Posted by: aediculaantinoi | September 30, 2013

Being What One Is…

On The Wild Hunt the other day, I saw a link to Peter Dybing’s post on “Men and the Goddess.” It’s not by any means a bad post, and I think you should go and read it if you’re interested in what I’ll be writing about below.

There are two parts of Dybing’s post in particular that got me thinking:

For me it is beyond reason that such a world could manifest being lead by masculine principles. For century’s we have had our chance, the result has been suffering, war, poverty and oppression.

Am I proud to be a man? Yes I am proud to be a man who understands that the feminine traits buried within me need to be nurtured, expressed and held as an example of being a responsible citizen of this world.

While people are entirely free to hold whatever opinions they wish to, and to understand and define certain concepts however they feel is right for them, I wonder a little bit about some of the conceptual issues at stake in what Dybing has said, and what they reflect about a great deal of the wider modern pagan notions of anthropology (and by “anthropology” I mean something that is discussed a bit further in another recent post I did). I’ll have to unpack a bit of terminology first, though, before I address Peter Dybing’s statements directly. Where to begin?

Perhaps I should state, first of all, that despite the fact that I’m of a non-typical gender identity, and I think that the boundaries of gender as currently defined by the overculture are problematic and needlessly narrow, nonetheless I’m not at all for the idea of the elimination of gender and gender identities altogether, and never have been. I think men are great; I think women are great; I think trans men and trans women are great; I think metagender and pangender and gender fluid and non-gendered people are great; I think that any and every potential gender is great. Just because I think there should be more options, and likewise I think that there should be more options within each gender option, does not mean that I am against the notion of there being “men” as classically defined or understood, or “women” as traditionally understood and defined. I think those are perfectly fine and valid choices to make within those genders, and as long as they do not exclude the possibility of other people making other choices, nor fall into the trap of thinking that their own gender identity is the only “real” type of woman or man, I don’t think there’s a problem. So, that’s that.

However, I think there is a problem when certain conceptual categorizations within common notions of gender–whether they are those of the overculture or are those of a subculture like modern paganism most definitely happens to be–start to assume things that are not as true as they might like them to be, or are perhaps more wishful thinking than actual truth that is caused by flawed understandings.

One of those flawed understandings and misplaced ideals, I think, is a kind of primal or final androgyny: the notion that there was an androgynous origin to all things, or that the perfected final person or being or stage of development would be an androgynous combination of gendered characteristics and identities. Sure, some cosmogonic myths feature such a figure, but the tendency is for gender to emerge relatively soon after that original androgyny, and for the majority of people (including deities) thereafter to continue in those gendered characteristics. This original androgyny as ideal then puts an unrealistic pressure on each gender to try to be something that they are fundamentally not and can never be, rather than trying to be the very best thing–man or woman or person of whatever other gender they might be–which they already are. Because people of non-binary genders are admittedly rare, the exceptions to these matters, while important to consider and to account for and to take seriously when they occur, are far less important to regard for the general population than for those of us who have that as our realities. Just as us non-binary folks should not be forced into the mold of the binary for the sake of orderliness and conformity and so forth, likewise those who are of the binary genders and who genuinely are happy to be so and choose to be so should not think they are somehow “lesser” or anything of that sort because they are not striving toward an actualization of an androgynous ideal that they’ll never be able to realistically reach.

[You might be asking: how? When has a binary gendered person, even within paganism, looked at those few of us who are out and openly non-binary and said to themselves, “That’s what I really should be; I wish I was metagendered like they are”? And while the answer to that may very well be “Never, it doesn’t happen and it never will,” at the same time, asking people to hold ideals similar to some of the statements in the Gnostic Gosepl of Thomas–“if you establish the male with the female as a single unity so that the man will not act masculine and the woman not act feminine”–which is what a great deal of monistically-leaning mainstream paganism does actually do, no matter how much it is uncomfortable with people manifesting gender nonduality or nonconformity socially, politically, or theologically in other ways, pretty much asks them to do exactly what those of us non-binary folks do as our default setting.]

