Struggling with the Goddes: in search of self

This post is the next episode in my series on ‘asexuality and paganism‘. In this post I’ll be exploring the link with gender, and how being asexual can cause us to struggle with gender questions.  This is my personal story of how Paganism both caused these questions to be more acute, but also ultimately, helped me to (start) resolving them.

In struggling with my sexuality, I seemed to have lost my connection to the woman within myself at some point. A fact which, for quite some time, I chose to (try to) ignore: I had sort of settled for being ‘blissfully unhappy’ (i.e., knowing deep down that something was off, but just continuing to run away from that realization as hard as you can… ).

One of the things that becoming a Pagan has done for me, is somehow force me to stop, breathe, and allowing these hidden wounds to start coming to the surface. Now, probably one of the first notions any new Pagan will come across, is that of the Goddess and the Divine feminine.

goddess-earth

And I realized that I had no idea who She was. Probably because I had no idea who I was, either. I had embraced my sexuality as being a-sexual. It was very liberating to do so, finally allowing me to embrace the idea that if I was not like other people, then that wasn’t because I was a social failure. At the same time, my sense of identity started falling apart. For what else was I ‘not’?

If I wasn’t part of the sexual world, could I still lay claim to the word woman? Walking away from sexuality was like walking away from all reference points that are usually used to ‘define’ what it meant to be a woman. Yes, I had breasts, a vagina, I was menstruating. So yes, in a strictly biological sense, there was no doubt that I was female. However, I realized now that it was very likely that none of these body-parts were ever going to be used for the thing they were meant for. They were part of my body, but seemingly not part of my identity. If I was going to identify as a woman, then my body, female as it might be, was not the reason why.

Time to look elsewhere then. Paganism gave some hints, stating that water and earth were associated to the feminine, and earth and fire were connected to the masculine. Was this helpful? Thrice no. I am an Aries sun, and so the element that I identify with most strongly would be fire. The element that I felt the strongest disconnect to, especially at the time when I started these explorations, was water… As you can imagine, this created more confusion than anything else… Who was I??

It would be fair to say that at the time, I found being around ‘real’ women to be a very scary thing. Because their very existence seemed to confirm how I was a fraud, desperately trying to play the part, but really trying to hide that I had no idea what that meant. What I could not see at that time was that my definition of ‘real’ was as faulty as it could possibly be. It referred to those who looked the part, who were beautiful and sexy, the kind that you would come across in commercials. And so I’ll apologize to them. For I admit that for a time I was almost unable to see the person within, because I was too focused on seeing them as a confirmation of all that I was not.

goddess

Where to run to then? For a short period, I even allowed myself to entertain the notion that maybe the solution was that I was actually trans, with all that fire that I had within me. Luckily I realized pretty quickly that I was on the wrong trail there. (Wrong FOR ME, that is. Let me stress that in writing this, I am only talking about myself, and I have no intention to in any way question other people’s lived experience. You do you.)

But it also made me read quite a bit of stuff written by trans women. For it seemed to me that, if anyone would know the answer, well, wouldn’t they be the ones who had the most ‘pure’ understanding of what it meant to be women? If they could manage to correctly identify themselves as women, even though they were in a different kind of body… Surely I would be able to find the answer there? Another disappointment. Anytime the question of ‘how do you know’ was posed, the answer seemed to be something like, because ‘I just know that is who I really am’, or ‘that is just how I feel on the inside’.

Well, I can tell you that I, for one, wasn’t feeling it. Maybe then, that was because, once again, I actually wasn’t anything at all? And so I began to retreat more and more into trying to identify as agender, as seeing myself as simply ‘person’, and nothing more than that. It felt like a safe place to retreat, but deep down, it also felt a bit like running away from the world, in those few moments when I allowed myself to admit it…

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Enter the gods.

Even as I was seriously questioning my gender identity, it would seem that Someone else wasn’t. Quite the opposite, in fact. She called me out on the way in which I had started to systematically block anything marked ‘feminine’ as having nothing to do with who I was. And I can tell you that having to face the anger of a goddess is NOT a fun experience, even if this was not a face-to-face confrontation. The way this happened was through a series of channeled messages, sent to me by a friend who is a priestess of Isis. And Isis is not one to mince her words: she’ll say things as they are: just imagine your mother being very angry at you, where the core of her motivation for yelling at you is that she loves you. Now take the divine equivalent of that.

