Sunday, November 12, 2017

The Androgynous Mind

© Picasso "Standing Female Nude" 1910. 
Picasso's "androgynous mind" conceiving a "female" nude made from the letters of his name

#1: The Right To Define Gender Identity

“All human beings carry within themselves an ever-unfolding idea of who they are and what they are capable of achieving. The individual's sense of self is not determined by chromosomal sex, genitalia, assigned birth sex, or initial gender role. Thus, the individual's identity and capabilities cannot be circumscribed by what society deems to be masculine or feminine behavior. It is fundamental that individuals have the right to define, and to redefine as their lives unfold, their own gender identities, without regard to chromosomal sex, genitalia, assigned birth sex, or initial gender role. Therefore, all human beings have the right to define their own gender identity regardless of chromosomal sex, genitalia, assigned birth sex, or initial gender role.”

- The International Bill of Gender Rights, 1993. 

The International Bill of Gender Rights or IBGR, developed by transgender activists, was adopted by the International Conference on Transgender Law and Employment Policy in 1993. This bill educates, promotes and sustains fundamental human and civil rights from a gender perspective. This document is not gender exclusive. Ten sections are universal rights claimed and exercised by every human being regardless of sex or gender. The bill, much like The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, is “adopted” by legislative bodies, courts of law, and the United Nations meaning these entities gave their approval and acceptance of the bill, similar to amendments and resolutions.

In mainstream Western culture, categories such as gay, lesbian, and bisexual are often considered “third genders.”  Such assumptions are gross misunderstandings of gender classifications, specifically in regards to third gender, intersex, and non-binary. Gender classification is the categorization of people that do not conform to nor identify with a hetero-normative, or two-gender framework, such as male or female. Third gender is recognized differently in various cultures.

For example, in Africa, a woman can be a “female husband” who enjoys all of the privileges of men, known as such, yet whose femaleness, while not openly acknowledged, is not forgotten. To Indigenous Mahu of Hawaii, third gender is an “in-between” state between man and woman, and hajiras, also considered third gender, are transgender individuals of India, Bangladesh and Pakistan assigned male at birth.

In America, third gender studies conclude that by the age of five, gender classification by an individual is recognizable. Due to society, parental and peer pressure, human beings growing up knowing their gender yet not falling into a socially acceptable gender role socially face difficulty. The Open Society Foundations, an organization focused on building tolerant societies committed to global struggle, published a report in 2014, License to Be Yourself.

This report documents transgender rights based laws and policies that enable trans people to change their identity on official documents. “From a rights-based perspective, third sex/gender options should be voluntary, providing trans people with a third choice about how to define their gender identity. Those identifying as a third sex/gender should have the same rights as those identifying as male or female.” (Open Society Foundations, 2017).

Instead of focusing on gender classification, individual rights and freedoms, mainstream Western culture instead created a sort of “gender dysphoria.” In 2015, LGBT civil rights organization Lambda Legal filed a federal lawsuit against the Department of State that denied Navy veteran Dana Zzyym, a passport because they are, and identify as, neither male nor female. The court found no evidence that the department followed a rational decision-making process in deciding to implement its binary-only gender passport policy and ordered the U.S. Passport Agency to reconsider its decision.

This case is only one example out of many that document how misunderstood sexual gender classifications are in the United States. “Third gender” or “third sex” is when a person does not identify with the sexual genders of neither man nor woman.

Virginia Woolf in her classic 1929 book like essay, A Room of One’s Own, wrote,In each of us two powers preside, one male, one female… The androgynous mind is resonant and porous… naturally creative, incandescent and undivided.” Artists and writers clearly identified with the acceptance and discovery of “third genders” well before a “classification system” existed.

Another example of third gender and “androgynous mind” is the work of musician David Bowie in the 1970’s with his omnisexual alter ego, Ziggy Stardust.  In the truest sense, David Bowie was one of the first globally effective socially accepted “gender benders”, one who “bends” gender roles in order to eliminate rigid sexual roles, one who defies stereotypes. 

Other cultures, often Indigenous, view gender as having more than one option as a part of their social structure. Carolyn Epple, American Ethnologist, composed a dissertation on “Navajo Nádleehí”, or “Two-spirit.” Her studies speaking to Navajo that relate to being “Two-spirit” include, “First, an individual is understood in terms of her interconnections, and as both male and female . . . that no individual's definition is fixed; all vary according to the situation . . . . and while many nadleehi agree on how the definition is structured . . . they do not necessarily agree on its content.” (Epple, Coming to Terms with Navajo Nádleehí). 

