Tuesday, April 25, 2017

A Thoughtful Faith Podcast


A podcast in which the lovely Gina Colvin and I had a conversation about theosis, God, creation, Transhumanism, Mormonism, the Divine Feminine, technology, sex, gender, and process theology. You can listen to the podcast at A Thoughtful Faith, 193: God, the Image of God, Theosis, Sex, and Godly Creation.

Monday, April 17, 2017

Mormon Women on Theosis, Empowerment, and Divine Purpose


One on the most fascinating and inspiring aspects of Mormon theology, to me, is theosis. While the idea of humans becoming gods is not a concept unique to Mormonism, I have found no other religion that is so immersively drenched in process theology, eternal progression, and Godhood. As a woman though, I have often felt uncertain as to where I fit into the narrative when our female deity seemed almost absent from our conversations, praise, and worship. In my mind, it made practical sense to worship what I might become, and that was not Heavenly Father. 

I recall hearing the word priestess for the first time in the temple. I'd never heard that word until that point, or at least I hadn’t recognized it. It was among the most beautiful words I ever heard. While my first experience in the temple was not a particularly pleasant one, I remember feeling captivated by the word priestess. It felt feminine, holy, powerful, humble, empowering, and lovely--all at the same time. I wanted to be a priestess, even though I had no idea what that looked like. Could women be trusted to speak, act, and preach with the power and authority of God? I still have many unanswered questions, but it was clear I was not the only one searching for answers. Women are longing for more than what they are hearing in a church pew, conference center, or temple.

In my search, I recently bought a copy of At the Pulpit: 185 Years of Discourses by Latter-day Saint Women, which is a compilation of teachings, prayers, and speeches ranging from General Conference to The World's Congress of Representative Women. I devoured the book. I was particularly inspired by the words of women in the early years of the church, especially those involved in the Utah Woman Suffrage Association. Reading the words of these women speaking authoritatively on theosis, empowerment, and divine purpose was something I longed for. If there was one thing the book was lacking it was the voices of women of color, which I would certainly like to read more of.


Here are a few of my favorite excerpts from the book:

"When we take into consideration the many opportunities and various ways of usefulness, and the amount of good that may be accomplished by us who are engaged in so great a cause, some of you may feel that it is not our prerogative to interfere in the least, or to take one step towards building up the kingdom of God. But I feel that it is a mistaken idea to suppose that we cannot perform acts that would ennoble our character and position, when we are so nearly allied to the brother and of the priesthood, and they required to use strenuous efforts to advance the cause of God."

—Elicia A. Grist (Millennial Star, May 4, 1861)


"We all desire to be good and useful, so let us put our good desire into execution, for it is in our power to do so."

—Mary Ann Freeze (Salt Lake City 11th Ward Young Men's and Young Ladies Mutual Improvement Association, January 1879)


"We have been instructed that each one of us in our organizations is endowed with the germs of every faculty requisite to constitute a god or goddess. These little ones in their mothers arms have the germs of all the capacity which we exhibit, and what constitutes the difference between them and ourselves? Merely a lack of development in them, and this development requires cultivation, energy, and perseverance. The organization of the Female Relief Society places the sisters in positions to bring into exercise and thus develop all of our faculties: that's in doing good to others, we benefit ourselves...let us try to realize our responsibilities and honor our position."

—Eliza R. Snow (Salt Lake City 17th Ward Relief Society, February 18, 1869)


"The time was when thought that our husbands would save us, independent of our own exertions. Now we understand that instead of depending entirely on her husband's for salvation imposition, we have to work them out ourselves. The responsibility and labor that develop upon women are becoming more important. If society is reformed, it is to a great extent because women are refined."

