Saturday, November 1, 2008

Justification

It wasn't easy to find a third eye.

I blame the economy. One by one the costume houses in my area (the San Gabriel Valley, east of LA) have become early victims of the economy. One of the very last, "Would You Believe," in South Pasadena, shut its doors yesterday after three decades. As a former theatre arts major, I find this very saddening.

But back to the eye. I went to "Cinema Secrets" in Burbank and not only did I find my third eye, but now I know where to go the next time I need a good gash or a piece of re-bar projecting from my skull. (And that's not to mention any kind of everyday cosmetic that I might want and perhaps someone who can tell me how to really disguise the bags under my eyes.)

So now the eye is sitting in my makeup case, ready to be applied when I play Kali in tomorrow's presentation of Matreya.

I'd thought to write about Kali, but that is for a future posting. Right now I want to write about how I got here.

There is something to be said about having a conservative upbringing: it keeps you honest. If you're taking the time to do anything, you've got to justify it. On one level that's a pretty toxic attitude. When I was 12 and collecting and building models of Frankenstein, the Mummy, and the Wolf Man (I date myself once again), my father would ask me what use they were. Now today I might say that their purpose was purely aesthetic, and I do believe there is a great deal of aesthetic experience to be gained in the contemplation of a well-assembled and judiciously painted plastic werewolf, but I doubt my father would agree. So from my pragmatic father comes a conditioning in me that each action one performs should serve a purpose. Is this the making of a neurotic? You bet.

So add to this little nugget of White-Anglo-Saxon-Protestant-Guilt, the fact that I am transgendered. When, at the age of 36, I finally decided to accept myself, I then asked myself, "Now what?" Did I put on a frock and hang around of an evening with a bunch of other crossdressers? Yep. Did that get old after a bit? Yep, and for two reasons. The first was the realization that who I was wasn't just about clothes. (I have to admit here and now that presentation is a big part of it. Nichole just wrote and excellent post in which she questions the whole idea of "women's" and "men's" clothes, but I find that I am far more comfortable in those items of apparel which our society has assigned to women, and I feel much better about my appearance when I'm wearing makeup.) The second was that though I was making friends and assuring myself that I wasn't the only one "like this," the get-togethers seemed a bit pointless. (I'm afraid I'm not much fun at parties for the same reason.) So I began contemplating the metaphysical aspects of transgenderism, much to the amusement and sometimes irritation of friends who approached their transgenderism in a more visceral way. It's the good old Protestant work ethic: justify your existence; if you're having a good time, you're probably not doing your job.

Almost seven years ago, I was able to find my purpose. My alter-ego had been telling stories before audiences of both children and adults for more than fifteen years. Why not give Gillian a chance? My debut was at a Tri-Ess meeting in Burbank in January of 2002. It was very well received, and I had a rush of confidence that I had never before experienced. Later that year I was a guest speaker for my friend Stacy Clement in her psychology classes at the University of Minnesota at Duluth. I spent my entire spring break there, presenting as Gillian, and found a major portion of myself through interacting with students and life in general. It was also that year that I left home. (That's worth a posting in itself.) I was invited by my friend, LA trans-activist Michelle Dennis, to present stories that June at the Trans-Unity conference at The Village GLBT center in Hollywood. Again, I was bowled over by the general acceptance. It was also there that I met my dear Melody.

Melody is an environmental activist, an artist, an historian, the list goes on. Melody also thought I was pretty cool, and the feeling is mutual. Amongst other things, Melody has acted as a coach for crossdressers, and she soon became my fashion guru. She is an absolute thrift store sorceress. Having constructed an ecumenical temple in her house, she is a deeply spiritual woman and opened me further to the dualistic nature of my own being. She also introduced me to the Goddess Community and particularly to Karen Tate, an expert in the divine feminine and a priestess in her own right.

Two years ago, Karen invited me to be part of a birthday celebration for the goddess Isis at the Goddess Temple in Costa Mesa. I was speechless. I was being asked to tell the story of Isis and the regeneration of Osiris in a women's temple as part of a ceremony in which every other woman was cisgendered, and in front of an audience of cisgendered women. I did it. I told the story of Isis. Up to that time all the other stories I had told had been, in one way or another, transgendered in theme. This was the first "women's story" I had told. It fit; it worked. After the ceremony, I was approached by several women and hugged by many. (Though Melody told me later that there were a couple of women who grumbled about "womyn born womyn.")

The next day, I participated in the annual "Isis Tea" at a Victorian tea room in Long Beach, and I was again asked to tell a story. (Hmm... She's invited to a tea party at which all and sundry are dressed to the nines and then she's asked to tell a story. Go ahead and guess at my state of mind that day.) I told a story about an Indian prince named Sudyamna who, upon riding into an enchanted wood, is turned into a woman. (I'll do a post on it at a later date.) Among the guests was Jayne de Mente who has since become my great friend. She asked me if I would be a presenter in her Women's Heritage Series, which included women scholars and artists from all over the country, talking on subjects that included Mary Magdalene, the Queen of Sheba, and other aspects of feminist spirituality. Of course, I was again very flattered, and I accepted. Not only did I do a storytelling presentation of my own, but at the end of each subsequent presentation I was asked to tell a story. Toward the end of the series, I told the story Inana's descent to the underworld in front of Z. Budapest, who is considered a founder of feminist spirituality, and was again well received.