Plainly stated, nadheeli refers to one individual identifying with male and female genders dependent upon their spiritual interconnectedness, that nothing is fixed  like Western socially constructed gender roles, and the content within what “nadheeli” means varies from individual to individual.

For example, when speaking to one nadheeli, the description of Two-spirit is described as an “in-between type of person, not a “drag queen” and not a woman, not wanting to be either/or. Another nadheeli describes their personal state as describing how “queen” is identified with being female and they is do not consider themselves female, they are male and attracted to men. There is an existential position present here in relation to cultural relativism, that nadheeli exists outside the constructs of time and societal norms. Cultural teachers of the Navajo describe nadheeli as meaning, “Sa'ah Naaghai Bik'eh Hozho” or natural order.

In conclusion, gender flexibility tends to be a comfortable subject matter to address in relation to aforementioned Indigenous cultures that see gender as being natural when compared to strict societal gender roles imposed and enforced on individuals in “progressive” societies. From a worldview perspective, western civilization has yet to realize that gender is specific to each individual.

The gender an individual relates to is not formed by humankind, it is not man-made, and this is what society must learn to overcome, that gender flexibility is organic and people deserve the right to be whomever they feel most comfortable being. 

* * * 


Epple, C. (1998). Coming to Terms with Navajo Nádleehí: A Critique of Berdache, "Gay," "Alternate Gender," and "Two-spirit". American Ethnologist, 25: 267–290.

Frye, Esq., Phyllis Randolph. (2001). The International Bill of Human Rights. Retrieved from:

Open Society Foundations. (2017). Retrieved from:

Woolfe, Virgina. (2015). A Room of One's Own. The University of Adelaide Library. eBook. Retrieved from:

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Samhain and the Wisdom of Trees

The world is made in love and we have the incredible gift of wonder. - Asia Suler

 © Susan Marie

Samhain, Halloween, Day of the Dead, All Hallows Eve. With the recent new moon, we are in the middle of a powerful time for mystery. This is a time for the Otherworld. 

Samhain, pronounced SOW-in, is an Irish festival marking the end of harvest and the beginning of winter. This is halfway between Autumn Equinox and Winter Solstice. It is one of the four Irish seasonal festivals, along with Imbolc, Bealtaine and Lughnasadh. Samhain is a time when the boundary between this world and the Otherworld are easily crossed. 

The Otherworld is a parallel plane, a reality that exists right by us every day. It is what shapes consciousness, spirit, and thought; it is where magic occurs and where life exists. The Otherworld is a part of Mother Earth. The old creation myths of the first peoples of this earth still hold true. In the Otherworld, oak tree, deer, human and wind all speak the same language. The tongue of spirit, interconnection and co-creation. - Asia Suler
Call Of The Forest The Forgotten Wisdom Of Trees is a documentary featuring scientist and acclaimed author Diana Beresford-Kroeger. The film follows Diana as she investigates our profound biological and spiritual connection to forests. Her global journey explores the science, folklore, and restoration challenges of this essential Eco-system:  

 Ways to celebrate Samhain: 

Get Out In Nature  Take a meditative walk in a natural area near your home. Observe and contemplate the colors, aromas, sounds, and other sensations of the season. Experience yourself as part of the Circle of Life and reflect on death and rebirth as being an important part of Nature.

Imagery  Decorate your home with seasonal symbols. Place an Autumnal wreath on your front door. Create displays with pumpkins, cornstalks, gourds, acorns, and apples.
Ancestors Altar  Gather photographs, heirlooms, and other mementos of deceased family, friends, and companion creatures. Arrange them on a table, dresser, or other surface, along with several votive candles. Kindle the candles in their memory as you call out their names and express well wishes. Thank them for being part of your life. Sit quietly and pay attention to what you experience.
Ancestor Stories  Learn about family history. Contact one or more older relatives and ask them to share memories of family members. Record them in some way and later write accounts of what they share. Give thanks. Share what you learned and have written with another family member or friend. Add names of those you learned about and wish to honor to your Ancestors Altar.
Cemetery Visit  Visit and tend the gravesite of a loved one at a cemetery. Call to mind memories and consider ways the loved one continues to live on within you. Place an offering there such as fresh flowers, dried herbs, or something special to you and the deceased.
Reflections  Reflect on you and your life over the past year. Review journals, planners, photographs, blogs, and other things you have created. Consider how you have grown, accomplishments, challenges, adventures, travels, and learnings. Meditate. Write about your year in review, your meditation, and your reflections.
Renovate  Select an area of your home or life as a focus. Examine it. Re-organize it. Release what is no longer needed. Create a better pattern. Celebrate renewal and transformation.
Bonfire  Kindle a bonfire outdoors when possible or kindle flames in a fireplace. Write down an outmoded habit that you wish to end and cast it into the flames as you imagine release. Imagine yourself adopting a new, healthier way of being.  