—Eliza R. Snow (given in Kanab Relief Society written in Women's Exponent, April 1, 1881) Recorded by M. Elizabeth Little


"Wilt thou be with woman as thou hast with man, to strengthen her where she is weak that she may aid in the defense of truth and right and where her voice is heard throughout the broad face of the earth, make it have echo in the hearts of the honest, and may she serve to smooth the wrinkles of unjust laws, as she does and has, The pillows beneath the aching head of the eye soldiers and servants. We prayed the that doubt wilt blessed by handmaidens here in this little nook in the valley of the mountains, that we may perform noble and grand acts that will compare with the grandeur of the mountains around."

—Elvira S. Barney (Utah Woman Suffrage Association prewritten prayer, Temple Square Assembly Hall, October 7, 1889)


"Woman has been given the power, the honor to open the door through which all must pass ere they can enter that advanced stage of action and go forward in the work of progression which has been designed and marked out by our Heavenly Parents. I say parents, because while we hear a great deal about our Heavenly Father, and very little, if anything, about our Heavenly Mother, reason and revelation both teach us that we must also have a Mother there."

—Mattie Horne Tingey (The World's Congress of Representative Women, May 19, 1893)


"Why is it today there is so much broader a view taken of woman's position than before? Because woman herself is beginning to feel that she is an enlightened, responsible being, with a mind capable of the highest intelligence, with talents that it is her duty to develop and use for the advancement and elevation of the human family. This feeling is gradually but steadily growing; it is being felt throughout the world and it will continue to grow until it becomes a power in the earth. All honor to the noble women of this Congress, who have stood firm in the face of severe opposition, bitter scorn oft times, and dared to maintain their convictions of truth and right. May their number increase, and their influence be felt until it reaches every nook and corner of the inhabitable globe."

—Mattie Horne Tingey (The World's Congress of Representative Women, May 19, 1893)


"It is proper on occasions like this to consider such topics as shall be of the highest benefit to womankind; into my mind, it is fitting to discuss here that capacity of mind in which woman is preeminently fitted to excel. [...] They that knock with study and faith's assurance have the narrow way opened to them and I received into communion with the infinite Father and Mother, are permitted to enter hollowed mansions, to attend the school of the profits, and by advancing steps, to reach the school of the gods, where they learn the process by which worlds are organized by the combining of eternal, intelligent, obedient elements; The uses for which worlds are called into existence; the manner in which they are controlled; and the laws of progression by which all begins and animate things are perfected and glorified in their respective spheres."

—Sarah M. Kimball (National Council of Women, Metzerott's Music Hall, Washington DC, February 21, 1895)



*Published at Rational Faiths on Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Authority


I love my mother very much. She taught me so much that I’m not even sure she is aware of. I remember her saying often, “never be afraid to stand up for what you believe”, “follow your gut”, “a phone call home will save you a hell of a lot of trouble”, “there’s nothing more important than your education”, “don’t lose your faith in God”, and my personal favorite, “you don’t have to put up with other people’s crap”.

The majority of my life I’ve watched my mother have a humorous on-again-off-again relationship with Pepsi. I can still remember countless times as a child walking by her craft room to see her sitting at her sewing machine with an ice cold Pepsi sweating beads of condensation on the sewing desk my dad made for her. They were very happy memories.

In the 90’s there was quite a fuss among members on the specific doctrine of the Word of Wisdom and caffeinated sodas. The debate seemed to never end, and our bishopric at the time had a strict interpretation.

When my mother went in for her temple recommend interview the questions came.

The bishop asked, “Do you obey the Word of Wisdom?”

She replied, “Yes.”

He pressed, “Do you drink caffeine?”

She casually replied, “I drink Pepsi and I don’t give a s*#t.”

She finished the interview and walked out with her temple recommend.

For better or worse she has had some influence in shaping my perceptions of authority. I learned at a very young age not to allow religious figures to overstep their bounds.


*Published at Rational Faiths on Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Sunday, March 5, 2017

A Child’s Prayer


There are times at church I can’t bring myself to choke out another male pronoun. I would attempt to sing the hymns, but I could only mouth the lyrics in silence. I couldn’t even say His name. It felt dishonest to sing praises to His name, yet the silence of my praise felt equally dishonest.

