Talking about the body

I wish there were more spaces where we could talk about the body and its changes and processes in an inclusive way. That is to say, in a way that includes trans, genderqueer, and non-binary people, and people of all ages, and doesn’t create an essentialist account of what bodily functions mean.

I am currently experiencing menopausal symptoms. I don’t feel that this puts me on the threshold of being a crone, and nor do I feel that menarche, menstruation, childbirth, and menopause are defining features of being a woman. However, they are important and significant milestones in life, and I would like to be able to recognise and mark them symbolically and ritually without excluding trans women, trans men, intersex people, and genderqueer and nonbinary people (all of whom can feel excluded from these discussions in different ways).

I never had a child, so I want to acknowledge that in my processing of the significance of menopause. I am genderqueer, so I want to honour my gender identity in my processing of what is happening to my body.

I gave a workshop about inclusive Wicca, and a trans man who attended said that in the Wiccan coven he attends, there’s a lot of essentialist talk about wombs and the joys of childbirth, which made him uncomfortable. This sort of talk can be very excluding for trans men, and for women who cannot or prefer not to have a child.

People have mentioned to me that the Red Tent movement is trans-exclusionary. I just had a look at the website for it, and it doesn’t even mention trans women, and just goes on as if cis women are the only women that exist. Very disappointing, and a missed opportunity, and definitely excluding of trans women.

I once went to an interfaith event where two Pagan women were going on about the joys of childbirth, and they went so far as to say that you’re only a real woman if you have given birth. This made me very angry, and a couple of other women found it very upsetting.

Talk about biological characteristics such as wombs and menstruation can be excluding for trans women, if they are discussed in a way that equates womanhood with menstruation and childbirth, or assumes that all women have (or have had) a womb and two X chromosomes. People’s biological characteristics don’t necessarily match their gender, and there are many different intersex conditions that don’t match the binary model of XX and XY chromosomes.

I would like to be in a queer space for discussing bodily changes, where people could discuss gender dysphoria  and celebrate gender euphoria (the happiness that occurs when your appearance matches your gender), the changes brought about by taking hormones, and we could celebrate the growth of beards, breasts, chest hair, and so on; where people could discuss childbirth, menstruation and menopause; and these things could be discussed without any assumption that they define us as people, or as belonging to a specific gender.

I would feel extremely uncomfortable in any space that didn’t include trans, genderqueer, and non-binary people. I also think that it’s high time we were able to discuss menstruation in front of cisgender men. I would certainly be absolutely fine with discussing it with trans women, as long as it didn’t make them feel excluded. Such discussions could also be enlightening for people who are not very aware of transgender people.

It’s worth mentioning that the Moon (which is often referenced in talk about menstruation, because the menstrual cycle is monthly), is regarded as female in some cultures, male in others. So the Moon is not specific to a particular gender, and as it is often a symbol of fluidity, it could be regarded as a genderfluid symbol.

It would also be great if rites of passage included transgender people. When I finally get around to deciding that I’ve reached the age of crone/sage/wizard, I would like a genderqueer term that describes that phase of life. I am more than a womb with legs, and would like other aspects of my self and my life experience acknowledged in any ritual celebrating my transition to old age. Meanwhile, if anyone has any good tips for coping with the symptoms of menopause (herbal supplements, foods, etc), I am all ears.

Does anyone else feel that a queer space for discussing the body and its changes would be a good thing? What should it be called, if we were to create such a space?  Some ideas: the Spiral Castle, the Rainbow Circle, Queer Bodies, Queering the Body, Inclusive Body Talk.

Wouldn’t it be great to have rituals for celebrating and honouring the body and its changes, in all its diversity, without excluding anyone?

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10 thoughts on “Talking about the body

  1. Goodness knows I’d be a whole lot less twitchy and panicky about gender-based stuff in paganism if I hadn’t been mousetrapped so often by people who used “women’s ritual” to mean “menstruation ritual”. (Menstruation spikes my dysphoria dramatically, and nothing underscores “you’re not a real woman” like having that equation made, in my face, over and over again. Fortunately I have a cyborg upgrade that suppresses most of it these days.)

    Plus other things, but. I don’t have an objection to spiritualizing my organs at all – I mean that’s pretty stock Kemetic theology – but I don’t see why I should pick the wabbly bits over everything else as a focal point. (… now I’m pondering digging into a bunch of Egyptian theology for spiritualizing-your-organs meditations and such. That might make a fine chapbook, now, wouldn’t it?)

    But something where people could address bodies as they are and bodies as we wish them rather than Bodies As They Ought To Be According To Some Abstract Template would be… refreshing. Theories that think they’re more important than people are really exhausting.

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    • I love the idea of ritual about other organs – I once went to a friend’s Buddhist ritual honouring organs – my friend was the spleen, and others represented the heart and the lungs and the liver, etc.

      Is the dysphoria caused by other people going on about menstruation in a gender-essentialist way, or just menstruation full stop? For me, it’s the gender essentialism that jars, grates, and scratches.


  2. Oh, also: I asked the household herbalist/acupuncturist about stuff for menopause and he says that all of his advice depends on which specific symptom-set, so if you’d be willing to share which symptoms you want alleviated I can ask him from there.

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  3. Hi Yewtree,
    There are all kinds of changes the body goes through, but I think that maybe we should look at the stages of life differently. For example as a man, I don’t equate becoming a Sage (or whatever you want to call that phase of my life) with, say, erectile dysfunction. So why equate crone with menopause? Why can’t being a Sage or Crone be a transition at the spiritual level? Are we not, once we reach a certain age, going from the acquisition of knowledge and experience to knowing how to use that wisely? Why is not Sage or Crone a mark that they have obtained a state of wisdom? (Of course, I doubt everyone is capable of getting there, but that can be a different discussion.)

    And whatever you want to call that phase of life is OK to me. Sage is pretty gender-neutral – IMO – it could work for everyone, maybe. To mark rites of passage, we can have a “Coming of Age” celebration, and a Sage Celebration. Phases of life can be Youth-Adult-Elder.

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