If we understand gender to be something that people are, and it being an internal spiritual quality of identity, then it is fine for gender to have identifiable boundaries and definitions; without such boundaries and definitions, it ceases to be a useful category. And, while there are those who are of non-binary genders for whom fluidity or variation or other such more amorphous qualities may be the defining norms, for those who actually are of a binary gender, those norms need to be observed and upheld and respected–AND, more importantly, they can be observed and upheld and respected in a way that does not denigrate people of their own gender who perform their gender differently, people of the other binary gender, or people of non-binary genders. That’s the more worrisome aspect of all of this subject: not that there are or should be boundaries and definitions, but instead that people take it upon themselves to police others overly much, or very often enforce (and often nonconsensually) their gender norms and expectations on others. Just as it is possible to be fervent and dedicated to one’s own religion without proselytizing, so too is it possible to be defined and dedicated to respecting and upholding one’s own gender norms without denigrating others or attempting to force them into particular norms.

This then brings up another question that is part of the mix: virtues and qualities of character don’t have genders, or at very least they don’t have hard-and-fast genders outside of particular cultural conceptions that are usually limited in time and space to some extent or another. The term “virtue” itself used to be an exclusively masculine trait (as shown by its etymology), but in the last few centuries, it became thought of in certain cases as almost exclusively feminine, and had to do pretty narrowly with what we might call “sexual continence” and very little else, despite the etymology of it being essentially “manliness.” It is very possible for women to be assertive, aggressive, and any number of things that have been classified as “masculine” in entirely gender-appropriate ways as women; it is likewise possible for men to be nurturing, caring, emotional, and any number of things that have been classified as “feminine” in entirely gender-appropriate ways as men. Virtues, as well as flaws, are not inherently one gender or another, and it is perfectly possible for the full range of such characteristics to be accessible to all genders and performable by all genders in ways that suit their gender. One set of supposedly gendered characteristics are not to be raised above all others in importance because of their gender, I don’t think, if we are to progress as a useful and productive human race.

Just as I have explained above that the Jungian notion of every male having an internal, shadow-like anima that then gets projected onto women, and likewise every female having an internal, shadow-like animus that then gets projected onto men, being very problematic (for reasons I’ll explain in a moment), and likewise that one set of characteristics is not essential to nor exclusively identified with one or the other of the binary genders, this then brings up another matter that does concern those of us who are of non-binary genders. But before I explain that, I need to get into etymology a bit in relation to the anima/animus question. In Latin, everyone has an anima and an animus, despite the feminine gender of the former and the masculine gender of the latter. An anima is a “soul,” and thus for males to imagine that they are lacking in this anima and must either search it out in a woman outside of themselves, or else learn how to internalize it and manifest those feminine traits, means that without doing this, they are quite litearlly soul-less, whereas women are always and everywhere already ensouled simply because of their gender. On the flip side (which isn’t a flip side at all, it turns out!), the animus is the heart and the mind, and is masculine gendered, which would then mean that in this Jungian schema that modern paganism has fully internalized, women are without a heart or a mind until they either pursue this missing aspect of themselves in a fulfilling relationship with a man, or they internalize those masculine heart-and-mind characteristics into themselves…which likewise means that men are inherently “mind-ed” and “heart-ened” at all times, and women are not and must learn to be. I think both of these constructions are unfair to the genders in question, as well as being ultimately demeaning to them, and nearly as badly as the notion of original sin, leaves men and women broken and incomplete from birth, rather than as beings who have all the potentials within themselves to develop into responsible and mature beings both on their own and in cooperation and fellowship with others.

What all of this also does, though, is it then means that the only other possibilities for gender are either combinatory–which is itself oppressive and restrictive–but it further means that any of those other potential non-binary genders simply don’t and can’t exist within other people who aren’t of those genders. (You may say, “But wait! A few moments ago you were saying that genders should be complete in and of themselves, and that they don’t and can’t contain other possibilities within themselves, and that binary-gendered folks dont’ have to be as worried about non-binary genders…so, what are you saying?!?” Hang on a moment, I’ll get there!) As the system is understood most commonly now, in entirely binary terms, with no possibilities for other genders (other than the combinatory ideal that I mentioned is somewhat unreachable and rather irrelevant, especially when we take into account the lack of actual gender in most human personal and particularly virtued characteristics), then that means that those of us who are outside of binary genders simply don’t exist and have no place within the human community according to the most common anthropologies in operation where gender is concerned. If each male has a buried anima and each female a buried animus, and no one has a–let’s call it–buried animum (which, let’s say, is a sense of wholeness and integrity) that is not binary gendered, then there is no need for us to exist, and nothing for us to contribute to the greater human community, nor any ideal for us to achieve in ourselves either. As long as the only internal gendered choices that exist for humans are strictly male and female (even though the process of spiritual-psychological integration does not need to involve the Jungian process mentioned above), and this is considered the default, then there will never be any equality or even any sense of shared humanity for those of us who are not of binary genders.

