Friday, October 16, 2009

Hands together now...

The re-union of opposites

If it is somehow inappropriate for me to welcome the emergence of the South African intersex athlete as a wild card disturbing the cosy social and political divisions of gender (which a large number of people seem to require for their ontological security), I must return to the iconography available in the Hindu figure of Ardhanisvara, who is the presiding deity of this blogspot, as an archetype that adroitly manages to reconcile the opposites.

In the words of F. Scott Fitzgerald,

“The true test of a first-rate mind is the ability to hold two contradictory ideas at the same time.”

If a force is introduced with the intention to divide what is whole, creating separation and division, it also produces a counterforce, which is the desire for reunion.

I draw your attention to the lovely gesture of greeting used by people in certain Eastern traditions, who press the palms of the hands together – the right and the left meeting equally, with the head bowed – when meeting one another. The bow of the head acknowledges that, beyond the division of self and other, you and me, right and left, male and female, there is an over-arching (or underlying) principle of unity that can contain and resolve the apparent separation.

An apology and an explanation

Several people were offended by my posting about the case of the South African athlete. Once again I would like to thank those people who took the trouble to post comments and correct my various misapprehensions. In some cases I feel the anger and hostility were misguided, but that is something that they would have to deal with within themselves and I would not presume to offer any advice.

Insofar as the displeasure stems from a mistake that I am willing to acknowledge, here is what I think my root error was in this posting: to the extent that I was appropriating the experience of this young athlete, whom I do not know, I strayed from authenticity, which can only be based on my own experience, so I unreservedly apologise for that.

But to understand the meaning of my own experience, over many decades now, my understanding has been, unavoidably, also based on observation of phenomena outside myself. Many factors feed into the process of intelligent inquiry, and one learns to recognise and interpret useful information from others' experience, surely, as contributing to that inquiry? However, if one appropriates that experience without incorporating others' feedback, then one blunders, and even age, I am afraid, doesn't protect one from making mistakes.

To come back to my own experience, then, I wonder if you have understood the thread that informs this blogspot. You would be mistaken if you assumed that I am defending or proposing some LGBQT agenda. That has not been my intention, and if you were to presume that is the case, unfortunately, that would put you in the invidious position of ‘othering’ me.

So, if I am not permitted to observe and comment on the disturbance that this event involving Caster Semenya – or, rather, the media construction of Caster Semenya – produces, let me offer what I have understood from my own experience.

I am male, but I have nipples. Is this some flaw in the design? Should I be ashamed that as a man, not only do I have nipples, but that as an ageing man, those nipples now sit on breast tissue that has increased with age?

When I read about the stage of differentiation that produces this either/or bifurcation in the growing foetus, my natural curiosity is concerned with knowing more about the primary state that precedes the split. If biology doesn’t help me in de-coding the meaning of that fascinating (to my mind) possibility, perhaps the Tao Te Ching, of Lao Tse, might. If I remember correctly, he says something like: 'From the nothing comes the one; from the one comes the two; from the two come the thousand forms.'

So, believe it or not, in my personal contemplation of my condition, I have pondered deep and long about the 'one' that preceded the two (and later, how that very one emerges from 'the nothing', and what the qualities of that 'nothing' might be.) The urge to remember union (Carl Jung calls that the 'Unio mystica', if I remember correctly; I think of it more simply as ‘the urge to merge’) can be acted out in the world of relationships as if I am looking for the lost part of self that split off (vide Plato’s famous, if idiosyncratic model). If so, I won’t be happy until I find the partner that completes me.

On the other hand, I might try to recuperate the lost parts of self within my own psyche. If you understand that journey, you might recognise that this young athlete (whose pain I cannot presume to know) represents an icon for recovery for me.

In the incident with the yellow dress, which I recovered from memory only as I started to write my memoir with that name, I recalled something of a natural state of unity.

To enter the world of gender ('boys don’t DO that!') was to lose the easy access to a state of unity that preceded what was for me the painful division of gender. If the state of undifferentiated union was the primary reality, gender was a secondary development, and sexuality a very distant THIRD state.

My history as a sissy boy, then a queer man, has not been about 'sexual preference'; please don’t presume that to be the case. Something deeper was driving me, to recover nothing less than the state of unity. If you don’t understand why, let me give you an analogy: I can’t imagine how a house could be built without a ground floor; trying to construct a dwelling with only a second and third floor would be inherently unstable, wouldn’t it; dangerously so, in fact.

I feel that is the case within the psyche (not for everyone, just in my own personal recovery work; I don’t want to universalise a personal revelation – one that I would urge you to respect as hard won and tested – but it does work symbolically in my personal mythopoesis).

