Trans Considerations

The time has come to make women only sessions open to all trans women. This includes women who have penises. This is not because I have heard from any women who have penises directly asking to participate, but because a venue I am negotiating with insisted on it. I wasn’t expecting this (it was not an obvious feature of the venue) and found myself blundering all over the place verbally as I hadn’t looked into the trans issue fully so didn’t know so much about it (this has been an education).

While I am open to welcoming all women regardless of their trans gender, this does present complications. Firstly rape survivors who don’t want to see a penis in a women only environment. It’s fairly straight forward. They are not transphobic, but they have been traumatised by penises. I have been contacted by these women on various occasions, and they participate, which is why I had created the no-penis policy. It is not fair to say that in the name of being politically correct these women ought to get over their issues. Yes I know trans women have also been raped, but there are differences. It is a tragedy for anyone to be raped, but when a woman is raped there is the possibility of conception which adds another level of tragedy. That’s why rape is used as a weapon of war. No, not all women are fertile, but you usually can’t tell from the outside. Trans women are not so far able to ovulate or conceive and they have not grown up in bodies that are informed by these functions. I think for the most part that is a significant difference.

Secondly security. As an organiser of events which involve female nudity and myself a nude performer, I routinely receive unwanted emails and messages from men who think I may be up for it along with the other female models. Some of them use a female profile online. This is a well known phenomenon to women who are part of naturist groups online. I may not be able to prove that they are men, but their Facebook profile will typically have one friend and very little info. They masquerade as women to gain access or trust. They try chatting with women but how quickly it transpires they just want to talk about their/your sexual fantasies. At which point I check out their profile and conclude they are a man. I am bound to be concerned that such types may try to gain access to a women’s session under the guise of a trans woman (however unlikely that may be).

Thirdly and perhaps most controversially, I think a space is needed for women who were born in women’s bodies to reconnect with each other and their female power. Not because trans women aren’t women, but because as women we have been so long oppressed that we need time to rediscover ourselves amongst each other, before we may be ready to embrace all women so easily. This is personal and others will disagree, but I just feel that there is a long way to go before women have equality, our bodies are sometimes a battle ground and our menstrual cycle is one of the last great taboos. I do not want to underplay the particularities of the female body – our connection to the Earth, to the Moon and the tides – because that has been going on for centuries. Basically I/we need to build confidence as female society before we are ready for all trans women. Or rather, let’s not wait; but let’s have a space for all women, as well as a space for women born in women’s bodies. I think that’s fair. There are I believe groups that are just for trans people (like Gendered Intelligence) and while inclusion into one’s given gender is important, many trans people are different. I mean they have a really unique perspective on life which is incredibly valuable. However much they may want to assimilate into a gender they were not born with, they have that experience of the other. While there may be obstacles to being accepted as a woman for example, there should also be a place for celebrating what makes trans women (or people) special. Their very presence is changing the way that we view gender.

This discussion has been exacerbated by some very hostile radical feminists being extremely offensive to trans women a few years ago. They said they shouldn’t exist. There was retaliation in the form of death threats. Which has naturally made it almost impossible to have a sensible discussion today about the inclusion of trans women in women only groups. But we must forge ahead against the backdrop of animosity. I understand that trans women are very sensitive about this, and for me those radical feminists sometimes make me ashamed to call myself a feminist. They give us a bad name, and some of them are influential so it’s not just talk. There are always extremists who are not representative of the majority but end up being the ones everyone knows about. I think it is important to redress the negativity created by them, but keeping in mind the sensitivities of most women. Most women are not even aware that now legally (since 2005 in fact in the UK), a trans woman can be a woman even if she keeps her penis. So it’s good to make that more known first, otherwise women may be surprised in a women only life modelling session to see a penis. Surprise alone would be ok, but if it’s a trigger for trauma then not so.

