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PrettyQueer.com | January 27, 2015

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Queerly Religous

Queerly Religous
Morgan M. Page

Most of my time is spent around queermos, trans folks, lefties, and feminists, people who spend a lot of time talking about oppression and privilege, social justice and anti-capitalism. People who try to make themselves aware of how things like racism, misogyny, classism, and transphobia work in the world and in themselves.

It really raises me up to be around people like this, and I listen intently to what people say about these things, both formally and casually. Engaging in these discussions teaches me so much about the world and the privileges that I carry around it, but almost every time I end up leaving the conversation frustrated. For all the anti-oppression talk that goes on, people seem to feel entitled to get their hate on about one subject: religion.

I get where it comes from. Growing up in cultures based around Christianity, Judaism, and Islam, can be tough for queers, trans folks, women, especially in more socially conservative places. And when these religions are used as justification for the erasure of your identities or for the enactment of violence upon your body (in all the myriad ways that queers, trans folks, women, and people of colour experience violence), it’s hard to not just throw up your hands in frustration at “religion,” hard not to paint it all with the same brush.

Ask any sampling of queers in North America what they think of religion and you’ll be overwhelmed with responses along the lines of “I don’t believe in religion, but I’m really into Buddhism/Zen.”

But when I hear this, when I hear queers-lefties-trans folks-feminists bashing “religion” as a whole, what I’m really hearing is a lot of racism and colonialism. When you talk about “religion” in general, but actually mean Judeo-Christian-Islamic religions, you are perpetuating a historical narrative created by colonialism that seeks to de-legitimize the hundreds of other religions in the world and establish the supremacy of the Big Three. Anyone who has spent time reading about the European colonization of most of the world will know that one of the key priorities for colonists was to establish, often by force, their religion as the supreme religion in the conquered areas. They went so far as to create the meaning of religion in English to only include Christianity, Judaism, and Islam. And, so, when you treat all religions as the same, and thus treat them as the same as the Big Three, you are perpetuating a racist colonialism.

Another part of the racism and colonialism that I feel is inherent to these discussions is the exotification of “Eastern” religions, or, more specifically, Tibetan and Zen Buddhism. Ask any sampling of queers in North America what they think of religion (or even check out what people have on their “religious views” on FaceBook), and you’ll be overwhelmed with responses along the lines of “I don’t believe in religion, but I’m really into Buddhism/Zen.” This construction of Tibetan and Zen Buddhism as a completely secular philosophy is an entirely Western creation (as I’ve learned from my Buddhist Studies grad student roommate/former lover). The idea that Buddhism has no gods, no spirits, no magic, no ritual – these things make no sense in most of the strands of Tibetan and Zen Buddhism practiced in Asia.

And I feel excluded, personally. You see, in addition to being a trans person, a woman, a queer, and a former sex worker, I’m also an initiated priest in a religion called Lukumí, or Santería. So, when people say that “religion as an institution is homophobic/transphobic/anti-woman/racist,” I feel like a big part of my identity and my culture is erased. There’s no room given for me to talk about how my religion was historically used to create safer spaces for queers in colonial Cuba, no room to talk about how most of the strands of the religion were started and perpetuated by powerful women of colour and queer men, no room to talk about how one of the key figures of the religion was the madam of a brothel, no room to talk about how my religion has and continues to be violently persecuted by police in Cuba, the United States, and other countries.

I’m not a proselytizing person. I actually don’t give a shit what you believe about God(s), the universe, and everything else. But I’m also not willing to put up with having people treat me, or other religious people, as second-class queers-trans folks-feminists just because we’re not trendy atheists, or crystal-hugging agnostic New Age yoga enthusiasts, like everyone else in (white-dominated) Queerdom.

Comments

  1. Wendy

    As a new yogini who also happens to like crystals and stones, I find it kind of ironic that you spend time writing about being bashed for your faith and then turn around and do it at the end of your article to a group of people who get on your nerves. There are so many different kinds of yoga practitioners, so many kinds of teachers and so many reasons for practicing yoga.

    It seems to me that the problem is less about bashing anyone and anything specific, but rather about all of our tendencies to bash those things we disagree with and don’t understand. I’m not trying to dismiss your frustration – in fact, although I do not practice Santeria, I often feel a little funny admitting my spiritual beliefs (which do not follow any one specific religion, but include things from yoga to tarot cards to communicating with nature – yeah, I even hug trees) because, well, they tend to get dismissed, too. And if my spirituality doesn’t follow any one specific dogma, if it does not subscribe to a particular form, is it any less valid if it works for me?

    Also it’s been my experience that people who practice yoga, when you don’t bug them about politics (that’s another issue entirely, and one I do have a problem with), tend to be a lot more open and nicer than your average person. So even if *that* isn’t what yoga was necessarily meant to do, and even if it is a certain type of person (personally I’ve noticed a lot more straight identifying folks in yoga than queers), how can it be a problem for people to be nicer and more open and considerate?

    • That line was more to point it out as being one of the only acceptable ways of being spiritual in these communities, not so much about being against people who are crystal-hugging New Age yoga enthusiasts. It’s the double standard that I want to call out there: that being into (Western) yoga is acceptable, but having a devout religious life outside of that is not. Sorry that that wasn’t clear — my snark comes out even when I don’t mean it to, sometimes.

      ~M

  2. Anna

    I’m going to have to agree with the first poster; I really enjoyed your article, up until your last sentence, which I think really took away from the message I though you were going for.

    And personally as someone who is an atheist I don’t like that it is implied that people who are atheists are just being trendy. All the atheists I know have spent time thinking about their beliefs and have reasons for being atheists.

