July 4th weekend, 1993
A little background: On Wednesday, June 30, one of my students (named Rachel) suggested that I might be interested in attending the Rainbow Gathering near Mount Victory, Kentucky. The Rainbow Family is a collection of assorted people, loosely categorized as "hippies" that have been meeting at a US national park for the last 22 years [+21--ed] in order to commune with nature, to seek self‑healing, and to try to join their energies in quest for world peace, social harmony, and ecological balance (and maybe get stoned a bit also :-) ).
This is a part of my auto-biographical thingy...
|Sunshine, lollipops and rainbows,
Everything that's wonderful
is sure to come your way
Last Friday, about noon, I decided at the last minute to go (largely because it was going to be a terribly boring weekend around here with no telnet access). Rachel, her husband Larry and I loaded our stuff and headed for Kentucky at 5pm. Larry is currently taking a class which is studying the 60's, so I was asked a lot of questions about that period. Rachel is a psychology major, so we also talked a lot about my feelings about being transsexual. We talked a lot during the 12 hours it took us to get to the closest city of any size to the Gathering. We tried to sleep for an hour or two in a grocery store parking lot but the noise of people making deliveries kept me awake.
So I had had no sleep for over 24 hours when we finally pulled up to the front gate of the park at 8am Saturday.
|It's my party, and I'll cry if I want to
Cry if I want to, cry if I want to
You would cry too if it happened to you
My first day at the gathering started out a bit of a bummer because the car we were in had no insurance, so we had to hitch a ride to the Gathering because there was a roadblock with the pigs checking for all sorts of legal papers. Rachel and I arrived at the inner gate at about 10:30am and had to wait for about an hour for Larry to arrive. We then carried our tent and supplies the two miles into the camp proper and set up our tent in a strip‑mining pit, not far from the main gathering area and the medical tent (Rachel was 8 months pregnant). We then hiked back up to the kitchen to which we donated food. On our way there, I ran into Alicia W, a transwoman friend from online. We sat around and talked for a couple of hours, while Rachel and Larry went for a walk. All too soon, it was time for Alicia to leave and I walked with her most of the way to the inner gate (Alicia is just as nice in person as she is over the net and the phone).
I then walked back to the kitchen to discover that Rachel had gone to the medical tent (about a mile or so away), because her feet and ankles began to swell. I walked through the oppressive heat myself to check up on her and by the time I arrived at the tent was a little under the weather myself (minor case of heat exhaustion). Rachel and I talked for awhile and when she felt up to it, we went swimming in a mud pond (the water was green from the clay on the bottom). By then I had been burned terribly, bad enough so that the straps on my swimsuit hurt my shoulders, so I swam topless, but more modestly than anyone but Rachel, since everyone else was completely nude (except for the mud). Eventually, we decided to get something to eat, so we walked back to the medical tent, then back to the kitchen area (about two miles). By this time, my mild case of heat exhaustion had become heat prostration, so I was allowed to lie in the kitchen worker area, while Larry and Rachel helped prepare dinner. I did get to talk with some of the people there, but began to get upset at the people who referred to me as "brother" (even though I was topless still and they could see my boobs). I tried not to let it bother me at the time. I offered to help around the kitchen, but found they had little need of my assistance. I went out to the eating area and tried to meet some people, but it seemed that no one was interested in conversing with me. I started to get a little distraught and walked down to the main circle, where the nightly meeting was to begin, followed by supper. I located Larry and Rachel and sat with them, getting more and more depressed as more and more people called me "brother."
