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.
When There is Nowhere to Turn
I Find Myself Surrounded by the Moon and Her Messengers of Light
Jennifer Angelina Petro
One morning, walking through the January forest,
I watched the path double back on itself and disappear.
One evening, sailing on an indigo ocean of questions,
I saw the horizon swallow itself whole, like a monster all stomach and mouth.
I too searched for brains, a heart, and a home,
And the yellow-brick road turned into rust.
Heaven has fallen from the sky like so many shot-down stars.
There is nowhere to turn that doesn’t lead to ghost towns and empty silos.
My aspirations get stuck in the trees, like shreds of shawls.
Angels’ wings have folded.
Smiles are rimmed in blood.
Embraces reach for me and miss, grasping themselves.
The time has come for whirlwinds and blizzards,
The time has come for floods, and bone-rattling thunder,
Look—the sun was just swallowed by a wolf—
Look—the bridges have all burst into flame–
The moon is growing fuller,
Taking over the darkness—
Look—she is pulling the sun from the belly of the wolf–
Look—she is stilling the thunder and plucking my prayers from the trees—
Look-she is unfolding the path and shaking out the horizon and spreading it afar, anew—
Look—she is picking up the fallen stars and hanging them back in their places—
Look—she is brushing the angels’ wings and rubbing their shoulders—
Look—she is wiping the bloody mouths, like
A mother wiping a child’s face—rough and tender, all at once–
Look—she is steadying me so I don’t duck or fall when the embraces come—
Look-she is gently scolding me to listen better to her messengers of Light called:
Look—she is lifting me, rocking me in the softest of breezes, singing,
And whispering runes and spells, affirmations, and ways through the dark,
And treasure maps and secret passageways through mountains and dungeons–
Her tears fall down her breasts, mixing with her milk as she lets me suckle
For as long as I need in the cradle of her light-filled, infinite arms.
All donations go towards my transition. Thank you. <3
Misfit of Light
Jennifer Angelina Petro
Oh sweet seed, how you bundled into the egg with such eagerness and gusto,
Oh sweet egg, how you nestled snuggly into the roots along the riverbank of my mother’s womb,
Oh sweet soul, being of love and light, how you sped through the heavens to guide this tiny spark,
Oh sweet spirit of wonder, how you swirled and danced and unfolded a girl into the body of a boy,
Did you get so caught up in the bliss of kissing the soul
That you took leave of your senses and careened drunkenly into the making of me?
It’s OK. I am not angry. I can make light of it today
Because I am an alchemist of form, able to transmute wood into moss and salt into musk,
I am a misfit of the highest order,
I am a being of light ungendered living in a vessel that walks in genders;
I am a chalice, a holder of sweetness, shaped with a cup and a stem unlike any other woman’s,
I am a journey–star-navigated through the cities and woods with a knapsack full of fruit,
I am a sailor and the sea and a ship made of ever smoothing wood,
I am the map and the country and the treasure marked with an X and an X and another X and a Y,
I am a heavenly body and a sky full of moons and stars,
I am a noble kink in the standard protocol of the world,
And I am loved by many—enough to become an open road of freedom,
Enough to sing my way home and into bed with the goddess
Who waits to render me back into her soul of souls
Where holy darkness blossoms all things misfit into perfect garden-mounds of joy.
Conversations with the Goddess
Jennifer Angelina Petro
I asked the goddess
How may I worship you?
Pleasure, she answered,
Pleasure yourself and others.
Do you mean sexually? Because I’m talking
About worshipping you—how do I praise you,
Adore you, honor you, and offer myself as a sacrifice to you?
Pleasure yourself and others, she said, and take that
To mean any form of pleasure you wish,
And know this: I do not want or need your worship.
If it makes you feel good to show reverence
For your creatrix, then show it to my creation.
If you want to honor me then honor yourself and those around you;
Honor pleasure—your own and others. If you want to adore me
Then adore yourself and others, if you want
To praise me then praise yourself and others,
And if you want to offer yourself to me
Then offer yourself to yourself by living your most precious, winged truth,
And then share it with others.
Forget the idea of sacrifice. That is an old, tiresome idea.
Giving and receiving pleasure needn’t be sacrificial.
