Reflections on Gender, Spirituality, and Society
Transgender Realities as a Portal to Ideological and Spiritual Freedom
We live under a political spell that has split perceptions of reality in accordance with arbitrary distinctions between political factions. Like all spells, it is spiritual in nature, and like all spells of division and destruction, it divorces us from spirit and weds us to ideology. In the companion piece to this article, Narrative Collapse and the Spell of Politics, I explain how this spell has recently captured the Left into a system of authoritarian thinking, in alignment with the institutional covid narrative and the identity-politics and equity-based ideology of Wokeism. The Spell has accordingly cast opposition to these authoritarian forms into the camp called the Right.
The reason this is relevant to the topic of spirituality and gender is that another position identified with the Right is the opposition to trans rights and acceptance in society. As part of the backlash to Wokeism and Covid Authoritarianism, I’ve observed that many have gravitated toward the anti-trans perspective, saying things like, “The Left has totally lost their minds! Not only are they in denial about the facts regarding covid, vaccines, and masks, they believe that men can be women!” The acceptance and understanding of trans realities is lumped into the entire Woke ideology along with radical gender theory, covid authoritarianism, and all the rest of it.
While opposing the Wokeism and covid tyranny that have captured the Left, and welcoming the Right’s resistance to these, I am a firm supporter of trans rights and acceptance, and I wish to assist in extricating this issue from the Spell of Politics. Breaking this spell means releasing the tribal identifications of Right and Left, and the ideologies that become attached to these. It means being able to look at any issue independent of the tribal spells that have been cast around it and choose freely, according to one’s own values and understandings. My own position in support of trans rights and acceptance is grounded in a spiritual understanding and experience of gender that Woke ideology is largely hostile to in its secular and materialist roots.
While I strongly believe this issue is important on its own, I also believe the principles, values, and spiritual understandings that can extricate trans realities from the Spell of Politics are pertinent to breaking the spells wrapped around other issues as well—and to deepen and enrich our human experience through greater spiritual awareness. This article is also a follow-up to my 2018 piece, Meditations on Transgender Spirituality. In it, I explored queer spirituality through a historical, mythological, psychological, and individual lens, focusing primarily on the transgender experience and its spiritual implications. Here, I will expand on the spiritual qualities of gender in more depth and unwind misconceptions and prejudices regarding trans people. I will also demonstrate how openness, curiosity, and respect for the realities of others fosters the values of a free society and free people, while nurturing our own relationship to gender and our spiritual freedom.
Radical Gender Theory vs. Trans Acceptance
The form of radical gender theory that has become identified with Woke ideology is not ironclad, and it is not universally agreed upon among those in alignment with Wokeism. But the most prominent form of it, and the form that has alienated those who are fed up with Wokeism and many trans people themselves essentially breaks down like this:
1. Gender is just a social construct, and the form it takes is entirely relative to differing social contexts. It has no other basis in reality than this.
2. Some people experience distress in the gender externally assigned to them by others. Since gender has no foundational basis in reality, people should be encouraged to identify as whatever gender relieves their distress.
3. Being entirely relative, genders can be understood to exist in limitless dimensions. The gender one identifies with could be literally any word or concept, and could change at any time.
4. In order to further alleviate the distress of those who identify as a different gender than the one others typically assume them to belong to, individuals and social institutions ought to take steps to affirm whatever gender a person identifies with.
5. These steps may include using a person’s chosen name and pronouns, making hormone therapy, surgeries, and other bodily modifications available to them, and treating every person as a member of the gender group they identify as, including welcoming them into spaces reserved for members of that gender group.
These may then be variously expanded on in accordance with Wokeist equity ideology to include proposals ranging from the annoying to the absurd:
6. Everyone should be required to recite their pronouns when they introduce themselves and list them as part of their signature on emails. This will help relieve the pressure on nonbinary people and other trans people whose pronouns are not easily discernable by appearance—relieving them of the burden of feeling different by needing to announce their pronouns when others aren’t doing so.
7. We should do away with all gendered words entirely, replacing words like mother and father with parent, and man and woman with person. Since gender is just a social construct, and being gendered causes some people distress, we will then create a common language designed to eliminate as much distress as possible.
8. We should also do away with he/him and she/her pronouns—and refer to everyone as they/them. Since gender is just a social construct, there is no harm done, and everyone is made equal.
9. We should do away with all gendered spaces and make them all unigender. Or else, insofar as gendered spaces exist, any person should be able to access such spaces by declaring their gender in the moment, or without declaring anything and just doing it.
10. Anyone who does not agree with the above points or speaks out against them should be shamed and drummed out of society.
Elements 1-5 are generally reasonable in their conclusions, though they require nuance rather than application as blanket rules. But some of the premises underlying 1-5 are rife with problems. The biggest issue is in element 1. It is not agreed upon by everyone that gender is merely a social construct. Many cis and trans people have a strong sense of gender that is experienced as something very real and not at all constructed or relative. (For those unfamiliar with the word “cis,” it is short for “cisgender,” a term used to denote someone who is not transgender.) In fact, a large number of trans people have gone through gender transition precisely because of their experience of gender as something very tangible and independent of social constructs, norms, and customs.
Assuming that gender is nothing but a social construct is dismissive and patronizing to all those who experience it as an independent reality, whether understood as a spiritual quality or otherwise. This leads to a number of issues and problems further down the road. Also, while there is nothing wrong with the motivation of relieving trans people of distress—offering this as the primary motive for honoring a person’s gender or gender transition needs is also patronizing, casting that person in the role of victim. Most people, cis and trans alike, would prefer that their gender be honored by others out of respect and as a reflection of who they actually are.
There are other forms of radical gender theory, some of which are actively hostile to trans rights and acceptance. These forms also tend to be based in the assertion that gender is nothing but a social construct, a concept which follows from the Marxist, secular, and materialist worldviews that have formed the basis of leftist and academic thought since the 19th century. According to this view, since gender has no material basis, unlike sex—and since gender cannot be measured—it can only be understood as a linguistic and political concept. It is then argued by some that there is essentially no such thing as gender at all, there is only sex. Therefore there is no such thing as trans men or trans women, these are only women and men who are either confused about themselves or are just strange.