That accusation felt profoundly unfair. It was not as if I hadn’t tried to connect. The way I saw it, I had simply given up on something that had never been mine in the first place. And so I rebelled. And I yelled back. And had some more rebukes thrown back at me (and if they are phrased with an undertone of love, these are actually the worst kind to have to face…) I honestly did not understand where she was coming from, but she had more than touched a nerve within me.

Until eventually, my resistance broke. It happened one day when I was sitting before my altar. One of the statues on there is of the Virgin Mary (I am not a christian, but I worship her as a protectress of the land and of sacred springs – I live in a country that is littered with tiny chapels devoted to her, ignoring her presence seemed like an absurd thing to do for one who claims to believe in the existence of many gods…). At the time, that statue was standing next to one of Cernunnos.

Was it the contrast between those masculine and feminine energies that made me come to this realization? Still wondering… But suddenly I understood with overwhelming clarity, that that soft caring energy of Mary was very similar to my own. That this was an aspect of myself that I was repressing, and that in doing so I was living as only half of me. And I just. broke. down. I started crying, allowing all of these emotions to flow out all at once, as I felt my walls being torn down by Her.

I still do not fully understand what it means to be woman. Women-only events still scare me. But  there is something deep inside of me that somehow seems to respond to that name. Something that colours the way in which I interact with the world. Something that I am on a journey to try to understand, to become whole again as I try to re-embrace her as part of me.

To finish this post, let me share with you the words that Isis sent me recently. Not as a rebuke this time, but as a stepping stone on my journey. And they just might be useful to some of you as well…

Egyptian-Goddess-Isis

Musings on the divine feminine

What does it mean to be a woman? Is it part of our body that is shaping our soul, or does the soul residing in the body determine the characteristics of the flesh? Or is all of that inessential, and do we need to look elsewhere for answers?

Or is this a mystery that is just too complex to have a simple and concise answer? 

 The reason so many struggle with this question is because we live in a society that forces answers on us that are not based in what matters at the soul level, but on the roles we are supposed to play in life. Mostly, that is the role of child-bearer. And mother, and wife. 

Only rarely is the role of a women described in terms of how strong we are and how we possess a tenacity and endurance and fighting power that far surpasses that of the male half of society.

What does it mean to take control of your destiny? To be prepared to give up your own essential identity to care for those around you? To not be afraid to give all of yourself in the service of life itself? Or simply, to enjoy the beauty of the world around you? 

It means that you are the woman you are supposed to be. It means that you have found your place in life. Note that empowerment and self-sacrifice are not at all contradictory in this. Standing in your power means that you control what you have to give, and that you set the terms under which you will give it. That you embrace the fact that your life is yours to give, not someone else’s to take.

What is strength? It is knowing what will break you and not giving in to that. It means knowing when to fight, and being prepared to give it your all when the time comes. Whatever happens, you can tame the lion if you find the strength that is your birthright.

What is weakness? What is that? Who determines that? Is it relinquishing control and putting your life in service to another, or is it not daring to swim for fear that you might drown? Whenever you think yourself weak and undeserving of love, that is when you are weak. Not when it is the call of another that you follow willingly.

Woman, find your strength in giving, your empowerment in the fact that you choose who to give to, and your weakness in denying yourself the chance to fight for your own dignity. You are what keeps the world turning, and you are the source of renewal without which the world would not exist.

Claim your rightful place. Be proud. Accept your power to be that of giving yourself.

(Channeled message from Isis)

Daring to exist : Asexuality and Paganism

My previous post came with a challenge attached to it: taking the decision to stop hiding, and standing in the world as fully and unapologetically yourself.

And so it is only fair that I take up that challenge for myself. One of the areas of life where people tend to struggle with the idea of coming out, is sexuality. My personal experience is no different.  As this is a pagan blog, my intention is to use this as an opportunity to investigate the relation between my sexual orientation and my druidry.

First, the facts. I am asexual. In short, that means I do not experience sexual attraction to other people, whatever their gender. As a result of that, I have never had sex.

Yes, that is right, I am still a virgin. A common question at this point is: how do I know that I do not want sex, if I’ve never even tried it? Because I just know. Ask any gay person, and they will probably tell you that they knew they were gay before ever having had sex with a man. It is precisely the realization that they wanted it, that drove them to start engaging in sexual acts. As for me, I have simply never felt the urge. For myself, I am happy this way, as I don’t feel I am missing anything. (Whereas, if you were to tell me now that I can never eat chocolate again, now that would be another matter entirely, gasp :-). I mean, even the simple act of writing this sentence makes me want to drop everything to go and find some chocolate.) So yes, I understand quite well what attraction and desire are.  But I simply do not feel attracted towards sexual activity with anyone.