    • Cloe

      I think that the point of her last sentence is not to attack Athiests, Yoga Practitioners, or anyone else. I think all she was trying to do was point out some of the “trendy” stereotypes that create voids between people who would otherwise be unified. As an Animist, former Athiest, former Muslim, and former indoctrinated Christian, I can say that her analysis feels correct to me.

      • Anna

        I don’t think she meant to attack anyone. But she pointed out the divisiveness in the rest of her article, and those were the points I liked and I to agree with. The last line however I felt was a bit of a detraction from that message, because at least to me, it seemed to have a bit of a negative connotation and was a bit divisive itself, even if it was unintentional.

  3. OchunBumi

    I LOVE this! Five calabza salute!!! :)

    One of the problems seems to be that when spiritual practitioners commit to a cohesive system, we’re often seen as people who’ve surrendered our personal power and critical thinking abilities. I get where this comes from. As peoples whose ancestors have survived and resisted colonization and imperialism, with “Gold, God and Glory” as the rationale offered for murder, rape and displacement, it makes sense that we’d be suspicious of structures built in the name of God. In addition to these historical memories, a good many of us lefty people of color have our own childhood horror stories of Catholic school traumas.

    But we lose so much when we reject religion without acknowledging the nuances of what it means to love spirit within organized communities of faith. Black churches have played and continue to play a massively important role in U.S. community organizing. And Padre Oscar Romero & other Catholic liberation theologists risked or gave their lives altogether by using their religious beliefs as a framework to critique capitalism & imperialism. Yes, religion is and has been used an excuse to terrify, rape, kill & occupy. But when ‘white-dominated Queerdom’ dismisses all religious folk (including those practicing within the Big Three) it is basically a big fuck-off to what have been, sometimes still are, and have the potential to be, sites of transformation and empowerment for poor/working-class people of color & immigrants. And shout-out to the MANY MANY Queer folk who are all up in the Big Three (in and halfway out and HELLA out the closet).

    & speaking for myself, my experience of Lucumi has illuminated an indescribable freedom. At the same time, Lucumi (and particularly Iyalorde) have shown me how complicated it actually is to work in community towards that freedom, and how much grace & love & justice & accountability & compassionate, firm speech & respect for the wisdom of ancestors & elders has to be a part of that- the same elements we need in our explicitly political movements. Communities of Faith can be both beautiful and fucked-up… in the same way we’ve all been both beautiful and fucked-up…like our Queerness is amazing and liberatory AND right this very second it is being co-opted as a big old rainbow gentrification hammer.

    Finally, I get that the last part about the New Agers was mostly joke-y, but I actually feel that one. As a mixed Indigenous (Cora, P’urhépecha & Xicana) & Japanese person, the spiritualities of my ancestors are frequently appropriated by white crystalbangers. People taking sacred elements a la carte and out of context, claiming self-initiation completely outside of any kind of community of practice, or critiqued through a specifically western white feminist lens. (NO. Menstruating people cannot go in the temezcalli. But it’s not because we tryna repress Sacred Goddess Moon Energy, it’s actually rooted in a worldview which deeply respects menstrual blood and existed way before white supremacist capitalist heteropatriarchy ever reached these lands.) So, while I respect other peoples’ right to interact with Spirit in a variety of different ways, I do wanna say that New Age agnosticism has historically been, and continues to be heavily implicated in the erasure, appropriation & exploitation of the spiritual knowledgeways of people of color Morgan speaks about in the paragraphs above.

    All of this is to say…wordily… Gracias Odo Femi! Hope we can continue this conversation in the future.

    • Bendicion Ochunbumi!

      Thank you for your kind words! And I agree with everything you say here. So awesome.

      ~Odofemi

      • LOL Why did my reply to Ochunbumi get downvoted? That’s hilarious. Oh, Pretty Queer!

        ~M

  4. vivian

    I am a white trans woman who grew up Christian and is perhaps jaded with my experience in one of the “big 3″. I am not religious now and consider myself agnostic but I try not to judge people’s choices and religions and recognize it is a positive influence in many people’s lives.

    The main reason I’m not religious now is that the religions I’ve experienced require you to believe a set of things. Even the more liberal Christian religions, that are open and affirming, when you get down to it they share certain beliefs about God, Jesus, or about how people should act. They may not believe the Bible is 100% true, but they believe that Jesus was inspired by God, for example. I don’t like being a part of a group where I am expected to believe certain things. And then the other thing that bugs me is there is usually a subtle (or not so subtle) feeling that people inside the religion are better or more enlightened than those who are outside.

    There are some religions I’ve encountered that don’t seem to have any set beliefs, for example the Unitarians. To me it seemed like more of a club than a religion per se, which isn’t bad, I’m just not sure I want to join a club.

    I guess my question is —- can we have a community spiritual experience, in a religion, without it turning into a subtle hierarchy where people are expected to believe certain things? Are there religions outside the big 3 that can make this work? (I also think some people are drawn to religion specifically because it is hierarchical.)

    Or is this just a failing of the nature of human relationships? When you get a bunch of people together to be spiritual, does it naturally produce a hierarchy because of who we are as humans?

    Morgan, thanks for the article. I hope this doesn’t come across as an attack on your religion, I have never heard about it until today and don’t know enough to have an opinion. I also believe that we all should continue to seek and question and we all have our paths and should not bash others for their choices.

  5. Flo

    Well said.

    In anti-oppression workshops I do, religion often comes up (from the audience) as a source of homo/bi/transphobia. 2 things I drive home:
    1) I will not engage in debates of Holy scriptures, period. I’m not there to change someone’s interpration of their religious text anymore than I am there to have them preach theirs to me. Religious rights end when they start trampling over other human rights.
    2) Religion can and does play a very positive role in many people’s lives, including many queer/trans/etc people.