The above view is actually shared by a faction of radical nonbinary trans folk, who reject gender entirely and insist everyone else should too. This faction generally supports proposals like the ones laid out in elements 7-9 and favor slogans like “Smash the Gender Binary!” Another version of trans-exclusionary gender theory believes that because gender is just a social construct, it should be understood entirely as a political and social phenomenon. In accordance with leftist intersectional identity doctrines, it is then argued that trans women (for instance) can never be considered women because they have not lived through the unique set of oppressive social and political realities cisgender women have experienced.
Actual trans people believe all sorts of different things. Many of them do agree with the general Woke take on gender and trans issues, and some of them even agree with trans-exclusionary ideologies. But many do not agree with either, nor do they agree with any of the radical gender theories. I have no idea what the actual percentages are, but I would venture to guess that most trans people believe gender is more than a social construct. Some would consider it a spiritual or otherwise numinous quality. Others who are more materialist in their orientation might see it as something that exists neurologically, perhaps a result of certain genetic expressions that are separate from those that determine sex.
Either way, it is generally the case that trans people who experience gender as more than a social construct also experience their gender as fundamental to who they really are, much more important and pertinent than the way their body has sexually developed. Many cisgender people also experience gender this way, and believe they would be very unhappy to occupy a body of the opposite sex since it would not align with their gender and authentic self.
Recognizing that all kinds of people believe all kinds of different things regarding gender, I would still like to offer the following theory of gender as one that many or most trans people would agree with—as a contrast to the Woke gender theory outlined above:
1. Gender is real, and is more than a social construct.
2. Gender usually aligns with the sex of the body but not always.
3. Some people do not experience gender at all, and may not even have a gender. Their lack of a gendered experience is real and true. Others who do have gender and sense their gender also have a real and true experience. Gender does not have to be experienced by everyone in order for it to be true and real thing that exists.
4. For many people whose gender is out of alignment with their bodies’ sexual development, bringing their bodies and/or social expression into closer alignment with their genders can greatly improve their quality of life.
5. A person’s gender is an integral aspect of their authentic self. It is a sign of respect to see others and treat them in accordance with their authentic gender—to treat them as themselves. This is good behavior.
6. Gender is accessed internally and a person can only know for sure what their own gender is. They cannot know for sure what someone else’s gender is unless the other person tells them.
7. Trans people represent a naturally occurring variation in the human experience, and have existed in cultures throughout the world and throughout human history.
8. It is right to include and accept trans people in society along with everyone else.
9. Trans people ought to be included in life where they best fit in. In terms of gendered spaces, some trans people fit in best in male spaces, some in female spaces, and others in gender-neutral or unigender spaces. Most trans people have no desire to be in gendered spaces where they do not fit. They are able to choose spaces themselves where they best fit in.
10. Some cisgender people are very uncomfortable with trans people and never welcome them. But many cisgender people are very comfortable and welcoming. The presence of those who are unwelcoming should not be the determining factor in otherwise welcoming spaces.
11. Some trans people have social and mental health issues that can cause problems and even crimes, but so do some cis people. Trans people should not be judged as a group or subjected to discrimination based on these edge cases, just as cis people should not.
I believe the 11 statements listed above are reasonable, logical, non-ideological, and based on values of respect and individual sovereignty. They also stand in contrast to the Woke version of gender theory which has been projected onto trans people and has contributed to the current trans backlash and panic.
Back in 2016, a wave of trans panic washed over America, mostly centered on a sudden sense of threat regarding trans people in bathrooms and locker rooms. This wave of panic soon died out, partially because it turned out to be an electoral detriment rather than an asset to the politicians who tried to ride that wave. This was followed by a fight over whether or not to allow trans people to serve in the military, which also eventually died out. The current wave of trans panic is partially fueled by backlash against Wokeism and cancel culture, but it has narrowed its focus once more. Today, the primary issues at the forefront are whether or not to allow trans women to play in women’s sports, or whether minors should be allowed to access hormone therapy. I believe this wave of issues will eventually fade out as the previous ones did, but this will only occur after talking through the issues and dispelling the concerns associated with them. So in the interest of moving the process along, I’ll address them in turn.
The basic argument advanced against allowing trans women to play in women’s sports is that trans women who transitioned as adults have an unfair advantage due to the masculinization process their bodies went through as teenagers. There are a number of masculinization factors the body can experience that generally improve athletic performance. These include greater height and weight, increased muscle mass, larger lungs, a broader skeletal framework, and the presence of high amounts of testosterone in the body. These different factors are variously more useful in some sports than others, in different combinations.
When this issue is presented, it tends to carry the implication that every trans woman will be better at sports than every cis woman. This is clearly not the case. When it is pointed out that this is not the case, sometimes the response I’ve heard amounts to indignation that anytime a trans woman ever bests any cis woman while competing in women’s sports represents a grave injustice. When pressed as to why this is so terrible, the response usually takes some variation of the form that “trans women aren’t women, they’re men, and women’s sports should be protected and preserved for women.”
Since that argument is not really about sports, I’ll set it aside for now. To get at this issue of trans women in women’s sports, I think the most useful model to use is a bell curve. It’s easy to pull up an image of overlapping height curves for men and women with a Duck Duck Go search. The average height for a man is 5’10” and for a woman is 5’5.” There is a significant overlap in the curves. About half of men and half of women fall in the overlap range. I would not know how to calculate the confluence of bell curves for height, weight, muscle, lung and skeleton size to determine how much of an advantage the average trans woman who transitioned in adulthood would have relative to the average cis woman. But supposing we use height as a proxy for this for ease of example, the trans woman of average height would be taller than about 90% of cis women and shorter than 10% of them.
