Relating to deity

My answers to week 3 of The Mystical Seeker’s Year.

The first questions are to do with whether you give deity a human-like form or personality, or whether it is more like a force or energy.  Also, whether the form of this personified deity, or the kind of energy is masculine, feminine or genderless.

This, for me, is complicated.  I both recognise deity as an abstract force AND I like to indulge my desires to personify the spiritual with representations and forms.  The abstract force seems genderless and sort of distant.  But I also recognise forms.  These can be gods or goddesses.  I feel a strong connection to the feminine and so recognise many powerful goddesses in my personal devotion, such as Aphrodite and Athena.  When I try to personify the wild mysteries of nature, some of that distant, unfeeling but awe inspiring and powerful presence, I do often picture the antlered god Cernunnos.  When I reflect on the aspect of nature that I feel I can connect with and feel a sense of nurturing and love from, then I do feel that this energy is feminine but I am also capable of seeing this feminine force as an abstract energy and not personified either.

So my answer is complicated.  I recognise both a genderless force or energy, and this represents power, mystery and also wisdom and insight and it’s kind of impersonal.  But it is somehow also capable of manifesting as a feminine force of compassion and nurturing, and I can have a relationship with that.  When I indulge in my poetic desire to connect with symbolic representations of the divine, and picture deity in human-like form, I often picture the mysterious and powerful antlered god, or I connect with strong goddess figures like Athena or Aphrodite.

In answer to the next question, I try not to relate to deity as a parent figure.  The impersonal aspects of deity (the genderless force and the antlered god) are neutral or distant.  The feminine force feels nurturing, so I suppose you could say it is an idealised form of mother.  Certainly that fits the whole “mother nature” thing, and I can sort of relate to that.  However that’s not related to my actual  mother and I think that sort of concept could easily turn unhealthy, especially if your relationship to your parents was less than ideal.  Athena however does remind me of my actual mother, which put me off of her at first.  But I realised those qualities of wisdom and strength that she represents were qualities I sorely needed, and yes my mother was strong, intelligent and honest, so I suppose Athena does represent some of that.  Aphrodite feels somewhat like a lover (but not exactly, deity is deity after all) and it was important to have a strong, powerful goddess who was also sexual because I have a lot of problems in my sexual life and I desire strong, powerful women, so I felt like I needed a goddess to bring those needs to.

The whole complement or opposite thing, with regards to the gender of deity is a little hard for me to answer because although I was born physically male I am transgender.

Finally the question about names and labels.  I talk a lot about nature or The Universe when describing deity in the abstract.  I do not yet have a name for the nurturing, feminine energy as I have only just discovered it during the course of all these questions.  The personified gods that I honour of course have names – Aphrodite, Athena, Cernunnos.  There are other deities I have had an interest in – Shiva, Hermes, Dionysus, Odin, Thoth.  These did not come to mind when contemplating my relationship with deity and the answers to the previous questions though, which is interesting.

I get confused when answering these questions whether to focus primarily on my abstract concept of deity or to also acknowledge my indulgence in symbolism and my interest in these historic deities, which has made my answers kind of complicated.  But both sides of my spirituality seem important to me, so whatever.

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Origin and attributes of deity

I am responding to questions in Lunar Wisdom’s Mystical Seeker’s Year on Youtube.  This is my response to week 2.

The question of whether humans created deity or whether deity  created humans is a complex one for me.  The polytheistic deities that I feel can help our human minds to connect with our own spirituality are not literal beings but symbolic in my view, so those gods were of course invented by human beings.  But the mystical All, that pantheist deity that I sense in nature and the cosmos… that is a more complex question.

I do not believe it created us as such.  I think, if it exists, that it is a presence within nature itself.  It sort of emerges from within the Universe, or is a principle of the Universe itself.  But I do not believe in a Creator or a designer.  I think that conflicts with scientific evidence.  We emerged from a process of evolution and natural selection.  But if there is some real presence or essence of deity within nature itself, then obviously that existed before we did and was not at all created by us.  However it is possible that the cosmos really is impersonal and unfeeling, and this concept of connectedness or a spiritual presence we can connect with, is really just a product of human consciousness, something we need for our own psychological reasons.  That doesn’t make it useless and I have a pragmatic approach to spiritual matters.  These concepts have worth on a human level, and can help us gain perspective, hope and wisdom and help us to navigate our lives in an ethical and psychologically healthy way.

