Gender variance in spirituality
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Gender variance in spirituality is about the views that spiritual traditions have toward people who are gender variant. It is also about gender variant figures within those spiritual traditions. Gender variance has always existed. Spirituality has often been part of how individuals and cultures have expressed or regulated that variance.
First, some definitions: "Gender variant" is shorthand for gender that doesn't conform to one's assigned gender in one's culture, and differs from that of the gender binary. Gender variance includes those who are transgender, gender non-conforming, and nonbinary, reflecting that historical figures used different words for these. "Spirituality" is a category that includes organized religions, as well as paths that are not centrally organized or defined as religions, but are nonetheless spiritual. In religious and folklore studies, the word "mythology" means a religious story, such as one about deities and miracles. In this field of study, "mythology" doesn't mean that the story is untrue or less valid than others.
Scholars differ in how to categorize world spiritualities into a taxonomy or other system of organization. In this article, the following categories of spiritualities are organized first alphabetically, by continent or region, and then by religion or culture. This is with two exceptions, which are ordered differently in this list: Abrahamic religions, which originated in the Levant region of Asia, but are best understood as having developed worldwide, and are at the beginning of the list only for alphabetical reasons; and fictional spiritualities, which did not historically develop anywhere on a real-world map, and so are explored after the rest of the article.
Abrahamic religions[edit | edit source]
Originating from southwest Asia and spreading worldwide, the Abrahamic religions include Judaism, Christianity, Islam, the Bahá'í Faith, Rastafarianism, and others. They have certain teachings in common, particularly the belief in one God, specifically Jehovah, the God of Abraham.
Judaism[edit | edit source]
Views about gender variance in Judaism[edit | edit source]
Some relevant Wikipedia articles:
- Wikipedia article on LGBT-affirming denominations in Judaism
- Wikipedia article transgender people in Judaism
The six genders in classical Judaism[edit | edit source]
Classical Judaism recognizes six categories of sex/gender, instead of the male/female gender binary from modern Western culture. Jewish law (called halacha) recognises gender ambiguity, and has done so throughout Jewish history. This ambiguity is defined according to physical presentation (or lack thereof) and primary and secondary sexual characteristics. Then Jewish law assigns six gender roles to these six sexes, each with distinct prohibitions and required duties. According to Rabbi Elliot Kukla, these six are:
- Zachar (זָכָר): This term is derived from the word for a pointy sword and refers to a phallus. It is usually translated as “male” in English.
- Nekeivah (נְקֵבָה): This term is derived from the word for a crevice and probably refers to a vaginal opening. It is usually translated as “female” in English.
- Androgynos (אַנְדְּרוֹגִינוֹס): A person who has both “male” and “female” sexual characteristics. In English, translated as androgyne or intersex. 149 references in Mishna and Talmud (1st-8th Centuries CE); 350 in classical midrash and Jewish law codes (2nd -16th Centuries CE).
- Tumtum (טֻומְטוּם "hidden"): A person whose sexual characteristics are indeterminate or obscured. 181 references in Mishna and Talmud; 335 in classical midrash and Jewish law codes. In Yevamot 64a, the Talmud says that the Biblical figures Abraham and Sarah were said to have been born tumtum and infertile, and then miraculously turned into a fertile husband and wife in their old age. The classical description of the physical characteristic of tumtum as skin hiding normal female or male genitals does not exactly match any intersex condition known today. Modern scholars see it as corresponding with some known intersex conditions with ambiguous genitalia. In the 2019 Worldwide Gender Census, 5 of the 11,242 respondents called themselves tumtum.
- Ay’lonit (איילונית): A person who is identified as “female” at birth, but fails to develop sexual characteristics at puberty or develops “male” characteristics, and is infertile. 80 references in Mishna and Talmud; 40 in classical midrash and Jewish law codes. Modern scholars think ay'lonit refers to a selection of intersex conditions, such as Turner's syndrome. In the 2019 Worldwide Gender Census, 2 of the respondents called themselves ay’lonit.
- Saris (סריס): A person who is identified as “male” at birth but develops “female” characteristics as puberty and/or is lacking a penis. A saris can be “naturally” a saris (saris hamah), or become one through human intervention (saris adam), such as a eunuch. 156 references in mishna and Talmud; 379 in classical midrash and Jewish law codes.
The above six categories of gender are important to consider whenever considering gender in classical Jewish texts, such as the Hebrew Bible, rather than misinterpreting them in terms of the modern Western gender binary.
Gender variant figures in Judaism[edit | edit source]
God as a gender variant figure in Judaism[edit | edit source]
The exact nature of the God of Abraham is much disputed, even within one particular religious sect. God is often thought of as a male patriarch, but there is also a long history of seeing God as partly or entirely other than female or male, or as both. Jehovah's wife and/or female aspect is Shekinah (שכינה). This is a Hebrew word meaning "dwelling" or "settling" and denotes the dwelling or settling of the divine presence of God. This term does not occur in the Bible, and is from rabbinic literature. Jewish mystics saw God as having been originally an androgyne, noting that the name "Eve" is derived from "Jehovah".
Adam as a gender variant figure in Judaism[edit | edit source]
Jewish and Christian teachings often interpret the first human, Adam, as having been created as both male and female, before God extracted Eve from him. This is an example of the Primal Androgyne motif.
According to the Jewish philosopher Philo of Alexandria (c. 20 BCE - c. 50 CE), Adam's original form was "original man" or "heavenly man," which was "neither man nor woman," but was rather a spiritual being made "male and female" in the perfect image of God in Genesis 1:27, before being made into physical form from clay in Genesis 2:7, and then even later being separated into Adam and Eve in Genesis 2:21-22. Of the six genders/sexes in classical Judaism, Adam's gender/sex was originally the one called androgynos (אַנְדְּרוֹגִינוֹס).
