one of the best things you can do in these situations. Walking away gives both parties time to reflect and examine their own biases. It always helps to have friends who understand, but not everyone has that luxury. And during a transition one really needs to rediscover oneself as one’s own BEST friend. Whatever you do, don’t let your anger drive you to self-destruction. So often in our community, we resort to drugs and alcohol and other vices that will only hinder our chances at a successful transition and mar us forever.
During my transition I recall another family member’s attitude. How she told me she didn’t want me to come over her house dressed as a female because I ran the risk of confusing her two year old regarding gender identity. So I stopped going to her house, there was no compromise. And I think it’s important, that we as transfolk, establish not only a firm identity as our true selves, but also a firm sense of what we are and are not willing to compromise. Understanding is great, but only when it’s reciprocal. Sometimes, this will entail conflict and accusations of being selfish. Guess what? That’s okay. It’s alright to be selfish. This is something that’s taken me years to realize, sacrificing yourself doesn’t gain you anything, it doesn’t make you noble, it makes you a puppet, controlled by the whims of others. As a transperson, you’re your own ally and advocate. Fight for your right to exist, without apology and without excuse. The people who truly love you just may come around eventually. But they may not. And learning to live without them is a harsh reality that one just may have to accept.
In my own case, they did luckily “come around,” but I realize it’s not so simple for other transpeople and my heart goes out to you. It’s never easy, but know that you are worth it. There’s only one life and its yours! Whether family ties are meant to be double-knotted or unravel themselves completely, depends not upon you, but on them and the place they’re in emotionally. The inherent urge for freedom is never an illness and it shouldn’t be treated as such…but hatred, bigotry, fear…those are very real illnesses and we shouldn’t let them infect, control or hold us back from achieving our own dreams and strengthening the most important tie we have…to our souls and to our selves.
You, yes you…however you got here and whatever your circumstance in life…pay attention. This message of mine may not be worth much to you but I piece it together from pain and triumph and send it forth on the sharp wind of reminiscence.
Life is too short. That is such a cliche, isn’t it? But what is a cliche if not an overused truth? Overused, because within is contained a rather universal sentiment. Length of time can be relative, varying from one person’s perspective to another, but I think we’re all in agreement that however long it seems to us, it is, ultimately, never enough. I’ve been miserable in life, and thought erroneously at times that life was too harrowingly long…too full of suffering. I’ve also been happy in life. And I’d much rather be happy. So the real crux of anything I post or say during my speeches to caseworkers and other interested parties is this: never waste what you’ve been given. If you’re in an unpleasant situation, REMOVE YOURSELF FROM IT. If you’re around people you can’t stand, REMOVE YOURSELF FROM THEM. Don’t make excuses, don’t tell yourself tomorrow will be the day. Wake up and grab every minute by the balls. You may not get another chance. Life is your canvas, paint what you will, but don’t waste your colors. I’m at an age where I’m seeing and hearing of old family friends who were such a fixed part of my childhood just fade away. Slipping under the soil as yellowed pages slip under worn book covers. Even my cats, (for I have always had a surplus of cats due to my mother’s innate compulsion to “rescue”) are here today and gone tomorrow. Lively beings. People that dressed up and made small talk and ate finger foods and cried about their loved ones passing and smiled at familiar films and got stressed about bills. Cats that stalked the shadows and played with their toys and followed laser pointers and made messes. All of those moments that make up an individual person (or cat) just fade away. And we don’t really know where they go or whether there is a second chance, though I choose to believe there is, because the alternative is just too bleak for me to want to grasp. Still…this knowledge lies there, swept up beneath the delirium of daily living. Forgotten, until the day it happens to us and we can no longer ignore it.
We saw an old family friend today to celebrate her birthday and laughed with her and remembered all sorts of things from “back then,” like her penchant for Cheez-Its and the magnificent knickknacks in her home she used to let me play with when I’d visit (my favorites being a collection of miniature houses which she sadly, no longer had). About this friend, she’s an 80-something cat lady and completely marvelous. And the last time she saw me, I was a plump little boy she baby-sat during the summers who played with my action figures as if they were Barbies while watching “The Facts Of Life” re-runs. Within seconds, she “got me.” She “got it.” And she was celebrating my (for her) new-identity with exclamations of, “Oh she’s gorgeous! You’re you finally! You’re not a phony! You’re female goddammit!” Remembering things makes me want to stop time so that I can’t stockpile any more memories. As if that would make it any easier when I can no longer make memories with those who pass on by.
Still, seeing her streaking each day with regret-less life, a woman who’s witnessed a world war, the birth of the internet, and a plump little boy turning into a “lady-in-waiting” it just makes me so adamant about forging ahead and making the most of every second. Never wasting it on anything that isn’t absolutely marvelous. Like my old cat lady friend.