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On “Going Full-Time” – Prelude: Ritual

[I began a post on the topic of going "full-time". Stricken by logorrhea, I think it best to break it up into a few parts. Stay tuned for more.]

I like ritual. Fundamentally, ritual concretizes the abstract, gathers the amorphous into form, even if only temporarily, and helps render the invisible visible. Religion offers grand, obvious and all-too-loaded examples, while supposedly profane events such as the SuperBowl and the Academy Awards channel and incite collective consciousness to participate in a competing set of values no less compelling to the unconscious than early tribal warfare or fireside recitations of the great stories of gods and goddesses were to our all-too-near ancestors.

However, our daily lives are equally resplendent with as many extra-ordinary examples. Each morning I freshly grind locally roasted coffee beans, pour them into a French Press, cover them with boiling water, watch the bloom settle, stir, plunge and pour, one cup’s worth into my favorite mug (from Square Books), and the rest into a heated thermos. I carry that cup to my dining room, on good days along with a hot breakfast, and open my laptop. This ritual culminates when that first rush of dark black magic slips from the threshold of ceramic over across the threshold of flesh. My day has begun. In that moment, life changes. My time, energy, focus, my very being has changed nature. From the morning’s focus on self, from lingering dreams and equally ritualized ablutions, I have moved into a communal space of correspondence, news, responsibility.

Of course I could begin work without coffee; nothing about either of these particular before/after states requires such a gesture to move to the other. My day is better with it though. The clear demarcation, that knowing sip signaling change even before the caffeine could possibly effect the actual biological change at root of the ritual, is no less magical than a medicine woman’s blessing, an activist’s galvanizing speech, a sought out doctor’s prescription, one city’s triumph in a sporting event viewed by millions simultaneously, or our modern mythic figures handing out golden statues for a particular story and its telling.

The term transition is by definition dynamic. It doesn’t merely imply change, it clothes itself in process. To say that I am going through transition is to declare congress with change. For some trans people, the change is in identity, from their own, intimate sense of one gender to something other. For some, it is external. They are simply laying claim to their true gender, but there is nonetheless a recognition that the outwardly visible manifestations of their gender are changing.

Life processes involving socially recognized states of being, particularly when society dictates contrasting roles in those states, are particularly given to ritual. The change from single to married is one such still actively engaged by our society. In most cultures, the change from child to adult is sharply defined and heavily ritualized (the lack of such a moment in contemporary western culture is often indicted in various social ills involving teens). Often this change is gendered. A girl becomes a woman, a boy becomes a man, accompanied, accomplished, recognized and reinforced by ritual.

The concept of transition certainly allows for, and possibly invites, just such ritualization.

If I am becoming a man, woman or neither, at what point have I become one?

At what point does my society, the various communities I exist in, recognize that such a change has occurred, and therefore confer the appropriate roles? Can ritual help broker such a shift? If so, what rituals are available for such negotiation? Who designs and officiates such an act, i.e., on whom is such power conferred? How do mind, body, spirit, the private and public, the personal and social, intertwine in such a moment?

Next: On “Going Full-Time” – Movement 1: Moving Towards

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2 Comments

  1. owanderer wrote:

    “In most cultures, the change from child to adult is sharply defined and heavily ritualized (the lack of such a moment in contemporary western culture is often indicted in various social ills involving teens).”
    would love to hear more of your thoughts on this. or perhaps some recommended reading.

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