Ex uno plures

Red-MoonOut of one, many… Out of one, many… Out of one, many…

It’s the middle of the night, the moon is full, and my mind and heart are full also. So this will be a weird moon-tale.

Making connexions, as I do, all the time – because my mind is acutely associative. I’m thinking about Love, about Gender, and, well, other things (because it’s all intertwined) but those will do to begin with.

I’m thinking about how you can say “woman” or “man” or some other such gender label, and each person so named is so different from the next one, the differences always outweighing the similarities, in spite of the oneness of the word.

About how I’m willing to be called “woman” because it’s so much closer an approximation to what I am than “man” or any other familiar gender-label, but it doesn’t describe me very well at all. Hence Womandrogyne, which is still a sticky label stuck over a peephole looking out on a broad ocean.

But this isn’t really the subject of tonight’s goat-footed reflections. Love is on my mind, and Love is just such a label, one word for a peacock’s-tail of feathering meanings, blossoming out like a bursting firework – or like the absurd but glossy array of metaphors in that last phrase. Bird, flower, beautiful bomb.

Love is so many different things at once, isn’t it? I have this friend. We’ve known each other for around 3 years, but anyone who sees us together assumes we go back, and back, way back.  I think of her as my friend-belovèd. Let me count the ways. I love her like a friend I’ve known since school. Yes. I love her like a sister, not having a sister. I love her like a fellow artist. I love her like someone whose lover I want to be, somehow. She knows all this, and she feels all that, except the last one. This has never been easy.

It just got harder, because for the first time since I’ve known her, she’s seeing someone. And this is how I know I have all these loves, because I’m feeling them all at once, and most of them are making me feel happy for her, because she’s happy. And then alongside of all that sympathetic joy, a great sorrow I don’t know what to do with. I don’t know what it is I want from her, I just know I don’t get to get it. And then alongside all that sorrow, a great joy I don’t know what to do with. I know what it is I’m getting from her, and with her, the thing that isn’t that other thing, and it’s so lovely, and I’m so enriched.

This is one of those key moments. If I can be with all of this at once, not try to clasp or kick away, not try to change, something new will be born, instead of something old.

See, I’m feeling something, thinking something, it is unfashionable to feel, to think. It’s somehow connected with what I want from my friend-belovèd that I’m not getting, that’s nothing to do with her at all. The Approved Edition™ says thus: the love that you didn’t get from your parents, that you look for from other people, you can’t get from other people; you have to get it from within yourself. Everyone says this.

But I feel, I think, something else. I feel, I think, that the love that you get from parents, as a child, you either get, or you don’t. And if you don’t… you don’t find that within yourself, you mourn its absence, because it’s not something you can get except when you’re supposed to get it. You mourn, and then you step beyond and find different love, within, without.

My intuition, which I have of late learned to pay great attention to, tells me that this is Very, Very True. That I could, if I am able, stop looking within or without for this love I missed out on… could find something else instead.

I don’t know how to do that yet, and I don’t know what happens if I do that, but imagining it doesn’t make me feel sad, it makes me feel unbound. It’s like clambering out of a mineshaft and finding a pungent forest. Meanwhile, there is love between me and my friend-belovèd, of some kinds, many kinds, and that’s very, very true too. So it is.

[a red moon rising, and ramson – one, many…]


aurora_kuenzliThis is going to be a bit… hmm, not “whimsical”… extempore, non-rational. I hope.

Some years ago, I was introduced to Björk’s music through her album Vespertine (I’m listening to it now). I was especially drawn to the song Aurora – Aurora being goddess of the dawn, she with the rosy fingers – but what most delighted me was that I misheard the lyrics “utter mundane” as ultramontane. This word not only has very strong emotional resonances for me, from the book The Worm Ouroboros, by E R Eddison (which I’ve been reading and loving since the age of 16, and in which I first came across the word) but also seemed very apt for this song. Ultramontane means “from beyond the mountains” (beyond as in above, more than the other side of), and I imagined the sun being worshipped as she rose above snow-etched mountain ranges somewhere. The very opposite of utter mundane. And yet not, since a love of the rising sun over the mountains is something happening in the mundane world.

