Silly Geese and Momma Bears:
A Playful Look at So-Called Gender Differences
Jennifer Angelina Petro
The following is a light-hearted (yet with deadly serious ramifications—especially in today’s world) look at the fallacy of so-called gender identifiers and the even more illusionary “characteristics” of gender as perceived by people (henceforth referred to as Silly Goose, or SGM for “males;” SGF’s for Silly Goose “females,” (sorry to use the tired binary system—it’s just for the sake of this post); and I will refer to them collectively, as Silly Geese, or SG, for short) who
1). Believe there are only two genders— “male” and “female,”
2). Believe that the only two genders are “opposite,”
3). Believe the two genders can ultimately be defined by genitals and personality traits.
It should be pointed out at the onset that I too am a Silly Goose Female, but of a much more pleasant, fabulous, and glittery variety.
Some of what is said in this little romp are actual statements people have made to me (henceforth referred to as Fabulous Unicorn Glitter Rainbow Queen, or FUGRQ for short) while trying to disprove my existence a transwoman.
Please note: any information herein is meant to be humorously educational and if it offends may you be nibbled to death by gazelles. And now back to the exchange.
SGF: How do you know you’re female?
FUGRQ: How so you know you’re female?
SGF: I asked you first.
FURGQ: And the first shall be last. We’ll get to my answer later.
SGF: There are clear-God-ordained differences between males and females.
FUGRQ: That’s an opinion, but back to my question.
[Please note I am not going to use quotation marks around words like, “male,” “female,”” tough,” or “womanly,” for the remainder of this post. I realize I just did, but that was purely for example’s sake. The overuse of quotation marks dampens their otherwise enormous powers of making sure you understand what I “actually” mean. I have the fullest confidence that your brain will automatically insert quotation marks around the words that need them, thus saving me from having to hit “shift,” before hitting the quotation mark key. Damn.]
SGF: Well, I just feel…womanly.
FUGRQ: OK. What does feeling womanly feel like?
SGF: It feels…feminine.
FUGRQ: What does feeling feminine feel like?
SGF: Well, I feel nurturing as a female.
FUGRQ: Have you ever met, seen, or interacted with a nurturing male?
SGF: Um…. yes, I suppose.
FUGRQ: Then the quality of being nurturing is a genderless quality?
SGF: Well, female nurturing is softer and gentler.
FUGRQ: Ever heard of Mr. Rogers? Or, Bob Ross, or, say: Jimmy Stewart?
SGF: There are exceptions, yes.
FUGRQ: Those exceptions are actually proof that being nurturing is a genderless quality, and thus cannot define gender. Give me another example.
SGF: Females are more emotional than males, they cry more easily.
FURGQ: Ever heard of Cal Ripken, Lou Gehrig, Jon Stewart, Abraham Lincoln? They all cried, as did many a Philadelphia male when the Eagles won the Superbowl.
SGF: As I said, there are exceptions—some males are more sensitive than others.
FURGQ: Those exceptions are actually proof that being emotional, or crying easily, is a genderless quality and thus cannot define gender.
Here is a conversation between an SGM and myself:
SGM: How do you know you’re female?
FUGRQ: How do you know you’re male? What is your inner experience of that like?
SGM: Well, I feel…masculine.
FUGRQ: What does that feel like?
SGM [puffing out chest]: Well, I feel manly.
FUGRQ: OK, what does that feel like?
SGM: [unable to keep chest puffed out more than a few seconds, it sinks back to regular chest settings]: Well, I’m a protector of children.
FUGRQ: Ever heard how mother bears protect her cubs, or how Sojourner Truth or Mother Theresa protected children, or how Pink protects her children?
SGM: Well, there are exceptions to the rule.
FUGRQ: Rule? You’ve just seen that being protective is a genderless quality.
SGM: Well, I know I’m male because I’m tough. [SG puffs out chest again.]
FURGQ: Well, what about the aforementioned mother bear, or the likes of Kathrine Switzer, Venus and Serena Williams, Rosa Parks?
SGM: As I said, there are exceptions to the rule [chest sinks back in].
FURGQ: It boils down to toughness—physically and mentally—is a genderless quality, and therefore cannot define gender.
FURGQ: So then, what is the actual difference between males and females?
SG: Here’s proof of the difference between males and females you can’t dispute—males have a penis and release sperm and woman have a vagina and release eggs.
FURGQ: So, it comes down to body parts?
SG: Yes. You can’t deny that one.
