A Multi-Faith Theology On Moving Beyond Intimate Partner Violence

by J Mase III

As a Black transman, I get a lot of messages about who I am supposed to be, what I am supposed to look like and what my life should manifest as.

Sometimes I fit those ideas, but largely I don’t. 

When I found myself in a violent relationship with another trans person of color, I began to ask myself: Did I deserve this?

Of course, the short answer is no. No one deserves to be in a relationship that leads to violence. As I have been doing my own work on healing, I have been coming into a new theology about intimate partner violence that has helped me have some language to decompress my experience.

Born to parents of both Baptist and Muslim leanings, this theology is a blending of a Biblical and Koranic lens. Being Trans, this analysis will also seek a gender neutral/ encompassing view of the Creator that will be referred to by a few names within this article. If you ain’t ready for an all gender inclusive, radical understanding of the capacity of God(dess)/Allah and intimate partner violence…this may not be the best use of your time. For those of you interested in a limitless God(dess)/Allah, read on.

In all of this writing, I want to make clear that no one asks for violence to happen to them. 

It is not your fault for wanting to be loved. It is not your fault for staying. And as we know, bad things still happen to Good people. What I want to offer is a method of healing that is connected to a theological understanding that may allow a richer process for those who crave a textually based approach.

Healing is always multi-faceted. As someone to whom faith is important, being able to talk about my experience through scripture takes me to places I can’t get to in an intellectual or therapeutic discourse alone. As trans/queer folks, this can be particularly complicated. This is in no way a complete guide to surviving intimate partner violence through the text, but can be seen as a starter kit that has the capacity to grow and shift.

I thought I prayed for it.

When I prayed to God(dess)/Allah about the type of relationship I wanted to be in, I asked Them for someone attentive, who wanted to hear my voice everyday and never made me wonder if they were interested. What I got was someone who was interested to the point of obsessive and controlling (and later violent) behavior. I didn’t recognize this at first, and by the time it got abusive I was already so emotionally invested in this person that it was harder to leave (because I thought I asked for it).

Didn’t God(dess)/Allah answer my prayers by sending me this person? Perhaps I needed to learn to compromise more? Maybe my perfect person had some things to sort through that I should stick by him for?

These were questions I asked myself all the time, even when it felt dangerous to be around my partner. These were thoughts further imprinted on me by community members that continually dismissed my requests for support, or ignored what they thought was just everyday conflict that I needed to “get over.”

Over the last few weeks I have been meditating on a few scripture stories that have me rethinking the ways I talk to God(dess)/Allah and the ways I found myself in a cycle of blaming myself about getting what I asked for. What follows are the stories I began seeing from a perspective that has started to bring me closer to my own healing.

On Adam, Companionship & Growth

The first story that furthers my understanding of moving beyond intimate partner violence in the text is the story of Creation, specifically, as it centers around Adam. The Koran and Bible have some varying accounts of Adam when it comes to his time pre-Hawwa/Eve. In the Biblical book of Genesis, Adam is given the role by God(dess), of naming all the animals. In the Koran, Adam is given the names of all the animals directly by Allah, even before the Angels are allowed to know them.

In both these stories, after God(dess)/Allah and Adam go through the names of the animals together, it is clear there is no suitable mate for Adam already in existence. What does this mean?

For me, I wonder, if God(dess)/Allah was already aware that there was not already a suitable mate for Adam before going through all the animals. There are places in the text in which God’s knowledge increases. Is it possible that God is All-Knowing AND still makes space for humility and growth?

There is a possibility that God(dess)/Allah did not in fact know that there was no mate for Adam already created on Earth until They went through the animals together. This brings on all kinds of possibilities.

God(dess)/Allah as a Master Puzzle Maker

We, as humans, are inquisitive and curious by design. We get bored easily and have a desire to create all sortsa things. If we are made in the image of God(dess)/Allah, is it not possible that rather than creating us as static pieces, that They created us as puzzles to be figured out? Cannot the All Powerful, All Knowing Creator not also be on a search to know more? For example, think of a Rubix cube. Right now today, I do not have the capacity to solve a Rubix cube. And yet, a Rubix cube cannot write an article or do my taxes. So, clearly, I am far smarter than a Rubix Cube, yet one could keep me busy for months trying to figure out this particular puzzle.

I believe it is possible for God(dess)/Allah to be All Knowing and to have created puzzles that evolve to better articulate themselves. Perhaps God’s understanding of us grows as we shift in our understanding of ourselves through the years while we adapt to new ways of being through age and experiences. Maybe I prayed for a specific partner that God(dess)/Allah granted me, because that was my understanding of myself at the time. As I grew to know myself better, and They better knew what I needed in that new understanding, it is more than okay for me to move on from a gift that is no longer suited to me.

I am not the same person I was 3 years ago. I can’t possibly be. God(dess)/Allah must know that in my progression, my needs have surely changed.

Humxns are Made for Companionship

Additionally, what the story of Adam teaches us, is that we are made for companionship! We get angry at ourselves for fearing loneliness. Of course we are scared to be lonely! Since the first humxn being was created on this planet, we have come from an understanding that we are social beings who created networks, family and relationships for survival.

