I grew up a gender queer in the sixties and seventies.
Not quite a boy, not quite a girl, in a society where gender was strictly binary, with roles and clothes and mannerisms and temperament all very clearly defined. I understood myself to belong to the boy’s side of the gender divide, from the first moments I understood myself at all. But there was a little girl’s body (seemingly mistakenly) affiliated with my little boy’s soul.
The most important thing to understand about us, the ones that grew up gender queer back in those days, is the loneliness.
See, back then there was no one I could watch. No one to emulate. No one to belong to. But I think worst of all, there was no one to understand me. There was only an unceasing series of wrenchingly painful personal compromises, and a long line of adults urging me to simply relent and betray my very self, because other people had no possible way of connecting the emotional dots.
There was praise when I behaved in ways contradictory to my natural inclination. What felt shameful to me, namely dressing in girl’s clothes and “acting” like a girl, was lauded by the adults around me.
When I started in school my beloved grandmother made me the most adorable clothes. Picked out the patterns, sewed them expertly, lovingly. She presented me with jumpers that looked better than the ones other girl’s moms bought in stores, dresses that fit perfectly with apples sewn on them, or alphabet letters, in colors that she selected just for me. I hated them. I loved my grandmother so much, and I was ashamed of myself for hating them. I tried to keep it to myself. I don’t know if she knew how I felt about them, and she died before I was old enough for us to talk about it. Even today, thinking back and writing about it, I feel like I’m pulling up a bucket from some poisoned well deep within me.
There was a distance from the girls, distance from the boys. I was very aware that I did not fit in to either group, and the more I tried to fit in the more I simply didn’t.
This distance, this loneliness, is part of the foundation of my life. And you know what? It’s a beautiful thing. It allows me to live and create with an unusual disregard for societal, familial, and theological presuppositions. Not fitting inside the all-important gender binary (it’s required by even our language!) made me aware, quite early, that there existed certain illusions people agree to real-ize together.
The objective existence of God is one such illusion.
The Objectification of God
“Angels are subjective things created from objective points of view.” Is a line from a song I wrote when I was 22 years old, one of the first times I tried to put this into words.
Today I’m taking a deep breath, and I’m going to attempt to put it into words again.
Let me anticipate the first misunderstanding. No, I’m not saying that there is no Divine Presence. I’m not saying that faith is self-delusion. I’m not saying that there’s nothing beyond us. I’m just saying the objective existence of God is an illusion.
God exists concretely for me, yes. Perhaps more concretely than almost anything else I experience. And I know many, many, people who will tell you they have had actual experiences of being in the Divine Presence, actual experiences of being touched by God’s hand, hearing God’s voice, feeling God’s guidance, being overwhelmed by what many call the “Holy Spirit.” And I think all those people are telling the truth, I think they absolutely experienced everything they describe. Yes, I do think God is.
So if I think God exists, how can I also say God is an illusion?
Here’s how. The way that you experience the Divine, the way that I experience the Divine, the way that my friends of all faiths experience what they refer to (in their own particular terminology) as the Divine, that force or concept or be-ing or whatever, needs no objective existence other that the subjective experience of each person.
I am saying that God as an objective construct is an illusion. I am saying that God as a subjective experience is real.
We humans run into a great deal of trouble when we try to turn God into an objective reality. When we try to say, “This is what God looks like, and feels like, and sounds like, and says. This is what the experience of God should be like for everyone. If your experience of God is not like this, then you are not experiencing God.” This is a lethal game. Ever since people started trying to turn God into an objective reality (and I wonder if there was ever a time when we did not try to do this) we have constantly suffered in the throes of religious wars, crusades, inquisitions, holocausts, ethnic cleansings, and terror campaigns. That is exactly where objectifying God takes us. This lethal game is one that we humans, in our unquenchable thirst for full comprehension, and in our aversion to mystery, continue to play, year after year, civilization after civilization.
Trying to confine a mysterious and unknowable Divinity into something that can not only be objectively defined but also understood, I think, might be best described as idolatry.
Our Queer Creation
I have a hunger for belonging, just like anyone else. It seems to be hard wired into almost all of us. But over the years I have developed a congenial relationship with loneliness, to the point where I am most comfortable standing on the other side of the innumerable lines we draw between and around each other.
As a gender queer, I was born into the margin between the two primary divisions of humanity. Forced to find satisfaction with neither/both, in an either/or world. As a child it was often a miserable place to be. But as an adult, I thank God in all Her Wisdom for this particular Divine expression, and it’s many gifts, including and especially the gift of perspective.
And here’s a secret. We are all queer creations. We all defy definition. We all extend past the labels. Maybe we don’t like to notice it, but that doesn’t change it.
The question is if you will choose to embrace your own particular queer creation or live your life pretending to be like someone else.
Will you try to step outside of division and become neither/both? Will you move to embrace the Divine Mystery and back away from attempts to define your spiritual experience? Will you try to stop telling and start asking? Will you stop following and start surrendering? Will you stop judging and start loving?
A 2013 Queer Theology synchroblog post.
This post also featured as a guest post on Jann Aldredge-Clanton’s Changing Church blog.
Other synchroblog posts written by friends:
Virginia Ramey Mollenkott’s “Coming Out as Embodiments of God Herself: Why is It so Difficult?” on her website.
Casey O’Leary’s guest post, “Created Queerly–Living My Truth” on the Ain’t I a Woman blog.