They are sacred, but not sacrifices.
I lose nothing by loving you or from shining light for you
All day, every day. Throw out those old notions
Of worship and sacrifice—toss them to me, let me reshape them as bliss.
Then see me in the mirror and in the eyes of others,
See me in the movements of every tree and ocean,
And every spinning planet; feel me in every kiss and caress,
Every breath and note of music, every drumbeat, and clap of thunder.
I am the goddess. And I am yours freely
Without condition, without catch, without cost.
Forget offering me your head. You need it.
Offer me nothing. Keep it all. It’s yours, and then,
Dear child, pleasure yourself and others,
And rejoice in the rituals of delight that are both heavenly
And earthly by my design.
Trying to Focus on the Ceiling Up Close in the Half Light
Jennifer Angelina Petro
Looking up takes practice.
One doesn’t focus the eyes
So easily right off the bat,
Your eyes fight straining
So they don’t go all crisscross.
Give in to the white space however
And all manner of things emerge.
You begin to see colors,
And shapes assemble, and feelings
Of possibility and anticipation
Slowly build in your mind
Until finally you’ve fashioned a dream
To live in all day every day.
Of course your eyes eventually do go crisscross
And everything begins to blur,
And you wonder how long you’ve been
Staring at a ceiling so close to your face,
And then you wonder how you got up there,
And then you look down and just make out
Your assigned form lying there sleeping with blankets half off
Revealing just how frighteningly vulnerable
We all are when surrendered to the dark waves of living unconsciously,
And shivers run through you,
For you are doing just that up here
And everywhere you go,
And so you snip the chord
Binding you to that body
Which sends you fluttering through the ceiling, the attic,
And out into the cold, January night,
And you wonder why it is so windless,
And you wonder why you are so tissue-thin
When you feel so full,
And you wonder what unseen currents
Are bearing you, and you wonder where
And when it will end, and what your final form will look like
When you land in the arms of the moon.
And when she turns you over to kiss your face
And swathe you in caresses of light, you will wonder why
You ever waited so long to filter through the boundaries of your life
And become your fiercely awake and joy-receptive self.
Thank you for helping support my transition. <3
Reflections on Feminine Spirituality
and My First Christmas Conscious of Being a Woman
Jennifer Angelina Petro
I wish you all the happiest of holidays–safe, warm, and love-filled.
I am have edited this piece with a new title and a paragraph at the end that should have been in there from the beginning.
I want to also add a trigger warning for some brief, erotic content. It seems I have turned a few people off with my teenage visions of Mary and my adult visions of bliss with my Beloved. It’s interesting that erotic images for the Beloved have been around since before the Song of Solomon–but most of them between either a male beloved and a female lover or vice a versa. There are not many lesbian spiritual images for union and oneness so perhaps that is why my descriptions seem so strange to some. They are my truth however and not shared with the intent to offend. So read on if you dare, and I hope your day is filled with light. The story of the birth of divinity is as old as the earth. And yet for me the real story of Christmas is Mary. She is the anointed one. She was the one strong enough to say yes to the Divine within her and then bravely share the fruits of her womb with the world.
Mary Chistmas! Love, Jennifer
Reflections on Feminine Spirituality
and My First Christmas Conscious of Being a Woman
Jennifer Angelina Petro
For years I loved the story of the little baby king of the universe being born in a manger in a city whose name means, “House of Bread.” I loved the idea of this king of all being manifested as holy innocence—the greatest power of all. I loved how the animals—the wisest of all—gathered around to seek him with their marble-brown eyes. I loved how time stopped and the whirling of the earth paused when he was born. I loved how shepherds came to visit him with lambs draped across their shoulders. I loved how the entire story was steeped in light and yet I could not escape the foreboding and foreshadowing of what was to happen to this king of light some short thirty year later. And over time I began to hate the story.
The idea that a supreme being would sacrifice his only child to atone for his own mistakes is profoundly disturbing, whether that child chose freely to accept this mission or not. The idea that the actions of people were so depraved that they demanded the brutal killing of “god’s only son,” is barbaric. The story is perverted to me. It is an example of masculine energy gone awry.
