Heteronormativity and Holy Gender.

I keep getting the poke to write about gender and it makes me sigh because gender is hard for me to talk about it. I can’t divorce myself from my feelings or experiences and I have trouble examining it critically without my own personal influence. It’s a topic that feels exhausting, yet I haven’t even come close to exhausting it’s depth and breadth.

I’ve written about gender and how it relates to Mr. Mister before, but it’s worth exploring again, I think, especially since I’ve been mulling it over again [and again and again lately]. What got me going on it this time is the incredible heteronormativity that pervades the god-spouse and god-consort community [and I use that word very, very loosely]. Every single blog I read about spousal or consort relationships between a human and a Deity/Spirit is female spouse and male Deity. Every last one. It seems that male spouse/consort and male Deity relationships are incredibly rare, nevermind female/female or male spouse/consort and female Deity relationships. Is it that They call female-identified people more? I don’t think that’s the answer at all, but I don’t have a better one that doesn’t lead masculinity down a stereotypical path of non-communication.

This is hard for me personally in several ways. First, it’s incredibly lonely. You never really learn the value of community until you don’t have it at all. Second, it leads to the question of whether or not male-identified people can be spouses or consorts, particularly of male Deities. I would be willing to bet a lot of money that there are men out there who are having experiences I would place in the column of those of a god-spouse or consort, but who are either scared to talk about it out loud due to the overwhelming Male/female dynamic present in this particular community or don’t know that a label/category exists for their experiences.

The thing that drives me the craziest, though, is that the heteronormativity is not even acknowledged. It’s instead held up as the norm for god-spouse and god-consort relationships and this hurts people, I think. I don’t believe for a second that the Gods are all heteronormative beings and I think that scares people. I mean, some people’s heads would be blown open if Odin [or, really, any other well-known male-identified Deity] started taking husbands at the same rate as He takes wives. I’ve even seen on a blog by an Odin’s wife that she would outwardly deny any evidence that He had ever been sexual with a male-identified Beings or humans. I don’t know a ton about Odin, but my very limited knowledge says it’s pretty damn likely that Someone like Odin wouldn’t put Himself above that. And yet, it’s this massive fucking taboo for reasons that are beyond my understanding.

Part of me says that it is unexamined homophobia. I find that lots of people are willing to admit that the Gods are sexual beings as much as we are, but when you posit that They may be sexual with people who are the same gender as we perceive them to be…whoa, that’s too damn far. This makes me sad.

The other part really hits me personally, though. This reluctance to even entertain the idea that male Deities would take male lovers/spouses or that female Deities take female lovers/spouses shows that we place a whole lot of expectations and baggage on perceived gender. First, we don’t seem to realize that gender is a human construction and need. My UPG is that the Gods are largely genderless and present Themselves as gendered to make it easier on our little meatbrains. It’s much easier to understand Apollon as a shining, golden man than as a genderless force Who may or may not have an agenda that They would like completed. This is kind of in line with Raven Kaldera’s thoughts on the vertical experience of the Gods.

Second, gender is largely unexplored in both relation to oneself and one’s Gods. As a person who is gendered in a non-standard way, this is kind of impossible to do. I’ve spent literally years considering my gender and how it fits/does not fit into who I am as an individual and as a devotee and consort of a male-presenting God.

I find it maddening that people don’t explore their own gender for the ‘simple’ reason that I see gender as holy. It’s true that this is my own baggage and opinion but this is basically how I see the world of gender; that it is a great gift and immense burden bestowed upon us by the Gods. Gender is a gift in that it is a tool of self-expression and the presence or absence of it is vital part of who we are as individuals. Gender is also a burden in that Western society places such a heavy emphasis on what you are via gender roles and expectations that are in place often without our implicit consent.

I think lots of people who are gendered in a way that they don’t feel the need or desire to question their identity take this gift and burden for granted. This kind of makes me jealous. I’d like to be able to have my gender match my body in a way that didn’t lead me to feel uncomfortable in my body or make it difficult to access the spaces and people I desire to spend my time in.

