The gender binary, Beltaine, religion, and being part of the awkward squad :-)

May 6, 2013 at 1:30 pm (Uncategorized) (, , )

I follow what one might describe as a twin spiritual/sacred/religious path. I am a Druid (or at least, I take part in Druid ceremonies, and follow Druidry), and I am a Quaker (or at least, I Attend at some Meetings, and follow Quakerism).

This is a combination which has surprised a fair few people, but makes complete sense to me. Both are paths that emphasise love, social justice, care for the world. Both are paths that allow – indeed, encourage – you to find wisdom from a variety of sources, not just the paths themselves.

Quaker Pagans of various kinds, and Christian Druids of various kinds, have been around for a while.

I would describe myself as a Christian-influenced Pagan. I am fond of the Christianity I grew up with – liberal, devout (and there’s a combination that far too many people see as non-existent…), passionately committed to making the world a better place. I do not regard myself as a Christian now, though I do have a huge soft spot for Jesus, and for Mary. The Sermon on the Mount remains a source of inspiration, and a challenge. I can talk religion with Christian friends, and we understand each other. But I have other loyalties, to other Gods.

There’s a post I’ll make at some point about being a Quaker – and indeed a pacifist – but also being kinky. It’s telling, I think, that there is a “kinky Quakers” community on Fetlife! 🙂

What’s been filling my mind and soul over the last few days, is the challenge of being a queer, genderqueer Pagan – a challenge that is particularly fraught at Beltaine.

The conventional teaching of several Pagan paths, is that Beltaine is the sacred marriage of the God and Goddess. The fertility rite that leads, eventually, to the birth of the new year, of the new God. It celebrates a polarity of masculine and feminine, a sexual relation that is sacredly heterosexual.

It pisses the *fuck* out of me.

I’m genderqueer. Asked how to define my gender, I’d say something along the lines of “both/neither/handwave”. A compulsory, binary opposition of masculine and feminine energy makes my heart hurt. And it’s not simply that I unite those forces within me, or any such rubbish. My genders are legion. My understanding of the Divine transcends gender by a billion light years. My love for Brighid and for Mars Protector is overwhelming, is important, and the genders we humans have given those Names are, to me, about the least important thing about them.

An understand of Beltaine, and of spirituality in general, that makes compulsory an elevation of one kind of understanding of gender and sexuality, of dividing the world into a male and a female principle who then unite with each other… it excludes so many of us. Genderqueer people. Gay people. Asexual and many greysexual people. Many bi people. Intersex people. Trans people, especially when the emphasis is so strongly on the cock and the womb. People who are mostly-cis but don’t identify strongly with their assigned gender. And when the emphasis is on fertility, it also excludes many heterosexual single people, all childless people (including many trans people again), infertile people, childfree people…

In other words, in total, most of us.

My gender is an incredibly important part of me. I cannot throw it off, or pretend it does not matter. At the same time, the following of the Wheel of the Year, as modern Druidry understands it, is likewise hugely important to me.

I do not in any way resent those for whom this binary gender opposition *is* important, is sacred, is part of their path, and their understanding of Beltaine. That’s fair enough, and if it is truth for you, dear reader, then all power to you!

But it is not truth for me. It does not, as Quakers would put it, “speak to my condition”. And when I’ve been in pagan spaces where it has appeared to be the only way of doing things, I have felt profoundly uncomfortable and excluded. It has triggered massive gender dysphoria. It has made me feel as though I have to be dishonest to myself in order to worship the Gods – which is precisely the opposite of what I feel a religious path should be about.

Several things have helped me and my brain since I started getting more thoughtful about all this, last Thursday/Friday.

One of which is this: an sheer, overwhelming sense that my genderqueerness, my defying and transcending the binary in my own life, is of the Gods, and is part of Their plan for me. The Gods made me, formed me, grew me like this. My awakening to my own gender and my awakening to a religious path that suits me, have happened in parallel. I know that I belong in Druidry. I also know that the more open and confident I am in being neither male nor female (or both, or handwave 🙂 ), the more close I will and can come to the Gods.

And then, there was Saturday just gone. The Beltaine ritual for the small but wonderful Druid grove I belong to.

There were only four of us able to make it – myself, the Magician (who is also a Quaker Druid 🙂 ), and two others.

One, was the wonderful man who was organising and running the ceremony. I will give him the pseudonym Bear. 🙂

We were passing around a talking stick at a pub before we walked out into the woods. Talking about where we were in our lives, and what we wanted from a Beltaine ritual.

And I started ranting about all this. Started talking about all the questions it threw up, and how I didn’t know the answers, but that I knew I needed to be present in the moment, and asking those questions.

And the next person to speak was Bear. And he, as I had rather hoped, agreed with me fervently. He is a gay man, who has been the only gay person at weekend Beltaine gatherings. With the women going off into one space, and the men going off into another, and then all of these heterosexual people (with perhaps a few het-leaning bi people among them) came together, and there was this glorious frisson of sexual tension. The men decorated a maypole, the women dug a hole…

And… and what does that say, to a gay man? Where was the honouring of the sacred, of the God(dess) within him?

He sympathised absolutely with the challenges Beltaine presented to me as a genderqueer person.

And then, he gave me, not answers in a prescriptive sense, but the answers he had found that helped him.

That Beltaine *isn’t* about fertility – or at least, far from just about fertility. That the Victorians called it so, because they were embarrassed about what it’s actually about. Sex. Pleasure. Passion.

It’s a fire festival. It’s the beginning of Summer, the welcoming in of our active, passionate, creative, Summer selves. For those for whom some cosmic, heterosexual, fertile gender binary offers a way into that, fair enough. But it does not have to be that way, and those of us who cannot, or will not “do” Beltaine as part of that, are not “doing” Beltaine any less well than those who can and will.

I shan’t go into too many details of the ceremony that followed – that’s bad form, and would feel wrong in any case. But Bear led a meditation that awakened the four of us to passion, to Summer. To our sexual selves. It was beautiful, and it was wonderful, and it was exactly what I needed. And it’s given me some ideas for solo work I can do, to help me tune myself into that part of myself, in *my* way. Those who have been following my blog for a while will know how precious a thing this is to me. I am working on reclaiming my sexual self from an abusive childhood, being raped when very drunk at age 19, and a marriage that included sexual abuse and other kinds of rape.

Finding a spiritual practise to help me awaken to my sexual self, without having to misgender myself in the process, is… incredible. Truly, incredible. 🙂

Bear wondered to me whether bringing a challenge to the gender and sexuality conformities within Druidry is part of what we’re both called to do. He may well be right, though he is so very much wiser and well-informed than I am, I hesitate to do more than follow in his footsteps! But, well. I am a singer, I’m aiming to be a Bard and songwriter. Possibly this is something I can bring to the table, if not now, then maybe at some later point. 🙂

And in the meantime, I feel that my thinking and praying and receiving wisdom from Bear – and affirmation and support from the Magician, who is also somewhat genderqueer, as well as being queer and greysexual – over the past few days, has helped me tremendously. The Gods want me to celebrate and affirm my genderqueerness. The Gods want me to be able to celebrate and rejoice in Beltaine, and all the Wheel of the Year. I feel that little bit closer to being the person I, and they want to be.

And all just in time for my first date weekend with the Ranger, which starts in a little under four days’ time. 😉

Thanks be to the Gods; Blessed Be. 🙂

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