I have alluded to my religious leanings a few times, insofar as I have any. I had no religious upbringing, for which I am grateful: dogmatic upbringings and happy outcomes with parents on LGBT issues tend not to go together well… Nonetheless, I was drawn to the figure of Christ at university, after encountering a decidedly trans-friendly interpretation of the Son of Man in the works of P B Shelley, as interpreted by Dr. Bonca. As the years went by, this friend and saviour of misfits remained a figure of great appeal to me, and eventually led me to openly declare myself a Christian – a coming-out which I rather fear disappointed my parents far more than my coming out as transgendered, though given the global Christian church’s rap sheet on LGBT issues I could hardly blame anyone for this. “I like your Christ, I do not like your Christians,” as Ghandi probably didn’t say, but what the hell…
But does that make me a spiritual person? Alas, no. I remain a materialist and a sceptic, or I would hardly be aiming to improve my life through chemical and surgical means, or be so ecstatic when I see even a slight change in my physique, a reduction in my facial hair, even a pain in my chest when taking the stairs too quickly, if you catch my drift. I would dearly love to believe in a version of the Christian afterlife in which our eternal, post-Resurrection bodies are perfectly-designed and gendered after the way we feel (as beautifully argued by Peter Kreeft). Perhaps it is true, and I would consider that worth hoping and praying for. On the other hand, does that imply I am being challenged to live the rest of this life in dissatisfaction and physical self-loathing (assuming I cannot learn to overcome those feelings) while trying to keep my spirits up at the notion of a posthumous transition?
Such an idea was tentatively suggested to both me and my likewise gender-dysphoric spouse by a mutual friend, and a very good one at that (One of the best men at our wedding, in fact. My spouse also insisted on having a best man, for reasons that ought to be clear enough). This friend, being of a deeply spiritual outlook, including having some faith in reincarnation, interpreted our dysphoria in these terms: in our previous life, we had both excessively embodied and indulged one type of gender-related energy. To whit, my spouse had been some full-on alpha-male, while I had been some completely passive princess. They were all yang, I was all yin, and our mutual challenge in this life was to be placed in the opposite biological gender so that we could work towards a perfect inner balance between the two poles. I explained this proposition to another of my friends, who succinctly pointed out the plot hole in this intricately-designed quest for perfect balance…
Why indeed? At points like this, I do remember why it was old-fashioned Christianity, with its quaint rituals and checkered history, that drew me in rather than the New Age: because New Age thinking has a disturbing tendency to promote negations, neutrality, and glib simplicities as if they were somehow more interesting and life-affirming than variety, vitality, and, dare I say, a dash of pure honest-to-goodness chaos. People may laud it all they like, but I do find John Lennon’s iconic single “Imagine” – a New Age anthem if ever there was – to be the most perfect vision of a lobotomised false utopia ever committed to verse:
Imagine there’s no heaven
It’s easy if you try
No hell below us
Above us only sky
Imagine all the people
Living for today…
Imagine there’s no countries
It isn’t hard to do
Nothing to kill or die for
And no religion too
Imagine all the people
Living life in peace…
You may say I’m a dreamer
Though I do feel I could dream of “nothing” with relative ease… The same issue of negation-as-positive arises in many a spiritual self-help book (of which I have exposed myself to more than my fair share), using words such as “balance” and “oneness” almost religiously. They seem to suggest that the whole point of the universe and every molecule and sapient lifeform within it is to return to some state of primal simplicity and unity, as if this regression was inherently preferably to having individual consciousness and free will.
Seen in those terms, I begin to wonder if my only “spiritual challenge,” as such, is to learn to love and celebrate my difference, since if there is any divine plan, it seems to me that differentiation and complexity are in fact essential to it. Does this mean taking no steps to physically change myself, though? I hope not, since I have no intention of quitting… but ideally, I have to concede it ought not to matter. A person of whatever physical characteristics should have the right to dress, behave, identify, and be referred to by whatever name and pronouns they please. Indeed, the real challenge is probably for the world as a whole to overcome its addiction to facile binaries and comforting (but false) simplicities, and learn to accept and rejoice in such diversity.
Having said which, I am still superficial enough to yearn the day when I can at least fill an A-cup bra without recourse to spare pairs of tights…