Dismantling the Gender Binary within Spirituality

by Maxx the Punk | Instagram | Facebook

I wanted to discuss my thoughts about a prominent issue within the spiritual community: trans exclusion within paganism and witchcraft. I’m a queer nonbinary trans-masculine witch, and these thoughts are around our general struggles in navigating spirituality. Some of the significant issues within the spiritual community today are the exclusion of trans identities and trans existence, as well as conformity to the gender binary – the idea that only masculinity and femininity exist within this realm.

Deconstructing the Divine Feminine

One thing on which I would specifically like to shed light is the idea of the Divine Feminine, how this concept affects the way we view our own bodies and sense of gender, as well as how there is a pervasive notion that gender is inherently based on biology – which isn’t always the case. There’s even a popular belief I’ve observed in many online spaces centered around this concept of the Divine Feminine, which promotes the idea that magic inherently comes from the womb, and that it is an inextricable part of feminine energy. The thing is – this invalidates the fact that there are people who have uteruses, but are not women in terms of gender identity. Additionally, it invalidates the notion that magic comes from within us – regardless of gender, body, or chromosomes.

This idea of magic coming from the womb goes back to the beginning of the Goddess movement, where the exploration of female-centered spirituality began in the 1970s. One of the most prominent religions of the time was Dianic Wicca, which was founded by Zsuzsanna Budaphest, a Hungarian author and activist. The religion has been widely noted for its worship of a single Goddess and its appreciation of femininity. As I’ve learned, the Mother Goddess theory was made popular by the historical research of Marija Gimbutas, an archaeologist and anthropologist known for her study of neolithic cultures of “Old Europe.” Gimbutas’ theory and research inspired a new movement of feminist spirituality: the Goddess movement.

Altar box with gender-variant symbols, and androgynous center symbol. Photo: Maxx the Punk

Embracing the Liminal

Through these movements and ideas, it is, of course, amazing that women have had the opportunity to create such a space for exploring their spirituality, and to research and understand the history of their contributions to ancient societies. As a result though, the question must be raised: what is a woman? What is considered masculine or feminine? Numerous studies and historical research have led to the conclusion that gender is a social construct – it has never been binary, or as simple as one might like to think it is. Some of these spaces that hold ideologies based in radical feminism exclude women who just happen to be assigned male at birth, and conversely, trans-masculine people are sometimes included in those spaces because of their body and assigned sex at birth – and that, to me personally, is an uncomfortable thought. This type of exclusion invalidates the reality of gender identity.

The point I’d like to underscore here is that trans and nonbinary people have made spiritual contributions to society in equal measure to cisgender people, especially cisgender women (like the leaders of the Goddess movement). Numerous pre-colonial cultures have recognized gender variance, which still happens today with third gender identities. In addition, many cultures have had gender variant followers and devotees to some version of a goddess, such as Inanna, Ishtar, Aphrodite, Cybele, and more. Third gender shamans have also been noted, such as the quariwarmi shamans of the pre-colonial Incas; these shamans worked with the dual-gendered jaguar deity called chuqui chinchay, and their gender variance and sexuality was part of their spiritual practice. 

It seems that the power of trans and gender variant people lies in the fact that they have experienced what it’s like to go between realms of reality – embracing fluidity for what it is, and living within chaos and liminality. We exist spiritually to assure people that it’s okay to be uncertain about life, to be part of chaos and liminality, because that is part of reality. The universe is inevitable, and life is that complex and messy – and we have to get used to that. 

Deerbone necklace with transgender-inspired symbol. Photo: Maxx the Punk

Breaking Down Biases

The point of deconstructing gender within the context of spirituality is to recognize the history and significance of trans peoples’ involvement in ritual, deity-worship, and healing. In addition, it is to recognize that people should not be excluded in these spaces simply because of their body and how they represent themselves. Again – gender is a social construct; every single person’s experience with gender and biological sex is going to be different. Trans women and trans-feminine people deserve to be in women’s spaces, as their overall gender identity is aligned with womanhood. Similarly, trans men and trans-masculine people deserve to be in men’s spaces because their overall gender identity is aligned with manhood. Every trans, nonbinary, and intersex person deserves to be in spaces, simply because they are people. 

Finally, I want to highlight a more recent topic of discussion in the public sphere, and that is transphobia as a product of white supremacy and settler colonialism. Now, let me explain what I mean by this: Have you ever dissected why homophobia and transphobia persist in this plane of existence? These are direct results of colonization and white supremacy. As I’ve learned through my own research (a few resources are included below), there are documented incidents of white settler colonizers violently targeting folks with third gender identities, because their very existence threatened the concepts of white supremacy and cisheteropatriarchy. The idea of going beyond the binary and the norm has always been a threat to folks that don’t understand it.

In the end, we must ask ourselves these questions: What makes a man? What makes a woman? What makes a human being? What is gender? Why do I feel uneasy around trans people? Why do I feel uneasy when challenged about my views on gender? What can I do to be in solidarity with trans folks?  The process of unlearning homophobia and transphobia is challenging and uncomfortable, and it’s certainly not fun, but it is worth it for the sake of humanity and building strong communities. Blessed Be!

About the Author: Maxx is a pagan witch that currently resides in Chochenyo Ohlone territory, and is a queer nonbinary trans person of European descent that uses they/he pronouns. They like to read, write, create art, practice magic and divination, and blog about tarot, witchcraft, paganism, anti-capitalism, dismantling white supremacy, decolonization/unsettlement, and ancestral work and ancestral healing.

Resources for Further Reading:

  1. Jacobs, Sun-Ellen; Thomas, Wesley; Lang, Sabine (1997). Two Spirit People: Native American Gender Identity, Sexuality, and Spirituality. University of Illinois Press.
  2. Trexler, Richard C. (1995). Sex and conquest: Gendered violence, political order, and the European conquest of the Americas. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press.
  • maryjanegreen1313 says:

    Wonderful blog, I am a mother of a son that has two Dad’s.👬 I understand how people can be so loving and spiritual yet they don’t except a human bean for who they are. I do not tolerate hateful people in my life! I’m so happy you wrote this in such a intelligent form yet easy to read and understand. Thank you~
    @witchwithme Thank you for putting this up, this is a community of real real ₩itches of all walks of Life~🕯💓🌿🔮💀Mj

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