When most people think non-binary, they think gender. Because the LGBTQ+ community (of which I am a proud member) has done a wonderful job of promoting gender awareness. The community has spread awareness that there are more genders than just male and female – there’s a difference between biological sex and gender, which is, of course, a social construct.
And I’ve been thinking a lot about non-binary gender identity because I realized a few days ago that I don’t really have a gender identity. Yes, I was born female – biologically, that’s my sex. But I don’t identify as a woman insomuch as society tells me I am one because there’s still this confusion between sex and gender. I also don’t identify as a male, nor do I identify as trans… it took me awhile to realize that my gender identity is agender – I don’t identify with any gender at all.
To be fair, the last time I was proactively engaged in the LGBTQ+ community was in high school – over ten years ago – and after I graduated high school, I got too busy with work, figuring out my religion, and relationship dramas to really engage in the community. I was too busy with life to worry or care about what my sexuality or gender identities might be.
I mean, yes, in high school, I came out as bisexual. But I did that almost by accident. I wrote a letter to a friend asking her what she thought about homosexuality and got back a four page response accusing me of being a lesbian and telling me that we could no longer be friends because I was going to go to hell for being a terrible sinner. I was shocked at the reaction a simple question had provoked, but I let her spread the rumor that I was a lesbian without disputing it unless someone asked (upon which I said I was bisexual). I honestly didn’t care what people thought about my sexuality. I never have. My sexuality isn’t anyone’s business but mine, yet it caused my high school to react with a high dramatic flair. I had two girls follow me around my freshman year, taunting me about how I was going to hell, only to have those self-same girls come up to me my senior year and ask me what it was like to be with a girl. People are fickle. That’s what I learned.
Prior to this year of university, my engagement with the LGBTQ+ community was via friends I had who were also part of the community, talking to people online, and reading news stories. That was all the exposure I had. Until this year, I didn’t realize how large the local LGBTQ+ community really is, and I had very little experience with non-binary gender identities. I knew I’d never have a problem with transgender – that was the only one I’d even heard of before – because I can easily understand why someone born as one sex can feel like the opposite gender than the gender they were assigned at birth. That never confused me. I’ve never felt uncomfortable being in the body of a woman, but I’ve never really felt like a woman. It just happens to be the sex I was born as.
I’d never heard of gender neutral pronouns until about a year ago when I first met someone who used the they/them/their pronouns. It was a little weird to get used to using the pronouns as singular rather than plural – especially as a writer – but I’ve always been an advocate of supporting the way that others identify themselves. Now, if I know someone who uses gender neutral pronouns and a friend slips up when talking about said person, I immediately correct my friend. I understand the disconnect from the binary.
And, for the first time since high school, I took the exploration of my own sexual and gender orientation off the back-burner and really started considering it. I figured out pretty quickly that I wasn’t bisexual, I was pansexual. There’s not a single gender that I’m averse to – a person is much more than their gender. In some ways, that makes me gender blind, but in others… I understand that gender is a very important part of who they are, and I’d never downplay someone else’s gender identification.
But figuring out my own gender – that was more difficult. I already knew that gender was a social construct. I’ve taken enough psychology courses to know that. When it came to figuring out my gender, however, I just shrugged it off. I didn’t know there were more genders to choose from than just male, female, and transgender. I thought those were the only three. I’ve since done a lot more research – I’m pretty quick to correct gaps in my knowledge when I feel the need – and I realized pretty quickly that I identify most strongly with the agender identification. I still use feminine pronouns because I genuinely don’t care how others view my gender. I don’t identify as any gender, so why would I care? Others who identify as agender may care – that’s fine. I don’t, and I can only speak for myself.
Now, you may be wondering what all of this has to do with Loki, but honestly, it should be fairly obvious. Loki is, perhaps, the most gender fluid of all the Norse deities. Loki shows up as female, as male, and anything/everything in-between. He also takes on animal forms. He has no qualms showing up in whatever form suits him.
