This is the interview I gave Raven Kaldera for the second edition of Hermaphrodities Raven’s works are utterly fascinating and well worth a read. Crossposted at Riding the Second Wave
1) Tell us about your gender identity.
My gender identity is woman/female. Sounds simple doesn’t it? It is far from so. I’ve been told by both intersexed people and trans people I don’t exist, that the conditions of my birth are impossible or at least impossibly rare enough I could not possibly be who I am…..and yet I am. Up to now I have mostly kept these things private to myself and those who came to study with me for this reason. I was born a tetragametic chimera which means in simpler terms, born during the sign of Gemini, I am, literally, twins in a single person with two different sets of genetics in one body, in my case fraternal twins, one male, one female that combined around the second or third cellular split. At my birth I embodied Agdistis. I was born at a “cottage” hospital in 1949 and presented with both an apparent penis and labia, the doctor sewed up my labia and declared me male. From the time I was first able to grasp the concept of male and female, I knew I was female and the circumstances of my birth having been kept from me, when I ran across the concept of “transsexual”, I thus assumed that was what I was and “transitioned” as an adult within that context. It was only after I first transitioned that I learned of my own nature although I had suspected so my entire life. Today my body reflects the Divine Feminine.
2) Tell us about your spiritual path. How did you get to where you are now?
Again, simply put, I was called from my earliest memories. Once again that sounds simpler than the reality. Around the same time, age three to four, I became aware I was not the boy everyone said I was, I was also having very vivid dreams, many of which I remember to this day as if I had them last night instead of some 56 odd years ago. I had a lot of nightmares and quickly learned the technique of lucid dreaming to turn them around and make the “monsters” into allies instead of enemies. But the most vivid dreams that reoccurred over and over were of an enormous, much larger than life beautiful woman dressed mostly in white robes. In those dreams She comforted me, told me things I could never quite remember upon waking but those dreams were incredibly peaceful and soothing and had a profound effect on me. Today I know that is the traditional way She called Her daughters.
Up until I first was enrolled in kindergarten, my childhood was relatively free of gender policing and playing dressup with the girl from across the creek was allowed and not discouraged. By the age then that children were allowed relative freedom from constant parental oversight I was spending almost all my time in whatever wild area was nearby and thus spent most of my early childhood forests and woods. The adults I sought out to learn from were the women that today I would call crones in the best sense. My family tree on both sides is mostly old New England, my father’s side the pragmatic down to earth, my mother’s side eccentric free thinkers, spiritualists and proud as punch of our ancestors such as Susanna Martin, a Salem witch trial victim from Amesbury, Mass. and William Wood who wrote the book “New England Prospects” that launched much of the immigration to that area in the 1600’s but had his own property taken away for going too native. I grew up with spirits, ghosts, tales of witchcraft and devoured any books I could find on those subjects. I grew up a Pagan in other words hidden in plain sight for my fathers side of the family mostly rejected me and my mother’s embraced me. I had a personal feminist awaking around 1958 just as second wave feminism was in it’s birth as a reaction to my own father’s patriarchal treatment of my mother. While the world saw me as male, I was within my own head female always and made as much peace as possible with that.
At age fifteen, our family moved to India traveling leisurely throughout Rome, Greece, Turkey, Egypt, the Middle East both on the way to India and the way back. I “knew” all these ancient places we visited. My father leading the way with an outdated “Europe on Five Dollars a Day” book, we found ourselves over and over off the beaten path of the tourists. We vacationed in Kashmir, I was allowed to travel alone to places like Dehra Dun, Agra and Jaipur. I explored wild places infinitely wilder than I had before and an India which at the time was closer to the India of the British Raj era than the India of today. I met and spent long hours with “gurus” and Muslims and Hindus of all social classes. I was aware I would not have been allowed to have any of these experiences had the world seen me as female while knowing I was and the inequality of that. Strangely enough my actual gender seemed to be clear to many of the Indian people I encountered who reminded me that my auburn hair would get me in trouble in many remote villages I visited if I were seen as female as it was considered the mark of a witch woman for example. Our cook, a live-in position, never called me by my birth name but only “Jackie” after Jackie Kennedy who occupied a place in world culture then immediately after JFK’s assassination similar to the one Princess Diana later had. It was his way of telling me he knew who I was and that was fine with him. I most likely met some hijra during that time, but was unaware of who they were. Had I been aware there is little doubt in my own mind I would have gone native and joined them.
My college years were at the height of the counter culture movement of the late sixties. Paganism was coming of age at this time as well and more and more material was coming into my hands. So much so that by the mid-seventies I found myself teaching a course at the Free University at Ohio State for several years on the history of Paganism and the Occult. It was around this time I discovered a sporadic wealth of material on the Mother Goddess traditions but it was years later before the specifics about Cybele Herself came to hand due to my eventual path being the most ruthlessly suppressed of all the Pagan traditions by the early church.
