November 2015 Meeting: Humanist Celebrants, Hatshepsut and Akhenaten

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

November's meeting saw humanist celebrant Elizabeth Donnelly talking about secular celebration ceremonies and Debbie Challis of the Petrie Museum talking about an upcoming exhibition for LGBT history month about the Egyptian Pharaohs Hatshepsut and Akhenaten.

Humanist Celebrations

All human beings celebrate important moments with ceremonies of one kind or another. This is something that all people and all religions have adopted as part of their make-up.

Due to the problems many religions have regarding LGBT people, many (but not all) trans people are non-religious. But does that mean forgoing important ceremonies such as marriage?

Enter the British Humanist Association, which believes that you can be non-religious but still benefit from ceremonies. It runs a network of qualified celebrants who conduct births, deaths and marriages in secular, non-religious ceremonies. One of their number came to speak with us not only about these ceremonies, but also to ask what types of ceremonies trans people go through in their lives, whether the process of transition invites any further ceremonies that cisgender people do not have to go through, which provoked interesting discussion.

Of particular note was the idea that some people do have ceremonies to commemorate transition. For example, one of our members buried a gravestone with "Him" written on it as an act to bury their former self. However, the most surprising issues came up from the idea of what to say at the funeral of a trans-person. Some very much would not want their previous identity talked about at all, and their previous name mentioned, seeing it as a betrayal of everything the newly passed away struggled to build. Others would be quite happy to have their old lives talked about and would feel unbalanced if this was not done.

Hatshepsut and Akhenaten

The Petrie Museum is the third largest collection of Egyptian artefacts in the world. Despite this, it isn't well known in the UK.

In its collection are many artefacts relating to the reigns of the Pharaohs Hatshepsut and Akhenaten. Both have been famously depicted as both male and female in the artefacts of Egypt we have left, leading to the interesting question: were either (or both) of these Pharoahs trans, intersex or genderqueer?

With what is known about gender identity now, it's obvious that trans identities have always been with us. Although they are not prevalent in the history books, armed with that knowledge, it's not long before a person will turn up various historical practises and cults. Whether it's the Galli and their cult of the Earth mother, who were prevalent in Turkey and Rome at the time of the Roman Republic, or traditions like the Albanian tradition of declaring a responsible female person "male" if she becomes head of household, examples of historical gender identities that fit the trans narrative abound.

Egypt is no stranger to this and the imagery of Hatshepsut and Akhenaten is the most striking of this. Two events in February will explore gender identity both in their depiction and in ancient Egypt in general.