"To me gender is not physical at all... It is soul perhaps, it is talent, it is taste,
it is environment, it is how one feels, it is light and shade, it is inner music..."

--Jan Morris, from Conundrum (1974)

Mind Caviar, Vol. 3 Anniversary Issue, 2002

Transgenderism: Blurring the Boundaries
Part One: Male to Female
by Sabrina Qedesha

Crossdressing and transgenderism is a subject that is close to my heart for various reasons, not the least of which is the fact that it's a part of my life and my identity. In many cultures, there is a way for male-to-female transgenderism to express itself in an approved or tolerated outlet. Many native American cultures, for example, have some form of the berdache tradition. Similar traditions exist in cultures throughout Asia, the Arab world, and the South Pacific. In most of these traditions, transgenderism is associated with shamanism or ecstatic mysticism -- the transsexual is believed to have visionary powers or to possess innate magical ability. There may indeed be something to this; it has been my own experience that a disproportionate number of the people I have encountered in the neo-pagan and occult communities are transgendered. 

This is true also of gays, lesbians, and bisexuals, and may stem from the fact that sexual minorities are forced by society at large to undergo a journey of self-exploration, stemming from the desire to understand why one is a "deviant." This is the kind of inner exploration that might lead one to leave the religion of his or her upbringing for a more individualistic religion such as neo-paganism. 

Some archaeologists believe that the earliest form of religion was fertility worship, focused around adoration of a mother-goddess. Whether this is true or not, it is well established that many goddess religions flourished in Europe and the Middle East, from the dawn of recorded history well into the Common Era. While many goddess-worshipping cultures revered women and feminine virtures, goddess-worship took place even in cultures that were very patriarchal, such as Greek and Roman culture. And wherever goddess-worship took place, it was accompanied to some degree by male to female crossdressing -- that is, men dressing as women. 

Certain goddesses were very demanding of their male priests. For example, during its annual celebrations, the cult of Aphroditos (a male Aphrodite) on Crete performed an interesting practice known as couvade which was the imitation of pregancy and childbearing by a male priest. The priests of cults dedicated to Ishtar, Hecate, or Cybele were expected to castrate themselves and live as women, or as quasi-transsexual priests. The men, known as galloi, were a fixture of society in ancient Greece and Asia Minor. In some places the galloi could live as men and marry women, but most frequently they took male lovers or even married men. 

Throughout the ancient world, and until the rise to power of the monotheistic religions, festivals or public celebrations often featured crossdressing by a large portion of the population. This was a common practice during the Roman festivals of Saturnalia and Lupercalia, which survive in modern times as Mardi Gras. The strongest association of crossdressing to pagan worship though were in the festivals of Dionysius, the Greek god of wine. These were generally seen as women's rituals, though men could participate if they dressed as women. 

It has been recognized since the earliest times that male-to-female crossdressing is highly erotic, and where it appears it frequently added a new dimension to sacred sexual practices. Pagan temples throughout the Middle East supported themselves by hosting male and female prostitutes called qedeshim and qedeshoth. Male sacred prostitutes frequently dressed as women. This practice was particularly distressing to monotheistic Jews; most of the passages in the Old Testament prohibiting homosexual activity are specifically directed against qedeshim, a fact that has been lost in translation. 

Where polytheistic religions have a mixed record of acceptance and intolerance towards male to female transgenderism in the sacred context, the monotheistic religions -- Judaism, Christianity, and Islam -- have historically been extremely intolerant of it. There is no way to practice sacred crossdressing in the context of these religions. The reasons for this are largely historical. Crossdressing was closely associated with pagan worship practices, which continued for centuries after Christ, even after Europe was nominally "Christian." Where the church had put a stop to idol-worship, crossdressing for festivals and other occasions such as weddings continued. 

Modern Mardi Gras celebrations are evidence that they never succeeded at putting a stop to it. I believe that this is because crossdressing has a special place in the human psyche; it is innate, and we cannot simply wish it away. Even in cultures where it is tightly oppressed and ferociously punished, it appears in one form or another; and to deny it, is to deny the sexual flow of humanity as a whole. 

