"I am fearfully and wonderfully made."
It's easy for me to empathize with people who express confusion when I share with them that I am bisexual. My sexual orientation confused me for decades and continues to do so occasionally even now. Like many, I thought that the question I was answering for myself was, "Whom do I love?" when I was also struggling to answer the question, "Who am I?" I finally saw that a large part of what I experience as a bisexual person arises from the fluidity I experience among the complex elements of gender. Let me try to explain.
For one thing, the word "bisexual" comes from a time when the prevailing assumption was that there were simply men and women. This is the gender binary that many still take to be true even as the evidence to the contrary piles up. In my experience, there is way more to my gender than this.
The notion that there are only women and men has revealed itself to be confining because of its limited, dualist perspective. Many base their understanding that men or women are the sole possibilities upon their reading of Genesis 1:27: "So God created humankind in his image, in the image of God created he them, male and female he created them." Yet experience has taught many of us that gender is much more complicated and potentially confusing than this. As I understand it, there are at least three elements of our experience of gender: identity, expression and role.
A friend of mine asked me once, "How do you think of yourself: as a man or as a woman?" I answered swiftly, "As a woman." For me this means that my own gender identity is female. At the same time, there are ways in which I am more like what we tend to associate with men. For example, I follow professional sports carefully. Pardon the Interruption on ESPN is daily TV for me. This is an example of gender expression -- how I act in the world. Of course, the fact that many women enjoy sports calls into question our shared assumptions about gender expression.
There is also the fact that I embrace as a call from God the office of preacher, work that has traditionally (and even now, in many places) been limited to men in large portions of Christianity. My being a preacher is an example of "violating" gender roles, because despite the fact that I identify as female, I feel most myself in a predominantly male role.
What I finally see is that my gender identity may be female, but my gender expression and preferred gender role are weighted toward what is often labeled "masculine." It is more accurate to say that I shimmer with a constellation of male and female attributes, at least in terms of how our culture conceives of "male" and "female." I also find that the fluidity of my experience of gender -- female but with traditionally masculine dimensions -- contributes to my sense of whom I could love. When I began to grasp this gender fluidity in myself, I also gained a clearer, richer grasp of my bisexuality.
Are you confused by what I am saying? Welcome! Discover with me how this confusion is an invitation to wonder at the mystery of God and God's grand creation.
My confusion confirms that I am fearfully and wonderfully made (Psalm 139:14). I shimmer with gender complexities that hold all kinds of possibilities. When confusion threatens to overwhelm me, accepting myself as I am and my experience of the world brings me back to the fact that God made me. And I am fearfully and wonderfully made.
I am also made in the image of God. For millennia, my ancestors understood God to be a man. This has changed in my lifetime. We have become more aware of the feminine images of God in Scripture. "Spirit" is a feminine noun in both Hebrew and Greek, the languages of the Bible (Job 33:4, John 4:24). There is the "mother eagle" (Exodus 19:4) and the woman searching for the lost coin in Jesus' parable (Luke 15:8-10), both compelling images of God. Thanks to some wonderful Christian mystics through the ages, we have grasped that God is larger and more mysterious than any earthly images. God is complicated -- fearful and wonderful -- so it is no wonder that we are made that way, because we are made in the image of God. Suddenly I see clearly what Genesis 1:27 has taught me: Each one of us is "male and female" as created by God, in the image of God, who is both male and female and also beyond these binaries. Paul echoes this understanding in Galatians 3:23, where he speaks of "male and female" in contrast to other dualities: "There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus." The beautiful word that opened my eyes and my mind is the word "and." To me, "male and female" means that each of us holds a continuum of gender within us, because each of us is lovingly made in the image of God.
I have come to accept that who I am shimmers with my gender identity, expression and role. The word "bisexual" is insufficient to express the rich possibilities in my experience of gender. Though I am often left confused, I am wondrously confused. I hope that all confusion (including yours) about the interplay of sexual orientation and gender can be a wondrous confusion that finds its way to marveling at the mystery of God and the mystery of God's beautiful creation. Then we can all simply settle down to praise and serve God, which is the best of being human.
This blog post was originally posted at Believe Out Loud