Sunday, August 31, 2008

Not about Myth - Maybe

So here's something personal.

I had a wonderful brunch today with my friend Jayne at a West LA diner called John O' Groats. Fantastic fish and chips. But much as I love Jayne and the fish and chips, that's not why I'm writing this.

After the meal we drove back across town and saw a shop (which shall remain nameless) with some really nice Indian skirts out front. We pulled over and went in. While we were admiring the clothes and jewelry, the owner came out, a very handsome and athletic man in his 50's (who shall also remain nameless) who told us about his career as a dancer. Almost all the time he was looking straight at me. After about 25 minutes and we had to leave, he gave us both CDs of his dance music. We told him we'd be back in. (And I will as soon as I get my next paycheck; there was a lapis lazuli necklace there that I WILL have.)

As we walked back to the car, I said to Jayne, "Do you feel that someone was being flirted with?"

"Yes," she said, "And it wasn't me." Jayne is a Natal woman.

That was at about 3 pm. It is now 8 pm and I'm still digesting the idea.

First of all, the picture on this blog is my favorite picture of myself, but it is not the most representational. That is why it is my favorite. (Fortuitous lighting and angle and a touch of Photoshop.) I'm 56 years old and I look it. I'm about 6o pounds overweight, I can't get the voice the way I want it, and I'm 5' 11" in flats. I get clocked.

Secondly, I'm Lesbian. No, I'm straight. That all depends on which of me you're dealing with. Multiple personae? Isn't that insane? I don't know, but it works for me. Up to a point. One of my major adolescent questions was, "Am I gay?" Hmmm.... I thought Sophia Loren was the most beautiful woman on Earth. I wanted simultaneously to be with her and simply to be her. Did a double appreciation apply, say, Paul Newman? Any sexual attraction?


How about if I was Sophia Loren and had all that pertained to Sophia Loren? I suppose.

So the long and the short of it is, I'll be POSSIBLY interested in having sex with a man if and when I have a vagina. I don't have one now, and I'm pretty sure I'm not going to have one in the foreseeable future. And frankly, I find the male anatomy such a turnoff that I don't understand why all women aren't Lesbians. And let's not even talk about anal penetration. (On the other hand, though, being courted looks like a pretty good racket.)

So I was being flirted with by a guy and I've been eating it up with a spoon ever since. And I know I was clocked because Jane is glamorous and beautiful and this guy kept looking straight at me. He was concentrating on me BECAUSE he knew I was a tranny. There's a blow to the vanity.

So now I'm dealing with this: I was indirectly hit on by a handsome guy (did I mention the diamond and ruby rings?) who was hitting on me because I am who I am.

I'm going to go back to the store and buy a couple of skirts and find out the price of the necklace. There's not much I can do to follow up if he flirts with me again. But I think I'm looking forward to it.

Saturday, August 30, 2008

How's Tricks?

I’d like to say that every assertion I make about mythology and folklore in this blog is meticulously researched. It would be pretty to think so. But not tonight. I want to write about the Trickster, and when I started pulling books of the shelf and looking in indexes, Trickster said, “Screw that. Just follow me.”
“OK,” I said, “This book I have in my hand, Trickster Makes the World by Lewis Hyde, only has a page and a half approaching transgender issues, and I can’t even find that Jung book on archetypes. Fine. Let’s wing it.”

Bugs Bunny. In drag. My dear friend Ally is an artist who licenses cartoon characters and sculpts them in bronze and clay. Prominently displayed at her studio is a tile of Bugs as Carmen Miranda. Not really surprising considering Ally is a transwoman herself. I’m not making any earth-shattering revelations if I note that Bugs in drag is something of a transgendered icon. I’ve always been fascinated by the way the Warner’s artists could get that 1940’s Barbara Stanwyck smile just right. Something about those teeth meeting the lipsticked bottom lip. And whether it be to bombshell, bobbysoxer, or Brunhilde, the transformation was always fluid, natural, and instantaneous. (Pity about the feet, though. Being of a size that necessitates patronizing the mutant-size shoe stores, I sympathize.)

