This month we come to you with hope. We are wondering how you are, what your days are like, how it is in your body, what is going on in your head. We want to share this connection with you as you read this, so that we are all a little less alone or overwhelmed with constant company, a little less stretched or compressed, a little more together than beforehand. And, a little more connected to hope.
I’ve been reflecting on what hope means for a good few days. To me, hope is like taking a huge leap into the future and meeting ourselves a few weeks, months, or years on from where we are. In this place we can share with our future self all the fear, the worry, the sheer exhaustion of what we are going through or what we see others shouldering. We sit there in our own lap to find wise words and points of reflection that will make things seem like there are more pieces in place. Together hand in hand, we project back a beam of hope to the present which we skip back on, a ribbon of light we can tie around our waists and tug on now and again to remember that there is a future time where things have changed. Making a commitment with the future is hope in action: it is the hope you can feel in the present. It can feel raw, brave, and desperate but it is hope; it is your hope and it is precious.
This month we hear from Lu in our Opening the Circle piece as she shares her story of hope. We honour the life of dear Mandy who died last month and we extend our hope with those feeling her loss. In the Red Tent Directory we are feeling in a collective celebration of shared hope as we welcome six new members to the team as Pascale, Sandhya, Zoe, Melonie, Lu and Natalie join us in this work.
Opening the circle with Lu
My journey with Red Tents is ongoing and evolving. I first became aware of them about ten years ago when living in East Sussex; women in my growing friendship circle attended mysterious meetings each month and returned soothed, inspired and with seemingly endless lists of useful contacts! At that stage of my life, the prospect of attending a tent was overwhelming. I perceived them as intimidating, imbued with a special kind of womanhood to which I did not belong. The idea of stepping into something that sounded so ‘feminine’ felt beyond my capacity.
As an intersex woman with MRKH (see mrkh.org.uk for information and support), my perspective on womanhood, women-only spaces and anything called ‘feminine’ is complex. Being born without a uterus, and a partially-formed vagina, defined much of my life from the age of fifteen, as I worked through what it meant to be a woman. I certainly did not consider myself in that category. Growing up in the nineties, I saw my status as ‘woman’ as a failure: I had never menstruated (and never would), could not carry children nor enjoy the kind of sexual freedom that I perceived as important.
Over the years, the impact of these factors showed up in different ways: the times I would feel sick when yet another teenage friend’s period began; the sting during chats when my craving for chocolate would result in a quip about being pregnant; the experience of steadying myself against a wall when conversations in a baby group took a graphically womb-centric turn. Over the past decade I’ve encountered circles more often, sitting in circle with friends to better share and understand myself and others alongside my own journey of self-acceptance and self-realisation. Through being nurtured by these experiences, my understanding grew about the value of circle spaces for women. The freedom, the safety and the solidarity of being truly heard was incredible. The fire was lit for beginning a circle in my local area. We’re currently taking small and tender steps in building this, and each month I am struck by the tingle of collective sharing as care, as creating something precious, and – always – of the immense amount that I am able to learn by truly listening to sisters’ experiences.
When I was younger, ideas of difference and how to situate myself in rooms full of women were a source of pain. Things are brilliantly different for me now. There have been many sisters along the road who shaped my thinking, but it was a series of conversations in Brighton, with a friend whose own experiences as an older transwoman were able to shed light on mine, that mark a fork in the road for me. Diversity is a strength and essential component of our circles, communities and selves: the fact that we are all different is the whole, beautiful, point. Now, nearing forty, I feel comfortable occupying space and am passionate about offering an open door for as many others as possible. We all deserve no less.
Honouring a dear sister
We learned this month that we have lost a dear sister from our community. Mandy Adams supported huge amounts of women through her work with Red Tents, yoga and menstruality. We are proud to have included Mandy’s words in our forthcoming book, and honour her contribution to the Red Tent community. There is a JustGiving fund established to support her family linked here.
The Red Tent is a place to drop down our defences and be truly seen by the women in our community. It is an opportunity to practice fiercely and courageously speaking our truth from our deepest vulnerability and to be welcomed with open arms when we do. It is our chance to create the world we long for together. Mandy