But, this is what makes my gender holy. It’s work and it’s something I have made the choice to maintain for my own personal well-being and out of devotion to Mr. Mister. I’ve blogged before about how He didn’t want me presenting as female if I was to be in His service and I got some backlash from that in the form of that it was a terrible, horrible thing that He didn’t want me as I was. For some, it might be a terrible, horrible thing if their God asked them to change something about themselves but, for me, it was another gift—that He saw through what I thought was real and drew out the true and authentic Alex and wanted that, not something that had been constructed for someone else’s benefit. If that’s terribly then, well, I love it when He’s terrible to me.

I don’t have any solutions for the heteronormativity found among god-spouses and god-consorts, but I can be present and live in a visible way. I can make the continual choice to live with my gender as holy and present that choice as viable not only for myself but for others. I can try to be an example of a male/male relationship and hope that this draws others who have a similar experience with their Gods out of the shadows.

At the end of the day, I offer a prayer that you, like me, find the time and space to find the holiness in your own gender. It is my hope that you examine what makes you female, male, or something different and that you live that deliberately and with confidence instead of allowing yourself to slip into the river of gender roles and expectations. Whatever our relationship to our Gods, it is a gift of devotion and love to Them to live as authentically as possible with the goal of self-realization. Regardless of what Work we are called to, if we are called at all, this is something They value about us; that we have the capacity to know ourselves and, through that, know Them more completely.

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~ by Alex on February 5, 2013.

23 Responses to “Heteronormativity and Holy Gender.”

  1. Thank you for writing this. It is very timely for today, as I am a person who struggles with gender issues within myself, and I often find myself giving a lot of thought to the topic of gender. And I am not so out loud/outward about it, for exactly the reasons that you have mentioned.
    Sometimes, I don’t think that I really need to talk about it because, well, my gender dysphoria doesn’t rear its head too often… Except on the days when it does.

    I agree with you on several points, and i am glad that you have shared them. I think that the Gods can and do manifest outside of a gender binary, and I agree that the Gods do want us to live as authentically as possible, as well, even if, to live authentically, we are to live outside of a gender binary ourselves.
    -H.

    • Thanks for your comment–I’m glad this post was meaningful for you.

      I think the reasons that give us pause about being out about our gender stuff really suck. I’m sorry that you’ve experienced it, too–sometimes I wish I was the only one, so that others wouldn’t feel the same way.

  2. The apparently disproportionate number of female godspouses bugs me for many of the same reasons as it bugs you. Although I personally know of one male consort and one trans* godspouse, as well as one person who has a female/female relationship with a deity in addition to being a godwife, the trend still looks really heteronormative, and I’m never sure how to address that, since I’m well aware that it looks like I’m part of the problem. (And the sheer number of Lokean godwives running around online has contributed to this, as well.) So thanks for posting this, as both a reminder for the rest of us and a notice for those who haven’t heard: the gods take ALL kinds of people and relate to us in ALL kinds of ways.

    • I will admit to thinking about the inordinate amount of Lokean godwives when writing this.. 😉 I haven’t run into another Deity Who is so damn..prolific and yet I know in my bones He, of all Gods, must be calling men yet they are silent and, frankly, I can see why.

      I know I’m not the only one in this boat, but I wish more people would talk about it even though it’s scary.

      • Agreed. The trans* person I spoke of is a Lokean, but I don’t know what’s up with him these days.

        FWIW, I don’t feel like part of a “community” of godspouses, be they wed to Loki or otherwise. I think Tumblr (which I’m not on) gives a false impression of unity that isn’t really there, and anyway, just because someone else says they’re married to my god too doesn’t necessarily mean I want to hang with them 😛

      • Exactly. There really isn’t a coherent community of godspouses etc because, frankly, we can be a bitchy jealous lot. I’m frankly pretty glad I don’t know any other Mr. Mister consorts or spouses because I have seen what happens with Loki’s wives and I wouldn’t want to be a part of that.

