Five Questions With… Raven Kaldera

raven kalderaA female-to-male transgendered activist and shaman, Raven Kaldera is a pagan priest, intersex transgender activist, parent, astrologer, musician and homesteader. Kaldera, who hails from Hubbardston, Mass., is the founder and leader of the Pagan Kingdom of Asphodel and the Asphodel Pagan Choir. Kaldera has been a neo-pagan since the age of 14, when he was converted by a “fam-trad” teen on a date. His website, Cauldron Farm, contains extensive information about Pagan practice as well as his activist writings on transgender and sexuality topics.
Having met Raven and attended workshops he’s given, I’m always surprised that every time I see him I’m newly amazed by how much his presence is both strong and gentle. His answers, too, are of the ‘pulls no punches’ variety, without obfuscation, and he manages to explain complex ideas – about spirituality, sexuality, and identity – in plain language. Okay, I’m a fan! – I admit it!
1) I think the most vital thing I’d love for you to talk about is how most IS people view T issues, and whether or not they identify as T, and why.
Most intersexuals do not consider themselves transgendered, and are very uncomfortable being associated with the trans movement in general. I think a lot of this comes out of lifetimes of being shamed for being physically different; if it was a terrible thing that had to be medically corrected and then desperately hidden from the world, what’s up with these people with “normal” bodies who are seeking out changes? Not to mention that many IS folks view transpeople as freaks, and are desperate to be seen as “normal”.
The problem is with the cross-section. I don’t know how big that cross-section is, but there are more and more of us popping out all the time – IS folks who decide that they’d rather be a gender other than what they were assigned, and get sex reassignment, transsexuals who discover that they have IS conditions in the middle of their changes, and so forth. We make it difficult for either side to separate from each other. Our bodies are spread across that gap between the two movements. It’s important for me as one of those bridgers to be sensitive to the needs of both sides, getting in the way of the IS folks assumption that we’re freaks; getting in the way of the transfolks’ attempts to colonize the IS struggles.
2) How do your spirituality and your gender intersect? Does one ‘serve’ the other, or are they more complementary?
They are completely intertwined. I believe that the experience of being Third in whatever form can be and is a spiritual path. There’s evidence for this in many ancient civilizations; that’s why I wrote Hermaphrodeities: The Transgender Spirituality Workbook. I kept discovering the third gender mysteries, and they cried out to be disseminated. I’m still discovering them, actually. I expect I’ll keep writing about them until I run out.
I’m a shaman in the northern tradition – subarctic western Eurasia – and in that tradition as in many others, being third gender is not uncommon. Scholars of the past often commented on it in amazement, actually. In fact, it’s one of the few jobs where it’s an advantage. Growing up with your astral body not quite matching and somewhat separate from your physical body, while extremely uncomfortable, is good training in walking between worlds. So I know why I am what I am; there’s a reason for it.
3) Not long ago, someone posted an essay of yours (“A Letter to Would-Be Transsexuals”) about the difficulty of transition, and I found that it caused a lot of difficulty – especially amongst partners of transpeople. Can you tell us a little more about why you wrote this essay?
My boyfriend Joshua and I wrote it together, because it’s true. I can’t speak to why it upset the partners of transpeople, expect perhaps that it might make them worry about the fact that their partner might have a hard life. But hey, being black in America is a hard life, and I don’t see people suggesting skin-color changes as a solution. If we are treated badly, the answer is not to be other than what we are. It’s to change society.
Besides, I believe that every would-be transperson ought to know the worst of it. If you want citizenship in my country, you have to understand that it is a war zone. It also helps people decide for themselves whether this is really for them. If they can read down that list of “worst possible things”, and still say, “I’d put up with every one of them if I could just buy my body back,” then they know it’s the right decision. Of course, some will use these difficulties as an excuse not to do what they know they need to do, but that’s between them and the Powers That Be. They’ll be ready for it eventually.
But it’s better to be educated than to go blithely in unprepared. That’s where we get the scary high number of post-transition suicides. It’s not, as some would claim, that they decide it was a bad decision and regret it. It’s that they realize suddenly how bad it is out there for trannies, and they can’t betray themselves by going back to a fake life, but they can’t figure out how to live in this hostile world, and it looks like they have no way out. I think that we need to help each other more, prepare and support each other, and that means real support. That means creating our own shelters, housings, and rehabs because the standard ones won’t take us in. It means creating our own clinics and training our own medical and health care staff. It means going around in groups and educating everyone in sight who could be in a position to give us a hard time. Emphasis there on the “groups” part. I’ve found that the more of you that there are, the more they take you seriously and not as a lone freak. And there are more of us all the time.

4) I’ve enjoyed any workshop/presentation you’ve done that I’ve seen, and wanted to know where or why you decided to start speaking – and why you’ve kept at it.

Like I said above, someone has to change heads. Someone has to be in the front lines. I’m disabled and have no job, and a supportive family, and I can afford to be the guy out in front. It’s my job. Every single person whose head I can change about one thing, that’s a triumph. Besides, the Goddess who owns my ass says that I have to do it.
So….every single bad thing that’s on that list? An awful lot of them can be changed. And I’m working on doing just that. I was raised to not complain unless you’re willing to pitch in and help make a difference.

5) Finally – since we’ve seen you at DO – how does your sexuality intersect with both your IS and T identities, if it does?

I’m pansexual and polyamorous – I live with my MTF wife and my FTM boyfriend. Although I like men and women both, I am most drawn to my own kind as a sexual preference. That’s not even supposed to be a sexual preference, but it is for me. (A friend once called me a “third gender homosexual”, although I’ve screwed too many boys and girls for the “homo” part to be true.) I love trans bodies. They’re beautiful, and they help me to love my own.
Probably the one peril on the above-mentioned list that upset the most transfolk – although when pressed they’d admit that it was true, they just didn’t like to see it down in black and white – is that when you’ve got a trans-modified body, most people will not want you sexually. It’s hard, but true. That’s one reason I write so much transgender erotica – I think that if more people had a positive context to understand what having sex with transfolk is like, more people would be able to imagine themselves doing it, and we’d get more nookie. And, more to the point, more thoughtful, understanding, educated nookie, which is the real problem.
I’m also polyamorous – obviously – because I am incapable of monogamy, and anyway who would I choose, my beautiful wife or my awesome boyfriend? This, too, I see as something that can be a spiritual path of relationship, if one works at it. That’s why I wrote Pagan Polyamory. I’m also someone who is into BDSM, underworld shadow sex, as a spiritual path (when you’re spirit-owned, nothing escapes being part of the spiritual path, sigh). I noticed long ago that there were a disproportionate number of transfolk in BDSM; it’s one part accepting community where you can roleplay and cross-dress; one part the ability to get lots of sexual stimulation and never take your pants off; and one part our often misdirected sexual urges, which never properly developed into a hetero- or even homosexual model due to the confusion of our misprogrammed hypothalami.
Having spiritual sex when you’re trans, especially if there’s a lot of body dysphoria and an anatomy that isn’t quite male or female involved, is rather like learning to dance on crutches. It’s not that it can’t be done. It’s that it takes a lot more work, practice, dedication, and some technology and obscure practices. Sometimes it seems like a goal that just can’t be reached, but I’ve always believed that “impossible” simply meant not yet done.