To use ‘ground’, as part of the phrase ‘ground floor’, is significant for me. Paul Tillich, the existential Christian theologian, spoke of the Absolute Ground of Being. Perhaps he was drawing from the ancient Vedic principle of Param Brahman, or even the Tao: the great formless field of consciousness/energy that contains all forms (including little me, with all his personal worries and anxieties!)

I have found, over several decades of practice, that certain techniques of introspection, taught to me by an eminently qualified practitioner who had mastered the practice, have helped me to bring the alienated, separate personal ‘me’ self into alignment with the all-embracing field of unity, and a huge feeling of relief has been the gradual result of that re-union (or ‘yoga’) for me.

The healing has not come through sex, nor political struggle, nor religion (as it is conventionally understood), nor psychology, but by recovering the lost aspect of being that was abandoned as I was forced into the world of duality (‘eating the fruit of the tree of Knowledge of good and evil’, perhaps).

In any case, that re-alignment process – which has not come about overnight – has settled the second and third stories back in contact with the ground floor. That has been a major shift at the root of being, and to the extent that it has been achieved, a huge source of healing; psychologically, ontologically and spiritually. Whew!

I will try to explain that process, and the benefits that accrue, to anyone who sincerely wants to know, but I do not need to seek a stamp of approval from any institution or individual; it is my own private victory.

However, I do like to acknowledge and thank the generous and kind assistance that has come to my aid throughout those many years, in the guise of certain people and certain experiences (both hard and gentle!). Most of all, I acknowledge with the deepest gratitude my guru; my spiritual guide and, in effect, ‘life coach’. Without his intervention when I needed it most, and his continuing guidance, encouragement and support, I would have lost my life and all the opportunities it affords.

So it is that – rather than pushing some ill-conceived rationale for whatever agendas you might have imagined and projected into my comments – that is the deeper context for my comments. If, in commenting on the events surrounding this successful athlete, I have caused offence, I apologise.

Joy for all.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Beyond doctrines, direct perception

So stay here, you lucky people,
Let go and be happy in the natural state.
Let your complicated life and everyday confusion alone
And out of quietude, doing nothing, watch the nature of mind.
This piece of advice is from the bottom of my heart:
Fully engage in contemplation and understanding is born;
Cherish non-attachment and delusion dissolves;
And forming no agenda at all, reality dawns.
Whatever occurs, whatever it may be, that itself is the key,
And without stopping it or nourishing it, in an even flow,
Freely resting, surrendering to ultimate contemplation,
In naked pristine purity we reach consummation.

- Longchenpa, (a 14th century Tibetan master) Treasury of Natural Perfection

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Intersex athlete blurs the rigid male/female dichotomy

At the recent world athletics championships in Berlin (August 2009), 18 year old South African athlete Caster Semenya won the women's 800 metre event by a clear margin (though not in world record time). Doubts were expressed about Caster's status as a female, based on her appearance, and tests have revealed that unusual anatomical features place her as an "intersex", or "hermaphrodite", rather than a true woman..

A developmental biologist from the University of Queensland, interviewed for the Sydney Morning Herald, explained that:

“Early in development within the womb, the gender of a foetus is indistinguishable, determined at between 16 and 20 weeks gestation by the presence of an XX chromosome for a female or XY for a male. The foetal gonads, which have the ability to develop into ovaries or testes, then develop, producing hormones which form external genitalia. But if the foetus has a malformation on the sex chromosomes, such as XXY, or XYY, the gonads can send out mixed messages, causing a female to develop a penis or a male to form a clitoris." ("Testing times for intersex athletes" SMH Sept 12 - 13, News, p. 5)

Koopman stated that one in 400 babies is born with both male and female reproductive organs.

If the baby develops with external female genitalia, but internal male gonads (testes), the presence of greater levels of testosterone produces a 'masculinised' skeleton and muscles, even while the genital appearance might present a vagina for external appearance.

Most intersex babies are born with genital ambiguity and are assigned male sex at birth (presumably, the clitoris is taken as a penis in such cases). But the extra rush of hormones at puberty sometimes produces secondary sex characteristics that confuse the assignation. Many are found to have a uterus and develop breasts at puberty and about half show evidence of ovulation. Caster's situation appears to have been the opposite.