FURGQ: What about sterile males and infertile females are they still males and females?
SG: Those are disorders.
FURGQ: But you still consider them as defining characteristics of male and female?
SG: Yes, of course.
FURGQ: So, then, ultimately bodily functions can’t define gender. What about intersex people or the so-called-not-really-used-anymore-word: hermaphrodites?
SG: Again, there are exceptions that are considered disorders.
FURGQ: Hmm. What if a male loses his penis in a horrible accident or a woman has her vulva damaged in some way? Is the male still male or the female still female?
SG: Yes, because accidents happen.
FURGQ: I’ll give you that both sperm and egg are required to make little humans, but those ingredients can produce both little male and females, isn’t that interesting? And just because sperm come from one type of body and eggs from another doesn’t actually make two genders—it makes differently made bodies. Both have arms, legs, eyeballs, ears, toes, and so on. You’re saying the ONLY body parts that define males and females are genitals and their bodily functions?
SG [smugly]: Yes, that’s the truth.
FURGQ: OK, well, we’ve seen that either body can have different genitals, so, when it comes down to it, bodies don’t explain the inner experience or the feeling of being male or female. Despite bodily varieties there is no actual way to define what it feels like to be male or female.
SG: Yes, that’s what we’re saying. We just KNOW.
FURGQ: And so, you go around KNOWING you’re males and females because you’re constantly—so-to-speak—feeling your genitals?
SG [looking at one another then turning back to me]: No, not necessarily.
FURGQ: So, genitals do not make you experience on a soul-level-a consciousness level, that you’re male or female?
SG: We suppose not, but still…
FURGQ: Still what?
SG: Feelings and inner experiences are subjective and not necessarily true.
FURGQ: Really, so your inner experiences don’t count either?
SG: Well, it’s in the Bible.
FURGQ: Ah, I wondered when that book would eek into the conversation. There’s no way for me to really argue with people who believe that one book—out of the gazillion books ever written—is the whole truth and nothing but the truth despite science, and verses like Isiah 53: 3-5 where God says eunuchs shall be given names greater than men or woman? Or how Jesus treated everyone as if their gender didn’t matter in the least?
SG: Never heard of the Isiah passage.
FURGQ: Ah. What about Jeremiah 1:5? If you deny an infinite variety of bodies exist, then God must make mistakes. You must believe people born blind or short or tall or deaf are mistakes.
SG: God doesn’t make mistakes. People born handicapped are due to human genetic abnormalities.
FURGQ: I prefer the term, “differently born,” because that includes everyone—since we’re all born with different bodies. But aren’t those genetic issues ordained by Divine Providence?
SG: Now we’re getting into theological debate, and there’s no sense in that.
FURGQ: Agreed. Disputing the Bible’s so-called infallibility is futile, not because it’s right, but because your minds are indoctrinated with what you believe to be true, and everyone knows that beliefs aren’t facts.
SG: The Bible is God’s actual word.
FURGQ: As I said, there’s no way I can argue with your ingrained beliefs, I shouldn’t have tried, so let’s return to the human body, which you so ardently believe defines a particular gender.
SG: OK. Let’s. Everyone knows females don’t have facial hair or deep voices or adam’s apples.
FURGQ: On the contrary , there are females with beards and facial hair of varying amounts, plus most other mammals, like the afore-aforementioned bear–no-matter what genitals it is born with–have hair (well, fur). So then, body hair is a genderless quality and can’t define gender. And by the way, I wouldn’t go around asking bears to spread their legs so you can think you’ve decided what gender they are based on what you find.
SG: OK, fine, but what about the male’s deep voices or adam’s apples?
FURGQ: What about Mae West, Kathleen Turner, Angelina Jolie? They have deep voices.
SG: There are exceptions too.
FURGQ: At the end of the day, the sound and timber of someone’s voice does not define male and female. And as far as the adam’s apple, anyone can have one. Just because some bodies have bigger ones than others doesn’t make theirs’ male and the other female. Sandra Bullock, Meg Ryan, and Halle Berry can all be said to have large adam’s apples.
SG: Well, females can nurse babies and men can’t.
FURGQ: We’ve already seen that body parts do not define gender itself—they may be associated with bodily functions and made-made words—but those words and functions referring to various body parts don’t define gender. It’s what’s inside that counts—the inner experience or feeling of being the gender you know yourself to be. So, I will ask my original question: What is your inner experience of being a particular gender—not reliant on the outer forms of the body? What does it feel like to be who you are?
