Posts Tagged ‘Rite of passage’

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Caitlin on Rites of Passage and Split Lips

4 September, 2011

Several things came together for me Friday night; the least of these was my face and a stranger’s fist. More on that in a bit. For now there are things of far greater impact to consider. Specifically, the idea of transitioning and rites of passage.

In this case I am not using the term transitioning exclusively. Yes, transitioning can refer to the process of shifting physically and/or mentally from one gender to another, but I am using it in a broader sense, the idea of moving from one way of thinking, being, living, dreaming to another. Transitioning is a universal theme for humanity. We transition from childhood to adulthood, from one job to another, from one relationship to another, from grammar school to middle school to high school to university, from healthy to sick and back again, from vitality to decline and ultimately into death. Along these paths are rites and milestones marking our progress and providing public recognition of our journeys and accomplishments. Some of these rites are religious marking a person’s acceptance into a community of faith or their maturation into adulthood and responsibility. Ceremonies like the Jewish bar and bot mitzvah, Christian confirmation, and Buddhist poy sang long. These are posts on the road of spiritual growth. They are not locked into one period in a person’s physical development but occur as a person grows in faith and understanding.

Often physical accomplishments and feats of strength are rites of passage into adulthood. Typically associated with the boy becoming a man they include the hunter’s first kill such as the Maasai lion hunt, or the often joked about redneck coming of age (where the father buys the son his first beer and prostitute). But there are other physical rites observed that are just as important and not gender specific, the Equatorial baptism, the mile high club, and the honeymoon night. Each of these is about conquest and asserting control over nature, others, and our physiology. They often over shadow the intellectual conquests of a person in American imaginations but the transition from ignorance to enlightenment is just a grueling. The survival of challenges like vision quest and walkabout are feats requiring  both mental and physical strength.

As a transsexual woman, I have mourned the rites of passage I could not participate in: sweet sixteen, first period, and prom night marking the points a girl becomes a woman emotionally and physically, and will never be able to participate in, such as child-birth and menopause, where a woman becomes a mother and an elder, respectively. To the cis woman this may seem inconsequential or even a blessing, but think of the number of women who wear these events as their badge of honor or, perhaps more accurately, treasure them away like a Medal of Valor or a Purple Heart, taking them out in those rare, oppressive moments they need to be reminded of who they are and what they have come through. It gives them strength and hope while the soul weathers it dark nights. That is what the rite of passage confers on a person, validation. The right to stand up and scream with defiance into the maelström, “I have come through this and I belong! I have survived worse and I will out last this!”

The trans community has their own rites, a dark and isolating series of events that confer on those of us who survive the strength we need to navigate the changes we must make. There are psychological rites such as the years—decades!—spent struggling against, confronting, and accepting our natures and the years—decades!—of therapy and group sessions to help us keep it together. There are physical rites such as harassment, discrimination, and assault, designed to frighten us off the path. There are rites that incorporate both such as being ostracized by family and friends, obtaining and surviving hormones and surgeries, and gaining legal recognition of our names and gender markers. I have begun to wonder if this is the reason for the isolationist mentality I have noted in the Male to Female transsexuals I know. These MtFs insist transitioning is a personal journey that one cannot be mentored on. We must, as with the walkabout or the lion hunt, survive our environment using only our wits and internal resources for our accomplishments to have any meaning.

These are the thoughts that coalesced in my dazed mind as I recovered from being punched in the mouth Friday night. I had just come from another rite of passage, the end of the week bar trip with colleagues that marks the ability to survive or, God willing, thrive in an adverse environment. That morning I had found a ticket under the car’s wiper blade, punishment for having forgotten to display my windshield decal, so in spite of the dark parking lot and late hour, I had brought my decal down to affix so I wouldn’t have another forty dollar fine levied against my purse. I leaned in through the open driver’s side door, the sound of my pulse filling my ears as the blood rushed into my head, now lower than my heart. I stood and darkness fogged the edges of my vision, orthostatic hypotension, and waited for my vision to clear and the crashing waves of my pulse to fade to silence. I saw the shadowy figure but only registered that it was someone who had stolen up behind me as I worked after they had punched me in the mouth and run off. I staggered back and slumped against the car, too stunned to grasp what had happened and that I would be safer behind the locked car door.

After several minutes I made my way up to the apartment and applied tissue and a cold pack to my split and swelling lip. As I lay on my carpeted floor trying not to drip and stain, it occurred to me this was the reason transsexuals avoid each other publicly. It’s dangerous and once you have won recognition for who you are, surmounted your rite of passage, why would you want to re-expose yourself to the violence of the journey? After I survive my passage of becoming (and I will not allow for any ifs in this equation) I will need to decide how involved I will be in helping others through theirs. I hope my equal parts compassion and ADD risk taking will keep me active in the community despite the dangers, but life has forced me to recognize there are times I will have to step back and watch, with an aching spirit, the other person struggle. To be safe on our path we must unearth the inner resources and strength of character buried inside us. Relics that can only be excavated through silent, personal struggle.

