I’ve been talking about Queer Spirituality for almost 10 years now at various conferences, festivals and gatherings. The other day it occurred to me that in all this time, no one has ever asked what “queer” spirituality is. The reason I find this odd is that “queer” seems to have a lot of different meanings depending on who you ask and for myself, my definition has even evolved over the years.
Early in my experiences in the GLBTQ community and the Pagan community, queer was a word that many viewed as having been a pejorative term that was being “reclaimed” by the community. Gay men in particular used the term queer as a way of being empowered by taking back a word that for some time had been used as an insult. Often, I’ve heard the term queer spirituality used to refer primarily to gay men’s spirituality.
But “queer” doesn’t necessarily just mean gay or even male. I’ve often encountered queer being used to describe those who have chosen to refuse labels or traditional genders (i.e. gender queer). As a result, queer has become something quite distinct from being another name for gay men. This is way queer is often included as the “Q” in GLBTQ. Those who identify as queer in this context usually experiment with various forms of gender expression.
Just to confuse the matter even more, I’ve also experienced straight men who have described themselves as queer. In this case, they have often been referring to the fact that they have deep love for members of both sexes even without sexual attraction to members of the same sex.
I think one of the reasons that no one has ever asked me what I mean by “queer spirituality” is that in general, people tend to see the world through the filter of their own experiences. I imagine that most people assumed that I was talking about the same meaning of “queer” that they were.
With such a variety of meanings, I think maybe some definition would be helpful for a blog about queer spirituality. While “queer” can mean a lot of different things depending on the individual’s perspective and experience, I think the easiest way to answer the question, what is “queer spirituality” is to try and identify the commonality among the various definitions. Here is what I came up with as the common threads of “queer spirituality”.
Spirituality that embraces experiences outside of the hetero-normative
What I mean by this is that Queer Spirituality needs to embrace experiences that go beyond the concept of marriage and child rearing. Take for example, the typical Wiccan mythos of the God and Goddess as lovers. Some queer practitioners have trouble relating to this narrative because it doesn’t embrace the whole spectrum of sexual expression. It also suggests that non-hetero sex is somehow “less” because it is not procreative. Queer spiritual paths need to embrace the full spectrum of sexual attraction and place them on equal footing.
Spirituality that embraces diversity of gender roles and identities
A queer spirituality should not make assumptions about gender roles or identities. This can actually work opposite of what some often expect. In an attempt to reclaim some ancient practices, some gay spiritual paths have adopted a very feminine role for gay male practitioners. This can leave gay men who identify with a more masculine identity feeling disconnected. The role of transgender men and women in the Pagan community has also been the subject of much debate even as recently as this past February at Pantheacon. Add to this those who refuse to select or express a single gender and it becomes clear that a queer spirituality needs to embrace various perspectives of gender expression and identity.
Spirituality that emphasizes love and connectedness
Remember the straight men who have deep loving but platonic relationships with other men? A genuine queer spirituality should embrace these men and provide a spiritual home for them as well. Queer spirituality should focus on love and unity. A frequent problem in the GLBTQ community is the sense of community being divided into various subgroups. A queer spirituality should seek to unite the community based on what we have in common with one another and through this, empower our community. That’s not to say that within such a spirituality there cannot be a place for the various mysteries surrounding gay male space, woman space, etc.
A sex positive spirituality
Even a community as usually liberal as the Pagan community can sometimes be a bit prudish when it comes to sex, especially some of the more extreme sexual practices that are common within the GLBTQ community such as leather sex, BDSM, etc. To truly be effective and speak to a community as diverse as the GLBTQ community, a queer spirituality needs to be a sex-positive spirituality. It needs to truly embrace the notion that “all acts of love and pleasure are my rituals”.
I think from this list, it becomes pretty obvious that many traditional paths, while very accepting of the GLBTQ community, do not really qualify as “queer spirituality”. As a queer people, we need to build a new mythology and spirituality that embraces who we are on a deeper level. This is no small task and I think many attempts have been made over the years. Groups continue to form and grow to explore queer spirituality and this is good. I think we can go even further though. We need more opportunities to learn from each other and share our experiences.