Roots: Liminality

Of life on the edge.

I’ve recently learned that my dad isn’t my biological father.

Before he married my mom, he’d had a vasectomy. They tried to reverse it but the attempts were unsuccessful. Still, they wanted a child and my mom was determined to carry one into the world. Thus, they opted for a donor.

I’m 35 years old and just now hearing the news.

There are so many complex thoughts and emotions brewing in me. This revelation feels so incredibly important, but meaningless at the same time.

On one hand, this changes nothing.

My parents are still my parents. I love them with all my heart. I don’t blame them for not telling me. I understand completely why they didn’t. They raised me as their own to the best of their ability and provided me a great foundation for opportunity in life. My dad broke his body working in factories for more than half his life to keep our family afloat. Carrying that sort of burden is what makes a man a father, not DNA.

On the other hand, this changes everything.

It feels like there’s this whole strange, new half of me that I never knew existed, that was buried away in my DNA. I have a completely different biological makeup than I’d previously understood. The man whose DNA I share is a doctor. An incredibly healthy one no less. Risks that I’ve feared my entire life from my dad’s side of the family are no longer things I need to worry as much about. Alzheimer’s, arthritis, diabetes, heart disease, and more. My dad endured a heart attack at around my current age. I’d feared for so long that the same might be likely for me.

It isn’t…

I now also know that I have siblings living all across the United States. Many of whom have kids of their own. I’m an auntie to at least five!

Two half-sisters have already contacted me through 23andMe, one of whom found all this out when she was 15 and set about doing all the legwork for the rest of us. She’s spent years seeking out the donor and our siblings. I’m so grateful to her for being so informative for me in this time of need. She told me his name, all about his history of endocrinology practice all over the country, his current location, health status, family life, everything I could hope for and more!

If I had learned all this but had nothing to go on, I’d feel so much more lost. Knowing his name and being able to learn so much about him and our genetic family so quickly has been such a blessing.

All at once, those new thoughts and emotions exist within me. A new, very deep well from which to draw life experience and inspiration from is here and I’m eager to dive into it, but at the same time terrified to. Right now, I really can’t know how this knowledge might change me.

I’m going through something a lot like a grieving process. My old self has died and there’s a whole new me here now. Who am I? I’m not entirely sure I know yet. But then again, I’m not entirely sure any of us ever knows the answer to that question.

I’m feeling very… between right now.

And that brings me to the broader topic I’d like to discuss today.

Liminality is a concept I have recently been grappling with.

The term has its roots in anthropology. It refers to the period following a rite of passage, during which one may have completed their rite and should, by all rights, be changed through the experience. But they exist in a state of betweenness, in which they struggle with the idea that they themselves have actually changed and society shares the same struggle in accepting them within their newly acquired role.

A good modern example of this might be the time following completion of a degree but prior to settling into one’s career in that field. Your rite of passage is complete, but yet the sense that any passage has actually been complete is liminal.

It’s like living on an edge. Split between your past and future selves.

Liminality is an aspect to life all humans endure. It’s a part of the human condition, there’s no doubt, but it’s an aspect to humanity that I find especially prevalent with regard to trans people.

Transitioning is interesting to think about in terms of liminality and rites of passage. The intent of our rite of passage is to change our sex from male-to-female or female-to-male, but given current technology, sex is immutable. Some sex traits are mutable, no doubt, but sex itself remains unchanged. Thus, our rite of passage can be thought of as incomplete. Moving from one state to the other is impossible for us. All that completing our rite of passage can possibly allow for us existence within a constant state of liminality.

We transfolk live on the edge, existing in a liminal reality every moment of our lives following transition. The idea that a transman is male or a transwoman is female is something that exists only in verisimilitude. When I’m seen by others and interpreted to be female, their conceptualization of me has the appearance of being true, but appearances can be deceiving.

While it’s possible for most anyone to slip in and out of liminal states, once we transition and slip into ours, the only way out is detransition. I’d happily choose intrinsic liminality over existence as a man any day.

This intrinsic, ever-present liminality is a huge part of what defines us as transwomen/transmen and makes us distinct from both men and women. It’s a burden we must carry as trans people. Those who are not can come to carry similar burdens following various rites of passage, but living on the edge is not intrinsic to their existence as it is to ours. For them, the edge is escapable. They can return from it to center themselves in reality with time and effort. For us, escape would only mean falling into the void. The edge is all we have.

So now, as I stand on the edge of this new well of experience and peer down into its darkness, I’m both terrified and excited to take the plunge and see where this new passage takes me.

I’ll see you all on the other side.

4 thoughts on “Roots: Liminality

    1. Like I said in the article, I’m feeling very…. between right now. 2019 so far is the year of betweenness. Bit worried I may wind up between jobs or between relationships. The things I’m between right now, I think I rather like being between, but there are certainly a lot of things I’d rather never be betwixt.

      Liked by 1 person

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