Thursday, May 26, 2016

Everything Is What We Make It

Before I could think, I was owned. My parents prayed for me before I was ever conceived to grow into a true believer of God. When I was a baby, I was dedicated to a life of service to God in a rite of passage ceremony at my church. My name was intentionally picked by my father and translates as ‘woman of the Lord’, and I was given a name plaque that hung in my room to always remind me of my true purpose. All of these things were done without malice, but I look back now and see it as the beginning of an all-encompassing campaign for my abject commitment to church doctrine.

When talking with people about my instilled religious experience, I have begun saying that I feel like I grew up in a cult. As Christian Fundamentalists, we had a narrow interpretation of the bible, accepting it as literally true and infallibly accurate, not to mention it being the ONLY true document of God’s words to humanity. All other texts and religions were inferior and could not save a person from the fires of hell. We focused on separating ourselves from ‘the world’ not just through our actions, but physically and ideologically separating from non-believers by creating our own schools which taught only our worldview and refuted any popularly held ideas that contradicted our beliefs, such as evolution and carbon dating. This schooling included college as well, so a person could conceivably go their entire life without ever seriously considering any alternate reality, having been inculcated by the church through the first twenty-some years of existence. Cults understand the power of driving all the narratives.

I don’t think I would have ever left my faith if my mother hadn’t succumbed to cancer when I was twenty-one, freeing me up to leave home and find myself outside of the confines of my church and school. I am certain I would be living out an entirely different life than the one I am consciously choosing for myself now, and this thought floods me with anger. My parents acted from a place of genuine belief and meant me no harm, but my mind was radically brainwashed and my free will was sorely abused nonetheless. Questioning was allowed, but there was only ever one right answer, which may be my biggest complaint about Fundamentalism: it is seriously confining. There is always more than one way to do anything, including relating to God or the Universe or Whatever is Bigger.

I am still working to claim and use my free will, having ‘willingly’ abdicated it to God for so long. It’s hard to explain how crippling being told to look almost exclusively outside of yourself for answers to questions about your own life can be. One can spend a lifetime praying to be told exactly what to do and never actually do anything at all. Trusting myself and my gut intuition has been a challenge, because I was taught that my nature was fallen and untrustworthy, that on my knees before God was my proper posture. These days I think about the parable of the talents and feel I was taught to bury mine in the ground. It becomes incredibly difficult to create anything of depth in this environment, whether it be good art or a fulfilling life, but that’s a whole other post. If I had to pick one word to best sum up the effect of all of this, it would be ‘stunted’ and I would apply it to my intellectual and social development, my creative voice and my ability to act with personal agency.

As violating as these things have been, everything is what we make it and there are some things I count as positives from my indoctrination. In choosing to believe the creation story over evolution, I gained the capacity for audacious belief in the face of overwhelming odds, i.e. all the collective weight of science and popular opinion. That means I now have the ability to believe the impossible is possible and I am learning to harness that power to pursue my dreams and create my own reality.

I believe in something bigger than myself, and that brings a lot of comfort to my reality. I am grateful to my upbringing for making me think about my eternal nature. I see meaning and cause and effect at work rather than randomness in the world, and I believe in the First Law of Thermodynamics which states that energy is neither created nor destroyed, so I choose to believe that there is life after death and as many lives as it takes to become your authentic self, and that doing just that is what living is about. The core beliefs I still hold from my former faith are: love your neighbor as yourself, do unto others as you would have done unto you, and that grace and compassion are the face of God made human.  

I believe that whatever is out there that’s bigger cannot even begin to be known in six to ten thousand years. Its truth cannot be contained in a single book that I as a semi finite human can hold in one hand. It would never condemn a single one of us to an eternal hell of suffering and separation because It would allow all the time in eternity for us to choose freely of our own volition to seek out and cultivate relationship, or not. Whatever is out there is so big that it needs the vastness of space and time and petri dishes and atomic particles and subparticles and hundreds of billions of years to be known. Whatever is out there is waiting for us to quit being small and to join it in co-creation.

Saturday, May 14, 2016

Androgeny is Next to Godliness

Time to put some skin in the game and explain why I am such a vocal ally of our LGBTQI population.