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Walkabout

20 July, 2011

The following is a letter written to a close friend, a second brother. It so acutely touches not just my current state, but also the state of America that I have republished it for you, Constant Reader.

8:35 am
Alexandria, Virginia

JH,

Your last email was neither a rant nor overwhelming. Frankly, there are so many other overwhelming tasks in my life at the moment nothing else can reach the top of the heap.

Transition is a difficult pain the arse. The issues most troublesome to me are the time involved and the resurgence of adolescence. I am a person of mixed responses to waiting. When I am in the process of examining and deciding I possess Zen Buddhist patience; once decided, however, my patience bottoms out. It takes me so long to finally settle on a course of action that once the choice is made I have no tolerance for anything less than instant results. It took me thirty years to understand, assimilate, accept, and chose to act on who I am. (The struggle of “playing the game” always seemed less than the trials of being myself. Well, until this year, that is.) Now that my decision has been made, I want my instant results. The speed at which I want the results is inversely proportional to the time it took to decide. By my calculations the process should occur in a blinding flash of light that encompasses the worst pain imaginable but lasts .135 of a second. This logic seems perfectly reasonable to me and I fail to understand why the universe does not function on it.

Another issue I have, which ties into the second puberty problem though not directly, is the feeling of running away. That’s not to say I am going to run away (though that would certainly be nice; it’s just a shame Buddhist monks don’t have a medical plan) but that I am running away, or it seems like I am. It’s been so ingrained in my psyche through years of Midwest life amid the last of the wolf-men that you stoically accept everything life throws at you that I now feel like a coward for not accepting the inevitable decline and destruction guaranteed by the Parkinson’s. “It was activated twenty years prematurely? So what? Take it like a real man and accept your death sentence with some dignity. Being yourself is not as important as being what others need you to be. Self-preservation is the act of a coward.” Coward I am. I don’t want to die a slow death that gradually robs me of everything—from ambulation to the ability to wipe my own arse. I don’t want to valiantly struggle on pretending to be what I’m not for the good of society. I guess I would have made a piss poor soldier.

It’s quite easy to be down on myself though. This is the whole second puberty issue. Puberty is difficult for everyone. It’s a time of figuring out who you are mentally, discovering what you will become physically, and surviving your hormonal onslaught emotionally. The brighter you are the more self-reflective you are the greater the degree of angst tainting the process. While trying not to sound egotistical, and I am about to fail at that, I’m bleeding brilliant. I think on a level most people cannot achieve. I do my best to demonstrate humility and keep this fact to myself, but fact it is. And as a result, puberty both the original and the redux, proves to be a hellish torment riddled with over examination, hyper-critical sensitivity to myself and my failings, an intense need to self-justify, and dark bouts of deepest depressions cycled with euphoric highs that make Robin Williams look like the Beatles’ Nowhere Man. I oscillate between overbearing self-confidence (as narcissistically unrealistic almost as often as it is plainly deserved) and overwhelming self-loathing (as plainly deserved almost as often as it is narcissistically unrealistic). Add to that the traditional moodiness and growing pains (physical and psychological) associated with this period and I don’t even want to get out of bed and shuffle the six an a half feet to the computer to run agent inquires let alone cross the street amid the “normals” to go about life’s mundane and pointless routine. I am emotionally and physically spent.

Worst of all, I am bored. I am no longer “out running the rust,” as Reed would say. I want change and I want adventure, which seems a ridiculous desire given the amount of change that I am now subject to. But there it is. The simplified truth: I need to get out of here. I need to travel, to explore, and to discover myself. I feel as though I have so many anvils weighing me down that I’m beyond grounded, I’m inhumed and suffocating. I feel, if I don’t get out and lower the artificial horizon line that my stagnation has created I will go mad.

The Australian Aborigines have a rite of passage called “walkabout.” In this rite a teenaged boy goes into the wilderness for up to six months and lives in isolation, tracing the “songlines” of his ancestors and duplicating their heroic deeds. It is similar to the Native American “vision quest.” Our pop culture mirrors this essential need: shows like “Route 66,” “Quantum Leap,” “Promised Land,” “Johnny Bago,” and “Supernatural;” movies like “Planes, Trains, and Automobiles,” “Seven Years in Tibet,” “Due Date,” “Carnival of Souls” (the horrid 1962 version), and every damned Dean Martin and Bob Hope “Road” flick; books like “The Old Man and the Sea,” “The Lost City of Z,” “Travels With Charley,” “Sea Change,” and “Angela’s Ashes.” This demonstrates that though we have lost the tradition we have not evolved beyond its purpose and necessity.

