A FEMINIST TAOIST VOICE PART 2: MY DIALOGUE WITH ELISA FON, ACUPUNCTURIST, TAOIST, FEMINIST AND FRIEND by Sara Frykenberg

Taoism is a philosophy that, for me, has been around so long because it is meant to move and change with society…

Acupuncturist, healer and friend, Elisa Fon and I began a discussion of Taoism and feminism in Part 1 of this interview.  Elisa defined her vision of feminism and Taoism, explained Taoism’s relational and yet, individual emphasis on what is particular in each of our experiences and considered the basic relationship of yang and yin.  Part 2 picks up where she and I left off, returning to the discussion of yin, yang and supposed dualisms.

Sara: I was wondering if you could talk a little about the complementarity of yin and yang?

Elisa:  In Taoism any type of imbalance should be adjusted.  So any major abundance or deficiency of yin or yang would be considered unhealthy. Yin and yang are interrelated: without one aspect of this relationship the other couldn’t exist. Day comes and it brings certain dynamic energy with it: the light is transformed to energy for plants.  But night is equally valuable, the nurturing yin, where things fall asleep, heal themselves and prepare to go forward again in the morning.  They are considered mutually interchangeable too.  If you had an over excess of yin at some point it would actually become yang.  It’s a fluid cycle.  Like we see in the yin/yang Taiji symbol, there is yin found within yang and yang within yin at all times.

Sara:  An idea that comes up a lot in my class is that some bodies and sexualities don’t fit into our visions of what is traditionally male and female—what is a Taoist view of homosexuality or of bodies that don’t fit into a male/ female scheme?

Elisa: Judgement about whether something or someone is male or female, from my perspective, is based on the individuals’ comfort.  Homosexuality is not an imbalance unless a person is acting inauthentically.  In the Taoist perspective, you are taught to follow nature, living in harmony, because that’s what the natural world and ecosystems do. When I consider the animal kingdom, you find bisexuality, homosexuality and even sex for fun.

Sara:  So it’s about being harmony, but in your own way…

Elisa: Right.  The most important question is “What’s your path?”  It doesn’t matter if you identify as transgendered as your truth, but if you tell me that I have to be transgendered because you are then it becomes problematic for me if I’m trying to fit into an identity where I don’t belong.

I see heterocentrism as an imbalance.  In my experience with friends, when they do find the authenticity to be able to say, “I have a different lifestyle than you or than society as a whole may say I should,” then that person finds a part of his or herself that is a necessary anchor of truth for them.

[Elisa and I then begin to talk about freedom in sexual expression, considering how a Taoist view may differ from those Western religions that condemn non-marital, non-procreative sex.]

Elisa: It’s a part of that ebb and flow.  Its not, you should or shouldn’t do this. I don’t think that’s what life’s about. Yin and yang is not this stagnant, 50/50, straight down the middle thing that never changes.  It’s all about cycles, seasons and change.  So if you’re super tired, you ran a marathon and you come home that night, should you have sex? Well, its not good or bad, but you have to identify that if you choose (sex) that you will pay a price physically and it will deplete you more when you are already depleted. If you choose to continue to live in this way without rest, you become too out of balance and this leads to disease.

Sara:  I feel like in our conversation that I’m pushing for an answer or an ethic… In Taoism, is balance the ethic? Or does balance take care of ethics?

Elisa:  Like any answer in Taoism, yes but no (we laugh).  When I first started, one of my teachers said to me, “everything in moderation, even moderation.” The challenge of understanding Taoism is the cyclical thinking involved; and it can make you feel like “WHY!” “Tell me the answer!”

Sara: (Laughs) And I think that’s the tension I’m feeling…

Elisa: I can say, “its out of the Tao to be imbalanced,” but I believe you are always living in the Tao.  You can’t live out of it; so this circular thinking is a brain-twister.  Taoism is a philosophy that, for me, has been around so long because it is meant to move and change with society.  The fundamental thoughts of Taoism are harmony and balance, but it’s a living system that is constantly changing.  And that’s why I feel you can’t concretely say, “Taoism means this.”  Taoism means this to me now, but tomorrow, whatever happens, the balance is shifting in a different way and can teach me something else about what’s going on.

Sara: But can you do things that are out of balance? Or that violate balance?

Elisa: When free will is violated, I believe that to be a violation of the natural balance.  You can do things in your own life, overworking or sitting too much which violates your balance and that’s where many diseases arise.