But we need to take into account how few trans women there are. Only about 1 in 200 women are trans. On average, the tallest cis woman in a group of 200, according to the chart I’m looking at, is about 6’2”. So in other words, for every trans woman of average height, there’s one 6’2” cis woman, and about 20 more cis women also taller than her. Yes, the trans woman has a physical advantage over most women, but so do the 20 cis women taller than 5’10”. Should the cis women taller than 5’10” also be banned from women’s sports due to their physical advantage? What about the trans woman who is 5’6”? Should she be banned from women’s sports because there are other trans women who have physical advantages she doesn’t have? Even though a large portion of cis women also have physical advantages she doesn’t have?
It doesn’t make sense to ban all trans women from women’s sports as if they all were the same, and as if they all had superior athletic ability to every cis woman competitor. Now, as I mentioned, height is being used here as a proxy for athletic ability just to demonstrate the case, but the principle remains the same. It does make sense to require trans women to be taking testosterone blockers in order to compete if the testes haven’t been removed to negate the testosterone advantage. Most trans women will want to do this anyway. Hormone therapy will also reduce a trans woman’s muscle mass, which will further reduce her physical ability. Studies have been conducted of trans women runners’ performance prior to and after adjusting to feminizing hormone therapy. They found their average times were reduced by about 12%, which is the same percentage by which average men’s runners’ are faster than average women’s times. These percentages will be different for different sporting events, but they demonstrate that hormone therapy makes a significant difference in performance level.
There will be a few trans women who are so powerful, large, and talented as athletes that they completely dominate even the best cis women opponents. These will be rare—in part because trans women are rare to begin with—and because superior athletes are even rarer. In these rare cases, it may make sense to ask the trans women to compete in a men’s league—an option that should also be open to the best cis women athletes who would like to test their abilities at a more competitive level of play.
Currently, trans swimmer Lia Thomas has been in the news due to two best-in-the-nation finishes in NCAA women’s swimming competitions. She was roughly among the 100 best male swimmers in the NCAA before transitioning. She is now among the 10 best female swimmers in the NCAA. If she proves to dominate women’s swimming to the extent that none can compete with her, it would probably be best for her to return to men’s competition. But so far, that is not the case. She has finished in first place in two events. Should trans women never be allowed to win first place under any circumstances?
Thomas is one of the rare trans athletes who competes at the highest level in women’s sports. One might land in either direction regarding whether she should be allowed to continue competing in women’s swimming events. But for the thousands of trans women who would like to play sports, it makes no sense to ban them from women’s competition due to rare edge cases like Thomas. They will all find their own level of competition within women’s sports and will encounter cis women who are well-matched to their abilities, as well as many cis women who best them.
It is likely that in the years to come, there will be still fewer edge cases of the kind described above. This is because it is becoming more common for trans women to begin hormone therapy as teenagers, arresting the masculinization process early on, producing trans women with bodies close in the range of what is average for cis women. But this raises the other hot button issue of the day, which is the question of hormone therapy for trans adolescents.
This is an area where I have a degree of expertise. I have a specialty practice in gender counseling as part of my work as a psychotherapist, and I have completed extensive trainings and reviewed the pertinent studies and literature on the subjects of gender transition and transgender psychology. My knowledge regarding gender transition among minors (and adults) derives from this training, as well as from my professional practice. But please, access the research for yourself if you are skeptical, and make your own determination. I always encourage people not to simply trust the “experts”—even when I’m the expert—but to do their own research on anything they want to deeply understand.
It has become common lately to hear people say things like, “I’m all for adults living their lives how they want to, but kids shouldn’t be allowed to take hormone therapy. We shouldn’t let kids make decisions that will affect them for the rest of their lives.” What’s missed in this argument is that if a trans teenager does not take hormone therapy, that decision will also affect them for the rest of their lives, and this effect is likely to be experienced as a very negative one. It will permanently masculinize or feminize their bodies out of alignment with their gender—changing their appearance in ways they live to regret, also for the rest of their lives.
In the state I live in, the age of medical consent is 15. Many other states also set their age of medical consent at a similar point. All medical decisions have the potential to affect a person for the rest of their life, and since the brain has developed the ability for formal processing by the age of 15, it’s a sensible choice as the age of medical consent. Also, when a person reaches puberty, they come to occupy a body that is sexually developed. This necessitates autonomy over their own sexuality due to their ability to create children and the importance of sexual sovereignty. This is also true for trans teenagers who are very clear about their gender and deserve the right to make decisions about their own body and sexuality no one else can make for them.
It’s true that many children who experiment with gender and gender fluidity prior to puberty change their minds and decide they are not trans by the time they reach puberty. That’s a good thing. Hormone therapy never starts before puberty is reached, and thus, no permanent changes occur in the body in trans children or children who believe they might be trans. When it comes to children transitioning, the measure of whether they are really trans and not just experimenting is captured in the phrase “persistent, insistent, and consistent.” Children who are described by this phrase—and who remain committed to gender transition when they reach puberty—are very unlikely to experience transition regret or detransition. Some children arrive at the determination of their gender as young as 5, independent of external influences, and remain confident in that determination for the rest of their lives.
I knew a child whose experience was like that; her mother was a friend of mine. She told me her child insisted she was a girl even before the age of 5. She never pressured the child to do so, though she allowed her to live as a girl despite some reservations. In fact, she would check in with her from time to time, reminding her that she didn’t have to stay living as a girl if she didn’t want to. The child never wavered, but remained steadfast, seeming to have identified her authentic gender very early on. Once she knew it, she knew it. She never received external pressure to transition either—actually preferring never to reveal she was trans to her peers at school. Everyone assumed she was a cisgender girl, and that’s the way she wanted it.
Some believe that children would never seek to transition in the absence of cultural pressure. This is not true, as the above case demonstrates. I’ve had a number of therapy clients who expressed their own authentic gender in their families during early childhood—decades ago when transgender realities were still wholly taboo. They likely would have transitioned as children had it not been for the intense cultural pressure not to, and if not for the beatings and emotional abuse they received from their parents in response to their gender expressions.
Some children know they are trans at a very early age, while many children experiment and play with gender for a time before determining they are actually cis. But by the time they reach puberty, most kids who have identified themselves as trans are quite sure about it. They are typically provided with a year or two on puberty blockers around age 13 or 14 to give them even more time to be very secure in their decision before initiating hormone therapy. The rates of detransition are quite low for transitions begun as an adolescent as well as those begun as an adult—less than 5%. They are low, but they do happen.
