On Shapeshifting

I was born with misplaced cells in my brain, trying to make it do something it was never meant to do.

This isn’t a metaphor. This was an epidermoid brain tumor.

Pagans talk a lot about being embodied, accepting and learning to love the body we have. Strange fences spring up when we talk about changing our bodies. “Taking care of” our bodies is a good thing. Exercising to change your appearance is acceptable, even encouraged. Tattoos and hair dye are common.

But surgery? Surgery is Too Much. There’s a point where you’re somehow rejecting the body you were “given”. If you’re talking to a certain contingent of the Goddess movement, or some conservative heathens, or other pockets here and there, changing your gender is somewhere on a spectrum between “lying” (to yourself, to other people) and self-mutilation. You’re supposed to love the body you were given.

My body is monstrous: it is incorrect, it is socially unacceptable, it has tried to kill me in multiple ways, with dysphoria and brain tumor and cancer cells. How do you love that which both keeps you alive and tries to kill you?

Embodiment is a crock, but it’s a crock we’re stuck with. I can’t just flip a switch and get along with my body, so I (and my doctors) do what can be done to make my body more comfortable and less murderous. Breasts are removed, taking cancer cells with them. A tumor is gently excised, the scar behind my ear largely forgotten except for biannual checks. Hormones are injected and dysphoria is reduced. A hundred smaller choices add up.

This is shapeshifting. My body and I are still monstrous, but at least we are monstrous on our own terms. I am doing my best to get my “mental self” aligned with my physical self. In the past, that included astral shapeshifting to reduce dysphoria, practicing having a “feminine” shape so that I would feel less uncomfortable in the physical body. These days the shapeshifting is much more bringing the body into alignment with my mental self. It’s more permanent that way.

It’s hard, but in the long run I’m learning an important lesson about embodiment: accept that the body you’re in is yours in the way you’d accept that an apartment you’re living in is yours. Change it so that it works for your life. Don’t have a dining room if you don’t have fancy dinner parties. Add a workshop for your woodworking projects. Embracing embodiment doesn’t mean settling. It means making what you have healthy for you.

7 thoughts on “On Shapeshifting

    1. Thank you for reading it! It’s an interesting metaphor because when I paint, I take a lot of care to choose the correct paintbrush for the job at hand. Part of the reason I wrote this is because the popular idea of body acceptance is about accepting your body as it is, without room for wanting to change it.

  1. I never had a teacher; when I tried to find one online (because I was in suburbia and the nearest good bookstore was a long walk away that I was not up to), I got told that my mental WTF and my CF meant I was unfit for magic. So I decided to try and go that alone, and if I got pwnt it was simply not meant to be.

    Sometimes it’s very hard to love the body you are in. Mine kept laying me out flat on my back when I was a kid; a few times, I got closer to visiting T. permanently than I want to think of. But here I am, still, 35 years later, and even though sometimes I’m annoyed with what my body does–it’s mine. The apartment metaphor is a super good one. 😀

    We make the best of what we have. It;s all we can do. <3

    1. I’m glad you’re still here. 😉 I’ve run into groups before that didn’t want to “deal with” the mentally ill or make any kind of changes to accommodate disabled folks and it makes me very tired how pervasive it is.

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