SG: We just know, that’s all. We just know.
FURGQ: And that’s my answer to your original question. I told you we’d get to it eventually.
SG: Whatever. We won this little debate [the SG’s walk away with their chests puffed out and their chins pointed high].
“Love your neighbor as yourself,” I call out as they strut away, but they are too far out of range to hear, which would be the case no matter the distance from where we stood.
I Think I Might be Straight?
My Ongoing Journey of Discovering My Sexual Orientation
Jennifer Angelina Petro
CW: Description of Dysphoria; mention of sexual abuse; open references to genitalia; mention of gender-affirmation surgery; a couple sexually explicit words; allusions to sexual acts
- Dysphoria—Getting Current
As of the writing of this post—November 5th, 2018, I am struggling with a nasty bout of dysphoria. Haven’t had one this bad in a while. In this moment—sitting on a big, round, fluffy, pink pillow on the floor of the living room, writing this, it’s six-eleven P.M. It’s dark, rainy, chilly. The autumn leaves are shining with their true brilliance. And I am sitting here alone, weeping quietly. I want a vulva so badly—my heart hurts. My guts are churning. My whole body feels wrong. I know—I have an interestingly-penis-shaped vulva. I know—it’s not the parts that make the person. I am a woman no matter what my genitals look like. I am a woman because I am—not because I take estrogen—not because of how I dress or act or speak. I am a woman. Enough said.
And yet—here I am, sitting on the floor—experiencing this strange sensation in my genitals—it’s a sort of longing to be something else—it’s visceral. The feeling extends up my sides, branching to my arms and shoulders, and my shoulder blades ache as if wanting to sprout wings. The rain-stained darkened window reflects my face—it looks as if I’m melting. My heart contracts and pulls my sense of self inwards a little further—a little more away from the world, and the tears withdraw inside, and my eyelids feel heavy, and my spirit wilts like a rain-soaked weeping willow. My genitals seem to remember another time—perhaps another lifetime even—I don’t know—but another time, when they were right with who my spirit is—when they radiated warmth, the darkness of a pond, the beauty of a flower, and the power of the moon.
And so, I sit, type, share what many think is way too much information. I know I wax poetic—fuck you—I’m a poet. Thing is, the very next moment after the blessed revelation that I’m a woman over three years ago—the very next moment—I wanted gender affirmation surgery. It didn’t faze me as to why I had such a desire. It simply needed to happen. Having no frame of reference in any way to such a surgery—the palpable desire to adjust this body more to what would ease this intense longing—that would help me feel more me—wasn’t even surprising. It’s as if it was always there—hidden inside, and that’s because it was. And it is all a holy mystery.
I think this wave of dysphoria has to do with where I am on my journey to awakening to my sexual orientation. The more I think I’m straight—that I really like guys—the lonelier I feel—the more impossible life feels. I want to be made love to with every fiber of my being by a man. I want to feel a cock inside me. It’s just the truth, and it will never happen. Nor will I ever have a child or nurse a baby. These are painful truths I live with every day. Some days hurt more than others. Today is one of the days it hurts like hell.
2. Questions About My Sexual Orientation
After I came out, the second most frequently asked question (after: “Have you had the SURGERY?”) from people was (and often still is): “Are you lesbian? I mean, you were married to a woman for twenty-three years. So, um, like…you’ve got to be a lesbian, right?”
When I first had the blissful christening of being transgender, I assumed I was, in fact, a lesbian, for exactly the reasons people mentioned. It made sense.
Then, about a year in, I was ordering some fries from Five Guys and the cashier was an incredibly handsome young man, and I found myself swooning in a way I’d never done before. I could barely speak. My knees were shaking. My hands fumbled as I gave him my crinkly cash and took the receipt hoping we would make some electric, albeit brief finger to finger contact. I knew if we did, I might faint.
Alas, it didn’t happen. I stepped aside to wait for my fries while compulsively munching on the free peanuts they give out. I admit I kept stealing looks at him. I hoped to god he couldn’t see my eyelashes batting like hungry butterflies.
I was stunned. It was the first time in my life I consciously had an attraction to a man. I left the restaurant and pondered in my heart what this encounter meant.
I’m a lesbian, right? Or am I bi?
I went home and conjured up some sexual-fantasies to see what felt better, so to speak, when imagining myself being sexually intimate with someone. And while I could feel twinges during reveries with the traditional images of men and women, the one that made me the horniest was thinking of making love with a man, and of doing various things to a man I suddenly always wanted to do. Once again, I was stunned.
