Secret Selves

by Dagian Russell
excerpt from Wightridden: Paths of Northern-Tradition Shamanism

            For some of us it isn't obvious at first, not even to ourselves. Not because it's not there, not because it's not intensely present, not because the evidence wasn't always visible, but because of internal dishonesty. We lie to ourselves first and then by extension to others, sometimes not even realizing we're doing so. The edifice we construct bit by unintentional bit eventually looms so large in our inner landscape that it becomes constricting in ways that were unforeseen. We rein ourselves in to the point of constructing a virtual prison inside our own beings. Inner revolution is never easy, but coming to terms with my gender identity is admittedly one of the hardest things I've ever had to do. What hurts is that in many respects I blame myself, and rightly so. I can be angry at the world all I want, for all its oppressive density, but I chose to hide. It's difficult to admit. I wasn't always aware I was doing it; in fact the grand majority of the time I wasn't, but in those frightened moments of realization I ran scared from my own nature and stuffed it down into the black depths of my own abyss.

            Every time my truth manifested I went into denial so deep I lost track of myself, and instead lived a projection of other peoples' image of me. When I was finally forced to waking and became aware of what I was doing, that person I had made myself into died. I went through a pretty intense grieving process. I grieved for what was easier. I grieved because of the inevitable disappointments I shall wreak on others. I grieved for things I thought I should have been and the worth assigned to those things. I lost my sense of self entirely and went through a full-blown identity crisis, even as I saw myself more honestly and clearly than I ever have. I grieved for that lost sense of identity, even though it wasn't real…and at the same time, I grieved for what I've missed out on and what I will never be able to be.

            When Hela took me the first time, She gave me a lot of instructions, but the big over-arching one was to integrate. She talked (far more than merely talking, but I don't know how to adequately describe Her communication in a succinct manner) about the various divided aspects of myself and I mulled it over, absorbing Her instruction/revelation. The last instruction was for me to "integrate my male and female sides", or something to that effect; it wasn't so simple as only words or one word for each part of the communication. She talked about how I had stifled myself in so many ways because of my refusal to accept all parts of me. She told me how much more whole and powerful and (words fail for this part, existent in the world?) I would be - more of myself, far more present and even real, if that makes sense.

            I heard Her and had to acknowledge that something was missing, that I had been hiding things from myself and everyone else. I acknowledged Her rightness, as there was no way for me not to, and agreed to work on things. I did, however, end up pulling from that what I wanted to and told myself later that She wanted me to integrate masculine and feminine traits in myself. That's just not adequate, but I didn't really want to face the depth of what I had been hiding. It took a serious smackdown and a removal of all of my coping mechanisms (read: escapist behaviors) to force me to action.
            Even though it has been years since Hela first made Herself clearly known to me, I feel like I am still at the beginning of all this. My transformation has been painful (and of great depth) thus far, and working through my gender issues has been a large part of that. I've had to come to terms with the fact that this has always been a part of me, re-examine my life and all its bits, re-live all the painful parts, go over the points where I went into denial over and over again. I'm very aware of the fact that I'm being re-made and that I'm an active part of the process.

            I've always been an outsider. Even in the depths of my denial, that part was obvious and I had embraced it. There was no other way for me to function. I moved around a lot as a child and had a terrible time trying to find a niche. I never identified with either girls or boys in any deep kind of way; girls didn't like me, and I didn't like their toys and games. Boys were sometimes more accepting on an individual level, but my strangeness went beyond mere gender issues. Most of my teachers didn't like me and found me odd, though there were exceptions. Any individual friends I had (and they were few) would quickly turn against me in a group situation. At the same time, even while being an outsider, other people were always terribly obvious to me. I could tell what they wanted, what they were up to, what their frustrations and motivations were. I could tell what bothered them and where all the lines of tension lay. It was easy to tell when differences between people were due to differences in perspective. Gender lines were easy to follow. This understanding has only deepened since starting this process.

            Most of the time I feel utterly alien - neither and both, all and none. My exact point on the continuum moves around quite a bit, but my default is squarely in third, or at least I think it is. I'm keenly aware I'm not done with this part of my transformation, perhaps not even over the hump, yet one of the main aspects of my being that separates me from the vast majority of other people also gives me vital insight into theirs. It's just kind of strange realizing that it has always been this way.

            Coming out from the transgender closet is doubly difficult when you are suddenly faced with the fact that you are Owned by a Deity. Any existing intimate relationships are put through a rigorous testing, and significant others quickly become alienated, as they sense they are no longer your primary focus and can feel like they are with a person they don't know. Power struggles emerge between them and Deity which leave you feeling like you are in the middle, with the blame squarely placed on your shoulders, simply for being what you are. You can hardly blame the other person, as it's very unlikely they had even considered this possibility and they certainly didn't sign up for it. You might try to desperately balance everything while fighting your way through it, trying to keep your entire world from crumbling beneath you, but crumble away it will. The question is if you can build a new foundation fast enough.

