What is Your Spirit Gender?

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Osh-Tisch, left, a Crow warrior and spiritual leader and a Boté, a transgendered Native American, with his wife. Courtesy, photographer John H. Fouch, printed in the journal, Montana: The Magazine of Western History

I ran across a most fascinating story about the Native Americans. It seems that Native American tribes in the New World recognized the transgender being.

Pearson McKinney published a timely and thought-provoking article in the Bipartisan Report, entitled, Before European Christians Forced Gender Roles, Native Americans Acknowledged 5 Genders. Certainly we can all agree that the three Abrahamic religions are adamantly opposed to a female being anything but a female and a male being anything but a male. But I will look at the backlash from the Christian point of view, since only it was address by McKinney.

In fundamental and evangelical Christianity, sexual identity is firmly defined. CBN, or the Christian Broadcasting Network, has published an unattributed article, entitled God’s Truth About Gender, which highlights the writings of Dr. David E. James IV, in his book, God’s Truth About Gender: Unraveling the Lies of Modern Human Sexuality, Behavior and Identity. Drawing on the bible verse, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness…male and female, he created them” (Genesis 1:26,27 KJV), the unnamed writer notes, “When God created people, gender was a basis for which we were to bear his likeness. Apart from the obvious differences in the physical nature of gender (man and woman), he also gave the concepts of spiritual gender—the way we feel and behave in response to stimuli—to correspond to the man and the woman he created. When we speak of the terms ‘masculinity’ and ‘femininity,’ we are referring to these feelings and behaviors. Men are expected to be masculine and women are expected to be feminine, though it is also possible for men and women to possess qualities characteristic of the opposite gender. However, their primary spiritual makeup will be in line with their physical gender.” James goes on to state that, “Heterosexuality and homosexuality are personal choices each person makes with his or her sexual capabilities [my emphasis]. Contrary to what is frequently and erroneously stated in the media, there is no scientific or psychological proof that homosexuality is anything other than a behavior pattern that manifests itself in certain individuals for a variety of reasons, including psychological, social, environmental, behavioral, and genetic predispositions working together to produce the homosexual persona.” James’ descriptions put males and females in their corresponding boxes without any grey areas and appears to vilify anyone who does not identify with the gender to which they were born.

However, in a scientific vein, Mark A. Yarhouse wrote the article Understanding the Transgender Phenomenon for Christianity Today, or CT. Rather than just writing a book based on his own experiences and opinions, as did David E. James IV, Yarhouse and Trista L. Carrs published their study on 32 transgendered Christians in 2012 in the peer-reviewed Journal of LGBT Issues in Counseling, entitled, “MTF (Male-to-female) Transgender Christians’ Experiences.” In the study, Yarhouse and Carrs looked at “the experiences of 32 biological males who identified as Christian and transgender.” One of the participants described herself as such: “I am walking wounded, dry bones, defeated, tired of the struggle for normalcy or acceptance.” In order to maintain their faith, many of the participants felt they could not show their faith community who they really were. Yarhouse and Carrs wrote, “Participants tended to either report a past conflict or the decision they made to stay closeted to keep their gender-identity conflicts to themselves so as to avoid interpersonal conflict.” Most experienced rejection by their faith-based communities.  A minority of participants found acceptance in their communities. One person noted, ““I go to a very evangelical church … where I transitioned. I am accepted by the people, and indeed was baptized by immersion there several years ago as my new self.” However, this was not the dominant outcome. One of the conclusions that Yarhouse and Carrs found was that “Participants shared a strong personal faith, and they often reported a strong and meaningful connection to God (with some notable exceptions), but where they struggled was with the local religious community. They struggled most with the people who represent that religious faith in local communities.”

True to form in the fundamentalists and evangelical Christian communities in the United States, generally, those who think for feel differently that the standard, heterosexual, patriarchal gender roles are vilified, with the Christian community rarely seeking to accept them.

