the life-taker and the life-giver: on the healing power of estrogen

It was a very long time ago, but I just got jolted by it again.

He, the Vet, had walked into my office. There was already a student in there and she overheard him say, “I could have killed you …”

I think it opened the conversation. But before I knew it, the student had told the Chair, and the Chair had told Campus Police, and the Chief of Police went undercover in my class, day one. A clear misunderstanding. It was a class on Gender and Anthropology. The cop was a pretty good student; raised his hand, took notes, asked interesting questions. I think the whole thing was just a great excuse for the Police Chief to take a class on gender…

The Vet wore army fatigues every day, camo pants, and T-shirts all with references to the war, like “Vietnam, Take One” with a picture of a movie camera filming the horror. Loud noises made him jumpy. He sat by the door, in case he had to run out at any moment. It didn’t happen too often. But it did happen.

He had an arsenal. But so, apparently did a lot of other students.

I liked him instantly. We swapped war stories. Only my war was only six days long. And I hadn’t killed anybody. All we’d really done was commandeer an empty bomb shelter (with wall-to-wall mattresses), lock ourselves in and fuck like bunnies the last three days. That one became a rabbi. Or a psychologist. Or both. I think both. Point is, it wasn’t Vietnam. Far from it.

I remember one year the Vet and I traded outfits. I got to wear his old dress uniform. He borrowed my Stormy Leather for a while. He got me a belly dancer for my birthday once. It was a friendship based on exploring the potential for transformation. And an appreciation of the power of mythology. And on the search for the ritual that might reverse the rage, ease the warrior’s pain and make things right again.

So, when I wrote about embodying God, he really has had a lot more experience in this regard — in the other sense of God. The Stormy Leather God.

Here’s what he wrote:

“I was God when I was 20 years old. I ripped and I tore. I did decide who lived and who died. 20 year olds should not be God, though I am still being told that others ‘would follow me into hell’ — no shit, old team mate really said that and it is being taken as a compliment.

“However, for me being God it is not what it is cracked up to be. I was not very good at it — it really fucked me up…”

Right. So I stand corrected.

That’s the other kind of God. The one I wasn’t talking about. Makes me sound so warm and fuzzy speaking mommie-god, garden-god… But that’s not how men embody God, is it?

He found an antidote. Estrogen. Estrogen and belly dance. And years later I got to see her transformation. And what I’d like to say is, in my book, that was God. He Created a Her he could live with. She could calm the rage. And she could dance. And I was jealous.

He could have killed me.

But he didn’t.

“My cardiologist,” he said, “took me off Estrogen because it was beginning to weaken my blood vessels. Unfortunately, the more it diminishes in me, the more I am returning to a creature I do not want to be again, [that kind of] God. So, I finally decided to say screw it… I’ve been living on borrowed time for years, so if the Estrogen is going to kill me, let it … at least I will, I hope, return to a place of semi-peace before it or something else takes me down.”

So, here’s to our warriors, and a remembrance of what war does to them. And how hard they struggle (if they do struggle) to undo all the harm. I salute you, and I salute what you’ve become. And I honor your bravery when that war is finally done.

And here’s to the Estrogen God, the mommie-gods, and yes, the gardeners too. I’ll stick to my story, after all. To Herakles, warrior-slave of Omphale, here’s to you.

About mira

Mira Z. Amiras is Professor of Comparative Religious Studies and founder of the Middle East Studies Program at San Jose State University. She is past-president of the Society for the Anthropology of Consciousness, and has served on the Executive Council of the American Anthropological Association. She is co-founder, with Ovid Jacob, of Beit Malkhut, a study group in Jewish sacred text. She's most attached to the creatures of her body and her household — first and foremost, her kids, of course: Michael and Rayna — and then the other folks large and small of various species, including Roshi and Vlad, a whole lot of hummingbirds, the old parrot who lives next door, and a beautiful garden that does what it will.
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