It is okay to be scared of loneliness. If not watched, though, that fear can put you in a space that will further isolate you from other connections that can bring you joy. Companionship is more than romance. It is chosen families, it is friends it is the evolution of our survival.

It is hard to let go of something when we believe that God(dess)/Allah brought it to us. The reality is, that our Creator is so powerful, that if They answered your prayers and intentions once, they certainly can be answered again when you are ready for something better.

On Abraham & Negotiating with God

I’ve pontificated often over the story of Abraham. One day God(dess)/Allah ponders out loud about whether or not They should tell Abraham that They are going to destroy the city of Sodom & Gomorrah. Having a nephew living in the city of Sodom named Lot/Lut, Abraham becomes worried and starts a negotiation process with God(dess)/Allah. He asks the Creator, but what if there are 50 good people in Sodom, will you spare the city then? 30 good people? 10?

Abraham does what he can to reason with God(dess)/Allah. Just as in the previous story of Adam, there was this possibility of God(dess)/Allah’s insight constantly growing, within this negotiation we have to ask, “Should not a Creator whose knowledge is static already know how many innocent folks are in Sodom?” For me, this is further proof of a God(dess)/Allah whose curiosity and wisdom expands with us.

In the end, Abraham’s nephew is spared by God(dess)/Allah even though Sodom & Gomorrah is destroyed. This is a story I have heard explained in a million different ways. If we look to the book of Ezekiel it tells us that God(dess)/Allah destroyed Sodom & Gomorrah for inhospitality. One of my favorite interpretations of this story is that this is the reflection of a Creator willing to reason with humxn beings. It brings to mind the sense that God(dess)/Allah thinks highly enough of us to communicate and hear our ideas. That maybe, some of the brilliance God(dess)/Allah is bursting with, spilled a little over on into us too.

Thinking back on what I shared earlier about what I felt I deserved… there was this harsh sense of contrast between me and God(dess)/Allah. I saw being merely the child of an All Powerful Creator as a limitation, which stunted my ability to negotiate. It changed how I thought about my faith. It also changed how I felt powerful, or not, in my capacity to manifest something new and different.

When I imagine a Creator open to negotiating with me, even with all the limitations I might have, I imagine a new pathway of perseverance. That is the type of relationship with God(dess)/Allah I seek. One that is unhindered by my own thoughts of inadequacy.

On Yusuf, Dreams & Sleep Deprivation

In the text we learn about Yusuf/Joseph. A prophet that I as a trans person have grown very fond of for some very possibly gender non-conforming attributes (shout out to Peterson Toscano for expanding my awareness of Joseph). For the Bible familiar folks reading this, I am not speaking of Jesus’ father, Joseph, but rather the other technicolor dream coated one that is the child of Jacob. Yusuf is a dreamer and an interpreter of dreams like no one else! Whether you were royalty or not, Yusuf could tell you what was in store for you based on what was going on with your dreams.

As someone in a violent relationship, I did not dream much. I couldn’t. I barely slept for a good portion of my relationship. Whether you are dealing with emotional, physical, or some other manifestation of violence, it can be devastating to your ability to rest. My partner was constantly keeping me awake as a method of control when he thought I wasn’t fighting hard enough for the relationship, or somehow an argument needed to be resolved until the wee hours of the morning regardless of my work schedule. Whether you believe primarily in spirit or science or both (I think God created them both, but that is me), dreams tell you a lot about yourself and your wellbeing.

When I was dreaming, I was having violent anxietal dreams that made sleep hard to accomplish. When you don’t sleep well, you do not make good decisions. You can’t. As spiritual beings you can pray for all kindsa things. But as beings housed in these physical bodies, you can’t do much if you are not recharged. Making a plan to leave a violent relationship was damn near impossible because I literally had no way to think my way out of it.

When I think of all the things Joseph was able to manifest by intimately understanding dreams, it causes me to question in what ways can I forgive myself for things I did when I could not access a most basic necessity: sleep. Dreams are a gift too. If your sleep is being disrupted continuously, something is wrong that needs to be looked at.

On Moving Forward With Intention

These three stories bring up a few different points for me (aside from the obvious choice of using a couple stories often used in attempts to discredit the holiness of trans/queer people).

With Abraham, I am reminded of not to shrink myself in front of God(dess)/Allah. With Adam, I am reminded that while I am made for companionship, what that looks like has the capacity to shift over time and it is okay for me to articulate that. With Yusuf/Joseph, I am reminded that anything that disrupts my ability to sleep and recharge is not healthy for my connection with my body, or my connection to God(dess)/Allah.

When I look back through the text from a space of abundance and inquiry, I remember that one of the most important things I ever learned about faith was to keep going forward in your studies and understanding.

I want to believe that my intentions and my prayers are powerful. I did not deserve the violence I got. But partially because of my understanding of theology at the time, I thought what was meant for me meant forever.

For those of us living in or coming out of violent relationships, I want for us all to imagine what a new theology of being and moving beyond intimate partner violence might look like. I want us to question our theology for ourselves and how we shift our understanding to support us having the healthiest and most honest possible relationship with God(dess)/Allah that we can.

Photo via flickr user adnan ali