    And people secure in their beliefs, whichever variation they may be from the one idnetified by Morgan’s last sentence, should read her final words as a call to own the privilege of holding the dominant voice in queer/trans circles (I did) instead of taking them a personal attack towards them as individuals, void of responsibilities in benifiting from that dominant voice within our communities.

  6. nope

    every article you write you speak for people of color to justify whatever cause is your fancy at the moment. it’s getting creepy, cut it out.

    • I’m not sure what you mean by “speak for people of color.” I don’t think that I’ve ever claimed to be speaking for people of colour. I think I’ve been pretty up-front about being a white person. Is it that you have a problem that I talk about race a lot?

      ~M

      • nope

        i bet you have a big old “ally” button on your bag, don’t you?

        • I guess asking an anonymous troll to actually explain what they mean is a silly idea, but I really would like to know what you think I’m doing wrong. So, if you’d like to actually explain how you think that I’m “speaking for people of color,” I would be interested in hearing that. But it seems like you’re just attacking me for the sake of attacking me, which isn’t useful.

          ~M

          • I was on the fence about your post until I saw this. The way you dismissed this commenter speaks volumes. As a white person not only “talking” but PUBLISHING about race, you need a major attitude adjustment.

            And the way you generalize abrahamic religions, conflate them with colonialism, and seem to emphasize ~authenticity~ in what you consider non-abrahamic, frankly reeks so much it overshadows whatever good points you may have been after. IMO.

          • Elvira

            Dismissing when someone tells you you are being racist/appropriative as being trolls is well…uhm, I’m sure you can figure that out.

            Furthermore, as a woman of color myself, I did find myself raising an eyebrow at your criticism of white people appropriating Eastern religion while you said “So, when people say that “religion as an institution is homophobic/transphobic/anti-woman/racist,” I feel like a big part of my identity and my culture is erased. ” Maybe I’m in the wrong but your little info on the side says you are of Welsh-Canadian heritage so I’m not sure how your culture and religion is being erased when you are juxtapositioning it up with Santeria. Were you of Cuban, Caribbean, West African, etc, heritage, I’d understand but from where I am, this smells an awful lot like a white person appropriating anti-racist jargon as a way to justify themselves. Not to mention the little part there about the mythical strong women of color which always makes me roll my eyes when a white person says stuff like that.

            • Santeria/Lukumi is my religion and part of my culture, as much as being Welsh-Canadian is part of my culture because I have become a part of that culture through an acculturation process called initiation. Santeria/Lukumi is not focused on having a particular genetic background (unlike Haitian Vodou, which is very much based on genetic Haitian background in a lot of peristyles).

              Santeria/Lukumi is difficult to describe simply with the term religion because it involves cultural processes that go beyond the scope of religion, which is why I refer to it with both terms.

              I am a priest in Santeria/Lukumi, and, frankly, unless you are also a priest in Lukumi, I don’t give a damn what you think about my involvement (or the involvement of hundreds of thousands of other non-West African people) in the religion. If you aren’t part of this culture, it really isn’t ok for you to try to have a say about who should or should not be involved in it — and definitely not to try to tell a priest of the religion that they don’t belong there. That’s just ridiculous.

              What I do give a damn about is racism. I asked the original poster to clarify what they meant because I genuinely would like to know. They, instead, continued to attack me without explanation. Thus, they are trolling. I think that’s the very definition of trolling.

              While I don’t think that it is the place of marginalized people to educate when they feel something is oppressing them, the original poster did not indicate that they are a person of colour, nor did they actually say what I had done wrong. It seems that a lot of people are upset that I’m even talking about racism, colonialism, and appropriation as a white person. And I would like to understand why, especially seeing as how every point I’ve made in my original piece, I learned from many other things on race, racism, colonialism, and appropriation that I’ve read. So, I’m left wondering what parts of my white privilege/internalized racism are changing the original messages I’ve learned from spending a great deal of time reading about racism.

              ~M

              • Elvira

                Your over defensive attitude is exactly why I wrote my first comment in the first place. Nowhere did I somehow disapprove of your involvement in Santeria nor do I particularly care but it is very goddamn disingenuous to talk about appropriation, racism and colonialism of other white people without even making mention of your own whiteness and practice of a religion that is deeply racialized and associated with people of color.

                No one “attacked” you. Pointing out racism and the usage of POC as tokens is not attacking. Instead of getting defensive like you are right now, read over what others have commented on and think about it.

                • When you wrote,

                  “Maybe I’m in the wrong but your little info on the side says you are of Welsh-Canadian heritage so I’m not sure how your culture and religion is being erased when you are juxtapositioning it up with Santeria.”

                  that implies to me that you are saying that Santeria is not my culture and religion (especially because you then said that you would understand that if I were Cuban, or West African — which makes little sense in terms of how Santeria functions because Santeria is a culture that is distinct from Cuban and West African cultures). And that’s not an ok thing for you to say as an outsider to a priest.

                  I think nope’s second comment was a snarky attack that did nothing to continue a conversation I’m open to having about whether or not I’m acting like a douchebag. Because, let’s be real, we all act like douchebags sometimes (some more than others), and if I’m acting like one I appreciate being told that I am. I don’t, however, appreciate outsiders calling my religious practices into question — and that is what makes me feel defensive.

                  ~M

          • Poison Girl

            You should probably thinking about how what you’ve said could sound to a PoC rather than outright dismissing them with defensive “explain to me how I am being racist” questioning.

            I think you know better than to honestly think that shit is going to fly.

      • Jane

        I am not the original poster, but I do find it concerning that you, as a white person who identifies herself as Welsh-Canadian, mention that you practice Santeria without acknowledging or bringing up the issue of cultural appropriation.

        • I definitely understand why you would find it weird that I left out a discussion of cultural appropriation in terms of my own involvement in Santeria.