Why am I writing about this? Because I think it is important that the world begins to be aware about the fact that people like me exist, and that we do not need fixing. This is simply the way we are wired.

And I hear some of you thinking -what’s the big deal? If you don’t want sex, then how is that anybody else’s problem? For sure you are not facing any of the kinds of oppression gays or trans people are? Which is partly true (I think trans people are some of the bravest people on the planet actually, for that matter), but only if you discount the kind of issues that are caused by the experience of invisibility.

In popular culture, the idea is extremely pervasive that love and sex are the same thing. In almost every movie, at some point there will be a scene where a person tells another that they love them, followed by them kissing, and maybe having sex. If one person wants this sexual intimacy and the other doesn’t, the conclusion may well be let’s just  be friends instead. So, when growing up, what you are told is that at some point, you will fall in love with someone, which means you’ll want to have sex with them, and maybe because of that you’ll want to marry them. And those are the relationships that apparently are supposed to matter most, as friendships (the relationships without sex) are often portrayed as being of lesser importance (or how else am I supposed to interpret sentences like ‘lets just  be friends’, when a relationship request is turned down?)

If you are gay, lesbian, or bisexual,  this general narrative will probably still makes sense, except of course for the major complication that you may end up falling in love with what some would call ‘the wrong kind of person’. I am in no way discounting the very real pain caused by that (and yes, in some ways you DO have it harder than us), but at least for yourself, you still understand how the world works, and what sexuality is.

Now, what does it feel like to grow up asexual? To explain that, I would like you to first consider the story of the Selkie women for just a moment.

Many tales are told of selkies,  seal women who come to live in the human world for a time, either by choice or because someone has stolen their seal skin, and so they cannot now transform back to seal form. Have you ever tried to look at this tale from the side of the Selkie? Wondered what it is like to live in a world that is mostly familiar, yet so different from your own in so many ways? 

The Selkie will have moments when she sees people do certain things, where she has no idea why. Which nobody bothers to explain. Because without her skin, she looks just like them, so it simply does not occur to anyone that they might need to explain things. Because everybody knows about this, right? This is simply the way things are…

Selkie

Growing up asexual is very much like this in some ways. Quite a number of basic facts regarding sexuality are never spoken of or explained, because it is assumed that everybody knows or will be able to figure it out on their own anyway. Because everyone experiences sexual attraction, right? If you want to know what it is, you will find out when you meet the right person…

But there are some of us who actually never experience this feeling. And since it is rarely spoken off, this feels very much like being blind, while not even realizing that other people are able to see. And sure, you hear them talk about colours, and you even think you understand what they are talking about, yet your interpretation couldn’t have been more wrong…

Still, during puberty you cannot fail but start noticing more and more that you are somehow different. If you are like me, the conclusion you draw is that it must be you that is to blame, that it must be that you are somehow incapable of normal human relationships, because you fail at dating. Or, I also know of others who do decide to play the game, and have sex even though they don’t want to, because they think that is what you are supposed to do in order to be in a relationship (essentially allowing themselves to be raped voluntarily).

So, it may be a struggle that is much less visible than those of most other LGBTQIA people, but it can still cause very deep psychological wounds, many of which could be avoided if asexuality were a universally known sexual orientation, so that teenagers would at least have role models to understand who they are. (And, it would also help us if the taboos of talking about sex were lifted: more explicit education about the technical aspects of sex would make it much easier for us to become aware of the fact that we are missing a sensitivity that others do have.)

So, how does all of this connect to Paganism? To put it crudely: where sex-positivity is something that attracts a lot of people to Paganism, for asexuals, it is often the other way around, where we may risk feeling even more misunderstood than in regular society. For surely, the fact that you choose not to have sex must mean that you are unevolved and unspiritual, right? (At least in some circles, that seems to be the narrative.)

There’s so many ways in which my asexuality has influenced the way I engage with Paganism, and it has coloured my ideas about some very common concepts within it. This is one of the topics that I want to begin exploring on this blog. However, there’s so much to say that I will split this up over a number of future blog-posts:

To appear over the coming months

Beltane and the need to celebrate diversity

Struggling with the Goddess: in search of self

– Maiden-mother-crone: exploring the divine feminine from an ace point of view

– Exploration on the connection between sexuality and mysticism: could mysticism be a sexual orientation?