Throughout my lifelong studies I was far more interested in the essence of Pagan theology than I was in the trappings and abandoned ceremonial magick as a personal dead end in favour of a gnostic approach. In 1989 I ran across a copy of Merlin Stone’s “When God was a Woman” in a flea market and suddenly things clicked into place. I started going back and re-reading the occult “classics” with new eyes. I suddenly kept seeing the name “Cybele” literally leaping from the pages for me in one semi-vague reference after another. The thing that struck me more than anything else was all the Mother Goddess traditions, presented as totally different religions, weren’t. They all shared the same symbols, the same essence and many of the exact same trappings of practice for literally thousands of years.
At the same time, my final bout with the dysphoric imperative (need to transition) was also coming to a head. Several times in my life I had managed to come to an accommodation with it short of out and out transition. I had learned I could “be” a woman and have others see me as male. At this time, that stopped working entirely and those I met were seeing me as a woman regardless of how aggressively male I tried to appear. Further, it was becoming very distasteful personally to be seen as male.
I transitioned and the Mother Goddess started knocking me around whenever I varied from Her path. I was directed to first establish a reclaiming of Her worship in the form of Cybele and then after literally throwing the missing pieces of the various puzzles in my face, move to the Catskills of upstate New York and establish a centre for that tradition. When I balked somewhat at that last, She took away my ability to not do so by handicapping me physically. When the Goddess directs you, She will prevail.
The Cybeline revival began with what Roman and Greek materials we had easy access to. Since then we have expanded that further back to the essence of all Mother Goddess traditions and then advanced our theology to reflect what we would have been today without the 1500 year interruption resulting from our wholesale murder by the early church. We are not a reconstructionist path in sticking only to Roman or Greek practice but a living extension of our own traditions throughout the world and history. As our knowledge of pre-history expands, we absorb and embrace that.
3) What’s the most important thing for trans people to know about spirituality?
Balance, the single most important thing for anyone, but especially trans/intersexed people spiritually is the concept of walking between the worlds and standing in balance. That is the position the Mother Goddess occupies and She is within all of us. “Walking between the Worlds” is so much more than just gender/sex. It is the intersection of science and magick, the living and the dead, the seen and unseen worlds, the darkness and the light. The gift of being different, and I do see it as a Divine gift and obligation, is the ability, if we only open our eyes widely and actually see that cultural impositions are not the laws of the universe, a “leg up” as it were, on understanding what it means to actually put yourself in the place of another and see through their eyes by virtue of having to see the world from a different perspective altogether ourselves.
I teach from within the concept of the Mother Goddess but often those very words are misunderstood today. “Mother” brings visions to the modern mind of stay at home moms all nurturing and devoted to children. Goddess implies a larger than life version of the christian God somewhere out of reach perhaps sitting on a cloud watching our every move. Both fail if you do this. The image of the Mother Goddess in every tradition I have studied is the Divine Feminine principle. The image is one we can grasp but She is also the Mother who never gives birth, the Goddess of wild places and of lions and birds of prey. Her essence is present in the now know fact that all higher level life starts off first as female as the default setting in fetal development. She is that within ourselves, male, female, other, that is the spark of Divine and if you do not find what you seek within, you shall never find it without because She is with us from the beginning. The word Nameste is a Hindu word now seeing wider use in the West. Literally it means “the Divine in me acknowledges the Divine in you.” Most fascinating of all to me has been the discovery that at the root of all Mother Goddess traditions you find hints She was, in the beginning, a female identified hermaphrodite and the maleness then cloned off to a “consort” later on.
Trans and intersexed people have a rich and ancient connection with the Divine as teachers throughout almost all cultures of the world. You can even find references to it in the Christian Bible in Isaiah 56 3-5. Several years ago I wrote a series of essays on the transsexual priestesses of the ancient world, I did so as a gift to those who followed me of their heritage. Today, I would write a different version given additional information, gained insight and having witnessed attempts to turn my own hard won path into a “tranny” religion when it never was any such thing. Balance is the key.
4) What do we have to teach the rest of the world, spiritually?
We have the power to challenge gender roles merely by being. This is vastly different from destroying the essences of male and female by rendering asunder all good about maleness and femaleness but rather teaching others it is possible to become fully human whatever that means to any particular individual. As a dyed in the wool feminist, my opposition the the patriarchy is a given but my beef with the Dianic movement born of Pagan radical feminism has been the desire to replace the patriarchy with a matriarchy and a rewriting of history, particularly of the Goddess cultures, to reflect that. Two thousand plus years of a totally patriarchal ascendancy over the world can make equality of men and women appear matriarchal, but my own lifelong journey into ancient history and spirituality teaches me that it was equality, not female dominance that was the hallmark of those cultures. And thus we return to the concept of balance and standing between worlds and embracing our personal Goddess natures. Once you truly accept that everyone and everything around you is also a part of yourself linked by your own Divine nature, you do not need rules to tell you harming others and all around you is harming yourself.