          However, I don’t feel the need to centre every conversation that I have about my religion on cultural appropriation and my race. This is because cultural appropriation in my religion functions in an entirely different way than it is usually talked about, and having to explain that takes a lot of time and detracts from my ability to talk about anything else at all.

          I’m going to try to explain here:

          Because of the way Santeria functions with a specific acculturation process built into it that allows for people of all backgrounds to enter the religion (much the same way that people of all backgrounds can become Catholic or Muslim), my race doesn’t mean a whole lot in the religion. What means far more when talking about appropriation is whether or not my ceremonies were done correctly (which they were). When people who are actually part of my religious culture talk about appropriation, we talk about whether or not ceremonies were performed correctly, and whether or not someone has received the initiations they need to claim whatever it is that they are claiming. So I hope that makes it a bit more clear why discussing my religious culture and my race and issues of appropriation in my religious culture didn’t really have a place in what I wrote.

          ~M

  7. i’m really psyched you wrote this, Morgan. I have always felt really bothered by the way that it is totally acceptable for queer folks to bash religion. I really like the way you framed the discussion, specifically the connection between the sort of fetishization of westernized versions of eastern religions, association of religions which hurt queers with ALL RELIGION and colonialism. You gave me new ways to think about all this stuff.

    anyway, love it. as usual

    • K*

      It’s because so many of us have been absolutely destroyed by it. Religious indoctrination and torture not only leads us to be killed by others motivated by hatred, but has led some of us to commit suicide because of the mental abuse. I don’t think that’s okay.

  8. Ellen Shull

    I’m hearing two different arguments in this piece:

    “[…] when I hear queers-lefties-trans folks-feminists bashing “religion” as a whole, what I’m really hearing is a lot of racism and colonialism. When you talk about “religion” in general, but actually mean Judeo-Christian-Islamic religions […]”

    So, you want people to be careful about overgeneralizing when they have specific objections to specific religions. Fair enough.

    “I’m also not willing to put up with having people treat me, or other religious people, as second-class queers-trans folks-feminists just because we’re not trendy atheists, or crystal-hugging agnostic New Age yoga enthusiasts, like everyone else in (white-dominated) Queerdom.”

    That, on the other hand, sounds to me like you feel your specific beliefs should be immune from criticism, along with those others. Other commenters seem to echo this general sentiment, that religion is magically owed some kind of respect, because well, it’s religion! As one of those “trendy atheists”, I have to respectfully disagree. The way certain religions treat non-heteronormativity is just one of many, many arguments against religion; several smug jerks (doesn’t make them any less right, but yes, atheism has a PR problem) have made careers out of filling books with them. At the core, if your belief system has any element of belief in the supernatural, we disapprove, and we’re going to say so. We’re pretty egalitarian that way.

    Maybe I’m focusing on the wrong part of your complaint. “I feel excluded”, “having people treat me”… maybe implies the problem is just that it’s too easy for people to go ad hominem when talking about personal beliefs, and that we all need to remember to respect the fellow human beings we arguing with even as we argue against their ideas.

    One last point: “The idea that Buddhism has no gods, no spirits, no magic, no ritual – these things make no sense in most of the strands of Tibetan and Zen Buddhism practiced in Asia.” Those ideas very much do make sense in the personal belief systems of the Western practitioners whom you’re talking about. It may be a a Western derivation, not identical to that after which it was patterned, but it *is* that way for them; their Buddhism is not a religion. The analogy isn’t exact, but your argument is akin to coming up to me and disagreeing that I’m trans because your definition of “trans” doesn’t match mine; it just doesn’t work.

    • i think the problem that you are missing is that it is acceptable in queer culture for people to trash religion in general. bad things have happened because of religion and some sects of some religions advocate for really bad things, but that doesn’t mean religion is bad in general. and in the end it is individual people and groups of people and institutions that do bad things, not all religion as a whole.

      i am agnostic and have never really understood religion, but the very first important mentor i had within the lgbtq community was really religious (christian even) and used his religion as a source of strength and goodness and he did nothing but good in the name of his religion, so i have always been sensitive to the way that queer people can get so anti-every-sort-of-oppression in the way we talk at least but then suddenly when the subject is religion it’s okay to talk about religious people like they are stupid or bad. i think there are actually more people whose religion takes up that kind of space in their lives where it is a source of strength and goodness than there are people who use their religion to do bad things, but the stuff that hurts us in the name of religion is so bad that it’s easy to ignore the good.

      anyway, i think that being critical of stuff that happens in the name of religion and opposing it when it’s bad and talking about it when it upholds destructive stuff like colonialism and racism and sexism and homophobia and transphobia.

      • Ellen Shull

        “i think the problem that you are missing is that it is acceptable in queer culture for people to trash religion in general.”

        You seem to think that your mostly-good experience with religion outweighs the experiences of others who have mostly-bad experiences with religion, and I don’t think that’s fair. You should be able to present your view (praise religion), and they should be able to present their side (trash religion). It’s what we’re doing in this very thread. Why should they not get their say same as you?

    • Ren Galskap

      “Those ideas very much do make sense in the personal belief systems of the Western practitioners whom you’re talking about. It may be a a Western derivation, not identical to that after which it was patterned, but it *is* that way for them; their Buddhism is not a religion.”

      For most researchers who study religion, the definition of religion seems to involve some combination of myth and ritual. The foundational myth of Buddhism involves a guy who realizes that the central problem of life is duhkha (suffering or stress), is able to bring about the cessation of duhkha through meditation, and offers to teach others how to accomplish the same thing. The primary ritual of Buddhism is meditation, although for many Buddhists this is replaced by chanting.

