The need for trans separatistic spiritual spaces

TW: transphobia, transmisogyny, castration

I’ve been thinking a lot about the galli lately. Partly because I’ve read this book about the Mother Goddess Cybele and partly because I’ve had a few run-ins with transphobes in Pagan spaces.

The galli, if you’ve never heard of them, were a class of priest/priestesses who worshipped Cybele. They were assigned male at birth but dressed in traditionally feminine clothing and were often referred to with feminine pronouns. It’s impossible to know how they would have identified themselves today, but it wouldn’t be surprising if they had seen themselves as trans women or non-binary. Especially considering that many castrated themselves, which might have been their only desperate option in a time when gender reassignment surgery just wasn’t a thing.

In the patriarchal Roman world, the galli were seen as failed ‘half-men’ and looked down upon. And yet: they filled an important function and had a special place in the worship of the Mother of the Gods. Society overall disliked them, but they had a home with Cybele.

Cybele
Relief from the tomb of an archigallus, a high priest/ess of Cybele. From the 2d century AD.

I can’t help but see a parallel between the galli and modern trans people. We are often seen as freaks and failures and live in a world that neither wants nor understands us. There are of course individual cis people who are great allies to trans people, but when it comes to society as a whole, I don’t think that we will ever be granted the same rights, value and dignity as cis people. I really hope I’m wrong, but in the meantime I believe that trans people need our own spaces where we can get a respite from constantly having to justify our own existence.

When it comes to spiritual communities, I don’t know of any trans separatistic ones but I do believe they are needed. A lot of religious communities want nothing to do with queer people overall and even in those who strive towards being accepting, you are never certain to not be targeted with transphobia.
As for those who are called to a monastic path, finding an accepting community is incredibly difficult. That was the experience of trans pioneer Micheal Dillon, who later in life became a Buddhist monk and scholar but had to struggle to be ordained.

Micheal Dillon/Lobzang Jivaka. Writer, Tibetan Buddhist monk and the first trans man in history to undergo phalloplasty.

A trans separatistic religious space would probably have to be interfaith due to trans people being such a small minority, but I don’t really see a problem with that as long as we can respect each other’s beliefs. It might also have to through the web instead of in a specific physical space. Either way, it would help us to focus on building up and empowering our own community, safe from a world that gives us no place to breathe.

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