Imagine Healing Spaces For All Genders & All Earth's Children
I was feeling a little hurt when I first sat down to work on this. You see, someone on the internet decided they know my relationship to gender better than I do. Absurd, isn't it? And absurd on so many levels.
How could a stranger know me better than I know myself? And in this world where ecological collapse seems inevitable, where the health of Earth's water, Earth's soil, Earth's wildlife, and not to mention our own bodies is so in peril and so seemingly beyond our power to aid, why does gender matter? Why does a stranger's opinion matter?
The Truth is That Gender Hurts
And my guess is that it hurts most of us, whether we identify (or are identified) as men or women or not. Gender needs to be reaffirmed constantly through social cues and advertising, and especially through our interactions with one another. This to me suggests that most of us fail at gender in one way or another. And whether we'd admit it or not, I think we internalize those failures, and are reminded of them when triggered by the social world around us.
Like comparing gender to climate change, assigning different values to the different ways we experience gender-related pain doesn't change the fact that suffering is suffering and violence is violence, no matter who experiences what or to what degree. Importantly, we humans are also remarkably resilient critters. It's entirely possible for us to care about multiple issues at once.
In this post, I want to step into my advocate and healer archetypes and take aim for a coming present where people of all gender experiences can find peace and a safer place to self-actualize.
I've been in multiple situations where a woman has held her ground, voice shaking, to explain her position to a room full of men who strongly disagree with her. I've heard these women bring up both overt and unconscious sexist behaviors among these men, and I've witnessed their reactions alongside her.
Sometimes coming from a leftist political background, surviving sexual assault, or living as a gay man are used by men to shut down what these women are communicating. The fact that men experience sexual assault or sexuality-based harassment too has no business being weaponized against women discussing their same experience. If anything, this should make us natural allies in solidarity with one another against sexual violence and towards the compassionate creation of a stronger consent-centered and sexuality-positive culture. Likewise, leftists have nothing to lose but potentially so much to gain from hearing women taking the time and energy to share what wisdom they have learned about sexism (or anything) from their perspective.
Time and time again I've witnessed activists I would otherwise agree with denigrate women they disagree with based on their appearance or perceived sexual orientation. I think it's easy to make "women's issues" a problem that takes place somewhere far away or solely at the hands of institutions beyond our immediate influence. While the struggles of these women and the limitations of our social institutions are certainly relevant to the collective resilience of all Earth's children, so too are the struggles of women right here in our neighborhoods and families.
Holding Space for Men
Importantly, acknowledging that women experience gendered struggles in the world does not negate the same truth for men. Homelessness, for instance, is a gendered issue affecting primarily men. Suicide most commonly affects (young white) men. And while women are in general paid less than men, men are injured or killed on the job more often than women.
I've seen men ruthlessly mocked and harassed by women, assaulted as a "joke," made to feel inadequate and ugly, and locked into an understanding of men as only ever oppressive forces in the world when these men really needed solidarity and compassion through their own survival of sexual assault, domestic violence, and other intimate pains of the world.
As a bodyworker, I've encountered what I think is a more unique expression of men's gendered experiences too. Many massage therapists think that in order to cater to male clients everything has to be deep tissue, harder sounding music, and lots and lots of muscle. In my experience, the opposite is actually true. Many of the male clients I've seen are seeking massage spaces where they can just relax, be touched in a non-sexual and nurturing way, and momentarily slip into the same meditative states we've weirdly assigned as a culture to women. Massage and bodywork can be just as therapeutic, emotionally triggering, and part of an essential healing process for men as it is for women.
From my perspective, part of our gendered problems seems to be our impulse to categorize and differentiate certain traits or experiences while in reality these differences are less clear.
Healing Looks Like Flowers
The incident that started me writing this post hurt primarily because it came from someone in a "community" I once thought of as somewhere I could belong. I don't particularly like to consciously identify with any gender anymore, and perhaps surprisingly, that kind of relationship to gender isn't always welcome, even in transgender spaces. I think this is part of the problem with creating communities around shared identities rather than shared geographies. See, the former creates a false sense of unity with people I've never met and very often share little in common with (perhaps not even the same definition of our allegedly shared identity).
On the other hand, the latter is--from my perspective--where the real works needs to take place. Most of us don't live in geographic communities that are only women, only men, only trans folks or intersex folks, or whatever other categories we identify with. Our worlds are messy and mixed. And the sad truth is that what one person says in the name of an identity I might claim can negatively impact my relationship with a person I actually interact with on a daily basis, even if I don't share that negative view.
Hurt infects us. Pain justifies cruelty to others. Even for those of us called to be healers, breaking free of these cycles can be a lifelong challenge.
In some contemporary Pagan and other healing-oriented communities, the idea of addressing these wounds through group spaces which are exclusive to either men or women (or more specific experiences of manhood or womanhood than that) can be controversial and perennial conflicts. Part of these conflicts I think stems from a scarcity mindset around healing.
Even when we use the term circle to describe our healing groups, we are perhaps unconsciously reinforcing a limit to the healing of our communities. What if we thought of our healing using a different shape? What if we tried to view conflicts over who belongs in what space as a cooperative effort to create a healing Flower of Life, and not just a singular healing circle?
For instance, I'm probably not the best healing artist to facilitate a space for fathers or mothers for that matter, but I recognize the value of spaces like those and see their connectivity to the healing work I am doing. Instead of negating the potential need for healing as father or mothers, what if we multiplied the spaces we work to create for healing? What if not being part of one circle didn't need to be translated as complete exclusion, but rather was the seed for complementary circles to start in cooperation with the first?
I don't have all the answers. I don't have any desire to be someone with all the answers either. I think we need to actively hear each other more. I think we need to try and hold more compassion for one another. I think we need to validate the reality of intersex people more, along with the real, heart-based struggles of so many people who don't fit or want to fit with the gender they've been assigned. I think we need to recognize the ways that assigning gender to one another is perpetuating a hurtful system. I think we need to acknowledge that gender is taught to us all, subsequently that each of us hold a thread in the unraveling of its toxicity, and that none of us can correctly guess what another knows or feels through superficial or electronic interaction alone.
I don't always know the correct politicized words to use or the unspoken social cues to follow. I'd wager that most of us don't. But I believe in all of us. I want a world where women, men, intersex folks, and folks moving between these categories and others can all experience peace and space for self-actualization. My intention as a bodyworker is to do my part in creating that world through my practice.
20th century mystic Aleister Crowley (despite his own deep, human flaws) perhaps summed up the divine proportions of this value best when he penned:
"EVERY MAN AND EVERY WOMAN IS A STAR."
Own your starlight, folks. And just as importantly, help other folks remember theirs too.
Pat Mosley (NC LMBT #16882) is a licensed massage and bodywork therapist in the Winston-Salem area. His work is rooted in compassionate touch, permaculture, and deep ecology with the resilience of all Earth's children in mind. Connect with him via email to firstname.lastname@example.org