      If a person doesn’t meditate or chant, in what sense are they practicing Buddhism? If they say they are practicing Buddhist compassion, how is this different from practicing any other type of compassion? I.e. what makes this Buddhist? If they meditate or chant, but don’t believe in the myth, in what sense is the ritual Buddhist? Some people practice the ritual and believe the myth, but say they aren’t practicing a religion because they don’t worship a god. But there’s no objective proof that the complete cessation of duhkha is possible, and reasonable people may doubt it. So how does it differ from a belief in the effectiveness of prayer?

      • Hi there. You said, “For most researchers who study religion, the definition of religion seems to involve some combination of myth and ritual. ” Which researchers are you talking about?

        I (unfortunately) have an MA in History of Religions, and last I checked, there is a centuries-long, ongoing scholarly debate about the definition of religion — and the participants in the debate have (as always) a variety of political and ideological goals they’re trying to promote by defining it in any given way.

        I’ve seen scholarly articles defining “religion” as about a zillion different combinations of ethics, belief in spirits or gods, beliefs about life after death, ritual, stories about exceptional beings, creation of communal representations based on culture…

        • Ren Galskap

          I’m aware of the long debate about religion. I used the present tense; I’m talking about current researchers. I used the word “researcher” instead of “scholar” intentionally. I’m referring to people who are trying to develop sociological and psychological theories about religion. And I’m not referring to what religion is about. I’m referring to what constitutes religion.

          Burton Mack says that religion is generated by social interests, but that which is generated consists of “systems of signs” and “patterns of behavior”. Harvey Whitehouse says that religion is about supernatural agency, but consists of shared beliefs and actions. Systems of religious signs and shared religious beliefs are usually drawn from myths, and religious patterns of behavior and shared religious actions are usually called rituals. Michael Stausberg writes that myth and ritual are the most obvious candidates for explaining the apparent universality of religion, and mentions the long debate over which should get priority. Some people view religion as a heuristic concept that will be discarded when we understand the subject matter better, but the heuristics still seem to involved myth and ritual.

      • Ellen Shull

        “If a person doesn’t meditate or chant, in what sense are they practicing Buddhism?”

        Perhaps by endeavoring to follow the five precepts?

        “So how does it differ from a belief in the effectiveness of prayer?”

        I’m not familiar with all the subtle implications of the word “dukkha”, but from a quick search it seems to describe a mental state. So, one the one hand you have manipulation of your own mental state by a deliberate, practiced mental effort; on the other hand you have asking some “higher power” to do something for you. Believing that you can change your own thinking is a far cry from believing in supernatural agency…

        • Ren Galskap

          “Perhaps by endeavoring to follow the five precepts?”

          Don’t lie, don’t steal, don’t kill, avoid sexual misconduct, don’t use intoxicating substances; there’s nothing specifically Buddhist here. Many people from other religions follow these precepts.

          “Believing that you can change your own thinking is a far cry from believing in supernatural agency…”

          That misses my point completely. Belief in the _cessation_ of duhkha is a matter of faith. There’s no evidence that it’s possible (barring a prefrontal lobotomy). A _reduction_ in suffering and stress is obviously possible, but you can do that with various forms of therapy, or the judicious application of bourbon. Changing your thinking is a good goal, but it doesn’t make you any more Buddhist than a cognitive therapist.

          • Ellen Shull

            “Many people from other religions follow these precepts.”

            As do many non-religious people. However, when someone follows a practice Y *because* it’s part of belief X which they subscribe to, then I call that practicing belief X. There isn’t a 1-1 mapping between belief and practice; you can’t just collapse one to the other.

            “Belief in the _cessation_ of duhkha is a matter of faith. There’s no evidence that it’s possible (barring a prefrontal lobotomy). A _reduction_ in suffering and stress is obviously possible […]”

            I suppose I was using an inductive model here. As you point out, a reduction clearly is possible, and it’s not unreasonable that you might be able to improve on that repeatedly, to perhaps one day completely eliminate dukkha. (Obviously this is not rigorous mathematical induction.) I don’t think one has to have 100% certitude in absolute success to see it might be possible and worth trying for regardless…

            “Changing your thinking is a good goal, but it doesn’t make you any more Buddhist […]”

            Again with the substituting action for belief, ignoring intent.

            I suppose the ultimate problem I’m having with this this it smacks of denial of identity, and I thought that was one of the big things our community was against. “You’re not a man; real men aren’t attracted to other men.” “You’re not a woman; real women don’t have penises.” “You’re not a Buddhist; real Buddhists chant.” It all stinks to me.

      • brenda

        i think its hugely ironic if individuals who are effectively cultural marxists are anything less than pure materialists. these are scraps of traditionalist society which must be cast away.

    • Flo

      “if your belief system has any element of belief in the supernatural, we disapprove, and we’re going to say so. ”

      It is nonesense that someone’s atheist de facto implies disapproval of spirituality for others. The meaning of the word is “no god” not “anti religion” (at least Hitchen’s has the sense to call his bigroty antitheistic).
      My certainty that science is the way to explain the universe does not extend to putting down spirituality. Knowing saliva has no pain management properties doesn’t mean I have to ridicule parents who kiss their kid’s bruise better. Next you’ll propose we pick up copies of The Origins of Species and re-enact John Saffron Vs God episode 6.

      Morgan’ isn’t proposing religion as a concept gets a free pass around its oppressive history. She’s asking us to remember there are variation within that large category, some have positive histories towards queer/trans people and vice versa.

      Atheism isn’t without its faults. I brought up intersexity in my biology class to counter the claim of the sex binary only to be mocked because genetic variation that occurs in less than 5% of a population doesn’t make the cut for polymorphism (sexual dismorphism in this case.) Intersex counts as a deleterious mutation within a science framework. I was also reminded that from an evolutionary stand point, those of us who cannot reproduce have zero fitness. No wonder belief in science has a long history of leading to and promoting eugenics, which includes atrocities against our communities. I’d be offended if someone went around assuming all atheists are in favour of eugenics or ridiculing atheists for holding beliefs that can extend to eugenics. But that doesn’t absolve me from owning up to science’s limitations and how it can be used for very detrimental ends, including lethal ones for our communities.