When the main circle meeting broke up, I walked by the Sister Circle, where some women were building a fire, preparing for a meeting of the women (well, a portion of them). At that time, there were 20 or 30 women present. I introduced myself, told them about me (being a pre‑op transsexual and all), and asked if it were appropriate for me to join the circle. The response was less than what I had hoped for: "If you think you belong here, then we don't object" rather than "We accept you." By then there were about 50 women present (which was to swell to about 150). After some singing and chanting I went over to the edge of the circle and sat down to recover. I began to view myself as an outsider even here when I realized that no one had talked to me since I joined the circle. Eventually a woman came by and asked what was wrong and I told her how I felt. We talked for a good long time and rejoined the singing and dancing. A few times I was rebuffed in my efforts to start conversations in the interludes and I began to feel lonely in the midst of 2500 people. Eventually I met someone else and we talked. As the circle broke up, I felt terribly lonely, as everyone else was going off with their friends and I had not really made any yet and was not asked along to wherever anyone was going. Finally, I was one of the final 3 people there and I told the other two how I felt and they tried to comfort me, until one of them left when her boyfriend came by. The other woman and I walked up the hill to the kitchen area where she met a gentleman and we started talking. He was not very understanding of transsexuality, insisting that taking anything but "natural" remedies for my condition was not right, implying that I should try to live my life with the body I was given. Finally they went off, leaving me alone depressed and nearly in tears. A couple people came by and took me over to their tent, where I fell asleep for about 3 hours (my first sleep in two days).
|See the screw slowly turn around
See it sink without a sound
Feel your head slip with every turn
Feel the steel knob begin to burn
All is lost now, it seems that way
All is lost now, it seems that way
I awoke after only three hours sleep. It was already getting warm. The people who shared their tent with me were still asleep, so I quietly left their camp.
I walked down to our own tent, shaved, and got a change of clothes, something to protect me from the sun (although I was to be much hotter because of my choice). I learned that Rachel had not been feeling well and had returned to Conway. I then headed for the kitchen area.
This was the morning of July 4th, a time of silence at the gathering (exactly what I needed...NOT). Upon arriving at the kitchen, I got some water and sat in the eating area. I was very depressed and one of the women I had spoken to the day before came over and indicated that she understood I was not feeling well. She gave me a hug and tried to cheer me up. It didn't work. I wanted to speak to her so much, but could not. After much soul searching, I finally decided to show her one of my poems.
Loneliness and Isolation
The mind--yearning, seeking, questing, emerging--female.
The body--betraying the mind--male.
Can one express what it feels like to be transsexual?
Before I was man and was treated like man.
After I will be woman.
Now I am both/neither.
Neither generally wins, excluded from both.
Is it too difficult for others to comprehend
Or is it too difficult for me to explain?
Is there anyone who will accept me as I am
Or will I only be accepted/rejected
For who I was/will be?
Loneliness and isolation nip at the edges of my being.
Certainty becomes expectation.
Expectation becomes hope.
Hopes become dreams.
The dreams dissipate into nothingness.
Another friend is gone.
New friends are made.
Life changes but why must the bridge be so tenuous?
Loneliness and isolation blur my consciousness.
Why must others always bring up the past
Which has become so foreign to me?
The events are there but the feelings are gone.
How do I describe the deeper feelings that have replaced them?
Emotions long submerged boil to the surface
And erupt full-blown into the mind
But there is no one present with whom to share them.
Loneliness and isolation crowd around my soul.
How do I explain the feeling of hormones
Coursing through my body,
Changing it to fit the mind?
How do I deal with the sexuality, the sensuality
Exploding in every nerve ending?
When there is nobody with whom to explore these sensations,
Time slows considerably.
How does one measure the growth of a breast?
With a watch, a sundial, a calendar, or with a life?
Loneliness and isolation seek to smother my existence
--Robyn Elaine Serven
She went to "converse" with someone else and returned with him and indicated that we should walk off into the woods. There she and I broke silence, although the other person did not. She wanted to know what was depressing me so much and I ended up telling her what my life was like in Arkansas, how I had come to the Gathering looking for some kind of healing, and that I still felt like an outsider and someone who was not really welcome there.
She translated the man's sign language and spoke to me herself as well as we talked about what life is like in transition, especially in a place where one has few friends, while he gave me a gentle back rub (being careful of the sunburn, of course). I felt a little better as we returned to the kitchen for breakfast. Afterwards, the three of us walked down to the Main Circle for the noon ceremony.
A circle was formed around the totem in the center (very phallic). There were some people in the center of the circle, yogis and yoginis, Shaman, priests of various stripes. All attention was given to the pole in the center as we tried to gather together our energies, "praying" (not the right word) for world peace and a healing of the earth and its inhabitants. It got hotter and hotter as the sun neared its zenith. The circle grew as more and more people joined, until well over a thousand people were in it.