The risk of transition regret and detransitioning are always present in any decision to transition gender, and they are an integral part of the gender counseling and informed consent process. There is legitimate concern that teenagers may be subject to peer pressure or just the desire to distinguish themselves in some way through transition (although the considerable pressure not to transition remains much stronger in our culture than any encouragement to do so). Another concern is that they may not receive adequate support in considering the possible risks as well as benefits of the decision. It’s important to set our youths up for success, as much as we’re able. But again, the rates of transition regret are not any higher for transitions begun as adolescents. It would not be right to withhold medical care to more than 95% of trans teenagers whose lives it will greatly improve—and the effects of which cannot be achieved if delayed until the age of 18—because fewer than 5% will regret their decision. As support systems and gender counseling approaches for trans-questioning youth and adults are better developed in years to come, hopefully the percentage of people who transition and later discover it was the wrong decision for them can be brought ever closer to zero.
Understanding Transgender Realities
But how to make sense of all this? Many people have a very difficult time wrapping their heads around the entire concept of gender transition—it’s so foreign to their own experience. They can’t imagine wanting to do such a thing, what it would be like to be trans, or how it could even be possible to experience gender out of alignment with one’s sex.
Others still can’t get past the idea that gender and sex are different things—or that gender carries the sense of who one actually is in their authentic self, whereas sex is the result of how the body has developed in response to hormonal signals. I hear continual jokes these days about how delusional the Left is in believing that men can get pregnant. When I hear these kinds of jokes, I’m often confused. Does the jokester actually think the Left believes cis men can get pregnant? Does he not realize that some trans men are able to get pregnant and carry a child to term? Or is the joke actually about how delusional it is supposed to be to consider a trans man a man?
This seems to be one of the main sticking points for many with trans-rejecting views. Some people find it deeply upsetting to consider trans men as men, and trans women as women. From my point of view, this problem is easily solved by incorporating the term cis or cisgender into one’s vocabulary. There are men—and most men are cis, while some are trans. And there are women—and most women are cis, while some are trans. But I have also encountered a deep hostility and resentment at even using the word cisgender. For those who are stuck on this man/woman issue, it is very important to them that the word “man” be used only to refer to cisgender men, and “woman” only be used to refer to cisgender women. The term cisgender is not supposed to be needed because it is imperative to regard trans men as women and trans women as men. I suppose if that were the case, we wouldn’t need the word trans or transgender either.
I’ve spoken to Protestant Christians who insist that Catholics and Mormons are not Christians. When I’ve replied that they are Christians, just different kinds of Christians, they’ve replied, “No, they’re Catholics and Mormons, and I’m a Christian!” Other Protestants happily agree that all of these are Christians. In Judaism, some Jews believe you can only be Jewish if you’re born to a Jewish mother. Other Jews don’t believe this at all and happily welcome converts to the religion, along with those born to a Jewish father or adopted into a Jewish family. This debate about who gets to be called a woman is precisely parallel to these religious disputes, and indeed strikes me as ultimately religious in nature. As with other religious disputes, the best solution is to let religions define themselves and their membership, and to splinter off into smaller denominations as needed.
Another reason some women give to explain their anger at the word cisgender is the belief that use of this word means they will have to identify as a cisgender woman instead of just as a woman. Ironically, this is precisely the same way many trans women feel. They do not identify their gender as trans, or as trans woman, but as woman. Trans and cis just refer to different types of women, in the same way we may speak of straight women, gay women, or bi women. Recognizing gay women as women—even though they have the masculine characteristic of being attracted to women instead of men—does not erase the womanhood of straight women. Nor does it mean that straight women are required to identify as straight women instead of just as women. Words like cis, trans, straight, gay, and bi are only necessary when specifically addressing the characteristics they apply to. Otherwise, they are not needed. Some trans women do prefer to identify their gender as trans woman, or trans feminine, or something similar. Some cis women prefer to identify their gender as cis woman. It is their right to do so, of course, and in no way does this prevent other women of all kinds from simply identifying as women.
But what is a woman? What is a man? The answer from the trans-rejecting view is that men and women are people with biologically male and biologically female bodies. It is implied by this view that either gender doesn’t exist, or it’s impossible for gender to be out of alignment with one’s sex, or that even if gender exists, it cannot be regarded as the determining factor in one’s manhood or womanhood. Only the body’s biology is permitted to determine this. This view can be termed biological essentialism.
Why should that be so? Why is the biology of the body the most important thing? It’s not clear what that even means. Does it refer to the genitalia? Does it refer to the chromosomes? To the body’s hormone levels? To the reproductive organs? When we walk through the world, we encounter all kinds of people. Our minds have a concept of a man and a woman, and it identifies the people as they pass: There’s a man, there’s a woman. This determination is never made according to the person’s chromosomes, genitalia, hormone levels, or reproductive organs. We don’t see any of those things. We register someone’s frame, the shape of their face, the sound of their voice, the way they walk and carry themselves, and the hair patterns on their bodies.
Sometimes we see someone and we don’t know if they are a man or a woman. Maybe they’re nonbinary. But in the world of biological essentialism, there are no nonbinary people, just men and women who are pretending to be nonbinary. Maybe we see someone we think is trans. We might think “Is that person trans?” Sometimes we’re not sure. After paying closer attention, we may arrive at a conclusion one way or the other. But we could be wrong. It’s also the case that we will see a trans man or a trans woman without knowing they are trans. Our minds will decide, “That’s a man,” and “That’s a woman.” It’s possible to know someone for years and never have any idea they are trans, with both trans men and women.
Any of us may know someone right now that we’ve known for years, or someone we’ve known for days or months, and have no idea they are trans. This happens all the time. Many with trans-rejecting views have welcomed trans men into men’s spaces or trans women into women’s spaces without knowing they have done so, and without a second thought. They have related to these people as men and as women, have valued their membership in the space, and have encountered no issues or problems with this. To me, this suggests that much of the actual source of discomfort experienced regarding trans people is merely cosmetic and skin deep. Trans people who don’t “pass” as cis are treated differently and with prejudice, while trans people who do pass as cis (and whose history is not known by others) are treated like everyone else. The others can’t tell the difference between them and cis people.