I NEED a walkabout.

CS

Caitlin Song
Sent from Caitlin’s iPod

“I’ll be a story in your head. That’s okay. We’re all stories in the end. Just make it a good one, eh? ‘Cause it was, you know. It was the best. The daft old man who [got some] magic blue [pills] and ran away.”
~The Eleventh Doctor, “The Big Bang,” (Doctor Who)

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Caitlin on “Passing” Over

24 April, 2011

Having come out to my family and begun the transition into Caitlin full-time I felt the need to give A a send off. But what sort of kick-off do you give a male persona you were never fond of that is kicking the bucket? It was this sort of clinched thinking that started my mind rolling thoughts of Freeman and Nicholson striving to complete their *Bucket List* across my mental palate, like a coniseuire of the extravagant and expensive swishing a full-bodied wine across her refined taste buds.

The best send off I could give A would be to end on a triumph. To go out in a blaze of light and a hail of gunfire, like Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. Or, as my feminized mind turned to, Thelma and Louise. I’m certain A, in his time, would have balked at this reference and perhaps mustered up a gag or seven, but I couldn’t suppress the bitchy little grin that graced my features as I wondered if A had been more of a Louise then a Thelma.

The ‘Rents and I bundled up against the windy, thirty degree Minnesota spring day and piled into the Ford Focus—the gender queer daughter assisting her gimpy father into the front passenger seat as the gas-pedal tramping mother started the engine to idle and warm. My mind wandered to the issue of fitting the three of us and my Smiling Buddha-round grandmother into the car. A used to get a kick out of solving spatial problems, but they just made my mind swim (I seem to have lost a little of my formerly pinpoint accurate sense of space and time). The idea rattled around in my Mr. Sanders stuff and fluff brain and eventually joined up with a memory from a previous visit, a visit in which A attempted to prove his masculinity by eating the John’s Omelet Challenge—five eggs, stuffed with “hashbrowns [sic], ham, bacon, sausage, green peppers, onions, mushrooms, Monterey Jack and cheddar cheese” served with toast, coffee, and a slice of orange.

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He failed to meet the challenge by a one-egg-sized portion of omelet. This, then, would be his moment. As Grandma does not yet know about Caitlin and the role of grandchild would be played by A, he would get his second strike at the John’s Omelet. It contained the elements of a classic rite of passage: an unusual physical and mental challenge, shame (and a significant profit loss; this omelet is eleven dollars after tax!) connected to failure, and a sense of venal manhood (that’s right, venal; the rite is a type of bribe that gets the boy across the threshold into manhood), and masculine pride put on the line. Brilliant, I thought. This would be A’s blaze of glory, driving himself off the cliff in a Cadillac convertible, I mean, leaping from the cliff-face in a sh-t storm of bullets.

When the waitress placed John’s Omelet on the fake wood grain formica tabletop before us Caitlin balked at the sight of the bigger than her head, five-pound conglomeration of cholesterol, grease, and trans fat, but A simply grinned and dove in. In five minutes he had already eaten half of the omelet and one of the English muffin halves.

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Five minutes later all that remained was a final quarter of omelet. But A was slowing down. The starches from the hash browns were expanding in his stomach and the bland, greasy taste of egg and cheese was becoming monotonous. It looked like this was the end of it for A; a second attempt ending in near success and actual misery. He would not finish the omelet, would not complete the rite, and would never leave.

From somewhere in the back of the mind in the unused corner she had retreated to Caitlin stirred. This is my life, I thought, and A isn’t wanted hanging around waiting for someone to miss him enough to drag him back. She prodded A forward, like an electric goad used on an obstinate bull. “You WILL finish this omelet, YOU will complete this rite if masculinity, and you will get the hell out of MY life!”

Despite a full, gurgling, vurping, stomach supersaturated with a churning mass of egg, cheese, meat, vegetables, grains, grease, and stomach acid. In spite of heartburn, acid reflux, tummy pains, and a build up of gasses, which would become a WGA (Weapon of Gaseous Destruction) unlike any seen heretofore, A continued to eat, bite by bite; mouthful by mouthful; slower and slower but continuing to shovel it in and swallow it down without a return trip until the plate was empty.

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He did it and faded sated into the back of the mind. Caitlin came forward and has been primary since, even when presenting as A. The cliff is empty and even the dust trailing behind A’s last desperate plunge has settled. And Caitlin? She is content to lay on her bed recovering from the bloating, stomach-distending meal. How like a man to deposit something in a woman’s body and then leave her to deal with the weight gain and pain.