Jewish Gnostics said that dividing this complete human was what made humans mortal, and that if they could be a complete "hermaphrodite" [sic] again, they wouldn't die anymore.
Lilith as a gender variant figure[edit | edit source]
In Jewish mysticism, Lilith is a supernatural masculine female demon. She isn't included in Genesis, but folklore holds she came to be in Creation, though the story of her origin varies. In one of them, God meant her to be the first human woman, creating her before Eve, as a whole being like Adam, but she refused to be submissive to Adam. She left him, and wanders the world making trouble for humankind forever. Although Lilith is described in feminine language, and gives birth to hundreds of demons, she is considered as having masculine characteristics. Her masculine characteristics are said to be because she was created as a whole male-female being, like Adam. She is said to have thick body hair like a man.
Scholars think Lilith was a goddess or introduced from a neighboring Southwest Asian religion, or that she at least corresponds with some of them.
Christianity[edit | edit source]
The below is a more brief summary. For more detail on this subject, please see the main article: gender variance in Christianity.
Views about gender variance in Christianity[edit | edit source]
Christians have tended to have difficult views of LGBT people. Christians have used certain religious views as motivation behind discrimination and hate crimes against LGBT people. Christian denominations and churches vary in their attitudes toward LGBT people. What views churches do express about LGBT people tend to focus mainly on sexual orientation (lesbian, gay, and bisexual people), and less on gender variance (gender nonconforming, transgender, and nonbinary people). Because this is the nonbinary wiki, this portion of the article will focus wherever possible on Christian views specifically addressing gender variance, rather than sexual orientation.
Gender variance in the Christian Bible[edit | edit source]
The Christian Bible doesn't specifically mention transgender people, as such. It also doesn't specifically mention nonbinary people, who are one kind of transgender people. Because of this, the Bible doesn't officially condemn transgender or nonbinary people. The absence of such people in the Bible doesn't mean that they were unknown during Biblical times. Classical Judaism itself acknowledged six genders/sexes in texts other than the Bible, and several neighboring cultures also acknowledged genders outside the binary. Some of the following Bible passages can be seen as relevant to transgender and nonbinary people.
Although seven Bible passages have sometimes been thought of as condemning lesbian, gay, or bisexual people, only one passage seems to specifically condemn cross-dressing, and, by extension, transgender people. This is Deuteronomy 22:5, in one of the Hebrew books of law. Christians do not typically observe Judaic law, because Christians believe one of the important things Christ did when he came was fulfill all those laws, so Christians are no longer bound by them (Matthew 5:17; Romans 7:1-7; Galatians 3:25).
Nonetheless, this Biblical law has long been used by Christians to condemn those who cross-dress, and as a foundation for writing various national laws against cross-dressing. In the most famous example of this, historical court records show that the Inquisitors of the Catholic Church cited Deuteronomy 22:5 in the only actual specific charge for which the Church burned 19-year-old Saint Joan of Arc alive at the stake in 1431.
Biblical passages about eunuchs are relevant to nonbinary people, because some nonbinary people have a physical transition that resembles that of a eunuch. In the Bible, "eunuch" can mean many different kinds of people, not just a man who was castrated, some of which Jesus lists in a sermon in Matthew 19:12. In many ancient cultures, "eunuch" was often an umbrella term for people who were intersex, sterile, gay, a "third gender", or otherwise queer. Because of this, any ancient writings about eunuchs can be relevant to LGBT people.
The Bible never condemns anyone for being a eunuch, nor says that becoming a eunuch is a sin, even though being a eunuch made a person subject to Jewish ritual purity laws distinct from those of other men and women. Even though eunuchs were barred from entering the Hebrew congregation and priesthood for ritual purity reasons (Deuteronomy 23:1, Leviticus 21:20), God specifically blesses eunuchs in Isaiah 56:3-5.
In Acts 8:26-40, Philip baptizes a eunuch, in in disregard of the aforementioned ritual purity laws from Judaic tradition. This is because Peter had visions in which God told him to eat non-kosher meats (Acts 11-17), which meant not to call any person common or unclean (Acts 10:28), so Christians started to baptize gentiles (Acts 10:45-48). The story of the baptism of the eunuch represents that Christianity welcomes all who wish to join it, in full participation. It is relevant to nonbinary people, in that it shows that people who have a gender/sex outside of the binary are welcome in Christianity just as they are. Having an unusual gender/sex is not a sin, and is not something that they need to give up in order to be Christian.
A letter from Saint Paul to the Christian Gauls, in Galatians 3:28, says that the gender binary is merely one more system of oppression that doesn't exist in Christianity: "There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus." This passage is relevant to nonbinary people, because they identify outside of the gender binary. It's also relevant to all LGBT people, who are treated differently due to how they all relate differently to the gender binary than most, whether by crossing it (in the case of binary transgender people) or loving on the same side of it (in the case of lesbian, gay, and bisexual people).
Gender variant figures in Christianity[edit | edit source]
In addition to the above list of gender variant figures held in common between Christianity and Judaism, some figures are distinct to Christianity, or are distinctly seen as gender variant in Christianity.
