First, before I speak to you of what needs to be said, my sisters and brothers and sister-brothers and brother-sisters, please understand that I am one of you. I am no outsider. I was born female and male in one, I have lived as both, I look male now (clothed, at any rate) but I am and have always been the sacred third inside, no matter what my body was doing at the time.
Second, please understand that when the Gods and spirits took me and killed me and rebuilt me and brought me back and told me that I was a shaman now, their apprentice and tool, one thing was made clear: A shaman always serves a tribe. Without a tribe, they are nothing. And my tribe, I was told, is all of you. Transsexuals, both transwomen and transmen. Genderqueers. Cross-dressers of whatever stripe, fetishistic or otherwise. The normal-looking ones who have an inner female or male so strong that they demand part of their life, especially part of their sexual life. The intersexuals like myself who look in the mirror and know what they are, and want the freedom to be that. The ones who just know, inside, that they are both male and female – not theoretically but intimately, to know with every fiber of your body that you have walked in the world and male and female and something in between. You are all my tribe.
Even if your life path pains or annoys me, you are my tribe – the drug-addicted street queen, the autistic tranny nerd with no social skills, the FNT – fucking neurotic transsexual – who is damaged into insanity by a harsh world – you are all my tribe. Even if you hate me, even if you think that I’m a loon, you are all my tribe. I serve you all, whenever you ask, as long as you acknowledge this in yourself.
But this letter is written to a subset of a subset of a subset, a tiny number of people. I don’t even know how many there are of you out there. To be a spirit-worker, to be called by the Gods and/or spirits to destroy your life and be reborn to serve others, to be ridden by spirits, to lose everything and gain this knowledge….that’s a tiny percentage of any population. I’m not talking about the folks who take a weekend class and shake a rattle, the ones who do it part-time, the ones who can say no to it. I’m talking about the ones who have no choice, for whom spirit-work has eaten our entire lives, the ones for whom saying no is impossible because we are already bound by this calling…and, certainly, the ones who are seeing this calling come down the tracks like a high-speed freight train. I know that it can be terrifying. Believe me, I know.
But if you’re transgendered, in any way…..and if you’ve been tagged by the spirits to be a spirit-worker…..you have a double load on you. Transgendered people in the rest of the population have the option of denial. They can ignore their feelings, purge their secret wardrobes, throw away those sex toys, censor their thoughts, bury half their soul in the basement. It’s not a wise choice, in my book, but they have the option. We don’t. When we are drafted, we give up that privilege. We must deal fully and completely with our gender issues, as quickly and as honestly as possible. It is the first thing on our training, before any drums or rattles or chanting. If we do not deal with it, nothing will go right for us until we do. Period.
If you are not dealing with – and fully living – your sacred gender, then everything that the Gods and spirits will do to you will be about forcing you to come to terms with this. If you resist, if you keep putting it off, things will just get worse and worse. This, too, I tell you from experience. I will also tell you that as soon as you start working to come to terms with it, things will improve, and they will keep improving as you being to fully live it. While this may also be true for transfolk who are not spirit-workers, please understand that when I say that things will just get worse, I mean that you are inevitably risking your life.
Understand that being a spirit-worker means that your life is fair game for meddling, if things interfere with your work. In fact, if anything interferes with your work, it will likely just go away. And since the first step for us is dealing fully with our gender issues, that means that blaming outside influences as a reason for not working with them is a bad idea. The Gods/spirits will not stand for that. What, you can’t transition because your job wouldn’t like it? Why, that’s no problem. We can get that out of the way. There, you’re laid off. See, now nothing’s stopping you. What, you can’t put on a skirt because of your spouse? Here, have some divorce papers. There, now you have nothing to lose. What, you can’t do this because of your public reputation? How about a nice mental breakdown in public, right where everyone can see? There, now they all think you’re nuts anyway, so you can do what you want.
I’m not joking. I’ve seen it happen, too many times. It happened to me. Any part of your life that will not support your job – and that includes this part of it – will go away. Clinging to it will just make it more painful when They pry it out of your fingers. If you keep resisting even in the face of all this, you will be given the final choice….come to terms with your gender, or cease to live.