Interestingly the past several years leading up to my discovery that I am transgender, I found myself drawn closer and closer to Mary in the nativity narrative. The more I read books about her and wrote songs to her the more I remembered how I loved her more than her son when I was growing up. I would stare at her in the many pictures and statues around my house and in the Catholic churches I went to. She fascinated me with her fiat—with her yes, with her beauty, her grace, her oceanic blue robes, her womb full of spirit-seed. I felt horrible guilt imagining her nursing her child. I felt like the worst of sinners the more I could not move my gaze from her beautiful face and chest during mass. I felt unredeemable when I imagined bathing her with kisses, and bound for hell for wanting to touch her there. All these years later I finally know why.
My soul has given birth to my true self—I am a lesbian woman–a revelation born from the womb of myself–and even though I am wrapped in the sweetest innocence and sense of discovery and wonder at being a woman—the circumstances around the revelation—the medical symptoms surrounding my womanhood leave me with a deep sense of loss—time lost, opportunities to live and love as a woman—to love a woman as a woman myself lost. No sooner was I born when the knowledge that the body that swaddles this woman is not traditionally feminine—it is a man’s body—came rushing in. This knowledge grieves me to the core of my being (my three sons not withstanding). It is my fiat to the holy mother. It is her will that this is so, and now I must release my womanhood into the hands of a transition that will take years of sacrifice.
Yet there is cause for rejoicing. Innocence has been reborn in me. I am approaching fifty with the soul of a young woman in her twenties, and the heart of a teenage woman, and the spirit of a little girl all of ten. And I have never been so happy. And as I bloom (a word and image I have been using in my writing for decades) more and more into myself as a woman the more the idea of a masculine deity becomes foreign—alien—tiresome.
I know about yin and yang and the thought that the divine encompasses the opposites—that the world we live in is a world of duality—and yet I no longer accept this sphere of opposites as the ground of being for the divine. It is true of nature—seed and ground, sperm and egg, but the force behind it all is mother—is Creatrix—is the goddess. All things are born from her womb; all things arise from her and suckle at her breasts.
Mary—mater—matter—mother–she is the goddess I love–the earth as mother, the soul as feminine—my soul as feminine—my soul as woman. The more I journey into myself as a woman the more I recognize the goddess as the prime force behind and within all things.
Who provides her with seeds? In the story of advent, the shadow of the holy-spirit sought Mary out for she was pure—without sin—desirable—she was woman. And I see this shadowed spirit to be of her own being covering herself with herself, and a short time later she is found to be with child. To me this is the image that she is self-generating—she is the goddess of parthenogenesis. She is the goddess of the virgin birth because she can generate her own offspring in her own womb. This is not to invalidate the masculine, the wonderfulness that is a man of wisdom, grace, power, beauty, talents, and magic. Nature needs the masculine, and the masculine is, in itself, holy. The divine Creatrix however has no need of this force to exist. She doesn’t encompass the opposites—she transcends them—she bleeds together darkness and light creating something altogether beyond these things—she gives birth to the flow of time and imagination. She is the source of all and reveals the fruit of her womb in everything we see, touch, taste, hear, smell, intuit.
Like a good mother she raises her children to be free and o how she must weep at what so many of her children have chosen to call living. She sings with joy too at the children who choose consciousness and peace, and she is constantly providing mercy and ways out to living with kindness and compassion, bliss and holiness every moment of every day.
And so this Christmas–this mass for the anointed one–I am deeply grateful to know what I believe as my truth. I no longer need to believe in a story I despise. I have been baptized with chrism scented with amber and myrrh, with magnolia and geranium, with vanilla and honey, coconut and sandalwood. And as the oil pours over my spirit and seeps, soaking my soul, I am alive as a woman of the moon and the earth. I am daughter of the Mother, the goddess, the Womb of All. I am the daughter of the Muse, the lover of the Wild Woman, the beloved of the Lover of All, and I am full with the fruit of my womb—children born from the shadow of my spirit—poems, songs, innocence, adventure, passion, wonder, and self-acceptance that I am honored to mother into the world. They are my gifts to myself and as long as you are willing to accept them, they are my gifts to you.
