A Spiritual Perspective on Gender Nonconformity

Ardhanarishwara

Gender nonconformity, or gender variance, is an umbrella term which covers a wide variety of behaviors that deviate from social or biological norms concerning one’s birth gender.  The most familiar (and controversial) of these is homosexuality, which is defined as romantic and/or sexual attraction, or sexual interaction between members of the same biological gender.  And for as long as we have been aware of it, there is still much that we do not understand.

First of all “homosexual” is not a noun.  It’s an adjective.  It does not define a person, but merely describes a person’s behavior or inclination.  Secondly, not all homosexual behavior is exclusive.  In fact, many studies indicate that a large percentage of people who engage in homosexual behavior engage in heterosexual behavior as well, with varying degrees depending upon one’s sexual preferences.  Statistically speaking, however, exclusive homosexuality is quite uncommon.

From a scientific standpoint exclusive homosexuality is a mysterious phenomenon.  This isn’t any sort of moral judgment, nor is it to suggest that homosexuality is in any way unnatural.  After all, homosexual behavior has been observed all throughout the animal kingdom.  However, if we consider sex to be a biological function primarily for the purpose of procreation, then exclusive homosexuality would seem counterproductive.  Of course, reproduction is not the sole purpose of sex.  Even biologists will tell you that sex serves many other functions, from stress relief to social bonding, and everything in between.  But what remains a mystery is why an animal would be wired for sex, and yet have absolutely no interest in mating with members of the opposite gender.  After all, from an evolutionary perspective, sexual impulses are meant to encourage procreation.  But there can be no procreation between members of the same biological gender.

Now when we say that homosexual behavior has been observed in various species, again we are not suggesting that this behavior is exclusive.  While homosexual interactions have been observed among many different animals, those involved tend to go back and forth between members of their own gender and members of the opposite gender.  So what we are observing oftentimes is sexual fluidity or bisexuality, which is to say that this behavior doesn’t necessarily interfere with procreation.  However, exclusive homosexuality has also been observed within the animal kingdom, although it is actually quite rare.  And biologists are at a loss to explain it, as it seems to have no clear evolutionary advantage.

Scientists have come up with many theories to explain the origin of homosexual behavior, and a great deal of research has been undertaken, but there has yet to be any definitive explanation as to why it occurs.  And maybe this is because there is no biological influence on homosexual behavior.

Gender variance can take any number of forms, and today there are well over a dozen different terms to describe these variations.  Apart from homosexuality, there is bisexuality, gender fluidity, sexual fluidity, transgender and so on.

A person may be born a biological male, and yet feel very much like a woman.  Or that person may swing back and forth between a feminine and masculine polarities, or not identify with any gender at all.  Or, regardless of the gender with which one identifies, that person may find themselves attracted to members of the same biological gender, exclusively or in addition to members of the opposite sex.  All of these were once considered mental illnesses, according to the early psychological establishment, but that idea has long been rejected.  It has also been put forth that there may be genetic and environmental factors which influence sexual orientation, but once again, the research has invalidated its own theories.  As far as we know, there seems to be no biological, chemical or environmental influence on gender identity and orientation.  Science simply does not yet a way to adequately explain it.  So, as with all things, I like to venture deeper into the realm of spirit.

The spiritual traditions teach us that we are not these temporary material bodies, but rather the spirit soul which inhabits them.  The physical body comes equip with genitalia for the purpose of producing new physical bodies for other souls to inhabit.  But this reproductive function is exclusive to the material form.  Material bodies must be reproduced materially.  But souls do not reproduce.  Rather, they transmigrate from one body to the next in a process we call reincarnation.

The point which I am coming to is that the soul is neither male nor female, and yet at the same time it embodies both masculine and feminine aspects.  This is to say that “male” and “female” are terms which refer to biological gender.  But the soul does not have organs for reproduction, or for any other purpose.  So without genitalia, the soul has no gender.

