Today I’m reviewing Hermaphrodeities: The Transgender Spirituality Workbook. I can’t tell you how excited I was when I found out about this book! It arrived in my life right when I needed it. I really owe the author for writing it! But to be honest, this was a difficult review for me to write. I apologise if it’s unhelpful.
Anyway, the book’s written by Raven Kaldera (not me…this is a *different* FTM Northern Tradition pagan called Raven), published by Asphodel Press, and a new copy will cost something around £16:00, or $24:25. I have the second edition, and I’d recommended that you go for this version. As the author explains in his Introduction to the Second Edition, he’s learnt a lot in the decade or so since the original was published. We may as well learn from his experience, right?
This is a book primarily aimed at intersex and transgender people; it’s even, in part, dedicated to us (and it’s likely the closest I’ll ever come to having a book dedicated to me, so I’m enjoying it). The author is an FTM (female to male) intersexual, so he understands things from the inside, as it were. As I’m only taking my first steps along this road, I really appreciate being able to read something by someone who really *understands*. I totally recommend this book to any intersex or trans pagans out there – like, really, buy it now. Get a really battered second-hand copy if you have to. Having said that, I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend this book to anyone, regardless of gender. This is a book that will make you look at a lot of familiar things in a new way; yourself, other people, the Gods. I dare you to read this book!
This second edition comes in two parts; Divine Lessons and Solid Visions. Divine Lessons contains fifteen chapters, all named after Deities, Spirits, groups of people or spiritual concepts – such as Shiva, the Kurgarra and Galatur, and The Quest – who are, in different ways, a part of the third gender mystery. Each chapter contains a poem, information on the Deity, Spirit, people or concept of the title, discussion questions, inner and outer world activities, at least one idea for a ritual and at least one interview with someone whose gender does not fall neatly into the blue and pink boxes society has provided for us.
The Myths were fascinating. Some, like ‘Agdistis: the Bringer of Chaos’ and ‘The Gallae of Cybele: Strength in Numbers’, taught me about stuff I’d never even heard of before. Others, like ‘Athena: Dealing With The Patriarchy’ provide a new way to think about what may be Deities you think you already know (and, in the case of that particular chapter, a way to totally confuse my Ancient World class teacher. Excellent). But more than that, they explain different aspects of the intersex or trans experience. It’s useful and educational, even if none of it applies to you personally. It’s also told with humor and passion – I guarantee you will not be bored! (You may be quite upset at times, but you will not be bored.)
Even if you can’t bring yourself to actually discuss the discussion questions with anybody, I’d guess most people could do with at least thinking them through on their own. Mr Kaldera is not the sort of guy who will gently sidestep issues; he totally goes there and some people may find the questions (and, frankly, every page in this entire book) challenging and difficult. But those are the things we most need to tackle, right? Even if you do it in secret, confront this book head-on and be honest with yourself. There’s no point otherwise. Same goes for the inner world activities. As for the outer world activities, I don’t think you’re supposed to try and do all of them – but it would be great if we could all pick at least one.
I don’t really have a group I could try any of the rituals with, though I’m hoping to adapt one of them. There are some you could do by yourself, like the Chakra Self-Blessing, but others definitely need a group – and probably a group of people you’re very comfortable with and trust.
The interviews were, from a personal point of view, really very helpful. A number of people with various gender identities were brave enough to give frank and honest interviews about their gender and spirituality. It was so great to hear other people saying the same things I’ve been thinking! I mean…even if you know other trans or intersex people, you can’t necessarily sit and quiz them on this stuff. I also think these interviews are great for cisgender people to read – they could really contribute to better understanding intersex and trans people (cisgender is when the gender assigned to you at birth matches the way you feel on the inside).
Part 2, Solid Visions, is a little collection of essays on third gender spirituality by intersex or trans authors. An Open Letter To Transgendered Spirit-Workers is very moving (and I’d read it before, but I still felt moved by it. You can see it at http://www.northernshamanism.org/tg-letter.html if it’s something you need to see). It’s so true, as well – as I have discovered… All of these essays are well worth reading.
As you’ve probably gathered by now, there’s no way I can give you a detached and impersonal review of this book. It’s just too important to me; it’s taught me so many things I needed to know about who I am and why things are happening the way they are. Sometimes it shone like a beacon; other times, for me at least, it was downright frightening. I could easily have written a review that just went on and on and on, and I could easily have gone on and on about myself way too much as well. It’s really important to me, and it’s going to be living next to me on the sofa for the foreseeable future, no matter what Wife has to say about it.
Most importantly, this book is here to let trans and intersex people know that we, too, are sacred. We have a place in the world, a place as valid and sacred as cisgender men and women. In a world that constantly tells us that there’s something wrong with us, that we’re wrong about ourselves, that we need to be fixed or saved, this is a powerful and much-needed message.
But the very best thing about this book? I now know that Raven Kaldera’s middle name is Brangwyn.