And speaking of gifts—thank you to all of the powerful women in my life who have befriended me over the years—especially recently. You are my guides, my stars, my shepherdesses leading this lamb home to her moon-lit fields and her moon-lit flock, and the moon-lit arms of her Beloved.
Blessed Be, Jennifer Angelina Petro
All donations go to my transition. Thank you for your much-needed support.
On the Devotion of Shaving
Jennifer Angelina Petro
One by one,
Finger by finger,
I shave them
With a certain,
I am amazed at how fast
The hair grows on them,
And on my legs, arms,
I never before shaved
Nor ever dreamed of shaving;
Now, every day,
I bend forward, pausing a moment
To feel how much this feels
Like prayer, and I draw
A Venus razor up and under,
Around and around
My calves and thighs, like
An instrument of devotion,
And my legs are so
Happy, so grateful to be touched
And tended, and when I am finished
And feel their smoothness
And how they thrum with being loved,
They tell me again and again
How this was always
What they wanted;
And as I draw the razor
Over my arms, they too shine
With gladness, as does
My chest, although, to be completely
Honest, the skin on my chest isn’t
As happy about being shaved
As the rest of this body,
That said, it loves the absence
Of hair and the silkiness
Is remarkable, as is the strange sense
Of being a mother,
That I have been living
Shrouded with the fur of a father,
And now as it falls into the water
Of the tub, and my skin sings
And rejoices to be unburdened,
I see I am a priestess
And this body a vessel
Of holiness, and every stroke
Of the razor, every experiment
With Nair, every time I run
A finishing razor to find
The stray hairs, I am tending
A temple where Goddess lives
And aches to be known and to know,
Where she shares lotus flowers
And sandalwood, where she kisses
My soul, and breathes over my fears
And cares turning them
Into dragonflies and milkweed seeds,
Where she tells me again
And again, “Thank you
For honoring me with the truth,
Thank you for being born and being
Your very own mother,
No wonder you are tired,
Allow me to nurse you
Into fullness and cradle you
And sing to you
As you rest in the grace
Of the revelation
I have given, and how bravely
You have surrendered
And how naturally
You have stepped into your power,
How carefully you are tending
The garden of who you really are,
Come, rest my daughter,
Allow me to hold you
As sweetly as you are holding me.”
Awakening to the Dream
Joseph Anthony Petro
When I awoke
From a deep,
Another dream awaited me
In the form of a door
That was never there before
In the eastern wall of my room.
Whatever light was behind it
Framed the door and filled the room
With blinding brilliance.
I rose from the bed,
Wiped my eyes,
Remembered I was wearing
Phillies shorts and a t-shirt
And thought: Whoever
Wants me to enter
Or Whoever wants
To enter here might just be
A goddess or an angel.
And so I changed
Into my most flowing,
A light green, silken blouse
From India, and tan,
Billowy pants—light as air
That looked like a dress
The legs were so wide.
I brushed my hair.
Did my best to look beautiful,
All the while the door waited
With tender, illuminated patience,
And when I was ready
It opened, flooding my feet
With mountain mist, and the room
With clear, dew-soaked air—
Morning air, comfortable air—
Fresher than spring, crisper
Than autumn air—air kissed
I stood, bathed in radiance,
Breathing in deep freedom,
Allowing the light to drape its fragrant,
Satin shawl around my shoulders.
“Ready?” came the voice.
“I think so,” I replied.
After a pause the voice
Asked again: “Ready?”
“Yes,” I smiled, smoothing
My pants, raising my head high,
Opening my chest,
Straightening my back,
Settling my shoulders: “Yes, yes I am.”
And when the soft hand
Took mine and I stepped over
The threshold I knew
There was no turning back–
I was my true self—embraced by light,
And I was entering a living dream–
A dream to end all dreams.
Blue Feathered Soul
Joseph Anthony Petro
Her blue robe feathers over
My blue feathered soul
On a feathery blue evening
Bedecked with the moon.
Blue feathered tears fall
From my eyes only to rise
In the feathery blue trees as fireflies
Dancing in a festival of light.
If I let you hold me
It might be that I weep for days.
Are you ready for that? I ask, ashamed.
She opens the drapery of her wings—
Blue feathered, full of sky, full of ocean,
Full of stars, full of infinite mercy, and says,
That is why I have come.