I haven’t seen a lot of discussion on this topic before. All that stands out in my memory is a moment from many years ago, when a girl commented to me, in the form of a question, her dissatisfaction with the use of masculine pronouns to refer to God. I will concede that calling God a “He” may not be optimal, but at the time all I could think of to say was that it’s better than calling Him an “It”.
The cultural association of a lack of gender with a lack of sentience is an unfortunate one. In retrospect, that wasn’t a good response.
However, her question still resonates me. Why do we always refer to Her as male? God is not corporeal, so cissexist notions don’t apply, but it’s pretty easy to guess how this practice originated. My question is, is it worth continuing? Should we continue to think of Him in exclusively masculine terms?
I brought this idea up once at a Bible study group, although not in these exact words. The results were… not productive. But I’ll try to save this post from becoming a rant about my frustrations with the customs and social dynamics of Church youth groups.
One guy said that he thinks of God as a He because Jesus is a He. That’s not the worst possible reason, it makes a bit of sense, but it’s relying on inductive logic. Jesus is but one manifestation of God, and I wouldn’t consider the gender of human Jesus to be entirely representative of the gender of God because, if you think about it, having Jesus be born (as far as we know) a cisgender man is really just the most strategic option, all things considered. In terms of socioeconomic class, Jesus’ position in the social hierarchy of Ancient Israel was pretty low, but Jesus was also Jewish and a man, which afforded Him a lot more credibility and privilege in that society and a better opportunity to be heard.
In other words: if that’s how bad everything went when He took the form of a man, can you imagine what would have happened if She were a woman? Really, you could just as easily argue that a male Christ was simply a pragmatic choice. So I don’t think of our perception of Jesus’ gender is even relevant to the question.
That said, does that mean we should abandon all masculine pronouns and start referring to Him as a She all the time? I don’t think so, if only because there isn’t any more reason to do that than there is to declare Her male. Instead, looking at what She’s said about Himself, there’s another conclusion available to us. If this is the God who is the Alpha and the Omega, the A to the Z, the Beginning and the End, the First and the Last, then it only makes sense to think of God as all-encompassing. God does not belong on, and should not be limited to, a mere two-option system.
In the process of questioning my gender, I’ve come across all sorts of nifty neologisms like agender and genderqueer, and even a chart with all sorts of gender possibilities
that to my frustration I can’t seem to find now. It had these strange symbolic depictions of “between genders”, “outside the gender binary”, “encompassing”, “on top of”, and so on. [edit: I found it] If you’re anything like me, you’d initially react to these concepts by saying, “That’s ridiculous.” I still don’t all of what the image was getting at, and I was particularly perplexed by the example in the corner in which someone’s gender is described as “depending on the weather”. It made no sense at all.
As much as I’ve been instructed to be resistant to those ideas, seeing the complexity of gender presented with all these bizarre diagrams, the complete and absurd openness of it all, offered in such a way that aimed to be accommodating and flexible to the ends of the earth, was comforting, somehow, although it left me equally at a loss to understand. And perhaps that’s as it should be. Human experiences of gender are innumerable and ineffable, and that was the point. But no matter how opaque or unusual an analogy might be, any wordsmith can tell you that twisting things around in new ways can sometimes reveal more effective ways of conceptualizing reality.
So it’s from this sort of theoretical background that I take third option. Heedless of whatever you’ve got to say about it, my God is pangender. I don’t think She minds what pronouns you use to refer to Him by, but I think you’re limiting your understanding of Her just a little bit by confining Xem to just one set. Sometimes, She is “feminine”, whatever that means; sometimes, He is “masculine”, whatever that means; and the only immutable, irrefutable aspect is that Xe will be what Xe will be.
Referring to God by masculine pronouns may not be inherently sexist, but it certainly comes from sexist roots that we have the ability to disavow. So you could say that Xe is neither. You could say that She is both and more. The transcendence, omnipresence, and vastness of God is written into the Bible itself. Why shouldn’t we apply that to gender, too?