Some time ago, I can’t say for sure when, I began substituting female deity pronouns for male deity pronouns while singing. I was quite shy at first. My vocals were hardly even noticeable. Who knew what kind of social ramifications awaited me if they knew I sang praises to our female deity? However, over time, the tameness of my vocals melted away each Sunday until I was confident enough to sing out female pronouns at a comparable volume to the rest of my fellow congregants. When I sing about Her, I’m sometimes reminded that perhaps as a woman I, too, am of a divine nature. Perhaps there is more waiting to be discovered beyond the emptiness of the projected narrative. Perhaps there is more to my future awaiting my initiation.

It’s not a significant change, nor do I expect my humble voice to sway the direction of the entire choir, but at the very least my song is now honest.

Heavenly Mother, are you really there?
And do you hear and answer ev'ry child's prayer?
Some say that heaven is far away,
But I feel it close around me as I pray.
Heavenly Mother, I remember now
Something that Jesus told disciples long ago:
"Suffer the children to come to me."
Mother, in prayer I'm coming now to thee.

Pray, She is there;
Speak, She is list'ning.
You are Her child;
Her love now surrounds you.
She hears your prayer;
She loves the children.
Of such is the kingdom, the kingdom of heav'n.

*Adaptation of A Child's Prayer

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Mormons Building Bridges Retreat

(Image Credit: sundancevacations.com)

I recently attended a Mormons Building Bridges Contemplative Retreat in Sundance, Utah. Attendees were asked to participate in introspective questioning and sharing about gender identity and sexual orientation in relation to LDS policy and Mormon theology. The retreat started in a large group of roughly 20 people, followed by breakout sessions of seven people, down to three people per group. Attendees included parents of LGBTQ kids, lesbians, gays, bisexuals, and allies. Religious and spiritual beliefs varied across a broad spectrum, but were all in some way familiar with Mormonism.

As the retreat began it became increasingly clear there is a serious amount of conflicting emotions regarding queer Mormons and their place in various Mormon communities (for clarification, I’ll be referring to any member of the LGBTQ community as “queer” for the remainder of the paper). However, what was slightly surprising among the participants was the reaction straight allyship had to the recent policy change to ban the children of practicing homosexuals from baptism. Some were suffering to the same extent, or perhaps more, than actual members of the LGBTQ community. I particularly noticed the suffering of the mothers of queer children.

In listening to the experiences and perspectives of these mothers it seemed the reoccurring question was, “Where does my queer child fit in this church and in the eternities?” This question is a source of angst that produced a variety of emotions and responses—everything from anger to sorrow. Many feel as though they are forced to choose their child or their church. Obviously, this could cause turmoil to even the most devout disciple or committed mother.

Imagine a Mormon female being raised in a religious tradition that correlated her value with her ability to produce offspring and rear those offspring toward exaltation.  The plan seems simple at first, until one of the offspring has identified as queer. This is in direct opposition with current LDS policy, culture, and structure. The esthetics of the “eternal family” have been prescribed according to not just the biological limitations of sex, but also the social construct of gender. The conflation of biological sex and socially constructed gender performances (which are two separate ideas) have produced a false sense of the “natural order” without consideration to those who fall outside the prescribed “natural order”—mainly non-heterosexuals and non-cisgender individuals. When a Mormon mother, who was quite literally raised to breed children and fiercely rear them into salvation, is confronted to choose between her pre-ordained calling of motherhood and the religious institution that taught her this divine purpose, there will undoubtedly be conflict. However, the conflict is far deeper than a surface level misunderstanding. This conflict calls into question the very nature of her existence and purpose as a mother. How is she supposed to choose between her child and her church?

The recent LDS policy change to the church handbook has been a catalyst in the transformation of many Mormon parents, with reactions ranging from confusion to outrage. The policy specifically states “apostasy refers to members who are in a same-gender marriage.” This qualifies homosexuals, specifically same-sex married couples, as apostates.