I am grateful to the woman who forced me to confront this situation and who hopefully will be helping me to put on the first openly open to trans women Spirited Bodies women only session. What a mouthful! That is to say, all my women’s events used to be so open, until recently when I realised that women with penises may clash with rape survivors, and at Southbank Centre it is not me who controls entry into the session. Anyone may buy a ticket for the festival. So to avoid a clash I stated ‘no penises’. I felt that that was an acceptable position considering, after all it does include transitioned trans women. Now I am told that this is transphobic, so I am trying to accommodate. All we can do is try. If the more open women’s session is a success that will bode well for further inclusion. If cis (non trans) women exclude themselves due to fears over security and triggers (people who are nervous do not need much reason to block their path, the slightest suggestion of a security hazard is enough) I will know that a separate group is needed for them. In the future as more people are brought up in a trans inclusive world, this will get easier (I hope). But for now many of us were formed along with our traumas in a very binary society. We can’t necessarily undo it all at once, we need to take steps. And while trans women experience all sorts of discrimination, the gender they are trying to assimilate into has also been discriminated against a great deal. So both groups need support and possibly of their own particular kind. Bringing them together though, as well may foster a whole new understanding of being a woman so that’s very cool.

No one has brought up any trans male issues so far. If any of my language in the above post is deemed transphobic I am sorry. It is a tricky matter. I may be able to change it, but I also may not be able to please everyone!

 

LaDawn writes; The Taught Becomes the Teacher

It is one of the oldest traditions of mankind.   The ignorant are taught by the more experienced, the more learned.

A mother teaches her son to dance and a daughter how to be a wife and mother. A father teaches his daughter to change a flat tyre and a son to be a husband and father.  I learned to model by listening and learning from other models then I learned to teach modelling by watching others teach.

I observed the individuals’ natural instincts gently guiding and supporting men and women wishing to experience the adrenaline rush and confidence boost that life modelling can provide. I asked them to sit, stand, lay down.  I asked them to hide in a bomb shelter and launch a protest.  I watched their fear and insecurity melt away.

There is that first moment when you bare your naked body, exposing much more than your physical self.  You are convinced that everyone is staring at all your perceived imperfections.  But in life modelling, those “imperfections” are the interesting bits that attract and confound an artist.

 If, as at Spirited Bodies events, there are many more than just one model, the truth is fewer people than you imagine are in fact staring at you at all.  The other models are more wrapped up in themselves than you and the artists may be looking behind you, next to you, through you, or just at your elbow wondering if they are up to the challenge of foreshortening what has been presented to them.

Rarely does an artist look at you in your entirety, preferring to capture first your shape and then your composite parts, each of which are beautiful in their own exquisite uniqueness.  They are aiming at shapes, angles, corners, shading and the relationship between all of those shapes.  All those glorious shapes and their relationship to each other.

No two individuals ever look the same nude.  Clothes hide so much of our individuality.

No two artists ever see a model in the same way.  Their vision, paper, materials, colours, and position will create a different work of art every time they craft.

And then we learn.  We learn how differently others see us from how we see ourselves.  We learn there is joy in that learning. And in that learning there is magic.  Spirited Body magic.

This post is illustrated with pictures made by artists who attended the workshop at Holborn on Wednesday October 2nd, which the text also refers to.

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A Natural Part of the Journey

Last week I visited 2 naturist clubs in the heart of the rich south of this land. One was a site visit for Sex Maniacs’ Ball, and then a few of us went to a sexual energy channelling workshop at another club down the road. It was all in the spirit of the Ball, because amongst other naturist activities will be an energy healing workshop and we were being briefed in how to help facilitate. No private parts are touched, but the power of the sexually focussed reiki can be such that participants are brought to orgasm. Personally I experienced a very pleasant euphoria, but I guess it all depends on who you are with. Both clubs had a very open, sexy vibe, most fitting for the mission.

Last month I was invited to model at Naturist Foundation, also in Kent, which is a more regular naturist resort. They have a life drawing group amongst other art clubs, and the organiser knew me from a class in Sidcup where I model. He picked me up at Orpington station and drove us to the club. As soon as he parked inside the grounds, he stripped off to acclimatise; I didn’t feel quite ready. It was a fairly mild day, and once we had been to the cafe and had a coffee and sandwich, said hello to quite a few people, I felt adjusted. I shed all other items, and just draped a shawl over my shoulders whilst being given a tour. It is quite a large space, with woodland and different camping and games areas. Children and teenagers were present though not nude like the older folks. I posed outdoors for the second time this year, and enjoyed it more than the first for the liberation of artists also naked. It was a special occasion as normally they take turns to draw each other. Nudity no problem, they some of them struggle with finding interesting poses. I said next time I’d give them a lesson, maybe get some group poses going on. After the session I swum in the warm pool. I don’t remember swimming nude in such relaxed setting before.