  3. ‘we don’t seem to realize that gender is a human construction and need. My UPG is that the Gods are largely genderless and present Themselves as gendered to make it easier on our little meatbrains. It’s much easier to understand Apollon as a shining, golden man than as a genderless force Who may or may not have an agenda that They would like completed.’

    I am not sure I can completely agree with you here – my understanding/perception is that feminine-masculine polarity – on a wide, wide spectrum- is often a defining element within the Olympian pantheon: Apollon’s presence is masculine is a number of ways that go beyond the human limitation of the gender concept and He certainly takes pride in that, Hera is Womanhood in Her ripeness , Dionysos is genderqueer by definition , Artemis is most identifiable with that stage of adolescent feminity where boys have cooties and girl crushes are not all that infrequent, Athena is … complicated, but I don’t know Her enough to feel sure in asserting an opinion.

    Also the pantheon is structured so that the Olympians are in equal number female and male. While I cannot say gender is a non-factor, it seems to be more like a polarity and less as our straight-cut interpretation of gender. It also doesn’t stop deities from having affairs with anyone they find pleasing enough, male, female or gender-queer and all shades-in-between 😉

    Regardless of my considerations on the subject, I think it’s a wonderful and helpful thing that you are allowing others the chance to feel welcome by being open and visible about your path (and I don’t think it’s easy, so all the more kudos to you).
    I think it’s probable godlovers that not experience a not-heteronormative relationship might be more reticent to talk about their experience, feeling like they are in the minority and that’s a shame because as, you said, community can be a pretty useful tool.

    • See, I think that continuum/spectrum of masculinity/femininity is an entirely human construction. I think those characteristics of masculinity/femininity are part of THEIR spectrum of how They interact with us in the most convenient manner. I think those characteristics get a lot more ‘real’, for lack of a better word, when they are accessed by more and more people.

      • I see. My concept of gods is not really compatible with that, but I understand how it fits with the rest of your ideology. 🙂

  4. Also adding: thank you for a very honest and thought-provoking post and the underlining that a lot of human limitations just are not appliable to deities … and that does include sexual expression/ evading human-normativity in general. Take my earlier ramble as a sign you pushed my brain intellectualize-buttons -even if focused my first reply more on the points where my opinion divereged from yours, I believe you touched on deep truths here.

  5. I agree that it is odd that we only see/have evidence of Man/woman relationships in the godspouse/consort community. And I find it disconcerting.

    I’ve tried to think of why that might be, and I’ve found a few reasons that may explain why we see what we see, but nothing about the actual rate occurrence of different dynamics. All of my experience with other god-bothered has occurred online, and I feel like the gender ratios of pagans with an online pretense is very very skewed towards the feminine identifying.

    On the other hand, in my UPG the Horned God has taken male bodied and masculine identifying lovers. He has told me about them and had a fairly long list. In His words, “Love is love, and sex is sex, and all of it is my domain.”

    I’m not sure what this little anecdote will mean to the larger problem, but there it is. . .

  6. FWIW, I know of several people who do not fit the common female-devotee/male-deity dynamic (although I too have noticed the prevalence of this and wondered about it). I knew one male awhile back in a godspouse relationship with a male deity, I know one male who at least has a sexual aspect sometimes to his relationship with his male patron deity, and I know one male who has several female spirit lovers. Maybe they don’t feel as much need to publicly speak of it or try to create community with others? Maybe there’s even some underlying issue where at least hetero cis-gendered men see that kind of bhakti relationship as somehow un-masculine, too receptive or something. I don’t really know. But there are some exceptions to the rule out there.

    • Thanks for your comment–it is heartening to know that there are others out there. I agree that there may something that is seen as un-masculine about that flavor of deity relationships. Interesting stuff to ponder.

