Monday, 29 May 2017

I Was Baptised By Poseidon And It Was Wonderful Even Though He's Not Real

I admit it.  I'm into some shit that people would rightly call weird.  They'd say I'm off my head and have lost all sense of reason.

In the last week I've taken the strangeness to a new level.  A week ago today I was walking in the Derwent valley.  Taking a rest at the top of a hill - I'm not the fittest of individuals - I looked at the trees and was surprised to spot a wolf sitting in the branches.  Who wouldn't be surprised at this turn of events?  Since wolves aren't known for sitting in the branches high in trees.  And they're also not known for living in the Derwent valley or indeed anywhere else in the country.  Imagine the effect on my surprise when the wolf turned towards me, transformed into some kind of wild cat, and smiled at me for a while before wandering away through the branches of the trees.

I sat and pondered this for a while.  Then the branches shimmered and I saw in them the god Poseidon.  Yes.  Him.  The actual ancient sea god.  In a wood.  Not in the sea.  He stood there, complete with trident and crown and I accepted this turn of events.  I'd run out of space for surprise.  He looked at me for a while and then spoke, simply saying "Come, receive my gift."  I was disappointed because I didn't know how to come to him to receive a gift.  After a while he nodded at me and shimmered away.

I told a new friend this.  Explained how I'd encountered Poseidon.  Even though, quite obviously, he doesn't actually exist.  She said, "But he does exist.  I talk to him all the time."  Sometimes it's good to share things with people who turn out to be pleased you've found some sanity rather than wanting to reach for a new anti-psychotic medication to alleviate the hallucinations you keep having.

Two days ago I visited the sea.  I found a wonderful spot.  The tide was at its lowest point and many rocks were uncovered.  Lots of amazing rock pools.  Lots of space.  And no people.  I spent over an hour there before I had to leave to be somewhere else.  I'd have loved to stay longer and will return.  Well, nearly no people.  Two guys sat nearly 100 metres away near the cliff.  And at one point a guy with a towel wandered close before wandering off again.  To be honest I was hoping he would be someone so in tune with the needs of everyone that he was only there to give me a towel.  Unfortunately I remained towel-less and he towel-ful.

I sat close to the water.  As close as I could without being sprayed.  And I meditated for a while.  Opening my eyes I saw Poseidon again.  This seemed more normal.  While it may be abnormal to encounter a non-existent ancient god in person at least he was in the right place this time.  He spoke to me again.  We talked for a while and I cried out to Spirit in acceptance of life.

Image taken from here.

After a while things got physical.  I had to respond in action.  He said that he didn't want me to do this where the sea met the rocks because that would have been too dangerous.  But he pointed me to a rock pool behind where I sat.  A very deep rock pool full of life and the most perfect shade of blue-green you can imagine.  He told me to go and dip my hands and wrists into the water and feel its life.

I knelt by that pool, obedient.  Felt the water.  It was cold!  But brilliant and had I the right clothes and a towel it would, later, have been tempting to immerse myself in the pool.  Poseidon spoke again.  He told me to lean further out and pour the sea water over my head, to baptise myself into a new sense of Spirit.  He gave me the words to say.  I won't repeat them here.  Partly because they were for me and for that occasion.  Partly because many of them are lost.  I haven't been told to write a liturgy for others or to start a Poseidon Spirit cult.  Not yet anyway!

So with his help I baptised myself.

I then returned to the sea and stood on the one rock higher than the rest and watched the sea strike the shore below me.  I shouted into the sea.  I sang.  I prayed - mostly in Christian language because that's the language I have even though I don't have the doctrine to go with it.  When I call out "Come Holy Spirit" I'm in no way calling to the third person of a Trinitarian God who is what the Christians claim.  And yet the words are working for me.  If I say "Lord" or "God" or any of the other words or even "Baptism" I'm not saying them as you might find them in the Catholic Catechism.

Then Poseidon said to head to another pool.  Baptise myself in that one too.  And we sat together.  We might have shared a pot of tea had we had a pot to share.

Reluctantly I had to leave for an event.  I didn't want to.  I wanted to stay with the god.  With the rocks and the sea and watch as the tide continued to rise.  Feel the breeze.  Feel the sunlight.  Soak myself some more.  Meditate in that place of near total solitude.  Explore the rock pools.  Watch the seaweed forests rise up again.  But I had to leave.

