God is Genderqueer: Towards Liberatory Thexlogies

Dedication: Written in the tradition, honor and loving memory of Dr. Ibrahim Abdurrahman Farajajé, beloved teacher, mentor, and friend. 

God is genderqueer[1].

God crosses borders, is beyond borders, is alive in liminal spaces. God is more than this or that. God is yes: feminine, masculine, neither, and both.  

In Dr. Farajaje’s work, “Fictions of Purity” (as well as in much of his other work) he spoke of boundary breaking. Of the fear that is created when people reject the existing categories and stake out a claim in the between spaces. “[T]hose who inhabit interstitial spaces,” he writes, “those who moved between worlds, those who are literally fringe-dwellers, are seen as the ultimate threat…The person who occupies the space on the border, the space in-between worlds cannot be trusted precisely because zhe does not owe loyalty to one or the other of the worlds.”

We are, as Dr. Farajaje noted, obsessed with purity and simplifiable categories. Bisexuality – especially, as is pointed out, the bisexuality of men of color – is viewed as an ontological threat to both the straight and gay establishment. Bisexuality confounds our fictions of purity and brings into view the messier reality of blended experiences. It forces us to confront our ideas about the “good world” and the “bad world” and our fear of contamination from impure others. The betweenness of bisexuality allows us to begin to look at the Divine in a less boxed up way, in a moment beyond easy this/that, in a mode that allows for “yes” in response to seemingly “either/or” questions.

Over the years, one of the ways theologians have come up with to acknowledge some of the innate “yes-ness” of the Divine is to attempt to acknowledge its simultaneous or interchangeable masculinity and femininity. To this effect we use terms such as “the/aology” and “the@logy” as is seen often in Dr. Farajaje’s work. But what about what’s beyond the dichotomies of male/female or masculine/feminine? What of all of God and all of God’s people who are not either or, but both, neither, and something else entirely. What of the genderfluid God? The agender God? The genderfabulous God? The two-spirit Gods? Our language – no matter how many gender neutral pronouns we know how to use – doesn’t seem to reflect that this God could be real.

Looking to genderqueer, non-binary, and agender communities it becomes apparent that the desire for this linguistic move is not at all new and we are blessed with plenty of guidance around how to move towards a more inclusive terminology. First proposed in the 1970s, “Mx.” uses an x to create a gender-neutral honorific. Here, X was initially intended as a variable term[2] – as in an algebraic equation – which could be replaced with S or R as one discerned the (binary) gender of the person in question. In the present day “Mx.” is used both in this way and as an honorific for folks who do not find binary sex and gender categories satisfactory as an explanation for their experience of gender. The use of “Mx.” is common enough that it has been recognized by the Oxford English Dictionary since 2015.

Over the past several years there has also been a move towards the use of “Latinx[3] as a gender-neutral replacement for the binary-embeded “Latin@”, which is itself a move from use of the androcentric “Latino” as a catch-all term. Here we see the closest parallel to the sort of movement we’re interested in making with the term “the@logy.” While “Mx.” came into existence with the X intended as a variable, the discussion amongst members of the Latinx community has been intentional in its interest in including folks outside of the gender binary[4]. In an article from Latina magazine, Dr. Robyn Henderson-Espinoza – a theologian and ethicist – notes that “the ‘x’ is a helpful reminder that I live on the border, and I transgress the gender border at every turn. Latinx helps me remember my commitment to being disruptive in my gender expression.”{5] These ideas of transgression and borders should be held near to our hearts and mind as we consider what language we use to discuss God, and to discuss our discussions of God.

Binary thinking about God in a world where little to nothing is actually binary is damaging to our ability to view the Divine in anything close to its fullness. An adherence to binaristic language suggests that we believe our genderqueer, non-binary, agender, two-spirit and other siblings count less to God than do those of us who fit more closely into the binary categories of male and female. Considering all of this – the importance of transgression, the conversation among Latinx folks, and the “yes-ness” of the Divine – I suggest a move from discussions of “the/alogy” and “the@logy” to discussions of “thexlogy.” In “thexlogy” there is space for God’s genderqueer divinity, for discussions not based on binary thinking, and for heretofore unconsidered boundary crossings. In “thexlogy” there is space for a truly transgressive, meaningfully disruptive conception of the Divine.
If we are called by the tradition of Dr. Farajaje’s work – not to mention the work of other boundary breakers, in and out of the academy – a move from “the@logy” to “thexlogy” is not only theoretically interesting, but necessary. This move is a natural next step in the resisting of binarist, heteronormative, and cisnormative theologies that have so long forced disconnection and held up oppressive structures of power. In the tradition of boundary breaking, transgressive thexlogy, let us always remember: God is genderqueer.

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On “In-Between-Ness”

I think I was fifteen when I first really realized that I was queer. I guess before then there were flickers of it, but mine isn’t a story of being a small child who “knew” or had any kind of “obvious giveaways” (whatever those even are). I was fifteen and my life-long best friend was telling me about one of her friends from school. She said, “she’s bisexual” and I said. “wait, what? That’s an option?”

I usually stop that story there, mentioning something about how the label has changed since then but, yeah, totally, once I realized you didn’t have to be exclusively heterosexual or homosexual I was golden. I don’t think any story that wraps up that neatly is ever entirely true.

One of the complications of having an “in between” sexuality is being told over and over that you must choose. Worse, having your whole sexuality defined by the apparent gender of your current partner. Or by how many times you’ve had sex with men at all. I think you get good at defending your in-between-ness, at forcing there to be grey where the world only wants to see black and white. It’s not exactly a skill that’s fun to learn; it’s painful to fear rejection for being queer at all and then also face erasure and rejection in the queer communities you thought were there for you. Increasingly though, I think it’s a skill that is useful far beyond its necessity.

It seems that learning to make space in a supposedly clear dichotomy has made it easier for me to sit with other types of “in-between”. Most clearly, it has opened up for me the option of a spirituality and theological location that itself feels very in between. These experiences share much in common. I’ve been repeatedly asked to choose: “Do you believe in God or not?” And I’m constantly being read as whatever I’ve most recently been closest to. It’s strange to find myself both too theistic for atheists and not theistic enough for theists. I think it’s a particularly queer approach to the Divine, and one that has given me greater freedom and comfort than trying to squeeze myself into boxes that were quite simply the wrong shape. I get to say yes. I get to say both/and. I also get to say “no”, and “yes, but…”.

Very few things are clearly yes or no, this or that, and I think that in our constant struggle to be easily definable we lose some of the beautiful mess of reality and the Divine. In ways that I never expected, realizing that in between was an option has opened up the world to me and shown me beauty and love well beyond measure. I wonder what else we’ve been missing? What other as yet unseen freedoms and insights live in the in between?