I thought about why I was there and the concept of the tribe, trying to focus on the task at hand, but failing. As the sun rose, I could feel myself returning to the heat prostration of the previous day. I thought about the "Berdache"[by all rights, there should also be a link here to my own later analysis of the winkte/two-spirit/nadle concept and the problems of appropriation and colonization of indigenous culture, but I was only starting on my journey at the time--ed] and what they meant to the tribe. I thought about us, my trans-friends on this list [TRANSGEN--ed]. By now the center of the circle was becoming more crowded as first 4 Buddhist monks and then some women entered it and sat down in meditation. I felt an urge to join them. Then the children were brought to the center of the circle from Kiddie Village. The compulsion to go to the center of the circle grew in me until I finally had to go. I walked in, spread my towel and knelt on it. I put my hands on the ground and could feel a vibration. As the heat continued to pour down on me, I started seeing things whenever I closed my eyes, mainly a light blue empty room.
Then the chanting began as the appointed time came The atmosphere was electric. I thought about all the friends I have from the various lists I am on and from IRC, wishing they were with me and that I could hug them all, wishing for them an end to their pain and suffering. I arose and walked to the pole, as did the Buddhist priests simultaneously. I put my hands on the pole and felt its power. People from the circle closed in on those of us who were touching the pole, putting there hands on our shoulders (ouch), trying to draw energy from the pole through us. It was a tremendous feeling. Still the heat grew and the brightness. The chanting raised to overpowering volume as the drums began beating. For about a half an hour, it continued, until I was overcome by the heat and stumbled away from the pole through the crowd.
As I stumbled away from the crowd near the pole, someone came over and poured water on my head. I thanked her and she said, "You're welcome, Brother." :-( Then someone said, "Hey, buddy, do you have a light." A third person asked me if I had cigarettes. These last two showed an extreme lack of concern for me, as I was laying prostrate on the ground.
|Seeing a face through broken glass
Seeing the patterns of your past
Feeling the earth shake, try to walk
Losing your reason, try to talk
All is lost now, it seems that way
All is lost now, it seems that way
Eventually, one of the women from the kitchen came over and walked me the mile to the shower area (a pipe with COLD water coming out of it). As we waited in line, I realized that I would have to undress in front of about twenty strangers. While I had gone topless the previous evening, I am a little sensitive about letting someone see me totally nude, but I decided to try dealing with this subject then and there, and began to undress. I stripped down to my panties and as I was standing in line, a woman still referred to me as "Brother." When I got to the head of the line, a man at in front of me gasped and then asked if I were a man or a woman (I was still tucked). I explained that I was in between, then took off my panties and showered (very self‑consciously). After the shower, I felt somewhat better, but still made my way the two miles to the medical tent
As I lay there in the med tent, I was very depressed, wondering if I dare go to the Sister Circle again, wondering why I came in the first place (I am very much a city person). A woman was there who worked in the kitchen I ate at, and we started talking. I again tried to explain how I felt, especially about the fact that I did not feel entirely welcome there. I told her I was looking for some sort of healing and had not found it yet. I let her read my poetry, and she said she had a new respect for what it meant to be transsexual.
After cooling down sufficiently, I made my way back to my tent to change clothes and then to the kitchen. When I got there, the woman I had met at the tent was back and she spoke to one of the leaders who asked if I was interested in helping to chop veggies for the stir fry for evening meal. I agreed, and began working. Through the course of the afternoon, I worked with several woman, who seemed very much to accept me as a woman. Having conversations with women where my transsexuality is not a topic of discussion is very nice and I began to recover from my depression. A few other women read my poetry and some of them gave me their addresses and wanted to keep in touch.
I decided to attend the Sister Circle that night and was one of the first ones there. I helped to build the fire and was much more at ease. Several of the women did approach me and ask about me, but everything was cool. At one point a man tried to join the circle and they ushered him away. No one said anything to me at that point. After a while we formed a circle, sitting around watching the fire and a woman with drums joined, sitting right next to me. She asked me directly if men were being allowed that night, and I said no, and that I was a woman, although born a male. She seemed rather uncomfortable and moved to the other side of the circle. Her loss.