God as a gender variant figure in Christianity[edit | edit source]
Individual Christian sects can interpret the God of Abraham in different ways. God is often thought of as a male patriarch. However, there is also a long history of seeing God as partly or entirely other than female or male, or as both. Jehovah's wife and/or female aspect is Shekinah. Many Christian sects believe in God as a trinity, having three parts: God, Jesus Christ, and the Holy Ghost. The Holy Ghost is an abstract entity depicted as a dove that flew down to be born as Jesus, and it is said to be neither male nor female in some traditions. In other words, one aspect of God, the Holy Ghost, is outside of the gender binary, and is nonbinary in certain traditions. The word for “spirit” in Hebrew is considered to be both masculine & feminine and in Greek is considered a neuter noun, but in Latin it is masculine. In general, within Christianity the soul is always considered feminine in relation to God. Within the Christian Hermetic tradition there is a “Luminous Holy Trinity” model which makes use of the Star of David six pointed hexagram. The upward pointing triangle consisting of Father, Son and Holy Spirit is masculine and the downward facing triangle consisting of Mother, Daughter, Holy Soul is feminine. Within the Sophiological tradition of the Russian Orthodox priest Sergius Bulgakov the Mother of God Saint Mary is considered to be the world soul and the “Pneumatophoric hypostasis” of the Holy Spirit.
Gender variant angels in Christianity[edit | edit source]
Angels are traditionally described with masculine language, and their names are more often given to masculine people. However, Christianity has traditionally held that all angels are neither male nor female. The reasoning for this is because God created all the angels, so they don't need to reproduce. They are spiritual beings, without the limits of physical bodies. God created Angels as perfectly whole combinations of masculine and feminine characteristics. Christian denominations that officially hold the view that all angels are nonbinary include the Catholic church.
Another reason for thinking of angels as genderless is a quotation from Jesus, which has sometimes been taken as mentioning the gender of angels: "For in the resurrection they neither marry, nor are given in marriage, but are as the angels of God in heaven." (Matthew 22:30, King James Version) Traditionally, Christianity has taken this passage as further implying that all spiritual beings are genderless or androgynous, even angels and resurrected humans, though some scholars disagree with that interpretation.
Gender variant saints in Christianity[edit | edit source]
Even though the book of Deuteronomy condemned cross-dressing, and medieval Christianity penalized that act, the Church nonetheless canonized as many as twenty-five saints who are known to have cross-dressed or been gender-variant. However, only saints on the female-to-male spectrum have been canonized, whereas any trace of spiritual people on the male-to-female spectrum have been erased from Christian history.
One particularly notable such figure was Saint Joan of Arc (Jeanne D'Arc, or Jehanne) (c. 1412 - 1431). This saint told her ally, Prince Charles, that God had commanded her to exclusively chose to wear masculine dress and hairstyle. After her victory, when she was captured, Henry VI, the King of England, referred to Deuteronomy 22:5 as a reason for the Inquisitors of the Church to condemn her. Her judges claimed they gave her the choice to either give up cross-dressing, to face a sentence of life in prison, or to be executed if she again wore men's clothing. The court records show that cross-dressing, based on Deuteronomy 22:5, was the actual charge for which she was burned alive at the stake. In hir history book, Transgender Warriors, the genderqueer activist Leslie Feinberg (1949 - 2014) argues that the historical evidence shows that this saint was not just a warrior woman who took up armor for practicality, but was transgender, and the court documents about her refer to local peasants' beliefs that her gender variance was sacred in and of itself, which was part of why the Catholic Church saw her as so threatening to its power.
For further reading on this subject, please see the main article: gender variance in Christianity.
Islam[edit | edit source]
Views about gender variance in Islam[edit | edit source]
See main article: Wikipedia:Islam and transgender people In Islamic literature, the word mukhannathun is used to describe "effeminate men". The term has sometimes been equated to transgender women, gay men, members of a third gender, or intersex individuals, though it does not neatly fit into any of those categories.
The treatment of mukhannathun varied throughout early Islamic history, and the meaning of the term took on new dimensions over time. In some eras, men deemed mukhannathun were persecuted and castrated, while in others they were celebrated as musicians and entertainers. In later years, the term came to be associated with the receptive partner in gay sexual practices, as homosexuality was seen as an extension of effeminacy. In the late medieval era, several Islamic scholars held that mukhannathun who had innate feminine mannerisms were not blameworthy as long as they did not violate religious laws concerning sexual morality.
Due to Ayatollah Khomeini issuing a fatwa allowing sex reassignment surgery for intersex and transgender individuals, Iran carries out more sex change operations than any other nation in the world except for Thailand. It is sanctioned as a supposed "cure" for homosexuality, which is punishable by death under Iranian law. The government even provides up to half the cost for those needing financial assistance and a sex change is recognised on the birth certificate.
Gender variant figures in Islam[edit | edit source]
Bahá'í Faith[edit | edit source]
Views about gender variance in Bahá'í Faith[edit | edit source]
In the Baha'i Faith, transgender people can gain recognition in their gender if they have medically transitioned under the direction of medical professionals and if they have sex reassignment surgery. After surgery, they are considered transitioned and may have a Baha'i marriage.
Gender variant figures in Bahá'í Faith[edit | edit source]
Rastafarianism[edit | edit source]
Views about gender variance in Rastafarianism[edit | edit source]
Gender variant figures in Rastafarianism[edit | edit source]
Unitarian Universalism[edit | edit source]
Views about gender variance in Unitarian Universalism[edit | edit source]
See main article: Wikipedia:Unitarian Universalism and LGBT people
Unitarian Universalism, a liberal religion with roots in liberal Christianity, became the first denomination to accept openly transgender people as full members with eligibility to become clergy (in 1979), and the first to open an Office of Bisexual, Gay, Lesbian, and Transgender Concerns (in 1973). In 1988 the first openly transgender person was ordained by the Unitarian Universalist Association. In 2002 Rev. Sean Dennison became the first openly transgender person in the Unitarian Universalist ministry called to serve a congregation; he was called to South Valley UU Society, Salt Lake City, UT. Also in 2017, the Unitarian Universalist Association's General Assembly voted to create inclusive wordings for nonbinary, genderqueer, genderfluid, agender, intersex, two-spirit and polygender people, replacing the words "men and women" with the word "people." Of the six sources of the living tradition, the second source of faith, as documented in the bylaws of the denomination, now includes "Words and deeds of prophetic people which challenge us to confront powers and structures of evil with justice, compassion, and the transforming power of love".