On the other hand it is also possible that the Universe is far stranger than we give it credit for, and that, being part of the Universe, we can have a kind of relationship with what exists and really plug in to an interconnectedness that can have an uncannily beneficial effect on our lives.  All we have to do is open ourselves to it and connect.

So there’s a bit of a question mark in my heart when it comes to this question.

As for the attributes that deity has:  I believe it is non-judgemental, it is a force of connectedness, it is creative, it is mysterious, subtle, complex, there is insight and wisdom in nature, there is a kind of compassion, albeit a passive, hands-off kind of compassion, a gentleness, a patience almost.

As for the question of whether these attributes fall into one category.  What is interesting is there is a kind of tension here between two, maybe three different ideas of deity.  We have the distant, cold, impersonal force of nature.  Then we have a gentle, patient reservoir of wisdom that wants to help but perhaps has a lightness of touch about it.  There is possibly a third set of attributes here too – the creativity, the mystery, the slight weirdness about nature/the Universe that confounds our expectations, that perhaps “plays” at creating without much caring about the outcome.

However it’s easy to see how this is all just different ways of describing and thinking about nature, lending credence to the idea that this is a human conception and interpretation of something that in its own nature might not even be a deity anyway, but simply the cold, mysterious cosmos.  In desiring to connect with the All, we seek compassion and wisdom, but in its own nature it is unfeeling and distant, and somewhere in the middle of all this we can rationalise it as a playful, reckless and slightly weird creative energy that cares little about the outcome of its actions but just creates for the joy of it.

I guess I am an atheist.  I just like to be poetic about it.  Like I said, spirituality is pragmatic for me.  It is human nature to desire to interact with the Universe in this way, to dream up our own spiritual symbols and metaphors.  But that doesn’t mean we should reject this impulse.  I think we can and should embrace it.  I think it is healthy to do so, as long as we also realise that this is not the realm of literal fact but simply our own emotional  yearning for a deeper spiritual connection and understanding.

The Nature of Deity

I’ve been a spiritual seeker all my life.  I was raised Christian, flirted with Occultism and New Age ideas in my late teens, took a passing interest in Hinduism and Buddhism in my early twenties, became a panpsychist pantheist in my late twenties and early thirties, became an atheist in my mid thirties and then regained some kind of spirituality, including flirting with Hinduism and Paganism, even though remaining something of an agnostic.

Having become interested in paganism recently but still not sure where exactly I fit in (if anywhere), I’ve decided to question myself on spiritual matters with the aid of Lunar Wisdom’s Mystical Seeker’s Year series on Youtube.  Here is the first one, which I am responding directly to in this blog post.

The questions asked in that first video are all about the nature of deity.  Here are my thoughts.

To me deity, or spiritual force, is connectedness.  It is the sense in which we can connect with the Universe and take part in and gain sustenance from something larger than ourselves.

I am both a pantheist and a polytheist.  The pantheist part is more “real”, more the way I literally see deity.  The polytheist part is more symbolic.

The Pantheist deity is obviously immanent, not transcendent, because that is what pantheist literally means.  But this “spiritual force” or “presence” of inter-connectedness is a bit abstract for the human mind.

The polytheist deities are a practicality.  They help the human consciousness connect with the abstract All.  Weirdly, because they are ideas only, they are sort of transcendent and not immanent.  But they help the human mind get a grasp on spiritual matters and find spiritual sustenance and wisdom in a way that can perhaps be difficult when concentrating on an abstract force of connection, of nature itself, or the Universe.  Even though it is that pantheist spiritual force that is immanent in and through everything and so can powerfully influence a person’s life.