The Native Americans seem to have had a much more open and accepting society before the Western, patriarchal society overtook the New World. Author Will Roscoe, in 1990, published, ‘”That Is My Road”: The Life and Times of a Crow Berdache,’ in the peer-reviewed, Montana: The Magazine of Western History. Roscoe introduces us to a member of the Crow Nation, Osh-Tisch, whose name means “Finds Them and Kills Them.” He was also known among the westerners as “Woman Jim.”

Although known in the Crow Nation as a boté , the French called him a Berdache. According to Roscoe, “Berdache (derived from the Arabic bardaj, or male concubine) was the term used by French explorers and traders to describe Indian men (and sometimes women) who pursued activities of the other sex. Berdaches were once common throughout North America; their presence has been documented in over 130 tribes. Often they combined the roles of men and women rather than simply switching genders. This is implied, for example, in the translation of boté as “half-man, half- woman.” Recent investigators have characterized berdache status as a third gender.”

Where the transgendered person in the present religious organizations in the United States is feared and vilified, the boté  in the Crow Nation was treated with respect. Roscoe notes, “Third-gender status enabled Crow berdaches to assume special roles in religion as well. In the Sun Dance ceremony, for example, a special lodge was constructed around a tall central pole. This pole, a symbolic conduit between the dancers and the Sun Father, had to be secured by individuals who were themselves intermediary between the community and the supernatural-‘threshold figures,’ in anthropologist Victor Turner’s terms.” But when the western figures entered the native’s lives, hatred towards the revered transgendered person was introduced. According to Roscoe, “In 1889, when A. B. Holder reported his observations of berdaches made during his assignment as a government doctor at the Crow agency, he concluded: “Of all the many varieties of sexual perversion this, it seems to me, is the most debased that could be conceived of.”10 In the twentieth century, anthropologist Robert H. Lowie described Crowberdaches as ‘pathological,’ ‘psychiatric cases,’ ‘abnormal,’ ‘anomalies,’ ‘perverts,’ and ‘inverts.'”

Unlike other westerners, Major General Hugh L. Scott, according to Roscoe, was fascinated and curious about “Woman Jim.” Roscoe presents conversations with the Crow boté, written by General Scott . One of the conversations went like this:

Scott…asked Jim why he wore women’s clothes. “That is my road,” the berdache replied. How long had “she” acted as a woman? Since birth; he “inclined to be a woman, never a man.”Had anyone, a medicine person, perhaps, told him to become a berdache? “No.” Did he ever dream about it? “No.” Did any spirit ever tell him to do it? “No! Didn’t I tell you-that is my road? I have done it ever since I can remember because I wanted to do it. My Father and Mother did not like it. They used to whip me, take away my girl’s clothes and put boy’s clothes on me but I threw them away-and got girl’s clothes and dolls to play with.” When Scott asked if there were any other berdaches in the tribe, Woman Jim replied that he was the last. ‘There were three others recently but they are dead.” In his lifetime, he had know of eight, adding, ‘They have always been far back in history.” Again Scott asked if a spirit or vision directed individuals to become berdaches. “No, it was just natural, they were born that way.” What sort of work did he do? “All woman’s work.”

Interestingly, the fear seemed to resonate from Woman Jim’s family, not her society, though other boté were accepted and revered by their own family members.

Will Roscoe compiled his findings into a book published in 1998, called Changing Ones: Third and Fourth Genders in Native North America. 

Changing Ones
Courtesy, Amazon.com

His book was reviewed by Gilda Frantz article, entitled, “Carrying the Opposites within Oneself,” published in 1999 in the peer-reviewed, The San Francisco Jung Institute Library Journal. Frantz, writing after the gay hate crime death of Matthew Shepard in Wyoming, noted, “It would seem that being homosexual is still punishable by death in many parts of our country, and that despite much cultural interest in the possibilities of diversity, being different is frequently perceived as an insult to the rest of society.”

