Privilege and not a privilege

Last month I participated in the Transgender Rite of Elevation, an ancestor working to benefit the many transgender people who have been killed by violence, especially between November 2013 and November of this year. I did not blog very much about the experience at the time, but I would like to write about it now, because it had repercussions I am still living with.

The Rite of Elevation was work, I found. Not just because it was one more obligation on top of working two jobs and feeding myself and feeding my bird and so forth. The daily obligation was simple: Add a book to a stack, light a candle, pour a fresh glass of clean water, read some prayers. (They were long prayers, but I didn’t even have to compose them myself.)

Yet it was work, hard work. I realize now that “elevation” means one group of people, of which I was a part, was truly lifting up another group of people, some of whom might have fallen pretty low. There were people without names on the year’s list of the transgender dead, people who were unknown, people who might have been rejected by their families, ignored by their friends, who went into the afterlife with no rites and no guidance. Such people need help, for no fault of their own. We were all putting our backs into lifting them up in the light, serving them cool water, setting their feet on the road.

The prayers and the work caused me to reflect on certain kinds of privilege I have that the dead did not. Chiefly, of course, I have the privilege of being cisgender, of having my body and soul align on the gender spectrum in a way that is socially “okay”. I have often felt unfeminine, in that I don’t fulfill a lot of gender expectations very well, but I have never felt wrong about being female.

For a long time I had the privilege of being presumed heterosexual. I was married to a man, with all the privileges that a church-blessed, state-recognized marriage entails. Even if I identified as bisexual, even if I thought my husband and I were more like a gay couple than your usual husband and wife, I was able to pass for your garden-variety straight person. And that is a privilege that the transgender do not [ETA] always have, simply by virtue of being trans.

I prayed about this; I talked to the dead and said, Yes, I have all this privilege, but I am taking my stand with you. I am on your side. And I kept up all nine nights of the elevation, despite its being hard work.

I have known for a long time that despite being able to pass as a normal straight person, I am actually, dare I say it, queer. I am a little funny in certain ways. I have never felt like a normal straight person; I have always felt, to some degree, that gays and lesbians, kinksters and trans*folk, people who are in some way marginalized for their sexuality, are my people. The older I get, the more I feel that way. Heterosexual normality is a tiny little Procrustean bed that chops most of the reality of human sexuality into a tidy but very limited shape.

The Transgender Rite of Elevation also proved to be my point of contact with a group of new deities–new to me, in that I had not interacted with them before, but also new in the cosmos, newly generated. These are the Tetrad++. During the first night of the elevation, as I mentioned, I had a very strong sense of their presence and of their being interested in me. I felt interested in them, spent several days reading PSVL’s posts about them, and began including them in my daily offerings and prayers.

I soon received a message from the Tetrad++. It started as a little pep talk I was giving myself while brushing my teeth, the sort of thing I am wont to do when I’m getting ready for work on a dreary winter morning. Gradually, however, I got the sense that I was not generating the words myself; the inner voice sounded like my usual inner monologue (as opposed to, say, sounding like Benedict Cumberbatch or Bugs Bunny), but it used the pronoun “we” and talked about my taking a new path in my spiritual practice and not having to go it alone, but having their help. It ended with a strong admonition to take care of myself, such as a friend might give.

When I checked with PSVL on this, it turned out that the admonition to self-care is very typical of the Tetrad++ and seems to be one of their main concerns for their devotees. They are also concerned with gender and the freedom to identify one’s own gender; sexuality, and the freedom to identify one’s own sexuality; with love, erotic and otherwise. I have a strong feeling that they are as opposed to artificial, externally imposed categories of race as they are to such categories in sexuality and gender, and that they are much concerned with the racial conflicts that have led to the killing of so many black persons by police and to the protests now going on around the country.

Superficially, I have little in common with these six deities, who are transgendered, non-gendered, gender-fluid, all genders, metagendered. Superficially, I have little in common with Antinous, an athletic young male who would have gone from eromenos of an older man to socially dominant husband of a probably younger woman, had he lived. But as a god, Antinous values physical health and athletic prowess, but also erotic love between free partners, music and poetry and other creative activities; he is a god of the Mysteries of death and life, and one of his symbols is the red Nile lotus, which sprang up from the blood of a lion hunted by him and Hadrian. The Tetrad++’s concern with love, sexuality, gender, partnership, self-care, creative freedom involves values I also share. So while I may superficially “resemble” Hera or Isis, or Athena or whomever, the deities who draw me and who are interested in me are not necessarily the ones who look like me on the surface. The logic of partnership between gods and humans is apparently not that simple.

My interactions with the Tetrad++ have also led me to another conclusion, which I offer somewhat tentatively but with some confidence, too. My conclusion is that human beings have an innate ability to communicate with the gods. I realize that is a somewhat tendentious conclusion, as this topic has been argued over extensively in pagan and polytheist communities. My feeling is that if I can do it, anyone can do it.