I had a good time at that event.  A social occasion.  The new friend I mentioned was there and she was so pleased that I'd met Poseidon again.  There was talking.  A guided meditation based in part on opening up channels between chakras.  And we each drew cards from an animal tarot pack.  I drew the monkey and the raven.

So what do I say now about all this?

1.  I'm not going to call it weird any more.  I'm going to own it as my experience and say it is what it is.  Nobody else has to believe a word of it.  You can call it weird.  Call it whatever you like.  But I did meet Poseidon.  In some way or other.  Even if he isn't real.  Even if he is just a symbol, a story.  Stories are immensely powerful.  I met a philosopher a while ago who argued that stories are powerless and we should give them up for pure reason.  He was wrong.  That's my dogmatic statement for today.  He was wrong.

Perhaps when we tell the most powerful of stories they are real in that moment.  Perhaps I need to express what I might mean by real before I write a sentence like that.

2.  I love tarot cards.  I'd love to have more of them and to give myself the time to use them, to learn more about them.  Many of the sets contain seventy-eight works of art. The imagery is wonderful and the stories and interpretations are fascinating.

I don't believe that tarot or other ways of divination have any power in themselves whatsoever.  Whatever interpretation a book may give to the card drawn is of no use.  Except that we then, from our own wisdom and inner intuitive knowledge, bring power to it and learn what we may learn.  Or we bring our own ego and arrogance or shame to it and replace the truths with lies.  It can be hard to know the difference.

Still, I did enjoy drawing the monkey and then the raven.  Especially the raven.  It's kind of my animal.  Also the animal of the new friend as it happens.  And in claiming that I have new ways in which to look into my life and being and hopefully learn something.  It was interesting too at a writing workshop based on tarot this year to draw the devil followed by three sixes from the minor arcana.  The Devil.  666.   That was amusing.

3.  I don't believe Poseidon is real.  I don't believe any of the gods are real.  Not the god of the Christians, the many gods of the Hindus, and not the gods of the many religions that have passed into history.  My new friend says our belief brings them their existence.  Maybe that's so in a way.  The Hindus sometimes say they have a thousand gods, none of whom are divine.  I like that idea.  Pray to a god and the god is not reality.  The god is a powerful symbol though.  A personalised emanation.  A holder of a facet of reality.

Poseidon spoke to me.  That's a powerful thing.  Even though he's not real.  Speaking to unreal gods is powerful.  I was talking with a Discordian a while ago who said to me how it was amazing that many changes come from praying to a god he knows full well doesn't exist.  I presume he spoke of Eris.  Maybe it will be the same for me.

4.  I want to dig more deeply into all the things I will still habitually call weird.  I have friends who tell me how much tapping (EFT) helps them.  EFT is nonsense - but I'll try it one day.  I want to enter into considering the Sephiroth, run more into meditation, and learn of a whole load of different ways.  I want to explore energy work more.  I learned to balance chakras and auras as a teenager and I want to return to it and I don't give a damn whether or not science would ever tell me they're real things or whether they're just superb symbols that can be used for understanding, healing and realisation of truths and ideas.  I want more of the woo.  More of the nonsense.

5.  I say that while wishing to remain completely skeptical.  To keep my brain screwed in place and to call out fake therapies.  It's all well and good using the stories, the symbols, the cards and the gods to understand and grow.  But when they're marketed erroneously as curers of disease or packaged as the truth in themselves then everything changes and something that may be good becomes something that is intensely bad.

6.  I want to say it again.  Because I believe it.  Poseidon talked with me and led me through a baptism in sea water.  Even though he's not real.

And so I will return to the sea.  Perhaps Poseidon will be there again.  Perhaps not.  Perhaps I will only (only!) encounter the universe, nature, the surface of the deepest water.  That will be enough.  What more is needed?  Ancient gods are just an added bonus in the expression of life.

I began writing this text with a very different plan in mind.  I was going to speak out against woo.  Against all the rubbish people speak and sell and how dangerous some of it actually is.  Instead I've written something that most people would say is also woo, rubbish, nonsense.

They're right.  It is.  Because quite clearly I've been communing with a nonexistent deity.  It's nonsense.  You're right.  I could have been hallucinating accidentally.  Then more purposefully.  I understand that hallucinations are more common among autistic people and I've certainly hallucinated before in more scary, sometimes terrifying, ways.

