CW: Homophobia mentioned, discussion of gender binaries, conservative Christian views of sexuality.
Additional note: I am sharing my experiences and journey towards understanding, and I recognize I may not understand everything perfectly.
I grew up in the culture of evangelical and conservative Christianity, and it goes without saying that sexuality is crammed into a very specific box in this culture. I grew up with the very black and white view of sexuality, and subtle (and not so subtle) messaging that sexuality in general is something to be held down and kept under control. So much about sex and sexuality was considered sinful, locked down via purity culture, abused via complementarianism, and controlled (like in the concept of courtship vs dating), that it was hard to hold on to the idea of it’s inherent sacredness. There is a lot to unpack here and I may do so more in a future post, but all that to say, I had a LOT of shame about sex, despite the fact that I was a virgin and therefore considered “pure” when I married my husband.
Earlier in my college career I took a class on Women, Class, and Gender and that was when I first started to open my mind to the experiences of other people’s sexuality. I certainly argued with my teacher, but the education was still there. Much of what we learned was both hard facts, and the lived experiences of people. It’s hard to argue with that (though people certainly do), especially since I have a tendency to be able to see multiple sides to issues and understand other people’s perspectives.
The idea of sexuality as a spectrum rather than a strict binary was something I started to really see was true. At that point, I already recognized that masculinity and femininity were a spectrum. I had female friends who were more “masculine” in many ways, but still held on to femininity, and vice versa. If all people were made in God’s image, then the qualities that we place under masculine and feminine identities come from God, and in order to embrace all of what God has for us, we have to embrace the experiences of all.
I now recognize and affirm that some people live without gender or outside the gender binary, and that ultimately, God is nonbinary as well. I also recognized how much of what is considered masculine/feminine is based on culture and not inherent qualities of people.
Going back to sexuality, I really started to integrate what I learned when I went to San Francisco State University (after already being married for a year) to study vocal performance and became friends with people with diverse expressions of gender and sexual identity. This was also the time I really started to question my beliefs about sexuality and the Bible. I knew many people who believed in Jesus and were also gay. Who was I to judge them, regardless of my beliefs? Who was I to think I had the “right” views and other people didn’t. And if people didn’t believe in Jesus, then it certainly wasn’t my place to say what they had to do because they hadn’t made the same spiritual commitments I had made. Ultimately, I came to the understanding that it was something between a person and God, and no one else’s business. That ultimately, the Bible talks WAY more about other things, like *greed* (hello, huge problem here), than it did about sexuality, so obviously even the God of the Bible has higher priorities. Not to mention that the verses always quoted were not as clearly supportive of heterosexuality as conservative Christians made them out to be.
As I’ve continued to educate myself about gender and sexuality, I actually see it as more than just a spectrum.
That people can be a part of it, express their own version, or be completely outside it.
And even within the labels, there is a huge range of experiences and preferences. Why would we want to squash the beautiful differences in identity and expression? They can in fact expand our connection to humanity and to each other.
So how does this relate to spirituality?
I think we can all agree that many spiritualities have fallen along the gender binary. But where does that leave those of us who don’t ascribe to the binary system, or identify as nonbinary? I think there are many different ways to approach this, but ultimately, it is that we are ultimately human and Divine. You can choose to eschew binary all together and just view spirituality through a non-gendered lens. The Divine is the Divine. Gods and goddesses are simply expressions of one ultimate Divinity brought into the lens of a binary world. God, the Universe, Yahweh, or Allah, etc is They/Them.
Ultimately, all human characteristics are reflections of Divine characteristics, regardless of whether they are considered masculine or feminine. We ALL have what are considered masculine and feminine traits in varying expressions. We all have light and dark, and everything in between.
In our culture, the separation of masculine and feminine when it comes to spiritual or personality traits has become a damaging thing to those who don’t fall into traditional roles or expressions of masculine and feminine, or who find themselves outside the binary. Many faith traditions have no Divine representation for non binary folx, at least within the mainstream orthodoxy. And this is harmful to ALL people. It feeds into toxic versions of masculinity and femininity that serve to constrain us and prevent us from living unapologetically as our selves. We stuff down the parts of ourselves that don’t fit into our role within the gender binary and therefore give up a part of our personal power and our authenticity.
I’ll be honest, even though I don’t personally identify outside the gender binary as a cisgender woman, the gendering of God messed with my relationship with the Divine. I was hurt a lot by my father, and it’s hard to separate that from a God called Father.
When I started to think of God as a Divine being that encompasses all the characteristics that fall under masculine and feminine, as a Whole Being instead, I felt more connection.
The patriarchal tropes could fall away and God could be anything I needed – Mother, Father, or just Parent. God could be strong and soft, intellectual and intuitive, active and restful, destroyer and creator, without having to assign those attributes to a gender. I could accept the traditionally masculine parts of myself without feeling like I was giving up a feminine identity.
I still have a lot to learn when it comes to non binary spirituality, but it absolutely is possible to find spiritual balance without the gender binary. It really is not ultimately necessary and perhaps its time to find new language within spirituality that doesn’t alienate folx who don’t ascribe to the gender binary.
This is Part 1 of a 2-part series. Click here for Part 2.
What are your thoughts? Share them below or on Facebook!
Want to dive into this more? Check out this article by Victoria Crossman: http://victoriacrossman.com/gender-constructs-archetypes-colonization-energy/
Also, a big thank you to Mason Aid for reviewing this article series and providing feedback! Mason provides consulting and education for businesses who wish to be more inclusive to the LGBTQ+ community.