Gender – What’s the Big Idea?

The other day, someone I trust told me that they saw gender mostly in terms of energies, some kind of blending of masculine and feminine. I got very still, very quiet in that moment, because it’s an idea I’ve heard frequently in my time in pagan communities – people carry masculine and / or feminine energy, or some variant on that (I had a therapist who framed it in terms of solar and lunar personalities), and that’s just how things are.

Wicca has a Goddess and a God (though my co-blogger Critter has a post about that), the Gods and Goddesses we work with are male or female, magic works best in polarities, it takes a man and a woman to make a baby, and other ideas that subtly and not-so-subtly reinforce the point of view that there are only two genders.

I’ve even been praised by random pagans at Pantheacon and other pagan spaces for being somehow a more evolved person because I blend masculine and feminine energies. Usually this happens when I’m wearing clothing stereotypically associated with women; my body will almost never be taken for a ciswoman’s [1] body, and so it feels like a very surface level perception of who I am. Even the ones who do perceive energy but don’t know me seem to see just the blending of binary energies.

How Do I Even Gender?

This hurts, because no matter how innocent or positive the statement, it sounds to me like people are labeling me in a way that fits their notions of how gender works, without ever asking me how I identify.

I say in my bio that I’m genderfluid, but it may be more accurate to define my gender as fluid. I wrote a poem about that, hosted by a dear friend of mine at her blog, and even with that I don’t know how to convey the fundamental reality of my genderfluidity to people in ways they can understand.

And the thing that makes this most difficult, especially when encountering pagans who were raised in a culture that only acknowledged two genders, is that I have experienced multiple genders in the course of learning about my gender fluidity.

I experience my gender in terms of what I call “modes”: states that can be labeled – sometimes conveniently, sometimes not – and that seem to fit within broader definitions of gender, such as those found here. I’ve had mostly male days, mostly female days, agender days, blended days, third gender days, and others where the closest I can come to terminology is saying that there aren’t words for my gender.

This means that for me, a majority of common pagan practices and beliefs just don’t fit quite right. If there’s any piece in a ritual that’s gendered, they’re usually for one of the two most common genders. Where do I fit if I’m involved in that ritual but the best descriptor for my gender mode is “the green of the deep woods in shaded places” (and yes, that is a gender mode I experienced very recently, and no, I don’t have any better way to describe it). And that’s just in ritual; what do I do in social spaces before and after? “Hi, my name is Dee and my pronouns are they and them,” isn’t necessarily the best icebreaker that doesn’t also completely derail the purpose of the gathering (depending on the group, of course).

When Practice Does Not Make Perfect

I have a few options, of course, for resolving the question for me of how to practice paganism.

I could go solitary; I was a solitary for years, well before I ever realized my gender wasn’t what I’d been assigned at birth. Except I’ve found that I actually crave community and belonging, and I’m not sure that solitary work is healthy for me.

I’ve been working for a while with a group that is pretty relaxed around gender, and where most of the people get that my gender is not fixed. But we work with the Vanir – gods of fertility, among Their many other attributes – and gender does pop up on occasion, both in ritual and out of it. So at least there, I get community, but I occasionally feel awkward because my edges don’t always mesh successfully with the Dee-shaped space in the group.

I could find a pagan group for non-binary gender people, or make one, I suppose. But I have enough going on in my life that adding another commitment would actually be more stressful, even if the group fit well in all the ways I’m looking for. And I would much rather be able to contribute to that kind of a group, and help make it better.

And this doesn’t even take into account the reality that enough of pagan practice is specifically framed in terms of binary genders that I want to either rework what already exists, or create new practice that acknowledges multiple genders.

People like Yvonne Aburrow are doing some of this work in Wicca, and undoubtedly there are groups of people busy deconstructing the things that have “always been done this way” – the person who comes to mind, actually, is Lasara Firefox Allen, who looked at the Threefold Goddess, saw that this model of divinity was tied into gender essentialism [2], and decided to do something about it.

But this is all a work in progress, and as with the overarching culture, there’s backlash. I’ve seen a particular group of pagans who are centered in Norse practice put out messages that are horribly racist and gender binarist. There are other pagans who hold that only “women born women” (their terminology, not mine) are truly women, and won’t allow transwomen into their circles.

The Times, They Are Changing

And young people in their teens and twenties are identifying as trans, non-binary, and/or queer (even Teen Vogue is talking about this!),which means that at least some of them are pagans. I know of several teens who identify as pagan and non-binary, and they’re going to want some kind of practice that not only fits them but celebrates them.

Yes, this means work, but I’ve got a few ideas in that direction at least.

When I was pursuing my Masters degree in Communication, I did my thesis work on how non-binary individuals communicate their identity on the Internet in spaces they control. (If you’re interested in digging into it, you can find it here. And in that research, I found three main characteristics of that communication: identity, visibility, and acceptance.

I’m going to take each of these, and turn them into a series of posts around how we can change and adapt pagan practice to make sure that it grows and thrives – because if we can’t do that, then we run the risk of losing a lot more than the people who are called to a pagan path.

[1] Cis – an adjective meaning “on the same side,” and a way of describing people whose gender matches the one they were assigned at birth. Just like trans is an way of describing people whose gender doesn’t match the one they were assigned at birth. Some people seem to believe this is a derogatory term, but it’s a descriptor, nothing more.

[2] Gender essentialism is the idea that our biology determines everything about who we are and how we act, and that these things are rooted in unchangeable characteristics. Simply put, who you are, how you behave, and what you can do are all determined by innate things including your biological gender. For a better definition, see here.

About the Author

Hello and welcome! I'm a genderfluid pagan who occasionally does oracular work, wards big rituals, and thinks a lot about gender identity and how that affects what pagans do, both in ritual and in social spaces. I'm a polytheist who works primarily with deities on the Celtic and the Norse (Vanic) side of things, but gets occasional calls from other Powers. I belong to a group who works primarily with the Vanir (Freyr, Freyja, Njordh, and Nerthus, among others), and had been a solo practitioner for about 15 years before that. My experience is primarily from lived experience; even though I went through academia, and understand the power inherent in understanding things through that lens, I hold that theory and praxis must be paired. My pronouns are they / them / theirs.

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  1. I groan when I see the word “Gender” in a blog post title, a but I was pleasantly surprised by this post for refuting the pagan “gendered energies” concept. I similarly laugh/cry at the concept of being “more evolved” due to “blending genders”. Infinitely frustrating.

    I do not hold to the concept of “gendered energies”. I think it is a false categorization based on stereotypes. For example, we label a nurturing personality type as “feminine”…but it isn’t. It’s just human. We’re just arbitrarily labeling certain personality traits. We are all a blend of many different energies and traits.

    Ad of course, it is essentialism that makes people think trans and non-binary people are “blending genders” – because this idea inherently thinks the body is gender. They see a “mismatch” between the body and the behavior/personality of the individual. Even if you think “blending” is a positive thing (“more evolved”) you still think that it’s abnormal, because otherwise you wouldn’t point it out. The difference between “uncommon” and “abnormal” is a big deal.

    I look forward to your future posts, whether or not we see exactly the same.

    1. crow, thank you for your comment, especially about “blending gendered energies” being identified as abnormal. Gender essentialism is so normalized and pervasive that (in general) people tend not to see it unless it is pointed out to them. And sometimes, not even then.

  2. Dee, thank you for this. It is thought provoking, and it helps explain what I feel when I’m around you, not so much through energy as through who you are, if that makes sense. Remind me, please, to discuss Don with you next time we see each other. Hugs

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