“I am fearfully and wonderfully made” (Psalm 139:14).
It’s easy for me to sympathize with people who express confusion when I share with them that I am bisexual.
My sexual orientation confused me for decades and continues to do so occasionally, even now.
Like many, I thought the question I was answering for myself was, “Who do I love?” when I was also struggling to answer the question, “Who am I?” I finally saw that a large part of what I experience as being bisexual arises from the fluidity I experience among the complex elements of gender. Let me try to explain.
For one thing, the word “bisexual” comes from a time when the prevailing assumption was that there were simply men and women. These are the binaries for human make-up that many still presume to be true even as the evidence piles up to the contrary. In my experience, there is way more to my gender than this.
This point of view—that there are only women and men—has revealed itself to be confining because of its limited dualist perspective. Many base their understanding that man or woman are the sole possibilities for gender upon their reading of Genesis 1:27, “So God created humankind in his image, in the image of God created he them, male and female he created them.” Yet experience has taught many of us that gender is much more complicated and potentially confusing than this.
As I understand it, there are at least three elements to our experience of gender: identity, expression and role.
A friend of mine asked me once, “How do you think of yourself, as a man or a woman?” I answered swiftly, “A woman.” For me this means that my own gender identification is female. At the same time, there are ways I am more like what we tend to associate with men. For example, I follow professional sports carefully. Pardon the Interruption on ESPN is daily appointment TV. This is an example of gender expression—how I act in the world. Of course, the fact that many women enjoy sports calls into question our shared assumptions about gender expression.
There is also the fact that I embrace as a call from God the office of preacher, work that has traditionally (and even now) been limited to men in large portions of Christianity. This is an example of a gender role where I feel most myself in a predominantly male role.
What I see finally is the way my gender identification may be female even as my gender expression and gender role are weighted toward the qualities that are often labeled as masculine. It is more accurate to say that I shimmer with varying aspects that are more male or more female as our culture conceives of what “male” and “female” are. I also find that the fluidity of my experience of gender—female but with traditionally masculine dimensions—contributes to my sense of whom I could love.
When I began to grasp this gender fluidity in myself, I also gained a clearer, richer grasp of myself as bisexual.
Are you confused by what I am saying? Welcome! Discover with me how this confusion is an invitation to wonder at the mystery of God and God’s grand creation.
My confusion confirms that I am fearfully and wonderfully made (Psalm 139:14). I shimmer with gender complexities that hold all kinds of possibilities. When confusion threatens to overwhelm, accepting myself as I am and my experience of the world brings me back to the fact that God made me. And I am fearfully and wonderfully made.
I am also made in the image of God. For millennia, my ancestors understood God to be a man. This has changed in my lifetime. We have become more aware of the feminine images for God in Scripture. The “spirit” is a feminine noun in both Hebrew and Greek, the languages of the Bible (Job 33:4, John 4:24) There is the “mother eagle” (Exodus 19:4) and the woman searching for the lost coin in Jesus’ parable (Luke 15:8-10), both compelling images for God.
With some wonderful Christian mystics through the ages, we have grasped that God is larger and more mysterious than any earthly images.
God is complicated—fearful and wonderful—so it is no wonder we are also made that way. We are made in the image of God. Suddenly, I see clearly what Genesis 1:27 has taught me: Each one of us is “male and female” as created by God, in the image of God who is both male and female and also beyond these binaries.
Paul echoes this understanding in Galatians when he speaks of “male and female” in contrast to other dualities: “There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus (Galatians 3:23).”
The beautiful word that opened my eyes and my mind is the word “and.” To me, “male AND female” means that each of us holds a continuum of gender within us because each of us is lovingly made in the image of God.
I have come to accept that I shimmer in who I am within my gender identity, expression and role.
The word “bisexual” is insufficient to express the rich possibilities in my experience of gender. Though I am often left confused, I am wondrously confused. I hope all confusion (including yours) about the interplay of sexual orientation and gender can be a wondrous confusion that finds its way to marveling at the mystery of God and the mystery of God’s beautiful creation.
Then we can all simply settle down to praise and serve God, which is the best of being human.
Related: Reflections on Gender Identity
Photo via flickr user University of Michigan School of Natural Resources & Environment