I, P. Sufenas Virius Lupus, am a metagender person. This means that I am not of a conventional, binary gender–I’m third, or fifth, or ninth, or thirty-seventh gender; in the gender binary, I am a conscientious objector. I personally don’t believe that there are only two genders; in fact, humans have at least eleven possible biological sexes, so why wouldn’t there be at least eleven genders possible? But, eleven is too little…
Metagender is not “androgynous” or some combinatory gender (though those are wonderful!). Metagender is not “neuter” or “neutral,” nor is it “non-gendered/agendered” or a negation of gender either (though those options are also totally cool!). Metagender is a gender identity that can encompass a great deal of variation and a wide variety of expression and performance, but it is a fixed and definite gender, and not synonymous with or any sort of alternative or replacement for “gender-fluid” (but gender-fluid people are also awesome!). Just because metagender is different from these other identities does not mean it is “better,” and it certainly doesn’t mean that those other gender-diverse identities are “worse.”
As an option for understanding these matters in relation to being metagendered, and more as a kind of rebus of both gender and sexual orientation, metagender can mean “I never met-a-gender I didn’t like.” 😉
[I acknowledge that one of the great advances of the last sixty years is the understanding that sexual orientation and gender identity are not the same thing–a gay man does not want to be a woman, a gay man is attracted to men, for example. That is fine, and I do not question that. However, I do think it is possible, in certain cases, for gender and sexual orientation to be of-a-piece, and the metagender identity, for me, is certainly that way. I cannot conceive of my gender outside of my sexual orientation’s ability to connect with any and every possible other gender, or same gender, as myself, as long as my “same gender” is understood to be a non-binary, non-combinatory, non-negatory gender.]
One very important aspect of being metagender, though, is that it is a social gender that comes into play in a spiritual and religious context. It is something that is part of my role as a spiritual functionary, not only on behalf of the humans I assist in my spiritual communities, but also on behalf of the Deities to whom I am devoted in my religious practices. Many cultures have had a gender-variant spiritual role for shamans, priests, or other specific spiritual functionaries; but, in my current human incarnation, I am not a part of any of those cultures which still have such roles, nor am I a direct descendant of any such cultures which have had or still have such roles. Thus, metagender is one possibility for a non-culturally-appropriative identity that fulfills such a gender-variant spiritual functionary role. While my alternative gender identity may be debatable to some people in my wider social life (though I am doing what is possible and safe for me in that regard to make it more visible and actualized in my wider life, including at my workplace), it is not debatable nor negotiable when I am serving the Deities and other Divine Beings, or my religious communities, in specifically spiritual contexts.
As a result, my pronouns are different than the usual ones one might be used to with more conventional, binary genders. I prefer the Old Spivak pronouns, which run as follows:
subject: e (e.g. “E is a metagender person”; “E wrote a blog post”)
object: em (e.g. “I gave the book to em”)
possessive adjective: eir (e.g. “This is eir book”)
possessive pronoun: eirs (e.g. “The book is eirs”)
reflexive: emself (e.g. “E muttered to emself”)
To use these all in a sentence: “Ask em how e likes eir tea; that teacup is eirs, e made it emself.”
I appreciate your respect; but please, if you do respect me, don’t call me “sir” or refer to me as “Mr.”; I am not and never have been a man.
I appreciate your solidarity; but please, if you do feel solidarity with me, don’t refer to me as your “brother”; solidarity is based on mutual respect, recognition, and truly seeing and appreciating another person’s existence, and if that does not include getting their gender correct, then it cannot be called true and actual solidarity.
A METAGENDER MANIFESTO
In 2016, gender–and in particular the ability of trans people to use public restrooms–has been a hotly debated topic in some places and certain circles. At the end of the year, the president-elect took offense to Time magazine naming him “Person of the Year” rather than “Man of the Year,” as if not having his “manhood” publicly proclaimed by such a category in the interests of being inclusive (or, “politically correct,” as he said), is something viewed as a threat to his very insecure sense of his own (binary, mainstream, privileged, cis-) gender.
Within the wider polytheist movement, a rather noxiously renowned “folkish” group (which need not be named here) declared its opposition to people who are not cisgendered and heterosexual in the following terms:
…we believe gender is not a social construct, it is a beautiful gift from the holy powers and from our ancestors.
The statement goes on to outline a gender binarist/daulist essentialism, and–as if that wasn’t enough–it throws some good ol’ fashioned racism into the mix as well.