Preamble, preamble. What’s this all about then? Well here’s the amble: it’s all about identity. I’ve been thinking a lot about identity lately, in relation to being a Buddhist (whatever that is) and my gender (whatever that is). And about how I’ve felt so frustrated and confused, having run-ins with trans* people whose sense of gender identity is very firmly fixed and refined and defined and, it seems to me, colonnaded and buttressed and barricaded. And binary, of course.

I’ve lately been pointing out to someone (which as usual means: pointing out to me) how saying “I just don’t understand…” is often sleight-of-mind for “I don’t like/approve of…” and it’s struck me recently just how impossible it is for me to imagine what it’s like to have a binary gender identity. And by extension, just how hard it must be for the binary folk to imagine having a non-binary gender identity. Like trying to see something that’s the other side of a mountain range. And the only way to do that is to cross the mountain range, isn’t it?

No. The other option is to step away from the surface, rise up until you’re far enough away to see more than just the spot you were standing on. Which means what, exactly?

I’m trying to dispense with dispensing exactness here, so I’m not going to try to answer that question in a photographic manner, but try for a more bardic, impressionistic glimpse (since this is mainly myself I’m talking to here, and I need to keep my interest).

What this is all about at the moment is that I keep encountering trans* people (in fact, this may probably apply to the majority of trans* people) whose dearest wish for the outcome of transition is to end up with a solid, stable, and acceptable gender identity. I can understand this longing. I have it in some form myself. But I have another longing at the same time, which the beginning of my transition has heralded, and this is to let go of having a fixed identity altogether. That’s an overdramatic statement, of course. But it’s still true, in a bardic, impressionistic sense. I’ve a yearning in me to go beyond the mountains, to rise above my own surface, to see the broader universe I’m a small corner of, and to participate in it more empathically as a result.

When I began my gender transition, I thought that I just wanted to go through it and get to live as a woman. As time went on, it’s become more and more apparent to me that what I call my gender identity is a diaphanous, nebulous cloud of feelings, tendencies, assumptions, desires, aversions, ideas. I can model it, to some extent, using words, or images, or words-as-images (which they already are, but I mean by painting a verbal picture). To expand on what I wrote in my last blog-thing, I experience my gender-self as something like an archipelago of seemingly separate but related aspects of the larger seemingly-not-separate me (with the me being the ocean the archipelago nestles in). It’s just a metaphor. But every time I explain it to someone, in person or online, I feel the twin pulls: to pin it down and say “this is finally it, this defines me” – and to watch it drift away, say “this is just an iteration, this is just a story about a story, another chapter will be along soon…”

This is what being a Buddhist has always meant to me, more than anything else (though for a long time I didn’t realise it): not about trying to Become Something, but about letting go, gradually, increasingly, gently, lovingly. I’m about to start studying a text with a friend, which is a commentary on the Prajnaparamitahrdaya (I’ll spare you the academic accents), known in English as The Heart Sutra. It’s a Sanskrit text, but I’ve been reciting and turning over in my mind a cut-down, English version of it, for as long as I’ve been trying to be a Buddhist. the people in my Buddhist group recite it together, and sadly, we tend to recite it dirge-like, like The Lord’s Prayer in a school assembly (ugh). Sadly because it’s the polar opposite of a dirge. I suspect it’s an unfortunate combination of English protestantism and the fact that the text keeps repeating the word “no” that causes this negative droning, but in fact, it’s a great little story, is what it is.

It’s about the Bodhisattva Avalokitesvara, archetypal embodiment of active compassion (who manifests as both male and – as Kwan Yin/Kanon – female). The sutra relates an extraordinary moment in Avalokitesvara’s existence, when (s)he lets go, steps beyond, is unbound, becomes fully and perfectly enlightened (whatever that is). The endless string of “no” is a list of things Avalokitesvara breaks free from identifying with. No this, no that, each one a casting off of a burden, a chain. Every time I recite or read this, I feel like I’m reading an amazing adventure story, and I get very blissed out.

