The Phoenix, Tsarevitch Ivan and rebirth

The phoenix, or firebird, makes an appearance in the mythologies of many, many cultures.  The Russian firebird (zhar-ptitsa), the Chinese fenghuang (used to be feng and huang, but they were blended together), the Egyptian bennu, the roc (loosely connected in origin, but not so much in concept), the phoenix pops up in mythologies spanning from Finland to India (though not so much in Greek mythology).  These majestic birds are associated with good as well as evil, immortality as well as death, blessings as well as curses, healing as well as violence.[1] Oh, and fire.

(I promise that, eventually, this will have to do with gender, but, I warn you, it’s going to take a while.)

I always held a particular fondness for the phoenix – I mean, of course, I went through the requisite dragon phase, because who doesn’t love dragons (I still love dragons)? But I had a particular love for phoenixes.  I read a lot of Russian fairy tales as a young child, a handful of which featured the firebird (as well as a ballet by Stravinsky); one of the classics is “Tsarevitch Ivan, the Fire Bird and the Gray Wolf.”  In many ways, it is your standard fairy tale: 1) a father/king/tsar/emperor/etc. has three sons/princes/etc.;  2) he asks his sons to complete a task (namely, catch that damned firebird that keeps stealing his apples); 3) the older sons fail miserably because they suck; 4) no one has faith in the youngest son, but he proves the only capable person of the lot; 5) the youngest son cheats death, defeats whatever evils, completes all the tasks, and gets the girl/maiden/princess/etc. (“What girl?” you may ask, “I thought this was about apples” – just remember, there is always a girl).

It doesn’t have much to do with the modern, stereotypical, Western (“heteronormative,” etc., etc.) conception of the Phoenix, but it’s a cool story.  So Ivan – the youngest son – journeys forth to catch the firebird, and along the way he meets this wolf.  He and the wolf quest and quest, they find a princess, a magic horse and, finally, the firebird (there is more to the story – you can read it here if you want).[2] Ivan’s older brothers – sore losers, the lot of them – kill Ivan (blood is thicker than water, eh?) and try to make off with the spoils of his quest.  The wolf, however, orchestrates a complicated scheme by blackmailing a crow, and sprinkles Ivan with a couple kinds of water (think phoenix tears, eh? Eh?).  Lo and behold, Ivan wakes up, commenting on what a nice nap he just had.  The wolf kills the brothers, Ivan gets married and lives happily ever after with his father and his new wife (remember, the girl).

Of course, the part that people always remember about phoenixes is that they can die and then rise again (or that they set themselves on fire and then rise again – one of those).  Rebirth, rejuvenation, rising from the ashes – even Harry Potter got that part down.  Now, in this case, the firebird did not, per se, bring Ivan back to life.  But he still went through the process of rebirth.  At the beginning, he had two murderous, lazy brothers, a father who didn’t take him seriously, no wife and a non-magical horse.  After his quest and his murder, he rose from death to a life without murderous brothers, with a father who loves him, a magical horse, a loyal (if creepy) wolf, a firebird, a wife and a magical, golden horse.  Pretty sweet transformation, if you ask me.

I’ve been watching a lot of videos of trans guys logging their changes on testosterone (“T”).  On the one hand, they’re a lot of fun to watch, and very exciting, but they’re also a little masochistic.  After watching a few, all I want to do is break into the nearest pharmacy and steal all the testosterone I can find (this is not a statement of intent, this is creative license. *ahem* I am not actually going to steal anything).  A lot of guys will, for the big milestones (six months, one year, etc.) do some sort of compilation that compares the beginning to the current – voice changes over the past six months, or cuts from all the videos for the past year, that kind of thing.  But what I’ve noticed is that a lot of them also often say something along the lines of: “Today, I am one year old.”

I really like that.  I mean, I don’t buy into the idea that anything that happened before you began your transition is immaterial, or something to forget.  Your past is still your past, and you are still the same person.  But it is still a rebirth of sorts: a new name, an improved body, a new outlook on life, a more positive trajectory.  After spending my whole life trying to suppress myself, I have to say I cannot wait for my first birthday.


[1] This information gleaned from my own vague childhood memories as well as a few Wikipedia refresher courses.

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