gender, the body and love

I used to read a book on astrology that gave key words for the planets and signs (which is quite common for astrological text books). When it came to the planet Neptune it gave the word illumination. In this context it is quite difficult to define (which itself is quite neptunian), but there are a number of associated experiences which point to it, and they all have a quality of deliverance, relief and redemption or escape to a more blissful, radiant reality. People find it in dreams, mystical visions, or sometimes in drug experiences (though the latter have also come to exemplify the pitfalls of Neptune, sometimes with good reason). The test of it being illumination rather than gross illusion would I say be whether or not the experience leads to greater wholeness and integration. The sense of the glimpse of the divine, the ineffable, with an accompanying sense of peace and healing (even if it is passing) is common, and it throws a doubt over the experience of the more gross, which seems so much less blissful, and so much more fearful by comparison. It is a light which casts a shadow, but also starts to take apart the block (or structure) which throws the shadow itself. In a sense it is all about bliss and form, release and binding, union and separation.

Which is what leads me on to the experience of gender. We understand now that gender is not about the body you have, and whether it is classed as male, female or intersex. But gender has a great deal of connection to our identification, and it does have an unavoidable relationship with our bodies and what is quite beyond the body. All this leads to my own experience of gender, which I do find elucidated by experience near the borderland of sleep, and its luminous quality of release.

My body is male and my gender is male, which is to say it was never definitively anything else (even when I despised the qualities and choices I was told I was meant to have as a boy), and my identifying as a man within my own body has become more and more important and wholesome to me as I have grown older (the turning point was around 40). As a child I didn’t feel that male at all, but that is not the same as being transgender. I identified with girls more on most things, but I didn’t feel like I actually was one. I am perfectly happy to be a man, if not with the way that the world treats men or women, or any other gender category.

But as you go deeper into the psyche, the sense of gender actually becomes diffused, released, un-self-conscious. This is never more so than in love. When I see someone who is deeply attractive to me I feel great desire and longing, but I’m not that aware of my gender. When I am in a relationship of romantic love with a man, I am intensely aware of their sex and gender, but I have completely forgotten my own. What I am flows around what they are, in a deep, instinctive wish to complement, fulfill, surrender. I am what they uncover in me, what they make of me. What they are defines what I am. My spiritual gender is the empty mirror; not unfeeling, not false, because this is where and how I most deeply am, and it is full of the presence of Being. It is a seeming negative, a darkness, a dilation, a yielding darkness, but it is all of the luminous that I inherently feel. It is the same empty fullness that allows me to have congress with my beloved deities. Our ideas of gender are quite intellectual, but there is a soulful quality to gender also, and just as we can talk about soul-making in some kinds of psychological language, there is a sense of the substance of gender being made and unmade, not as some kind of ultimately moldable relativism without inherent qualities, but as a wondrous quality of consciousness, unique to each person but related, layered, shifting in and out of focus, but consistent with its own truth.

So what is my gender? Well I’m a man. But go deeper, and I cannot be expected to remember anything but what I love (but I know I am still a man). It is a quality of my being which is paradoxically empty and full, dark and lustrous. It is a whole-shaped hole where I might be.

"Im Spiel der Wellen" by Arnold Böcklin [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

detail from “Im Spiel der Wellen” by Arnold Böcklin [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

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