And luckily, I wasn’t worried one way or the other.
Growing down (as opposed to “growing up”) I was forcibly “masculinized,” by my parents and other adults in my life. They saw something “effeminate,” in me and wanted it gone. After years of a steady diet of porn supplied by my parents it had seemingly “worked.” I thought for sure I was a straight guy even though I would have to confess to myself that when the porn I looked at/watched involved a man and a woman, I was often most fascinated by the guy and their “money shots.” I didn’t know why and I certainly didn’t encourage it by seeking out relationships with guys. I was steeped in an environment of homophobia and I had my own. I can see looking back that I also had an internalized misogyny, and, if I would have had a word for it in my unconscious awareness of being trans, I would have experienced an internalized transphobia as well. Not to mention dysphoria. Add to all that sexual abuse of all kinds, Catholic guilt over masturbating, as well as my own warped inner attitudes and desires around sex, and I wasn’t only confused, but ashamed—steeped in self-hatred.
Over time, after coming out, I started feeling the urge to date. Hadn’t dated in over twenty-five years. Time to get back in the game. Time’s a-ticking. I joined a couple dating sites. I proudly announced I’m trans and proceeded to write what amounted to an entire autobiography as my profile. It’s no wonder I never had any takers. No one had time to read such a tome.
I marked that I was lesbian. I marked to only have women see my profile. Nothing.
After a while, it seemed right that I was actually attracted to everyone in the gender galaxy (to hell with the spectrum idea—gender is an infinite multiverse). So, I switched my profile to “pan,” and happily proclaimed on FB that I was pan—bought the pan flag, and some pan-buttons, and well, yeah, being pan felt right. It seemed to encompass the whole kit and kaboodle.
And yet the people I found myself most attracted to were female-identified and/or presenting individuals. Maybe I was lesbian after all. Or maybe I’m pan with a little leaning towards women. Here again, I am happy to report that these confusions didn’t disturb my sense of self. It was an adventure. It was exciting. And yet, I believed it ultimately didn’t matter anyway because no one would ever want to date me let alone be sexual with me. That being said, it was all still fun to discover, if at least on my own, who and what made me horny. I longed to be sexual with someone the way I am now—fully cognizant of being a woman. I simply wanted to know the truth of who I am and share that truth with someone else.
I get it, labels mean little. I like them sometimes though. Like when I finally was diagnosed with being bi-polar. I found that strangely comforting. Same with being trans. Moving along a journey of discovering (uncovering?) my sexual orientation, I liked when I found names—labels. They were like sign-posts pointing to buried treasure. They don’t define me, they just help me understand myself.
Fast forwarding a bit, I’m not sure if it was the orchiectomy or my abusive past, or because I was resigning to never being sexual with anyone ever again—or because I simply was that way because I was—there needn’t be a reason—but I began to wonder if I was asexual. After much research, it seemed to fit. I no longer felt attracted to anyone sexually. And that was OK too.
That label didn’t last long however. I don’t know why. It just fell away, and a more, deep-seated, realization began to emerge.
I started having more frequent sexual fantasies involving male-identified and presenting people. I realized I wanted to identify as hetero but felt afraid to do so—or insecure—something. My internalized homophobia came in—as if I, a woman, could be gay—gay for guys, that is. I am a woman, so I can’t be gay for guys. I can be attracted to them, and that makes me straight. And yet, the deep fears were there.
Dysphoria began to creep back in more and more, I think because I felt insecure about having a penis—my penis shaped vagina. No guy would ever want me—unless they were fetishizers. Yet I couldn’t, and can’t, escape the truth. I am a woman with a penis. Enough said.
And so, today, Monday, November 5, 2018, I am settling in nicely with the dawning of being straight. I like guys, and that is fine with me. Maybe someday I’ll actually have the opportunity to be with one. For now, however, I rest (uneasily) in the work to be done today. And if this sense of being straight changes? So be it. As Allan Watts once said—we don’t dance together to end up at a particular spot on the dance floor. We dance to have fun. We dance to feel alive.
III. Current Final Thoughts
This journey of discovering my sexual orientation isn’t unique to me. And not just because I’m a transgender woman. It’s because I’m human. There are many factors contributing to this extended journey and the fact is that there is likely no finish line to this exploring. Many people, if they’re deeply honest and self-aware sometimes question their sexual orientation. Sometimes not and they can be just as honest and self-aware. It’s all good.
