Part Two in a series of five. See also: Part One, Introduction
Beyond the Concepts of Yin & Yang
I was introduced to many new concepts at the 5-day tantra retreat I attended over the summer of 2009, but the one I’ve been constantly chewing on and talking about and sharing and using to analyze myself and others has to do with yin and yang.
Most of us are familiar with the concepts of yin and yang – and many of us who study gender may call bullshit immediately, saying it is a binaristic, dualistic system that does not account for the gray areas, just the black and white. But as much as postmodern theory wants to deconstruct the binary and create and celebrate a multitude of options, there’s a part of me that thinks outright dismissal of the binary is just unrealistic – we are bipeds, we have a long human history of constructing the world in twos, in binaries, in this-and-not-this. Yes, we need more than two options, do not get me wrong. Especially when it comes to gender, there are so many more expressions and experiences than ‘man’ and ‘woman.’ But that said, there is something basic about the binaries – light/dark, in/out, hot/cold – that is useful to structure the world around us.
Most of us are familiar at least in a broad way with the yin and yang concepts. Yin is receptive, dark, fluid; yang is penetrative, light, pointed. Yang enters, yin receives. Yang inquires, yin observes. Associating feminine and masculine with yin and yang is a challenge because I do not want to seem prescriptive – if you are feminine, you are not required to be yin, for example. Gender expression does not necessarily line up with these types of energy breakdowns.
Yin is traditionally associated with femininity, and yang masculinity. It’s probably clear why: the penis/vulva intercourse description inherent in the penetrative/receptive delineation easily dictates how the energies are divided. Together, yin and yang are called the Stabilizing Energies, as they need each other in order to be strong. Without something to hold, yin is empty; without somewhere to rest, yang cannot stand up by itself.
When broken down, yin and yang Stabilizing Energies are the Masculine Yang and the Feminine Yin.
The second type of energies, which was the part of this that is all new to me, are the Transformative Energies, which are the Masculine Yin and the Feminine Yang.
The Feminine Yang is also called spanda or shakti in tantra, the equivalent of ‘life force.’ But not life force in an ommmmm prana/breath way – more like a violent life force, the ripping open of legs and cunt to push a baby to be born. The spontaneous expressions of joy and energy that overcome us. A lava flow, a rushing river of rapids. Pure force, pure energy, intense and wild.
Her counterpart is the Masculine Yin. He is the riverbank to her river. He is the container, the thing that keeps her safe. But not in a controlling, overbearing way (that is perhaps indicative that the masculine yin in someone is imbalanced or poorly developed) but in the way a father coaxes a wild child to redirect their energy, like martial arts, taking the opponent’s force and deflecting it, using it against them. The Masculine Yin is a firm, nurturing hand, the container in which the feminine yang can rest and grow and feel safe. Without the container, she is explosive, sometimes wild. She needs the gentle guidance to be transofrmative.
Though these qualities are associated with gendered words, they are by no means prescriptive or restrictive, and in fact tantra presses that everyone needs to have a balance of all of these energies, and even has some methods by which to develop the areas where one is weaker.
Because, well, this is my personal online writing project (a.k.a. “blog”), I am going to take a minute to explore these four categories and how they relate to me and especially my evolving masculinity.
Feminine Yin – Growing up the child of two feminist hippies, and discovering things like Ms. Magazine, wicca, and feminism as a teenager, gave me a very strong base in the feminine yin. I did not grow up a tomboy like many transmasculine folks, I wore dresses and skirts and makeup (much to my feminist mother’s chagrin) in my teens. When I did begin taking on masculinity, my respect for femininity stayed steady and firm and did not really change – what changed was only my own presentation. I still saw a lot of value in the caretaking qualities of the feminine yin. In fact, perhaps more than feminism (which, one might argue, sometimes values the feminine yang over the feminine yin), my base with the feminine yin comes from my mother, who is an early childhood educator and extremely receptive, sometimes to a fault. And while there are some ways I could improve my feminine yin receptivity (i.e. sexually – though I’d rather have a different kind of sex, more on that later), for the most part my issue here is that I am too receptive, too hyper-sensitive, too eager to take in the world around me. I don’t necessarily have a deficit, then, but I do perhaps have an overabundance.