People with trans-rejecting views tend to be incredulous that this could be the case. And yet many of them are also worried that they could have sex with someone without knowing they’re trans, and that this would be a terrible thing. Some of them even insist that if a trans person makes love with them without revealing they’re trans first, this should be considered rape. But this belies the belief that they could never take a trans person for a cis person—would always know who is a woman or a man—according to their definition of what those words mean.
I wonder what the sense of threat is here. For instance, I’m imagining someone who is deeply anti-Semitic who meets a woman and sleeps with her. Later on, she happens to mention she is Jewish. Now he is deeply horrified and disgusted. Why? If he couldn’t tell the difference between a Jew and a Gentile in the first place, maybe it indicates the disgust he feels toward Jews is a projection of his own mind and has nothing to do with Jewish people themselves.
The scene unfolds:
“I was just kidding about what I said before,” says the woman. “I’m not actually Jewish. I’m trans.”
“You don’t say…” replies the man, processing the new information. “Well, that’s okay with me. Actually, it’s a huge relief—I was worried I might have knocked you up!”
Or maybe it turns out he’s even more deeply horrified and disgusted by trans people than by Jewish people. But if he couldn’t tell the difference between a trans and a cis woman either, maybe that disgust is also ultimately based on his own mental projection and prejudice. Or maybe he has the ideology that trans women are actually men, which means he just slept with a man, which means he’s at least a little gay, and he’s even more disgusted by gay people than by trans people. But now he’s disgusted with himself because it turns out he’s gay—at least he thinks he is, because of his ideology. Or is it possible that the disgust he feels is a covering emotion, protecting his belief system that says trans and cis women are fundamentally different from each other? Perhaps the direct experience of discovering they are not is the real source of horror and disgust here.
Returning now to the question of who is a man and who is a woman, according to biological essentialists, it can’t be the genitalia, because a trans woman may have a vulva and vagina, and we know we need to leave her out. It can’t be the reproductive organs—does a cis woman cease to be a woman after having a hysterectomy? It can’t be the hormone levels—those change with menopause, and then change again if hormone replacement therapy is introduced—just as trans women change their hormone levels with hormone therapy. So it must be chromosomes, right? But chromosomes were never even discovered until the 1880s, and the concepts of man and woman have been around for uncounted thousands of years. If chromosomes were the determining factor of who is a man or woman, how could people have known what men and women were when they didn’t even know chromosomes existed?
Most of us have never seen our own chromosomes, or anybody’s chromosomes. We infer what our chromosomes are based on our experience of maleness or femaleness in the body, and based on what someone has told us chromosomes are. When chromosomes were first discovered, it was only by correlating their X and Y shapes with preexisting knowledge of sex that the relationship could be determined. And even this does not tell the whole story. Intersex people develop sexually in unusual ways, with a mixture of typically male and typically female sexual organs and secondary sex characteristics in various combinations, regardless of XX or XY karyotypes, or other unusual karyotypes such as XXX, XXY, and XXYY, which intersex people also sometimes have.
In ‘70s and ‘80s, it was common to perform gender reassignment surgeries on intersex infants, usually assigning them as female because feminizing genital surgery was easier to do and produced better results than masculinizing genital surgeries. This would sometimes lead to problems in adulthood for those intersex people whose gender turned out not to be female and would have felt greater alignment either through masculinization or no intervention at all. It also went in the other direction.
An intersex friend of mine explained to me how she had been assigned male as a child by her family and medical providers, and had been convinced to take testosterone therapy to masculinize her body during puberty. Once she found the space to extricate herself from others’ projections, she determined that her gender was actually female and went through medical transition accordingly, but felt grief at having been through the masculinization process and the permanent changes this had rendered in her body. Today, the process of external gender assignment in intersex people has been abandoned in recognition of these past mistakes. An intersex person is instead offered the same opportunity as a trans person—to be their own authority on their gender and to engage in medical transition as an adolescent or adult in alignment with this if desired—or to choose no medical transition at all, whether the person’s gender is male, female, or something else.
It’s been my experience that most people have never given thought to the reality of intersex people. Whether an intersex person appears trans or cis in appearance to others, nothing about their appearance indicates they are intersex, so their existence is largely invisible in the cultural consciousness. But I believe even people with trans-rejecting views will be able to read the paragraphs above and recognize the wisdom in the current practice of allowing intersex people to declare their own gender and select for themselves whether to pursue medical transition treatments.
Applying this understanding of an intersex person’s experience is a useful way to understand transgender realities if one is struggling to comprehend them. A trans person can also be understood as intersex, or intergender. Whereas intersex people have a mixture of masculine and feminine characteristics in the body, trans people also have a mixture of masculine and feminine (or nonbinary) characteristics. But for trans people, the body is either masculine or feminine, and the mixture occurs relative to this in the heart, mind, and soul.
In our culture of aggressively materialist worldviews, it is difficult for many to recognize the realities of the heart and the soul, or that the mind itself can have masculine or feminine characteristics at all. Understanding gender is to understand that its expression in human beings is located in the heart, mind, and soul. People with a spiritual consciousness can understand this, but sometimes their skepticism regarding trans realities can be captured in phrases such as, “I don’t believe God makes mistakes.”
It is not necessary or accurate to view trans people as God’s mistakes. If a trans person were understood as a mistake by God, then why wouldn’t an intersex person also be one of God’s mistakes? What about a person born with a harelip? If God does not make mistakes, then infants born with physical abnormalities are not mistakes, and neither are trans people. Should people with harelips be denied plastic surgery treatments lest we implicate God in having made a mistake in the formation of their mouths? If not, it stands to reason that affirming trans people in the reality of their genders, and in offering medical transition treatments, does not implicate God as having been mistaken either.