Main thing I suggest to anyone out there experiencing questions about their sexual orientation—have fun. It’s OK to be who you are. It’s OK not to know. It’s OK to know and not tell the world. It’s OK to treasure up your findings to yourself and/or to a few, select people. It’s OK to shout it off the rooftops. And it’s OK to wake up tomorrow and think you’re actually something else. Have fun, be safe, have a trusted support network and even a therapist if you feel overwhelmed. You’re not alone. And again, there may not be a finish line. Main thing is: Have fun, and enjoy adventuring. Go slow, go far, and rejoice—you are giving yourself the gift, and honor, of exploring who you are.
I Think Too Much About Everything…Even Facebook Posting
Jennifer Angelina Petro
When is it OK to start posting silly puns and memes after events like the massacre at Tree of Life? Is it even appropriate to post anything silly at all in today’s frightening times? Am I exhausting my FB friends when I post all this serious-as-shit-trans-stuff? Do I offend them when I ask them to change their profile frames? Do I risk getting into arguments over politics? How do I handle feeling disappointed when more people don’t (won’t?) read my activist FB notes and blog-posts, and even my poems? Why am I even asking and sharing questions like these?
I am bipolar. My PTSD can exhibit similar symptoms to borderline personality disorder. I am aware my abuse history and addictions sometimes stir up codependency. I say these things to shed some light as to why I care so much about something as inane as posting on FB.
I have taken it upon my FB timeline to be an oasis of positivity and humor in the desert of horror going on in our country and around the world. I consciously chose to stick with funny posts because I know how important it is to laugh. And then, I couldn’t do it anymore. Not just because my life is more threatened now than it was even two weeks ago, but also because it just seems wrong to post silliness while such tragedies occur.
Of course, I am not responsible for how you feel, what you think, or what you do or do not do. Of course, you probably don’t have time to care about what I post or don’t post. Of course, I need to get my mind away from caring about any of this. Trouble with me is that I am thoughtful, highly empathic, and, am old-fashioned in the sense of treating the words, “FB Friends,” as friends in general—in “real” life. In other words—I think too much and I care too much.
As a bipolar person it’s very challenging to find “balance,” in anything in life, let alone something as inconsequential as FB posting. I need to be aware of-and-steer clear of all-or-nothing, black/white thinking, and so it’s absurdly hard for my brain to decide do I post something funny or serious, or do I try to balance them out, or must I post only one or the other, or do I leave FB altogether?
Not everyone is on FB as much as I am, and of course, it can be argued I’m on it too much. I am also unemployed and prone to hazardous isolation, so, for me, FB can be an important means for staying even virtually connected to the world while most people I know are off being gainfully employed. So, as goofy as it seems, the question of what to post is important to my broken brain.
I also understand FB has implemented annoying algorithms that prevent us from seeing things on one another’s profiles. I know we can also choose to “follow,” each other’s pages thus seeing more posts of those we follow than those we don’t. And of course, anyone is free to unfriend anyone or choose to stop following someone and still remain friends. You can even choose to stop seeing someone’s post completely and still remain FB friends, which, incidentally, I have done with some FB friends.
As so often happens, I am thinking out loud. I am telling all. No secrets with Jenn. Why do I do this? Because more than anything it’s important to share my vulnerable, messy, and stumbling humanity, and if that includes overthinking what I do or do not do FB post, so be it. Why do I think it’s so important? Am I being narcissistic? I hope not. I feel it’s important for the reasons I have stated many times—to humanize being trans, to help end the stigma of mental illness, and just to demonstrate that living in a radically open way is possible.
What am I going to do about the FB posting dilemma? Post what I post and let go of whatever happens. If my serious posts tire you out as just another preach-to-the-choir-political-poster, then so be it. If my silly posts cheer you up and lighten your day, so be it. It is my hope the serious posts will inspire you to action—clear and open action. It is my hope you will share those activist posts with your friends and family. It is my hope the memes and puns will be shared too and inspire you to remember it’s OK to laugh even when there is so much horror in the world.
Mainly, however, it is my hope that my brain becomes healthy enough someday to not spend this much thought power on FB.
This year marks the first Christmas I will be unable to buy anything for my kids. I realize that’s a pretty good record, and yet, my heart breaks knowing I do not have the resources to buy presents this year–for my kids or anyone else.
Yes, they will understand. Yes, I can make them things, write them things. I know. And there are also things they need and want in their young lives that I would love to help them with.