The terms “masculine” and “feminine” are used to describe psycho-spiritual qualities which appear to relate to members of specific biological genders.  However, this terminology is very limiting and should not be taken too strictly.  For example, it is true that males generally tend to be more dominant and females more submissive, but this is not always the case.  And it could be that we tend to behave this way, not because it is in our nature necessarily, but because it is culturally conditioned.  The truth is that we all embody both “masculine” and “feminine” aspects, yet express them to differing degrees.  Sometimes we even suppress certain aspects because society tells us we must behave a certain way.  Being emotionally sensitive, for example, is considered a feminine aspect.  So men are often encouraged to hide their feelings rather than freely express them.  It isn’t that they don’t experience emotion to the same degree as women.  They’re just culturally conditioned to suppress their emotions, or to express them in a way that makes them appear strong rather than vulnerable.

There are many examples of this kind of cultural conditioning, and we won’t get into them here.  It is enough to simply be aware of it, and to understand that in reality there are no “masculine” or “feminine” aspects, because in the realm of spirit there is no gender, and ultimately no such division.

So then what is it that causes a person to identify with the gender opposite of their own, or to sway between the two?  The soul transmigrates from one body to the next, taking with it impressions from each lifetime.  When one is engaged in this material world, it is all too easy to forget that we are spirit souls, and to become identified with the physical body and it’s impulses.  A soul which inhabits a male body will often identify as male.  But this is like electricity identifying itself as the appliance which it animates.

Often we can become so strongly identified with the physical body that when we transmigrate into the next we carry with us that identification.  So if we inhabited the body of a man in one incarnation and the body of a woman in the next, we may still identify as a man, and this can be very disorientating.

Or, we may not identify so strongly with the body itself, but only with the sexual impulses of the body.  So in one incarnation we may inhabit the body of a woman who is biologically programmed to be attracted to men.  Then in the next incarnation we may be born as a man, but still carry over our female sexual impulses.

One might suggest that being too much attached to one’s previous bodily form or impulses is spiritually inhibiting, but the same could be said in regard to identifying too much with one’s current bodily form.  The thing to remember is that we are not these bodies, but the soul which inhabits the body.  Being too much identified with any gender is spiritually limiting to oneself, because, after all, the soul is beyond gender.  I think the key is to embrace both the “feminine” and “masculine” aspects of the spirit and to maintain harmony and balance between them.

What’s interesting is that many transgender persons do not make a full transition to the biological gender with which they so strongly identify.  They may undergo some transitional process, such as hormone replacement therapy or breast augmentation, but still retain their biological genitalia.  In some cases this is due to the surgery being too expensive, too complicated or simply unavailable.  But many transgender persons simply do not wish to make a full transition.  Although they identify primarily with the opposite gender to which they were born, they may be very comfortable with the genitalia they were born with, and may even prefer it.

In many indigenous cultures around the world transgender persons were often revered as highly spiritual beings, seen to embody a balance of masculine and feminine energies.  Often they took the role of shaman, healer or spiritual guide.  It wasn’t until the influence of patriarchal culture, greatly influenced by the Judeo-Christian religions, that such persons were later demonized.  And the culture of today still echoes that demonization.  But as more and more people are becoming disillusioned with the Judeo-Christian religions, they are also awakening from their influence and re-examining a variety of cultural beliefs.

In our modern secular society, the only thing standing in the way of fully accepting gender nonconformity are culturally conditioned fears based upon a lack of rational understanding.  Many people find it extremely uncomfortable to accept things which challenge their religious beliefs, because such things may invalidate those beliefs entirely.  But I can assure anyone reading this that God and gender-nonconformity can and do coexist.  It isn’t homosexuality, for example, that causes a society to become atheistic.  It is religious rigidity and cold intolerance that pushes people to abandon their faith.

What I would like to suggest is that we move away from rigid dogma and return to a more natural and personal spirituality, which lives and breathes.  And in doing so we come to recognize the nature of the soul which embodies both “masculine” and “feminine” qualities.    For more information on this, I recommend you read my article on Restoring Balance Between the Masculine and Feminine.

The word “transgender” is commonly defined as identifying with the gender opposite from that to which one was born, but I would venture to take it one step further.  The Latin prefix “trans” can mean going from one side to the other, but it can also mean going beyond.  So in a broader spiritual context the word “transgender” could be defined as “beyond gender”.  If taken in this regard, one could say that, at the level of spirit, we are all transgender, and that one of the goals of spiritual inquiry is to realize this higher truth.

So what I would like to encourage in all people is a restoration of this sacred balance, a bridging or harmonization of these energies, and a going beyond the mental constructs of division and opposition to a state of sacred unity.

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