While I haven’t read anything by Aidan Kelly for a long time (as I got tired of his strict gender dualism and constant heterosexism, despite saying that he had no problem with non-heterosexuals…if one’s theology and cosmology and anthropology don’t change in the knowledge of the reality of these other options, then one isn’t really as accepting as one thinks one is!), something that he said/wrote on several occasions and that I think he probably still holds with is the notion that within a pagan framework, “gender is one of the mysteries of life.” By this, I think he means it is an experience and a kind of given of the universe. I don’t fundamentally disagree with that notion; I do, however, disagree with the number of options that there are where “gender” is concerned. But if it is a mystery and a given of the universe and of human existence–which, for the sake of the present argument, let’s say it is–then trying to combine that with the Jungian gender-integration process is a kind of perversion, if anything. It makes it a requirement of every responsible woman to be wanting to be a man in certain characteristics in order to be mature and taken seriously, and likewise it makes men not-really-men if they’re not also seeking to be women in certain characteristics. And people wonder why our society is so fucked up where gender is concerned…!?! 😉

How about men be the best men they can be, and women be the best women they can be, and people of various other non-binary genders be the very best of whatever genders they are, and not always have this “grass-is-always-greener” notion that seems to be at the root of this Jungian notion? And how about we don’t read those flawed notions into our spiritual psychologies, cosmologies and cosmogonies, or our systems of ethics either?

So, to return to some of Peter Dybing’s statements in light of the above, in turn:

For me it is beyond reason that such a world could manifest being lead by masculine principles. For century’s we have had our chance, the result has been suffering, war, poverty and oppression.

I don’t think the problem is masculine principles, or that the only result of masculine principles is suffering, war, poverty, or oppression. Bad people (the majority of whom are men) have caused those things, not masculinity itself; and, in any case, those results and the bad qualities that lead to them are not gendered masculine, feminine, or any other gender. Like all faults and virtues, they’re human.

Am I proud to be a man? Yes I am proud to be a man who understands that the feminine traits buried within me need to be nurtured, expressed and held as an example of being a responsible citizen of this world.

I think that being a man who is proud to be a man involves stepping up in all of the responsible ways Peter Dybing has described here, and in doing so, it has nothing to do with any particular trait being “feminine.” Again, the problem isn’t “feminine traits” being “buried” within a person–if that were the case (which it isn’t, since no trait is masculine or feminine), then the problem would not be that one is a man and proud to be so, it would be that one is transgender, which I don’t think Peter Dybing is! The real difficulty, the real challenge, and the real task ahead of all of us is to be better men, better women, and better people of other genders, all because we are being what we are and not attributing virtue or vice to any of the many genders possible.

Indeed, that may be one of the greatest faults in all of these discussions over the years: attributing exclusive virtue and worth to one gender or another. It’s just as destructive and non-productive to say that “Women are the root of all evil” as it is to say that “Masculine traits have caused all the oppression in the world.” If modern paganism is to progress as a religion that is whole and has integrity in and of itself, it needs to not simply be the reverse of Christianity: Christianity worships a single male deity, therefore paganism will worship goddesses; Christianity has most often imputed evil to women, therefore paganism will impute it to men. I think we can (and should!) do better than simply attempting, in a very Jungian fashion, to be the anima to the Christian animus of wider Western culture. We will not bring balance to the world by pushing on the counter-balance in this way, because the entire system of balances as it has been set up at present by Christianity is flawed and will never work in itself with balances or counter-balances as currently configured. It’s time to get off that set of scales altogether, and to take a barometer reading of where things are, and determine how to relieve or add pressure when and where needed spiritually, politically, and otherwise as modern pagans and polytheists. But perhaps that’s a larger question…