The Unitarian Universalist Association (UUA) states "we not only open our doors to people of all sexual orientations and gender identities, we value diversity of sexuality and gender and see it as a spiritual gift". The Covenant of Unitarian Universalist Pagans (CUUPS), the pagan-aligned affiliate of the UUA, echoes those beliefs with bylaws that state covenant membership "shall be open, without regard to race, color, sex, affectional or sexual orientation, gender expression, physical disability, national origin, or social condition."
Gender variant figures in Unitarian Universalism[edit | edit source]
Africa[edit | edit source]
Ancient Egyptian (Kemetic) religion[edit | edit source]
Views about gender variance in Kemet[edit | edit source]
Writings from ancient Egypt (Middle Kingdom, 2000-1800 BCE) said there were three genders of humans: male (tie), sekhet (sht), and female (hemet), in that order. Sekhet is usually translated as "eunuch," but that's probably an oversimplification of what this gender category means. Since it was given that level of importance, it could potentially be an entire category of gender/sex variance that doesn't fit into male or female. The hieroglyphs for sekhet include a sitting figure that usually mean a man, but the word doesn't include hieroglyphs that refer to genitals in any way. The word for male did include a hieroglyph explicitly showing a penis. At the very least, sekhet is likely to mean cisgender gay men, in the sense of not having children, and not necessarily someone who was castrated. Archaeologists question whether ancient Egyptians castrated humans, because the evidence for it is lacking.
Gender variant figures in Kemet[edit | edit source]
Gender-variant deities and figures in ancient Egyptian religion:
- Hapi, god of the Nile River, often depicted as a man with a round belly, breasts, and a fake beard. This is often seen as related to his fertility aspects. 
- Shai(male)/Shait(female), who was sometimes portrayed both as male and female. Being the personification of fate, gender was not a concern, and is variable depending on the place and time.
- Nebt-het (Nephthys). "In ancient texts, Nebt-het has been described as being 'an imitation woman with no vagina' because of Her barrenness and She has no children with Her husband, Set, Lord of the Red Desert, which is a striking difference from most Kemetic triads of mother-father-child. [...] She is sekhyt [sekhet], a Kemetic word often translated as 'eunuch' but more accurately indicates any person who doesn’t fit within the traditional gender roles of male or female, any person who is infertile, and/or a sexless/unsexed person."
- Nit, a world-creating goddess, who has been called by "the epithet 'The Mother and Father of All Things' and has been addressed as 'Male Who made female; Female Who made male' at the temples of Esna. [...] Nit is said to have created childbirth, and, when referred to as a creatrix, Her name is written with the hieroglyph of an ejaculating phallus."
- Set, god of chaos. The mythology describes him having sex with men and women, and specifically mentions him ejaculating, but also calls him a sekhet. This suggests that sekhet does not necessarily mean someone who was castrated.
- Tatenen, androgynous mother or father of the earth. They are a creator deity, being seen as creating the land itself. Because of their status as a creator, they are seen as androgynous. 
- Wadj-wer, sometimes depicted as a pregnant man. He relates to water, the Mediterranean, and fertility, the later aspect likely the reason for the pregnancy.
Other African and African diaspora religions[edit | edit source]
Views about gender variance in African and African diaspora religions[edit | edit source]
Gender variant figures in African and African diaspora religions[edit | edit source]
Gender variant deities in other African and African diaspora religions:
- Baron Samedi, a dandy who sometimes wears a combination of masculine and feminine clothing at the same time
- Ghede Nibo, feminine gay man or dandy
- Obatala (in Brazil: Oxala, in Haiti: Blanc-Dani), both male and female. Creator of humankind. Depending on the story, gave birth to humans by self-fertilizing, or by dividing into a man and woman.
- Olokun. In the religion of Santeria, Olokun a deity of the ocean posessing both sets of genitals, "who wears very long hair and who lives in the depths of the ocean floor with a great retinue of mermaids and tritons."
- Legba (Ellegua), usually male, but changes sex in some stories, and is sometimes portrayed by a girl wearing a phallus.
- Mawu-Lisa, combination of male Mawa and female Lisa
- Mwari, both male and female
- Nana-Buluku, in Fon tradition, is creator of the world, a god both male and female. This Creator gave birth to the sun (male Liza) and moon (female Mawu).
- Pomba Gira, patron of drag queens, might be the female version of Legba.
- Vondu, a god both male and female
Americas[edit | edit source]
Zuni[edit | edit source]
Views about gender variance in Zuni spiritualities[edit | edit source]
Gender variant figures in Zuni spiritualities[edit | edit source]
Gender variant figures in Zuni traditions:
- He'e, a male kachina who wore feminine clothing. He defended his pueblo while wearing a mixture of men’s and women’s clothing, with one side of his hair dressed in the women’s style.
- Ko'lhamana, a Zuni Two-Spirit kachina who peacefully mediates between different groups of people.
[edit | edit source]
Views about gender variance in Diné spiritualities[edit | edit source]
Gender variant figures in Diné spiritualities[edit | edit source]
Figures in Diné (Navajo) traditions: Note that Navajo traditions include a third gender role, called nadle (Nádleeh), which includes people who are intersex, as well as people in the transgender spectrum.
- Changing Woman (Ahsonnutli, Estsanatlehi, Asdzą́ą́ Nádleehé) a Diné Two-Spirit deity. She changes to a different age with each season. In the creation epic, she gives birth to heroic twins, fathered by the Sun, who she marries.