I think being able to sense and communicate with deity is part of the basic human makeup. Like hearing or walking, it’s an ability that some people may not possess because they are disabled (and that doesn’t make them any less human); like singing or dancing, it’s a talent that everyone has some capacity for, but that certain people have a greater aptitude for than most, and that can be developed with practice.

I have thought of myself for years as unintuitive, head-blind, about as psychic as a rock (and less so if you believe certain New Age crystal books). Yet I could feel the presence of a group of deities suddenly taking an interest in me. I could receive a message from them, something that seemed at first to be coming from my own thoughts but then revealed itself to be otherwise. I have made offerings and felt the return flow of pleasure and approval from the gods, a palpable sense of blessing. This doesn’t mean I am always aware of the gods or always hearing messages or perpetually entranced, but there is definitely Somebody there.

I’ve said it before and will probably say it again, and often: If you wonder if the gods are real, if you want to cultivate a relationship with them, light a candle, burn some incense, offer a drink, and say hello, politely. If an offering is made in a spirit of openness, they will respond; not every god will be equally interested in you, nor you in them, but an offering will get a response. And even if you think you can’t, you may well feel their presence or hear a message you need.


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Writer, musician, polytheist, and friend of birds. I groove on transformative works.

6 thoughts on “Privilege and not a privilege”

  1. I greatly appreciate all you’ve said here…

    Though, I wonder if it is really part of basic human wiring that we can all connect with deities. There are several very nice, genuine, serious, earnest folks I know who have not had any divine experiences in their life whatsoever (or any which they recognize as such), and moreover would like to yet still haven’t, and so I don’t know if it’s just bad luck or bad timing on their part, or their particular devotional keys don’t fit the divine locks they’ve tried them on thus far, etc.

    It’s a mystery that none of us can really crack, why it is that some people don’t ever get anything they can see/hear/feel/etc. out of these matters, while others of us get it whether we want it or not…?!?


    1. Well, I’m glad you appreciated it, because after burping out almost 1500 words, I seriously wondered if it was going to make sense to anybody but me!

      I know the jury is still out on the ability to sense divine presence. Maybe I’m just being overly optimistic, because after my experiences of the past eight months, I really do feel like if I can do it, anyone can do it. Like maybe the secret is to relax and not try so hard, as with so many things. *g*


  2. How’s this more respectful to the dead than the Mormons’ posthumous baptisms of those who in life never chose them? Especially if someone *does* believe in deities and an afterlife how is it ever appropriate to violate the religious choices made or not made by someone who’s now powerless to say, “No thank you,” by posthumously calling them to the attention/interest of a deity? And how is it respectful to assume that transness is the most significant aspect of someone’s life and personhood. Do you define yourself by your body, or by your past medical conditions? Also, don’t assume that all trans people don’t “pass”, or blithely treat what for those who don’t or feel they don’t can be a great sore spot.(1) I don’t want answers directed to me, don’t want a dialogue. This is for *you* to think about in yourself, examine your privileges and assumptions. These people died without your “hard work”, without your help and without your gods’ or your temporarily adopted gods’ help. If you want to do “hard work” in their memory you might put that effort into getting involved in and/or funding social justice efforts that might help slow down the rate at which transfolks are violently forced into the afterlife.
    I hate to be so sharp with a stranger, but a friend posted this to facebook and it was pretty shocking to see.

    (1) re: the author’s “… I was able to pass for your garden-variety straight person. And that is a privilege that the transgender do not have, simply by virtue of being trans.”

    Be it known: I *am* trans, and if I ever get murdered and someone connects me up with *their* chosen or borrowed deities they’d better hope i’m not able to be a haunting ghost! I expect the particular deities I have respect for can probably find me, and maybe some of those i don’t know but who overlap my interests, aspirations, who I actually am. I do *not* expect some patron deity of transness/gender-nonconformity would take any interest in me, unless some prayer-meddler came along to call my attention to them.


    1. Hi, Sally.

      You say you don’t want a response to your comment, but I approved it to show publicly, so you’re going to get one.

      First off, you’re right: There are certainly trans* people who pass as cis, and I should not have stated otherwise. I think, however, that’s it often when they stop passing or fail to pass that violence occurs.

      However, I’m really puzzled that you’re criticizing me for praying for the dead. This is something that many religions and many cultures do. The Trans Rite of Elevation was organized by trans* folk, who invited both trans and cis people to participate; it was a group effort, not something I undertook on my own initiative. If I’m going to pray for someone, living or departed, I can only pray to my own gods in my own tradition, unless I know that person well enough to pray to the gods they worship. I specifically prayed to my gods and my ancestors to help the trans* dead find *their* gods, their ancestors, their own place of peace in the afterlife.

      In any case, I’ll be glad to put my money where my (praying) mouth is: Name me a trans* organization you support, and I’ll make a small donation to them. And I’ll be sure not to pray for you unless you specifically tell me I may.


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