Bugs’ appeal is the appeal of anarchy, of chaos. In cartoon after cartoon, Bugs torments Elmer Fudd or some other doofus in a position of false authority, piling insult upon injury until the fadeout. Bugs comes from a long line of characters who represent chaos and randomness, some positive, some negative. A Cahuilla storyteller once told me that Coyote is a gambler, a dice thrower, and as such represents randomness and unpredictability. I’ve not come across any stories of Coyote crossdressing or gender-switching, but I wouldn’t be a bit surprised if I did. In the Southwestern states Coyote is perceived as an unpredictable but benevolent smartass. In Mexico, he's seen as an unpredictable and malevolent smartass.

There are some times and some places where anarchy is not a good thing.

For example, if you live in a place where your chances of being frozen to death are equal to being hacked in two by a howling berzerker, you might have ambivalent feelings regarding Loki.

Loki has taken on female shape. He turned into a mare to distract the horse of a giant who built Asgard, the home of the gods. he gave birth to Sleipnir, Odin’s eight-legged horse. And in the following famous tale, he is quite at home in the role of maid to the not-quite-as-comfortable Thor/Freja:


When Thor awoke, his wrath was grim
To find his hammer gone from him.
He shook his beard, he tossed his hair,
The Son of Earth sought here and there.

And first of all he spake this word:
"Listen, Loki! never was heard
In earth or heaven what now I say---
The Thunderer's hammer is stolen away!"

To Freyja the fair their way they take,
And this is the word that first he spake:
"Lend me thy feather-fell, I pray,
To seek my hammer, that's stolen away."

"Were it of silver, or were it of gold,
That would I give thee, that should'st thou hold."

Loki he flew in the rustling fell
Out of the halls where the Aesir dwell

To Jôtunheim. On a howe sat Thrym,
King o' the giants, a a-twisting trim
Golden bands for his hounds of speed,
And smoothing the mane of his trusty steed;
And this is the word that first he said:
"What of the Aesir? What of the Elves?
Why art thou come to the Giant's door?"

"'Tis ill with the Aesir, ill with the Elves!
Say, hast thou hidden the hammer of Thor?"

"Yea, I have hidden the hammer of thunder
Eight full fathoms the earth down under;
No man shall win it in all his life
Until he shall bring me Freyja to wife."

Loki he flew in the rustling fell
Out of the halls where the Giants dwell,
Until he came to Asgard's bound,
And Thor in the midmost garth he found.
And this is the word that first he said:
"What tidings, toiling, hast thou won?
For a man that sits tells a stumbling tale,
And a man that lies, a lying one."

"News for my toiling do I bring;
Thrym has thine hammer, the Giant's king,
No man may win it in all his life
Until he take him Freyja to wife."

To Freyja the fair their way they take,
And this is the word that first he spake:
"Bind on thy bridal-veil amain,
For to Jôtunheim we must fare, we twain."

Wroth was Freyja! she caught her breath---
The hall of the Aesir shook beneath,
The Brising necklace snapped in three.
"Marriage-mad is the name for me
If to Jôtunheim I fare with thee!"

All the Aesir to council went,
The mighty ones to parliament,
Gods and goddesses, all in wonder
How to win back the hammer of thunder.

It was Heimdall spake amain,
Whitest of gods, the wily Wane:
"Now bind on Thor the veil so fair,
The Brising necklace let him wear;
Hang round him many a clinking key,
Let woman's weeds fall to his knee;
Jewels broad on his breast shall shine,
And neatly shall ye the topknot twine!"

Up spake he, mightiest at need:
"Call me a coward's name indeed
If ever I wear a woman's weed!"

Up spake Loki, Laufey's son:
"Thor, with thy witless words have done!
Soon shall the Giants in Asgard reign
Unless thou win thine hammer again."
On Thor they bound the veil so fair,
The Brising necklace did he wear;
They hung him with many a clinking key,
Let woman's weeds fall to his knee;
Jewels broad on his breast did shine,
And neatly did they the topknot twine.
Then Loki, son of Laufey, said:
"I will go with thee as waiting-maid!"

The goats they harness by two and by one---
To the shafts they are shackled, well can they run!
Valley and hill burst into flame
When Odin's son to the Giants came.

The King o' the Giants did loudly call:
"Up now, Giants! strew the benches all!
See where the bride they bring adown,
Daughter of Niord, from Noa-town!

"Kine go here with gilded horn,
Oxen black my garth adorn;
Gold have I and goods galore---
For Freyja alone I long so sore."

Evening fell on the blithe bridàle;
The Giants sat a-drinking ale.
The greedy spouse of Sif, he ate
Seven salmon, every cate
For the ladies spread, and a goodly steer----
And he drank three tuns, his heart to cheer.

