Living Between the Lines: Identifying as Third Gender

Somewhere In-between

For as far back as we can tell certain societies, or cultures, have made room in their gender spectrum for more than one gender. This seems to be a way in which these cultures worked with naming those, or making space for those, who did not fit neatly into set ideas about male and female, masculine and feminine. This was rarely seen as negative, but as different. In this context different was valued, not something to be purged from the culture. Rather it was, though misunderstood, respected for what it might offer the culture, or society, as a whole.

There have always been those who live in-between the gender and sexual normalcy. Those who we call trans, gay, non-binary, gender-queer, and so on, are simply modern reflections and terms for ancient ways of being and living. From the start the idea is met with criticism. The modern argument that has followed in the west for the last several hundred years is that those who live outside of these sexual and gender norms do not reflect nature. That in some way living in such a way calls into question the authority of nature. Nature here is used as mirror in which human life is held up against in comparison to the mineral, plant, and animal, kingdoms. Critics have sited that nature is in essence heterosexual- or heteronormative.

Western science has brought a host of examples that defy this line of logic. The male seahorse bares and births its offspring, we know of almost 5000 specie that engage in homosexual activity, the plant kingdom is brimming with hermaphroditic propagation, and we now are gathering enough genetic, and epi-genetic, information to come to look at the gender-complex and sexually diverse world that we live in.

No longer can we look away from the data that validates those of us who come to live in in the world via a third gender expression.

These gender and sexual expressions can manifest for us in a multitude of ways. In fact the complexity of gender and sexual expression is too vast to engage in here, but it is imperative to note that the multiplicity of gender and sexual expression number as many of those of us who identify within our given spectrum.

A New Era

In these cultures where third gender peoples were accepted and respected it is important to note that often they were seen as fulfilling some vital function of that society. There is a Navajo legend that speaks about a third gender person called Turquoise Boy. In the story the men and women go to live in opposite places. Turquoise boy finds himself in a bad way because all of his friends, the women, and his husbands do not live in the same place. He works daily going back and forth as an ambassador until he finally is able to reconcile the men and women back to one another. In this myth we see the third gender person as that who bridges the gap between masculinity and femininity. We see that those First Nations people saw their third gender peoples as those who could bring balance and non-duality to a world often held between the duality of male and female, or masculine and feminine.

Third gender people are called many things by their individual cultures. Sometimes they are priest, sometimes they are healers, sometimes they are those who excel in carrying on certain traditions that are vital for cultures to survive with with their cultural identities intact.

More often than not we were seen as needed parts of the communities that we lived in. With colonialism came a great purging of practices, roles, ways of living, that existed outside of a white heteronormative lens. The ways of my people, those who live as a third gender, were wiped away from their cultures, their lands, and their written and oral histories.

The spirits of the land have not forgotten us, and neither has creation. Our ancestors still call out to us in visions, dreams, and in our hearts. I still remember having moments of time where I questioned my gender as a young person- moments where I questioned the role that I was born into. I remember visions of myself as female- a vision I have since come to realize was the “she” that lives within me. Those visions were given to me so that I might fuse together the physical (masculine) and the immaterial (feminine).

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My ancestors were also calling out to me. They brought books, research, and resources, to my attention that have helped me rediscover even their presence in my life. They have helped me craft together a path and a vision for others like myself. I have been blessed to see the very queer nature of existence- and how queer this world truly is. That has made all the difference; to have the constructs of male and female come crashing down so that I could be offered new eyes to see a very androgynous world.

Sometimes I think it is we, the third gendered ones, who are closer to home in the natural world than are my heteronormative brothers and sisters. Sometimes I am granted a vision in which the prisons of separation, colonialism, marginalization, and bigotry are broken, and my cis-heteronormative kin reach out to our queer and bright-faced hands and allow us the honor of leading them back home.

There is a revival, at least in my own life, of reclaiming this powerful archetypal way of being. What healing will come to those in the LGBTQ+ community when we are given our sacred functions back? When we are released from our prison of isolation and self questioning we will be free to be powerful conduits of radical change and profound justice on the earth. We need not appropriate other cultures, or their third-gender ways, as the archetypal roles simply need new, fresh, and creative, life blown back into them. These archetypes are not created because of us, but rather it is because we live and move in the world that they are identified and documented. They are our birthright. It is we, those of us who are third gender, who must make them come alive again.

