Spirituality, Identity & Gender

I have been fascinated with identity and spirituality, from a young age. I went on a lifelong quest to discover what identity is, and isn’t. As a black, bisexual, woman, I had ample concepts of my own to explore!

There are as we know, numerous rules of engagement for women across the globe. Whether those rules are cultural, sub-cultural, religious or societal, they’re there. Add race, sexuality and class into the mix and the rules of engagement became even more pressurised and/or restrictive.

I fought against what was expected of me from a very early age. I questioned the rules in my family, my community, and wider society. These were often unspoken but implied rules that dictated what it meant to be a woman.

I watched the different ways that my elder siblings (four females and one male) were also conditioned to behave. I saw how they had to navigate their way through life. They were either trying to fit in, trying to stand out ,or trying to excel. They had to adapt themselves in particular ways to fit into their roles, whether culturally or sub-culturally.

The Questioner Has An Unpopular Role To Play

I was the youngest and also the questioner in the family. I saw and intuited, the prescribed roles my parents, my brother and my sisters, were asked to play. I felt compelled to ask again and again:

“But who said, who decided, and why do we just accept that all of these roles and expectations are true?” My questioning didn’t go down to well.

I fought hard to discover what at least felt true. I explored picking up and putting down my conditionings. I experimented with roles and rules of engagement. I see this al in hindsight. In my earlier years I didn’t know that was what I was doing.

What I eventually discovered after years of questioning was: that the only way to see through our prescribed roles was to see everything as conditioning. No exceptions. Did I find it easy? Hell no! Was it always possible? Not for me. Sometimes I just want to remain attached to my safety blankets. I want to curl up in my conditioning and blame the world for my woes.

Owning Our Identities and Prescribed Roles

We each get to explore the roles we’ve come to play. Particularly, when we’re actively on a spiritual path. For men, this is no more, or less true. It isn’t more or less difficult for men to give up their identification with their expected roles.

It may seem that way in light of all the privilege that comes with certain concepts of maleness. Yet all of us struggle with being willing to let go of our condition-based attachments. And this includes our attachment both to how we see ourselves and how we’re viewed by the world.

Identities Are Complex Things

The issue of identity is a complex one-particularly for those wishing to go beyond their conditioning and limiting beliefs. For example, even in the world of the spiritual guru, maleness and male conditioning is very prevalent. If we take the most cited and quoted enlightened beings, they are all male.

Buddha, Jesus, Mohammed are our go to teachers to quote. In modern day spiritual circles the same can be said. Osho, Eckhart, Adyashant and Mooji, just to name a few.

Even in terms of political activism, the icons of maleness stand proud and true, especially in black activism. Martin Luther, Malcolm, Marcus, Nelson and Bob, are some of the first names that automatically spring to mind. Therefore, to shine a light on spirituality, identity and gender, is to shine a light on the male narrative.

To explore this topic is to shine a light on where male dominance is still passively accepted as the norm-disproportionately so. Even if we account for women’s roles in society being the reason they are not cited as often in spiritual circles as masters and master teachers, then it is still the male narrative at play.

It is not uncommon to hear in spiritual circles, that women are less likely to attain enlightenment. Even more so if they are mothers. The argument being, that the mothering instinct is so powerful that a woman cannot extricate herself from its influence. To me, this feels more like a patriarchal interpretation, rather than an explanation rooted in truth.

How so? Well, simply by looking at the number of children who have been abandoned by their mothers. Or looking at the number of mothers who have chosen their (often abusive) partner over their children. Both numbers seem to indicate that the loyalty of mothers is just another belief system. One that is still all too often, touted as truth.

This is because there’s still this beatific, selfless, romanticism around the term mother, that isn’t applied to fathers in the same way.

Identity Versus Truth

To look at identity as just terminology and not truth, can be a challenge, for traditional genders. Maleness for example, is simply another term, another word. It’s a word that is bathed in a millennia of conditioning.

Machismo, manliness, dominance, superiority, instigator, leader, protector. All of these qualities have been decreed throughout history to be a natural part of men’s DNA. They have traditionally been seen as an outcrop of patriarchy and the natural order of things cross-culturally.

Traditionally, men have been programmed to act out these constructed identities, even when they no longer serve. These concepts remain as influences to many straight and some gay men, both subtly and deliberately.

They remain even when it doesn’t reflect the individual’s family dynamic or the changes in wider society. The same of course, has been inflicted upon women in the form of their particular constructs. So much so that there’s no need to go deeper into that narrative here.

All Expressions Are Conceptual

What can be said that applies to all concepts of gender, is that all expressions are conceptual on the non-dual, spiritual path. Every phrase and word, becomes a minefield of potential over-identification ready to blow up in our faces. Even outside of our exploration of who we really are, our evolution as a species is changing what we think we are.

We are naturally being forced to look at what is true and what is a construct because of that evolution. This is where spirituality and evolutionary paths meet. For each path is being called to question. what is true and what is a construct.

We see this particularly in the modern debate over gender identity. Terms such as: Gender binary, gender fluid, intersex, effeminate, transgender, masculine-identified females, and beyond are raising questions about who we really are.

All of these terminologies place into question previously accepted narratives of what it is to be male or female. They all beg the question what is masculinity in actuality? For many men, looking at their attachment to maleness, is still one of the biggest hurdles on the spiritual path.

Are We Our Genitalia?

For example, identifying with your sexual equipment as you, is one of the last bastions of male and female attachment. How can we go beyond form to the formless, with that identity still at play? How can you know yourself as limitless, boundless, nothingness, when you’re still allowing yourself to be defined by your genitalia?

How can you transcend your belief that you’re simply the body/mind, when you identify powerfully as a particular gender? What conditionings and fears will continue to drive our behaviours precisely because we’re unwilling to let go of these identities?

These are powerful questions. They either begin to unlock us from our over-identification with form, or reveal where we choose to remain attached. It’s our willingness to seek who we are beyond identity, that leads us to find out who we really are. Male, female, neither, both? Infinite nature, boundlessness or some marvellous combination of it all.

This article was first published here.

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