- Turquoise Boy (Ashton nutli, Ashton nadle) a two-spirit person, specifically a feminine man (or in some versions intersex), in the creation story (Diné Bahaneʼ). He helped the people escape the great flood. Later, Turquoise Boy became the sun (Jóhonaaʼéí, The One Who Rules the Day), and then he fathers children with Changing Woman, and marries her. In a different story, Turquoise Boy is instead the child of Changing Woman and the Sun; Changing Woman created him as the first two-spirit person because she couldn't decide whether she wanted a son or a daughter, and decided to make a child who was both.
- White Shell Girl, a two-spirit person, in this case a masculine woman, in the creation story who helped Turquoise Boy save the people from the flood. She later became the moon (Tłʼéhonaaʼéí, The One Who Rules the Night).
Aztec[edit | edit source]
Views about gender variance in Aztec spiritualities[edit | edit source]
Gender variant figures in Aztec spiritualities[edit | edit source]
Figures in Aztec traditions:
- Huehuecoyotl, an Aztec trickster god who was usually male but sometimes female
Other Native American spiritualities[edit | edit source]
Views about gender variance in other Native American spiritualities[edit | edit source]
Gender variant figures in other Native American spiritualities[edit | edit source]
Figures in traditions of other Native peoples of North America:
- Coyote, usually male, but changes sex in some stories.
- Double Woman, in Lakota tradition, appears in a young man's dreams holding out women's tools, and if the dreamer takes these, the dreamer accepts the trans feminine gender role of winkte, meaning "would become woman."
- Frog Earrings (Toad Earrings), a female spirit in Mandan tradition who appears in people's dreams to tell them to adopt a different gender role.
- Red Woman (Hicicawia) a spirit in Crow tradition who created two-spirit people.
- Holy Women, in Hidatsa tradition, appear in people's dreams to tell them to adopt a different gender role.
- Moon deity, in Omaha tradition, is said to appear in a young person's vision quest or dreams, holding out men's tools in one hand, and women's tools in the other. Which one the dreamer grasps for will determine the dreamer's gender role. For this reason, the Omaha word for a two-spirit person is mexoga, meaning "instructed by the moon." "This type of vision, conferring high status because of instruction from the Moon spirit, was also reported ... among the Winnebagos, Lakotas, Assiniboine, Pawnees, Mandans, and Hidatsas"
- Nih'a'ca, in Arapaho mythology, was the first person who was two-spirit (haxu'xan). Nih'a'ca is a trans feminine trickster who married the mountain lion.
Asia[edit | edit source]
Hinduism[edit | edit source]
Views about gender variance in Hinduism[edit | edit source]
Gender variant figures in Hinduism[edit | edit source]
- Purusha, a primal androgynous deity. The word also refers to a complex concept within Hinduism. 
- Ardhanarisvara (aspect of male Shiva, with female consort Parvati, Deva, Shakti, or Uma), both male and female in one body. Patron of gay people, intersex people, and transgender people
- Bahuchara Mata, goddess, patron of Hijra, who are members of a trans feminine nonbinary gender role.
- Indra, who cursed a king to become a woman. The king was Bhangashvana in the ancient Indian epic, the Mahabharata. The king ended up with "two sets of sons—those who called him ‘Father’ and those who called him ‘Mother.’ Indra caused the two sets of children to fight and kill each other. When Bhangashvana pleaded for mercy, Indra asked which set of sons he would like back. ‘Those who call me mother,’ said Bhangashvana. When asked whether he wanted a male body or a female one, he replied, ‘A female one, so that I can get more pleasure.’”
- Iravan (Iravat, Iravant, Aravan), patron of hijra.
- Samba, who became a woman and gave birth
- Shakti or Sakti, the deity personification of cosmic energy. Shakti is commonly referred to in feminine terms, yet in Mahakalistotra Shakti is described as "neither female nor male nor hermaphrodite" and in Nava Ratneshwar Shakti is described as "neither female nor male, nor neuter".
- Shikhandi (Śikhaṇḍī, Shikandi, Srikhandi), a warrior in the ancient Indian epic Mahabharata, who was born a girl and lived as a man. He was destined for military victory. He married a woman, but she rejected him when she found out that he was a trans man. Shikhandi contemplated responding to this with suicide, but instead made himself fully physically male by trading his sex with Sthunakarna, a forest spirit (a yaksha) who wanted to become a woman.
Buddhism[edit | edit source]
Views about gender variance in Buddhism[edit | edit source]
Thai Buddhism recognizes a category of gender variance called kathoey, which includes feminine people who were assigned male at birth. Many people in Thailand think of kathoey as a separate category than woman or man, and even separate from transgender women. In Thai Buddhism, being kathoey is seen as being part of one's karma, if it should be the case for a person. The response is one of "pity" rather than "blame". Kathoey are generally seen as not likely to form lasting relationships with men, and the lay explanation of their karma is that they are working out debts from adulterous behavior in past lives. In the past they disrupted marriages, and now they are doomed to never marry.
Gender variant figures in Buddhism[edit | edit source]
Figures that are gender variant or patrons of gender variant people:
- Avalokiteśvara, a male bodhisattva, sometimes shown as an androgynous man, who can appear in a form of any gender
- Kwanyin (Guanyin, Kannon), originally a male bodhisattva (derived from Avalokiteśvara) who was reinterpreted as female or androgynous. There are only hypotheses about how and why this happened.
Taoism[edit | edit source]
Views about gender variance in Taoism[edit | edit source]
Gender variant figures in Taoism[edit | edit source]
Gender-variant figures in Taoism:
- Lan Caihe (Lan Ts'ai-ho), one of the Eight Immortals, who was a homeless wandering singer. Lan is not thought to have been based on a historically real person, but many ballads attributed to Lan survive today. The earliest stories about Lan were told as far back as at least the 10th century CE. The gender of Lan Caihe is unknown, and has always been disputed. Chinese theatre traditionally portrays Lan as wearing feminine clothing, but speaking in a masculine voice, that is, by a male actor without attempting a feminine style of speech. He Xiangu is always described as the only woman among the Eight Immortals, so Lan is not a woman. According to the Xiu Xiang Ba Xian Dong You Ji, Lan Caihe was a man who could not understand how to be a man.