Posing in a garden in South East London, a warm evening and a red shawl. Pastel by Arnie
Posing in a garden in South East London, a warm evening and a red shawl. Pastel by Arnie
Scenery at Naturist Foundation where I posed outdoors
Scenery at Naturist Foundation where I posed outdoors
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the red shawl (from my Grand Father) is popular this Summer
the red shawl (from my Grand Father) is popular this Summer

In Scotland we exalted in student digs, right in the middle of Edinburgh. Noisy, cheap, no frills but what we needed. A bust tyre on our journey down slowed our progress to Glasgow the next day, but we got to All The Young Nudes just in time. We had trouble finding the venue once we had parked and found the street. We asked an Italian for directions and she told us “It is down a very nasty alley”. Every corner led to a nasty alley and on we shrugged till we reached the last corner. A sign on the main road told us to go round the back. Right at the back and down into the depths of some cave of a club, nothing much to look at, but that seemed to be the way with Glasgow. Inside they were waiting, keeping the artists out till the last minute, and what a queue there must have been, of artists who kept arriving through the first half and packing out this cellar of nooks and pillars, levels and pathways, no obvious centre to work with. We divided up our group of models or else not all artists would get a look. They drunk and music played, we fitted poses into spaces right in front of artists’ noses, making much of all our Scottish collaborators being professionals too. I could see why; if I was new to life modelling I would probably feel daunted by this intense and in yer face set up.

Thelma I believe
Thelma I believe
a Scottish model
a Scottish model
linking up
linking up

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Next night in Edinburgh was at the opposite end of the scale, in a well-to-do part of town (or is it all like that?) in a well kept church hall, attached to the church. A handful of artists drew intently, a more measured affair but the artwork was really special. We had a couple of new models and one pro joining us; I stayed out to direct this time.

Scottish Witches
Scottish Witches
Friends
Friends

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This was a mini-Pieta pose for 15 minutes!

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Loads more beautiful art work from this session here: https://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.607794702576542.1073741837.320375434651805&type=1&l=f30476d02a

There was a hiccup with our final gig north of the border – the venue were unprepared for us, the room double booked, and though we still managed some nice poses together in a different space, we realised this place was not on the case (though some very lovely people did come to our rescue). We are still seeking a resolution here in terms of our next step on the Scottish mission. Overall we made some brilliant connections and can’t wait to get back, in the best possible fashion.

We all loved being on the road too, even Little Chef, takes me right back! That chance to share a bit more of our lives together, get to know each other in closer quarters and have an adventure.

With this baby, Baby Spirited Bodies, well technically a toddler now, like many Mums I make friends on the path. Friends who might not take the plunge if they didn’t know me, if we didn’t become close. Makes it accessible, less scary to be able to talk about it and feel safe with someone who knows. I’ve never been less lonely and it’s a good feeling, but I am getting familiar with some friends passing through for that part of the journey. It’s just so intense for a while, and sometimes the flame goes right out, suddenly because invariably emotions come up, and maybe a clash. I cannot hold their hand all the time, and bam they feel rejected! Onwards. Hopefully I’ll learn to smooth that phase more delicately. I am not a counsillor but I could be a better friend. Fortunately other friends that I have usually known longer, get involved and the effect is just uplifting, because of where they are at in their own journey, and how established our bond already is. Modelling with Spirited Bodies brings us closer, and I am beginning to see that some who needs must part from my company a while, do return when ready, for a new lease of friendship, with a stronger bond.