After some chanting, some singing, some dancing, and some talking. A woman showed up with a book and read us some excerpts from it (Women Who Run with the Wolves). She was not a skilled story‑teller and it was hard to catch everything, but the book seemed interesting.
The lack of sleep, the heat prostration from earlier in the day and some of the smoke from the evenings festivities began to catch up with me and I began to feel somewhat ill. I waited until the woman finished reading and talking about the book before I spoke. I explained that I was not feeling well and was going to have to go to my tent (two tents from the Circle) and get some sleep and that I was leaving in the morning. I told them that I had come to the Gathering hoping for some healing and I thought that I had found some. I told them that I particular wanted to thank the people who had spoken to me that afternoon because I finally felt a little acceptance. As I turned to leave, one of the women asked if she could give me a hug and before I knew it, I was in the middle of 50 women, all trying to hug me simultaneously. It felt wonderful.
I walked over to my tent and went to sleep, feeling very content.
|Sunrise doesn't last all morning
A cloudburst doesn't last all day
Seems my love is up
and has left you with no warning
It's not always been this grey
All things must pass
All things must pass away
I arose early on the final day of our stay in southeastern Kentucky, although I had had about 8 or 9 hours sleep. A little groggy, I dressed, shaved, and headed for the kitchen. Although I had worn skirts for the rest of the trip, I wore my silk pants on the last day.
Arriving at the kitchen, I found that breakfast was almost ready (at least I thought so, although it ended up being an hour before I actually got to eat). I spent part of the time talking to Larry (my student's husband) until he went down to put up the tent. He was with someone named Marika, who was going to ride back to Conway with us (recall that Larry's wife Rachel had returned after the first day).
I was asked by a woman if she could read my poetry, which she had heard about from one of the other women, so I let her. We got to talking and exchanged addresses, promising to keep in touch [alas, besides being a lazy ass, I am also one of the world's worst at "keeping in touch"--ed]. Another woman came by, who I had not met, and said that a friend of hers had spoken about me to her and she just wanted to meet me and wish me well. Everyone wanted to know if I would be back next year. My response was that I would like to be, but that I very much hoped that I would be recovering from surgery at that time. I did tell people that I would tell my transsexual friends about the gathering and recommend it to them and they all seem pleased. We then ate breakfast, washed the dishes and said our good‑byes. Larry, Marika and I headed for the gate, homeward bound.
While Larry hitchhiked the twenty miles to where our car was parked, Marika and I had a lot of time to talk and get to know each other. She is young, unsure of herself and her future, but very nice. We talked to people as they drove by asking us if we needed a ride somewhere. One older gentleman, from only 40 miles away from the gathering, stopped and chatted for a while. At one point, he referred to me as him, and Marika corrected him.
When Larry finally returned, we hit the road, headed for Tennessee, but we decided to stop at the first fastfood place we saw, which was in Corbin, KY...a Taco Bell (to get our cholesterol fixes). As we finished eating, another group of people from the Gathering showed up and we said hello. One of the men wished me "Peace, Brother." A woman who was behind him stepped forward and said, "Sister, weren't you at the Circle last night, the one who said she was leaving this morning?" I replied that I was. She wished me well on both of my journeys, smiled and walked to her seat, followed by the man.
This summed up a lot of the emotions I had gone through. The men, even those from the Rainbow Family, seemed to have a problem with the concept and difficulty accepting the obvious, but I had been accepted by the women. At least by some of them. It would have been nice if he had acknowledged his error, but I found that men didn't do that. Still, I smiled to myself and went out to the car, ready for the 11 hour trip back to Conway. On the trip back, I tried hard to relive the good experiences, not wanting to lose them from my memory.
I hope that the Gathering will give me a focus to draw from, even when things seem bleak here. I know people who accept me, not just as transsexual, but as a woman.
On the other hand, there was a palpable gloom in the air as we neared Conway.
One footnote: Tuesday after class Rachel told me that when she told Larry that she was leaving, they had a big fight and had split up for now. She is 8 months pregnant and I told her that if there is anything that she needs, to be sure to ask. On Wednesday, she got a 98 on her algebra exam.