And yet it isn't nonsense or just my head playing a trick.  Because as a symbol, as a path into understanding, Poseidon has been very powerful for me in the last week.  I call upon no one to believe in him.  He's not real.  I don't believe in him.  He's not real.  And yet I spoke with him and would happily do so again and I am happy to find meaning in the experience.

Hail Poseidon! (Unreal) God of the Sea! May I find whatever wisdom I need to draw from your story and from the waters you (don't) rule.

Hail Poseidon!

Thursday, 25 May 2017

My Transgender Coming Out Story - A Tale of Difficulties and Deep Joy

So this is me.  Or one version of me.  A selfie taken a few days ago in a moment of deep joy and contentment at the top of a hill not too many miles from home.  I share it because it's where my story is right now, four years after coming out as a transgender woman.  There I am.  Just me.  In what is one of the stranger pictures.  You won't see many selfies of a transgender woman in a post about being transgender that look quite like this one.  Welcome to my reality.  I like it.  Especially when I'm being a little more crazy or weird than usual.

I just read an article about what one person has learned coming out as a non-binary trans person at the age of 43. After 100 days they say they did everything too fast. Their experiences are those of one person.  It is their truth.

My experiences and truth are also those of one person. They're bound to be a little different because I'm a woman, pure and simple, and about as far from non-binary as any woman gets. The article got me thinking about my own transgender life and the way I came out to the world and began to live publicly as a woman.

Here's a little of my experience. Just one woman trying to navigate her way into her truth. I've free written what follows and haven't edited at all.  Any mistakes are my own.

I came out to myself in a way I couldn't ever deny again at the age of 43. 43 years to get to that point. From then on things moved quickly.

2 weeks on: I dressed solely in women's clothes. Except when preaching. Not publicly in skirts and dresses. Not yet. But solely in woman's clothes I'd bought for myself via the miracle of very cheap charity shops. I didn't have a clue what I was doing. Everything was a matter of experimentation and sometimes I got it very wrong and nobody told me quickly enough before I had a chance to inflict my lack of dress sense on the world.

4 weeks on: I had told pretty much everyone that I was now Clare. The church leaders panicked about how to tell everyone and that delayed legal changes and the whole process. Most people were okay about it. Some people rejected me. Some people told me at length how staggeringly wonderful they were to not totally reject me. Gee, thanks!

8 weeks on: Having sorted things out with the church and had a ten day holiday as Clare (during which time my transition was officially announced to the congregation) I got round to legally changing my name. Much paperwork. Some people change their name quite often. They must love paperwork.

I was that (appearing to the world) 40 something man in a frock. Dark shadows of stubble. No make up. No hair removal. Hair that I'd cut short a few weeks before coming out. Totally, completely obvious. I was yet to meet anyone from Tyne Trans (as was). I had asked the GP to refer me to the gender dysphoria service – 27 days after coming out to myself, half of which was waiting for the appointment! - but my first appointment wasn't until three and a half months after signing that deed poll. To all intents and purposes anyone who saw me in the street would have clocked me as a cross dressing man not as a woman determined to be herself.

And sometimes, unsurprisingly, the world made things bloody difficult. Bloody difficult. Transphobia is real. If I had phoned the police every time I experienced it I would have been phoning a lot. Every. Single. Day. At times it was horrible. Truly horrible. And I was one of the more fortunate ones. Others have suffered a hell of a lot more than me after coming out. Every one of them is amazing for getting through that hell. When people quote the suicide and attempted suicide rate for transgender people I can only wonder why it isn't higher. For the record, in the UK nearly half of all transgender people have attempted suicide.

Four years have passed since I came out and demanded to be called Clare and she. Woe to anyone who deliberately calls me he or protests that they don't see an issue with it if I get misgendered or who tells me it's too hard to remember that I'm female and so would like to be addressed as female. Fortunately that doesn't happen much now – and most people I see never knew me as he. Yes, pretty much my entire life, excepting family, is filled with people I didn't know four years ago.

I've learned a lot in those four years.

Would I do it again? Come out like that?

You bet I would. Except I'd have done it quicker.