Frantz’ words still ring true eighteen years later, since Omar Mateen gunned down 49 men and women at Pride night club in Orlando June 12, 2016. Mateen’s victims, members of the LGBTQ community, as well as the straight community, were all targeted by Mateen, a Muslim. In this direction, Frantz notes that as she read in Roscoe’s book about the acceptance of what we would term as Native American members of the LGBTQ community, “…the more rage surfaced in me, not just at the injustice directed toward gay people, but regarding what we have historically done to our Native American brothers and sisters who were able to go way beyond the Europeanʼs limited understanding of human ways. Alongside their loving attention to native animals and plants, Native Americans learned also to observe men and women, and they understood people on many levels, better than we do today.”

Almost two decades later, our LGBTQ brothers and sisters continue to fight for their right to live and continue to battle patriarchal, homophobic themes imbedded in our most fundamentalists and evangelical religious institutions. Why would the Native American cultures not be threatened by the LGBTQ members in their midst centuries ago, but the evangelical and fundamentalist in the three main Abrahamic religions are so fearful that just the mention of the LGBTQ community sends them into a tailspin, quoting Leviticus 18-22?

As an atheist, I am more inclined to gravitate to the spiritual world of the Native American, rather than listen to the hateful drivel that fundamentalists and evangelical Christians, Muslims and Jews spew at our LGBTQ brothers and sisters. It is precisely these homophobic, paternalist attitudes that caused me to question to the very core, the religion that I was brought up to believe was complete truth.

How many additional Orlandos will the homophobic rage embrace in the name of religion?

In “This is My Road…,” Roscoe writes, “Finds Them and Kills Them died on January 2, 1929, at the age of seventy-five. Having outlasted and outwitted efforts over the course of three decades to change his ‘road,’ his story can be counted as one of the personal triumphs of American Indian history.”

Maybe so many Americans who call themselves religious need to look at their own road–and ask themselves why their religion teaches to them to love one another, but fear and vilify LGBTQ members.

Answering Orlando: Conservative Christians are Right; The LGBTQ Person Does have a Choice.

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The victims of the Pulse Orlando shooting at the hands of Omar Mateen, courtesy, Human Rights Campaign, #WeAreOrlando: HRC Turns Building into Memorial to Orlando Victims

It’s the same argument–the LGBTQ person says they were born LGBTQ and the conservative religions communities say that they were not born LGBTQ; they choose to be LGBTQ.

I agree that the person who lives a different sexual lifestyle does have a choice, just as conservative Christians say. However, the conservative Christian community gets the choice fundamentally wrong.

Orlando may be the beginning of the turning point that will probably take many  more years to fully mature from “hate the sin, love the sinner,” to complete acceptance. Let’s assess the situation.

First of all, the shooter, Omar Mateen was certainly a person who, by all accounts, was a ticking time bomb. Reporting for the Daily Beast, Shane Harris, Brandy Zadrozny and Katie Zavadski wrote in their article, The Unhinged Home That Raised Orlando Killer Omar Mateen, that Mateen grew up in an abusive home. When a person is brought up to question their own self-worth, the fear generated by that abuse often shows up as anger. Julie Vitkovskaya of The Washington Post compiled the transcripts of the 911 calls from Mateen to the Orlando Police Department in an article entitled, ‘You already know what I did’: Read excerpts of the Orlando shooter’s 911 calls. In the early morning hours of June 12 at the Orlando gay bar Pulse, he claimed to be guided by, “allegiance to Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi of the Islamic State.” But that claim really does not wash with Mateen’s actions leading up to the shootings and appears to be a red herring. Although he, according to Vitkovskaya, “told the negotiator to tell America to stop bombing Syria and Iraq,” his rants included lies, such as,

“There is some vehicle outside that has some bombs, just to let you know. You people are gonna get it, and I’m gonna ignite it if they try to do anything stupid.” Later in the call with the crisis negotiator, the shooter stated that he had a vest, and further described it as the kind they “used in France.” The shooter later stated, “In the next few days, you’re going to see more of this type of action going on.” (Vitkovskaya)