A Seasonal Meditation

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Seasons fighting for space..

The transition of seasons has begun. As always it comes upon us so fast that I am surprised at its approach. The cool mornings nipping at the edges of the windows. The sleepy people pulling their bedding up to cover their noses. In this space time slows down, comes a slow churn, and movement recoiling from the premonition of frost, cold, and ice.

In the morning I grip my coffee mug closer to my chest and light a morning fire to soften the edges of cold that has begun seeping through the walls of the house.

Transitional times are a thriving, powerful, place for me. I am comfortable in the in-between spaces that envelop Appalachia. As a queer person I understand intimately the experience of fluidity and transitions, of living in the in-between, and often on the edge. Truly on the edge is where the wild things are and a spirit ancient, wise, and strong, inhabits that field.

As Mother Appalachia transitions out of summer and into fall, and then again to winter in the days to come, it is well to spend some quiet time reflecting on the inner rhythms of our life. Where are we in the transition of our personal seasons? Are doors closing, or are there doors that should be closing, but by our stubborn will being kept ajar? Have we walked through a shadowed valley of late and though it grows winter on the earth we find our spirits feeling the warmth of process coming to fruition?

It’s all drag..

The Earth is a master shape-shifter. She is in constant evolution. These times of murkiness, of peering through a glass darkly, or the brief flash of lightning, are teachers that all is not as it seems. The Spirit moves across the waters yet again and a new creation is coming forth. We are not as we seem either. We identify so strongly with our identities, labels, and titles, that no longer serve us. Often we tell ourselves stories about our lives that are forging a self fulfilled prophecy of a life void of abundance, love, and contentedness.

You awake each day and have the power to choose to narrate the story in a different light. True it is that we can not change much of our worlds, and we needn’t. Our most powerful working is in our attitude. Our power is in coming into ourselves and mastering our perspectives about the world that we are navigating.

 

I urge you  to take this time to let your old self fall off gracefully like that of our sister summer, and choose a new story that will be a benefactor to your vision. Take heed of your first Mother, watch her shift in all her glory, and take note that if the Earth can remain the Earth and change her face that you can remain you and shift into a new season.

Appalachia: A Way of Depth

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Ancient Mountains

Appalachia is a place, at least in the parts I inhabit, where an old way of life still lingers on the edges of a blazing modern machine. No doubt that machine is here. It has been for decades. Lord, at the conveniences that dot every hill side in the small townships. Matter of fact, I just stopped at the Dollar General on the way to my house this evening to grab a pack of cigarettes. We do still hold onto some tradition of a life that we like to think was more pure, clean, and whole. Don’t all cultures when they are forced to assimilate to the wider culture of those who roll the dice? I reckon so.

Truth is these old mountains have a way of gathering a body to oneself. They have a way, if you are keen enough, of leading you into the deeper regions of yourself. I believe, in some parts of me, that I have always felt the archaic call of these hills, and the spirits that dwell in their hollers. I reckon, too, that I was born into a folk who could still speak about a harder way of life. Harder they say, but still their eyes glaze longingly out across the lawn, down over the ridge, and their gaze meets that of the sunset. Almost as if that very sun was setting on everything that they once knew. A life being pushed aside for a new manufactured version.

Convenience; the killer of virtue.

As I poured tinctures off from their herbs by the moon signs today I was the last to think of our dying way of life. Although it is always on the tip of my tongue, and in the base of my heart, I often forget to bring those reflections into the activities that have been inspired by them. I seem to forget that the working of my fingers is a prayer to my kin who have gone on. We find ourselves so pulled by a thousand different items that it becomes hard for us to really sink into the moment and live there. Now, granted, my grandmother would have never talked about living in the moment. She wouldn’t have thought of having “a practice.” However, she did speak of being still. She never seemed to fret. I remember at least one morning where she walked out onto the porch to braid her hair. In my mind it was foggy, quiet, and ethereal. She whistled a slow tune and slowly worked her hair into her braid and then into her bun. Something about that moment for me is mystical and archaic. Something about that moment was timeless. Something in that moment marked me to find a life where I could greet the day as who I was without friction. To stand on my life and find a peace no matter its circumstance.

