My first encounter with transgender reality came when I was in graduate school. I worked on the top floor of the physics building at Lawrence Berkeley Laboratory. This was not a stuffy community – facility announcements were prefaced by a breathless woman asking “May I have your attention please? May I have your attention, please?!” But on the floor just above, at the end of a long dark hallway, the only female technician in the building had her workroom. Nobody seemed to spend much time down there, and a machinist finally clued me in “He went away one summer and came back a woman.”
I have to admit that this choice is problematical to me.
Here’s a less extreme example: I met a man who explained that he felt like he had two personalities, one male and one female. He was a large man, but felt compelled on occasion to wear women’s clothes. What I eventually came to understand was that as a father in a previous life, he had gone down in a ship with his young daughter. The girl had hidden herself in him as they drowned, and part of the work he was doing in this life was to give her the opportunity to work her way out again.
There are men that spend all their lives trying to get into a women’s bodies, and often they do so using methods that are psychologically or physically abusive. There’s a certain symmetry in being reincarnated as a woman. Should we have sympathy for their desires to become men again? That was the opinion expressed by a Unitarian Universalist minister. The UU movement famously supports LGBT choices, and the minister asked us on that day to try “walking in his shoes.” I had to hold my tongue, knowing that she wouldn’t understand, but what came to mind was: “But that’s just what he’s doing – learning what it’s like to be a woman so that he can have some respect for their needs! How is that end going to be furthered by supporting him as he – yet again – mutilates a woman’s body?”
Carlos Castaneda described the view of the Yaqui sorcerers regarding gender. Masculine and feminine souls have different topologies – one projecting and one receiving. His adherents evolved a discipline called “tensegrity”, and believed that the womb gave women enormous spiritual power, power that a man’s genitals could never challenge. But the Yaqui view was that all such power originated in the soul – in fact Castaneda encountered a masculine sorcerer that had turned himself inside out, and so presented as a woman.
If the soul is what matters and persists, then a man like Bruce Jenner will find himself back in a woman’s body again. In this life, why not get as much benefit from being a man as he can? He was put here in a man’s body for a reason.
But his struggle to become a woman may be of help to the rest of us. Science can’t really explain our sense of gender identity. Maybe Jenner’s choice creates another opportunity for society to recognize that gender is not simply about biological form.
Sexual arousal is a consequence of a yearning of one spirit for another that causes blood to pool in the parts of our bodies that feel most pleasure. That yearning is complicated by procreation, which at this point is overburdening the carrying capacity of the earth. Perhaps homosexuality is a way of freeing our ecosystems of the physical side-effects of the deepening of our spiritual relations?
But isn’t that a distorted view of life – that our sexuality defines our deepest relationships? In my thirties, I was taken aside on two occasions and warned that gay men weren’t accepted in the top levels of the institution that I was working in. Being someone that dreamed every night about women, I never got the message: my failure to engage sexually made people assume that I was gay. That I was committed to a relationship built upon intellectual and emotional compatibility seemed to escape them.
I know that my workmate in college was a terribly unhappy person – their physical transformation was incomplete, and therefore unsatisfying. It also came with terrible social ostracism. Why do doctors then pursue this craft? Is it merely so that the superficial external presentation matches the internal reality, so that those that see sex as a mechanical activity will not be surprised when the inner personality – the very soul of the man or woman they are loving – comes to the fore? Wouldn’t it just be better to prepare people to recognize the nature of the soul that they are pursuing, and thus to learn something about their inner selves at the same time?
In spite of all of my questions, I feel no hostility to the transformation being pursued by Jenner and others, unless that it seems to involve an enormous investment of energy. I guess that as long as they can afford it, it’s just another experiment in living. Let us know how it works for you!