Masculine Yang – I have spent at least the last five years very intentionally developing my masculine yang. That is the energy that more than any others was left out of my family, so I didn’t know intuitively how to reproduce it, and the examples in culture are generally negative, overbearing, misogynistic, even dangerous. I took a lot of time learning how to penetrate, how to be inquisitive, how to investigate, how to externalize my desire. I even moved to arguably the most masculine yang city in the United States – New York. So much forced learning happens here, at times painfully. I don’t think New York creates problems so much as it exacerbates and explodes what is already there, and in my case, New York would not let up, would not let me turn away, and I had to develop and strengthen my masculine yang to keep myself safe and whole. I feel good about the changes I’ve made – I was clearly lacking some masculine yang, and I think I’ve adopted it in ways that are strong and stabilizing, not necessarily in offensive, violating external ways.
Masculine Yin – When I first heard about this concept, this is the one that clicked. Oh. Fuck. That’s what I need. In fact, that’s what I’ve been trying to develop recently, for a few years now even, though I never had a specific name for it. The funny thing is, I am very skilled at being a container and holding space in many aspects of my life – I would say this site does a lot of that, for example: creating a safe space for people to come and interact and explore complicated, personal ideas. I do it in my sex life all the time, pushing the girls I sleep with to a bigger, deeper release, and then holding them through it and bringing them back to a place of safety and care. This happens with Kristen especially quite often; I feel blessed and privileged that she trusts me that much, and that she’s willing to let me guide her through some of these dark, complicated, occasionally painful places, and as our sexual relationship continues to deepen I think we’ve both been able to explore the ways that I contain her and hold space for her experience in bed in bigger ways. And yet … and yet. I can’t seem to do this for myself in the ways that I want to. I sometimes get frightened of my own capacity for “big-ness” and hold back because I’m not sure I can contain it. I need to have better corral over many aspects of my life (my paperwork, my clutter, my calendaring, my obligations) and I know I need a firmer, heavier hand to come along with gentle strength and say no, no, no, to more things than I do now.
Feminine Yang – I’m not sure I trust my feminine yang. I feel it bubbling up in me sometimes, but I’m not sure I – or the world or my partner or my friends or my community – can hold the bigness and chaos that I fear will spill out of me. At the tantra retreat, for example, when I was thinking beforehand about my intention and what I wanted to get out of it, I really wanted to leave my New York crazy life behind, to forget my to do list and the million things that were weighing on my mind, and really find some deep calm and be able to be present in that new delicious space. That, however, wasn’t a problem at all – the whole world and my whole life dropped away from me as soon as I entered the beautiful zen center hot springs space, and I stepped into a deep calm and sense of self that was just under the surface. The challenge, however, was with what came out of that deep calm – this overwhelming power and strength and WHOOSH that sometimes took my breath away. I always felt like I had to back off from it, to not indulge or give in to it, but to contain and control it. I don’t think I ever quite let it out. So I do need more practice with this one, definitely.
If I think about it, it seems to make sense that in a butch top/femme bottom sexual relationship the butch top would occupy more external, explosive yang and that the femme bottom would take in the receptive, containing yin. But in our case, she is feminine in both ways, in both the reception and the explosivity, and I am masculine in both ways, in the penetration and simultaneous containing. I think this is at times one of the frustrations of our sex life, one of the ways it limits us, because I’d like to be able to be more explosive and big in the feminine yang, and for her to be able to hold me through her own masculine yin. We’ve had this conversation, we’ve discussed it in depth and it continues to come up as we explore all sorts of other things, and as I explore my evolving masculinity.
How I Need To Grow
One of the tantra teachers on the retreat shared with me this story, when I went to her specifically about the Masculine Yin, saying, that. Yes. That is what I need. How do I get that?
She said that as her masculine side was pretty weak when she began this work, and specifically did some rituals to strengthen it. At some point, after a ritual, she was so heavily embodied in the Masculine Yang that she felt like she would just fuck anything that moved. She immediately went back to her teacher and said: “help! I am definitely embodying masculine yang, but it feels like I am an out-of-control teenaged boy! How do I control and contain this? What happens between the ages of sixteen and thirty, for men, in their masculine development, that they can handle this wild energy?”
Her teacher said: we grow our balls.
That was such an A-ha! moment for me. Yes, of course: Masculine Yin is all about balls, and, as a dyke, I have a particular aversion to balls, and most of my strap-on cocks don’t include them.
Balls are the literal counter-weight to the cock, the thing that keeps the cock grounded and balanced and in check.
I know my Masculine Yang. I feel pretty good about the ways I occupy it, too. But as my masculinity is evolving, I need to move into a more adult, grounded, Masculine Yin sense of masculinity, and I think if I could embody that more completely and wholly, my masculinity would feel better, and I would feel better.
The next part of the My Evolving Masculinity series is Part Three: “Daddy”, to be posted in the next week.