Note: There is a physical intimacy and vulnerability in this Jungian Arts-Based Research project, so a number of images are NSFW and some songs have explicit content. This work also investigates topics like fatphobia, transphobia, and gender dysphoria, so take care with your experience.
How to experience this project
There are 15 curated songs that speak to different aspects of my journey living in an agender body and 15 images inspired by what connected me to each song. As you play through the songs, below via Spotify, or here via YouTube, take in the images associated with each.
This project is an exploration of my phenomenological experience of being trans and agender and how the trans body is a complex adaptive system that is able to access and bring to light numinous elements of the psyche. It is also an exploration of the importance of image in making the invisible visible and of seeing aspects of oneself in what we think of as “other”. It is Jungian Arts-Based Research in that I am researching these topics through art-making and curating with an approach that takes the unconscious and numinous into consideration.
Part 1: Am I a Girl?
Lyrics to Am I a Girl? by Poppy
I spent most of my life living as a girl and woman and my gender journey was a gradual transition from “philosophically nonbinary” (when I still felt like a woman but didn’t agree with the binary) to eventually identifying as agender, meaning without gender. I am just Marieke. This is an altered image from one of my wedding photos. I was the most slender I have been my entire adult life as I tried to fit into not just my wedding dress, but the expectations put on me by society, by patriarchy, by my family. I was trying to please other people instead of feeling comfortable in my body. Despite being the closest I’ve ever been to meeting beauty standards, I still wasn’t happy with my body and was deep in denial about my queerness.
(Original image credit: Chris Humphreys)
Part 2: Build a Bitch
Lyrics to Build a Bitch by Bella Poarch
This is my body now. In my lived experience, being trans and fat are inextricably intertwined. My fatness is visible, my transness not so much. My hair is the only thing that makes visible my gender nonconformity. The shape of my body doesn’t fit the standard image of nonbinary, typically represented as androgynous. My body makes it nearly impossible to appear androgynous without significant discomfort. The marks on my body show what would need to be removed or changed for me to fit beauty standards and to be able to appear androgynous. A large part of why I am making my body visible in this project is because I do not see agender, nonbinary, or gender nonconforming bodies like mine very often. Most images of nonbinary and gender nonconforming people are androgynous or trans-feminine, and most often also slender to average in size.
Part 3: Dysphoria
Lyrics to Dysphoria by Saint Wellesley
I’ve tried two chest binders: one was laughably small, and the other was well made but still couldn’t contain my chest, much less compress it enough to significantly minimize my appearance. I don’t actually experience much gender dysphoria related to by body. I worked hard over years to accept my body through a body liberation lens. However, I wanted to play with my appearance and see how it felt to dress or appear more androgynous in order to disrupt people’s assumptions about me. I quickly gave up on that. I’ve never tried using tape, so for this image, I tried binding my chest with trans tape, which is very similar to kinesthetic tape. I hated it. The tape is 2″ wide and I went through a whole 16 foot roll for it to not do very much. It was also very uncomfortable and I took it off as soon as I was done with the shoot.
Part 4: Love Me More
Lyrics to Love Me More by Sam Smith
For years I felt like there was something off about me and I couldn’t place what it was. I was constantly shapeshifting to meet people’s expectations of me – my parents, my husband, my friends, my religion, my community – but I never really felt like I fit in. I took it out on my body through diet culture, I took it out on my mind by creating high expectations of myself, and I sacrificed myself over and over. In late 2020, at 37 years old, I was diagnosed with generalized anxiety disorder, then in early 2021 with inattentive ADHD. This year, as I’ve been removing my masking habits, I’ve come to realize I am likely Autistic as well. It’s related to my transness because I was never “normal”. I masked my neurodivergence so well that the gender of woman was a mask and I didn’t even realize it. In this image, I was inspired by the flamboyance of drag queens and Pride events, and how the “mask” of makeup can either hide or reveal aspects of oneself, depending on how you use it. I haven’t worn makeup in years now, but this is a creative aspect of myself I do enjoy. Creating this image made me feel connected not only to myself, but also the queer and trans community.
Part 5: Body
Lyrics to Body by Sleeping at Last
One of the most poignant moments in my body acceptance journey was giving birth to my child. Despite the physical difficulties I endured, including nausea throughout most of my pregnancy, and physically debilitating and painful symphysis pubis dysfunction, I was amazed at what my body could do and how it changed in order to grow and then feed this little human that I love so much. It felt like magic and gave me a deeper appreciation for my body. My child, who is now 8 years old, also loves my body and has been an agent of healing in this regard, especially as I see them love their own body without judgment. My partners also love my body and it’s a magical experience to be with someone who accepts me as I am. Sharing my fat body so visibly is vulnerable because it opens me to fat-shaming and fatphobia. But I want to share its magic so people who also look like me can see their own magic. You don’t have to be small and pixie-like to be ethereal and magical. You can also be big and round.