Divinatory Guidance  Using Meditation, Journeying, Tarot, Runes, Scrying, Prayer, or some other method of divination, seek and reflect on guidance for the year to come. Select something appropriate to act upon and do it.
Divine Invocations  Honor and call upon the Divine in one or more Sacred Forms. Invite them to aid you in your remembrance of the Dead and in your understanding of the cycle of life, death, and rebirth. If you have lost loved ones in the past year, ask these Divine Ones to comfort and support you.
Transforming Expressions  Help eradicate derogatory stereotyping with courteous, concise, and intelligent communications. 
Community Connections  Connect with others. Exchange ideas, information, and celebration experiences. Regardless of whether you practice solo or with others, as part of your festivities, reflect for a time on being part of the vast network of those around the world.
In Celtic philosophy, it is said that the separation between this world and the Otherworld is as thin as a veil. All we have to do is peer between the weave and a whole new aspect of reality will reveal itself to us. Known as the realm of the ancestors and the way beyond death, the Otherworld is a place of deep and life-changing knowledge. A place of mysticism, connection and consciousness-- connecting into the Otherworld can bring untold magic into our lives. 
– Asia Suler 

Blessed be.

 © Susan Marie

Please visit > One Willow Apothecaries  < to connect with Asia Suler 
and > Call of the Forest < to educate yourself on the wisdom of trees. 

 Samhain Celebrations © Circle Sanctuary


Sunday, October 29, 2017

Looking Backward and News From Nowhere : Studies in Utopian Literature

William Morris on Looking Backward 

     In William Morris’ review of Looking Backward, Edward Bellamy’s novel on Utopia, Morris focuses on Socialism, the political and economic system where social organization believes that the community as a whole must control production and exchange of goods and services. Although Morris does indeed recognize the romantic aspects in Looking Backward, he also touches on the importance of the novel, the hopefulness for change apparent regarding the popularity and sales of the book. Morris views Bellamy’s work as a wake-up call for humankind. 


     The central thesis of Morris in regards to Bellamy refers to socialists and non-socialists. Fictionalized as written in the year 2000, Looking Backward describes states of society after a period of evolution, a time of peace, when people began to realize that Socialism is only at its birth. Those that adhere to strict political parties recognize this; the public may not, thus setting a stage for the birth of a new system, often filled with strife. Morris brings up valid points in the dangers associated with Bellamy’s work, “It requires notice all the more because there is a certain danger in such books as this: a twofold danger; for there will be some temperaments to whom the answer given to the question ‘How shall we live then?” - Morris, Looking Backward, Commonweal.


     William continues to describe the dangers as pleasing and non-pleasing, meaning there will be those that will accept this book and its ideals as absolute fact even with errors and unrealistic suggestions and those that will inquire, including young Socialists, who will also accept the text as fact, yet question existence as a whole without hope. Morris suggests that when reading utopia, one must consider the author, their experiences, ideals, temperament and expression. An example of this is in regards to Bellamy’s style of writing. 


      In Looking Backward, the author constructed the book to speak to thousands of people; however, his temperament is one that is not modern, historic or artistic. This style suggests a semi change, or incomplete view of society. Bellamy proposes a world in which injustice, misery, and classes no longer exist and that ideal utopia is that of an industrious one only. Morris brings forth the ultimate debate. Can humankind overturn the machinery that controls society? 


     Morris continues to relay his dissatisfaction with the focus of Looking Backward, meaning the point of change being that of industry and machinery. The focus on freedom, art, nature, respect and appreciation for the natural order of things is missing, “A far better hope to trust to is that men having once got it into their leads that true life implies free and equal life, and that is now possible of attainment, they will consciously strive for its attainment at any cost.”- Morris, Looking Backward, Commonweal. 


