“Could the answer to my body discomfort be because I am really a man?” It was a very troubling and uncomfortable question to be asking myself. I was doing my best to conform to the belief that I had to be female because my body looked female. I had involved myself more and more in the Dianic wicca community in the hopes that the Goddess centered religion would help me connect to a body that always felt foreign to me. I was quite firmly establish and well respected in my religious community. I had even met a woman there that I ended up marrying. I had every intention of graduating from the priestess training and becoming ordained. I think it was the process of trying to figure out what kind of spiritual work I wanted to do as a priestess that caused me to start questioning being a woman. I had been thinking a lot about transitional journeys and how I wanted to help people during transitional times of their lives. My own experiences had profoundly influenced my growth as a person, but I remembered how difficult it was feeling so alone without anyone to guide me through.
But here I was feeling alone again in the midst of a community of women. Still trying to find my way through to some peace with my own body. Still trying to find a way to to fit in as a woman. I still believed that if I could just connect to whatever it was that made me female, it could help me feel connected to my female body. But no matter what I did I just couldn’t find it. I would listen to others talk about their shared experiences as women and how these experiences made them feel deeply connected to the sisterhood of women. I thought I must be horribly defective not only because I could not feel that connectedness, I couldn’t even understand it. I couldn’t comprehend how any of these women’s experiences could ever apply to me. I had joined this group to learn what it was to be a woman and find out how to live in my body as a woman, so it was depressing that my only chance for true self acceptance depended on finding a connection to something I couldn’t even understand.
In the ongoing internal war with myself, this was the second time a simple question threatened my entire belief system. The first time was when I asked myself, “Am I gay?” The second time was when I asked myself, “Am I a man?” The answer to this question would determine not only my spiritual path but the very essence of how I would live in my body and how I would interact with the world. It was a question I could no longer ignore, no matter what cost I would pay for the answer.
The question finally formed in my consciouness one Friday morning. By the time I could allow myself to ask the question, I already knew the answer was a resounding “Yes, I am really a man.” It did not take long before I began paying the price for my new found identity. I was about half way through the last year of the priestess training program when I came out as trans. I knew of the leadership’s strong anti-trans policies, but I could not lie about who I was now that I knew the truth. I still wanted to complete the priestess training program, mostly because I felt I had made a commitment to myself to complete what I had started. I also felt that the things I had learned through the training were instrumental in helping me find my true self. When I made an appointment with the leadership, I expected they would tell me that I could not continue, but I did not expect the level of hostility and intolerance I encountered that night. I know from their point of view they were neither hostile nor intolerant. They believed they were helping me. I was told that the only reason I could possibly have for wanting to change my body was a deeply ingrained misogyny. Society had taught me to hate women’s bodies and that is why I could not be comfortable with a female body. They said if I went through with the transition I would just be reinforcing the subjugation of women in the patriarchy. I reiterated that this was not about anyone but me and that I was just looking for a way to live comfortably in my own body. When it was clear to them that I was not going to be swayed, they turned to my wife. They told her that I would become angry and violent on the testosterone and that they had never seen any relationship survive a transition. They also told her my teeth would rot out from the testosterone. I had already done my research on the effects of testosterone and knew that their beliefs were wildly ill-informed. These were teachers that I had trusted and respected for the last four years so I could hardly believe what I was hearing from them now.
That night I left feeling like an outcast. I was not allowed to continue with the training course and was no longer welcome in the Dianic community. There were some from the community who did not agree with the anti-trans policies and were supportive of me, although they took quite a bit of heat for it from the leadership. It was very painful to go from being a respected community member to suddenly being seen as the enemy. It is still hard for me to believe that the simple act of accepting myself was treated like a betrayal of women. I just wanted to be comfortable in my own body for once in my life.
Once again I found myself forced to start over. My wife and I had already been in the process of relocating to Stockholm, Sweden so it was a good time to re-evaluate my spirituality and make a fresh start in a new country. Since moving to Stockholm I have begun to find a community who accept me for who I am. It took a series of major life changes to bring me to where I am today. But this is just the beginning of the journey to embracing the man in myself.