For a Mormon mother this means that if her child chose to enter into a same-sex relationship with the hopes of marriage and an eternal family, they will automatically be rejected as apostates. They would not qualify for the blessings of eternal marriage or an eternal family, which is central to the theological, governmental, and cultural teachings of the LDS Church. If a Mormon mother’s existence and purpose is to breed eternal families, her child’s orientation is not just a problem, but is sometimes treated as a disease that needs to be eradicated before admittance into any sort of exaltation.

At the retreat I listened to the painful struggles of what a Mormon mother of a queer child is experiencing; I listened to their stories. I watched them cry as some described suicide attempts, self-mutilation, self-loathing, and substance abuse of their children. Many of them, for the first time ever, are finding themselves in a place of theological uncertainty. They were not prepared, nor equipped to address the conflict that has now caused them to question the very foundation of their existence.
               
Despite the harrowing stories, I also saw hope. Observing the interaction between the queer participants and the mothers of queer children was encouraging and inspiring. Amid the sorrow and frustrations there was also consolation and hope that perhaps one day their children could find a place of belonging. Many people embraced one another and dried each other’s tears with empathy and concern. While this is hardly an excuse for the jarring conflict between their church and their child, I see many people seeking reconciliatory ways of moving forward.
               
For example, some of the attendees participate in groups such as Understanding Same-Gender Attraction (USGA) at BYU. USGA “is an unofficial group of Brigham Young University students, faculty and guests who wish to strengthen families and the BYU community by providing a place for open, respectful discussion on the topic of same-gender attraction and LGBTQ issues.” Though change is slow, the conversation is happening in ways it never has before. More opportunities are becoming widely available in an effort to help those in the LGBTQ community and their loved ones.  Medical reports, psychological research, and social pressures have changed attitudes toward such harmful practices as conversion therapy. While homosexuality isn’t condoned in LDS policy, I am observing a slow and steady change in attitudes and misconceptions.

As I left the retreat we hugged each other goodbye. Many exchanged contact information in hopes of being a source of support during times of turbulence. It was both humbling and inspiring to engage in such a wonderful, thoughtful experience. For anyone looking for introspection, contemplation, reconciliation, and friendship, I highly recommend the experience.

*
Published at Rational Faiths on Tuesday, February 20, 2017

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Human Fragility: a transhumanist love poem

(Image Credit: Embrace by Agnes Cecile)

Stuck in human fragility
leaving me to my vulnerability.
Love without expression.
Prayer without honest lips.
Stricken with feelings that we hide,
I mourn the loss of a love that hasn’t been,
but could be.

How could this body hold my love and rage?
Please. Stop!
Don’t turn the page.
Pull my body into your embrace.
Breathe in my essence,
intersecting and interlaced.
Undress my mind,
until you find me inside.
I felt religion in your arms,
breaching boundaries
in a sinless love.

Run the simulation again and again,
Don’t let my memories end.
Nothing more than a slave to biology,
I’ll be ripped from my fleshy cage.
Perhaps these words will fall
into the abyss of digital space.
Yet, I furiously punch the memories into code,
so that somewhere in the future it might be known,
that a simple human like me
loved a simple human like you.

They may think I’m insane,
I admit, my religion is strange,
But what do they think love means,
beyond human fragility?
Did I go too far, or not far enough?
Some say it’s meaningless
when I’m a product of programming.
But even so,
I’ll live the illusion with you,
and hope that love might be made true.

I pray these meager words might remain,
for future generations to maintain
so, God willing, our love might live,
beyond human fragility.

Thursday, January 26, 2017

Queer, Mormon, and Transhuman: Part II

(Image Credit: Plot Magazine)

After publishing my post Queer, Mormon, and Transhuman, I received some criticism. Most of the criticisms of my character were clich├ęd projections built upon inaccurate assumptions. However, I’d like to clarify some of the more controversial subject matter. Deconstructing the gender binary is not an “agenda of the alt-left,” it’s a matter of biology. Men and women are not the only genders that “naturally” exist.