As for how does deity manifest.  I think deity is manifest primarily in nature, and therefore through our nature too and being a force of connectedness, it is also manifest in our interactions and relationships with each other.

6 dimensions to my gender confusion

“Gender confusion?”  I hear you ask.  “But I thought you’d worked out that you’re a trans woman?”

Well, I think it’s important to be honest and I’d be lying if I said that I never doubted or questioned and that my feelings about gender were always straightforward.  I think in many ways we’re all a bit confused about gender.  And I wanted to share the complicated thoughts I’ve had today about my feelings with regards to gender.

I’ve managed to break down those thoughts and feelings into six different things.  Firstly there is what I like to call the big, horrible thing.  It’s not necessarily anything to do with gender as such but it is something that has contributed to my pain and been a driving force behind my desire to question my gender identity.  Then there are the three things that are definitely related to gender identity and that make a certain course of action (gender transition) seem like a sensible option for me.  Then there’s the fun matter of clothing and make up, which is of course gender expression and not necessarily indicative of gender identity.  Finally there is the matter of what-I-think-I-am, which although it is often lifted up as the be-all and end-all of gender identity is I believe a little bit philosophically problematic, as words and  concepts are always tied up with beliefs and philosophies (what you think those words mean) and so may not be as revealing as we’d like to believe.

Let’s look at the big horrible thing first.  I have certain needs and desires with regards to sex and romance.  I am primarily attracted to women and it is women that I need and desire these things from.  Yet if I identify as a guy I would be forced to call these needs and desires “role reversal”.  For most of my life, including when I identified as a guy, I wanted, needed, desired to be in the conventionally female role and for my female sexual partners to adopt the conventionally male role.  This undoubtedly makes being a man very painful and difficult but it is not necessarily indicative of gender identity.  However it has shaped my life with a lot of pain.

I’ve had a bit of a breakthrough about this matter.  I’ve realised that whether I identify as a guy, a woman or somewhere in between that nevertheless these needs of mine are something I cannot help (they are how I’m wired) and that they are totally ok.  Yes, it sucks to be physically male and attracted to women but desire the women in your life to take the lead, initiate sex, be strong and protective, sweep you off your feet, ravish you, penetrate you etc.  It doesn’t necessarily mean you’re a woman (although you could conceivably make some point about mating instincts and biology if you wanted).  But whether a person who feels this way is a man, a woman, in between or neither it should be seen as totally ok to be that way.  So in interest of healing I need to remind myself of that.  I can’t help it and it’s ok.  And yes, we should challenge stupid gender roles that attempt to constrict people’s life options and make them feel they are wrong for desiring what they desire.  I hope to still be able to challenge the idea that men have to be a certain way, should be a certain way in their romantic and sexual relationships.  I can still rage against how much this particular thing sucks for those born male.  And I will.

But there are three things that probably do indicate that I’m a trans woman and certainly indicate that gender transition is right for me.  Those three things are: preferences for gendered words and pronouns, feelings about my body and what I can only call “self image”.

I’ve discovered in recent months that on the rare occasion when people gender me as female that it feels comfortable, right and honouring to be referred to in those ways.  Well meaning friends call me “missus” or “madam” sometimes.  I was referred to as “that lady over there” once in a cafe.  People use “she” and “her” pronouns of me on occasion.  I’ve been called “Ms Kim”.  This always feels right, whether I’m dressed male or female.  On the opposite side, terms such as “man”, “fella”, “sir”, “dude” and even “mate” and “he” tend to grate on me.  Some of them always have, even way back when I identified roughly as a “guy” (for some reason the word guy doesn’t bother me as much).  You could make the point that the reason some words feel better than others is to do with whatever associations and ideas you attach to those words, so that it doesn’t actually indicate anything about your gender but only what you think about your gender.  That certainly seems accurate as far as it goes.  But if a person prefers to be referred to as a woman then it definitely seems like the best course of action for that person to legally and socially transition to being a woman.  It’s straight forward really; pure pragmatism.  If that’s the issue then this is the solution.  It’s hard to argue with that kind of logic.

