Friday, October 22, 2010

Looking for Roots (that I might not need)


It is obvious from a quick perusal of the last several Barking Shaman that I have been in an introspective mood of late. “Requiem for a Symbol,” “Lessons from a Plastic Bracelet,” and “Don't Call Me a Unicorn Hunter” all had elements of self-examination.

In the earlier days of writing Barking Shaman, before my long hiatus, it was not uncommon for posts to group into themes. I do not intend to turn this blog into a forum simply to talk about myself. The internet is replete with venues for narcissistic expression, and I have my Facebook page and Twitter feed to indulge that part of my psyche.

However, I do feel that I have something more to say, and gods be damned, Notes from a Barking Shaman is my little corner of the internet, so bear with me through one more inward journey. Or don't, if you are not so moved, I won't mind.

-Wintersong Tashlin

Looking for Roots (that I might not need)

I am Wintersong Tashlin, although most people just call me “Winter.” Of course, it is largely a given that if you are reading Barking Shaman, you already know who I am. What likely goes without saying is that “Wintersong” is not the name my parents gave me, nor it should be noted is it the name that they use to this day. “Tashlin” as well is a taken name, although unlike “Winter,” my surname was made legal over five years ago.

On second glance, the above is a powerful statement though. My identity is far more bound up in who I am as Winter than it is around my birth name, which I continue to use in certain limited areas of my professional and familial life. My identity and the life that I lead, as a spirit worker, magician, god-servant, BDSM educator, queer activist, and gun nut, are vastly different from what I could have imagined as a child. It is hard at times to reconcile my “real” life with more mundane one that I associate with my birth name, which is the name I am called at work or when the bill collector calls.

There are times when I feel adrift. It is hard not to disassociate from my childhood and my life before I took this name (Wintersong was my third chosen name, but I have had it since 1999). I have very few ties to the person that I was. I am quite close to few family members and I am in touch with no friends from before college, and only one or two from college.

It has been pointed out to me on more than one occasion that through the magic of the internet and Facebook in particular, I could try to reconnect with people from my childhood. This has raised an interesting question for me. Should I? There are few people I would want to connect with. I did not go to my local high school because of the severity of my Tourette, so I lost touch with many of my friends after middle school. The remaining ones I was close to primarily through the synagog youth group, and there are obvious issues there. One of the few people I'd really care to reconnect with is now a successful Rabbi, while I am a hard-polytheist-shaman. Clearly our paths diverged, although not as far perhaps as I did from her brother who is a successful accountant. She and I may serve different paths and gods, but in our own ways we both serve, I honestly cannot imagine the life her brother (also a good friend of mine growing up) lives.

Thanks to Facebook I did discover that the first boy with whom I ever had what I felt was a positive sexual experience, did in fact end up batting on the same team as me. If nothing else this finally set my mind at ease after seventeen years and allow me to enjoy that memory without concern that what had been a positive experience for me had been mere experimentation for him (it still could have been, but now I know what the experiment's results were).

That is interesting, and perhaps edifying knowledge, but I do not see it providing any real connection between us. At least no more so than anyone else with whom I shared a one-night-stand with a very long time ago. Another childhood friend and I have remarkably similar tastes in film and television, again, at least according to what he has chosen to list on Facebook, but other than a fondness for Jeremy Clarkson's automotive antics, the culinary adventures on Top Chef, and hazy memories of the of children we haven't been for nearly two decades, we likely share little common ground.

I could reach out to them, and in truth I have experimentally sent out a few introductory notes, but the reality is that I feel more like I am contacting the childhood friends of a lost relative than the children I once whiled away long Saturdays playing with. Part of me hopes to hear back, because no one likes to be rejected or worse, forgotten. However, an equal part of me hopes that my messages vanish into the empty reaches of the internet, taking with them awkward conversations and feeble attempts to recapture a sense of connection to each other, when what we are really looking for is a sense of connection to the child we each used to be.

At least that is what I find myself looking for. I like the man I have become, but in many ways I feel like a man without a past. When I look in the mirror I can not find echoes of the boy who played pretend games, Legos, or Micromachines, with Jeff, Steven, Lucian, Josh and other childhood friends (boy are those '80s names or what). For a while I looked for those echoes in some of my age play, and almost found them, but circumstances in my life shifted and I lost track of them again. When I wonder “How is X doing” one of the things I mean is “maybe by understanding how my childhood cohorts got to where they are in life, I'll understand where my own childhood self fits into my identity now.”