      • > I was also reminded that from an evolutionary stand point, those of us who cannot reproduce have zero fitness.

        Indeed. Of course, the ideology you’re citing here is just that — an ideology, an axiom that can’t be proved — and not a consequence of any scientific theory. Even so, I’m religious because I believe that all people have intrinsic value, not because I believe in an anthropomorphic god (I don’t) — that belief is one that can’t be justified based on principles of logical deduction applied to other facts, so it’s a religious belief. I’m fine with that. People who don’t believe in this religious principle scare me.

        • Ellen Shull

          “I’m religious because I believe that all people have intrinsic value”

          That’s interesting. I share that belief, but I don’t think it makes me religious; it just makes me not a psychopath. Not all belief is religious belief.

          • Well, it seems like the vast majority of the population would be psychopaths under your definition. It’s a pretty radical idea that people have value in and of themselves and not because of how much they own, how hard they work, or how smart they are. I don’t think it’s an idea that the majority of the population of my country would agree with. Now, if you want, you can call the majority of the population psychopaths, but it doesn’t really seem like a very useful definition of “psychopath” given that “psychopath” is supposed to describe a rare psychiatric condition. (The word that’s actually used nowadays is “sociopath”, but that’s beside the point.)

            • Ellen Shull

              “It’s a pretty radical idea that people have value in and of themselves and not because of how much they own, how hard they work, or how smart they are.”

              That’s a little more fuzzy-bunny group-hug than I was thinking… You sound like a truly generous individual in your opinion of others. I was going more for respect for others’ right to live and do their own thing, even if you don’t like them. Having the kind of empathy that even in the absence of rules against it, makes it hard to hurt someone else. By that measure, yes, I think most people are intrinsically not psychopathic.

              I don’t mean to argue against your self-identification as religious… Just pointing out that not everyone who thinks like you considers those religious beliefs.

              ““psychopath” is supposed to describe a rare psychiatric condition.”

              FSVO “rare”… I see numbers around 1% of the general population, which I’ll note is an order of magnitude higher than even Lynn Conway’s numbers for transsexualism.

              “(The word that’s actually used nowadays is “sociopath”, but that’s beside the point.)”

              Maybe beside the point, but I like to make sure I’m not using the wrong language… WP (yeah, I know) seems to indicate that psychopathy was the technical term up until 1980, and some disagree with the DSM diagnosis having been changed, whereas sociopathy never had a rigorous standard clinical definition:

              https://secure.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/en/wiki/Antisocial_personality_disorder#Psychopathy_and_sociopathy

              I’d love to hear input from someone current on abnormal psych on how these terms are used.

              • Matty

                We don’t really use those terms at all in mental health anymore. For all intents and purposes, they’re essentially coequal in use now. We diagnose people on a four tiered for adults (five for minors) axis. The first is for clinical disorders and is the most common used, depression and anxiety are easy examples. The second is for personality disorders – I work with mostly conduct, manic depression, some borderline. Three is for general medical conditions which might aggravate the clinical/personality dx. Four is contributing factors, substance dependency would be an example. Five for minors is a functionality scale which indicates their ability to function in the real world. Schizophrenia is probably the loosest functioning dx still in some use, but in my experience generally it is more beneficial and more common to find a more specific dx – reactive attachment, borderline, and drug induced pys all can be attached to some extent to schizophrenia, but are treated in quite different ways.

                I’m putting my mental healthcare worker badge away now.

        • Flo

          It’s not an ideology to say that my phenotype isn’t being passed on. I don’t have gametes, *genetically* speaking the family tree stops with me. That’s biological fact very grounded in scientific theory.

          And like Ellen, I have to disagree that living by a set of values makes me religious in any way, shape, or form. Some of my values reflect cultural standards with which I was raised, others reflect reflection on what are my notions of right/wrong/etc. Neither came with nor evolve bound to spirituality.

      • Ellen Shull

        “It is nonsense that someone’s atheist de facto implies disapproval of spirituality for others.”

        You’re absolutely right, I should not have overgeneralized and spoken for all others who hold atheistic beliefs; my apologies.

        “The meaning of the word is “no god” […]”

        We seem to be running into problems with varying definitions a lot in this thread. Unfortunately most people would be missing the practical implications if I ran around calling myself “antisuperstitious” because there’s a stigma about talking about religion as in-part superstition. But yes, it is that particular component, the “belief in a non-physical (i.e. supernatural) causality: that one event causes another without any physical process linking the two events” (definition from that high bastion of academia, Wikipedia; feel free to tear it apart, lol) that I and many others chiefly oppose.

        I realize that the other elements of religion, the myth and ritual and whatnot, can have a positive effect for many people, but I find those effects outweighed by the overall cognitive burden superstition places on society, especially in today’s age of (hopefully) ever-increasing participatory democracy.

        If your definition of religion includes systems without superstition, then I’m much more open to those religions.

        “[…] from an evolutionary stand point, those of us who cannot reproduce have zero fitness […]”

        I’m not an evolutionary biologist, but I believe that’s an incorrect understanding of fitness; it’s about the overall population, not particular individuals. The presence of non-reproducers in a population can have a beneficial effect on the reproductive success of the population, causing the genes that created those non-reproducers to be conserved in many cases. I mean, by your argument, worker bees would have been selected against long ago, right?

        “[…] eugenics, which includes atrocities against our communities […]”

        Eugenics has gotten a bad rap because of those atrocities. Another wp definition: “Eugenics is currently defined as the “applied science or the bio-social movement which advocates the use of practices aimed at improving the genetic composition of a population”” That sounds like a noble goal to me! However some people’s idea of “improvement” is fucked up… that’s the real problem.