There are some things in life where imitation just won’t do. Peanut butter is one of them. Gender is another. I had come to a point in my life where I was finally free to explore my own identity and figure out who I wanted to be. I had thrown off an oppressive religion and an abusive marriage, but was not quite ready to throw off the the belief that I had to be a woman just because my body looked like one. I did not know how to be a woman because I had never felt like one. I had always felt male. I thought that if I could just make myself be comfortable with being a woman, then that would somehow automatically make me feel comfortable with a female body. I tried desperately, but the more I tried to force myself to be a woman, even a butch woman, the more I felt like an imitation.
Let me first make one thing perfectly clear. BUTCH WOMEN ARE NOT IMITATION MEN! Yes, I am yelling because I want to be absolutely certain that everyone reading this understands that my experience does not translate to every butch woman. Butch women who are women identified are every bit as much women as those who present as more feminine. I could not be a butch woman because I am really a man.
When I first came out as gay I did not know very much about gay or lesbian culture. I knew almost nothing about the lesbian community. The only things I knew were the stereotypes of androgyny and butch/femme. I did not feel brave enough to come out as butch right away so I first tried to go the androgyny route. I fought the butch label because I was afraid it would remind me too much about how I had always wanted to be a man. But the draw, the longing to look and feel more male, was too much to resist and eventually I identified more and more as butch. I was right to be wary of it, though. As my appearance changed, the inner conflict grew. I was elated with the ability to embrace my more masculine side. But it made living in a female body more and more uncomfortable. The more I looked male the more I wanted to just be a man.
Just as I tried to bury my homosexuality in religion, once again I attempted to bury my transsexualism in religion. This time it was a feminist separatist version of paganism called Dianic Wicca. I had been leaning towards a pagan belief system after leaving my Christian faith when I came out as gay. I was just beginning to explore the pagan community where I was living when I found a group of women who practiced in the Dianic tradition. I was immediately interested due to the strong focus on the female as deity and the emphasis placed on social issues of equality. I thought that if there was anywhere I could learn to be comfortable with being a woman it would be here. I took their introductory class to learn more about them and what they believed. That is where I first encountered the phrase “Women born women” and their beliefs and teachings on transsexualism. (Essentially, they believe that transsexualism is a by product of strictly enforced gender roles and that if we were able to do away with gender roles people would no longer need to transition. They also believe that sexual reassignment surgery is mutilation.) I did not agree with their beliefs on transsexualism, but I did find their spiritual teachings to be similar to my own beliefs at the time. Because I was so focused on making myself comfortable as a woman I never imagined that the trans issue would affect me. I thought I had finally found my spiritual path, so I signed up to take their 4 year Priestess training course in the hope that I might one day become ordained. I focused on my spiritual training and tried to convince myself that my body issues were due to the patriarchal misogyny of society instead of my own feelings of being male. I had previously blamed my body discomfort on being overweight so it was easy to add on blaming the patriarchy for making body size such an issue for women. It was easier than admitting that parts of my body did not belong there and other parts were missing.
During the first year of the training course I started to talk with other women about body acceptance and how they overcame body issues. I tried setting up a habit of doing self blessings focused on different parts of my body with special emphasis on the female parts. I tried doing this in a mirror a few times but it was too distracting since I never really recognized myself in the mirror. I tried speaking positive affirmations of love to my body even when I all I could feel was loathing for the body I felt had betrayed me at puberty. It seemed that the more I tried to love my body, the more I hated it.