Shintoism[edit | edit source]
Gender variant figures in Shintoism[edit | edit source]
Shinto kami associated with gender variance include: shirabyōshi, female or transgender kami represented as half-human, half-snake. They are linked to Shinto priests of the same name, who are usually female (or occasionally transgender) and perform ceremonial dances in traditional men's clothing; Ōyamakui no kami, a transgender Yama-no-Kami mountain spirit that protects industry and childbearing (notably enshrined in Hie Shrine); and Inari Ōkami, the kami of agriculture and rice, who is depicted as various genders, the most common representations being a young female food goddess, an old man carrying rice, and an androgynous bodhisattva. Inari is further associated with foxes and shapeshifting fox trickster spirits. Kitsune sometimes disguise themselves as women, independent of their true gender, in order to trick human men into sexual relations with them. Common belief in medieval Japan was that any woman encountered alone, especially at dusk or night, could be a fox.
Levant spiritualities[edit | edit source]
The Levant is an area of western Asia, which is popularly called the middle East, including the Fertile Crescent, where the earliest civilizations developed. Culturally, the Levant can also spread into north-eastern Africa, and even southern parts of Europe, due to easy trade and travel across the Mediterranean Sea. The Abrahamic family of religions also originated in the Levant.
Views about gender variance in Levant spiritualities[edit | edit source]
Gender variant figures in Levant spiritualities[edit | edit source]
Gender-variant deities and patrons of gender variance in Levant spiritualities:
- Enki, a Sumerian male god and creator. He has been referenced to have both male and female aspects, but these seem to largely relate to fertility, or his place in a per-patriarchal society.
- Inanna, a Sumerian goddess who was described in some hymns as both male and female, and whose worship included ritual cross-dressing. Some more recent translations indicate that "ritual cross dressing" might have been mistranslated, the passages instead referring to a sect of trans priestesses. She was also indicated to have domain over transitioning gender, "To turn a man into a woman and a woman into a man are yours, Inana." 
- Zurvan, a Zoroastrian primal deity of time who is grammatically represented as genderless.
Australia and Oceania[edit | edit source]
Views about gender variance in Australian and Oceanian spiritualities[edit | edit source]
Gender variant figures in Australian and Oceanian spiritualities[edit | edit source]
Gender-variant deities and patrons of gender variance:
- Ungud, Australian aboriginal rainbow serpent god, androgynous
Europe[edit | edit source]
Greco-Roman religions[edit | edit source]
Also called Classical religion, the ancient Greek (Hellenistic) and Roman religions featured mythology about the many gods, goddesses, and supernatural heroes. Although these are often seen as dead religions, the Classical deities are still worshiped today by Hellenistic Pagans.
Views about gender variance in Greco-Roman religions[edit | edit source]
Gender variant figures in Greco-Roman religions[edit | edit source]
Gender variant deities and patrons of gender variance in Greco-Roman religions:
- Greek mythology with Phrygian origins described Agdistis, who was both male and female. The other gods feared the power of this complete being, and so castrated Agdistis, removing Agdistis's penis. From their blood sprang a tree that bore either almonds or pomegranates, depending on the version of the story, but both of these fruits symbolize the vulva and womb. The fruit of it fertilized Nana, who gave birth to Attis. Agdistis brought chaos to the wedding of Attis, so that Attis went mad, castrated himself, and died. In dismay, Agdistis asked the gods to preserve Attis's body, and founded a festival in his honor. There are several very different versions of the story of Agdistis, but basic events remain similar. In some versions, Agdistis a relation or aspect of the goddess Cybele.
- Aphrodite had transgender aspects. Servius said, "There is in Cyprus an image...with the body and dress of a woman, but with a scepter and the sex of a man, which they call Aphroditus, and to which the men sacrifice in a female dress and the women in a masculine one." This can be seen as the presence of transgender priests and priestess, as the Romans often had antagonistic views towards androgyny. This deity was depicted as a woman with a penis, often lifting her skirt to reveal her penis.
- Venus, the Roman counterpart to Aphrodite, also had gender variant aspects.Venus Barbata, an aspect of the goddess Venus, grew a beard and dressed as a man in order to court a gay man. This deity was patron of sex workers and of socially taboo love and sex, particularly homosexuality. Her followers included men who dressed as women, and she’s said to have turned some men into women.
- Cybele, a goddess who was in some interpretations both male and female. Her priestesses were trans-feminine eunuchs called Gallae.
- Dionysus, a deity of wine, madness, vegetation, pleasure, and frenzy. His tradition is broadly reaching, so accounts do not agree on aspects of his gender. However, some popular accounts agree on certain aspects of his gender. Dionysus, by most accounts, was raised by nymphs on Mt. Nysa. There, he was raised as a woman.  In most traditions, he is seen as effeminate, and sometimes is seen as changing gender. 
- Hermaphroditus, a Greek deity who was both male and female, who was shown in art as a beautiful woman with a penis. One version of this deity's origin was that Hermes (the messenger god) united with Aphrodite (the goddess of love) to become Hermaphroditus. Another story said instead that Hermaphroditus was originally the beautiful male son of Hermes and Aphrodite. The lake nymph Salmacis raped him, wishing them to never separate again, so the gods made them one being. The gods also granted the victim's wish that anyone who bathed in that lake would lose their virility. This is the origin of the word "hermaphrodite.".