A Heritage Almost Lost

My work recently has become attempting to find that ancestral cord that is mine. To root out the stories, traditions, and lore, of my kin and somehow live it as an art form. I do not plan to try and recreate something that has died, or bring it back from the grave. What is gone must stay gone and what is alive will one day pass away. I do seek to find inspiration, to find a middle way. I seek to find the virtue of those granny women and trans-mutate that into this world that I’ve inherited. A world that is still beautiful and worth living in.

These Appalachian Mountains have stood the test of time as have the folk who have lived herein. They have a way of reminding you, amidst the noise, of a deeper connection to the earth, her cycles, and the sacred. These hills have a way of reminding a person that they are more than just flesh and blood, but that they are connected to an incredibly complex and swirling web of life. Appalachia has a way of calling one home.

An Anchor: A Story of Medicine Bags

Currently I find myself on the rooftop terrace of a newly renovated hotel in downtown San Juan, Puerto Rico. A strong breeze is blowing onto the island. No doubt the result of the recent storms in the south east. I’ve just heard of the recent missile strike on Syria by the US, and my heart has become heavy with a longing for home.

I had thought about bringing a medicine bag from home with me on my trip to San Juan. I had thought that I might place pine needles, golden seal, yellow-root, lavender oil, and some dirt from the land that I dwell on. In hindsight it would have done my spirit well to have brought an anchor, to have brought a piece of my roots into a foreign land. Often I think that those small practices like bringing a medicine bag filled with items that symbolize specific intentions, memories, reminders, and stories, lack the practicality that I often demand of my spiritual practice.

bagI consider myself a healthy skeptic when it comes to most practices that I find on my endeavors into the world of the Medicine, or Folk Healing. I often try to separate the practice from its religious elements so that I might bring what is essential, and useful, into my own practice. For instance, when we speak of ceremony I am aware, and believe, that the ceremony is only effective when the symbols, stories, myths, and language, are applicable to the culture of the patient receiving the ceremonial healing. Ceremony, as I have come to understand it, is a way in which the facilitator acts upon the symbols and archetypes of the patient. The facilitator acts upon those images that rest within the patient, produced by the culture, and brings about change by creating sacred space, sacred memory, and begins to lay new thought patterns onto the old thought patterns that no longer serve them.

We have to understand that Folk Healers are in essence the plant doctors, psychologist, therapist, and priest, of their given community. Folk Healing perceives a four part system of a human, not separated, but overlapping. Folk healing perceives the physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual, and at the same time remembers that all of these are in fact one. Western medicine is already aware of psychocimatic illness that is caused by emotional or mental disturbances that register in the physical  body. The Healer then has the responsibility to discern which area of our being is out of balance. Guided by intuition and experience, they can begin to form specific practices, ceremonies, or prescriptions, that will act upon the patients belief systems to bring about a state of healing. It is also important to mention that having found a “healing” and having found a “cure” are not interdependent nor coexisting realities. Often a cancer patient can find healing in the mental, emotional, and spiritual,areas of their being but will die several weeks later. The healing comes in the resolution of traumas, fears, anxiety, and begets a change of consciousness as the patient faces the Big Journey.
So we can see how deeply affected we are, whether subconsciously or consciously, by symbols we are familiar with. Our most powerful symbols, be they for good or it’s opposite, are often those we have been brought up with. We are closely related to the natural phenomenon in our regional areas, as well as the plant and animal life. We can find some safety in the memories of our childhood, or in the aromas of our elders meals. We are the products of our upbringing and this is why “finding our roots” has become such a recommended practice for those who are having an identity crisis, or “soul loss”.

I encourage you to bring a small medicine bag, or memoir from your home, the next time that you travel. I wish that I had listened more closely to my intuition as I was packing and had collected items that I know ground me in my experience as an Appalachian. I wish that I had brought a small batch of pine needles, a plastic hair comb of my great-grandmothers, and an acorn that I might trace my fingers against. This practice can ground us in the moments we find ourselves in as we become mindful of not only where we are, but where we come from, and the lineage of relationships that have brought us to this moment. We are never truly away from home. We need but small reminders to call us back into the now.