Sara:  How does Taoism shape you? How does it shape your feminism?

Elisa: On a deeply personal level, it’s been about breaking out of what I thought I should be.  Growing up, I had brothers and my family was a very masculine and fire-y environment … as the girl, I had to be quiet. I felt like I had to serve the people around me. I felt like I shouldn’t have a voice or that my voice wasn’t as important.  Taoism helped me affirm my own view of my life without having to demonize my family.  It gave me the ability to say, “well, the way you are now isn’t jiving with where I am, but I’ll check in later.” My femaleness is loud, silly and opinionated: whatever I want it to be.

We spend so much time fighting each other.  The question is, can we co-exist though? Do I have to tear you down to have my voice be heard?  I think that’s where feminism and racial movements work against the essence of what they were created for: that all women’s voices are heard; that all people’s voices are heard.  The women’s movement is about equality, not about some women being better than others.  At the beginning you have to have a kind of single-mindedness to pierce though the oppression of the past, but I think we’re at a point now that we can stop fighting in the same way, take a step back and say, “now that we’re here, what do we want?”

I want to thank Elisa Fon for working with me on this project and for helping me to create a dialogue with Taoism and Chinese medicine.  Her input has enriched my life for over two decades and I am excited to continue to ask the question: “Now that we’re here, what do we want?”  How can we continue to re-create loving, challenging and mutual power in our ever unfolding universe together?

Sara Frykenberg, Ph.D.: Graduate of the women studies in religion program at Claremont Graduate University, Sara’s research considers the way in which process feminist theo/alogies reveal a kind transitory violence present in the liminal space between abusive paradigms and new non-abusive creations: a counter-necessary violence.  In addition to her feminist, theo/alogical and pedagogical pursuits, Sara is also an avid fan of science fiction and fantasy literature, and a level one Kundalini yoga teacher.



Categories: Ethics, Feminism, Gender and Sexuality, Interreligious dialogue, LGBTQ, Non-Theism, Sexual Ethics, Social Justice, Women's Agency, Women's Spirituality

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3 replies

  1. I agree with Elisa that the rigid approach that was used in the past is no longer helpful. As the world becomes more interconnected and dynamic, it will take more creativity to progress further. The focus on the individual and the need to live more “authentically” (as Elisa puts it) in Taoism will definitely tap into that creativity. Although I do not identify as a feminist, I find through my interactions with others who do identify as such forces me to constantly think and reevaluate my positions. I try my best to be flexible when coming across differing ideas because I believe being knowledgeable about other positions will make it easier to define your own beliefs.

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  2. I love that there is a focus in both Taoism and Elisa’s personal views on feminism on a sense of balance, ebb and flow, and being true to one’s self. I think that the idea of finding one’s own path, and of not denying any aspect of one’s true nature is a very neglected concept in our society. What would our world be like, and what would the feminist movement be like, if we stayed true to our self? I also love the idea that Taoism is meant to change and grow with society. Rather that rigidly structuring society and acting as an immovable and impermeable force, a tradition or religion that can flow within and around society leaves room for people to exercise freedom within their lives. I really appreciate Elisa’s emphasis on authenticity, and how Taoism has helped her affirm her view on her own life. I don’t think that there is anything more important to me today than being true to who I am, in all aspects of my life.

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  3. Sara: How does Taoism shape you? How does it shape your feminism?We spend so much time fighting each other. The question is, can we co-exist though? Do I have to tear you down to have my voice be heard?

    Those above questions have stuck with me for the past few weeks and I have re-read them over and over again trying to formulate my own anwseres and thoughts. I thought it would be easy but it hasn’t been. I am not a Taoist but most the time I am a feminist…I know right, “most the time”. I say this because it is something I go back and forth on regualry. I am trying to find my feminisms and my feminist voice even though most people when they look at me or talk to me think I have it “down” already! But I don’t and in someways I am glad for that because it keeps me learning and growing. It helps me to learn how to relate to others and to hopefully not silence anyone or be silenced regardless if I believe in the samethings as them or not. I am working on my femaleness and genderqueerness everyday, partly because it is my own choice to do so and to be completly honest because I feel I have to in order to be “social” especially in the social institutions I am a part of, them being mainly work and school. Like Dianne said, above at the end of her post, I too am trying to be true to who I am in all aspects of my life. The hard part is that I am a very multi-faceted person and sometimes that is a struggle in regards to being true to myself. Because a lot of the time I don’t even know who that is.

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