- Pales, a Roman shepherd deity seen as male, female, or multiple deities at different times.
Other gender variant figures and myths:
- Caeneus (also called Caenus, Caenis, or Kaineus) was a mighty warrior who had been divinely changed from a woman to a man. When Caeneus was female, the god Poseidon had raped him, and then offered a wish. Caeneus wished to become a man with the power of being impenetrable by anything, so that he could never be raped again in any way. As a result, Caenus also became supernaturally invulnerable to being penetrated by any weapon, such as swords and arrows. A centaur found out Caeneus's secrets, and so mocked him, and then defeated Caeneus by burying him under logs and boulders.
- Tiresias (Teiresias), a man who was changed to a woman for several years and back again. He settled a dispute between Zeus and Hera about whether men or women experience more pleasure during sex. He said women did, which angered Hera, so she blinded him. To make up for it, Zeus gave Tiresias the power of prophesy. Some consider Tiresias to have those powers because of having experienced life as a man and as a woman.
- Iphis is the son of Ligdus and Telethusa, a couple who was poor, and could not afford a dowry if they were to have a girl. If a girl was born, she was to be killed. The goddess Isis advised Telethusa to keep her child, regardless of the gender. Though born "female", Telethusa raised Iphis as a man. When Iphis became older and fell in love, he prayed to Isis for help, and was able to have a body that matched his gender perception. 
Art of Hermaphroditus, Aphroditus, or figures believed by historians to be them[edit | edit source]
Other gender-variant figures from Greek and Roman mythology[edit | edit source]
Norse religion and Heathenry[edit | edit source]
Views about gender variance in Norse religion and Heathenry[edit | edit source]
Norse Heathenry has a complex relationship with LGBTQ subjects. The practice of seiðr is typically regarded as women-only magical practice, requiring an openness that draws parallels to the sexually receptive feminine role found in other neopagan beliefs. Historically and currently, non-female practitioners are sometimes targeted with homophobic or effeminate harassment.:
Gender variant figures in Norse religion and Heathenry[edit | edit source]
Gender-variant deities in Norse religion:
- Friga, usually female, but sometimes both male and female
- Loki (Loke, Loge, Loptr, Hveðrungr), usually male, a shapeshifter who became female and gave birth on occasion. He transformed into a mare to birth Sleipnir, an eight-legged horse that became the swift steed of the god Odin.
- Odin as Jalkr, usually male, but in one story was a eunuch in feminine clothing in order to study women's mysteries.
Wicca[edit | edit source]
Views about gender variance in Wicca[edit | edit source]
Transgender people are generally magickal people, according to Karla McLaren in her Energetic Boundaries study guide. Transgender people are almost always welcomed in individual communities, covens, study groups, and circles. However, some Neopagan groups do not welcome transgender people, and specifically exclude people from participation who do not fit into cisgender male and female categories. Some gender separatist groups exclude transgender people, often on the basis of their gender assigned at birth. Dianic Wicca is an example of such a separatist group.
Wiccan traditions hold a wide range of differing beliefs about sexual orientation and gender identity. However, Wicca is regarded by many practitioners as a fertility religion. Starhawk wrote in her 1982 book Dreaming the Dark, "Sexuality was a sacrament in the Old Religion; it was (and is) viewed as a powerful force through which the healing, fructifying love of the immanent Goddess was directly known, and could be drawn down to nourish the world, to quicken fertility in human beings and in nature".
Most Wiccans worship two deities, the Goddess and God, representing a male-female polarity that Wiccans believe is in all things.: This is a "predominantly heterosexual model". A central part of Wiccan liturgy involves the Great Rite,Farrar, Stewart (1973). What Witches Do: A Modern Coven Revealed. Sphere Books. p. 85-94.</ref> an act of actual or symbolic ritual sexual intercourse between the two deities, carried out by a priest and priestess who have had the deities invoked upon them.Crowley, Vivianne (1989). Wicca: The Old Religion in the New Age. The Aquarian Press. p. 234. ISBN 0-85030-737-6.</ref>
Gardnerian and Alexandrian groups typically form their covens from male-female pairs exclusively. Kraemer writes, "The British Traditional Wicca of the 1950s and 1960s saw masculine and feminine energies as wholly distinct from each other, yet complementary. Although masculinity and femininity were to be valued equally, priestesses and priests were cast into rigidly gendered, heteronormative roles."
Newer Wiccan traditions often avoid or disregard the historical aversion to LGBT individuals. Oboler notes the change in neopagan culture thus, "Although the symbolic bedrock of Wicca and modern Paganism is strongly gender-essentialist, the Pagan community, like the culture as a whole, has been moving away from that position." These traditions sometimes cite the Wiccan Charge of the Goddess which says "All acts of Love and Pleasure are My rituals". Professor Melissa Harrington wrote that despite traditional Wicca showing heterosexism "as Wicca has grown and attracted gay practitioners they have begun to work out ways in which Wiccan rites can become more meaningful to them".
According to professor and Wicca author Ann-Marie Gallagher, "There is a moralistic doctrine or dogma other than the advice offered in the Wiccan Rede... The only 'law' here is love... It matters that we are gay, straight, bisexual or transgender– the physical world is sacred, and [we are] celebrating our physicality, sexuality, human nature and celebrating the Goddess, Giver of ALL life and soul of ALL nature."
The Pagan Federation of Canada stated, "Over the last few decades, many people have thought that the emphasis on male/female polarity in Wicca excludes homosexuals." However, the Federation goes on to make the case for the validity of LGBT orientations even within traditional Wicca, suggesting that gay men and lesbians are likely to be particularly alive to the interplay of the masculine and feminine principles in the Universe.