     Morris believes that Bellamy, in regards to his book, overlooks that when any peaceful cataclysmic change occurs the organization of life must be forefront. In Looking Backward, Bellamy does not provide a peaceful scheme, more a vengeful change bordering on Communism and Nationalism. This statement made by Morris relates to Bellamy’s proposal that every man is free to choose an occupation and work is not burdensome, yet strict massive armies are created based upon production to satisfy everyone no matter the cost, waste or outcome.  Morris concludes that Bellamy’s worldview is short sighted and his focus only relates to his own environment and not the entire world. 


     The central ideas in William Morris’ review of Looking Backward by Edward Bellamy are related directly to the book’s themes on utopia. Morris wrote his own book two years later, News From Nowhere, as a direct response to Bellamy’s work. Bellamy created a novel about transportation from the nineteenth century to the twenty first century. Julian West, the main character, or narrator, born into an aristocratic family, delves into financial class systems between the rich and poor, prevalent in the nineteenth century. West was considered above the rest of society due to his financial standing. The book begins with Julian’s awakening, one where he was asleep in suspended animation for over one hundred years.

     In Looking Backward, Bellamy examines variances in centuries focusing on themes of finance, societal standing and production. Metaphorically, the author describes how people allow themselves to be dragged within the confines of society similar to a traveling coach by stating, “Humanity is harnessed along hilly and sandy roads.” - Bellamy, Looking Backward

     In addition, people did not choose the way they lived, their careers, how labor and production was controlled. They simply followed what society required them to do. The author makes sure to exhibit the importance of delusion regarding finance by explaining that oftentimes the poor think that what the rich have is better.  Bellamy saw this delusion as mass hallucination and witnessed this in people that became prey to financial class and status.

      When referring to Morris’ review, it is plain to see in Bellamy’s work that Morris is correct in stating that Bellamy’s utopia falls short of the natural order of things. Bellamy does focus intently on societal structure, financial class and status, disregarding nature, the arts, and communication. In Chapter V of “Looking Forward, the first political themes are addressed between Julian and Dr. Leete, a twentieth century representative who discovered Julian after his “awakening.” The industrial change, “The Great Trust”, is a nationalistic viewpoint, meaning all capitol of the nation was consolidated and controlled by one group. Although there were no wars or public enemies, the people no longer had freedom or control over production or their lives. 

     Morris refers to Bellamy’s temperament in his review of Looking Backward as a reason for various themes in the book. In regards to Bellamy himself, not the author, both grandfather and father were ministers yet had to leave their chosen fields due to “unorthodox” positions each held regarding the Calvinist faith. This in turn pushed Bellamy towards a disdain for dogma. Bellamy felt religion did not properly address the needs of humanity and unsuitable living conditions on earth with a leap of faith in an afterlife full of rewards. 

     Bellamy’s issues with the human condition began early which is why he focused on a career advocating for reform. He attempted various careers with success, however, a journalist and writer proved to be most fulfilling. Bellamy’s own life experience does not compare with the ideals he presents in his novel, Looking Backward. Bellamy was able to choose his career and change it if he did not find pleasure. In his own fictional utopia, the nation controls these choices for the people. It is here where Morris is correct in stating that the temperament of the author must be considered when reading, Looking Backward

     In conclusion, both Bellamy and Morris present utopian worlds that speak to different groups of people, a socialist viewpoint and a nationalist viewpoint. Bellamy’s purpose for Looking Backward was to inform nineteenth century society about the pitfalls of society with a focus on industry while Morris decided to focus on choice and autonomy. Both novels are about social reform, justice and economic fulfillment, however, Morris is the only one to address pleasure and the natural order of existence. It is in this vein that Morris succeeds in reaching a utopia where more people will find happiness. While Bellamy is brilliant in introducing the book to a fictional twentieth century audience as if it were a historical frame of reference, Morris goes further and suggests that along with social reform, personal reform is paramount.

Works Cited

     Morris, William. Looking Backward, Commonweal. Vol 5, No. 180, 22 June 1889, p.194-195. The William Morris Internet Archive: Journalism.
     Bellamy, Edward. Looking Backward. 2000-1887. Signet Classics. 2009. Print.