At the same time, as I stated, there is a lot about who I am now that I like. I feel like I fit better in my own skin now than I have in a long time and I am not sure that looking backward is necessary or healthy. I am unsure of how I will benefit in my sense of self or well-being through connecting to people whose concept of me is fifteen or twenty years out of date. What value would I gain through such a connection?

In the end I am a shaman and spirit worker, and as such I have put this issue into the hands of the fates. If I have something to learn or gain from such an interaction, one will happen and I will endeavor to approach it with an open mind and heart. If one does not, then that too will tell me something of value about the relationship between the child I used to be and the man I have became.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Requiem for a Symbol

As a shaman, magician and spirit worker, animism is a vital part of my spiritual belief system. There are objects that I think of as having “soul,” my VW Beetle certainly did. So does the motorcycle that I ride, my first athame, the milling machine in our shop, the list goes on.

An extension of this way of looking at the world is that some objects do not have soul of there own, but instead become part of a person. The wedding ring that is never removed for instance. There are several things in my life that fit this later category, my ring is one, as is my tactical flashlight which never leaves my side, the same with my 45ACP sidearm (although to a lesser extent), but most strongly of all would be my glasses. I feel especially bound to them as without corrective lenses I am completely helpless visually. As I look over the rim of my frames at the computer screen I cannot make out a singe word no matter how hard I squint my eyes, that is how dependent I am.

However, this past year I have been dependent on my glasses for more than just vision correction. As I have written about previously, just over a year ago now my husband left our triad after eight years together. I still believe that there were good times in the three of ours life together, but there were some very challenging times as well, and especially in the last year before he announced he was leaving my ex told me often and in great detail that I was unattractive and undesirable. I often felt it was my fault that I could not be the person I needed to be to make him happy and my lack of physical attractiveness to him was a frequent subject of our conversations.

After he left I decided I needed to make some major changes. Not, it should be noted because I truly believed that he was right. Even by that point I had started to realize that my ex-husband was hurting emotionally and lashing out at the people close to him because he did not know what else to do. But just because a bear strikes you out of fear rather than rage does has no bearing on that fact that you are still badly wounded.

So I went on a diet and determined to loose weight. I redid my wardrobe. I began making attempts to be more social when at events. And, as an overarching symbol of new beginnings, I bought a fabulous and somewhat insane pair of glasses.

They were J.F. Rey model 2285's in matte black metal. Designer specs out of France and bought at a little boutique shop in Nashua. I'd never dreamed of spending so much on a pair of glasses. We had just received the last check we would get from our company's big project and this was my last indulgence. It was a way to radically change how I would present myself to the world. These were not glasses that blended in at all. They made a statement, one I knew I was not yet ready to make. I was not a J.F. Rey kind of guy, but gods I wanted to be.

My ex had placed rather strict limits on my self expression. I was not to be too flamboyant, too forthright or direct, too obvious. I needed to blend, and not make any more of a spectacle than a barking guy makes by virtue of being himself. Giving up drag, even on Halloween was a condition of our relationship.

Make no mistake, I did not want our triad to end so completely. I still wish it had not, that we could have talked and compromised and found ways to each be ourselves and be happy without as extreme a solution as was found. However, if he was going to leave my life, I was going to try to find out who I was now free to be, and these glasses were going to be a symbol of my commitment to myself and a very real push to do so.

That was about nine months ago. I am a more complete and self confident person now in many ways than I have been in a long time. I became the person I was pushing myself towards when I choose a new pair of glasses, and somewhere along the line, those frames became a touchstone, and physical symbol of a new beginning in my sense of self and the course of my life.

I know that this view was dangerous. In truth I knew that even before today, when they were irrevocably destroyed.

Because of the highly unusual shape of the ear pieces, the 2285s did not fit well under my motorcycle helmet. The bike I ride now does not have a glove box, but it does have saddle bags. There being few good days to ride left I decided to take the bike to work and the Reys went into the saddle bags inside their metal case. The left saddle bag came loose and came to rest on the exhaust pipe which burned through the tough leather and rubber and melted everything inside, including my camera, night visor, and of course my glasses. Their metal frame is largely undamaged to the naked eye, but the paint chips off at the lightest touch. The plastic pieces puddled, and the lenses warped and scorched beyond salvage.