Other spiritual people have adopted trans-rejecting views by conflating transgender people with transhumansim. This is the ideology of biodigital convergence favored by wealthy technocrats with ambitions of integrating artificial intelligence and genetic modification into the human form, changing humans into a new species. Although trans people often undergo bodily modification as part of gender transition, all surgeries are a form of bodily modification, as are common practices like receiving tattoos or piercings. Transhumansim is about abandoning one’s humanity in order to merge with machines in pursuit of immortality and power. It has no relationship to gender transition, and the two should not be confused. Medical transition is undergone by trans people in order to feel more at home and aligned in their humanity, not to leave it behind.
A Metaphor for Understanding Spirituality
In my view, the best way to understand gender is by recognizing it as a spiritual quality, which is experienced through the implicit or intuitive sense. This represents a barrier to some people who have no sense of the spiritual, just as they may have no sense of gender as anything more than a linguistic, political, or social construct. Others do have an experience of the spiritual, but have an aversion to that particular word, and refer to it by other terms. But many of those who have not experienced gender or spirituality assume that others must not actually experience them either, regardless of reports to the contrary. Some of them even accuse those who report experiencing gender or spirituality of gaslighting them.
This is a misunderstanding and inversion of gaslighting. The way gaslighting works is like this: “You don’t know who you are, how you are, or what you experience. I know who you are, how you are, and what you experience—and I have the right to define you accordingly, regardless of what you say.” If Mary tells Beth, “I experience gender and spirituality,” Mary is not gaslighting Beth, because she’s reporting her own experience. If Mary tells Beth, “I am a woman,” she is not gaslighting Beth—even if Beth doesn’t believe Mary is a woman—because Mary is reporting her own experience. If Beth says to Mary, “You’re not a woman, you’re a man,” then Beth is gaslighting Mary, because Beth is telling Mary who she is, how she is, and what she’s like.
On the other hand, if Beth says to Mary, “I don’t believe you are a woman,” she is not gaslighting Mary. Beth is now reporting her own experience to Mary. She is not gaslighting her, and she is telling her the truth, but if she does not hold open the possibility that Mary experiences something true that Beth may not understand, she is not treating Mary with respect.
The reason for this is found in the implications of Beth’s statement. If Mary says she is a woman, but Beth does not believe her, there are three possibilities from Beth’s perspective:
1. Mary is lying to Beth.
2. Mary is delusional.
3. Mary has been deceived, is confused, or is otherwise weak-minded regarding her own experience.
It is disrespectful to believe any of these things about another person without sufficient evidence and good reason for doing so, such as evidence that Mary lies about other things, is delusional about other things, or has demonstrated gullibility and weak-mindedness in other areas. The respectful response from Beth would be along the lines of, “I’m not understanding what you mean when you say you’re a woman, but I’d like to understand it and I’m open to trying.”
If Mary were to explain her experience of gender to Beth, I believe the metaphor of color would be a useful one. Experiencing gender or spirituality can be compared to being able to see a certain kind of color. If someone has never had the experience of seeing a particular color, such as green, that person will not be able to conceive of what green actually is for those who do see it. If that person was later able to see the color green, they would know what green was like and be able to see the difference in not having seen that color previously, and what it is like to be able to see it. I’ll share from my personal experience in order to demonstrate.
I’ve had many experiences in life of not having understood something, unable to conceive of it, only to come to experience and understand it later. In other words, "colors" exist that I have never seen before, and there are other "colors" I now see that I previously could not see—and had no understanding of until I could. As a result, when someone tells me about a personal experience—whether sensory, mental, emotional, or spiritual—that I have never experienced personally, I always consider the possibility that this may amount to a color I have not yet seen, rather than that the person is lying to me or is delusional, or has gaslighted themselves.
It is my belief that gender is itself a spiritual property, much like divinity. I was an Atheist from early childhood until the age of 19, and then an agnostic for 8 years after that. Then I had my first experience of divinity but sometimes doubted it, alternately occupying a place between belief and agnosticism for another 12 years before finally reaching the place where I experienced God in a way that removed all doubt. As a result, I have an awareness of what it is like to see these colors of belief. I remember what it was like to have been unable to see them, and what it was like for the colors to show up gradually until fully arriving. Having now seen these colors, I cannot unsee them. They are there for me. And yet, it is impossible to describe these colors to someone who has never seen them, despite my best efforts. What words could one use to describe the color green to someone who has never seen it and cannot see it? However descriptive those words were, they would not be able to deliver the experience of seeing green.
When I consider the experiences of those who do not believe in God or do not have awareness of spirituality, I consider the possibility that they may not have had the colors come in for them yet, as was once the case for me. I also consider the possibility that although we interact in a shared reality, they may be grounded in a different reality than I am—one that I can't understand—in which there is no spirituality and no God, but we are still able to interact across the bridge.
Or, to put it another way, although I have an experience of God, I do not have an experience of the Christian version of God. Yet I am aware that many have had conversion experiences in which they come to see the truth of Jesus Christ as God, and for them, this represents a color they were not able to see before, but now they can. They may regard others who have not had this experience, such as myself, as not yet being able to see these colors. Others have different conversion experiences and see the colors of the Islamic God, but do not see the colors of the Christian God as Christians see it.
From my perspective, I have a view of God that incorporates both the Christian and Islamic God, and more, leaving out only the part about how one version of understanding God is true and others are false. But I also hold open the possibility that I could be mistaken in this, and that if I were able to see colors that I cannot yet see, I would come to see Jesus Christ or Allah as God in such a way that other divinities would been seen as false to me, with the benefit of the new colors available to my consciousness.
Even the possibility that new colors will come in that will bring me back to Atheism is something I hold open, though I have no idea how that could be possible. If that happens, it will not be the same Atheism I previously had. That one was based on seeing far fewer colors than I can now. It would have to be an Atheism that incorporates the colors of a simple Atheism, as well as the colors of spirituality, and some new set of colors that somehow reveal spirituality and God as illusions.
I have seen many members of different religions adopt a very rigid and self-righteous view regarding those who experience or believe differently than they do regarding spiritual matters and God. They are not able to hold the possibility that others in their different religions (or absence of religion) may actually be having an authentic experience of something true that they themselves have not experienced. Conflict, suspicion, prejudice, and even persecutions and religious wars are often the tragic results.