  7. […] to allude some of you (thanks to male privilege that says “women dumb, men smart”): being a female is a holy gift for myself. I love being female. More than that, I love being a cisgendered,  heterosexual, ultra feminine […]

  8. Oh, I like that you mention Odin, because one of the largest learning experiences so far with the gods is that Odin is in so many ways different than from what I would have expected. Even though He has come to me in male form, I have yet to be convinced of Him being “immensely masculine” or even 100%. As a whole, every god I’ve worked with has been rather like this–even Thor, who was much less “macho” and much more “whatever He is” than I had expected. In a way, I shouldn’t be surprised. Of course the gods are who They are, but because of the presence of strong heteronormativity and concepts of roles of what should be fe/male and masculine/feminine that I find it hard to see what gods “are” in truth because of our notions. In a sense, while Loki may often appear “male” to me, He is not “male, end of story.” Likewise goes for Hel. As a child, She would appear to me most often in half-forms, but at other times, also as a male skeleton. I don’t know -how- I knew it was male (as I had not the forensic knowledge that I do now), but I know She was in the form of a He at this point. Through my work for Loki and Odin Asagrim, I have been encouraged to take both male and female role in sex, to understand both roles.

    I feel understanding gender and combining the two are definitely part of my practice, now, and sometimes I wish I had a choice–it really would be nice to be heternormative–but I have found that it gives me wider ability to act for my gods.

    • I feel like a lot of Northern Tradition folks (nevermind more mainstream Asatru) forget key parts of Odin’s background in particular. He is perceived to be this big manly man (and that’s how I met Him, coincidentally), but He did many ‘womanly’ things and, while I haven’t studied Him in-depth, I know that there’s a bunch of UPG around He and Loki having a more intimate relationship than is written.

      I mean, I think it’s true of a lot, if not all, Gods. Gender is an inherently human construct that I believe They wear to make it easier for us to understand and perceive.

      And, if you really study various sources of lore and mythology, there are lots of instances of gender variance, either by choice or happenstance. Osiris had his penis cut off. Thor wore a dress. I can’t remember the name, but there is an Egyptian Deity Who embodies both feminine and masculine. There’s a face of Aphrodite that wears a beard. And Loki…where to start?

      I believe that people do not talk about this because it is uncomfy and causes distress. I liken it to a heterosexual spouse finding out their husband likes to crossdress or their wife shaves off a beard. It challenges our assumptions about them, ourselves, and our relationship. I think queers and gender-weird people kinda have a corner on this–we tend not to find such things shocking in the least.

      Sometimes I wish I had a choice, too, and in some ways I did–I certainly could have kept up my existence as a female–but I wouldn’t be fit for the work laid in front of me if I had chosen otherwise.

      • That is one shame, I’ve found, that it can be easy to forget that gods have long pasts. I’ve been seeing that Odin and Loki may have had a more intimate relationship around more and more. I’m starting to agree. When I first oathed myself to Loki, Odin came around, asking questions, essentially interrogating me, and it has seemed that if something includes one, the other is around. At one point, Odin called me to come to Him (for me, He isn’t “mobile,” but hung on Yggdrasil), and yet instead of it being about Him, it became, yet again, about Him, myself, and Loki.

        I can understand that viewpoint–not talked about because it’s stressing. Sometimes, it CAN make things easier–like knowing what pronoun to use with Loki (while many works, because of how He shows Himself to me, I usually use male). With Jormungandr, it’s hard because Jormungandr has never displayed as any gender. (More so: Jor has displayed Jor’s self as “female yet male”.) He or She works, but English doesn’t have the “right” pronoun (“both”). It was a profound experience, meeting Jormungandr, for that reason: a large, imposing sea-snake–most people I’ve shown my art of Jor to, people assume Jor is male, because “large monstrous sea-snake” screams “masculine” and yet that’s a strange assumption, really. That something big and scary MUST be male (and a rather sad, one too).