The King o' the Giants, he up and cried:
"Never was known such a hungry bride!
Ne'er saw I lady so full of greed,
Nor maiden drink so deep of mead!"

Sitting apart, the wily maid
Answered what the Giant said:
"This se'nnight past no meat had she,
So fain she was to come to thee!"

He lifted the veil to kiss the bride,
And the hall's full length he sprang aside:
"Why are her eyes so full of ire?
Methinks they are darting sparks of fire!"

Sitting apart, the wily maid
Answered what the Giant said:
"This se'nnight past no sleep had she,
So fain she was to come to thee!"

The Giant's sister entered in,
Greedy a bridal-gift to win:
"Give me thy ring of red, red gold,
If thou my love wouldst have and hold!"

The King o' the Giants, he up and cried:
"Bear in the hammer to hallow the bride!
To the maiden's knees now Miöllni bring,
And Var shall hallow our hand-fasting."

Deep in his breast laughed the heart of Thor,
When his hammer he held once more!
He slew the King o' Giants, Thrym,
And all his race smote after him.
He smote the Giant's sister old,
She who begged a gift of gold---
For pence, a pound was what she won,
And a hammer-blow for a gay guerdòn*!

Thus back to his hammer came Odin's son!
Transcribed by Aaron Myer and posted on the Northvegr Foundation website

It’s important to note that this same Loki who is so fearful of the giants – or Jotars – is himself of their blood and will be in many ways directly responsible for Ragnorok, the last battle which will destroy Thor and the rest of the Aesir.

And that brings up another and perhaps the most important point about the Trickster. S/he is dangerous. Take this post for instance: Trickster said, "Screw it. Just follow me." I did. That was on Monday. I have been led a merry chase this week. Countless interruptions, writer's block, the nagging feeling that I don't know what the hell I'm talking about, and the disappearance of my copy of Gender Outlaw by Kate Bornstein all lead me to the conclusion that I should never have said, "OK. Let's wing it." The main problem with Trickster is that s/he is just that. And it's as much open season on me as it is on Elmer Fudd or Thyrm.

So, to bring this to a close, get it off my plate, get it over with (with the proviso that I'll get back to it at a more propitious time when I'm better rested and studied, and with the reminder to myself that if anybody is reading this blog, it might start a discussion), I'll say this. Trickster can change gender, but s/he doesn't do it for the same reasons that I (nor I suspect you) do it. Trickster is your friend. Sometimes Trickster is your enemy. Sometimes. I love Trickster stories. And I can identify with Trickster. With reservations. I like Trickster. From a distance.

Friday, August 22, 2008

The Gift of Tiresias

I was afraid of this: start a blog with the idea of writing regularly, have a whole bunch of ideas for postings, get ready to write, and THUD! A combination of writer’s block and gotta-dos delays me for a week and everything reeks (to me at least) of anti-climax.


Let me tell you about Tiresias. I first read Sophocles’ Oedipus Rex as a teenager, and even to this day, the idea of exacting a horrendous price on one’s self for an act over which one had really no control strikes a chord in the more Calvinist reaches of my heart. But the character who really fascinated me was Tiresias.

On the first reading, Tiresias was for me the same kind of character as Merlin or Gandalf. Soothsayers and wizards were for me (and indeed they are) cut from the same mythic cloth. All of them are a step aside from the rest of humanity, imbued with what the Irish called imbas forosnai: the fire in the head. With the power of magic and prophesy must also come at least a little insanity. (In his earliest stories, Merlin was a madman.)

So here was Tiresias, blinded but seeing the past, present, and future, futilely trying to wise up Oedipus, who is stone blind to his true nature. (Maybe it was a bit of prescience that caused me to be fascinated by this character any high school teacher feels the same frustration – after more than twenty years in the classroom I can vouch for that. Cassandra is another mythic figure for the classroom teacher: cursed by Apollo, she sees the future, but nobody believes her. Arrgh!)

(At right in a typically eerie John Fuseli painting, Tiresias, now in the bowels of Hades, tells Odysseus how to get home.)

It wasn’t until later, and about the time that I was finally coming to grips, after years of denial, with my own gender duality that I learned Tiresias’ whole story. I came to Sophocles early, but I came to Ovid late, but there it was, in the pages of Metamorphoses, the source of Tiresias’ wisdom.