(My tattoo of a nonbinary Chiron is inspired by my experiences with active imagination. It was designed and tattooed by Roxi Satni.)
Part 6: I’m Not a Girl, I’m Not a Boy
Lyrics to I’m Not a Girl, I’m Not a Boy by Scout the Wise
Our society assumes people’s genders in small and big ways throughout everyday life. The shape of my body or the sound of my voice causes me to be referred to as “ma’am” constantly. I am referred to as “she”, get lumped in with the “ladies”, called “girl”, and I can’t even get my reproductive organs checked by my doctor without the inherent misgendering and gender essentialism of a “well woman visit”. This is what it feels like.
Part 7: Gender Binary (Fuck You)
Lyrics to Gender Binary (Fuck You) by Ryan Cassata
I discuss gender in a lot of academic spaces. I am careful about my approach because 1: I know that in order to have a certain impact, I need to speak in a way that people can receive; and 2: I tend to be diplomatic and see the best in people anyway. I used to be transphobic and hold pretty conservative values, so I am always curious where someone is on their own journey. BUT. Other times, I have to make the space to be irreverent. I have to let off steam and give a big FUCK YOU to the people and systems who refuse to see that my ontology is just as valid as theirs and that trans and nonbinary people have a gift to bring to the world. I ended up gravitating to an image that was more playful versus angry because, in the end, being agender is being free to play in the world in a way that living life as a cisgender person didn’t allow me. It’s a beneficial trickster energy. The lighting colors are the nonbinary flag colors of yellow and purple. I chose nonbinary because while I am agender, that identity feels fluid with being nonbinary: All agender people are nonbinary in that being genderless is inherently not the gender binary, but not all nonbinary people are agender.
Part 8: Mind
Lyrics to Mind by Sleeping at Last
As a student of depth psychology, as a neurodivergent, as a trans person, and as a spiritually-oriented person, my relationship to the mind has been complicated, rich, and nuanced. With depth psychology, I understand the mind, the psyche, to hold a richness in the unconscious that is impossible to fully grasp. As a neurodivergent, I know my mind doesn’t work in ways conducive to the world we live in. As a trans person, I’m painfully aware of how some people believe my transness is mental illness or somehow harmful to them because they can’t see my full humanity (and therefore their own). As a spiritual person, I know my experience is numinous and a gift to myself and to the world. I included the mind because it is part of the experience of my body; my spirituality is part of the experience of my body; my transness, despite not physically transitioning in any way except my hair, is part of the experience of my body. Sometimes it’s joyful and sometimes it’s painful.
Part 9: LOSING MYSELF
Lyrics to LOSING MYSELF by morgxn
Despite my journey of finding myself over the past few years in particular, I have a tendency, one might call it childhood programming, religious programming, or a savior complex, to give and sacrifice myself to my own detriment. I wasn’t given the space as a child to learn my own personal boundaries. At the age of 11, I started cooking for my family of soon-to-be six out of need. At the age of 12, I was a bit like a second mom to my baby brother. From the age of 13, I was often in charge of caring for my three siblings while my parents fought to get my brother the services he needed for his disabilities, leaving me without enough social interaction since we were homeschooled. At the age of 18, I was forced to give up my dreams, quit college, and work for the family business. At the age of 19, I was living next door with my grandmother and had to be home by 9pm each night to relieve her caregivers. It was ingrained in me to perform like a good daughter, a good sister, a good employee, a good student, a good Christian, a good wife, despite being abused, manipulated, and gaslit. I got married at 22 years old and instead of being myself, I didn’t know who I really was because I was so used to performing, so aspects of myself showed up unconsciously and sometimes harmfully. I lost myself before I knew myself, and that pattern is hard to break. The books I’m holding in this image represent some of the expectations and responsibilities I feel from others and that I impose on myself that cause me to lose myself again at times.
Part 10: The Village
Lyrics to The Village by Wrabel
When I found this song, it spoke to a very painful part of my experience, both for myself and my child. As I write this, I am weeping because my own mom “don’t get it”, and I haven’t been able to talk with her about it. She has been avoiding having a needed discussion due to overwhelm from her own life. She also caused my child pain about their identity when I wasn’t there to defend them, which has caused a rift in our relationship. Additionally, my child and I have experienced transphobia and queerphobia from our local community, including my child’s school community and it’s been exhausting. The original image was taken during the pandemic, when I was going through my divorce, and exploring my nonbinary identity. Circumstances forced my child and me to live with my mom for a few months. I had always wanted to get a buzz cut, but didn’t think I had the head for it, so what better time to try than during a quarantine? I felt more myself than I had in a very long time. The people who told me or showed me “there’s nothing wrong with you” helped me get through that time.