If you are able, please send along a donation below that I promise to use towards purchasing gifts for my three sons.
Thank you with all my heart.
For My Therapist, Dr. Sullivan
Radiance Angelina Petro
I want to introduce you to my therapist, Dr. Sullivan. Dr. Sullivan is a spiritual counselor (an ordained interfaith minister), a sociologist, a gender studies professor, author, feminist, shaman, hypnotist, and over all amazingly gifted, kind, and wonderful person who I both respect and admire.
I truly believe my sessions with Dr. Sullivan have been, and continue to be, transformative. She supports and guides me through some of the difficult challenges in my life as a transgender person. Over the last year she has also been integral in helping me get to a place of actually wanting to live and to thrive while living. She has helped me with my transition and is tremendously insightful, wise, and commonsensical as well about my life as a transwoman struggling to find work and a place to live. Her deep spiritual insights have helped me navigate the intense self-hatred I have carried with me most of my life. Dr. Sullivan is open, attentive, and deeply compassionate. She is very well versed in LGBTQIA issues and her vast knowledge of gender studies helps especially with cases like mine. But she doesn’t just work with people on the LBGT spectrum. She works with anyone.
If you are looking for an amazingly gifted therapist or you know someone who is, then please contact Dr. Sullivan at 215-704-4264. Her website is www.rosechild.org. She is local to Philly and also does Skype sessions for clients around the world.
Thank you Dr. Sullivan. I am so grateful you are in my life. <3
You may not know this but I lost my job of 16 years this past June, due, in large part, I believe, to being transgender. I am also about to lose my home leaving me a divorced, 48 year old unemployed and homeless transwoman. I am applying to many different jobs and have only had 2 interviews in some 60 applications thus far. Seems there is little market for people like me, even with my stellar teaching resume.
Right now, I have no source of money in my checking account and cannot pay for groceries or other things I need to just get by. I applied, and was turned down for, unemployment. I am trying to get food stamps and welfare, but the process is slow and I need groceries now and there are basic bills to pay, like water, electricity, etc.
If you are able, please consider donating to me on my blog using the donation button at the bottom of this post and that appears on the bottom of nearly all recent posts. I was hoping to use any donations from here for future gender-affirming surgeries (even though only 2 people have donated in the past 2 years), but anyway, I need to eat. I am desperate, and scared. If you can, please help. I hate asking this….I have never before in my life ever asked for such a thing. I never would have envisioned this being my life at 48.
Writing this post breaks my heart. I was going to do some sort of crowd-funding for my surgeries as soon as I got on my feet again, but to be asking for money for food is heartbreakingly sad.
But OK. There you have it. I have kept this blog for about 6 years and love it. I hope you do too. You know, if you’ve been following me all these years, that I have never asked for such a thing. This is real.
Thank you everyone for reading and for donating. Please feel free to share this post with those who you might think would be willing and able to help. I love you all. Thank you with all of my heart.
Yours Ever, Jennifer (Radiance)
Reflections on Clothing,
Body Hair, Shaving, Joseph,
Mowgli, Spirits, and My Spiritmother from Home
Radiance Angelina Petro
I remember, before I came out, going to work wearing a tie, stiff slacks, dress shoes, and getting called, Joseph and Mr. all day; and then, coming home, shedding it all—dropping it all—like unnecessary armor—the clothes, the name, and then putting on my comfortable clothes–the ones I had started buying and wearing in secret, the ones I have always wanted to wear but didn’t know it—the ones that made my body feel alive; and finding myself suddenly breathing again. I hadn’t realized it, but I had been holding my breath in a very real sense the whole day. In my silken night gown however–beard and all, hairy everything and all–I felt at home in my body. And then, add to this wonder, the discovery that I could choose my own name, and I felt like a queen—well, more like a sorceress brewing her own life.
The day came when I found myself shaving my arms for the first time. I couldn’t believe how freeing it was. This may sound hard to believe, but the day I shaved my entire body (well, what I could reach, that is), I hadn’t planned on doing it. I just stood there naked in front of the full-length mirror, took the clippers out, and started. Some of you may not know this, but I used to be hairy as hell. When the tufts of hair began to fall from my arms, chest, legs, belly, my…well, other parts—I laughed and wept, and then laughed and wept some more. I was so incredibly happy.
I wasn’t shaving to try to look like some feminized image in my head—nor was I, nor am I now, against body hair on anyone—but for me, it was a moment of liberation and revelation, and shaving felt like shedding, molting—stepping out of bearskin and becoming human.
