Trans Emergence: The Spiritual Dimension of Coming of Age
A friend, years ago, told me that men begin their lives in aggression (represented by the colour red) and women in passivity (represented by white). From there, the two sexes progress to the other– men to passivity at midlife, women to aggression and warrior spirit. In old age, both sexes enter death, represented by black.
Trans people, my friend explained, begin their lives in death. From that point we emerge, as prescribed by our soul’s direction. I emerged into aggression, warrior boy with anima, then into passivity, as my center wavered, and now into the most complex anima/us relationship with my various Self.
What is the rite of passage for trans people? There is gender transition for some. What about for gender-variant people? It has taken me years to begin to feel as if I am maturing. For years I felt that I was not an adult simply because I did not know how to become.
I was female assigned at birth, and natural manhood did not come to me. My thin, smooth body seemed pre-pubescent, agonizingly and perpetually so. I am gender variant, and transition was never a clear choice. As I grew older, the time for the transition I had put off seemed to be upon me. And indeed I was tremendously dysphoric-- socially, physically, sexually. I was anxious to end the pain and confusion.
But when I began to pursue transition in earnest, I became uneasy. Something was definitely wrong. I didn't know what it was, because I felt like I wanted to transition more than anything-- sometimes dysphoric to the point of nausea, dysphoric to the point that I couldn't imagine living in the wrong body for a single additional day.
My unease did not abate. It grew and grew. It dominated my life. I felt caught between two things, both unwanted: manhood, and its absence. I elected not to transition. It was the most difficult decision of my life.
But as time went on, I felt released somehow. My path would be something other. I would grow up-- and no longer feel prepubescent, no longer be unrealized. My time for waiting was over. I was going to become myself. Somehow, incomprehensibly, without physical transition, I was going to grow up. In many ways, this growing up was a claiming of a new womanhood for the very first time. I had begun living as a boy when I was sixteen-- I had been a girl before but never a woman. I began to identify publicly as gender variant, or genderqueer. I began to change myself to fit what I saw framed in my inner eye. I grew out my hair and wound it into dreadlocks. I added to the wardrobe of clothing that always seems to bear the weight of my gender incongruence.
Yet most of the changes were not defined by outer alterations, or were only symbolized by them. Sometimes I wonder if that coiled up space in my belly, my unrealized adulthood, will ever unwind fully. It has begun to unwind, but its shape is so unclear, its being undefined. It defies gender and craves it. It cannot negotiate a place for itself in the physical realm, with its stubborn tendency to remain just the same while the dream-body slips through incarnation after incarnation.
But this is not only the burden of gender variant people.
For men and women now there are not many rituals or initiations to welcome adulthood. Adulthood comes upon us without the approval of our community. The act of maturing is met as a type of crime, a crime of the body. Sex is an example: Young people now are expected to remain virgin at least until age 18, by parents and by law. Physical maturity occurs much younger and sexual interest is very high, but unlike in many tribal societies, marriage is not permitted and neither is sex. The age of majority defines the age of consent, but legal adulthood represents the boundary of an extended adolescence necessitated by a technological society, and does not bear any relationship to the age of sexual maturity, which has remained relatively unchanged for millenia.
For trans people, our emergence is not only our emergence as sexual beings, but as gendered beings, and at least for a time, as gender outlaws– a very serious kind of outlaw, because gender is a primary, fundamental building block of society. Our coming-out is often terrifying, and sadly is also often marked by violence, rejection, and fear. We learn to become vigilant. Whether we enjoy our status as outlaws or seek to remedy our bodies and pass, or some combination of these, we are vigilant.
But should the damage and breaking be soothed, healed and re-integrated, there is a possibility of power. The power is the same power afforded to any journeyer, I think. The person who has traversed a long path in the dark will walk along it most confidently, perhaps even helping others who stumble.
As trans people, emergence is our special experience. While many people are men or women, the trans man or woman experiences a literal path of emergence into that gender, a breaking of the body, of the social code, of the rules. Sometimes that path ends in full transition, in passing, and in the simple confidence of rightness. Sometimes it ends with a radical acceptance of the mixed gender and body, the alchemical androgyny. Sometimes it ends in violence, at one's own hands or at another's. Emergence is rarely simple or easy. But in the struggle, rare qualities may be forged. For those who know that they are "both," a power of transcendence grows: A simple and profound perspective.
In the Tao te Ching, Lao Tzu wrote:
One who has a man’s wings
and a woman’s also
Is in himself a womb of the world
And, being a womb of the world,
gives birth ….