So much of gender and the difficulties around it seems to be a matter of just attempting to understand what gender is and how it works best and what its most essential characteristics happen to be. My own experience, not only of myself but of other people as well (and perhaps even especially so) has taught me that gender is far less a noun or an adjective and more of an adverb–it’s not a thing one is necessarily, nor a way of describing what one is, it’s a way via which one does everything in one’s life. If one is a man, then every good thing one does will be done in a masculine fashion, and every bad thing one does will be in a masculine fashion. I’ve met extremely butch women, who also happened to be trans, but there was no doubt that the way they did their butchness was not because they “started out male,” but because they were women who simply happened to prefer being butch. And further examples could be cited…

For myself, I have known for a long time that if I measure my own integration based on the standards of masculinity or femininity, then I will never actually be right for what I am supposed to be and what I already am and am becoming. The Tetrad++, and Paneros in particular, have been extremely important in teaching me that. If gender really is a mystery and a given of life in the universe, then to attempt to be something that I am not and have never been (except by the flawed perceptions of a society that doesn’t even realize what other options exist) is not only a losing battle and a fruitless endeavor, it’s also the most profound and offensive disrespect to the universe in all of its infinitely varied beauty and mysteries to squander what I actually have been given, and to suppress the blooming of the unique flower that I have been set to tend by thinking that the soil for it and the colors of its leaves and petals and the fragrances which it emits ought to be of an entirely other species than it actually is.

Roses with their thorns, nettles with their stings, and blackberries with their stickers need to each be what they are and to yield what they can only yield, without thinking that roses need to be nettles, or that their petals really ought to be someone else’s berries.

I don’t know if I’ve explained myself entirely clearly with all of this, but I’ve made the attempt, at least. I’ll be intrigued to hear any of your thoughts on the matter, dear readers! 🙂


  1. I especially like what you have to say about not working from the idea that humans are born “broken,” with pieces missing.

    In some ways the concept of an ideal androgyne we should all aspire to reminds me of the idea of “colorblindness” as a solution to racial inequality. Living in a world without difference seems terribly boring to me; what I want is a world where there isn’t social value assigned to that difference.

    I’d love to hear more of your thoughts on Paganism as more than simply the anima to Christianity’s animus! I am annoyed at the kind of thinking that simply takes what was devalued and puts it at the top of the hierarchy, but I can also understand that people might want some space to honor what was devalued.

    • Indeed–it’s sad that so many of the religions of salvation, including Hinduism, Buddhism, Christianity, Islam, and even Scientology all have that notion that we are born broken in some fashion and have to “get fixed” according to the ideas of the religion in question. (In fairness, Bill Maher and a lot of other atheists have said this same thing…it doesn’t hurt the point to note that atheists have said it, though, I think!)

      I totally agree re: “colorblind.” I’ve had several idiotic conversations about this with pseudo-liberal white people who could give Stephen Colbert a run for his money on the nonsensicalness of his “I don’t see race” jokes. (Seriously: I referred to the biracial guy on a television show one time and had another person watching it go “Who?” after which she said, “Oh, you mean him? You see, I don’t see race, so I didn’t know who you were talking about.” It didn’t take her long to figure it out, though, so who exactly is deluding themselves in that pseudo-virtue?)

      I do think it is a good thing to highlight and even over-emphasize goddesses now since women have been so devalued, denigrated, and downplayed over the last two millennia; I’d personally prefer it if individual goddesses were emphasized, rather than this notion of “The Goddess,” since the individuality of individual women has been lost in a great deal of that negative treatment within the Christian context (i.e. “all women are just WOMAN, that awful and stereotypical thing with no individuality whatsoever”), and thus a kind of faceless, all-encompassing Uber-Goddess further reinforces that de-individualization of women. But then again, I’m from a family in which my mother is one of three sisters, and they are each very individual despite their relations, and their mother is again very different from all of them, and there’s no way on Gaia’s green earth (or Geb’s, for that matter!) that I’d ever confuse any of them…and I think that analogizing our human relations to our divine ones is not a bad thing to do at all.

