New Year’s is a time for new beginnings. Fresh starts. So here’s a nice story about the beginnings of transgenderism. It’s a Greek myth about the minor deity, Hermaphroditus, and, to be quite honest, the story deals specifically with hermaphroditism, but it doesn’t take much imagination to broaden the scope of the story to include all transgenders. Perhaps some day someone will come up with a myth about Crossdresserus Americanus. But until then, hopefully, this one will suffice.
Hermaphroditus was the son of Hermes and Aphrodite. He was apparently very good looking – no surprise considering his parents were two of the hottest gods ever – and left home at the age of 15. He ended up in the region of Caria. There he liked to take baths in the spring of the nymph Salmacis. Now, apparently Salmacis – the nymph – was quite the little narcissist. Her nymph friends encouraged her to join the hunts, but she preferred to stay behind in the spring, bathe herself, and check out her reflection in the waters. (So that’s where we get that from!)
Apparently she made several advances towards hot young Hermaphroditus, but he rebuffed her every time. Not sure why a hot young guy wouldn’t want a hot young nymph. Apparently he just wasn’t that into her.
But Salmacis wasn’t the kind of nymph to take “no” for an answer. She jumped Hermaphroditus the next time he entered the spring, hugged him to her naked breast, and prayed to the gods that she and Hermaphroditus would remain united forever.
Now let me just pause here to say that the gods in ancient times sure were a lot cooler about answering prayers and granting wishes. And this Salmacis chick doesn’t even seem worthy. She’s self-absorbed, lazy, selfish -- not exactly the selfless, generous type that we usually associate with being deserving of a wish come true.
But lo and behold, (btw… those are the names of my cats, “Lo” and “Behold”), the gods granted Salmacis’ prayer. But not quite in the way that she had imagined. Oh, those tricky gods. Instead of bringing them together in the state of say, eternal matrimony, the gods merged Salmacis’ female body into Hermaphroditus’ male body! Thereby joining them forever.
“The gods granted the request, and the bodies of the youth and the nymph became united in such a manner that the two together could not be called either a man or a woman, but were both.” (Ov. l.c.; Diod. iv. 6; Lucian, Dial. Deor. 15. 2; Vitruv. ii. 8; Fest. s. v. Salmacis.)
But the story doesn’t end there. It seems that after Salmacis made her wish, and the gods granted it, Hermaphroditus made a little wish of his own. He prayed to the gods that anyone who bathed in the waters of Salmacis’ spring would be transformed as well.
“Hermaphroditus, on becoming aware of the change, prayed that in the future every one who bathed in the well should be metamorphosed into an hermaphrodite.” (Ov. l.c.; Diod. iv. 6; Lucian, Dial. Deor. 15. 2; Vitruv. ii. 8; Fest. s. v. Salmacis.)
So I guess that’s us. We’re the ones who followed Hermaphroditus into the well of Salmacis. At least in spirit. Most of us aren’t actual hermaphrodites, but we are transgendered, we are effeminate men, and we are the products of that wondrous combination of the feminine and the masculine. So often, especially when we’re just starting out in this life, we feel pretty ashamed and embarrassed. Like all of us, I have had times when I have felt pretty unwanted. Unloved. Undesirable. Like the lowest of the low.
So how cool is it to come across this legend and to see that there are roots of transgenderism in ancient Greek mythology? And that we descended, not from the lowest of the low, but from deities. From gods and goddesses!
Hermaphroditus is now known as the god of hermaphrodites and effeminate men. Which is kind of cool in my book. I didn’t realize that we effeminate men had our own deity… albeit a minor one. But the more I think of it… the more I like all of the elements of this story.
First, Hermaphroditus was the son of Hermes and Aphrodite -- the gods of male and female sexuality. So we were sexual beings right from the start. Appealing to both sexes – just like the irresistible sexual dynamos we know ourselves to be today!
Hermaphroditus was cute and desirable and god-like from the get-go. (Aren’t we all?) He was the grandson of Atlas (Is that why we all feel like we have the weight of the world on our shoulders?), and, lastly, Hermaphroditus is listed among the love-gods, Erotes, so even though he (she?) is a minor deity, he is a deity of love. (And that has to give all of us hope for a little love in our lives, right?)
Since ancient times, the story of Hermaphroditus has been passed down and retold by writers, poets, painters and sculptors, as well as by the rock group, Genesis, “The Fountain of Salmacis.” The most famous sculpture rests in the Louvre. The Borghese Hermaphroditus is a marble sculpture depicting Hermaphroditus life sized and reclining on a couch. (Just Google it and you can find plenty of photos of the statue online.)
But, here’s one other interesting note: Apparently in some circles, Hermaphroditus is depicted as a winged figure – especially on Grecian urns. Now I’m not sure when Hermaphroditus got his wings (the stories I’ve read don’t mention that), but I like that visual image: the gorgeous combined male and female body with big beautiful white wings. It means that Hermaphroditus had the power to soar.
And so do we!
Take care out there… and Happy New Year!
Be safe. Be smart. Be sexy!