Part 11: Chosen Family
Lyrics to Chosen Family by Rina Sawayama (version with Elton John)
One of the biggest gifts in my life is my chosen family. I have varying levels of intimacy in relationships with my biological family, but my chosen family has become a support system I couldn’t live without, something common to the queer experience. One aspect of my queerness is how I approach relationships. I consider myself a relationship anarchist, and what this means is that ALL my relationships are founded on non-hierarchical principles and the tenet that the needs and desires of the people in that relationship create the structure as opposed to societal expectations. In my relationship with my child, we collaborate on meeting needs and I respect them as a whole person without the “I’m the adult” attitude many parents have with their kids. My adult relationships can span friendship and sexuality and all the spaces in between. I’ve chosen to live on my own with no plans to cohabitate with any partners, and I am polyamorous with multiple relationships that are deeply meaningful to me. I asked a number of those I consider chosen family to send me a picture of their hand to represent my relationship constellation. Some are lovers, some are siblings, some are children, all are loved deeply by me and love me in return. All have helped me re-write my story to find myself and find my joy.
Part 12: Astral Plane
Lyrics to Astral Plane by Valerie June
My journey navigating gender has been numinous, despite its challenges. I’ve found my light and a deeper sense of courage that frees me to shine it into the world. In releasing the identity of woman and holding the concepts of identity more loosely, I find the unexpected and shine a little brighter. This song speaks to the non corporeal body, the energetic body, the astral body; of letting go of the trappings of the world we live in to connect more deeply to who we are. I’ve let go of a lot of those trappings to find more expansive ways of being myself and of knowing others. I have more curiosity about people, beyond how society organizes aspects of their being into boxes. I hope my light helps others find more of theirs.
Part 13: Bird Set Free
Lyrics to Bird Set Free by Sia
My evolution about gender and the end of my marriage of 13 years overlapped. The more I started to reclaim myself, the more unhappy my marriage became. The ways I changed didn’t work for my then-husband, and the ways he did not change didn’t work for me. As the paths our psyches were taking began to diverge, I began to feel restricted and held back by the sacrifices I needed to make in order to help our relationship limp along. But my unconscious was fighting for freedom. I needed to be able to use my voice, in all its iterations, freely and openly. The archetypes of voice and sound, and the archetypes represented by “images” in music and sound, pulled me to depth psychology. But somewhat ironically, it was my writing voice that needed to be set free. I’ve not only been set free from the cage of cisheteropatriarchy, but I’ve also been set free from limits to how I use my voice. This song was one I sang often at karaoke nights and helped me process my divorce and ground myself in freedom. As I consciously and physically gained freedom, the call to create has grown stronger. Now my voice soars.
Part 14: Speechless
Lyrics to Speechless by Naomi Scott (from Aladdin)
This image is the only one that doesn’t physically show my body or some part of it, but I am still there: in the “I AM” and “NUMINOUS”. Here, my voice is “written in stone”; moved by my hand from the voice of my body. These are the things I want to speak about, the things I MUST speak about. At the heart of my journey is love; queer love that transcends, that transforms, that protects the numinous and sacred journey of moving beyond the norms and into love of self and others. “Numinous” is a nod an article that C. G. Jung wrote in 1950 related to trans issues (The question of medical intervention, CW 18). In it, he describes gender affirmation surgery for a trans woman as “numinous”. The article is a reminder to me that not only is the trans experience sacred, but it is also disruptive and we must disrupt.
Part 15: she calls me daddy
Lyrics to she calls me daddy by KiNG MALA
Having lived most of my life as a woman, it has been a process to unravel the way I was socialized to find what is authentic to me and what is not. Something that has emerged from unconscious action to conscious action is my natural dominance. Despite striving for feminine softness and receptivity most of my life, my fiery and dominant nature could not hide. Even as a child, my fiery side put me in danger of physical and emotional abuse, but I wouldn’t be able to hold it in. It later emerged in unhealthy relationship patterns until I began to heal. Part of that healing process was finding healthy ways to play with my natural dominance. After my divorce, BDSM and the kink community has become a healthy and consensual outlet for me to explore my interests and boundaries as a Dominant and Top, how those dynamics fit consensually into the ways I love and nurture my people, and where I find places in my unconscious that need integration. It has forced me to use my voice in different ways and to find deeper confidence in myself.
Every gender diverse person’s experience is unique, but many of the themes in my journey are common to so many trans and gender nonconforming people’s journeys, some more painful and challenging than mine. What I share here is from my personal experience, but I wanted to use my own to represent archetypal queer experiences. This is a snapshot (or 15) of how I feel about my journey to this point. Tomorrow, it might be different. It has evolved even as I write out these descriptions and stories.
This project is deeply personal to me in that I am sharing many aspects of myself I haven’t shared publicly before. But the call to create would not be silent until it was finished. So here is the complex adaptive system of me, in my agender body, shared through images of sound, lyrics, and visual art.
I hope you see me. But more so, I hope you see your own numinous light reflected back to you.