        “But that doesn’t absolve me from owning up to science’s limitations and how it can be used for very detrimental ends, including lethal ones for our communities […]”

        This seems to me like you’re setting up a false dichotomy, religion vs. science, as if they were opposite ends of some spectrum, whereas they’re really completely different things. I suppose both could be considered tools for understanding the world, but science doesn’t really tell anyone what to value (well, maybe beyond repeatably observable fact); what you get out of it depends on your values going in. I don’t think anyone’s proposing that science be substituted for religion in the sense of telling us moral right and wrong. I’d much rather you substitute your *own* feelings and thoughts for religion there; I suppose I have a fundamentally Lockean understanding of human nature in that I trust people will generally come to the same conclusions through their natural empathy for one another.

        • Flo

          “I’m not an evolutionary biologist, but I believe that’s an incorrect understanding of fitness; it’s about the overall population, not particular individuals. The presence of non-reproducers in a population can have a beneficial effect on the reproductive success of the population, causing the genes that created those non-reproducers to be conserved in many cases. I mean, by your argument, worker bees would have been selected against long ago, right?”
          Evolution does happen at a population level but transmission of genetic material is at the individual level. Absolutely, one can have function without having fitness. I have helped raised younger family members and I may indeed adopt one day, but in neither case are my non-existant gametes going anywhere. I cannot contribute to the species’ available genetic variation.

          Countless doctors in my family railed against my medical transition under the premise that my doctors should “do no harm” to my physiology (sadly, one of the doctors in my family is a psychiatrist but mental anguish is erased from that erroneous take of the hyppocratic oath.) I agree with you that people should not decide what is right/wrong based on their take of what science says about subject X, but lots of people do.

          We’re not going to agree on the merits of Lockean philosophy. If “common sense” was so common, human rights wouldn’t have to be codified and adamantly defended. (I mean for those who have codified human rights. Many of us are still waiting while the majority of the general public shows in poll after poll that they loathe us.)

          “I realize that the other elements of religion, the myth and ritual and whatnot, can have a positive effect for many people, but I find those effects outweighed by the overall cognitive burden superstition places on society”
          My cynicism towards human nature aside, I find it interesting that this is where we diverge. (I mean that genuinely, I’m a geek. I appreciate you explaining your thought process so well and I hope I will manage as much.)

          I agree with you, science is not to be substituted in place of religion. I hesitate to use the word secular (because of the troubling ways it continues to be used) but I have secular philosophies which I use as my “moral compass” similarly as some use Holy scriptures of one sort or another. Unlike scriptures, mine are not fixed and as you propose, are the result instead of my putting thought and feeling into matters to arrive to conclusions.
          That said, I have been shown time and time again the positive effects some people take from their spirituality in ways that I almost envy as someone without religious beliefs. (I would envy if I thought they had found something tangible, philosophically or otherwise, that was accessible if I knew how but knowing there isn’t is what stops me from envying.)
          I can’t tell you where I get my supply of hope or figurative strength. I have decent self-confidence and most of the time some “faith” in the future. But in those moments where things are at their bleakest and nothing in any logic I hold gives me a reason to believe things will change, I’m at a loss. I don’t believe there’s anything for me to pray towards, external energy to wait on or whatever. When there’s nothing more to be done (or not done) I either have to learn to live with whatever is the strife/barrier/limitation and/or tough it out until an improvement can be attempted. I try to believe that since I’ve survived past horrible event X, I can manage horrible event Y but I know that’s fallacious. Meanwhile, I’ve seen some spiritual people draw strength from rhyme and reasons that make no real sense but evidently work for them. I know it’s not real but I still appreciate its principle enough to separate that from the craptastic side of organised religion.

    • Matty

      Additionally, in specifying Zen and Tibetan, there is an exclusion of the loose tradition of Shinto Buddhism in Japan. A large majority, somewhere around eighty percent, of the population identifies themselves and secular/non-religious while practicing Shinto Buddhist rituals and general living. I’m a hardline atheist, Christopher Hitchens and Sam Harris and Penn Jillette are heroes to me, and I still follow (albeit loosely) the general philosophy. Saying that secular Buddhism is wholly creation of the western and Caucasian world is an exaggeration at best.

  9. K*

    As a “trendy atheist”, I’m calling bullshit on this entire piece. You managed to completely ignore the very real pain and suffering inflicted on many LGBT people by Christianity/Judaism/Islam/Buddhism (yep, the Dalai Lama is anti-gay, too! Betcha didn’t know that, did you?), while minimizing others.

  10. Poison Girl

    Morgan, I really like your writing but you really blew your point in your last paragraph in this article.

    You write a whole article about the need for religious diversity in the queer community and how you feel excluded, but then you dismiss the beliefs/practices of a whole swath of people as a frivolous “trendiness”?

    I mean, there a lot of discussions to be had about the colonialist nature of a white-dominated, secular interpretation of Bhuddism or how some really bitter atheists* can be dogmatic and disrespectful assholes.

    But those are probably conversations that could be had over series of articles and I feel that you cheapened the important things you had to say through throwing these complex issues in to the article as cheap and “edgy” swipes at whole groups of people whom you don’t agree with.

    It would be really cool if we could get some discussion going on all of these subjects, but I kinda feel like the well has been poisoned here.

    *Disclosure: I am an atheist in many ways myself but I am disenchanted with many strains of atheism that have arisen, especially the objectivist sort.

  11. bonk

    it’s funny how religious people always feel persecuted by “atheists” – when the overwhelming persecutions are between “people of faith”. religious and spiritual people love to complain about being persecuted, despite the fact that they rule the whole fucking planet. wtf…

  12. Ren Galskap

    I know this is off topic, but what do the expressions “baba arere” and “baba ire” mean when applied to Oggun?