Then there is the complex matter of how I feel about my own body.  I’ve also only truly discovered these feelings in recent years.  But if I’m honest many of these feelings go back to my youth, to puberty and my teens.  I just didn’t consciously accept it, I argued it away and suppressed it.  One thing I’ve never had a particular problem with is my genitals.  Yes I don’t like to use them as nature intends in the bedroom but I’ve always been fond of masturbating and of having them touched, sucked, played with by partners.  When it comes to genitals though I have discovered the opposite matter.  I envy pussy.  When I include having a pussy in my sexual fantasies, wow it is sexual dynamite.  To feel someone inside me, to have a sexually sensitive hole to be penetrated in, whether with dildos, fingers or a sexy big toe, that sounds like heaven.  Anal is so uncomfortable and icky really.  Ok, with plenty of lube and the right person it could be ok.  But to be penetrated in a way that feels like when my genitals are being stimulated.  Wow, I want that.  I want that so badly!

Then there is body hair, facial hair, body shape, chest, weird little things like the muscles on my arms or how narrow my waist is.  I’ve had complicated feelings about all of that all my life.  I hate my body hair.  I’ve started to hate my facial hair too.  My chest looks wrong, my body shape is wrong, I should have more delicate arms and wider hips.  I do want a body that has that hourglass shape.  Even a large woman’s shape, where the majority of the fat is on the chest and the hips/bum would be preferable to my fat male shape.  Small or moderate sized breasts would definitely be preferable to my flat male chest.  My boobs look best to me when I’m hot so  that the nipples swell and the boobs look a bit flabby.  That’s when I look at them and say “ooh, I’ve got boobies”.  Then they go all flat, the nipples shrink and I just don’t find them as attractive.

It seems clear to me, in that exact same pragmatic way, that these are things I could change with hormones.  My facial hair I could change with electrolysis or laser hair treatment.  I already remove my body hair regularly with an electric razor.  Simple really, if that is the problem then this is the solution.  HRT for me.

But the core of the issue when it comes to gender identity is what I call “self image”.  Who do you see yourself in?  What set of human beings do you feel the most kinship with?  Who are your role models?  What do you want to see when you look in the mirror?

The truth is that I am more likely to see myself in women than in men.  Even men who crossdress or wear make up, I might see that they deal with similar issues to me but I’m aware on some level that I’m not like them.  Of course I can see myself in trans women sometimes but I almost always feel like I’m on some kind of wavelength with cis women.  I feel the most “kinship” with women.  I don’t know a better way of putting that.  It’s an odd feeling to truly explain to someone but it is what it is I guess.  Consequently the people I want to look up to and emulate are often women, with the occasional feminine man (eg. Eddie Izzard) or geeky character (the Doctor or Peter Parker/Spiderman).

And what do I want to see in the mirror?  An attractive young woman.  Ok, I’m neither slim nor young anymore.  But a lot of larger, middle aged people get that.  But I do think it is relevant when considering gender identity that I really do want to see a young, attractive woman in the mirror.  Not a young, slim man (like I used to be) but a young, attractive woman.  Quite possibly  I have always desired that.  Maybe I just didn’t fully realise it when I was young because I was suppressing the desire or something.  And it’s not just about clothing and make up.  I want my face to look like a woman’s face, my body to look like a woman’s body.  I want to see a young, attractive woman in the mirror.  And I mean that in every sense.

But what about clothing and make up?  Well, obviously that is to do with gender expression and doesn’t necessarily indicate anything about gender identity.  People crossdress after all.  I’m actually fairly androgynous in style.  I don’t wear dresses, tights or high heels.  I wear jeans and t-shirts, boots or trainers.  But I like to wear boots or trainers marketed at women.  I like to adorn my appearance with necklaces.  I like to wear nail varnish, eye make up, lipstick.  I like to wear my hair long.  I like to wear knickers and even socks that are marketed at women.  I even like to wear women’s deoderant (it smells much nicer than men’s).