So lately I’ve been to several naturist places, and while I think these people have the right idea, not only do I not live near enough to one to consider joining, but also, it’s like they are in a timewarp somewhere between the ’70s and ’80s. Of course it’s not about appearances and that’s the point, but at least it’s about having people your own age you share cultural identity with. My own cultural identity may be quite comfortable in the ’80s and ’90s, but most naturists are older. I think it is becoming cool again though. Groups I am part of on Facebook testify to this trend, and the desire to shift the naturist way more into the modern day is a popular conversation topic; how to attract more women, and how to attract more young folks. The growing popularity of nudist events outside of naturist clubs also indicates a change; it may be young people are more inclined to undress socially within a more familiar setting, be it urban such as at this evening’s private view of an exhibition at Guerilla Galleries in Holloway (Daniel Libeskind Space) to be part of an installation (I am involved with several friends, see https://www.eventbrite.com/event/6785468519 for details), or outdoor such as tomorrow’s Streak for Tigers at London Zoo (http://www.zsl.org/support-us/challenge-events/streak-for-tigers-thursday-15-august,2096,AR.html) which is a fundraiser to help save the Sumatran Tiger, or further in nature for a mass skinny-dip!

Last Monday Thelma and I went to The Outsiders Trust Jamboree, which is a light-hearted daytripping prequel to The Sex Maniacs Ball. With children present it was all very tame, but we got to talk a little to the party about what we do with Spirited Bodies, and how that may relate to people gaining sexual self confidence. A gentleman after described how with his unusual condition he is used to being prodded mercilessly by doctors to the point that he is unfussed about his body, but feels it has lost its specialness, just a curiosity and problem to be solved by the medical profession. My Mum is familiar with that too; paralysed from the neck down she relies on others for every bodily function, dignity plays little part, or rather dignity may be redefined according to necessity. The idea of being regarded for art is exceptional, appealing, and I found that with The Outsiders themselves I felt drawn to create a life modelling event just for them. The Ball will likely be a jolly rollicking affair, less time for quiet drawing even if tantric reiki is happening. I would prefer to give my baby the true attention it deserves, although a little taster might spread the message.

At The Mall Galleries last Wednesday, it was a special day for Mum.

water colour by Graham Wood
water colour by Graham Wood
drawing by Margaret
drawing by Margaret

There are more pictures of Mum from this event but they have not been shared yet. There are also many pictures of all the other models of course too; see our Facebook page for them. I just wanted to emphasize Mum as it is harder for her to make herself known, being paralysed and less able to attract artists with dazzling moves. I look forward to events which bring disabled/differently abled people modelling to the fore. It is on the agenda.

Choosing a Different Path, & Spirited Bodies at The Dana Centre

by Cynthia Barlow Marrs at Dana Centre
by Cynthia Barlow Marrs at Dana Centre

Sometimes I get a touch of the social phobia – the shivers creep up on me as I get dressed for a family function, or an attack of nerves has me weeping on a bus on route to a networking event which I am sure will be full of ‘posh’ women! It’s that fear of being judged for not having a ‘proper’ job, a ‘normal’ life. I would prefer it if instead of subtle remarks hard to pinpoint when you are feeling twitchy, people came out with the more direct “But how do you get by with a crap job like that?” or “Are you a slag because you pose for artists?” “Is it because you are mentally ill?” “So where did your parents go wrong?” “I hope my daughter never meets you!”

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I am so familiar with the usual run of questions trying to suss out if I am still renting in my ’30s, if I can afford to do this because I have a rich husband (I don’t!), if there is any evidence of a ‘normal’ job in my background (there isn’t), if my life gets any more shocking than being a life model (this is where the fun starts); I can anticipate this nonsense a mile off. Sometimes I am on form coming back at them in all my cutting finery, other times it’s an effort and I reel off some well worn spiel and take another sip.

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It doesn’t happen very often, but when things do get to me, I ask friends why I still do this. Recently, a good friend reminded me. She said, picking up that part of me wondered why I am not ‘normal’ after feeling like an outsider at a party where everyone seemed to be part of the ‘mainstream’; “It’s very important what you do. If you had a child, you would not be able to make Spirited Bodies the way you are now. Most people grow up thinking they must get a certain kind of job, with a set income. They must marry the right kind of person, buy the right property, have children at the right age, mix with the right people and send their children to the right school. When people do choose a different path, that is something amazing.” (Her voice was shaking. She is a young Grandmother who is very close to her family and has grown to appreciate so much an alternative lifestyle.) “You must celebrate your different path,” she said, “And remember how unique and inspiring it is.” Thank Goodness for strong, clear-sighted friends. I knew immediately that she was right, her words rang loud and resonated deeply. I almost cried with joy as I remembered that I had indeed chosen a different path many years ago. When I was still a teenager I knew I never wanted to be conventional! The girls in my North London grammar school wreaked of materialism and bored me no end. I got off the track, scrambled through all sorts of wilderness to find some freaks who were real! Idealistic and romantic – me? More like dark, fearless and underground!! It can take a long time to come out of the dark, and sometimes it’s pretty fucking scary. But I am out now, and I mean business!