    • Wow, this really is off-topic!

      Baba Arere means Father is the Butcher — Arere in Lukumi is also a road of Ogun. And Baba Ire would means Blessings from the Father, or Blessed Father. These would be said as part of prayers or songs to Ogun, praising his talents as a butcher and a blessing or someone who makes blessings.

      But this really is not a place that I feel comfortable talking in depth about the specifics of Lukumi language. If you’d like to contact me privately about it, please email me at morganpage@prettyqueer.com.

      ~Odofemi

  13. I am a person who was deeply religious and stealth thru most of the formative years of my transition. As such I did not make many allies in the tg/ts communities and was too often not able to culturally connect — too often I was not wearing the right clothes, aware of the right music, or carrying the right cultural currency. I now attempt to live in the diverse realities of the secular world, in north american urban centres. Still, the people whom I bond with first, are people who feel some kind of reverence or humility and articulate that using a grammar of religion. Unfailingly the people who reject me the loudest are people who have decided who I am, and what I’m made of ideologically, because of my religious experience. I empathize very much with your post Morgan, and I felt defended by it. This response is also a gesture in honour of my beloved friend Flo McGarrell, who was a voudoun, who would have loved you.

    • anon

      it’s no surprise that a person immersed in religion would find themselves culturally isolated and only getting along with “their own kind” (which can extend beyond one’s own faith, but generally limited to other religious people). that’s the nature of faith!

      i’ve had the exact opposite experience, finding myself (mtf) ostracized by others because of things as silly as my not believing in auras or the zodiac. (i wish i was joking. when a believer starts a conversation by asking me if i believe and i gently say, “no,” it actually seems physically painful to them.) what is symptomatic of those experiences and your language is this idea that only “spiritual” people have reverence and humility – or that they are better at it, or have more of it. i get your careful wording – you are not literally saying “only religous people have reverence and humility” and go out of your way to distinguish between “reverence or humility” and their articulation, such as through “a grammar of religion” – but within the overall context, the implication remains the same old same old whether you intend it or not… religious/spiritual = reverent & humble. non-religious/non-spiritual = irreverent and arrogant.

  14. cait

    This article and the tangle of responses is why I love this website. Keep on keepin’ on, PQ.

  15. Donna Liberty

    Both my girlfriend and myself are trans. I’m an atheist; she’s Christian. We’re both extremely attractive. I’m not sure where I’m going with this.

  16. a

    the hopelessness of this discussion shows what a crap species we are. religious people are always caught in an ideological maze that stops people from even agreeing what religion is. even worse, they often claim atheism is a religion! how does that work? (sorry, not all ideology or ideas constitute religion!what’s the expression? just because collecting stamps is a hobby, that doesn’t make not collecting stamps a hobby. and if you say, “well non-stamp collectors don’t go around writing books, etc.” i bet they probably would have to organize if the stamp collectors went around causing genocide after genocide, utterly convinced that only stamp collectors understand the world – which is less a place for living than preparing to be placed in a big stamp book in the sky… and not-stamp-collecting still wouldn’t be a hobby). this article is about as profound as a group of pot smokers sitting around talking about legalizing it.

  17. Dutch

    Good article There can be no commonality with out detaunt. Finding common ground to grow from is the only way!… By the way I am a ‘Christian” Look beyond the bigotry of some and truly look at Christ’s teachings. I can understand how many are put off by the closed mindedness created to turn a theocratic faith into a dictatorial one…
    I have friends of many faiths who find the common ground for community… It’s the dogma that bites others in the butt!

  18. Devan Nambiar

    Thanks Morgan. Very refreshing to read your article. As a religious queer identified South Asian man, I am so tired of the “I am spritual not religious, but I just started learning yoga, going to yoga, teach yoga, learning to meditate, blah , blah…..yawn.” I am proud to be a religious queer person and practicing Hindu for over 35 years. Correctly you have also identified yoga here in the west by calling it Western yoga. If most western wanna be yogi and yogini ever tried the real yoga and its disciplines most will not last. Yoga has 8 paths and it NOT about postures alone or wearing the latest yoga wear and carrying a matching yoga mat. As for the Tibetian , Zen Buddish – it is a religion and if you were to go to Lumbini (birth place of Buddha) or Tibet you will learn very quickly it is a religion and if you do even further research you will realise it comes from Hinduism . The Hindu monks who fled Indian during the invasion by the Muslims fled to Tibet, China, Nepal,etc. carrying with them the sutras, medicine, and religious practice and knowledge.
    Before folks get twisted about religion, we need to experience consciousness and what it is and what it is not. Once you have experienced / tasted the nectar of your essence you will understand the mysteries of who you are in your skin(regardless of your gender, orientation, race, culture, etc.).

  19. Vanessa

    Thanks Morgan :)

  20. Normal

    With all due respect, atheism is not a trend and is the fastest-growing “belief system” in the western industrialized world take THAT Mormonism snd Pentacostalism. I was raised an atheist (mom being a hardcore feminist who viewed Abrahamic religions as fundamentally misogynist. For me, atheism is as normal as it is for other people to be Catholic. It isn’t something I chose but I’m damn grateful for it having seem so many of my friends get twisted out of shape by religion. Atheism isn’t a trend either its history in the west going back to the classical period.

    I’m not going to dig into whether your particular brand of religiosity is more or less valid than any other but I suspect it too is open to being labelled fake, made-up or trendy. If it enhances your life in some meaningful way then have at it but don’t assume that us non-trendy un-angry atheists are in any way racist, colonialist, spiritually lacking, naive, narrow-minded, none-too-bright or any other adjective you care to deploy in making your point.

    And thanks mom for always telling me to think for myself.

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