Lammas 2003, Vol 2-4
MatriFocus, a Cross-Quarterly Web Magazine for Goddess Women Near & Far
Do Not Remove this Label: Sex and Spirituality
In 1994, Lifeline Theater of Chicago made a play out of Ursula Le Guin's science fiction novel, The Left Hand of Darkness, in which all the characters are sex-neutral except when in heat. I sat in the theater, really longing to suspend disbelief. The excellent cast, makeup, and costumes did everything possible to create and maintain the illusion. Yet as each character came on stage, I unwillingly but unerringly "sexed" the actor. This interfered with my experience of the play, but I couldn't help it. I'd read that humans are hard-wired to identify another person's sex before any other quality, but now I'd experienced it first-hand.
If we can't help making sex distinctions, no wonder our species is so primed for us/them thinking and its bloody outcomes.
Le Guin also produced a novella called The Lathe of Heaven, in which the main character is an "effective dreamer" -- what he dreams becomes reality. When he dreams about solving racial conflict, he wakes to a world in which everybody's skin is a nice elephant gray.
What's the sex equivalent of that solution? Either everybody's the same sex, or the number of sexes proliferates to the point where the distinctions are meaningless.
Enough science fiction. Back to science, where recent research seems to be supporting deep physiological differences between men and women. This is not a new concept but, this time around, it's carrying less of the overt "male good, female bad" baggage.
At the same time, there's
research showing that the sexes are proliferating. One to two babies of
every hundred born is in some way different from the standard male or
female.(1) There are hundreds
of intersexual variations. And as sexes proliferate, so do genders.
You may say these situations aren't common. Most women fit handily into the familiar definition, and are comfortable applying that definition to each other. Surely this is just another example of thinking things to death.
At the same time, more people born as a "standard" sex are changing it later. In 2001, the City of San Francisco began providing insurance coverage for sex changes.(2) Lucent Technologies does, too. (3)
A lifetime of reading science fiction makes me wonder if people who aren't precisely male or female are nature's way out of the gender standoff, at last. Faced with enough ambiguity, we might have to make decisions on a personal rather than categorical level.
But meanwhile, the inter- or transsexual individuals are looking for friends, community, the everyday and the sacred -- as we all are. Some of them are self-identified as male or female, and others reject those labels. In the big cities, there are enough people to provide an affinity group for any identity or issue. Not true for smaller cities and towns -- and not true for people who don't need or want all their friends to be just like themselves.
One possible solution
would be to respect the self-defined sexual identity of each person, and
count on affinity over time to sort things out. This approach would lead
immediately to another quagmire: As the gate opened to let in one set
of self-defined women, another set would be leaving.
The departing group
would have any number of reasons: they felt unsafe (based on painful experience,
or fear of it). Their boundaries weren't being respected (they heard the
old patriarchal messages, "You can't have anything that's your own,"
and "I'm coming in and you can't stop me"). They had left their
male partners and children and friends behind for this occasion to be
with women, and now were disappointed. They had come with their female
partners to a place where they could be open, and now they had to be wary.
And especially where spiritual and magical work was planned, the energy
just wouldn't be the same.
I got lost alone, in full darkness, with no flashlight, on my first-ever night at the Michigan Womyn's Music Festival. City-woman's panic (fear of rape, fear of violence) squeezed my breath and drummed in my ears and then I got it: There were only women here. I took a long breath, and as I let it out I realized I was among tents, and what I was hearing, here and there, were the sounds of orgasm. I was safe, though lost, and those other women were safe, though loudly ecstatic. It was fine to be exploring in the dark.
I owe that experience to the gatekeepers at Michigan, whose criteria for entrance hadn't yet crossed my mind. I was a young and not-yet-lesbian feminist who believed in equal rights, equal pay for equal work, and NOT in separate but equal. I thought feminism would succeed as sex differences diminished. My more radical friends considered this an impossible and undesirable idea. As I recall, none of us were thinking about intersexuality. Neither were we expecting the women's health movement to stimulate new mainstream interest in how women work, genetically, biologically -- how differently from men.
Now we have more information -- maybe even enough information to explain WHY in a mixed-sex group the energy's just not the same.
New on the Sex Frontier
Articles like these,
and the research-based papers behind them, are becoming more common, though
some continue to be challenged on grounds of sexism.(5)
And I wonder if these researchers of femaleness and maleness have really
taken intersexuality into account.
We may not, in this lifetime, reach the point where we choose whom to play/celebrate/ritualize with based on each person's gifts and knowledge rather than any of the zillion available labels. Patriarchy and sexism might have to disappear first, and a host of other isms. We might have to evolve past the deep survival fears coded into our bodies along with sexuality.
The fact is, our species is evolving. Marano quotes research that shows men are becoming (are you ready?) more like women: After millennia of emotion-free sex on the side, extramarital sex now carries emotional involvement for men, so it endangers the primary relationship for men as it does for women. "The double standard for adultery is disappearing," said one researcher. "It's been around for 5,000 years and it's changing in our lifetime."
Sexualities are proliferating,
genders are proliferating, definitions are becoming more rigid in response
or failing altogether, and the gatekeepers' work is more challenging every
year. We can't pretend that the distinctions are obvious, or that they
don't exist. Maybe in the (very) long run, the best we can do is allow
reality to change, and to change us.
In the immediate matter
of who's invited to the Lammas ritual, my best thinking so far is that
the people who do the work get to make the decisions. What I myself will
be working toward, for the foreseeable future, is to treat each person
as a worthy manifestation of the divine(6),
and to do my heartwork and spiritwork with my heart- and spirit-friends.