It should be obvious to everyone–I hope!–that I cannot agree with, endorse, nor fail to be critical of such a standpoint on race, and on gender dualist/binarist essentialism. Likewise, ignoring that even the dualistic cisgender identities are not “strictly natural” or “biological” and are just as socially constructed (in any given society) is myopic at best and universalizing at worst, in the most destructive ways that universalism can be deployed (i.e. “because this is how all humans are in relation to XYZ, if you’re not XYZ, you’re not really human,” and thus can be abused in all sorts of ways with impunity as a result). The ways in which even binarist cisgender identities are understood, defined, enacted, embodied, performed, and are exhibited by those who have such identities are manifold, not only across vast spans of time and place, history and geography and culture, but also within individual cultures cannot be denied and should not be limited, whether artificially or in any other fashion, and in fact never have been nor can be, no matter what those who have much narrower views on the issue might prefer to think on the matter. Not unlike many things which present themselves as “beliefs,” both within a religious context and outside of such contexts, they say much more about what people wish were true rather than what actually is true, and this particular set of examples is no exception.
However, there is one point in that noxious group’s statement which I can agree with: yes, gender is a gift from the Deities and from the Ancestors…it’s just that their statement fails to realize that the Ancestors were and are of many genders beyond only two (which any honest study of history cannot deny), and the same is true of Deities (which any honest study of historical theologies and mythologies cannot fail to acknowledge).
[I’d like to pause for a moment and simply mention those who are not of any gender, and are agender or nongendered: while that may not be “a gender” in the conventional sense and is therefore negatory in nature, nonetheless, there are also Deities and Ancestors of those identities as well, and thus I’d say that the lack of gender in some people is also a gift as much as a positive gender is likewise a gift from the Deities and Ancestors as well.]
It is unfortunate, though, that such gender-dualist/binarist essentialism not only prevails amongst reactionary elements within some sectors of regressive modern polytheism, but also amongst the major non-polytheistic (and often hegemonic monotheistic) religions of the world. Having a conception of “nature” that is not based on actual scientific observations but instead upon concepts of “natural law” which posit ideals in place of actualities will therefore make–as one example amongst many–the “two-by-two” construct of gender derived from the story of Noah the norm and the only allowable possibility for animals as well as for humans. (Forget, for the moment, that such religious arguments that hold up nature as the example to be emulated often leave out the abundant evidence that gender and sexuality in observed nature and amongst non-captive species does not fit such models, and that furthermore the great lengths to which these same proponents of such views take as an a priori assumption that human nature is fundamentally different and even superior from all other animals and biological organisms, deriving from the “image of God” which–little do they acknowledge either–is stated to be androgynous and multi-gendered rather than binary gendered…but such arguments divert us from the purposes of the present statement, and thus are left for further contemplation at another time.)
The animal world exhibits multiple examples of gender mutability between and within the binary genders in “healthy” contexts (i.e. not due to “genetic defects” and other such anomalies, even if such variations are uncommon), and likewise some species even exhibit the characteristics of having three, five, or even as many as 250,000 possible biological sexes. At this stage, at least eleven different human biological sexes have been documented, which is up from the five that I had learned about over twenty years ago during undergraduate college, or the nine that I was told about a few years ago when similar topics arose in conversation. If this is the physical and biological reality, and any system of gender (in the conservative and regressive systems concerning such) automatically equates the social reality of gender with the biological reality of sex, then a dual-gender system is by definition inadequate to account for the diversity of possibilities where gender, strictly in humans, is concerned.
As already mentioned, a study of cross-cultural history and the variety of human societies with their attendant socially-constructed aspects–of which gender is one such aspect–reveals that many cultures across great spans of time and place have included conceptions of more-than-two genders, and many cultures still do to this day despite immense external pressure from gender-binarist/dualist hegemony and the religions and cultures (often with the latter supported by the former) enforcing these hegemonies. The hijra of India are one such group, as were the galli of the ancient Graeco-Roman worlds and the enarees of Scythia; indeed, most Indo-European societies had such a gender-variant class of sacred functionaries at some point in their history, but Indo-Europeans were and are far from the only such macro-cultural group to have included such individuals and social constructions of other-than-binary genders.