Likewise, when I was an Atheist, I believed I had seen colors that spiritual people had not yet seen. After new colors came into my awareness, my consciousness changed, and I saw that it was I who had been blind to certain colors I could now see clearly. As an Atheist, my beliefs about what was true for everyone were rigid. I even thought that spirituality could not be understood other than as a delusion, a mistake of misplaced trust, or as an outright lie.
This is the very same attitude I have been seeing a lot of among trans-rejecting people. The experiences trans folk have of their own gender are discounted arrogantly—along with those of cis folk who also experience gender and can see it in trans folk too. The attitude is expressed in statements about how trans people are denying biological reality, or just reality altogether—or how they are victims of ideology which they use in turn to victimize others in their attempts to perpetuate it—or how trans women are actually predatory men attempting to colonize women’s bodies.
My experience of coming to see the colors of spirituality and God has been parallel to my experience of coming to see the colors of gender. I was once a gender atheist in the same way I was a spiritual Atheist. In fact, the two understandings arrived to me in tandem. Seeing the colors of one helped me see the colors of the other, along with related colors such as recognition of the soul as a tangible reality. My understanding of gender as a spiritual quality is rooted in this experience.
As with Atheism, I hold open the possibility that new colors will arrive for me that bring me back to a position of gender atheism as well. But likewise, if that happens, it will not be the same gender atheism I used to have - it will be an understanding of gender that incorporates the colors of my old gender atheism, as well as the colors I became able to see regarding the spiritual essence of gender, and new colors past these that transcend and eclipse everything I've come to see. I don't believe this will happen with God, spirituality, or gender, but I've been surprised before. As a result, I am always wanting to understand other people's different experiences of spirituality, Atheism, God, and gender—and to approach these seeking for hints that there may be colors there I have been missing so far.
In fact, in my experience of gaining access to new colors in my consciousness and awareness, the ability to see the new colors was in each case preceded by the identification that others were seeing a color I couldn't see. The progression I’ve experienced looks like this:
1. The colors I see are the only colors that exist. Others who claim to see different colors are lying, deluded, or deceived.
2. There are colors that exist that I can't see. What could that mean?
3. Perhaps some of the people who claim to see colors I don't see are actually seeing colors I can't see.
4. I'm certain people seeing colors I don't see are actually seeing colors I can't. But I don't know quite what to make of those colors, because I've never seen them.
5. Maybe it could be possible for me to see those colors too, if I really open up to it and believe it's possible.
6. Oh wow, look at these new colors!
I hold at position 3 regarding all unseen colors now, having experienced fundamental shifts in consciousness due to new colors coming in in the past, and the hope and expectation that more colors I've never seen will arrive for me in the future, bringing me through steps 4-6 again.
Gender as Divine
Clues that may unlock the experience of seeing the colors of gender may be found in reflecting on one’s experience of intuitive sensing. Intuition can be described as coming to the knowledge of something through a process other than thought. It may then be translated into thought by the mind, and can also be accompanied by an emotional sensation. Typically this emotional sensation will represent an inflection of the emotion of awe, or else the subtle experience of awe along with another subtle accompanying emotional or bodily state. It’s possible that in the absence of descriptive analytical thoughts, the intuitive experience may be best represented by an archetypal or artistic image.
The subtle emotions and intuitive sensing of the masculine and feminine are in some ways indescribable, because the best words that can be used to describe them are the words masculine and feminine. When something makes me sad, trying to describe what sad is like can’t be done directly other than with the word sad, or a synonym to it. I might describe the sinking of the heart or the tightening of the throat, or the thoughts that accompany sadness. But I know from my work as a therapist assisting people to encounter and describe their emotions that different people experience emotions in varying ways in the body, and with different thoughts. Yet we can recognize sadness in another’s eyes and face, and we are generally moved to sadness by similar kinds of things. When we speak of sadness to each other, we are usually certain we’re speaking of the same thing.
My intuitive experience of the masculine in the body might be described by way of a subtle sense of lifting, along with a sense of narrowing, and the sense of forward movement or stillness. Images and archetypes that might fit with this are a straight line, an arrow or spear, directness, finitude, solidity, and cornered or angled shapes, such as a cube, square, or triangle. My intuitive experience of the feminine might be described by way of a subtle sense of holding, settling, undulation, swaying, unfolding, and softening or glow. Images and archetypes that might fit with these are a circle, space, a covering, indirectness, a bowl or vessel, a rose, a net or string, and the infinite.
The masculine and feminine are found within all things, actions, and beings, but in different concentrations and frequencies. Each contains the other within it. Men contain feminine energies and women contain masculine energies. Gender is the intuitive sense of the masculinity or femininity of the container the energies emanate from, which in my spiritual perception can be understood as the soul. The gender of the container may or may not correspond to the concentrations of gendered energies that move through the container.
Either way, the sense of the gendered self is found in the container, not the energies moving through it. Some men are very feminine in energy but still men, and some women are very masculine in energy but still women. In sensing the masculinity or femininity of the container or soul the energies move through, gender is identified through a sense of resonance or discordance—a rightness or wrongness in regards to these. The stronger the sense of resonance or discordance, the stronger the sense of gender.
As explained previously, it is not the case that all trans people experience gender as a spiritual quality. Some indeed view it as a social construction, but still follow an internal process of honing into the resonance or discordance in the gender that they are—as compared to externally derived projections onto them of their gender. The need to be treated by others as the gender they are is socio-psychological in nature. As human beings, we require mirroring from others of who we are, how we feel, and what we’re like in order to feel socially attached and psychologically whole. The absence of accurate mirroring is enormously destructive to the psyche. Adopting gender expressions that match their authentic gender serves to facilitate accurate mirroring, but also satisfies the internal resonance of this authentic gender through authentic manner and action. Hormone therapy and surgeries also facilitate mirroring, but are more important in the increased resonance they bring between the gender and body, experienced deeply on an internal or spiritual level.