I have seen the strong erotic charge of crossdressing firsthand. For some -- indeed, many -- men (and quite a few women), the transgendered exert a powerful, even irresistable, pull. It is difficult to explain or describe; but for admirers, having a transgendered partner is more fulfilling than any other sexual experience. Oddly, such admirers generally have little interest in men sexually. I have heard this dismissed derogatively, with the implication that such men are unable or unwilling to accept their bisexuality. In my opinion, though, this is not true; I think it is more accurate to say that these men are drawn to members of what amounts to a third sex. Transgendered lovers somehow "feel" different from either male or female lovers. 

A powerful illustration of this can be found in the Hindu myth of Mohini. Mohini is the only female incarnation of the male god Vishnu. Her name means "enchantress," and that is what she is -- Mohini is described as the most alluring woman imaginable. Vishnu received the ability to become Mohini as a boon for service to the great goddess Shri, the wife of Brahman, the lord and creator of all. She appears in a story told in the Mahabharata regarding a dispute between the gods and demons over the distribution of the amrit, an ambrosia that confers vitality and immortality. Just as a war is about to break out, Vishnu takes on the form of Mohini, and with a few sways of her hips, convinces the demons to let her decide who receives a share of the amrit. Mohini then distributes it only to the gods. 

Two things interest me about this story. First, that it is a male who appears as the most alluring woman alive. He receives this ability through service to the mother-goddess. There is possibly a sexist undertone, but I think it more likely that the author of this story was a transgendered admirer, trying to find a voice for his strong and unusual desire. Second, Mohini is the one who decides who is worthy of receiving the amrit. In a mystical sense, this connects to the "High Priestess" of the Tarot, who carries the Grace of God to the seeker who is worthy of receiving it. The author of the Mohini legend is trying to tell us that, in his experience, the experience of divine communion is given by a tantric partner who is transgendered.

Homework Assignment

The homework assignment with this installment is quite straightforward -- if you are male, set aside a time to explore some aspect of male-to-female transgenderism. If you are female and have a male partner who is open to the idea, find out what it is like to have him become your girlfriend for an evening. (Don't worry, ladies, the next essay is going to focus on you, and I have a mind-blowing homework assignment in store for you!) 

It is most likely that you have encountered images of men dressed as women depicted in a comedic or even ridiculing context -- daytime talk shows, for example. Our society is very uncomfortable with this form of eroticism, in large part because of the sacred-sexual ramifications of males sacrificing the tokens of their masculinity to gain the favor of a divine feminine. So don't do this until you are fairly certain you can try it without feeling utterly ridiculous or dismissing the whole experience with laughter. The goal is to grow by revering femininity in a pure sense, and giving some positive attention to any part of yoursef you might think of as particularly feminine. 

For what I am recommending, it is not even necessary to dress as a woman to any extent -- merely to explore, in some way, what it would feel like to bring out every part of yourself that is female or feminine, and -- maybe for the first time in your life -- praising those parts and giving them center stage for a while. Consider doing something beaut -related... a simple manicure, for instance, or a long bath in perfumed water. 

Of course, if you do decide to include crossdressing to some extent, I think you will find the experience surprising, if you approach it with an open mind. I recommend a loose, flowy, feminine garment made of a soft fabric. If you have a wife or girlfriend who is willing to serve as fashion consultant, see where this leads; I will leave this up to your imagination. 

If you are already transgendered... maybe try something new with it, explore a kind of feminine expression you have so far overlooked. Or, just do what you already do so well. 

Copyright © 2002 Sabrina Qedesha. All Rights Reserved. Do not copy or post in whole or in part. 

This article has the honor of being recommended by the Adult BackWash Internet Community. 
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Sabrina Qedesha Sabrina is a polyamorous, bisexual, transgendered mathematician and computer expert living in the decadent city of New Orleans with her beautiful wife and three precious cats. Her goal in life is to become one with the Divine through sex, drugs, rock and roll, in no particular order. Her esoteric work has appeared in Zibaq! and The Sistrum, while her erotic work can be found at A Bi-Friendly Place as well as in suspect thoughts. She has also published fiction in Lost Worlds of SF and Fantasy

Email Sabrina or visit her home pages.

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