One interesting example of this, both historically and currently, are the Two Spirit peoples and understandings amongst many modern North American indigenous peoples. In the early 1990s, this term was agreed upon by an intertribal convention as an identifier not based in any one singular tribe’s cultural or linguistic conventions for anyone who might be within any part of what we would now consider the LGBTQQIA+ range of identities. The term “Two Spirit” does not directly translate into any of the indigenous languages or cultures easily or sensibly, which is one of the reasons that it was chosen, so as not to favor one culture’s conceptions over another, and in order to convey what were once great diversities of concept and identity inter-tribally as well as to the external, non-indigenous world. These roles in different indigenous cultures often had a sacred dimension to them, but not necessarily–or, perhaps more accurately, no more or less sacred than any other role or identity that might exist within a given culture. Much more could be said about this interesting and richly variegated topic, but this all-too-brief summary should suffice for present purposes. (Interested readers are encouraged to consult the following works: Will Roscoe, Changing Ones; Walter L. Williams, The Spirit and the Flesh; and a variety of other such resources on Two Spirit peoples.)
At one point during my M.A. program, I had an artist friend whose ancestry was from the Cayuse and Umatilla tribes. I asked her what the beliefs of her peoples were on Two Spirit individuals, and her response was that they come into being when there is a profound imbalance in the world. This was not conveyed to mean that such individuals–no matter where they might be in the LGBTQQIA+ range of identities–are a manifestation of imbalance or are a sign of it, but instead that such individuals are born in order to redress the imbalances that already exist. They are not a symptom of a problem, they are an antidote to the problem.
As with so many other things, however, the indigenous peoples of North America and elsewhere have been deprived of their lands and rights, have had their cultures and languages forcibly stripped from them, and their ways of life have been pillaged for artifacts, concepts, and material objects for what becomes “decor” in the eyes of the oppressive hegemonic colonizers that have demanded to live uninvited amongst them, which extends to matters of religion and spirituality as well when it suits the colonizers to do so. This kind of cultural appropriation is inexcusable, especially when it is then used by the descendants of colonizers without proper regard nor respect for where such elements originated, to whom those cultural elements belonged, and when profit is involved in their redeployment by non-indigenous peoples. The Two Spirit identity is one such element that–even if as an intertribal cultural concept it is relatively recent–has been something that non-indigenous individuals have sought to claim for themselves because they have found resonance with it. No matter how resonant and meaningful such experiences may be for those who have them, there is no justification, excuse, nor explanation which makes such appropriative theft ethical nor allowable and passable for anyone of mature and responsible identities and intentions, and no discovered pedigree of theorized Cherokee distant ancestors can ever make such appropriations “okay.”
If such cultural constructions are enviable–and they are–and their cultural relevance might end up creating viable ways in which to allow for a greater diversity of gender identities and expressions, as well as sexual orientation diversities (on which more later), and if cultural appropriation is not the answer to make such concepts relevant to other cultural contexts–which it is not–then rather than even the most respectful cultural borrowing, adaptation, or translation done under supervision and with the permission of Two Spirits being the answer, why not instead have an innovation that is built and shaped through lived history and experience and which is shaped by the cultural forces of the actual cultures from within which it originates and within which it will be situated that will then lead to and result in such a new cultural deployment of beyond-the-binary gender categories?
This is where the concept of “metagender” becomes relevant.
As a gender concept and construct, metagender is an identity within (and sometimes against!) which I have worked, struggled, adapted, changed, and evolved for nearly two decades, since the late 1990s. I first discussed the term with a limited number of my undergraduate colleagues in 1997, and during the course of my M.A. degree in 1998-2000, worked out what my own relationship to the concept might be and what it might mean. I began sharing this identity more widely beginning in 2000, and increasingly so from 2001 onwards, with one of my first mentionings of it being to Kate Bornstein at the first North American Conference on Bisexuality, Gender, and Sexual Diversity in Vancouver, B.C., Canada in August of 2001. To my knowledge, “metagender” first saw print as defined by me with its current specifically spiritual dimension in 2003. At that time, the term and concept “genderqueer” was unknown to me (and had existed for a number of years, as it turns out); though I acknowledge and respect this broader concept of gender identities, and consider that metagender is within that broader range, the more specific definition of metagender which I have developed is a useful one, both for myself and for some others whom I have encountered, and thus should remain a separate and recognizable identity within that broader range. With the emergence of the Tetrad++ in 2011, the concept and identity of metagender gained a further boost in that there was now a specific divine being–Paneros–amongst the new group of gender-diverse Deities Who is specifically aligned with this gender identity.