No detailed descriptions of Caster's physical characteristics have been published in the press, but her ambiguous physiology has, once again, disturbed the rigid polarity that divides the sexes neatly in two and caused much consternation, not only for her family (and the South African sports official who knew the results of testing before the event) but for sports journalists and ethicists who seem to need clear divisions rather than a continuum. Gender is more fluid than we are permitted to acknowledge, usually, but the stability of the entire moral universe requires these poles remain separate and distinct so that Otherness continues to divide us, rendering the opposites forever unreconcilable and unintegrated.

I welcome Caster Semanya's perhaps unintentional contribution to public discourse on these matters and hope that s/he doesn't suffer too much for her striking physical testimony.

Note that, BEFORE there is a separation into male and female, there is unity. Living East of Eden, as we do, according to the ancient myth, we need reminders that once upon a time beyond time we knew no separation. It is more than possible (some would say it is imperative) that we could recover wholeness by learning to integrate these polarities within out own psyche (even if our bodies have been assigned to one pole or the other) and reject the dominance of difference.


Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Oh, for a peaceful passing

My sister's partner died at home last week.

I called Judith my 'sister-in-love', as they were not permitted to marry by the perverse laws of a society that doesn't recognise love, only convention. Even if the 'Law' is incapable of recognising loving unions, we are learning to make a family, consciously, out of the web of loving relationships we weave for ourselves and each other. So much support has been flowing in over the past week; this vibrant woman brought joy to so many lives and her passing has generated much good will.

My sister and I were lucky to be with her at the time of her passing. Although she left very quickly, in a sense, as we sat with her over the ensuing hours we were intuitively drawn into deep meditation and inspired to practise some gentle 'healing' arts to soothe her and help her accept the shutdown of her physical systems.

It seems that it takes time for the soul that is moving on to extricate itself from its longstanding association with the physical form it grew to transport itself through this stage of its journeying. Naturally, we get very attached (!) to the body, and fall into identifying with it as ourselves. So 'death' can be a shock to the 'normal' state of affairs; sometimes people panic as they realise they can no longer get it working; so, to die in an atmosphere of peace and acceptance, feeling the 'rightness' of the process, and allowing it to unfold, naturally, is a great blessing.

Alas, on the other hand, the terrible bushfires in the South (mostly Victoria, at the moment) have meant that many people there have died in a mood of panic and desperation, rather than a cocoon of safety and calm.

I hope that even as a flow of material support - money, clothing, food and blood - goes towards the survivors, a parallel flow of love and healing energy goes towards those whose passing was so traumatic.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Progress?

My support for the new U.S. President was undermined when Obama persisted with using Rev. Rick Warren to deliver the invocation, during Tuesday's Presidential inauguration, in spite of Warren's anti-gay record and his support for Proposition 8, banning gay marriage in California, equating relations between gays to acts such as incest... This guy is an influential religious leader!
Doesn't Obama realise how many gays and lesbians worked for his election?
And by invoking the name of Jesus, rather than a generic 'God', how included would all the Jews, Muslims and Buddhists have felt?
A lot of hegemonic majoritarian ignorance in play... Hegemony: the dominator influence - as of a state, region, or group - over another or others.
See Wikipedia definition of hegemony:
"a concept that has been used to describe and explain the dominance of one social group over another, such that the ruling group or 'hegemon' acquires some degree of consent from the subordinate, as opposed to dominance purely by force. It is used broadly to mean any kind of dominance, and narrowly to refer to specifically cultural and non-military dominance..."

"Examples are: the use of institutions to formalize power, the employment of a bureaucracy to make power seem abstract (and, therefore, not attached to any one individual), the inculcation of the populace in the ideals of the hegemonic group through education, advertising, publication, etc., and the mobilization of a police force as well as military personnel to subdue opposition."

This from Daniel Chandler's notes on the term (at the Aberyswyth University, Wales, website:
http://www.aber.ac.uk/media/Documents/marxism/marxism10.html)

Italian Marxist Antonio Gramsci used the term "to denote the predominance of one social class over others; not only political and economic control, but also the ability of the dominant class to project its own way of seeing the world so that those who are subordinated by it accept it as 'common sense' and 'natural'.
To succeed, this involves willing and active consent.
'Common sense', suggests Geoffrey Nowell-Smith, is 'the way a subordinate class lives its subordination' (cited in Alvarado & Boyd-Barrett 1992: 51)."
Hence, although I am not a Marxist, my position is not to just roll over and allow these shit-for-brains leaders to control the terms of public discourse. I'm old-fashioned. I protest!

There are those who thank the Prez. for including the invite gay Episcopalian Bishop V. Gene Robinson to articipate. Where I come from, that's called 'having two bob each way', a metaphor from the betting ring. A less sympathetic reading would use something like, he's fond of 'running with the hares and hunting with the hounds...'