written sometime in '08
Prologue: RuPaul’s Drag Race and Tyra Banks’ America’s Next Top Model, Hollister and…. Victoria’s Secret. It would seem as if American society desperately enforces a bifurcation of male masculinity and female femininity. However, even with these few examples, there are situations that do not quite fit into these categories of masculine and feminine. This great dis-ease bothers us at the core of who we are: the heart of our spiritual convictions, our conceptions of gender, and questioning assertions about communal relationships. This essay seeks to provide a lens for understanding these intersections from the perspective of one who lives on the periphery due to race, class, sexual orientation, and androgyny.
Over time the word “androgyny” has taken many different forms and meanings. It is difficult to truly begin to consider the ramifications religion, gender, and community have without first defining this word in the context of this particular discussion. Androgyny refers to the way a person embodies the expansiveness of Creation, which is often interpreted in modern day society as being both masculine and feminine. It must be noted that androgyny in this context does not exclusively pertain to one’s sexual identity or orientation. For a person can most certainly be androgynous yet be fulfilled in a relationship with a person of the opposite “gender.”
Additionally, it is important to demystify conceptions of gender. Modern day scientific developments increasingly prove that “men” and “women” are much closer in chromosomal relationships than ever before. When considering modern day implications of gender, the only distinctions made refer to a person’s reproductive organs – males having the external penis and females generally having a vagina. However, in many cases, people are born with both reproductive organs and are forced to identify with a specific societal norm. Horrendously, a child is stripped of their right to decide at birth more often than not. Therefore, when referring to “men” and “women” in this essay, these refer to current twenty-first century standards of identifying persons due to their reproductive organs. It must again be noted that gender is a socio-political construct which has been and is continually being used to force and subject “women” into second-class citizenship and oppression.
America is a nation built upon the convictions of religious freedom. This sense of religious freedom, civil and political rights permeates every aspect of the American political system and governance here in the United States. As outcast, those on the periphery, the marginalized in England; sojourners found their home in a “new territory.” Along with their spiritual idealism, physical bodies were transported across the water ways and very soon – these great spiritual leanings disappeared with the enslavement of persons of the African Diaspora.
Very early, these spiritual zealots and religious leaders created a system of hierarchy. This system of hierarchy absolutely ostracized and marginalized those who would be considered as “other.” During this time, “other” was a blanket term used to refer to members of the African Diaspora, the dark-bodied African slaves.
During the creation of America these spiritual ideals of universalism were written into all of the founding documents. Each elementary school student in the modern day United States of America knows that “all men are created equal.” This statement seems to be such a uniting phrase granting these little children a sense of hopeful optimism about the American community that they may never see. Nevertheless, these are the ideas each and every student in America now learns. Eventually, around the end of adolescence, these young minds realize the fatal flaws and injustices in the American system and resentment begins to fester like an open sore, a cancerous tumor eating away the very life of this hopeful optimism which bitterly turns into a negative pessimism about society and spirituality.
Statistics show the overwhelming amount of young people who have been indoctrinated by this Protestant Mainline Church tradition which is overwhelming exclusive of the wide span of sexuality which most certainly includes Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgendered (LGBT) or queer people. As the world continues to become smaller due to globalization and inter-dependence, young people are connected to a planet full of diverse beliefs and persons through the world wide web. Current researches have noted these young people who grew up in these exclusive church environments are accepting of the LGBT/queer community as a whole.
As these young people have matured into adulthood over the last few decades, the face of the American Mainline Protestant Church is not only changing but transforming society. The Evangelical Lutheran Church in American (ELCA), the Unitarian Universalist Association (UUA), and United Church of Christ (UCC) have been overwhelming supportive of LGBT/Queer issues, rights, and dignity. This acceptance, though varied, has assisted in shaping and re-shaping minds to understanding the broadness of creation.
Many Protestant Christians read their Bibles, more than likely the New King James Version, daily. Convinced that God only created Adam and Eve, the Baby Boomer generation does not necessarily support LGBT/Queer rights and does not know how to understand this embodied and displayed androgyny. A further discussion on the theological implications of androgyny must be considered.
Throughout the Bible, God is reference as a variety of metaphors, similes, and of course – genders. Most Protestant Churches uphold a Trinitarian view of the Divine which states God as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. In modern day theological discussions, God is also known as Creator, Deliverer, and Spirit. This Holy Spirit is synonymous with Wisdom – Sophia and ruach. While some make the connection that the Triune God would be “intersexual” or “transgender” it is not necessary to limit God in this way. It is most certainly satisfactory to say God is transcendent of human capacity to understand sexuality and gender identifications. If God created humankind in the image of this Divine Trinity, there is a Divine Androgyny Christians must embrace and acknowledge.
While watching RuPaul’s Drag Race, a friend noted that “the women on this show display their femininity more than we do.” Laughs were shared around the room but alas, she uncovered something that lies deep in our understanding of selves in this relation to gender expression and identification. Later in one of the commercials, an upcoming episode preview was being shown. The Drag Queens were being asked to be both bride and groom. One of the contestants said that she felt like a Drag King. Interestingly enough, this homosexual man, dressed as a woman, felt uncomfortable portraying himself to the world as a man in Drag. Even for those “in the life” this presented another perplexing conundrum.
There is certainly a dis-ease when heterosexuals view the gender expression of homosexuals as “flamboyant” or “gender bending.” It must be noted that this representation of oneself is not exclusive to ideologies and practices of sexualities. In fact, some persons choose to identify themselves as “Metro sexual” in order to grasp their androgyny.
When living and existing in communal space, people are always calculating ratios of men to women and women to men. How does one understand the ratio if there is a person, quite like myself, who is androgynous, Black, in-the-life, and expresses gender in a more masculine identifying way? This indeed throws off the ratio and people generally only consider the outward appearance without consideration to the emotions, sincerity, authenticity, transparency, and vulnerability I display. How do we not only understand and embrace this androgyny as a community?
Discern – Reflect – Engage – Embody
As a step towards understanding and de-constructing the bi-lateral understandings of masculinity and femininity into an androgynous ethic, it is important to personally discern your own sense of self and society. Each person has been shaped and formed in a particular socio-economic background that informs their character and sense of being. One must begin considering how they understand gender partiality but why.
Throughout this process, people need to engage in a period of reflection in considering the truth in their being. Of course, most people feel absolutely comfortable in their current expression of self. However, once beginning to considering the underlying assumptions of gender partiality, others may feel a sense of retrospective-introspective discernment and re-discovery.
Feel free to fully embrace the fullness of Creation. Words are not capable of describing the expansiveness of sexuality, gender expression, or Creation as humankind. Therefore, people can grow in understanding of androgyny by embracing others irregardless of societal norms and standards. In this way, there is a deeper appreciation for a person’s worth and dignity.
Embodying this androgyny is not a de-construction of the current self but acknowledging the sense of gender impartiality given to each and every person.