I’d like to make two points in this post:

1.  A third biological sex naturally exists in our human species.

2. Accepting the intersex population isn’t a matter of progressivism, conservatism, or even philosophy. It’s about recognizing the natural biological variances that exist within the tangible world in which we live.

In my previous post I stated, “The gender spectrum is filled with eight billion uniquely different genders diverse in biology, identity, embodiment, performance, expression, and fluidity.”

Sometimes when people consider the gender binary as a social construct, they often ignore the biological realties of the natural world. Many aspects of gender may indeed be the figments of our imaginations perpetuated by socially constructed ideas imposed on each rising generation. However, I’d like to focus our attention first on the biology of sex that produces natural variances within a small portion of the human population: the intersex population.

There are biological anatomies and chromosomes that categorize a person’s biological sex, not just ideological or social performances. Females have XX chromosomes while males have XY chromosomes. However, a third gender exists quite naturally without any technological, social, or philosophical intervention. Roughly 1 in 1,000 births are of XXY chromosomes (Klinefelter syndrome). These individuals are intersex and are not chromosomally classified as male or female even though their genitalia may or may not present indicators of their chromosomal variance. This portion of the intersex population is not solely male or female, chromosomally speaking.

A slightly larger portion of the intersex community is born with physiological variances like ambiguous genitalia, although medical experts vary on the definition of what constitutes a person as intersex. If we include ambiguous genitalia and chromosomal abnormalities roughly 1.7% of the world population is intersex. Keep in mind less than two percent of the world’s population consists of redheads. Arguably, depending on how you define intersex, the intersex population is comparable to the redhead population. To deny the existence of a third gender within the “natural” world is to deny the existence of a small, but real portion of the human population. According to the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, intersex people “do not fit the typical definitions for male or female bodies.”

An intersex individual may choose to conform to socially constructed standards of the gender binary, but chromosomally or physiologically speaking the gender binary would be an inaccurate or incomplete categorical frame.

Some may wonder, so what? Why does this matter? It’s a matter of human rights and morphological freedom. Intersex is a non-binary gender that is sorely underrepresented in gender-related conversations and human rights discussions. Intersex infants are naturally born, yet hormonally and surgically altered to conform to socially accepted “norms” to perpetuate the gender binary. These non-consensual, “normalizing,” aesthetical interventions have little to no firm evidence that treatment offers medical benefits other than perpetuation of social gender constructs.


Morphological freedom includes the right to accept or reject one’s own anatomy according to their volition. It’s about respecting agency, consent, and personhood. Social conceptions of the gender binary, misogyny, and misconceptions of biological sex produce undue stress and potentially oppressive procedures on the intersex population.

Taking gender biology even further, one could also argue extreme hormonal abnormalities could constitute a gender variance that is non-binary. For example, women who contain high levels of testosterone may experience deepening of the voice, increased muscle mass, enlarged clitoris, or frontal balding, similar to men. Their hormonal variance can play a significant role in how they experience gender.

High concentrations of androgens (male steroid hormones) have been associated to infertility in women, particularly polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS). Another interesting aspect of the study conducted by researchers from the London Women’s Clinic found that lesbians are twice as likely to have an imbalance of sex hormones. "Our research neither suggests nor indicates that polycystic ovaries-PCOS causes lesbianism, only that polycystic ovaries-PCOS is more prevalent in lesbian women. We do, however, hypothesise that hyperandrogenism - which is associated with PCOS - may be one of the factors contributing to the sexual orientation of women."

This could be the beginning of linking biological sex variances with sexual orientation and/or fertility. This is one reason it’s important to understand biological sex, independent of gender performance, before making conclusions about sexual orientation. We are a product of our anatomies and a better understanding of our biology could lead us to better understand sexual orientation.