I cried. A piece of myself, destroyed. Even now, hours later I am crying just remembering the sight that met me when I pried opened the case, the heat warming my hand even through heavy winter riding gloves.

I feel lost, and that is Bad. I know now that I had invested too much energy into the J.F. Rey glasses, had allowed an external object, and a fragile one at that, to embody too much of what should be an internal journey.

Worse still, as I mentioned I am truly helpless without a pair of glasses. I only owned two pair, my beloved Rey's and my older pair, the ones I wore through the divorce. I generally think of those as my “riding glasses” since they fit fine under my helmet so I use them when I take out a motorcycle. However, now they are all I have. If the loss of the glasses I had invested so much of my sense of self worth in has been a bad blow, seeing my face in the mirror wearing the glasses I associate with messages of unattractiveness and undesirableness from one of the most important people in my life (at the time) is certainly making the situation more challenging.

Plus there is the tiny detail that the prescription is wrong so my vision is not clear, which is not thrilling either.

Intellectually, I know that they were just a pair of glasses and can be replaced (although the model is discontinued). My mother has expressed a willingness to help me find something else I will enjoy, but I know how costly designer glasses are, calling them an indulgence was not hyperbole.

No matter what happens, even if I find fabulous glasses that say exactly what I want them to, it will not be the same. Those glasses changed my life, and I feel that I owed them a better run and a better end than they got.

I know that I am in a difficult emotional period of my own right now, even without this particular unpleasantness, but I find myself worrying that the strides I have made, image I have built, the person I have become, may have gone up in smoke along with the symbol that to me, had come to represent all those new beginnings.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

It's Already Better

The media has recently focused a great deal of energy on the issue of LGBT youth suicide. To be honest, I am not sure why. That isn't to say that I don't think the problem isn't both enormous and heart-rending, because I do (see: “Our Kids Are Dying”- Barking Shaman 9/29/10). However, according to The Trevor Project, suicide completions are not notably up in our community, the media has just suddenly taken notice.

One response, and a response that I support, is Dan Savage's “It Get's Better Project.” Not a solution, or even a band-aid, his project ideally brings a small bit of hope to folk who don't have any. But that hope is generally tempered with the reality that for kids already in crisis, their situation will remain poor until they can get out of their home and school environments and start a new life. This misses out on an essential point in my opinion:

It's already better. Not for everyone I'll be the first to admit, and I think we're working on that, but things are changing.

I came out as gay (I now identify as “queer”) at fourteen in 1994; I had been attracted to boys my whole life. The following was my “coming out” conversation “Mom, what would you say if I told you I was gay?” To which she replied “Are you?” I said “Yes,” she hugged me, a little misty eyed, and told me she loved me and didn't care who I brought home as long as they were Jewish. When I left my milk religion several years later it was far more tumultuous than when I came out as queer, which, as you can see, wasn't really tumultuous at all.

I am thirty now, and my experiences coming out and growing up in my queer identity have been quite different than those of someone who is forty or fifty.

I recently went on a date with a twenty year old, born ten years to the day after me. When I asked him what it was like being out as gay in rural New Hampshire he replied “Well it was hard in elementary school because I was the only out gay kid so I felt pretty alone, but by middle and high school it was fine.”

At that moment I realized that his experience was, in its way, as different from mine as mine was from the generation before me. He had never known a time when the Plague stalked our community bringing swift and brutal death (I was too young to be an active part of the community, but I certainly remember), he'd always had out queer people on television, and for him it was a given that by the time he'd ready to be married he would have the right to do so (in my opinion a naïve view). I don't think he has ever known anyone who has been disowned by their family for being LGBT.

I am not trying to say for a moment that people in our community, are not suffering. Especially our children, the most vulnerable and hardest for us to reach. But let us not loose sight of how damn far we've come and how steady our progress continues to be.