…It happened, so the story goes, that Jupiter put aside his weighty cares; mellowed by deep draughts of nectar, he indulged in idle banter with Juno, who shared his leisure, and teased her, saying: ‘of course, you women get far more pleasure out of love than men do.’ Juno denied that this was true. They decided to ask the opinion of the wise Tiresias, for he had experienced love both as a man and as a woman.

Once, when two huge serpents were intertwining themselves in the depths of the green wood, he had struck them with his staff; from being a man he was miraculously changed into a woman, and had lived as such for seven years. In the eighth year he saw the same serpents again and said: 'If there is such potent magic in the act of striking you that it changes the striker to the opposite sex, I shall now strike you again.' So, by striking the same snakes, he was restored to his former shape, and the nature with which he was born returned.

He, then, was chosen to give his verdict in this playful argument, and he confirmed what Jupiter had said. Then, they say, Juno was more indignant than she had any right to be, more so than the case demanded, and she condemned the judge to eternal blindness. It is not possible for any god to judge the actions of another god, but in return for his loss of sight, the omnipotent father granted Tiresias the power to know the future and softened his punishment by conferring this honour upon him.

His fame spread throughout the Aonian cities, and when the people consulted him he gave replies with which none could find fault.
From Ovid’s Metamorphoses, translated by Mary M Innes, Penguin, 1955

Forget the paradoxical blindness. Tiresias had been both male and female and was given the ability to see the future. Jupiter had already acknowledged that this person had knowledge greater than his own, and Juno punished him (I suspect) not so much for proving her wrong but for spilling the beans. Because he has been both male and female, Tiresias knows more than the gods!

When I first acknowledge my transgenderism by stepping in front of an audience and telling stories, this is the first one I told. I imagined Tiresias’ shock, resignation and final acceptance as she became a courtesan (what better occupation for a single woman in such a place and time as ancient Greece, where women were otherwise powerless? And who better to know what pleases a man? Though another Greek poet says she became a priestess of Hera, married and bore children.) I imagined the inconvenience of the retransformation, not the least of which would be the newly male Tiresias having to purge his wardrobe.

What struck me strongest and continues to strike me, however, is this: at its base this is the story of a shaman coming into his/her power. Imagine the shock of a Greek audience when Oedipus or some other tragic king accuses Tiresias of lying or taking bribes. For all of their antifeminism the Greeks knew that someone with Tiresias’ background was no one to take lightly.

I can’t flatter myself that I have the wisdom of Tiresias, but I can remind myself that being transgendered can give me, if I let it, an uncommon capacity for insight and empathy. For that reason, I feel that those of us who are transgendered, no matter where we are on the continuum, from occasional crossdresser to the married woman in stealth, do ourselves and those who come in contact with us a disservice when we shun or ignore the true gift (and burden, for all spiritual gifts come with a price) of our duality. That is the true gift that is given to Tiresias and us.

Monday, August 18, 2008

In Which We Are Introduced...

Hello. My name is Gillian Cameron. I'm a transgendered woman. More specifically I lead a dual existence. If I were to pin it down further, I might say that I'm a heterosexual crossdresser. I MIGHT say that, but I wouldn't like saying it, so I won't. I would actually like to identify myself as being two-sprited, but since I don't belong directly to an indigenous culture (well, ok, I'm about 1/128 Cherokee) I can't really claim that title. Frankly, when I get into a state of mind like this, I'm reminded of a magazine cartoon I saw years ago in which a man is seated in a bar next to a rhinoceros. The rhino is saying, "Yeah, I'm a rhinoceros, but I'm not into labels." Some of my other labels have included "non-genetic woman," and "part-time lesbian."

In short, I find it hard to define myself.

And that's just fine with me. As I am, I am a mystical creature. By breaking a few boundaries I tweak reality and become a thing of myth. (At least I flatter myself to think so.) And living on the edge reality of keeps me from going completely off into the void and actually gives me a purpose. Go figure.

So... I'm a storyteller. I tell stories from around the world to anyone who will listen. Some deal directly with gender and transformation. Some are women's stories (and I have been honored to have women of deep spirituality listen, accept, and encourage). And some are stories to simply be enjoyed on their own merits.

If I do this right, I'll be posting about transgender issues, spirituality, folklore, and mythology - plus whatever tangential stuff comes up.