Same as when I wore “women’s” clothes for the first time. Of course there is no such thing as men’s or women’s clothes—I know that now—but those first few weeks I started wearing clothes I thought were women’s, were among the most innocently sweet times of my life. Yes, you and I both know I am prone to hyperbole and just a touch of drama—but who cares? It’s the truth. First time I wore a woman’s blouse and skirt I felt euphorically happy. And when I put a dress on for the first time– hiding up in my room late one Friday night in late winter– I admit I felt aroused, but much more than sexually–I felt blessed, validated, home—a kind of arousal I had never experienced before but that would soon be eclipsed by the watershed moment when I realized what all of this meant (not that it needed any meaning)—the moment I realized I am transgender.
What I saw in the mirror that night was right and good, even though, as I said, I still kept a beard—which in those first few months, felt like an incongruency. I now know many gorgeously handsome men who wear dresses and sport beards and they look (and are) amazing. But then there came the day the beard had to go too. And for me, I have done my best since that day, to look and feel as shaven as I can. That is my preference. Somedays I put on my skirt and a t-shirt, eye makeup and go out without shaving—occasionally I won’t shave for two days, but that is rare.
The thought of wearing a tie now, or the old clothes I used to wear, sickens and saddens me—or rather, makes me feel like it’s a violation of my being to even think about wearing them. And I know that is still stinking thinking—that it doesn’t matter what I wear—I am a woman through and through—fuck what anyone else thinks a woman should or shouldn’t be or wear—I get it—intersex complications all rolled into one me—I am a woman—no matter what I wear, how I dress, or how much body hair I choose to keep on or not. And yet the feeling remains that to wear those old clothes would be like wearing fire.
And today, alone in my house, but not alone inside—for I have you and others—I no longer have to hide anything. This is me (of course, yes, there are still things I hide just for the sake of the joy of mystery). For the first time in a long time, I am OK with me—with who and what I see in the mirror. I am not where I want to be in many ways with regards to my physical appearance, but I am moving in the direction that feels right for me.
Wednesday, at therapy, I had the most profound sense that Joseph was ready to leave—that he had done his work and was ready to go back into the light. He had protected me; did his best to keep me safe. Even as the abuse piled on—he hid me, sheltered me from the blows—he took me into his soul. And when I told him I was ready to give birth to myself he acted as midwife and wept with joy the hardest when he saw me standing in front of the mirror all dressed in satins and silks holding a little girl in my arms.
His spirit remains in me, but his soul has gone home. This may be hard to understand—this difference between spirit and soul. All I know is that spirit is like another mind—another voice or breath, while soul is the like the essence behind that mind or breath. It is like the music of the voice and its meaning. Spirit is mist, soul water, body earth holding all of the above.
I live with two spirits with my own soul in one body. It’s hard to explain but it makes sense to me. Yes, each spirit has its own, individual soul, but their souls are their souls and have little to do with me. My soul is my soul, like your eyes are your eyes, and this body is mine—a woman’s—even if it has shades of Joseph shimmering through.
It would not surprise me in the least, by the way, to find out one day, sooner or later, that I am not two-spirited—but many spirited. Just as there are many genders made manifest in our waking conscious lives there are many gender-spirits swirling about us—and they are all—each and every one—beautiful and scented with earth and dappled with stars, and, with my luck all looking for a home (for that is what many spirits do—they look for homes to dwell in while others are content to travel through the trees and across ponds never settling down anywhere).
Last night, Joseph sent a firefly into, and then out of, my room. I know it was him checking up on me. And when I blew him a kiss I felt myself grow taller into my own being.
I know too that it was my mother—my spiritmother—who sent Mowgli to me (well, she is more than my spiritmother, but that is another story—she is also more than my most recent earthmother, but that too, is another story). Spiritmother wanted me to know I am loved and that I needed to allow myself to be loved by people here. She wanted me to know that freely accepting and giving love with vulnerability, joy, and wisdom—is OK—even though it will always mean heartache at some point or another (there are worse things than heartache—there is heart emptiness, heart sickness, and heart rage—I have experienced all of these and at very least heartache cooks up along with it poetry and the longing that pervades the best poetry). Spiritmother sent Mowgli to me to let me know she was thinking of me, and that I am with her always, and she with me, and that, unlike I had been wrongly thinking for so long, I can bewith her whenever I wantneed.
