The Spirit of Transgender


Written in the late 1990s, "The Spirit of Transgender" is a classic text from Holly Boswell inviting us to journey through space and time, synthesizing a unique place for an expansive and important transgender spirituality.

Boswell's synthesis defies categorization, weaving Indigenous, Pagan, and Taoist insights with modern authors and Boswell's own insights. The result is a call to spiritual life.

This "body-heart-mind-spirit" pattern is an age-old, universal construct. Most of us spend a lot of our lives in the "body-mind" mode. Some of us manage to also be in "heart space". But how many actually visit the dimension of "spirit" -- even a few times, much less regularly? I have observed, however, that many transgendered people not only visit this dimension -- out of necessity -- but are often coming from this place. 

Boswell looks at anthropological evidence as well as sacred texts and modern interpretations to draw conclusions,

We are discovering that traditions of Transgender Spirituality span all time and place, thanks to the efforts of anthropologists and others who are resurrecting various aspects of history which were nearly erased by the patriarchy. Transgendered people throughout history assumed special roles suited to their unique abilities, many of which were spiritually oriented. They have been seers and visionaries, healers, celebrants of ceremony and ritual, officiants who blessed weddings and births and laid to rest the dead, keepers and teachers of spiritual principles, mediators between wife and husband, tribe and nation, the human world and the spirit world. 

Boswell's conclusions are also grounded in her lived experience of gender transition,

The Transgender Spirit transcends the simplistic cultural dictum that anatomical sex is synonymous with gender expression. Gender should never be polarized. It is a rainbow that is far too splendorous in its diversity. The expression of one's whole gender must be intuitive, fluid, and in a perpetual state of becoming. There can be no rules to govern how Spirit must manifest.

The processes of gender transgression are simply a way for Spirit to transcend the passing whims and dictates of human cultures in order to more freely manifest its glorious diversity in Nature-and in our very flesh This process forms the root of Transgender Spirituality.

Boswell teases out some core values from her cross-cultural synthesis:

Some of the core concepts of traditions like Wicca (Old Europe), Taoism (China), many Native American traditions, and shamanism all over the globe are:

  • Every "thing" is a living manifestation of Spirit

  • Harmony and balance between all beings must be respected

  • The diversity of all life forms is to be honored and celebrated

  • All beings are divine and enjoy direct access with Spirit.

The boldness of Boswell's text is all the more impressive when placed in the context of the 1990s where right-wing religion was on the rise, the internet was just beginning to explode, and transgender organizing on a national scale was extremely limited. Yet, her closing benediction resonates still,

Let us live that truth, and help everyone see the beauty and strength that lies beyond the constraints of gender. And let us give thanks for the unique opportunity to do so.

Read the full text on Holly Boswell's website: The Spirit of Transgender by Holly Boswell