Within these lies might be the answers as to why Mateen chose to destroy unsuspecting lives at Pulse. Mateen could have shot up a mall, as did a group of Islamic extremist group al-Shabaab did at the Westgate shopping mall in Nairobi, Kenya in September of 2013, killing 63 and wounding 175. Or he could have shot up a movie theater, as James Holmes did in Aurora, CO in July, 2012, killing twelve and wounding 70 and as John Russell Howard did in Lafayette, LA in July 2015, killing two and injuring nine, then taking his own life. Instead, Mateen decided to wreak havoc on a gay nightclub–the one place where, no matter how badly the LGBTQ community member is treated and bullied during the day, that person could go to Pulse and dance and be the person that he/she or whatever in between can be. Safely, without judgement or acrimony. Omar Mateen took that away from the LGBTQ community in Orlando, including those who chose to vacation in Orlando and visit Pulse on that fateful night.

Heidi Grover of The Stranger, a Seattle publication, wrote about Pulse being such a safe place for the LGBTQ community in Orlando in her piece, Memories of Pulse Orlando. Tracey Cataldo observes that “Florida is already a really hard space to be out and to be gay and to be yourself…It was the first moment I had being out in Orlando where I was like, oh, I’m OK here—not just safe, but these people get me. Everywhere else I felt like I had to walk around defensive…” Erin Resso remarks, “I was going to Pulse when I was just coming out and just sort of exploring what that even meant and who I was. Just being around people who are like you is so fucking important. You don’t have to hide. You can actually be yourself.”

The shootings in Orlando seemed to touch a particular nerve nationwide, especially with those who have traditionally condemned those in the LGBTQ community–religious organizations in the United States.  Errin Haines Whack and Rachel Zoll of the Washington Post note conservative religious organizations response to the shootings in their article, Religious conservatives attempt balance in Orlando response, “The Rabbinical Council of America, the major association for Orthodox rabbis, decried ‘murderous attacks in the name of religion’ and said ‘no individual or group should be singled out’ the way the victims were. The president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, Archbishop Joseph Kurtz of Louisville, Kentucky, offered prayers and called for ‘ever greater resolve in protecting the life and dignity of every person.’ The Southern Baptist Convention, at its annual meeting this week, passed a resolution extending ‘love and compassion’ to all affected by the shooting and saying they consider the victims ‘fellow image-bearers of God and our neighbors.'”

Yet, no matter how much conservative religious leaders try to make nice with the LGBTQ community, many religious communities still has the LGBTQ community in their gun sights, so to speak.

The Human Rights Commission publishes online its Faith Positions. For Mateen’s family religion, Islam, the commission notes that inclusion for the LGBTQ community runs the gamut, because, “Islam has no central governing body, it is not possible to state clear policies regarding issues of interest to LGBTQ people.” Yet even without this central authority, “It is rare that an openly LGBTQ Muslim feels fully welcome at a mainstream mosque in the United States. Cultural norms and traditional readings of sacred texts often uphold a heteronormative binary of gender identification and sexual orientation that don’t allow for the range of identities present in today’s society.” Interestingly, “Transgender men and women are recognized and accepted in many Islamic cultures around the world. In fact, the idea of a man or woman identifying as a member of the opposite gender is more likely to be accepted than that of a man or woman expressing sexual desire for someone of their own gender.”

Judaism in the United States also runs the gamut of beliefs for and agains the LGBTQ community. Both the Reformed and Conservative movements are inclusive of the LGBTQ community. The Reform movement as early as 1977, through its “…Central Conference of American Rabbis passed a resolution that called for ‘legislation which decriminalizes homosexual acts between consenting adults, and prohibits discrimination against them as persons.’” However, the Orthodox Jewish community is much less inclusive, though, just as the Islamic religion, they also have no central governing body. Still, it is believed, “Orthodox policies related to LGBT inclusion are grounded in the Torah and subsequent rabbinic teachings, which prohibit sexual relationships between individuals of same gender, and base gender roles on birth biology. Sex between men and particularly anal intercourse is deemed a violation of biblical weight. Lesbian relations are not mentioned in the Bible and are prohibited explicitly only by later rabbinic authorities.”

