One of the most amazing experiences of my journey into womanhood occurred when I attended a wedding in Delhi.
The bride knew me before I transitioned, but immediately embraced my identity as Emily when I announced it. We quickly became extremely good friends, and I therefore eagerly attended her wedding when the time came. I was so happy for her that I even wrote a string quartet for the couple to celebrate their union:
The wedding rituals we performed during the two-day ceremony appeared more gendered to me than those of the American weddings I’ve attended. The women did many activities together with the bride, such as application of henna (see my hands on the photo below) and the anointing of saffron, while (presumably—I wasn’t there so I can’t confirm) the groom participated in activities with the men.
What stands out for me is that the women fully embraced me as one of their own, allowing me full participation in their rituals, knowing full well that I was biologically male. Result: An extremely happy moment in my life. Core validation!
After the anointing of saffron, still among women only, we danced to Bollywood songs for about half an hour. Felt very spontaneous.
Today I watched Kaouthar Darmoni’s TEDx talk “Dare to be feminine for guts sake!” (below). She begins by telling a story about growing up in Tunisia where women would gather together, away from men, and simply dance. She then describes how this practice traces back to Mesopotamia 4,000 years ago. Perhaps the dance ritual I participated at the Delhi wedding described above traces back that far; perhaps it inspired the Mesopotamians, or perhaps the Mesopotamians inspired it.
But I realized immediately upon starting this video that I participated in something ancient and profound.
While in Rajasthan last December, I purchased a necklace I’d hoped to one day give “Carol”, and while in Kashmir I was given a headscarf that I’d hoped to give immediately to another woman (let’s call her “Susan”—as I never publish real names). Suffice to say that neither opportunity arose and I still have these gifts.
The headscarf holds added meaning in that I wore it while in Kashmir to “blend in” in hope that it would help me stay safe (see my post “fearing for my life in Kashmir“). But I wanted Susan to have it ultimately. She and I are not in contact right now, but I’m going to make an attempt at contact this Thanksgiving season. Perhaps there is a psychological attachment to the physical safety that the headscarf gave me while touring Kashmir that I project onto Susan, or more likely it just would make a fine gift accompanied by a meaningful story.
For Carol, I have a necklace. Carol of course has completely cut me out of her life, and I do not see much hope for near-future reconciliation (still hold onto long-term hope). I originally bought the necklace for me, but within an hour decided I wanted Carol to have it. Its pendant is a ruby cut in the famous “star of India” style, and, as I was in India, I was thrilled to purchase it.
So I think I’ll keep the headscarf ready to give Susan for at least another six months. But what about the gift for Carol? Should I just claim it for myself?
If I start wearing it, I effectively (but not accurately) “give up” my hope to give it to her. (But the accurate part is that I can wear it and then later give it to her with a full explanation). By wearing it, I also claim more ownership of my own emotions, in that I’m taking some of my love for Carol and applying it to myself—as it is a beautiful necklace. If I start wearing it I will build my own memories around the necklace.
I’ve given so much of my emotional life to Carol in the last two years and it might be time to symbolically reclaim some of it.
‘In the last days, God says, I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your young men will see visions, your old men will dream dreams. – Acts 2:17 NIV
So I don’t believe these are the “last days” as the above verse implies. But I do believe that God speaks through each and every one of us, essentially making us prophets in the barest sense. I call those who embrace this experience “prophets with a lowercase ‘p’”. (Uppercase “P” is reserved the big ones like Moses).
But let’s look at two individuals that I view as modern prophets with a capital “P”: Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr.
I visited the Baha’i faith’s Lotus Temple in Delhi last December, and engaged in a fascinating discussion with one of their holy men (every one of the many spiritual leaders I spoke to in India was a man). He said that God regularly sends (capital “P”) prophets as needed to respond to changing times and to correct humanity’s course. So I asked him if he considered Gandhi and Dr. King prophets. He said no because they did not work miracles—they did not control the elements. I argued back that their social achievements were much more important and much more miraculous than controlling the elements. But I guess people want fancy signs from the supernatural before they’ll see direct evidence of liberation.
In my work to write in support of the transgender community, I’m going for lowercase “p” here. I’m not trying to be Gandhi or Dr. King, but I am working hard to courageously deliver some of our community’s truths to the world.