        For some, these things can be “abnormal,” but really, it seems more and more, to me at least, that what is considered “normal” is so much less so. (That is “masculine male who works; feminine female who cares for house.”) It’s not so much that genderqueerness, etc, is “more common than not,” but it seems that even those who are cisgendered have sides to them that “waver” culturally. My father raised me, for example, without my mother, so he had to work differently than how he was raised culturally–mother teaches/cares for child, father works. (Although technically both my grandparents worked, my grandmother, who was agender/genderqueer, worked at home as an artist.) I know more people who waver–more people who aren’t culturally being “male” or “female” than not. I know more people who break the boundaries to some degree, even if they’re cisgendered. (And even if they’re in positions that are considered the “manliest” like being a frontline soldier.)

        It seems so far that, being my gender, whatever it is, means that, spiritually, it involves connecting both sexes. That is, of my friends who are often deemed masculine, being someone to confide in, to provide relief for, regarding their less-than-masculine traits, or if they’re very effeminate, to provide that as a service too. Another is to help defy or break down the binary beliefs, like showing that males can be less interested in battle and more into housework, or vice versa.

        That is partly what makes it so “frustrating”–having this as a job. And yes, I probably could have refused it, refused it like so much else that I’m being given or directed to do, but then I know I couldn’t have chosen to refuse because I knew I couldn’t WANT to refuse Loki. In other words, when I made my choice to work with Him, I chose these jobs, even if I wasn’t told of what would be asked of me, and I don’t think I would have traded it for something else.

      • My understanding, based on what I’ve seen with Odin’s people and Loki’s people, is that They are often times a package deal–you have One, you get the Other. Not all the time, as I can easily think of a couple examples of that not happening, but a lot.

        I find the gender stuff around non-human Gods [for lack of a better term–Gods Who are primarily associated with animals, such as Fenris and others]. For me, it drives home the fact that WE assign gender because, if I’m working with a Power Who does not present as a human form, why the hell does Their gender matter? I don’t have any experience with Jormungandr, but I have very limited experience with Obatala, who is the oldest of the Orisha and often takes the form of a snake. Obatala is often written as male, but I perceive Them to be very feminine. It’s very convenient that They are synchronized with Our Lady of Mercy in the Catholic tradition.

        I find cultural gender fascinating, especially in the Western world. It has changed to little overall that it’s not even funny. I was raised by a very masculine, forward-thinking woman and a fairly timid [until he got angry] man and they were a total anomaly in our little WASP-y world.

        [As an aside, I don’t know one spirit-worker who does not have some kind of gender stuff going on, even if they identify as cisgendered.]

        Part of my holy gender work is to break assumptions. I identify as transmasculine, yet I do things that are considered very feminine. I have to transgress sexuality and be a bridge to further understanding of masculinity. This especially happens with queer or questioning men–I am often the cherry-popper before they move on to cisgendered men. I am either ‘safe’ because I am female-sexed or I am a shock to the system because they find themselves attracted to me and this causes them to question their ideas about masculinity.

        I was once told in a very dark time in my life that the hardest Job was to be yourself. I really dislike that my physicality is one of my/His biggest tools, but it’s not about me. I could have refused Him, but I would be unhappy and disillusioned and living an empty life. It sucks often, but the greater fulfillment comes from working His will in this plane.

  9. I wonder if there those spirit-workers who DON’T have gender stuff happening… Because that’s a fascinating observation.

    I think I would have to agree: that being oneself is that hardest of all. It’s something that I’ve been tackling for a while now. We’re such social creatures that acceptance can be very addictive or desirable, which means that sometimes, we can’t be ourselves AND be socially accepted. In my case, I wasn’t, as a kid, until high school, and even then I was mostly alone, and now in my practice, while my mentor is Rokkatru, I’m way off zer beaten path–our practices are massively different. I’ve always wanted a group, to be with others in what I do, but now I realize that I walk alone in so much of it. Sometimes I can find others (like those who work with Jor or Huginn & Muninn), but oftentimes, it means finding my way first, alone.

    Even though its been only a year of devotion (and it literally has been an entire year–not one month has gone by without me performing work for my fulltrui) but it has been more fulfilling than I ever thought it to be.

    • After some thought, I can think of maybe one spirit-worker I know without some sort of gender tweak, but she works in a fairly rigid pantheon.