The prefix meta- in Greek is semantically equivalent to the prefix trans- in Latin, and can mean “over” or “beyond.” One of the most interesting Graeco-Latin comparisons is the two terms metaphore and translatio, from which our English words “metaphor” and “translate/translation” originate. (Indeed, the potential of the metagender identity to bridge, to translate, and “to carry over,” which is what both metaphore and translatio literally mean, is more what is meant in the usage of the “meta-” prefix rather than the “above/beyond” or transcendent sense in which that prefix is employed on its own these days in colloquial usage.) The term “metagender,” therefore, seems like it might just be a slightly-different version of the term “transgender.” Further, “metagender” is a word that is of hybrid Greek and Latin components, which is sometimes seen as a problem for those critical of certain concepts; “metagender” also shares this characteristic with two other terms that are controversial, namely “homosexual” (from Greek and Latin roots, respectively) and “polyamorous” (also from Greek and Latin roots respectively). While some may yet object to these concepts and their validity or their morality, their linguistic pedigree is not commonly challenged at this point, and thus “metagender” is in good company amongst them.
The “beyond”-ness of metagender, however, is not that the identity itself is beyond the concept of gender entirely (unless it is in a given instance, which there is no reason it cannot be), but instead that a metagender identity is beyond the strict binary, and likewise beyond whatever the numerical sum of genders might be in a given cultural context. In modern mainstream U.S. and European-derived cultures, the general understanding of gender is binary, therefore a metagender identity would be “third gender.” If a culture had six genders, then metagender might be a seventh; if a culture had seventy-nine genders, then metagender would be eightieth; etc. The reason that it stands outside of the generally constructed number of genders is due to its specifically spiritual character, outside of which it has no reality nor validity nor justification for its existence. No one who wishes to claim the metagender identity can also be non-spiritual or non-religious; there are other identities one is free to claim that are perfectly valid that have no religious or spiritual component, and people are encouraged to do so rather than to claim this term in some hipsterish and faddish manner that amounts to cultural appropriation in just the same way that Two Spirit assertions amongst non-indigenous North American natives would be.
There are many kinds of spirit-worker and spiritual functionary who are in various ways liminal, marginal, or transgressive in various aspects of their identities and in their enactments of same in order to fully realize their roles as intermediaries for humans and divine beings; spirit-spouses and Deity-spouses of all genders in various traditions are no exception to this. No matter the number or gender or existential status–human or spirit or Deity–of any partner with whom a metagender person might have an ongoing relationship, the metagender person’s relation to gender within their own culture must be non-exclusive, open-ended, and free to be combinatory as well as negatory, inclusive as well as exclusive, fluid as well as fixed, and distinct as well as dispersed as the situation might demand it. No singular characteristic, or constellation of attributes, constitutive of gender is not socially constructed as such in any given culture; thus, no matter which characteristics a metagender person might have, their gender identity does not run through the axis of the presence nor absence of those attributes in any definitive fashion; a metagender person thus not only opposes gender binaries and other limited categorizations, but also every form of gender essentialism, as the “no” to every requirement and the “yes” to every exclusion inherent in these in a given cultural context. A metagender identity is always “other” to whatever categories might already exist as far as gender is concerned in a given culture, in order that any other, including any Other, might be encountered and engaged with free from any difficulties that pre-existing categorizations of gender or sexual orientation (which in the modern world is based on comparisons of the gender of one partner to the gender of the other[s]) might prescribe or proscribe. Certainly, failures occur in this process with both humans and divine beings, but this is no different than the case with any other possible gender identity.
One thing which a metagender identity, thus, highlights is that gender and sexual orientation are a kind of rebus within the metagender identity. I have often quipped that, in relation to metagender as both a gender identity and a sexual orientation, “I’ve never met a gender I didn’t like!” This is more than just a clever punning usage, however. The separation and distinction between gender and sexual orientation has been one of the most important and useful developments in modern understandings of these concepts in the last part of the twentieth century, such that there is no conflict between (for example) a cisgender male being attracted to other males, and thus the sexual attraction has no bearing on the person’s gender identity or whether or not such an individual is “truly male” or “a real man” because of their sexual attractions. This is extremely important, and has been something that was muddled at different points even in recent history, with concepts like the Urning (as introduced by Karl Heinrich Ulrichs even before the concept of “homosexuality” was innovated in the 19th century) being understood as a gender distinction rather than a sexual orientation. Even in some cases with the greater modern recognition of trans identities amongst youth, attractions of someone to the same (socially constructed) gender are sometimes classed as evidence for a trans identity rather than as homoeroticism, even by well-meaning professionals and supportive parents in such individuals’ lives; it takes very little surveying of modern trans individuals’ lives to see that a diversity of sexual orientations are present amongst them as there is amongst the cisgendered population.
