A liminal phase

There are different expectations on people viewed as men and people viewed as women. If it was not so, I would have no reason to go trough with this name-changing and transitioning-thing. Right now, when I’m by most people (at best) is perceived as something androgynous in between, I can see it even more clearly than I did before. Sometimes, I feel like a veil has fallen from my eyes. It can be tiresome to constantly see things in a slightly new way, constantly gathering up new information.

My old professor from when I was reading archaeology, he would have said that I’m in a liminal phase. Liminal stems from “limes”, a Latin word for “road”, “threshold” or “boarder line”. (It is also my name backwards, only with a confused genitive-s on the wrong place.)

In anthropology liminality  is the quality of ambiguity that occurs in the middle stage of rituals, when the participants no longer hold their pre-ritual status but have not yet begun the transition to the status they will hold when the ritual is complete.

For someone in a liminal phase, the rules of the ordinary world don’t quite apply, it is a another dimension of reality. Liminality is associated with suffering or trials but you also have the privilege to look at things from a very special position. You can learn things to take with you to the next stage of transitioning.

If anyone is familiar with old Nordic mythology, you may have heard what Odin is said to have done to learn the runes? To gain such wisdom he had to hang himself upside down upon the stem of the world tree Yggdrasil. According to the myth, he hung there all alone, fasting for nine days and nine nights. He “made of himself a sacrifice to himself” before he fell screaming from the tree, having had the secret of the runes revealed to him in a flash of insight.

Hanging restrained upside down, alone and suffering for nine days and nights. Watching the world as it looks upside down, not being able to fully participate in it. That is what it is like to be in a liminal phase. Things looks so different from where you are and you can feel like a stranger to the rest of the world.

Christ on the cross is also very much a symbol of a liminal phase. All the ingredients are there – a sacrifice, passing time, waiting, suffering, questioning (“God, why have you forsaken me?“). And in the end relief (yes, in this case death). And then something completely different that can seem like magic or be about entering a new phase, resurrection.

When you were born, you went through a liminal phase. It was the first thing you did, and the last thing you do will be to. If you ever have been madly in love or been pregnant or have gone through puberty – then you have gone through a liminal phase again. It is not necessary magical, it is a natural part of life.

Different rules apply for those in a liminal phase, you have time and opportunity to view things in a different perspective. The road that you are on, the limes, will take you to a new place in life, maybe a new identity, maybe wiser than before. And life will never be the same again.

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Dysphoria

A friend recommended me to read this blog post by Zinnia Jones about the problematic and vague concept “gender dysphoria”, something that many trans* people experience.  Zinnia writes about what gender dysphoria is and why is it relevant to wipe away the vagueness, on a personal level.

When you don’t know what dysphoria is, or that it’s even an actual condition, it’s easy to mistake it for who you naturally are. You might think it’s part of your innate personality and disposition, and something you just have to learn to cope with. This can delay recognizing that you’re trans or that transitioning is an appropriate choice for you.

Gender dysphoria is widely described and experienced as distress due to discomfort with one’s assigned sex, and the desire to live as another sex. The condition of gender dysphoria is common among transgender people, although being transgender is not itself a condition or disorder, nor is the presence of gender dysphoria required in order for someone to be transgender. Not all trans people have significant gender dysphoria or experience their dysphoria in the same way: different trans people may be uncomfortable with different aspects of their assigned sex, their body, their presentation, the gender role expected of them, and so on.

Nevertheless, the common thread of gender dysphoria is that it is linked with our gender and the various components of this. The distress of dysphoria, and hopefully its resolution, are contingent on how closely the overall situation of our gender aligns with what we need it to be. For this reason, people typically understand the experience of gender dysphoria as being very clearly and self-evidently centred on gender. The most widespread notion is that we become aware of our dysphoria in very direct, gender-related ways, such as knowing from a young age that we’re actually women or men despite the sex we were assigned, feeling “trapped” in our bodies due to their inappropriate sex characteristics, needing to make our “outside” match our “inside”, and strongly wishing to present and live as another gender.

Diverse experiences of dysphoria

This understanding of gender dysphoria is an incomplete one. A largely unrecognised facet of dysphoria is that not all trans people initially recognize or experience this as being unmistakably connected to our genders. Some of us suffer the distress that stems from dysphoria, but without many clues that this is about gender, and its relation to our genders may be obvious only in retrospect. Much attention is focused on the “gender” part of this, the well-defined cross-gender identities and needs and feelings. Less is given to the experience of more general dysphoria.

Wikipedia describes dysphoria as “a state of feeling unwell or unhappy; a feeling of emotional and mental discomfort”. I find that extremely vague and I’ve decided to take a closer look at the dysphoria I experience in order to be able to see if it goes away as I go on with my transitioning.

Transformers

I’ve just been to my first gettogether with the local trans group. I’ve heard that they are not very active, but that might be about to change. They have a brand new place to meet now, much more comfy and easier to get to than the old and cold cellar room they had before.

There were about 10 people there in various ages, sipping tea and small talking. I didn’t know anyone directly but there were two or three familiar faces. The conversation sort of stopped when I entered and I didn’t know what to make out of it. I introduced myself and had a cup of tea and just sat down to take in the atmosphere.

Slowly, things settled again and the conversation got going. They talked about many things. Among them were names and how to choose a new one for yourself, what to think of and how one can feel about it. We talked about social norms around gender and gender identity. How complex it can be to want to change something with yourself – does a change on a personal level also on a more structural level make the world less diverse and the norms around gender or gender identity stronger?

I had a good time and I got some feedback on my ideas about the gym. Someone said that private locker rooms with access to a private shower would be to prefer for them, rather than a small gender neutral locker room and shower shared with a few other people, even if that is a more costly alternative. One person pointed out to me that it might be better not to talk about it as primary a trans issue, that pushing the more general “people-with-special-needs-group”-button could be more effective. She also said that it could be a good idea to talk to some handicap organization of some sort, looking for good allies. Someone else added that I should talk to others in the trans community who have been lobbying for this sort of stuff before.

But sadly, no one there seemed interested in it on a more personal level. I’d love to have other people that are trans to go to the gym with sometimes. That’d be both inspirational and fun and I think it would help me challenging myself. We could sort of support each other. But I haven’t given up on this, I have a few prospects in mind right now. We’ll see what happens.

PicsArt_1384559980397[1]By the way – regarding the value of a supportive network – I’m lucky enough to already have an awesome network of my own. Today’s t-shirt is a good example. I got it at a party last weekend as a sign of love and support. A nerdy t-shirt with an 80′s classic “boy toy” motif and the text “Trans formers – more than meets the eye”… It is just so right for me, nerdy and proud of it and born in the early 80′s as I am. I love it!

Pride can be worn quite literally sometimes, and today is a day as good as any to do it. :-)