Some of these manifested in my teenage and young adult years, such as playing with lipstick and nail varnish.  The desire to wear make up has never really gone away and the more I have opened my mind up to wearing “women’s” clothes in recent years the happier and happier it has made me.  It may be gender expression, it may not indicate what gender I am but it has been an important way for me to feel more happy and joyous and to keep the constant pang of misery at bay.  For that reason long may it continue.

Finally I want to look at the matter of what gender you think you are.  This is lifted up as the absolute decider on gender identity.  You are what you identify as.  If you think you’re a woman, you’re a woman.  If you think you’re a man, you’re a man.  If you think you are neither or in between or both then you are non binary.

But I have a problem with this.  Words, concepts, labels – these are very dependent on how we interpret them.  It sort of begs the question really.  What you think you are very much depends on what you think those words and concepts mean.  In other words it is to do with what your personal philosophy about gender is.

This isn’t good enough.  When I “thought” I was a man was I really any different to how I am now?  If I think I’m non binary sometimes but think I’m a woman sometimes does it really mean that my gender changes?  Or is it more likely that a person can be confused or closeted about things?

What we think is shaped by how we interpret the world and the subject of gender.  It cannot then be a reliable or accurate way of deciding what your gender identity is.

For what it’s worth I often have a detached feeling towards this philosophical level of gender identity.  Do I really have a strong sense of myself as a woman?  No, not really.  But then I certainly don’t have any kind of sense, strong or otherwise, of myself as a man.

When pressed on this matter I will claim that I don’t feel especially gendered on the inside.  I feel kind of genderless.  What do I think I am really?  I think I am a human mind of no particular gender that has been forced into a world that makes a big, big deal about all this gender stuff and bombards me with it every day so that it makes me feel like screaming at the insanity of it all.  For that reason I have often identified as genderless, agender, non binary or genderqueer in the past.  But is this an accurate picture of my gender identity or just a reflection of my personal philosophy about gender?  I have a Buddhist kind of detachment from words and labels sometimes and I feel like saying (in the style of the 10th doctor) “wibbly wobbly, gendery wendery”.  But does that really say anything at all about what gender I really am?  Isn’t it a reflection of what I feel and think about the subject of gender, a stance on the matter, rather than any kind of objective truth about my gender identity?  If a person thinks they are a man or a woman on the basis of their genitals, does that necessarily mean that they are a man or a woman on the inside?  What if I swallowed radical feminist ideology whole and started saying I’m a feminine man because a man is an adult human being with a penis and testicles?  Would that really change who I am or just mean that I had been convinced of the philosophy that genitals=gender?

I think what people are trying to refer to when they speak of an “internal sense of gender” or a “feeling” or a “knowing” of what gender you are, is that “self image” I spoke of.  It’s a weird sense of kinship or otherness with regards to one gender or the other, a tendency to see yourself in one gender or the other and a desire to see a person of a certain physical gender when you look at yourself in the mirror.  It connects very strongly with how you feel about your own body.  Perhaps it even connects with what words and pronouns you prefer or what sexual and romantic instincts reside in the wiring of your brain.  Who knows?  What I do know is that I am transgender because there are real issues and problems I have and the only real solutions to them is to transition socially, legally and with hormones.  There’ll always be a slight tendency towards a kind of non binary philosophy about gender though.  Maybe on some level I will always be slightly non binary too.

I was thinking of a term for this, something that can refer accurately to being philosophically non binary but pragmatically a trans woman and I came up with the word “femqueer”.  I like it actually.  I like it a lot.

The problem is that a lot of people focus too much on words and labels.  But I feel a Buddhist kind of detachment is helpful when it comes to these largely external and illusionary things.  The radical feminists are probably right that a lot of our problems about gender stem from the faulty concepts and ideas that society tries to bombard us with all the time.  It can be nice to be called by the right words, words that seem to honour you for some reason.  But it’s not words or concepts that mean I need to transition.  It’s more pragmatic than that.

I feel more woman than man, and I need to transition to feel comfortable.  But there’ll always be part of me that when I feel confused or exasperated by the subject of gender will want to wave my hand dismissively and say “wibbly wobbly, gendery wendery”.