[More on what I've been up to for the last week in the next twenty-four hours...]
October 11th is a day of significance for many people across the world, as International Coming Out Day; but, in the Ekklesía Antínoou, it is also Coming Out to Ancestors Day. First, I’ll tell you a bit more about the wider significance and history of this date, and then I’ll say more on the particular importance of this date in the present context, and some of my own personal struggles with the matter.
National Coming Out Day has been celebrated since 1988. It was decided to hold it on October 11th because on that date in 1987, there was a National March on Washington for Lesbian and Gay Rights. It has since become an international occasion in which LGBTQ people and communities get together, have events, and share with the world their gender identity or sexual orientation, hoping that they will meet with the acceptance of their peers and community members. As the years progress, this has become more and more of a reality, and with recent legal advances in the United States in regards to lesbian and gay military service, marriage rights, and other social measures for non-discrimination, things seem to be getting much better than they were in 1988 by several measurable standards!
It’s still difficult for some people, for whatever reason, to come out, and thus whether or not one can come out–about this particular subject or other things (including one’s paganism)–should not be used as an issue to shame some people and elevate or applaud others. To do so would be a very bad abuse of the privilege some people have to be more certain of their safety when they are out and open about these various matters than others are able to be.
Several years ago, I thought about this particular occasion, as we had been celebrating it in modern Antinoan devotion in various ways since the beginning. I have particularly fond memories of it in my first years of college, as Sarah Lawrence did a particularly good line in Coming Out events, at least for the week of the date–and by my senior year, for the entire month of October! It was at the Coming Out Dance my first year of college that I first danced for fun–and even though I didn’t come out until later in the academic year, nonetheless that was a first step, as it were, toward that…and a first step that took place on a huge elevated platform, no less. (!?!) It was the Coming Out Dance my second year that I first appeared in drag (at least as my gender was observed at the time), to the point that many people thought I was a “really tall girl” and did not recognize me at all, and that was a transformative experience in and of itself. Both of these events were about as Dionysian as one can get in certain respects (without the wine, the orgies, and the yelling of IO! IO! IO! all the time!), and spiritual events of various sorts followed soon after each of those years in various respects. My own developing paganism and polytheism, and my own public engagements with alternative sexualities and gender identities, all have had milestones that occurred in October of each year.
It only makes sense, thus, that Antinous, whose intersections with all of these matters are so apparent, would also have his holiest day and the beginning of his own cultus within this month as well, at almost the last possible minute one can.
Which brings us to one of those things that is perhaps the most constitutive of both animism and polytheism, wherever they are found worldwide in human cultures: ancestor worship.
It’s often hard enough to come out to one’s own friends and family; but, what about one’s ancestors? I think it can be both deceptively easy and deceptively difficult to do this, for a variety of reasons. The apparent easiness comes with the notion that because our ancestors are dead, they therefore “know everything” (and ideas like this also extend to the gods–sure, they know a lot, but just because they’re non-corporeal doesn’t mean they know everything) or are in some manner more compassionate and understanding than they would be if they were still living. I once heard a guest speaker in Ireland say that coming out to one’s parents is the easiest thing there is, because they know you better than anyone else does, and they probably already know what one is about to admit. In my own case, I knew that was complete and utter bullshit, as none of my parents or family members ever thought of me in any other way than “normal” (whatever that means) and more likely “non-sexual” than anything else for the majority of my life. I know for a fact that my recently deceased ancestors did not know these things about me, and so admitting it to them formally and in ritual space for the first time several years back was a profoundly important and cathartic thing to have done.