Every few months the LGBT, or sometimes the mainstream media, runs a story about a parent who beats a young child to try to make him “straighter” or more “manly.” This is tragic and as a culture we need to have a discussion around the issue. But that discussion is incomplete without the other side. Let me tell you about one of my favorite childhood memories:

When I was ten years old, my parents picked me up from religious school one Saturday morning and drove us into Boston. I don't remember the reason they gave, other than that it was ill defined and I didn't care because I had MegaMan on my Gameboy. As we rounded the corner to Tremont St. my mother pointed out the sign for the Wang Theater which had a prominent sign advertising that the touring production of “A Chorus Line” was currently playing there. I was a little slow on the uptake, and my dad had to spell out that that was where we were going, at which point by all accounts I went crazy in a ten-year-old sort of way.

“Chorus Line” was my whole life at ten, I danced around the house to it, sang along to the tape until I wore it out and had to buy another copy, and I'll freely admit, a good bit of it went over my head. Seeing the show was a highlight of my childhood.

For every story of a parent beating their non-conforming child to death, where are the stories of parents surprising their non-conforming kids with third row seats to the show of their dreams?

As we move forward in the discussion around how to make things better for people who are struggling on our community, it is vital that we not loose sight of how much progress we have made, of how much better things already are.

Tuesday, October 05, 2010

Lessons from a Plastic Bracelet

My Dark Odyssey Summer Camp attendee bracelet started to crack this afternoon, which is the Universe's way of saying I really have to sit down and write this. And yes, I realize that it is also, it's the Universe's way of saying “Hey stupid, those bracelets really aren't meant to be worn for twenty days!”

I have asked myself repeatedly why I have not taken off my attendee bracelet, and I keep coming back to the idea that D.O. Summer Camp 2010 was an important event for me. Rather than say that I experienced a great deal of personal growth at the event, I'd say a great deal of growth I've been doing crystallized for me there. I guess in some ways that little piece of purple plastic represents a lot of positive change in my life over the last few years, and the last year in particular. This piece of writing will instead take its place, thought and ideas being far more durable than cheap synthetics.

Some thoughts that came out of the last year, and DOSC in particular:

* People care about me. There have been some new mysterious medical issues going on with me that are as yet unresolved. The outpouring of support from people in the community who knew about my fears and concerns was overwhelming. Living in rural NH, and near Boston, a city & community that my partner and I just can't seem to forge a connection with, it is easy to think of myself as being relatively isolated or having a pretty small circle of friends and family of choice. The realization that people even knew who I was was pretty shocking (my classes are popular for what they are, namely specialized, but I'm not a huge draw). I know that some of this is due to my issues with self esteem, but the feeling of welcoming and belonging I got from everyone will help sustain me during the winter isolation in NH.

* My Work is benefiting the community. For a long time, I've known that the kink/BDSM community was one of the places where I felt drawn to do my spiritual Work as a shaman, and to a lesser extent as a magician. This has been a goal of mine that I've been working towards, but at DOSC it really hit home that somewhere along the line, without even realizing it, I had found my way into doing it. At Camp, I know that I provided valuable service to individuals in the community in the form of spiritual counseling, ordeal ritual, healing ritual, and the “Ritual for the Breaking of Energetic Ties” that I ran. It was highly fulfilling Work, and being an accepted and valued part of the community for doing it is not something that every spirit worker or shaman gets to experience.

* I have come into my own in terms of BDSM skills. Within the areas that I specialize in (which are admitted relatively narrow) I am quite good at what I do. Being a good player is a constant learning process and I'm always trying to expand the breadth of my skills as well learn new twists on the skill sets that I already have. That said however, within my comfort zones, I know my shit and it's ok to take pride in that.

* I've become comfortable with (and fond of) the title of “Sir.” This is a pretty new thing to me, I haven't publicly identified with this type of power dynamic up until recently. Interestingly, until now I have not said anything about it, but something in the signals I give must have changed, since at the last few events I've done people have started using “Sir” with me. I'm also rapidly learning that, at least for a spirit worker, the “Sir” hat comes with restrictions and obligations like any other spiritual role.

* People are attracted to me (although I still don't notice flirting 9/10 times). I grew up as the obese-barking-queer-nerd and somewhere inside that's still how I think of myself. To be fair, other than the “obese” part those are all pretty much still true. I am not entirely sure why I am continually surprised that people are attracted to me, although a certain segment of the population whom I am quite attracted to continues not to notice my existence. I am working on getting over the whole being “surprised when someone is interested in me thing” in part because I think it's an unflattering personality trait in myself.