      I’ve always been a loner and part of my spiritual path is being the sacred outsider. I don’t have a community so much–even the one I have been involved with, which is a group that prides itself on welcoming ‘freaks and monsters’, I am the outsider. I don’t have a pantheon or know other folks who work with my God and, while it’s sometimes horrid, it’s also incredibly freeing. I don’t have to deal with community politics or squabbling over whose UPG is right-er or any of that shit.

      My Boss flipped my life upside down and inside out and I wouldn’t have it any other way. Pre-Boss, my life was meaningless and empty and I had no goals or ambitions and, had He not come on the scene, I likely would have continued on that path. Though I bitch and moan and drag my feet, this is so much better than the alternative. I literally had no life six/seven years ago..and now I have a purpose.

      • That’s interesting to think of: sacred outsider. I know for most of my practice, it’s been that, being a traveller, I am meant to learn to walk the paths myself. (I’m not sure WHEN I “found” it, because I don’t remember creating it, but there’s a short poem-esque thing that describes “me” and my path, as a whole: the lone traveller/walking the hidden path/sailing the unknown seas. Since then, that’s embodied who I am.) I think this is why I’ve been encouraged by Odin Asagrim to come to Him, rather than for Him to come to me–it requires me to Journey, to learn to do so, or why when any issue comes up for me to work through, I must act by myself without help (having others divine for me, for example, on understanding something yields fruitless; I need to find answers myself).

        It has been tough for me, because I end up in a whirlwind. I had purpose, then lost it, then had it again, then lost it. Nowadays, I don’t actually know WHAT my purpose is, at least not always. Not beyond “be for my fulltrui, for Hel and for Loki.” The worst part is that Hel wishes me to understand Death and often, I feel the need to work with Death (and that’s been ambiguous beyond belief–what “Death” means; it could mean of the Endless, or of death-the-state, or what), often feeling the urge to work in forensics, or as a mortician (except because of embalming practices, I can’t) but with Loki, there is the need to tell story, because stories must be told, and so I wish to work in jobs of that realm. So it becomes… Very problematic of what I’m supposed to do, yet at the same time, I’m sure I’ll figure it out eventually.

        Sometimes I envy that–not having to deal with community politics and UPG-squabbles. It’s… Very tiring at times, HAH.

      • Part of it for me is that I walk [somewhat] in my God’s footsteps–He is a walker between boundaries at times and it suits Him to have me do something similar. He values independence highly, which it sounds like Odin Asagrim is fostering in you. For quite awhile, I had a thing where I could not seek divination and I’m really not suppose to now unless it’s a seriously Big Deal–the Man wants me to hone my intuition and listen to my feelings. From the perspective of my Boss, me relying on other mortals is dangerous due to some not-so-healthy behaviors I have engaged in the not so distant past. He wants me to rely fully on Him, which is not a surprise at all, it’s just fucking hard.

        I have interesting views on Death. I don’t work with Hel at all, but I do work with people who are often called the living dead. They ‘die’ when they choose to change their life–it is often followed by a social death and resurrection in a new community. Have you thought about volunteering with a hospice?

        There are a kazillion ways of telling stories, so you’re in luck. 🙂 For me, I had to learn the difference between vocation and avocation. My true vocation [my spirit-work] does not pay the bills, so I work at what I term my avocation–my day job. My immediate thought with what you’ve said in regards to stories is are you sure you’re the one who has to do the telling? There is power in being the sacred listener/witness and I can TOTALLY see that fitting in with what I know of Loki–in my experience, He likes folks who are marginalized in some way, like the homeless, trans folks, sexual deviants [heh], and the like. Maybe there’s something to listening to what they say and either recording it or just simply being present for it?

        I am pretty consistently thrilled not to have a Deity-related community to be involved in, but I definitely stick my nose into spirit-worker politics because I a) can’t keep my mouth shut sometimes and b) it’s part of challenging what the dominant party thinks is real and providing other opportunities for those who wish to have them.

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