I came by my male side growing up in an extremely patriarchal worldview. It quickly became apparent that I had been dealt the fuzzy end of the lollipop by being born cock and balless, just a fateful flip of a coin that had everything to do with what I was and wasn’t allowed to be or do, and by the way, this wasn’t the men making it this way, it was the way that God had ordained it. There was quite a bit of smug shrugging and vapid assurances that by embracing my own God given role of submission, I would find some kind of deep fulfillment as a godly woman. I have no beef with submission as a concept, but I do object to its performance being relegated to a particular gender. As a young girl, though, I learned how to be one of the boys and often hung out with groups of boys. I emulated and revered their hardness, physically, emotionally and mentally, and mostly lived in complete denial of my femininity, which is not to say that women cannot embody those traits, it just was not entirely acceptable for them to do so in the world of my youth. Additionally, I was often reminded that it was quite unsafe to be a woman in this world, as the ‘weaker vessel,’ so I learned to downplay my femininity in self-defense, hiding behind billowy clothes, glasses and unkempt hair. I was good at sports though, and that was the first space where I grudgingly made some kind of peace with my female form and found a way to feel physically safer through weight lifting and strength training.

It wasn’t until I fell in love with a man and became sexually active with him that I decided there may also be good things about being a woman. Our relationship was deeply healing to me on the levels of autonomy and self-expression, and while he was a very hard man in many ways (I couldn’t yet tolerate softness in a man), he was also the beginning of my reclaiming myself from years of programming that was untrue to my character. Being sexual with him allowed me to enjoy my womanhood, to feel pleasure in my femininity rather than fear and loathing. My spirit processed the fact that I was ‘living in sin,’ but experiencing wholeness and healing, so I chose to change my beliefs to match my reality; I started, finally, to be me, as well as comfortably female.

I didn’t fully embrace my womanhood though, until I fell in love with a woman. I loved her for many things, and quite a few of them were directly tied to her femininity. She could be a rough and tumble tomboy, but whenever she decided to pull out her woman card, she played it devastatingly well. The things I most hated about my body, my breasts and my hips, I found unspeakably beautiful about her. Loving her body allowed me to love my own in places I never had. Loving her afforded me the opportunity to be soft, unguarded in ways I truly couldn’t be yet with a man. Loving her allowed me to forgive myself for being born female in a world that didn’t appreciate powerful, autonomous women.

In some ways, I had a psychic split that revolved around my gender identity. I can viscerally relate to the feeling of being trapped in the wrong body, because I felt that for a long time. I wasn’t impressed with the roles my womanhood, as defined by my experiences growing up, pitched to me, and the constant sublimated fear of my womanly body’s supposed physical vulnerability also fed those feelings of gender dysphoria. My story has ended in a blissful hybridization of strong male and female traits, but when someone tells me they feel like they are living in the wrong body, I have a healthy and understanding respect for their experience. I accept that they are who they say they are, end of story.

The complaint I hear most from people who really feel strongly about the male/female gender binary dynamic, is that embracing a gender spectrum is unnatural, ungodly and will most likely lead to the destruction of morality and the world as we currently know it. And they are partially correct, the world will indeed change but it need not end entirely or become amoral--a gender spectrum still runs between two mostly fixed poles, after all. Cisgendered heterosexuality remains the mainstream norm, at present, and should not be threatened by less statistically represented expressions of human gender and sexuality. No one expression or experience is more valid or more inherently moral.

I’m here to ask: what is immoral about adaptation and growth? My body is female, by nature, but is also very male, by nurture. My personal experience of this dynamic, although traumatic in origin, is now one of my greatest strengths, and my life is vastly enriched by my gender hybridization. I would argue that the more people who are able to tap into their own androgeny, the more chance there is for mature, balanced and autonomous individuals who are less driven by needs and desires of completion in relationships outside of themselves, which in turn could lead to a more tolerant and stable society. Let’s also not forget, for my sacred text lovers out there, that we are said to be created in the image of God, who is neither male nor female, according to said text. It is in my nature to be both/and.
We exist in a living world that is constantly changing and rearranging. Our language is still alive, new words are added continuously to our lexicons. Our ability to compute and to observe on both the micro and the macro scales is increasing; we know more about our universe and our earth, with all its many organisms, than ever before. Adaptation is the key ingredient to the survival of life on this ever changing planet. It stands to reason that as our world expands and our ability to observe and quantify grows, so too should our definition of ourselves evolve.