      But, yes, I’m sure I could think of more examples of “Here’s how Christianity does it…so let’s do the exact opposite!” than the above, and in fact that one (and, in fact, that whole area of thinking) hadn’t occurred to me when I started this post. Another would be the ways in which many pagan people can’t stand the idea of institutionalized or “organized” religion, when the notion of religion itself implies organization, at least of thought and action. (But, there are still piles of pagans who think that they “don’t have a religion,” but instead “a spirituality,” which is a problem in and of itself, too!) Hierarchy of any sort is also frowned upon, but anyway…

  2. Perhaps the problem is that for many people they cannot conceive of gender apart from assigning “this-not-that” behaviors and ideals to it? That’s the general impression I’ve gotten anyway. Kind of a “well if men aren’t strong and women aren’t kind then what is gender anyway?”. That is, when they’re not doing the whole “genitals=gender” thing, ugh. I mean, a lot of the people, even queer people, I’ve encountered at best just came up with a different set of defining characteristics.

    Personally, the “adverb” approach you describe above is one I’ve sworn by for years. I always hated the “well you’re really equally male and female, at least spiritually” arguments. Usually followed up by, “I know better than you do who you – really – are because you’re just too stupid/unenlightened to know better. But don’t worry! You’ll grow out of your ignorance with time and maturity!”. To which I’m like, “No, dumbass, I’m all man”. Whether the other genders are better off because of it is another matter entirely.😉

    Also, although I can’t say as I know him, everything I’ve seen of Mr Kelly’s work leads me to think you’re being generous. Every time I’ve seen him describe something as a “mystery” it’s been in the, “I have preconceived ideas and you’ve demonstrated evidence to the contrary so I’m going to put my fingers in my ears and hum in your face until you go away”. I see that a lot with monists who’s counterarguments generally amount to, “well, you make a more compelling case than I’m capable of but I choose to believe I’m right anyway and I’m going to justify that by saying we can’t really know.”

    And they call people who believe in the reality of the gods fundamentalists…

    • Oh, I’ve missed you! 😉

      Yes, I agree on all of your points, really…but, just to review them:

      1) Absolutely: the “men are tough, women are soft” or whatever the characteristics and traits of the day happen to be sort of gender constructions are tiresome, inaccurate, useless, and just a bunch of cultural so-called norms gone awry that it’s almost not worth saying much more about them they’re so transparently lacking in validity.

      2) “Gender = genitals” folks can find a “male member” and sit on it and spin with their gendered orifice of choice.

      3) The “I know who you are better than you do, and you’ll be more enlightened someday” folks can do likewise. I’ve heard that only occasionally for gender; I’ve heard it far far more when I end up sounding (or being!) too smart to fall for some people’s bullshit disguised as deep spirituality. My gods give, and value, critical intellectual faculties, and any deities that don’t probably aren’t actually deities, in my opinion.

      4) I probably am being generous with Aidan Kelly–I utterly gave up on his blog many months back, and have not regretted it.

      #4 being said, though, I think what he meant by “gender is a mystery” isn’t along the lines of how “mystery” is used today in mystery fiction/films/stories, etc. He meant it more in the original “Eleusinian Mysteries” sense–they’re not mysteries because we don’t know what happened in them, they’re mysteries because they’re deep spiritual experiences that can only be experienced. I think there is some truth to that where gender is concerned. I’ve never known what it is to be a man or a woman, because I’m not either of those things. Yet, many men or women who have had certain experiences similar to mine would say “And it was then that I knew what it was to be a man/woman/whatever.” I think, to be really kind of pre-school-ish about it, the essence of these sorts of mysteries are moments of going “Oh, okay, now I get it!” And I think that the various different genders have that, to some degree or other, even if it isn’t a defining singular moment or even an overwhelming sense of certainty about the gender identity in question. There’s lots of men who are men who have not had their masculinity affirmed, but they’re no less men for it; and likewise with women; and likewise with people of other genders. But anyway, that’s a whole other matter, perhaps…

      • I aim to please!😉

        Agreed, very much so on all points.

