One Gay Man’s Response to Gender Essentialism in Paganism

A couple days ago, Teo Bishop started a conversation about gender essentialism in Wicca over on his blog, Bishop in the Grove.  Inspired by a comment on a Huffington Post article he had posted about his transgender child, he posed the following question on his Facebook page:

“I wonder how my Wiccan friends might respond to the idea that the Lord and Lady gave us our form, or that a trans person transitioning is the greatest insult to them.”

There were many great responses to this question, including this blog post from my friend Spanish Moss who points out that polarity, sex and gender “are not the same as taught within Traditional Wicca. Yes, our praxis expresses the duality of two Deities along the lines of the sexes; however, the core of the matter is the mystery of the creation of life derives from sex.”  I also appreciated Rev. Kirk Thomaas’ comment on Teo’s post that the gods “didn’t make us look like Them, They make Themselves look like us, for us.”

As a gay man, a man who loves men, and someone interested in trans equality issues, this is something I have thought about quite a bit in how it plays out in my own personal spirituality.  This post isn’t going to be a fully fleshed out theology of gender and the Craft, but these are some of the thoughts I’ve had mulling around in my head for several years now.

Is Wicca Heterosexist?

I know that some Queer Pagans have been turned off to Wicca and gone in search of other Pagan paths that they feel better reflect their experiences as LGBT people because they feel that the God and Goddess of Wicca express a heterosexist experience.  In all fairness, there might be some validity to this opinion.  After all, there is a real history of homophobia within Traditionalist Wicca.  I’m currently reading Michael LLoyd’s Bull of Heaven, a biography of Minoan Brotherhood founder Eddie Buczynski.  In the late 60’s and early 70’s when Eddie was first becoming interested in Wicca, he had a tough time finding a coven to train him because there simply was a bias toward heterosexuality.  In my experience, homophobia within Wiccan communities seems to be a thing of the past.  I’ve never personally experienced any kind of homophobia in the Wiccan communities I have been a a part of in the last 10 years, and I know many LGBT people who are practicing Wiccans and feel welcome in their communities.  But past homophobia is a reality whether we like or not, and apart from any actual homophobia, some just don’t like the Male/Female pairing of the gods.  A central theme to the myth cycle of the Wiccan year is all about the very heterosexual courtship/pairing/coupling of the God and Goddess, and let’s face it, the insertion of a penis into a vagina (whether symbolic or not) is an essential part of almost every Wiccan ritual I’ve experienced.  There are lots of reasons why a Queer Pagan might not feel an affinity with Traditionalist Wicca.

Reconciling Wicca to the Queer Experience

So why are there still lots of LGBT folks who practice Traditionalist Wicca and find it a fulfilling spiritual path?  I can’t speak for everyone, but here are a few of   the ways that I reconcile my experience as a man who loves men with the apparent heterosexism of Wicca.

First, as my friend Spanish Moss has said in his post, polarity, sex and gender in Traditionalist Wicca are not all the same thing.  It’s not necessarily about the gods being male and female and literally having sex and procreating and this is what it’s all about.   A male god and a female goddess are metaphors for polarities that are expressed as masculine and feminine and the creation that takes place when those two things are united.  It’s not so much about male and female as it is about light and dark, expansion and reception, and a myriad of other polarities.  Also, these are polarities that exist within myself.  We all embody both the masculine and feminine within ourselves.  The courtship of the Lord and the Lady is something that also happens internally, and that’s true for me as a gay men, as it’s true for someone who is heterosexual.  Focusing on just the outward expression of gender and the physical sex act misses the point, in my opinion.

But let’s look at just the outward expression of gender and the physical sex act for a moment.  Wicca celebrates the cycle of the natural world, and the reality is that much of the natural world exists and continues to exist because a male and a female come together in sexual union and bring forth life.  It’s a completely natural process and I don’t have any issues acknowledging this process or celebrating it as divine.  It’s the process that brought me into manifestation, after all.  And it’s the process that most of the world experiences and resonates with.  And so yeah, as a man who loves men, I celebrate heterosexuality.  Men and women having sex is still something beautiful and magical.

It’s just not the entirety of my experience.  So in addition to (not in replacement of) celebrating the union of Lord and Lady, I look to other expressions of the Divine that match up more with my personal experience as a gay man.  One of the first ways that I did this as I was exploring Paganism was to play with the Oak King/Holly King mythology.  What if we played with that myth and reimagined the Kings as lovers?  Creating new myths or reinterpreting old myths through our own windows of understanding is a valid way to bring in queer experiences.  Even apart from reimagining myths, there are plenty of gods and goddesses who already have queer aspects to their mythology.  Our Lord is a horned god after all, and the horned gods of history were not picky about who they got lusty with.  Who’s to say the Lord wasn’t out having some fun with some hot guys on the side?

Wanting to experience the Divine in a way that resonates with my experience as a gay man is also one of the things that drew me to the Ekklesia Antinoou and devotion to Antinous.  Antinous and Hadrian had a homoerotic, loving relationship.  While I would never put Antinous in a box and shrink him down to just being a “gay god,” certainly the homoerotic nature of his relationship with Hadrian is something I can relate to.  My desire to experience the Divine in a way that resonates with my experience as a gay man is also one of the things I find appealing about the Unnamed Path.  While I’m not an initiate of that path, I do appreciate that the their gods are men who love men.  Their gods are just like me.

Also, as I pointed out in my previous post, it’s not like we have to limit ourselves in regards to the gods we interact with.  One of “perks” of being a Pagan or polytheist is that we have many gods and goddesses to form a relationship with.  There are the Lord and Lady of Wicca, Antinous and Hadrian, The Dark God and Light God of the Unnamed Path, and many other gods from many other pantheons who can all be a part of my spiritual path and my spiritual life.

So here’s to worshiping the Divine in the many forms that the Divine takes in the world: God, Goddess, Male/Female pairs, Male/Male pairs, and everything in between and in addition to this.  Let’s celebrate all of it as holy!

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4 Comments

Filed under Antinous, Paganism, Polytheism, Queer Spirituality, Transgender Issues, Wicca

4 responses to “One Gay Man’s Response to Gender Essentialism in Paganism

  1. This is a great post, eloquently expressed.

    We are also not limited to the traditional 8 Sabbats. I know of groups who plan additional sacred days or sacred feasts; I would love a Holy Day that celebrated same-sex love or any other permutation of “acts of love and pleasure” as well as holy days celebrating transgendered or intersexed ways of being.

    • I love this idea of “Sabbats plus…”! I really like the idea of celebrating and honoring the full range experience with regards to human sexuality and gender. In my personal practice, I’ve done this by supplementing my Wiccan practice with other paths that resonate with me. But I also love the idea of adding additional rituals within a coven to honor the full range of experiences of those in the coven. Great idea!

  2. Lady Annabelle

    Our current High Priest had been my Maiden, S/he was wonderful as Maiden and now as High Priest, because s/he finally de-transitioned back to male due to liver problems with hormone treatments. Indeed, we have had lesbian and gay members of our coven over the years, and as long as they know they are welcome, and the space is safe for all members of our Wiccan community, then there is no issue. Thank you Anna Greenflame for these lovely ideas.

  3. Pingback: Mysteria Misc. Maxima: November 2nd, 2012 « Invocatio

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