And I wouldn't allow a religion to delay anything. I truly wish I'd come out to the church in the middle of a sermon I preached. It was very tempting indeed and I wish I'd done it. After coming out I was told that it would be "inappropriate" for me to preach or lead anything in case "anyone is ever worried." All the confusion. All the having to meet with diocesan pastoral advisors and so on. Just so I could be banned and yet find that the congregation itself was supportive. Yeah, I wish I hadn't let the panicking of the CofE delay me for one second.

If I knew now what I knew then I wouldn't have been so afraid. And to be honest I spent the entirety of those 8 weeks in a state in which my great joy at accepting myself was mixed with an immense amount of terror. Some days I didn't know whether I could do it and without my immediate family and the support of another church - Northern Lights MCC - I might have taken longer about the whole thing.

If I knew now, there would have been less fear. And I would have reached that deed poll milestone quicker.

I have regrets. I shouldn't. Because what's the point? I might as well regret not coming out when I was at college – and I was thinking only this morning of a couple of times the truth was very close to the surface in my mind and how things could have been different if I'd only chosen to speak one sentence differently. I might as well regret my A level choices or giving up the violin when I was nine or anything else that I can't change. Maybe they're not regrets. And each one led in some way to my life being as it is.

But I'd certainly change some parts of the coming out process if I had the chance. Not just the CofE thing.

I regret not telling my online world en masse rather than having to pluck up courage - through terror, always through terror - to tell people one at a time. I'm grateful my mum accidentally outed me to some people, after which I just said "To hell with it" and told the rest.

I regret that my Facebook account is not the one I had under my old name. There were many years of history on that old account and I wish I'd kept it back than and closed this one. The account is still there. With no friends. My old name isn't even friends with my new name.

I regret how defensive I've been about the whole trans thing and how much of that arose from fear and an expectation, borne of 43 years of self rejection and self hatred, that many people who reject and hate me too. I guess most people who come out can got through an over-defensive time arising from that same fear. Bear with us, we get over it – just don't expect us to ever give way to prejudice. We won't.

But these regrets and others are only little compared to the satisfaction and life-changing wonder of coming out at all, of acceptance. It's not just that I'm happier as Clare, more content, and so on. My life has been completely changed in many ways that wouldn't have been possible probably had I not done this. Or if possible, very unlikely.

I have met so many amazing people I wouldn't have met otherwise - including many of you. I've been so blessed. And I meet many more amazing people every time I uncover a little more of myself – this transgender, autistic, creative, weirdly spiritual, nature loving woman.

I've done amazing things too. In my own way. And being Clare has allowed me to start to work through other aspects of my life and being and slowly begin to heal and allow myself to be me.

Without coming out I don't think I'd have been able to accept being autistic. I don't think I'd be exploring creativity as I am. I wouldn't have encountered Broadacre House, wouldn't have completely transformed my faith and spiritual life - and I don't think I'd ever have found the freedom to leave church and start to find my own path again.

Yes. It's been bloody difficult. And there have been lots of difficult things in the past four years. Autism - yeah, that's been tougher than being transgender in very many ways. I've cried. Lots. I've been rejected by some. I've been labelled an abomination by my own church pastor (not the CofE or MCC one). My mental health, while generally much improved, continues to be a minefield just as it always has.

But it's been worth it.

Fabulously, profoundly, superbly worth it.

And I look forward to my future as Clare, as the person I'm discovering myself to be. I am excited for my future. Excited to meet more amazing people and do more amazing (for me) things. Excited because there always seems to be a new surprise when you allow the surprises and give them permission to bring change.

I'm typing all this in my bedroom. Nearly everything in here isn't just something I didn't own before coming out. It's something I wouldn't have considered owning at all. Not just the obvious clothes. But soft toys, my books, the purple Buddha on the wall, that whisk over there that doubles as a head massager (buying it was hilarious), precious things from autism conferences, poetry books, writing books, the meditation material on the bed, precious items from Manchester, even a series of books called Skulduggery Pleasant. I wouldn't have read those if I hadn't come out.  I look at this room and know that my life is almost infinitely better for coming out.

My life is very much not as I would have expected it to be. And the changes just keep happening.  There are more on the way that I know about.  And there will be more surprises too.

I give thanks for Clare.

In ten days time I will give thanks again. For it will be the fourth anniversary of the night I looked at myself in a mirror, fully dressed as myself without guilt for the first time in my life, and greeted myself as Clare for the first time. Welcomed myself into the world.