Why do we have to deal with this, first? Because it’s a tool. Because it’s a power. Because seeing things from both of those sides is an important part of learning to shift shape, to see from other eyes, to walk between worlds. While nontrans people can learn it in other ways, there’s no question that we do have something special when it comes to gaining perspective, and I think there’s even more to it than that, although that truth is elusive and arguable. But I, and other transgendered spirit-workers, have found that there are special powers and energies and techniques that only we can access. These will be your best tools, eventually.
Our situation is not modern. Any research about shamans and spirit-workers the world over will show unusual numbers of third-gender people. It’s the one job where it’s an advantage. It’s the one area where research can’t avoid finding us over and over, from Siberia to the southwest American desert. We transgendered spirit-workers have a long and very public tradition. Generally, when the oppressors wiped out shamanic cultures and tried to convert the shamans to “normal” behavior by their standards, it was us, the third-gender spirit-workers, who chose to die instead. There was no other option for us. There is no other option for us. We must be what we are.
What is it that we have to do, exactly? That depends on who you are. Certainly not all transgendered spirit-workers need to get sex changes, or alter their genitals. The trans continuum is a wide thing. There are those who are far to one end, and who may only feel the need to honor their nature occasionally with clothing and/or certain kinds of sex. There are those at the far end who feel the need to shift their physical shape entirely. There are those in the middle who may go partway. What the Spirits want you to do is to *find your level and live it fully*. Explore your range of motion, step by step; go further until you hit the point where you get the message, “This is enough. There’s no need to go further. This is who you are.” You will hit that point, I promise you, wherever it might be. We all do.
So if it means that you need to change your body, then do it. Take the hormones, consider them shamanic mind-altering drugs (they are) that aid shapeshifting (they do). Get the surgery, if that’s what you need: consider it a blood sacrifice to the Spirits, like the Sanguinaria of the Roman gallae, like the Lakota Sun Dance. If you need to keep your body the same, but wear certain clothing, do it. If you need to ritually put on a skirt and take it up the ass, do it. If you need to carve a sacred strap-on phallus and thrust it into a willing hole of flesh, do it. If you need to change your name, change your look, change your body, change your life, do it. Don’t put it off. You don’t have that privilege. Whatever point you fall on, honor it as an integral part of your life and your identity. It is who you are, and it is part of what makes you good at your job. Let no mundane reason stand in your way.
Then you have to live it, and live it publicly. The other option that you are forbidden is that of the closet. You don’t have to tell every single person that you meet, but if it comes up, or they ask, you must answer truthfully. You need not make an effort to be seen, but you must make no effort to hide…and if someone of this tribe needs you, you need to let them know who and what you are. This, too, is found in all the shamanic cultures that talk about us: we must be public about who and what we are, we must be visible, marked out, set apart, that we might be easily available to those who need us. That means that we are targets, which means that we must also be damn brave, and set an example.
One of my jobs, as a transgendered shaman who belongs to a Death Goddess, is to speak for the Dead of my tribe. And, my sister-brothers, my brother-sisters, the Dead of our tribe are angry. They rage, they weep, they cry out. They rage because we are being killed in the streets, because we are turned away when we seek food and shelter and work and health care, because we are ridiculed and often unloved, because we are exiled from our families and clans, because we are beaten down until we break and take our own lives. Because to live in our country is to live in a war zone. Our Dead are angry, and they demand this of us: that as much as we are able, we will do what has to be done to make sure that there are no more fallen in this war. In order to save each other, we must band together and take care of each other, because alone we go down. Hear their cries, if you can. If you are going down this path of serving our tribe, their cries should be audible to you. The Dead are not so hard to call up, if you dare listen. This must not happen again, they say. Hear them.
The numbers of our tribe are growing. More children are born with intersex conditions every year. More teens are evidencing transgendered behavior every year. Like the intersex frogs in the Potomac, affected by pesticide runoff, we swim in a toxic brew of poisons that is, ironically, making more of our tribe. Look for the scientific evidence; it’s there. But beyond that, our tribe needs more spirit-workers, of any tradition, to serve them, to take care of our living and our dead. We are needed more than ever, and that’s why we’re getting drafted in such numbers.
We are needed, my sisters and brothers. Don’t fear this wyrd. Embrace it.
It’s not like you have any choice, anyway, so you might as well. And besides, you are so desperately needed.
For the ancestors of our tribe, for our Dead, and for those yet to be born,