Looking at pictures of Mowgli today, his eyes betray the source of the mystery that is the love of my spiritmother. And, even as uncertainty swoops and dives around my head, I am safe—here—in my own true self, together, with you.
When that watershed moment came when I knew, beyond the shadow of a doubt, that I am transgender, everything I knew and didn’t know, bloomed into that one divine, precious moment, and the joy from that moment echoes today through my entire being—right through my fingertips and toes. Yes, the watershed moment caused a mud-slide and many houses turned on their foundations and careened down the hillsides of their lives. Yes, the watershed moment flooded the streets of many hearts and preconceived ideas of who I am or was. Sure, the watershed moment washed out many old yards littered with the shells of old cars and rundown sheds. Nature is like that.
That moment though was the single most soul expanding moment I have ever experienced thus far in this life, and I stand today in deep gratitude and humility that I was picked to experience a second birth in my own being, my own body—that my own soul got to realize itself while in a body—that the spirits within me have a chance to sing, dance, to revel by the fires of passion and purpose. They get to live as freely inside of me as they want—which, is a lot—is totally—is completely—is without reservation or hesitation—is without shame—is without malice towards anyone—is with utter simplicity and fullness of breath and room to explore and to wonder and simply be.
There is more to the story, of course. It is still writing itself in the sand and on the water and in the wind and in the fires and bones of the world. This is where I am at this moment, Friday, August 05, 2016. As I go about my day today, looking for work and a place to live, I am also playing detective trying to piece together the intersex narrative that has been running through the pages of my life like an unseen river which is only now beginning to rise, spilling forth over the banks of the ideas I used to think held me—even as a transwoman. The mystery continues and more shall be revealed.
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This weekend I had the great blessing of attending Story Fusion, a wonderful storytelling festival in the Lehigh Valley. It was organized by the Lehigh Valley Storytelling Guild. The weekend was truly life changing for me and I will be posting about my experiences, and the fruits of those experiences, over the next couple of weeks. The best thing about the weekend was meeting and connecting with this whole culture of people–storytellers. The people I met were generous in spirit, kind, open, wise, playful, and out there trying to make the world a better place. One such person is Kristin Pedemonti, a professional storyteller who founded an amazing literacy outreach program in Belize. She is helping teach teachers and students creative wrting, the value of stories and literacy, and so on. It is a truly beautiful endeavor. Today I am reprinting, with her permission, an entry from her website that tells about her project. Included here are three training videos that she made showing some of the work she is doing. Please watch them now or over the next few days. She is wise and playful and we can all learn from her generous spirit. Please visit her website and follow this link to the original article because in it there is a Paypal Donation button to help support her project that I was unable to put in this reprint.
So here’s the article about her work in Belize.
Kristin sold her home and most of her possessions in 2005 to create Literacy Outreach Belize. She used a substantial portion of the proceeds from the sale to kickstart this volunteer project. Since 2006, Kristin has donated literacy programs for over 33,000 children in Belize and trained over 600 teachers!
Carla, teacher at St. Joseph Primary in Belize City has this to say:
I am a teacher at St. Joseph Primary School in Belize City and I have known Ms. Kristin ever since she came to Belize. She is a storytelling expert and she has really influenced me as a teacher. She is vibrant, motivated and has a very pleasant personality when dealing with children… I was lucky to have been chosen by her to tell stories to my class and the children and I have always enjoyed it. I am a very motivated teacher myself and just listening to her made me even more enthusiastic about teaching especially telling stories to my children. ~Carla Graniel
Great things are happening with Literacy Outreach Belize! Good News, Kristin is the 2011 Recipient of the National Storytelling Network International StoryBridge Oracle Award in part due to her work in Belize!
Every year Kristin returns to Belize for approximately one month to continue the project through teacher training workshops and school visits. Every year since 2007 she depends on her own fundraising and securing sponsorship to sustain the project. Through the years the following groups and individuals have helped sponsor Literacy Outreach Belize: In 2012, the trip was sponsored through a fundraising campaign on www.indiegogo.com. 53 people raised $3K+ to sponsor the creation of Teacher Training Videos. In the past, Michael Thomas, Belize City Rotary, Rosendo Urbino, The Kilroy Family, Allison Rotteveel, Marlborough Elementary School, Northern Elementary School and August Brinker. Read on to learn what was accomplished with each sponsor’s donations.
Thanks to all the supporters via indiegogo.com Kristin was able to do the following in January 2012:
Here’s a preview of the Training Videos:
Copyright Joseph Anthony of the Wonder Child Blog