After all, if an intersex person is biologically both male and female and are attracted to males they are both heterosexual and homosexual, but not bisexual. However, if an intersex person is only attracted to other intersex individuals that, too, could mean they are homosexual. Or does homosexuality only apply when two intersex people choose the same gender performance independent of their biological sex? As you can see the limitations of our language and understanding of biology pose certain complexities concerning gender and sexuality.

From a Mormon perspective, it’s imperative to the health and well-being of our siblings that we make space in our language, theology, and dialogue for those that aren’t of the gender binary. Fortunately, there is room in Mormon theology for not only better treatment of cis women, but also the non-binary population and various sexual orientations.

I am not “a ‘NOM’ and ‘cultural Mormon’ for whom the church is a blob of silly putty upon which can be imprinted.” I am a Latter-day Saint who embraces Mormon theology and doctrine authentically and radically.  I was taught “Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.” I was taught that Jesus said, “…lovest thou me? Feed my sheep.” I was taught in continuing revelation as part of an ongoing restoration. Are you sleeping through the restoration? I was also taught, “We believe in continuing revelation, not continuous revelation. We are often left to work out problems without the dictation or specific direction of the Spirit. That is part of the experience we must have in mortality.”

In essence, I was taught if we love God and Jesus we should show our love through our works towards our siblings. Although I was taught God reveals more light and knowledge, we are also responsible for working out discrepancies amongst ourselves as part of our growth, progression, and development.

Some may claim broadening our understanding of gender beyond male and female is part of the “leftist gay agenda” void of conservative values, but in actuality it’s about realizing the already existing biological variances within the natural world in which we live.


*Note to my intersex readers: My perceptions and opinions are based upon academic research only, as I have no experience as an intersex person. If you think I have inaccurately represented the intersex community, feel free to contact me. I’m happy to learn more about your unique experiences.

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Edge of the Cliff

(Image credit)

I stood on the edge of the cliff.
Salty sea air bushed across my skin.
My lover by my side.
His wings spread wide with confidence,
then he jumped.

I watched and smiled in delight,
light reflected off his wings,
as he pursued his heart’s desire.
He was happy, 
so I was happy.

The man dressed in white, 
came to the cliff to clip my wings.
He was kind and soft-spoken.
He called himself, Protector.
My wings needed taming.

I didn't mind. 
He was gentle, 
and my wings were just as fair as my lover’s,
perhaps even more fair.
Maybe that's why they needed taming.

Much later, my lover flew,
I stood still, watching from the cliff's edge. 
I smiled in his shadow.
He made such lovely shadows.
Large shadows.

The man dressed in white, 
came to clip my wings again.
My lovely wings needed taming.
They were to be admired, adored,
not used.

I didn't mind, I had other work to do.
My sons needed rearing.
They grew until they flew.
They were happy,
so I was happy.

Much later,
my sons flew with my lover.
Their wings spread wide with confidence. 
I stood on the cliff’s edge lonely, but joyful,
observing their freedom.

The man dressed in white, 
came to clip my wings again.
My abdomen was swollen with my daughter.
Even if he hadn't clipped my wings,
could I even fly?

Much later,
my lover flew with our young daughter.
It was beauty beyond my imagination.
She was happy,
so I was happy.

The man dressed in white, 
came to clip my wings again.
I asked him, “Why must you clip my wings?”
He replied, "You know why.
It has always been so."

The man in white called for my daughter.
She couldn’t hear him.
Her wings were so young and fragile.
How could she possibly need taming?
She could barely fly.

The man in white called for her again,
but she was too engrossed in freedom to notice.
He would not clip her wings.
I told the man in white to leave,
and never return.

Much later,
my lover flew with our children.
My wings were lovely, but frail.
Perhaps tamed beyond use,
could I even fly?

I stood on the edge of the cliff.
Salty sea air bushed across my skin.
With the sun setting in the distance, 
my wings spread wide with confidence,