When nothing else worked, I decided to take yet one more step along the path to masculinity. I decided to grow a goatee. I had started growing facial hair around puberty for reasons that are as yet unexplained. Over the years the hair grew in thicker and darker to the point where I usually had to shave on a regular basis. It had finally gotten thick enough on my chin that I could grow a small but significant goatee. After a few weeks of letting it grow out, it was nicely visible and I was the envy of many of my butch friends. But something happened that I did not expect. Once the goatee had grown out, one day while looking at myself in the mirror, for the first time in memory I had a glimpse of recognition. It was a startling experience. I was exuberantly happy and terrifyingly afraid all at the same time. The recognition of myself was like a powerful drug. Just having the goatee satisfied me for awhile, but the image in the mirror still wasn’t quite right. The facial hair fit, but I still couldn’t stand to see the rest of my body. I wanted more. I needed more. But the only way to get more was to do the one thing that had truly terrified me my entire life. I had to finally admit that I’m really a man.
Continue to Embracing the man
Some may ask why I ever stayed with my husband for so long. I asked myself that many times. The biggest reason was because I could not overcome my fundamentalist Christian faith and my belief that adultery was the only permissible cause for divorce. The only way I could give myself permission to leave him was to redefine adultery to include more than just sexual infidelity. I had to allow myself to believe that he was unfaithful to his marriage vows in how he was treating me. Looking back on it all now I lament that I held on so long to a belief system that caused me to feel trapped in an abusive relationship. But it was the only belief system I had ever known. I didn’t know anything else, so when I left D, not only did I feel betrayed by him, I felt betrayed by myself and everything I ever thought I believed about the world and about God.
For many years afterward, I struggled trying to keep a faith that had held me captive in a situation I would have gladly died to escape. But when I began to pull out the threads of incongruity that had imprisoned me, my entire world view started to fall apart. The incongruity of the fundamentalists belief that an abused woman should stay submissive to her husband, especially if he calls himself a Christian, was the first thread. The incongruity that I had an attraction to women that I could not control, but somehow God was going to judge me for, and send me to hell because of it was the second thread. These two started a chain reaction that eventually caused me to question everything. Each thread caused a heart wrenching tear to the fabric of my world view. Each thread creating a wound that left a little scar as it healed. Eventually, by the time I finally cleared away all of the things I no longer believed anymore, I didn’t seem to have anything left.
In addition to trying to sort out my spirituality, I also had the difficult task of trying to find myself. When I first left D, the friend I stayed with was shocked at just how much of my own identity and preferences had been subsumed by him. Whenever asked about my preference for anything, my first instinct was to respond with what I knew to be D’s preferences. It took considerable effort to figure out what I liked and what I wanted. I had been cut off from myself for so long that sometimes I just didn’t know.
In a very real sense, the failure of my marriage and subsequent dismantling of my fundamentalist Christian world view were the first step in my process of finding and becoming myself. As I began to shed the old belief systems it was time to find what I did believe about myself and the universe.
I was left very disillusioned when my Christian world view was left in shambles by my lived reality. I wasn’t ready to give up all spirituality, though. I had always felt close to nature. Out amongst the trees was one of the few places I could ever really find peace, so it seemed logical to gravitate towards nature religions. I had befriended a woman from work who was pagan. I began asking her questions about her beliefs and paganism in general. She considered herself to be Wiccan and we discussed various forms of paganism. I was first drawn to Druidism due to its emphasis on tree lore. I eventually settled into a more Wiccan belief structure. Not really ready to become too involved in a new religion, I maintained a solitary study and practice and did not actively seek out group rituals.
During this time I was becoming more comfortable in my gay identity. I never really took on the lesbian label although that is what most women who love women call themselves. For me it always felt too feminine. Too close to calling myself a woman, something I semi-consciously tried to avoid. When I first came out I still had the long hair I wore throughout my teen years and my marriage. The fundamentalist Christian view was that it was shameful for a woman to have short hair. As I became more comfortable with being gay, I drifted more and more to the butch end of the spectrum. My hair got shorter and shorter until finally I just got men’s haircuts at a local barber shop. I had hoped that becoming butch would help me feel more comfortable in my body, but actually it had the opposite effect. The closer I looked to male, the more I longed to be a man. My mother was still having a very difficult time adjusting to me coming out as gay so it never entered my mind that being a man could be an option. Since I couldn’t be a man, I would have to try to find a way to be comfortable being a woman.
Continue to Trying to be a woman