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.