Three years ago at Easter I was still in shock after my partner left me. It was a beautiful sunny Easter and as I was slap bang in the middle of my counselling diploma course. I was writing, drawing, painting and sculpting my way around all the mixed up feelings that were flowing around my body and brain at the time. Loss. Grief. Unbearable sadness. Raw fury. Powerlessness.
I felt like I had been sacrificed as my now ex-partner took up with an old flame and best mate, someone I had known as a friend, indeed another counsellor.
Now I am not a Christian nor a believer in any religion. But I do have faith and I do value my spiritual self. I would say I am of a certain philosophical mindset that does not need religious dogma to explain the seemingly unexplainable in the this wonderful mysterious universe we occupy one tiny planet in. I am a dialectical materialist but I am happy to live with the uncertainty that comes with accepting the reality of what happens with matter on a quantum level where matter and energy don’t work in the same way as classic Newtonian mechanics predicts. I am happy to accept that things like ‘mind’, ‘self’, ‘consciousness’ are all emergent properties of our nature, as creatures with amazingly complex social brains and bodies.
But that Easter three years ago I found myself drawn to watch Mel Gibson’s film The Passion of Christ and I was engulfed with the raw and wild grief that surrounds the brutal execution of not only Jesus, but all opponents of the Roman occupiers and their apologists. That weekend I drew a self-portrait of myself being crucified, myself as a woman. I was in bloody pain in the whole of my body and being and drawing myself as a crucified martyr deeply connected me to the pain I was experiencing in my own sense of self as I broke up with the woman I had loved for four and a half years. The picture I had created troubled me. Like I said, I am not a Christian and this experience did not in any way feel to me like a ‘religious moment’ but it troubled me nevertheless. I was worried that my Christian friends on my course would find it blasphemous, I was concerned that my therapist might think I had some sort of emerging ‘Christ’ fixation. What the hell would people think if they knew I was drawing pictures like THAT!! I wish I could find it as I would post it here but it is in a box somewhere right now… maybe I might find it by next Easter at this rate.
Now I look back on that time, in the place where I am now, on the cusp of becoming the man I feel inside, and I see that picture and all the raw pain of that time with different eyes. I realise now how my masculinity was experienced by my ex-partner and how vulnerable that made her feel. She had shared four and a half years of my life. We had gone through the joy of discovering she was pregnant after many months of trying, only to be devastated by the brutal cruel reality of nature when she miscarried some weeks later. In that short time, she was a mum and I was a dad. Even though I had not accepted my gender identity at that point, I KNEW I was a dad and not another mum. All that unresolved stuff underlay this feeling of fatherhood for me but I never got the chance at that point to explore it further and the grief of miscarriage and our inability to share this eventually became one of the reasons why my ex- felt I could not support her in the way that she needed.
We had another incident which chilled me to the bone and made me terrified of a part of my masculinity. Only a matter of days after she left me, my ex- slept with her ex- and best friend. When she came back and told me she was frightened. She told me something that made me feel she had been abused when she was vulnerable and I was raging about this. Not at her but the other woman became the focus of my rage. I wrote emails, luckily we didn’t live anywhere near each other, and we had a raging spat between us. My ex- became distraught at this and felt like we were ‘two stags fighting’ over her. When this culminated in a screaming row in the kitchen one day, my ex- saw the blood drain from my face as I rushed towards her. In her mind she saw me as another raging man who could harm her. She had been married for ten years to a bio man who was violent to her and in that moment with me she saw me in the same way as she saw him. In a flash she picked up a large chopping knife from the side and I stopped frozen in my tracks horrified at what was happening. She turned the knife towards herself and told me to back off. I can’t fully remember what happens next. Traumatic moments can be like that. But I do know I flipped into calm mode and no harm came of the incident.
I am very aware I have a shadow side and that there is a part of me that is capable of harmful violence. I no longer apologise for this as there have been times this part of me has saved me from a beating. There may be times in the future where in a moment my survival may be threatened that this part of me could quite literally save my life. But in my day to day life this part of me is kept safe and secure and under extremely disciplined self-control. I am fully aware, as I transition with testosterone that I have an absolute responsibility to keep this part of me in check. The energy and drive it will fuel me with will be aggressive at times and I will have to learn how to effectively and safely manage my anger and potential aggression in day to day life again. I have done much therapeutic work on my these feelings over the last four years and I enjoy working with clients who are also learning to take responsibility for these feelings, thoughts and actions. I guess I am looking forward to what this new experience of self-control is going to bring me.
For me Easter is all about the twin aspects of life – the wonderful beauty of new life in spring, with all its virility, fertility and bursting fullness of all the organismic selves on the Earth, coupled with the savage brutality of death, pain, grief and violence. They are all part of not only the human condition but also fundamentally rooted in the cycles of nature. It’s no surprise then that these themes pop up time and time again in the myths and stories and religious texts that human beings have created over the time we have been creating symbolic art.
Whoever you are, wherever you are, whatever your beliefs, we are all united by our ability to create symbolic meaning to express our selves and our relationships with each other. Brutal occupations, executions, murders, rapes, exploitation, and abuses of all kinds need to be challenged all the way by human beings everywhere. We have to teach our children to disobey at times of ethical principle as well as learn to follow instructions when necessary. It means everyone taking responsibility for their own ‘sins’ and offences against other people. In the words of the great Patti Smith “Jesus died for somebody’s sins but not mine”. I don’t mean that disrespectfully but the idea that people can absolve themselves of responsibility for their own actions doesn’t sit well with me. Far better to have ways that encourage people who commit offences to be faced with the consequences of their actions on the victims and then work out ways justice can be restored. And if someone’s too much of a risk to others’ safety then they should be somewhere safe and secure until they are not a risk of serious harm.
But, please we don’t need any more martyrs or executioners in this world.