An Appalachian Grieving [migrated]

On Thursday before last I awoke to a text message that my aunt had passed. We had been expecting this. She had been battling lung and brain cancer for three years and upon reading the text my heart sank. My aunt was as southern as one can be; at least a modern southern woman. We grew up at her house with my cousins playing at my grandmothers eating loads of different types of hamburger helper, and other assorted hot list items in the late 90’s and early 2000’s. My parents had also forbade my brother and I from watching the Harry Potter series so we would beg to stay with my aunt so that we could sneak and catch the latest cinematic experience that everyone at school was talking about. I have fond memories of being with her and sharing in laughter. I remember her laugh most, and her zest for her home. She was, and is, a second mother to me. While I was exploring my gender expression she never questioned my choices of clothing. She always made me feel welcome. Something that would, and continues, to prove hard for my deep Appalachian family. Burying her was difficult on one hand as I was singing a piece of my childhood across Jordan, and on the other there was a sense of relief because she had been suffering for several months. As the brain tumor grew, my aunts personality left us day by day.

I worked my spiritual program as best as I could, trying to be of service, attending to my own emotional needs, as well as trying to manage my professional life, and my other commitments. I kept in contact with my mentors throughout the process and kept close to my spiritual kin.

A friend had stayed with me that night we buried her unbeknownst of what was to unfold that Sunday morning. I had gotten up early on that Sunday following the burial of my aunt and had made my way back to my bed to wait for water to heat to make coffee. My brother rang my phone, he was in town for the funeral, and I hesitated answering thinking that he was just confirming lunch plans at my grandmothers house that afternoon. My brothers voice cracked from the other end of the telephone when he told me that our sister had been killed in a car accident earlier that morning. My friend asked what was wrong and the words fell out of my mouth, “My sister was killed last night.” I made my way to the porch to gather myself and smoke a cigarette.

I wont go into a detailed bullet list of events and emotions that transpired after that, but what I will tell you is that all the layers of denial, shock, grief, sorrow, and disbelief were present in those initial first moments. Cheyanne was twenty two years old and was to graduate from North Carolina State University and then follow her education to Duke University to get her PhD in bio-medical engineering.

The impact of Cheyanne’s death was felt not only in my family, but in the whole community. I have seen a great outpouring of support and love from a great many folks in the hills in which we dwell. I am reminded gently of the Spirit that was poured out on the disciples in the Christian tradition.

I am a firm believer in communal healing, and feel strongly that salvation, healing, and their counterparts of wounds, are communal events, and not wholly isolated within the individual. I was also reminded as another family member died after Cheyanne of the passage of Job. I remember how the oppressor came upon the family of Job and caused a great many tragedies to befall them. I remember how steadfast Job was in his faith of a cosmic plan. How Job wished that he had never been born, but he did not curse the nature of life. Job knew, in his wisdom and devotion, that life was just that; life. That terrible things happen to people and that sometimes we have to be willing to accept that it has no answer, and sit in that mystery. What I do know, however, is that the Great Mystery, God, has always proven to bring life out of death. That grace transforms, and transfigures, tragedy into Hope.

I will not pretend to see a silver lining around the death of my sister, but I will taste the bittersweet elixir of life that teaches me that I am to be ever watchful for the Spirit as it crosses over still waters and causes them to bring forth a new creation. I have witnessed already a reconciliation within my family, a strength that is growing from these events. My spiritual practice tells me I am to participate in the healing of my kin, that I am to take action against spiritual decay. My practice tells me that sometimes I am not to ask why, for I know the how, but that I am to look for the outpouring of love that comes from those who have healed through their grief. In Appalachia we have a saying, “It’ll all come out in the wash.” This doesn’t mean that it wont hurt, or that it won’t sting. It doesn’t belittle its significance, but rather it is a statement about the cyclical nature of life.

In Appalachia we grieve together, we eat together, we celebrate together, and we mourn those we love with a certain steel fervor that I believe is unmatched in other cultures. We don’t stop there though, in our mourning we begin to invite those who have crossed over Jordan back into our lives with a softness. We bring them up often in our conversations, our memories a balm to a our recent pains, and eventually they are with us again, not in body, but in spirit. We have integrated them so fully into our communal conversations, tasks, and holidays, that we miss their form, but their essence lives on in our words, in our breath, in our very bones. In Appalachia we don’t ever let you go, we but change how we speak to you. In Appalachia you become an ancestor.

I hope that I might deepen my relationships with my aunt and my sister, as they are now far wiser than I will ever pray to be. It is by calling on them, by keeping them alive within my chest, that they might still teach me while I pass through this small and fragile life.