About 10 days ago I returned from what I’ve been telling most people in my day-to-day life was a “retreat”… ehhhh, well, it wasn’t exactly a retreat… or a vacation for that matter. In a lot of ways it was “work” but it was also very potent healing medicine and a marking of an extremely pivotal time in my life. Doing this work and marking this time as I lead up to what I refer to as my ceremony (phalloplasty) was/is deeply important to me. I also felt very strongly that I mark this time in the presence of queer community of which I view as my taken family – in a life where my given family is mostly estranged.
In our society, ceremony and rites of passage are severely lacking even for the “average” person. There are few ceremonies that honor major life transitions in a personalized and sacred way. This is ESPECIALLY true for queer folks. Sorry if the word QUEER offends you but I am using it as an umbrella term that encompasses all individuals that are not both cis-gendered and heterosexual for ease of language.
Yes, we have birthdays, graduations, weddings, and funerals. But there are so many other really important milestones that we come to in our lives and often times they would be better served with a marking of a rite of passage and a witnessing by our community as we step into these new skins/forms, ways of being, releasing of losses, acceptance of limitations, celebration of unions, marking healing from an illness or emotional wounds etc etc.
I began exploring rites of passage about 3 years ago and the process of incorporating it into my life practices and daily existence has transformed so much of how I live in, and show up in the world. I have witnessed myself step up and into life in ways that in the past I only shrunk back from and hid. I am witness to my own manifestation of dreams, some of which I didn’t realize I even had. It’s this opening UP and breaking OUT of unhealthy ways of being and habits that didn’t serve and then the healing and learning process that has ensued which insists that I at least attempt to explain all this and share it with my fellow brothers…. Unfortunately, the sharing is the tricky part. It feels almost impossible to describe my experience with rites of passage. And maybe that’s exactly why this is all so important.
Author, Carlos Castaneda in one of his books speaks about the “tonal” vs the “nagual” ……These terms denote two “parallel” worlds that comprise the universe — the world of material objects (tonal) and the non-material world (nagual). He says: “The tonal begins at birth and ends at death, but the nagual never ends. The nagual has no limit. The nagual is where Power hovers. For the nagual, there is no land, or air, or water. Therefore, the nagual glides, or flies, or does anything it can do in the time of the nagual, which is not related at all to the time of the tonal. These two things do not intersect.”
For me this comes closest to describing how I experience “Vision Fasting”, the ceremony that now 3 times has touched me very deeply, shaking me to my core and continues to add to the fuel of my Life Fire… I hesitate to share about this experience or to call it anything other than a retreat in my daily interactions with people because of this distinct disconnect between the “tonal” and the “nagual” or “words” and “spirit”. I do not have words to share with you that which will adequately honor and encompass my experience or teachings that I’ve received from nature/universe. I am not religious and I do not follow any group or organization of beliefs. This ceremony draws people from all different walks of life and all different religious or non-religious backgrounds. Within a few very basic set ways of creating the container of this ceremony (mostly relating to that of safety), there is room for it looking as unique as the people that step into it.
Last year, through my employer at the time, I found The School of Lost Borders (SOLB) http://schooloflostborders.org/ Some of my co-workers had done Fasts through them and they came highly recommended and when I arrived on their website I immediately stumbled upon the Queer Quest (which just completed it’s 3rd year earlier this month). Although the school has been leading rites of passages for over 35 years, the Queer Quest was born out of a need for LGBTQI folks to have an incredibly unique and safe place to come together and address and heal wounds that so often are common threads among us.
In my experience the two biggest components of this ceremony (although there are many others) is NATURE and COMMUNITY. Of course the experience of fasting out on the land in solitude for 4 days is indeed a big component. However, in my experience, these were the two most powerful pieces. I mention this because my very first fast was done on my own. I had learned about the ceremony through a friend, and although the container was facilitated and supported by that friend, there wasn’t really the experience of community. At the time, I got EXACTLY what I needed out of the experience and it fueled drastic change in my life. I was hungry for it, and this ceremony created the container for me to put it all in motion. It wasn’t until I attended the Queer Quest through SOLB last June that I realized what I had been missing in the ceremony. Being WITNESSED by peers during the time that you are together for the 12 days (minus the 4 days of fasting in solitude) is huge, but also after it’s all said and done and you all return to your regular day-to-day lives. It’s that sense of all still being interconnected and having people you can reach out to. It’s a reminder of that potent time, and that it wasn’t just a figment of your imagination – other people were there and witnessed you. The community component is HUGE. When I first heard about this ceremony I couldn’t really understand why anyone would pay to do it through a school when you could just find a piece of land and go out into the wilderness on your own, FOR FREE! However, having experienced it with and without community, I don’t recommend doing this unsupported and without community – at least not for first-time fasters.
If you feel like you are missing community in your life, if you feel like you are entering a new chapter or stepping into/through a huge life transition, if you have healing that needs to happen, if you need to mark an ending or a beginning (or both), if you feel like you are a creature from the earth and need reconnection to the mother, if you define your higher power as nature, if you are looking for clarity in your life, if you are craving coming together in circle with people that will both mirror your own experience of joy and sorrow while simultaneously inspiring you to look at life in a completely new way, if you want to change your world and the world around you, this ceremony might be calling you.
While I know primarily the folks that read this blog are trans* men (or those with a trans* history), it’s worth mentioning that there are many different fasts offered through this school as well as other schools out there. I like SOLB because of the openness by which they approach the ceremony (note: School of LOST Borders) and how they really meet people where they’re at. That being said the Queer Fast although a space for people identified as such, doesn’t need to revolve around your sexuality or identity. It’s just the common thread that sets the space of safety and understanding. People come with all different kinds of intentions, sometimes of a queer nature but not always. If “queer” spaces aren’t your thing there are open fasts, men’s fasts, women’s fasts, youth fasts etc. Find one that feels right to you, if you are called. That being said, many many times during the 12 days I honestly completely forgot I was surrounded by queer people. By this, I mean I felt like I was just in my community. Like I had sunk into a feeling of what community truly feels like, and it was the compassion, empathy, understanding, and tenderness that made it feel that way, not the queerness. The queer factor was just a bonus.
If you have any questions about rites of passage, this ceremony of fasting or anything else for that matter, I’m happy to offer advice to the best of my ability. I don’t claim to be all-knowing in this realm, only passionate about this experience and practice. I believe that whatever means by which people choose to effect positive change and healing in their lives and the world around them is sacred and beautiful. And certainly for more information check out School of Lost Borders’ website. I’ve hyperlinked them above and will do so again here: