Ask Arcanalogue: the monthly Tarot advice column from Tom Blunt. Want to submit your query? You may do so by emailing your question directly to firstname.lastname@example.org.
I’m coming up on my one year anniversary of going on hormones, and I’m having surprisingly mixed feelings. On the one hand going on hormones has been incredibly validating from the beginning, and has even allowed me to go off Prozac without major setbacks for my mental health, as well as providing me a strong sense of relief as I wait for top surgery.
However, and this has become more and more pressing recently, I’m struggling to figure out if it even matters. The people I’m out to will always see me truthfully, and there’s nothing in particular about looking like a cis man that’s terribly appealing to me as a nonbinary person. The one thing that I know will provide me the most relief, surgery, is still 6-8 months out (though finally happening after 10 years of wanting), and in an increasingly transphobic world I feel damned if I do and damned if I don’t. I don’t know how to be myself in a world where people tend not to see me truthfully and where so many who do want me dead or conforming.
Things just feel overwhelming and unclear and dangerous and I’m angry and scared and unsure and don’t know what to do.
First and foremost, congrats on these milestones. Not enough people appreciate just how significant they can be, or everything it costs to attain them. For reasons you outlined above and many more, this journey can be slow, painstaking, confusing, expensive, open-ended, and can result in all kinds of unwanted attention.
My wish for allies and onlookers: please make sure you’ve mentally assigned someone all the credit they deserve for this undertaking before moving on to that pivotal next phase of support: regarding it as completely normal.
You’ve laid a tremendously weighty question on me, ZVB, which I welcome. You must have done so knowing that no easy answer would be forthcoming, but even in the absence of answers, certain questions still deserve to be asked. I like to think that as an oracle, the tarot deck rewards this kind of question-asking with… perhaps not clear answers, but appropriately weighty ones.
Before we move on to the cards, I’ve gotta say that despite coming at this from a different angle (as an AMAB non-binary/genderqueer person) I relate so strongly to some of what you’ve said. Like this:
“There’s nothing in particular about looking like a cis man that’s terribly appealing to me as a non-binary person.”
That is a real struggle: sometimes winning on our own terms still means ending up in an imperfect place. Intellectually I know this is everyone’s lot, not just mine or yours. But some of us are yearning for forms of expression that may not really exist yet — or if they do exist, they aren’t widely accepted or understood. We can’t exist the way we truly are without prompting questions.
I don’t want to stand out everywhere I go, but when I start blending in — when people stop asking questions — it feels dishonest. It feels like a betrayal of my history. It comes with privilege I don’t want. I end up being lumped in with people I feel no kinship with. The people who find that version of me “attractive” don’t seem trustworthy.
All of that is swirling around in my head, meanwhile all a stranger probably sees is a nice man walking through the grocery store. That’s why I go out of my way to make sure they see something else, even if they don’t like it.
I spend a lot of time explaining myself to others in my head. I concoct airtight defenses in response to questions no one has asked. But I imagine them asking anyway, can hear them asking, either to my face or behind my back. And there’s nothing I can wear, nothing I can do to my body, no series of magic words that will create an accurate, immediate understanding.
Perhaps it will always be this way. But then… it isn’t how I felt five years ago. So why should I assume I’ll still be wrestling with the same questions five years from now?
I once heard Margaret Atwood describe technology as a three-edged sword, and it stuck with me. Paraphrased here:
“The first edge cuts what you want it to; the second edge cuts you. As for the third edge, we don’t know what it does, because we don’t know where it is.”
I think this applies so handily to gender, which overlaps more and more with technology each passing year — both in terms of how we accomplish gender transition, and how we’re viewed as we participate in the world. Navigating the cuts requires us to seek all kinds of information, some of which might not be knowable… but then, tantalizingly, it might be. And since we often only find what it occurs to us to seek out, we never really know how much of ourselves up being left on the table.
This requires us to accept the possibility of “damned if you do,” because “damned if you don’t” is all but guaranteed.
The cards I drew in response to this question seem like they were beamed from a parallel universe of much easier questions. That’s what makes me suspect they are truly applicable to your future, ZVB.
The central card, the Ten of Cups, is an unmistakable sign of the satisfaction you’ll achieve in your pursuits, and the support you can count on from others. However, this is not meant to signify a destination in itself, but a means to yet another end. It means achieving an evolved form that now has its own work to do, its own journey to embark upon. And that comes at the expense of easy answers and a “settled” existence.
Honestly, most people do NOT want to hear this, whether about their wedding day, their surgery date or any other profound accomplishment. The farther we travel down any path, the more desperate we get for some kind of resolution. (The Ten of Swords, for example, shows how even a dismal resolution will suffice, as long as it means we finally reach a stopping point.)
However, seen flanked here by two more concrete symbols of attainment — the Ten and Six of Coins — your card truly hints at the kind of fulfillment that can’t be taken away. You’re constructing a platform that all future ZVBs will be able to stand on, and build out from, and help others up to.
But like any responsible architect, your plans have to account for variables, blind-spots, and all manner of “unknown unknowns” before you can lay a single brick, all the while knowing there are no perfect buildings.
That’s a huge burden to carry, and it’s no wonder you feel overwhelmed or like you’re heading into danger.
The poet and artist William Blake addressed a similar burden in his epic poem The Book of Urizen. A printer by trade, he knew that every single book created by humans would contain errors. As such, he had a deep terror of folks who believed in taking every word of the Bible literally. But in order to share his concerns with a wider audience, he had to overcome his own misgivings about the medium and print books of his own — knowing they, too, would also be imperfect.