In Gardnerian Wicca[edit | edit source]
Gerald Gardner, the founder of Gardnerian Wicca in the 1950s and 60s, emphasized heterosexual approaches to Wicca. As Jan Van Cleve, former practitioner of traditional Wicca, wrote, "Much of Gardnerian magic is based on this notion that physical interaction between male and female is not only desirable, but also necessary." Gardner said that a witch could only be initiated by one of the other gender, with exceptions for parents initiating children, and otherwise would be cursed by the Goddess. According to Lois Bourne, one of the High Priestesses of the Bricket Wood coven, Gardner said that all witches had to be heterosexual men and women.
In Alexandrian Wicca[edit | edit source]
Alex Sanders, the co-founder of Gardnerian offshoot Alexandrian Wicca, came out as bisexual later in life and created new rituals in which sexual orientation was irrelevant. However, a significant portion of Alexandrian belief is regarding heterosexual reproduction, best expressed by his wife and co-founder Maxine Sanders who is well known to emphasize the concept of male-female polarity and the fact that Alexandrian Wicca is a fertility religion. She also expressed concern about a proper functionality of transgender people (referred to as "transvestites") within coven practices, saying it best to look at other traditions that suit them more. "These people", as she is noted to have said, "they're not happy people."
In Dianic Wicca[edit | edit source]
Dianic Wicca has become notable for the female-focus and anti-transgender stances of its founder, Zsuzsanna Budapest, and many members. This female-only, radical feminist variant of Wicca allows cisgender lesbians but not transgender women in Dianic covens. This is due to Dianic belief in gender essentialism, specifically, "you have to have sometimes [sic] in your life a womb, and ovaries and moon bleed [menstruate] and not die," according to Budapest. This belief and the way it is expressed is often denounced as transphobia and transgender-exclusionary radical feminism. Budapest was vocal in her opposition to trans women.
Some Dianic practitioners, such as lesbian priestess Jan Van Cleve, see this discrimination as a reactionary impulse that will someday subside. Van Cleve writes:
"The relationship of the Feminist Movement to Dianic Wicca has been a mixed blessing. On the one hand, it liberated Wiccan women from patriarchal notions of paganism, which claimed that all energy comes from the male/female polarity. The early neo-Pagan leaders were all men and sex between sexes occupied a large part of their attention and sometimes even their rituals. This was rejected by feminists who sought a spirituality they could call exclusively their own. However, as feminism was a reaction to oppression, it carried with it a mindset colored by it. Feminists rebelled against the oppression of men but very soon began to oppress lesbians in their own ranks. The early years of the National Organization of Women, for example, were rife with bitter struggles between straight and lesbian feminists.
Oppression inevitably breeds oppression. The oppressed inevitably become the oppressors. It's the old story of man beats wife, wife yells at child, and child kicks dog. The same thing happened in Dianic Wiccan circles between straight and lesbian Witches. Lesbians, in turn, oppressed Bisexual women, and today some feminists and lesbians are opposed to transgendered women in circle. These are normal growing pains of any movement and as straight and lesbian women have by now largely overcome their orientation differences, they will no doubt soon overcome their fears of their transgendered sisters as well."
Other European and Neo-Pagan spiritual traditions[edit | edit source]
Feri[edit | edit source]
The Feri Tradition, a modern form of traditional witchcraft, has provided a home for many neopagan LGBT individuals. The Tradition is very open to non-heterosexual orientations and queer identities. Feri practitioner Storm Faerywolf writes:
"As any Queer practitioner can attest, there is a definite shortage of Queer-specific models that encourage the strengthening of ourselves as whole beings. In many Neo-Pagan Witchcraft traditions, we are told simply to adopt the pre-existing (and heterosexist) magickal modalities of polarity and fertility. In the Feri tradition we are given certain tools that enable us to have healthier relationships with our Divine natures, devoid of any such baggage."
Gender variant figures in other European spiritual traditions[edit | edit source]
Figures from other European spiritual traditions include:
- Baphomet, a primal androgyne said by the mystic Eliphas Lévi (1810-1875) to have been worshiped by the Knights Templar. This primal androgyne is an alchemical allegorical figure, made of a mixture of human (female and male) and animal features, representing the spiritual and physical realms, with a flame over its head representing enlightenment. This is the figure on the Tarot card called "The Devil," but it's debatable whether it's synonymous with the devil.
Fictional spiritualities[edit | edit source]
Some spiritual traditions that were made up for use in a fictional story refer to gender-variance, transgender people, and nonbinary people. Fiction can be helpful for speculating about different ways that people could think about gender variance than has happened in real-world history. In real life, some Pagans and magicians choose to include deities and practices of fictional origin in their spiritual practices.
Views about gender variance in fictional spiritualities[edit | edit source]
Gender variant figures in fictional spiritualities[edit | edit source]
Spiritual gender-variant figures from fiction include:
- Kyprioth, a trickster god in the fictional Tortallan culture, in the fantasy novels by Tamora Pierce (Bloodhound and Trickster’s Choice.) Kyprioth is a transgender man, and makes people be born transgender by touching them in the womb. http://tamorapierce.wikia.com/wiki/Kyprioth
- In the Trinyvale Campaign of Not Another D&D Podcast, the world has three deities: one male (Nullar), one female (Liandt), one nonbinary (Neddas). Singular they is used for Neddas.
See also[edit | edit source]
Further reading[edit | edit source]
- Omnigender: A Trans-religious Approach, by Virginia Ramey Mollenkott
References[edit | edit source]
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- "Arachin 4b ~ The Tumtum, the Androgyne, and the Fluidity of Gender." Talmudology. June 20, 2019. https://www.talmudology.com/jeremybrownmdgmailcom/2019/6/17/arachin-4b-the-tumtum-the-androgyne-and-the-invention-of-gender?rq=tumtum
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