And yet, I think that this can also be an extremely difficult and fraught thing for many people. Whether it is true or not, our ancestors have a vested interest in their lines of descendants continuing; thus, they’re interested in and are often our first lines of defense and first sources of assistance when it comes to health, wealth, and other matters of well-being, so that their descendants flourish and are healthy and are all the more likely to carry on honoring them and remembering them for their blessings and contributions toward their descendants’ success. They have a vested interest not only in making sure their descendants do well, but also in encouraging their descendants to have offspring of their own. (And, in case anyone feels that is in some sense pejorative, own that viewpoint and opinion for yourself: it is what it is, and it’s no better or worse than the desire that many deities have to be honored, or the desire that most humans have to be loved and appreciated. It’s no better or worse than any other potential motive or driving ideation that any sentient beings, corporeal or otherwise, might have.)
Those of us who are queer in some fashion or other are often less likely to have descendants than our non-queer siblings and other relatives. We are, thus, biological and genealogical dead-ends. While this might seem to be a very good and proper choice to have made for the modern world (and, indeed, one that many non-queer people make as well), given the difficulties of over-population on a worldwide scale and the tremendous (and deleterious!) environmental impact which this is having, nonetheless, for much of human history before the 20th century (and even after it for some particular peoples), the drive to have as many offspring and further descendants as possible has been paramount as a motivating factor and gauge of success in many cases for individuals and families. Some cultures are more insistent on this than others, but it exists as a significant cultural force for almost everyone, and on a more instinctual level, as a primal drive in our animal natures more generally. The propogation of genetic memes in the form of biological descendants is more a requirement than the sending on of a chain letter–and it has far more and far greater social and material impacts than the latter!
So, to be given all that we’ve been given from our ancestral inheritances genetically and spiritually, and then to say “Thank you, but I’m me in this way, and so this part of the line ends with me” can be shocking, to say the least, to some ancestors, and to the wider tendencies of human and animal culture generally speaking. Even though we all have genetic ancestors, as well as spiritual ancestors, who are and have been/were queer in their own lives (whether they had offspring or not), nonetheless cultural memes and strong prohibitions against gender-variance, homoeroticism, and other such things which fall under the “queer” category can live on after death as surely as strong individuals within a given ancestral line can maintain their identities.
Back in March, I heard a Japanese-American mother of a trans man talk about how guilty she felt in the early stages of her son’s coming out to her, and how she felt that her ancestors were judging her and sitting in disapproval of her son’s identity, and of her acceptance of it. Part of me wanted to say, “You’re making your ancestors proud,” and indeed, Japanese culture has many precedents for queer acceptance within it over particular identities and relationship styles. (I’m not aware of any positive precedents where female-to-male trans identities are concerned, but that doesn’t mean they don’t exist.) But on the other hand, as I’ve been thinking ever since: how the fuck do I know anything about what this particular woman’s ancestors think about anything? And who am I to say what her ancestors should or should not think on any given issue?
I’ve mentioned this in brief a few times before on this blog, and in conversations and such elsewhere, but I wonder if this is one of the reasons that I have had some real difficulties establishing a good and consistent, effective ancestral practice at this point for my genetic ancestral bloodlines. Not too far back on both sides of my family, Judaism was a major factor, and while these traditions are not without their heroic homoerotic figures (like David and Jonathan, or Ruth and Naomi), nonetheless the Genesis-based, Levitical, and Deuteronomical “texts of terror” for homoeroticism are some of the most often quoted ones against queer people down to the present day, and have often been the basis for homophobic laws, the motivation for homophobic violence, and even the justification for homophobic slayings for the past two millennia. The repeated attempts at genocide of the Jews over the years–but especially in the mid-twentieth century–has made the “first commandment” of Iao to his people to “Be fruitful and multiply” all the more important in the post-Holocaust/Shoah period all the more important to follow when possible. And, as we all know, since the time of Hadrian, few gentiles have been the target of more execration by the Jews than Hadrian. (This is what made Communalia in 2009 so powerful, but also so fraught, an occurrence.)