There’s a kind of humor in what he managed to create, mixed with profound existential sadness. But what matters to me (and to you, I hope) is that he still managed to create the goddamned book anyway. He released it in several different printings, tweaking and revised a bit each time. And while it’s definitely stuffed with biblical allusions, its status as a book of prophecy in its own right is not diminished by existing in response to a greater, more universally-accepted (albeit deeply flawed) work.
Yes, the Bible remains dominant in our culture, even centuries later, but The Book of Urizen has been read and discussed continuously ever since it was written in 1794.
The body and person you’re creating is not like others, ZVB. It’s not reductive. Its validity is not owed to references drawn from more widely-recognized works. It is a living work of prophecy, the emergence of which represents its own fulfillment of said prophecy.
This is the part of the work that’s in YOUR hands, regardless of how anyone else in the world sees you. The Ten of Coins comments on the establishment you gain as a result of taking these steps, literally transforming reality to suit your needs. The Six comments on how the balance you’ve worked so hard to attain will free up your hands to give back to others in ways that you simply can’t afford to focus on right now.
“I don’t know how to be myself in a world where people tend not to see me truthfully.”
I don’t know if you realize the power in that statement, and how badly others might need to hear it said. They might think they’re supposed to have that part figured out already, in order to take certain life- and gender-affirming next steps. And philosophically, it does inspire me to wonder: how could this kind of awareness ever hope to find itself adequately expressed in a mere human body?
The cards I’ve drawn here suggest a departure into new unknowns awaits you, and that your steps will be balanced, deliberate, and the product of much patience and hard work. It’s slow growth, the kind that seems impossible at any given stage of the journey, until suddenly there it is.
Water, like our feelings, can be troublingly insubstantial, but it has undeniable weight. That weight will gradually settle where it belongs: firmly beneath you. The surface tension will bear you up.
I felt awkward including a note to allies at the beginning of this response, because I wanted it to be all about you, ZVB. However, I think letters like yours serve as an important reminder to cisgender folks, which is: by transitioning, we are not necessarily trying to rejoin your world in a new form. We don’t necessarily want to look like you. We don’t necessarily want to date you. We aren’t obligated to perform certain expressions of masculinity or femininity, and the absence of these does not make our transition “incomplete.”
A lot of the time, the world doesn’t seem to want us. The wicked are quick to remind us of that, without ever stopping to wonder if perhaps the feeling might be mutual. They don’t see the dominant reality as one that you can just… opt out of. But we do! “No thanks!” we say, waving cutely out the car window on our way somewhere else.
Where, exactly? Unclear at this early stage, and perhaps unimportant. Because, in all likelihood, we built it within ourselves and brought it with us, wherever we ended up. Right?
Fondest wishes for 2020,
Without going into unnecessary detail, the person who I am inside doesn’t match who I am outside. As in, at all. And as I get older it’s starting to sink in that it never will.
I feel like I’m living without hope. How do people survive like this?
It seems telling that the card I drew for you was also from the suit of Coins, the world of action. A lot can “happen” in our minds, but the most significant markers of our life experience are measured not just in will, but in deed.
There’s a level of elemental mastery everyone dreams of, in which reality itself can be bent to fulfill our desires. This is the stuff of fantasy: wishes, magical superpowers and the like. The truth is far more humbling: we work with what we have. And too much of the time, what we have isn’t worth jack shit.
But humility and “being realistic” can also keep us from even trying. It provides the perfect excuse, masquerading as practical wisdom: You can’t win, so why waste any effort?
One of the things I like about occult and magickal traditions is they give people something to do about their dreams and wishes, besides just letting them fester. These practices require honesty with oneself, articulation of one’s intent, research, experimentation, and ultimately, action. No outcome is certain, but a practice that continually inspires an individual to take action can’t help but have a transformative effect on their life over time. They may not become what they fantasize about, but those fantasies find a way to live and walk around in the world, instead of just noxiously fermenting and smelling up the place.
I feel that way about making art, or reading tarot cards. It gives me something to do, something to think about, redirecting my focus away from the most painful, inescapable facts of my existence, toward something… comfortingly unknowable. Something that feels a little like hope.
I’m not recommending you take up occult studies or start shuffling cards. But there are productive ways to honor and explore your fantasy, instead of just getting mired in the pain of watching it go unfulfilled; there are ways of orienting yourself toward transformation in the long term. In either case, the key is in your hands, and that key is action.
The Eight of Coins is one of the most encouraging cards in the deck. It acknowledges the raw deal you’ve gotten (the disappointment on the farmer’s face in the Seven of Coins says it all) but steers you toward a course of action that gradually leads to success, even if it’s a different target than you originally set out to hit.
Certain facts can’t be argued with, they can only be accepted. It shouldn’t have to be this way… but it is. You shouldn’t have to find your own way out of it… but you do.
But acceptance isn’t a dead-end: it’s the first step toward finding realistic options. Your insides and your outsides might never match, Anonymous, but they need to learn to cooperate. They are not, after all, competing realities. They are aspects of the same reality, the same being, your “true nature.”
Working together on something, they just might stumble into a mutually-beneficial relationship. Stranger things have happened!
You don’t have to figure out how to do this alone. If you’re not seeing a therapist, know that a good one will accept everything you have to say about “the person you are inside,” and will be happy to help facilitate this process.
In the meantime, look for hope in what you can do. Don’t accept nothing as an answer, not just yet. The progress will be slow, and the result will be defined entirely by what you put into it. I, for one, would be very interested to see what you end up making, what you end up doing, even when it seems hopeless.
I know people who are decades further along a similar path, Anonymous, and they live in a perpetual state of wonder.
Thanks for reaching out. Keep reaching!