* I can function (and have fun) without my partner. As someone whose been struggling with challenges related to serious health issues for many years, not to mention being shy, this was a pretty big revelation in itself. The fact that I could both make things happen on my own, and ask for help from others when I needed it was quite literally liberating. More importantly, if I can be more independent, that frees him up to enjoy himself more when we are at events together.

Don't Call Me a Unicorn Hunter

So how do I write this without sounding like a whinny bitch? I spent a good five minutes trying to figure that out before deciding that perhaps I would simply allow a bit of whine to leak out, so I apologize in advance. -WST

The last year has taught me some interesting lessons about life, relationships, polyamoury, and what I'm looking for in my emotional and romantic life.

A year ago my primary relationship, a poly triad that had existed for over eight years, ended when our husband left us. I'm sure I don't have to elaborate that this sucked. Hard. It was a complicated situation, made much more complicated and difficult by the ways in which our spiritual Work and our relationship overlapped, or more accurately were interdependent.

In the time since our husband left, I've come to accept that there was much about our relationship that was not healthy for any of us. Although I miss him terribly, in the past year I've been free to be myself in ways that he never allowed me, and I'm more comfortable in my skin than I ever was when I had to closely modulate my behavior for his comfort. Likewise, while the three of us were together my remaining partner was not permitted to explore his gender identity, and the divorce, painful as it was, freed him to begin the process of transitioning.

We have also greatly expanded our extended poly family. The people who we consider to be “family” have enriched our lives in a way that I never really imagined, and brought me many unexpected joys.

Through that though, there has been an aching hole in our lives, and fear for our future. My partner Fire and I are not cut out to be a primary dyad. We liked being part of a triad, it was the relationship we were looking for from the time we first got together, and we looked for a 3rd for two and a half years before we found our now-ex-husband, and only then with divine assistance.

Most of our friends and family have told us that another triad is likely just not going to happen. Most unicorn hunters never catch a prey, lest catch two, and a queer guy who's down with cis & trans guys, on the same page with our spiritual and magical Work, poly (because we're not giving up our extended poly family for anything), and very kinky, is a pretty tough beast to find. There are even more considerations, but I'm not going into all of them here, and to be honest, some of those things could be worked around and others not-so-much.

People have been telling us that we should just enjoy our extended family and be a dyad, or each get a boy or sub, and while I in particular would like a submissive, it is not a substitute dynamic, but an additional relationship. We've been accused of simply trying to “replace” our ex-husband, an accusation I find odd, and uniquely poly. When a monogamous person gets divorced and expresses a desire to remarry in the future they are rarely told that they are merely trying to replace their old relationship.

The three of us got together when we were in college, a simpler and more direct time in our lives. A time when we'd never heard the term “polyamoury” and didn't know that there other people out there doing what we were doing. Strangely, I find it much harder to imagine finding a third primary today, steeped in poly, queer, and kink community, than I did then. Maybe because now I know the odds and then I was ignorant.

There is of course another factor in the discussion, and that is my Patron. She had a pretty big hand in making the triad happen in the first place and She has given indication that She would have a hand in doing so again. But that brings matters of faith into the discussion, a hard thing to do when the people you love and trust are telling you that you'll never have the kind of relationship that you desire again.

I am not saying that if we found ourselves in another kind of relationship that was fulfilling, we'd abandon it simply because it was not a primary triad. That would be foolish and self destructive. However, we know that the triangle as a core relationship is a form that works for us, and a dyad does not.

I know that our friends and family are trying to be helpful and supportive when they tell us to forget about having a triad in the future. I know that they are warning us off from chasing unicorns and missing out on other wonderful possibilities that don't quite fit a particular vision. We aren't looking with singular focus, but letting go of the idea of a multi-person primary is a heart wrenching idea.

I don't know what the future will bring. There are days when I have hope, and days when I have faith (not always the same days) and other days when the statistical reality of what we desire brings with it a crushing feeling of loss.

I know that Fire and I were lucky, we got together looking for a third and we found someone and while it ended rough, it wasn't always that way. I hope it isn't asking too much of the gods and of our Lady in particular to have that stroke of Luck a second time.