On top of that, he is also the deity who pushes the hardest for those who honor him to embrace every aspect of themselves. No matter how hard it is, Loki says “Face yourself. Figure out who you are. Embrace yourself.” There’s a reason Loki is often the patron of those within the LGBTQ+ community. Of all the deities in the Norse pantheon, he may be the least non-judgmental.
In the Heathen community as a whole, being part of it while also being queer? That’s not an easy thing to do, especially when there’s tons of essays and books written about proper feminine and masculine roles within old Norse societies. If I have one major complaint about the behaviors of those in the Heathen community, then it’s directed at those who insist that traditional roles need to be upheld because Heathenry is a “family-oriented faith.” But you know something? When you identify a family unit as headed by a husband-wife couple, you are perpetuating a binary. You are saying the world is black and white -you are creating a world where family can’t be two women at the helm, two men at the helm, two trans at the helm, etc… you are invalidating a ton of diverse family units, and for what?
For some distorted notion of what family should be?
But when you do that, when you insist on a single type of family unit, you’re doing the same thing that monotheists do when they insist on a single type of deity. We’re polytheists. We honor many deities. We shift perspectives on a daily basis because we have to. So why do I see so many polytheists stuck in this binary of what a family can and can’t be? Of what gender is and isn’t? Of whether Loki deserves to be honored or not? Why can’t we just make room for it all?
After all – that’s what polytheists of old did. They made room. They included. So stop dividing, stop creating lines to create divisions just for the sake of having sides to stand on. And start paying attention to the humanity of the person standing next to you.Try appreciating the things that make you different rather than dismissing them.
If you don’t understand why anyone would honor Loki – that’s okay. No one is asking you to honor him. All we’re asking is that you stand aside and let us honor him instead of condemning us for our spiritual practices.
Over the years, even on the outskirts of the Heathen community, I have felt a sense of exclusion. Because I don’t fit the mold. I don’t adhere to rigid reconstructionist lines. I incorporate other practices outside of Heathenry. I work with druidic and shamanic practices, too. I’m not bound by these imaginary lines that the community has drawn because community? That’s something I can create for myself.
There’s this mistaken idea in all societies that in order to be an accepted part of a community, you have to obey all the social norms. Toe the line. Do the exactly expected thing. Never step out of the box. If you do, you become outcast. And nothing’s worse than being cast out. At least, that’s what the community says.
But take some time – read the Poetic Edda. Read Odin’s words. He never says “Conform.” None of the deities ever say “Conform.” And while Loki may have done quite a few mischievous things, in general, the other gods trusted him at their side (barring the myth of Balder, which is controversial for a lot of reasons). Loki broke social norms all the time. He broke the binary. He said, “Look, there are other ways to do things than the way they have always been done.” And the other gods, when they had a problem, turned to Loki and asked, “How do we solve this?” Because they trusted him to think outside the binary. They trusted his ability to find new ways to view the world and to come up with solutions that worked, however unorthodox those solutions might be.
So, if you need a reason for why I work with Loki – that’s the best one I have to give. Loki pushes me to be a better person, to be the best version of me that I can be, and he pushes me to accept myself, no matter what truths I find. And he says it’s okay to be outside the norm, outside the binary. Loki doesn’t make me choose – none of the gods do. The only ones who keep telling me to decide between this or that, between one thing and another – the ones who keep telling me to embrace binary spectrums – are humans. The gods don’t care.
And community? Community isn’t found with just those who share your faith. That’s just another binary world, and I reject it out of hand. Because I don’t live in a binary world. To me, that’s an incredibly boring place to live. If I wanted binary, I’d have stuck with monotheism. I’d have stuck with atheism. I’d have chosen an either-or path. But that’s not what I chose. That’s not what spoke to me, not what called me home. No, polytheism spoke to me. The myriad, the plentiful – the non-binary – world of thousands upon thousands of deities. Why would I choose anything else?