As with all things, the gender of the container or soul varies from person to person in terms of gender frequency or mixture. Some may find that their gendered container is equally mixed between masculine or feminine, or balanced closely with fluctuations. This may point to identification with a genderfluid or nonbinary gender, and the calling to transition accordingly to achieve internal resonance. Others who have no internal experience of gender may find resonance with an agender identity, though they may also prefer nonbinary as the term for this. Many cisgender people also do not experience gender or else feel balanced between masculine and feminine in their soul or sense of self, but find that this does not yield significant discordance relative to their body or the mirroring they receive. Thus, they experience no calling or need to transition. Other cisgender people do experience a strong sense of their gender, and find that it matches well with their body and the way others mirror them, producing a strong gender resonance throughout the lifespan.
The attempt to put the intuitive, spiritual, or numinous experience of gender into words is necessarily vague, symbolic, and relational. It will not be satisfying to the analytical mind, but will be satisfying to the intuitive felt sense. Likewise, to the analytical mind, the importance of gender will not be apparent. But to the intuitive felt sense, the importance of gender in its resonance or discord is loud and clear as a bell. It is understood that the energies of gender are life transformative in their resonance, and life crippling in their discord. This is the same understanding that is attained through the spiritual sense regarding the importance of the divine and resonance with the divine as life-opening, transformative, and essential. Spiritual qualities such as love, trust, truth, and beauty are of a similar quality in their vital and essential nature to the nurturance of Life.
The other best way I have of trying to communicate the spiritual quality of gender is by reference to plant medicine. Most people attuned to gender and spirituality have the distinct sense of tobacco and the cactus medicines of San Pedro and peyote as masculine in nature. But I’ve never known anyone who has sat with ayahuasca that did not experience the medicine as female, or who did not have a sense of encountering and interacting with Mother Ayahuasca through the experience. Though she can channel both masculine and feminine energies through her as can any woman or goddess (or any man or god), she is eminently and undeniably female in gender. She is female although she does not have a body or XX chromosomes. She does not have ovaries, a uterus, or vagina, but she has a womb. She does not have the social and lived experience of suffering under patriarchal sexual or gender oppression, but she is intimately familiar with all such experiences and every other experience of suffering.
Mother Ayahuasca does not have any of the characteristics viewed as necessary for womanhood according to trans-exclusionary ideologies. And it’s true that she is not a woman, but this is because she is much more than a woman, she is a goddess—or perhaps more accurately, The Goddess. And that, perhaps, is the clue that leads to the full understanding of the spirituality and importance of gender. In our gender, we encounter our divine nature—the God or the Goddess within—which is our true nature, and the portal by which we are able to integrate as fully incarnated spiritual beings. Beyond this lies the universal consciousness of no-self, Source, or God (understood in the universal sense that transcends gender, not the masculine counterpart to the Goddess), the place of unity that is home to all beings. Trans people may be seen as walking a sacred path through the sacred mysteries of gender and spirit, toward the unveiling of their divine nature. So may all whose spiritual paths are guided by the callings of the Divine Masculine and Feminine, through gender to union with the God or Goddess.
Gender in a Free Society
The section above represents my accounting of gender as experienced spiritually. This will not be everyone’s experience of gender or spirituality, nor does it need to be. In our spiritual lives, we each walk our own path, which may resonate with others or not. For those of us who have come to experience spirituality as the essence of Life itself, nothing is more important or more pertinent. As such, respect and reverence for the spiritual path one walks and for the paths walked by others is paramount. From this point of view, even those who walk their paths with denial of or disdain for spirituality are themselves walking spiritual paths to be honored and held in reverence (though I would refrain from using the word spiritual in respect for their own rejection of that term).
For me, honoring human life through this approach is of utmost importance according to my values, but also represents my recommendation for a guiding value by which to build a harmonious society. I offered a version of this perspective in my article from last year Toward a New Religion. In that article, I presented the societal disputes regarding covid, masks, vaccines, and “The Science” in terms of differing religions. When viewed that way—and in upholding the value of religious freedom—lockdowns, mask mandates, and vax mandates can be seen as assaults on our freedoms of religion and conscience, as well as deep and egregious violations of our humanity and sacred nature.
I advocate for gender to be approached in the same way. No one should be forced to see gender in a way they do not see it, to speak or be prohibited from speaking, or to live according to the gender projected onto them by anyone else. Affinity groups can be organized with freedom to discriminate privately. But as with covid, public or institutional discrimination must not be permitted. These are the hallmarks of a free society.
The trans-rejecting are free to say things like “trans women aren’t women” if they wish to, but they ought not be surprised or incensed if others find this boorish and disrespectful. They may privately gather in exclusion of trans women, but they ought not be shocked or incensed to find that large numbers of cis women prefer to gather as women with trans women included. Public accommodations based on gender will need to be inclusive of differing understandings of gender. They cannot function in a free society according to the exclusive views of gender held by some. In a free and beloved society, the sovereignty and freedom of every member is held sacred, with enforcement of boundaries limited to those actions that violate the sovereignty and freedom of others.
There is a danger in failing to recognize one’s own beliefs as essentially religious or spiritual in nature, or to insist that one’s beliefs are simply the “reality” that is also true for everyone else. This is the mistake made by those espousing the discriminatory, segregationist and authoritarian policies of the prevailing covid regime. This is the mistake made by those caught up in Wokeism and its doctrines. This is the mistake made by those who claim their beliefs are synonymous with “The Science” and that those holding other beliefs may therefore be censored and persecuted. And this is the mistake made by those who assume they have the ability to declare the true gender of others as a matter of objective reality, and publicly exclude and segregate those people accordingly.
In a free society, people are free to make these mistakes as a matter of conscience, but I would advise against it. This leads to suffering and discord, and is out of alignment with the truth—that none of us have personal access to an objective reality we can declare true for everyone. We can never be sure that we have access to all the colors that can be seen. In fact, if we can be sure of anything, it is that untold colors exist we have yet to see. So let us hold each other with reverence. Let us hold our beliefs lightly and look to each other as teachers—keepers of the colors that will enrich our lives and spirits once we learn to see them.