            A lot of my work at this point is very tied to my identity as ergi. The construction of my tools of power are tuned to this process of transition, so I am very aware of the fact that my being transgendered is an important part of my identity as a spirit-worker as well as a great source of personal might. A lot, though far from all, of the counseling work I have done as a spirit-worker is in relation to transgender issues, which I personally find ironic because I consider myself still only a neophyte in this realm. I can see the work piling up and fleshing out for the next year, and making use of my ergi nature is a big part of that.

            One of the things that seems to help me most with getting through this process thus far is physically expressing my astral reality in some ways. I was born “female” (a point with which my body argues) in meat-space, but when confronted with an aroused astral form during a lesson I quickly learned that I was not entirely female. That was a bit of a shock, finding myself sitting there with an astral erection, being taught men's mysteries by a shape-shifting God. Soon I was instructed to construct an artificial soft phallus for packing, made of organic materials so as to make it good for projecting into, and something miraculous happened. I quickly learned that if my astral phallus had a place to “sit,” I would experience markedly less dysphoria. I wouldn't get as frustrated as easily, and felt more myself, as it were. Soon I added men's underwear and sometimes men's pants. If I neglect to wear my phallus, things get worse again.

            Over time I noticed that my energy flows were being changed, as were my sexual needs and my experience of my body, and it all feels a bit closer to “right.” Having appropriate sexual outlets helps a lot, and while there is room for improvement for this in my life, I can really tell when I'm getting at least some of what I need. It makes a big, big difference. I'm still learning about what it is that I truly need, as are my partners. In my case, I happen to be a pansexually identified, fluidly third-gendered being, and as such I have a lot of needs. It's a tall task to get them all met, especially in meat-space, and I haven't been able to do it yet.

            I still don't feel fully “clicked into place.” I'm still in the middle of this thing, and n order to get back in, I've had to step completely out. Something that seems to help with this process is having an ongoing conversation with my body. I used to do this from time to time in the first person, but once the gender issues and shaman sickness started to manifest (along with a whole host of ugly internal and external struggles that often left me self-destructive) whatever productive dialogue I used to have ceased. I had to start treating my body as an entirely separate entity and giving zir credence as such.

            Initially I referred to ze as she, and that was fine, because ze wasn't really talking back yet. Ze was just giving me little abstract feelings here and there, but even those were helpful. Ze was genuinely afraid of me (and rightly so) because of my inclination toward self-harm, but having a body that is in rebellion against its inhabiting being is difficult and frustrating. I had to actively work at rearranging my thought processes on a cognitive level to help combat the instinctual desire to think about offing myself (like I said, all my old coping mechanisms were forcibly removed.) Once I had done a lot of work there (and frankly, I still have those thoughts from time to time; they're just less intense and far less frequent, thankfully) ze started talking back. First thing was that ze wanted to be acknowledged as not being entirely female zirself.

            Now, I am not to my knowledge medically intersexed in any way, but my body wanted that recognition all the same. Granting it to zir has helped us click together better and hopefully over time we will be even more unified. Acknowledgment of zir's needs as sometimes at odds with my wants and needs has proved rather useful, and the dialogue has helped us compromise where needed. I find that ze responds very well to understanding regardless of whether ze gets zir way as well. It might seem odd that causing a seemingly new schism (although it's not really a schism, just a method of Acknowledgment) in oneself is a way to greater integration, but it's proving useful.

            If you are just discovering gender issues in yourself, be prepared for a rough ride. My experience may or may not be typical, but in having extensive contact with others going through the same thing, there are certain similar characteristics of the process we all seem to have to deal with. There will be initially violent swings in self-perception. You may at times truly feel like you've made a mistake and that this isn't you. You will likely experience strong recoils whenever you hit upon some new and deep truth about yourself, especially if it results in some kind of extreme sexual satisfaction. Dysphoria can be devastating and can be triggered by various things - for me, the biggest trigger is an orgasm resulting from imagining myself in a sexual gender role that I can't actually achieve physically in meat-space. Realization that the actual organ isn't there can result in a morbid sense of futility. A sense of impotence and infertility can be devastating, even if you never thought it important previously, or even have any current desire to do anything active with said fertility.

            The best advice I was given going into this thing was to “get a good support system.” That can be easier said than done, but it's something well worth working at. Join communities and talk with other folks going through similar experiences. Don't cut yourself off from loved ones, despite the inherent danger in being open. Yes, you have to be careful, but this process cannot be stopped. You will either lose them or keep them, and that part is not in your control. Don't deprive yourself of potential support in favor of drawn-out tension and secrecy. If you are really destined to be an ergi spirit-worker, who you are will eventually be made entirely public anyway, and that will be part of your power. Learn to see it as power, even in the wondering eyes of others.