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On Tuesday Lucy and I gave a presentation at The Science Museum‘s ‘The Dana Centre‘ in South Kensington at an event called ‘Eating Identities’. Lucy spoke whilst showing slides and I posed so the audience could draw. Lucy was talking about portrayal of the body in the media focusing on youth, slimness and sexualisation, and how Spirited Bodies can help people discover a sense of value in their bodies no matter what. Other speakers included Dr Meredith Brown who is a feminist art historian at The Courtauld Institute; she looked at the female form through the ages in art, and Catherine Collins who is Principal dietician at St George’s Hospital in Tooting; she discussed the futility of most fad diets and how our bodies are meant to be a certain shape anyway so we are better off not attempting to deviate too much from that. While these two spoke, Lucy and I both posed. It definitely felt quite novel to have some life drawing at this presentation – when Meredith was speaking I got the impression she had not anticipated how real and live we would be, nude and contorted in front of her! She was trying to describe one of the original models for a Renaissance Venus painting or some such, and the fact that the model was a prostitute. She kept stuttering on that word as she looked open mouthed at me in front of her feet away on a table with my legs open and unashamed, totally cool!

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Here are some photos of the presentation and more of the artwork from it.

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IMG_2587Me in classic one-legged pose

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IMG_2628Some artistic licence with the accessories!

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Nude modelling giving women confidence ~ my talk with Women on Fire

On Tuesday 23rd April I will address an audience of women at a Women on Fire event; it is part of their A Woman Cubed series. I will be speaking about how modelling nude may bring women confidence.

I will draw from my experience as well as that of some of our Spirited Bodies.

I will look at how nudity has changed in its status through history, how it has become incredibly sexualised where it used to represent purity. Indeed the naked body has been of the highest spiritual significance.  There is of course a political element; it may be convenient that a population ashamed of the natural human body is a society living in fear. In fear how easily are people subjugated and controlled? I may not have time in the talk to cover this element, but it is related.

I will discuss what is unique to life modelling; as well as the nudity, the usual silence and stillness. Shed of our daily trappings we have an opportunity to reexamine who we are.

This is a women only event.

About Women on Fire: “Women on Fire is designed to link up the women of the world who make brilliant things happen. It promotes women as decision makers, especially in the many areas that have a direct effect on the wellbeing of all life on earth. It aims to embolden, uplift, inform and inspire women in all circumstances to live their power – but without the loss of lovely, feminine tenderness.”

Women on Fire founder Judith Seelig is a shaman and change maker. She will be talking about women letting go of judging ourselves and comparing ourselves to others.

To book tickets for this free event, register here; it takes place at Kings College London, from 7 – 9pm.

Judith Seelig by Tracey Fahy
Judith Seelig by Tracey Fahy
Judith by Tracey Fahy
Judith by Tracey Fahy
Judith poses beautifully, photographed by Tracey Fahy
Judith poses beautifully, photographed by Tracey Fahy

I first came across Women on Fire at a women’s business networking conference a couple years ago. I was looking at ways to take Spirited Bodies further; we had done one event and I was preparing for the second, which was called ‘The Ages of Woman’. One of the speakers at the London Women Mean Business event mentioned Women on Fire, so I checked them out. They had a big event coming up with some very inspiring speakers from Camilla Batmanghelidjh to Polly Higgins, covering many areas of life. I decided to go to their regular meetings and stay in touch. I am thrilled to be asked to take part in next week’s event!

Related articles:

https://spiritedbodies.com/2011/04/01/feminine-transmission/

https://spiritedbodies.com/2011/10/01/fire-power/