Because it has been harder for me to establish good ancestral connections and practices, it has conversely been easier, I think, to not only start a practice of adopting spiritual ancestors–the Sanctum/ae/i of the Ekklesía Antínoou–but also for the gods to have a more prominent and important role in my overall practices. I am freer, to some extent, to associate with the gods, and to have them act in certain respects as my surrogate parents and siblings and ancestors, and overall that has meant some really good and important things for my own devotional life. I suspect this is something that is true of many queer people, and perhaps has been true of many queer people throughout spiritual history: it’s not that queer people are “more spiritual” as some version of queer and/or coming out theology have often stated, it’s that we don’t have the same ancestral obligations or ties in some cultures that non-queer people do, and thus the gods come to fill in the gaps and we end up having closer relationships with them.
On the other hand, the gods can’t do everything that ancestors can, which is why it’s essential to have relationships with different types of divine beings, including ancestors, deities, and land spirits prominently among them. (There are things that land spirits can do that neither ancestors nor deities can as well; and so on and so forth…) I’m realizing more and more that some of what the ancestors can do which the deities can’t is essential in my life, and I want to cultivate those relationships very badly…and yet, because of who I am and what I have been doing (and, I’d argue, I’m to an extent meant to do), I am beginning to suspect that the ancestors may not be able to do for me what they could do for some of my other siblings, and other people in my living family. On the one hand, this might be a good thing to have realized; on the other, it does create a large and gaping hole in my existential realities as a polytheist and animist that can’t exactly be “fixed” by more prayers or meditation or offerings.
A few months ago, I had a dream in which I was able to be lucid to an extent, and to realize that it was a dream, and then to direct some of the things which followed. (This doesn’t happen as often as I’d prefer, but it’s also not unheard of either.) The dream involved my deceased grandparents, who had been the subject of some discussion recently at that time; they were the grandparents that I was closest to, in some respects (I never met my paternal grandfather, as he died just after my older brother was born). When I have dreams about deceased individuals–especially relatives–who are acknowledged to be dead within the dream itself, I usually take these to be instances in which the individuals are reaching out in some way or other. So, with my grandparents in this dream, in a setting that seemed a lot like their trailer at the lake, and knowing that they were dead, and that I was lucid and had an opportunity with them, I decided to ask them a question. I took my grandfather’s hand, and said to him, “I hope you know how much I love you and am grateful for all that you’ve done for our family and for me, and I’ll always love you and will never forget you; but, I want to know, why are you and grandma hanging around as much as you are these days?” (My older brother’s step-daughter has been saying she has dinner with grandma on a weekly basis, which is hard to judge because she is known for some histrionics; and my grandfather seems to be still playing pool in the basement of their old house in Spokane, as the current inhabitants say the pool balls rack themselves on a pretty regular basis.) At that point, my grandfather’s face changed, and he became monstrous and hideous in various ways that suggested to me one of two things: either he (and possibly grandma) are spiritually in trouble and are being tortured; or, he wasn’t who he seemed to be (i.e. it wasn’t my grandfather, but instead some sort of nekuodaimon or something of that nature). While I have not shared this with very many people, nonetheless the ones with whom I have shared it have had no advice to offer on it whatsoever, nor any insights into it.
I don’t know what might be going on with my own particular situation in these regards; and I don’t know if there are any hard-and-fast trends or rules or even likelihoods in relation to how queer descendants are treated by their biological ancestors, or if anything can be concluded in general about these matters. I don’t think it’s right to just assume that what works for other people and their ancestors works for everyone (especially since most of us have not grown up with an ancestral practice of our own that is long-standing and traditional); and yet, I’m also not sure that this is one of those things that the queer and coming out theologians (often of poor understanding) say that makes us “different” is necessarily true, or better, or is in fact at all positive as a possibility. More questions than answers remain on these matters, I fear, at the moment…
But, in the meantime, I’m curious: how is it for you and your own ancestors, if you are queer and have come out to them? I’d be really interested in your discussions and thoughts on all of these matters!
Ignis Corporis Infirmat; Ignis sed Animae Perstat!
May our ancestors always be honored and never forgotten!