God, Non-Binary Gender, and Language

I’m a cis-gendered, heterosexual white woman.  I just thought you should know that from the top.  Except for the time in the third grade when my mother had my hair cut (without consulting me first – but that’s a whole different tangent), no one has ever questioned my gender. I look like a woman. I feel like a woman. I’m happy being a woman. That works out well for me. But this isn’t true for everyone. I don’t know what it’s like to be in the wrong body. I only know that I’m one of God’s children, and so are all the other people on earth, including trans-gendered and non-binary gendered people. And we are all made in God’s image. All of us.

How do I know we’re all made in God’s image? Well, I guess you could say it’s just my faith. My faith is firmly rooted in the Bible. And the Bible says that we’re created in God’s image.  Genesis 1:27 says:

So God created humankind in his image,
in the image of God he created them;
male and female he created them.

Male and female he created them. Male and female. In his image. All of us. OK, that’s binary – but hold on, I’m just getting started.  So God.  I know it says “his image.”  But this isn’t because God is male. This is merely a function of language.  In Hebrew (the original language) and English, for that matter, there are no gender-neutral  singular third person pronouns. (OK, there are now – Webster’s Dictionary has now said the singular “they” is acceptable – but it’s still not so in biblical Hebrew, and it wasn’t the case when most of the English translations were completed). In most languages (at least the ones of which I’m aware), the male forms are the defaults . So in a plural situation, unless the plural is exclusively feminine, the masculine plural is used, even if it includes feminine members. So what has that got to do with God? I mean, God’s singular, right? Well, mostly right. Let’s take a look at the Hebrew.

The Hebrew for God is Elohim.  Which is plural.  El is singular – but this is a reference to a god in general – any of the gods of the Ancient Near East, for example. Elohim refers to the one God of Israel. The God who created the world.  The Lord Our God.  Adonai.  God is one – yet plural.  God cannot be contained in a single gender or race.  Perhaps God must be plural to hold all of the things that God is.

In the Kabbalah, the Rabbis tell us that there are ten aspects of God. The Shekinah is considered to be the aspect of God who dwells among and within us.  Shekinah is feminine. God within us is feminine.

There are many names for God.  The Almighty. Adonai – which is Lord, and the Tetragrammaton, which is God’s actual name that we don’t say (because of the power of names). But we translate the Tetragrammaton. It’s the name God told Moses when God appeared in the burning bush.  The most common translation is “I Am Who I Am.”  But Hebrew verbs don’t have tenses.  They have relationships to action. There is completed action and incomplete action.  The form of the verb in God’s name is incomplete action.  So it could be present tense (I am) or it could be future, also.  It could be (and I confess, this is my favorite translation, the way I prefer to understand God), “I Am Becoming Who I Am Becoming.”

If God is Becoming, if God is God’s self, continually evolving, growing, then how can we possibly assign a single, unchanging attribute to God?  We are commanded, in Exodus 20:4, to make no graven images (specifically no idols) of anything in heaven.  We are to make no images of God.  Perhaps this is, in part, because we could not possibly make an image of God.  God encompasses too much. God in non-binary.

So here’s the thing.  We’re all made in God’s image.  All of us. God is male. God is female. The Shekinah resides within and among all of us, so God is in the tattooed millennial with ear expanders, and God is in Syrian refugee children, and God is in the non-binary gendered person.

If we recognize the Divine in each of us – if we recognize that God is non-binary, then we should be able to use language that appropriately addresses people who are non-binary.  Now that Webster’s has said the singular “they” is a thing, it’s not even grammatically incorrect.  If someone wishes to be called “they,” we ought to call them “they.”  It is not for one person to make judgements about another’s gender appearance or state of transition.  After all, if God is constantly growing, constantly in transition, why not us, as well?

I’m fortunate. I’m happy in the body I was born in.  I’m growing and changing and exploring in other, less visible aspects of my life.  The least I can do (and this is very little) for my friends who don’t fit into generally expected gender norms is to honor their preferences, and not to make assumptions on their behalf.

That’s my mite. That’s all I’ve got.


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