I've written elsewhere about my theological take on the Goddess. I've pretty much seen myself as a Zen Catholic. But what I find compelling in my relationship with these women is this: I don't "pass;" I'm clocked the moment I step into the room, and still I am accepted as one of them. It isn't the physicality that is important; it is the soul, though the dress and accoutrement are seen as outward manifestations of the inner feminine. In short they know who and what I am, yet I am accepted as a woman amongst women. The fact that I am a transwoman is a spiritual bonus.

So tomorrow I will be performing with nine cisgendered women in a play, presented in readers' theatre, about a young woman who, after being murdered, discovers that she is coming back to the world as Matreya, a Bodhisattva of compassion. I will be playing Kali in a conclave of goddesses that includes Magdalene, Isis, Spider Woman, White Buffalo Calf Woman, Bridget, and Lilith. And I've been running around to find a third eye. It's probably better that I've been concentrating on that, on my line reading, and on trying to get hold of a pair of black harem pants for my costume (the ones I ordered on line have been stuck in New York for three weeks!!). When I think of the circumstances of my participation I'm a little blown away. My dad doesn't know I'm doing this. It would probably give him a coronary. But his legacy of justification has led me to this means of expression and has blessed me with these friendships. It's also blessed me with you.

7 comments:

Abby said...

What a fascinating life! My response on reading this is more! I want to know more ... about you, your spirituality, your inner being. But, even if you never write another word, thank you for all that you have shared of yourself here and elsewhere where our paths have crossed on the internet.

As for tomorrow ... break a leg!

Blessings,
Abby

P.S. Finding that third eye must have been easy compared to finding the 6 extra arms you need to play Kali. ;-)

Gillian said...

Bless you, as always, Dear Heart. I'd always thought of my life as pretty mundane. I find the people around me to be far more fascinating. Though people DO have a tendency to remember me. I wonder if that means something?

I'm forgoing the other arms. Doing my nails was hard enough without another 20 fingers to account for.

Gillian said...

This note just came from Melody...

Lovee,
As usual, I love reading your blogs or honored when they are read to me by the authoress herself. My overactive ego is always eagerly fattened whenever you talk about me. (me, me, me) I would be on your reader list if I blogged, but being long winded and agonized by vocabulary and time constraints, I do not.

We humans ascribe far more meaning and emotions to words than a dictionary does. You also know that for me, words are an intoxicating fine art. Therefore I take issue with two of them in your last installment.

First word, starts with a "C." You chose "coach" as the word to describe what I do in the TG/CD realm. Instantly visions of Mike Ditka and Damn Yankees flood my brain. (Gack!) If you need to stick with the sports concept, I think the connotation of cheerleader would suit me better. However neither suit me well.

I am a teacher. That is why I call my clientele (whom over the years I have never charged a penny) my "students". I am, if you will; "Henrietta Higgins" with a heart. My "job" is to help those who come to me feel connected to their own divine feminine. To feel beautiful internally and externally, without the constrictions of permanent presentation of one sex or the other. My students are loved and honored. They are missed when they are ready to or circumstantially must go on without me.
Enough about me.

Second word:
"Clocked"
In the dictionary of the average American person, "Clocked" comes off as being hit, struck, konked,
bonked or slugged. Usually followed by an instantly intimate relationship with the floor and semi or unconsciousness. "The girl walked into the night club and was instantly clocked."

Try instead the word "Recognized"

In the dictionary of the American average person,"Recognized" comes off as celebrity, outstanding, noticed, unveiled or even worthy of award.

"The girl walked into a night club and was instantly recognized."

Or what I'd say:
A tyranny walks into a nightclub and was instantly intriguing.

Just a bit of humor there! Well anyway, in conclusion I'd like Gillian, a writer, goddess, teacher and hopeless romantic, to remember that written or spoken, words are a choice.
What we say about ourselves is as important as what we say about others we love. Continued use of words (about ourselves in particular) are no less than mantras. Your words can be an affirmation or a recrimination.

Words are mankind's power. Choose them well.

PS The guy you think is your boyfriend is a cad! ;D

Gillian said...

As regards the cryptic statement at the end of Melody's message: If you knew exactly why Melody said that, you should know a great deal more about the nature of our relationship than you do now.

Abby said...

Yeah, that was pretty cryptic, alright. I have some thoughts but, at this point, it's pure speculation.

Amber's ramblings said...

Hmmm, intriguing, this "boyfriend" thing. :-)
It sounds like you have a very interesting life as a storyteller!

Gillian said...

It is, of course, a performance art. Thou mayest take it in what sense thou wilt.