        Re: 3) A lot of Pagans (and people of other religions and no religion) seem to have made “deepity” worship a religion all its own.

        Re: 4) Same here!

        Re: #4 Ah, I see. Admittedly I saw “gender” in the title, skimmed the article, and mostly went for the comments. They did nothing to disabuse me of 4)

        You/he do make an interesting point though. For me, my “genderedness” presents itself (at least internally) when I have my, “Dude, you are such a guy” moments. Hmm…

        Strangely enough, while I don’t tend to need external validation of my gender, I do like having my “maleness” stroked (sorry, I’m 5) by my fellow men in particular (yeah, still 5).

        Side note: I wonder though, what are the gender implications of reincarnation?

      • On the “deepity” question: yes, that’s something I’ve noticed, and been annoyed by, over the last ten to fifteen years as well. I’ve had the experience far too often of saying something, and then someone going, “Wow, that’s deep,” and it’s sort of the intellectual or spiritual version of saying “I see what ya did there” (which also kind of annoys me), i.e. it acknowledges that “something” is useful or valuable there in what was stated, but it doesn’t engage with it because it can’t/doesn’t know how, etc. It’s almost as if anything like that therefore qualifies as “mystery” and need never be “thought about” by a person again or something…but perhaps that goes off in other directions for other reasons as well…

        I’ve enjoyed stroking some people’s maleness (ahem!), or their femaleness (ahem!) as well, if that’s what they’ve got. Ahem. 😉

        On gender and reincarnation: no fucking clue here. I’ve been told by some people who specialize in past life regressions and theorizing and so forth that I’m “more spiritual” because of my gender identity and not identifying strictly with male or female, or being attracted to one or the other exclusively, but then was likewise told that because I’m also seriously ill that therefore I have “other issues” and this particular life of mine is kind of a test or punishment for past mistakes, etc. I find that incongruous and rather offensive on multiple levels…luckily I didn’t pay these people or spend too much time talking all of that nonsense with them.

        It’s not that I don’t think past lives and reincarnation are possible; but, I suspect that it has little to do with overall earned “merit” and such.

      • Reincarnation is something that’s interesting for me to think about because of my connections to Buddhism and all that but I don’t know if I’m 100% on board with it. At least not how it’s usually “sold” to people.

        My version would probably be less a literal rebirth and more a connection between certain spirits. Like an ancestral or affinity resonance thing if that makes any sense?

        I can’t believe someone told you that re: reincarnation and illness. That’s disgusting on all sorts of levels. Well, I should say, I can’t say I’m – surprised – given what I’ve seen out of the pop reincarnation circles, but I’m nonetheless discomfited to say the least.

        As far as gender and reincarnation goes I’m more inclined to think of discrete persons as being whole and complete unto themselves. Even assuming the literal rebirth model (in whatever derivation) I should think that there’s “this life” and “that life” at least to some degree if not entirely.

        I mean, if we’re going with the “lessons learned” reasoning does it make sense to be gender jambalaya in every life or to be a man in one life, metagender the next life, and so forth. I guess that still leaves the question of what gender can be (or can’t be) assigned to whatever it is that’s supposed to be reincarnating.

        As you said: no fucking clue here.

  3. You might be asking: how? When has a binary gendered person, even within paganism, looked at those few of us who are out and openly non-binary and said to themselves, “That’s what I really should be; I wish I was metagendered like they are”?

    I’ve felt that way, particularly at times when being a martial type was all the rage and those who lacked aggressive, warlike personalities and skills were seen as inferior and not trying hard enough to be a complete human being.

    Presenting as female is gag-inducing in that it was presumed it was my goal to be provocative of desire. I glad I’m old enough that people don’t feel the need to tell me how well I’m doing at pandering to their aesthetic standards.

    What gets me about gender is that it’s presumed to be defined by its relationship to some other gender. If you pick one gender, you’re declining the traits of another another and thus dependent on its representative to do those things for you. Who’d want to be presumed incompetent based on their gender? Or, if incompetent in an area, having it perceived as part of their expression of gender? This made androgyny seem superior to me.

    • That makes sense to me. Thanks for sharing your thoughts!

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