So. The point is. When my gender transition (stupid misnomer that it be) is complete, I don’t expect or want to “arrive” somewhere. I expect that I’ll be what I am now, which is loosely speaking a very, very genderqueer woman with some androgyne traits, who sometimes feels like she imagines a trans man feels. But I’ll be doing all that penis-free (well, mine at least), which will be a great relief. And the journey away from certainty can continue from there. I have no idea how I’m going to feel when that’s happening.

Postamble: I don’t know how, but I want all this to bring me closer to other people, not away from them. It may seem counterintuitive to say that the more uncertain I am of my identity, the more I am freed to be myself, but there it is. And being myself still feels like a great act of generosity, in that it gives others permission to do so too. So all this is pretty vague, but I’m getting on with it anyway, higgledy-piggledy.


[the top image is an aurora courtesy of NASA; the bottom one is a photo of Kuan Yin/Avalokitesvara, my favourite image since it’s of such indeterminate gender]

Getting het up

equals-signThere’s something that’s bothering me about the Equal Marriage debate, and I’m having trouble putting my finger on it.

Well, okay, there are a number of things bothering me about it, but I’ve already ranted here at length about how it’s still being referred to by the media and politicians and other people with various vested interests as “gay marriage” or “same-sex marriage”, which between them exclude a whole load of people who are not gay, or are intersex, or are non-binary in gender.

But the thing that’s bothering me at the moment is about sex and love – and I’m writing this as someone who’s more or less asexual, so I don’t have the same perspective as people who are sexual, I’m sort of a disinterested party.

It seems to me that in some way, Equal Marriage is being marketed as a way of “making queer people more acceptable” – because some of the general public are squeamish about the idea of non-het* people having sex. So all the Equal Marriage rhetoric is about loving, committed relationships, which is in itself perfectly valid (given that the discussion is about marriage), but there’s this undertone of “you can like queer people more if you think of them as being loving, rather than as people who shag differently from you.” This squeamishness, by the way, naturally extends itself towards trans* people, whom many cis-het people insist on not seeing as being their true gender/sex.

I’ve got mixed feelings about being bothered by this. I’m bothered on behalf of people who do not wish to be judged-and-condemned for enjoying non-het sex, and yet whose acceptability, it seems, is being made to be dependent on the more “respectable” face of romantic commitment. On the other hand, I’m glad to see a recognition of queer connectedness as being not just about sex, too, since there’s something of an over-focus in the community and in the media on that aspect, i.e. the assumption that if you’re not het, then your sexuality is all about sex, and not about, for example, whom you fall in love with.

But there’s something a bit smug in the “we’re just like you, we want to settle down and be domestic” sort of message, which contains more than a pinch of theistic “marriage sanctifies sex.” And that’s probably what is really behind most of the discomfort of people who want to “keep marriage traditional”, because they can’t bring themselves to imagine sex receiving any kind of blessing at all if it’s not going to be het sex.

To my mind, Equal Marriage is not about Marriage, it’s about equality. Citizens should have equal rights regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity. As I’ve said before, I think that if a relationship is legal, it should be legal to solemnise it if the people in it want to – marriage, for those who want it, should simply be gender-neutral, sexuality-neutral, and not limited to couples.

I’m still piecing together why this all bothers me so. In the end, it’s something like the het world trying to absorb us like grit in an oyster, instead of taking on the challenge of accepting diversity in its many, many forms. And it’s also a celebration of the insularity of coupledom, worshipping it as the pinnacle of an imagined hierarchy of kinds of love. Humour me, this is the best I can do at the moment.

recycled-silk[*I’m using het as a shorthand for heterosexual because that’s too long a word, and I don’t like the word straight, and I think being het doesn’t deserve more syllables than being gay or bi or pan or ace, it’s just one of the possible orientations.

The bottom image is of skeins of recycled silk – I just thought it was a good image for an ideal intertwining of diversities. The top image is, um… just me wanting to mess with the apparent paradigm of “Equal Marriage is about passion, therefore scarlet.” Sometimes you just follow your nose and in my case, I often end up somewhere emerald.]