For the dominate religious group in the United States, Christianity is all over the board in its relationship with the LGBTQ community. Possibly the most inclusive sect is the Unitarian Universalists Church, which believes in “the inherent worth and dignity of every person,” making the Unitarians an inclusive denomination to the LGBTQ community. In fact, the Unitarians have “conducted ‘services of union’ for same-sex couples since 1984.” in contrast, the Southern Baptist Convention published its “Resolution on a Christian Response to Homosexuality” in 1996, declaring that, “even a desire to engage in a homosexual relationship is always sinful, impure, degrading, shameful, unnatural, indecent and perverted.” The SBC tells its members, “Christians can, and should, minister to homosexuals in a kind, yet firm manner,” encouraging its members to show the member of the LGBTQ community that “Christ can work through our lives to touch those lost in a world of confusion and darkness.” The largest Christian denomination, the Roman Catholic Church, declared in a Letter in 1989, that, “Although the particular inclination of the homosexual person is not a sin, it is a more or less strong tendency ordered toward an intrinsic moral evil; and thus the inclination itself must be seen as an objective disorder.” In the Catechism, the “Homosexual persons are called to chastity.” 

No wonder those in the LGBTQ community feel they are treated as sub-human and abominations. When their own churches, families and country have called them sick, begging them and praying for them and with them to stop being themselves and start being just like “everyone” around them–no wonder the LGBTQ person feels there are few safe places for them to live their lives. The overpowering, public display of shame and hatred toward the LGBTQ person has been the prevailing narrative in this country for so very long.

What changes this narrative now as a result of Orlando? “‘This is a time to grieve, to mourn and to consider what it means to stigmatize people,’ said the Rev. Raphael Warnock of the historic Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta, who supports gay marriage as a civil right. ‘Religious communities have played a particular role in … marginalizing gay and lesbian and transgender people,’” quoted Whack and Zoll. That is a powerful condemnation on religion in our communities from a religious leader. That is brave. But not a brave as an LGBTQ person.

Our religious community do not want to align itself with the vilified religion of the shooter, Omar Mateen. The presumptive Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump even says of Islam, “I think Islam hates us,” reports Theodore Schliefer of CNN, fanning the anti-Muslim dialogue that is engulfing our country.

In reality, it is still the religious community–all but the very socially progressive sects–who are trying to act as if they care for our LGBTQ community members after Orlando, while still vilifying them in their worship services and in their conferences where they set anti-LGBTQ policy in black and white.

Those religious sects, denominations and organizations who preach anti-LGBTQ rights have more in common with the Islamic faith than with human rights for all in the United States.

Orlando, is a wake-up call. Omar Mateen, was either secretly gay, bi-sexual or outwardly homophobic. He destroyed lives of our LGBTQ brothers and sisters and those who loved them, not the lives of random people in movie theaters, or malls or in an elementary school. We still do not know the true motives of Omar Mateen, but his attempt to steer his motives away from homophobia and onto Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi and ISIS frankly makes no logical sense.

Yes, the gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, queer people have a choice. They can choose to live their own truth, or they can choose to ignore who they really are and let conservative, religious fanatics shame the LGBTQ person into becoming the person they are not. Trying to change the LGBTQ person is an invitation to a train wreck of a life. It happens over and over and over again in this country.

Perhaps one day the power of shame, based on religious dogma, will be overcome by the power of reality. All of our religious communities also have a choice–to stop fearing the members of the LGBTQ community. Being gay is not a disease and it is not contagious. An LGBTQ person knows they are sexually different before they even know the definition of LGBTQ.

Is it suddenly permissible to start loving members of the community you preached hate against 24 hours before a massacre? You might believe your own crap, but people with half a brain see through that ruse.

I personally have solved my problem about gay rights and religion. The intolerance of the gay community in the religious community is so abhorrent to me that it is one of the reasons why I have chosen–and it is my choice–to be an atheist. I am not fearful of anyone in the LGBTQ community. My sister is a lesbian. Her wife is my sister-in-law. I love them completely and the homophobia of so much religion cannot compete with my love for my LGBTQ family and friends. It appears that much of the United States feels this same way in the wake of a madman’s murderous rampage in Orlando.