Becoming a Woman: Using Ritual to Transition My Inner World [Trigger Warnings: violence, suicidal ideation, gender dysphoria]
Six months into my HRT, and all I had was questions: Who was I becoming? What kind of woman did I want to be? Could I put behind me all that had happened to me on the way to discovering I was trans?
My life as ‘male identified’ had been traumatic, self-destructive and confusing. While I lived in NYC, I was at the end of my rope, thinking I wanted it to be over. I tried and failed at that, feeling more the failure for it. On my second night in Mexico, I almost met my end in a dark alley in Centro Cancun where a guy beat me and threatened me with a gun.
Becoming a Woman, Finally
I thought I was a failure with no place in this world. I thought I had to toughen up, but that only made things worse. My life began again in Mexico City. After I proved that I had gender dysphoria to the shrinks with the papers and rubber stamps, I started seeing an endocrinologist. I finally began the hormone treatment I had been dreaming of for five long years. That was just the beginning. I had to teach myself the how of being a woman. My body was changing and more importantly; my mind, emotional being and my whole interior world was transformed by estrogen.
I thought, wrongly, that it wasn’t going to change me that much, that I would be able to get away with the bare minimum of ´performativity´ or the performance of feminininty. But after six months, I was confused by what I was becoming. I was a mixing board in a studio where all the estrogen channels were dialed up and the testosterone pushed down. The little girl who had been suffocated when I was about five years of age was suddenly revived.
Being a girl is more than make-up and pretty clothes, though that’s a part of femininity that I have come to embrace for myself. It’s rather a whole new path through the world. Unfortunately, as a trans woman you must work out most of the “becoming” for yourself, as you negotiate daily existence. In my case, I have to do this as a forty-six year old adult. It’s hard. All the books, blogs and YouTube videos can’t completely prepare you for this second puberty and emotional second adolescence.
Sacred and profane
In November of 2018, I decided to ask for help, I turned to a long-time-ago ex and now friend, who is a witch, to see if her “magick” could help me see a dimension that remained hidden from me, inside of me. I performed a ritual under her guidance and sought the help of Persephone.
As an aside, I am a visual artist. I once believed the mantra that paint is just paint, and art can be reason and reasoned away. I became aware that I had been missing the point. Artistic practice puts you in touch with something bigger than you and the intellectualism around art obscures more than it illuminates. I became interested in visionary painters and art made for other purposes.
A turning point for me happened whilst standing in a gallery in midtown Manhattan, across from the golden travesty that is Trump Tower. An exhibition had been mounted of an almost forgotten master of watercolour landscapes. Charles Burchfield showed me something about art that day, that I had all but overlooked and from which I never looked back. My work changed. I changed. I became aware of the feminine side of myself that I was ashamed of and an honest spiritualism upon which art school professors had poured scorn.
I made small, private drawings in sketchbooks in pencil and then in ink. I was fabulously unsuccessful, but I didn’t have much of a choice. This new direction demanded that I follow it. I found it difficult to refer to ‘my work’ it felt fraudulent to take credit for being a conduit (and a bad one) for all that is communicated, if only you put aside cynicism and ego and embrace a kind of beautiful infinite. It was in this mind I approached the ritual.
Unicorns and Moonbeams
I prepared my space on a full moon at night. I lit candles and incense. I made my circle of specially chosen Tarot cards. I chose jewelry and make-up; beautiful things associated with my new femme identity. I appealed to Persephone, with no real expectation she would hear me. By candlelight, I first saw an older woman who was indistinct and passed by, I was a bit disappointed but I carried on and was rewarded when Persephone presented herself to me. She came in the form of Hari Nef, a well-known trans woman who has spoken intelligently about her transition and life as a trans person. She smiled at me and I was relieved that my goddess was trans like me. She showed me a vision of a future me. I was happy, carefree in a white cotton summer dress. I was outside on a sunny day enjoying a garden party and light was pouring out of me, my red hair golden and my skin soft, smooth and pale. I felt a connection with this person, she was the girl I was meant to be and now I would try to become.
My goddess gave me instructions. I was to tell everyone about my trans identity, not just social media but my parents and family. I had resolved not to let the ‘rents know about my transition (reasoning that they lived far away, were distant from my life and my truth would outlive them). I also learned that I would have confirmation surgery in the future and finally embrace the body that I had always loathed. Nothing would hold me back and success would come my way but only if I did the work involved in becoming the girl in the vision.
I came out of the ritual with a new sense of myself. A new me, a woman, who was kind, confident, generous and above all happy to be in her own body, comfortable in her own skin. I had been feeling fragmented, as if shredded into long strips, each part not making any sense as a whole. The ritual gave me a centre from which to weave all the pieces back together.
The experience of HRT is wonderful and frightening all at the same time as if the whole world is moving under your feet and you aren’t sure which part is solid. My mind, cut up into bits; my life, shredded and reassembled, post estrogen, to remake the person I had constructed to cope with this “man’s world.” I sought answers and fortunately I had looked in the right place.
That week, a Christmas card was hand-delivered from the UK to my door on the third floor of my apartment building in Mexico City. The handwriting was unmistakably my Dad´s and inside my parents merrily and unknowingly deadnamed me and wished me a happy and healthy season. I took to Gmail and wrote them (and separately an identical email to my aunt and uncle), an end of year summary. I focused on my new gender, pronouns, the hormone treatment, my new name and a new email address. I expected the worst but it felt right. The message came out of me as clear as if it had been dictated with no corrections or changes.
A day or so later, my parents replied separately but in one voice of support and love and regret that they hadn’t been able to be there for me. A huge weight lifted from me, the relief of acceptance was overwhelming. I was grateful and that gratitude has spread to many corners of my life. The vision of a future self is inside me.
Now I am working with my therapist to make that a reality step by step, day by day. At Pride CDMX this year, I took my place with my community and I felt proud to be trans and march before the Mexican public. That feeling of pride in my identity, in what it means to go out in the streets of this city every day as a trans woman and attempt to radiate light and beauty, harmony and happiness is my daily practice and is in the gift of Persephone for which I am most truly thankful.
2 thoughts on “Becoming a Woman: Using Ritual to Transition My Inner World [Trigger Warnings: violence, suicidal ideation, gender dysphoria]”
A common type of ritual is a rite of passage, which marks a person’s transition from one stage of life to another. Examples of rites of passage common in contemporary Canadian culture include baptisms, Bar Mitzvahs, and weddings. They sacralize the process of identity transformation. When these rites are religious in nature, they often also mark the spiritual dangers of transformation. The Sun Dance rituals of many Native American tribes are rites of renewal which can also act as initiation-into-manhood rites for young men. They confer great prestige onto the pledgers who go through the ordeal, but there is also the possibility of failure. The sun dances last for several days, during which young men fast and dance around a pole to which they are connected by rawhide strips passed through the skin of the chest (Hoebel, 1978). During their weakened state, the pledgers are neither the person they were, nor yet the person they are becoming. Friends and family members gather in the camp to offer prayers of support and protection during this period of vulnerable “liminality.” Overall, rituals like these function to bring a group of people (although not necessarily just religious groups) together to create a common, elevated experience that increases social cohesion and solidarity.
Thank you for sharing your story so that others can learn, but more importantly, so that you can celebrate you. And I was so touched to hear of your parents acceptance, it is so often not the case.