The wood between the worlds

the wood between the worldsHave you read the Narnia books? (Let’s draw a tasteful veil over the films, shall we? *shudder*)

Anyway… the last-but-one book in the Narnia series (at least, in publishing order, though it’s the earliest in terms of the Narnia universe) was The Magician’s Nephew, and is set at the very end of the Victorian era. Without wishing to give too much away, C.S. Lewis introduced the idea of a multiplicity of worlds rising, falling away, existing both apart and together. In this book, there is a place that the two children find themselves in called The Wood Between the Worlds – an in-between place from which you can get in and out of all the existing worlds.

There’s a concept from Tibetan Buddhism called the bardo – it means something like “intermediate state”, though I’m trying to avoid the word state, because to me, it feels more true to see life as a constantly shifting set of interwoven conditions, rather than as a series of discrete “states”.

Many Buddhists, me included, are very interested in this bardo business (not all Buddhists see things this way). The tendency to see things in terms of states is a function of feeling more safe and secure when things don’t change, and when you know what’s what and it’s all predictable. But we all know life isn’t really like that (or why would we keep longing for it to be so?) But no, I think the more real, alive version of life is the one in the cracks in between our fixed ideas of who we are, and who everybody else is, and what’s what. All that “fixed reality” is just like mud drying on the back of a hippopotamus (seriously? just go with it…)

Anyway, this all feels very relevant to my life at the moment. Why? Because I’m in between just about every damn thing.

As someone who’s about three quarters of the way through a gender transition, I’m “in between genders” until my body is finally congruent with my sense of gender identity.

As someone who is gender non-binary, I am, from the perspective of most of the Western world at any rate, firmly “in between genders” because I am neither fully woman nor fully man, and never was nor will be so (nor wish to be so).

As someone who is a member of a Buddhist order that works in a very gender-binary way (though at least we accord equal status to both women and men, for a change), I am “in between genders” in the sense that I no longer feel at all comfortable attending events for men (and I’m not all that at ease around men in general, since they’re not all that at ease around me while I’m transitioning) – and yet I’m not yet welcome at the women’s events, because there are enough women (and I totally understand this) who don’t feel safe around people with man-parts, and I’m yet to receive my treatment for PPS (Persistent Penis Syndrome).

This all leaves me very in-between, and in the bardo. Add to this not being able to do paid work, since my PTSD makes me not reliable enough for that. Add to that my damaged urethra, for which I’m awaiting reconstructive surgery, which leaves me hovering between health and illness (and taking strong painkillers just to be able to sit down for long enough to type this).

Right now, I’m not in control of many of the important external circumstances that affect me (okay, that sounds terribly First World Problems when I read it back, since I have shelter and clothing and relative human safety, but again, just go with it…). I’m waiting to hear when I’m going to get surgery – since it’s possible they may want to do the urethral reconstruction and my gender confirmation surgery at the same time, to save me unnecessary surgical invasion. People somewhere are slowly deliberating over who is going to perform what surgery on me when, and where.

So I feel very much in the wood between the worlds. But there’s a big difference, because in the Narnia version at least, nothing at all happens there. Whereas for me, all the most important things are happening whilst stuck in between Things Happening in the external world. What I mean is that, forced to just be with myself whilst not knowing what’s going to happen and when I’m going to get to be who, I’m finding myself blossoming out within the void. There’s a me in the uncertainty, and she’s actually enjoying the uncertainty, finding it refreshing and spacious. Okay, sometimes it’s just scary and frustrating and demands application of chocolate and DVDs, but within that is something that feels really healthy, for a change.


[above, Pauline Baines’ illustration of The Wood Between the Worlds – below, a fox in the grass, sort of how I feel at the moment…]


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