No matter how important or useful these separations of gender identity and sexual orientation as distinct categories are, however, there is no reason why any newly identified diverse gender distinction might not have sexual orientation as part of its construction and constitution. Academic study and theoretical work should NEVER dictate the nature of lived reality for anyone, and this is one example of exactly that lack of limitation despite the consensus on these matters academically (and occasionally psychologically as well). If the metagender identity is to be respected and acknowledged by others–which it should be–then what does it mean for someone else to be attracted to or in a relationship with a metagender person? If a lesbian is in a relationship with a metagender person, does that compromise that lesbian’s lesbianism, no matter what the biological status of the metagender person in question might be? If a gay man or a straight man or a straight woman or a bisexual man or woman has a relationship with a metagender person, no matter what the biological status of the metagender person happens to be, what does this mean for their sexual orientation? The same goes for anyone who might be any variety of trans, or genderqueer, or gender-fluid, or agender, or pangender, in relation to a metagender person. If metagender is understood to be both a gender identity and a sexual orientation, then relationships between metagender people and those of other gender identities and sexual orientations need not have an existential crisis, nor redefine themselves as something else in terms of their sexual orientation, as a result of having a relationship with a metagender person. To use a somewhat crude metaphor: whether one is an omnivore, a pescatarian, a vegetarian, or a vegan, any of these can drink herbal tea and still be what they already are without any difficulty. There is, however, no compulsion on the part of any metagender person to have relationships with one, many, all, or even any person of any gender (including other metagenders) in order for their gender identity or sexual orientation to be considered “true” or “valid” or “full” or “realized.” There will be monogamous as well as polyamorous metagendered people; there will be metagenders who prefer butch lesbians, or conventionally masculine straight men, or who exclusively like any and all trans individuals, or only date those outside the binary genders (whether cis or trans), and so forth ad infinitum, as well as any combination thereof…and, there will also be metagendered people who are asexual of every stripe within that spectrum as well. In this, not unlike the Two Spirit concept in modern indigenous North American populations, both gender and sexual orientation diversities are encompassed in the metagender identity.
As a sacred role and not simply a gender identity or category of sexual orientation, metagender is a phenomenon that needs recognition not simply through self-identification, but through confirmation from one’s Deities and other divine beings with Whom one interacts and with Whom one has relationships. If a sympathy with the identity is experienced by an individual, seeking out one’s Deities and asking for confirmation of this identity should be a logical next step in the process; and, one should be willing and able and prepared for the response that one is not this identity, especially if a given Deity or divine being does not recognize it. One need not be a metagender person to serve in a spiritual capacity for a Deity or divine being, or on behalf of a community, and also be gender-diverse; there are any number of genderqueer, non-binary, and other gender-diverse individuals who have done and will continue to do admirable service for their Deities and communities that are not metagender. Metagender lineages within different traditions of modern polytheism, no doubt, will develop over time, and a variety of Deities and other divine beings will become involved in these differing iterations of gender-diverse divine service and devotion in the future and as modern polytheist traditions continue to develop and evolve.
The usage of pronouns will vary amongst metagenders as well. I use the Old Spivak pronouns myself (“Ask em how e likes eir tea; that teacup is eirs, e made it emself”), since there are elements of both familiarity as well as difference within their forms; but, some metagenders may use the singular “they,” or the trans pronouns (sie, hir), or other possibilities (ze, zim; etc.). In order to know any metagender person’s pronouns, ask any metagender person what set of pronouns they use for themselves. In this, it should be no different than meeting anyone else these days–even some cisgendered people might prefer gender-neutral pronouns (like Marge Piercy’s “per,” as in person, thus highlighting one’s personhood and therefore humanity…though I also acknowledge that “personhood” can extend to much that is non-human in a properly animist and polytheist context!).
To reiterate and summarize: metagender is a new (though more-than-two-decades old) distinction of a discrete gender identity within non-indigenous European-derived cultures, attempting to base itself on non-culturally appropriative models of engagement and influence, which has an “other” quality existing beyond the confines of whatever gender system in which it might find itself, with a variety of possible performances and enactments and embodiments inherent in its identity, existing as a specific iteration within the wider category of genderqueer identities, entailing implications for a broad range of exercises of sexual orientation based upon an individual metagender person’s preferences and what is agreed upon with those of other genders or sexual orientations, and which has a specific spiritual dimension to its existence which enables those who express this identity to act as a diverse range of intermediaries between the human and divine worlds in a variety of capacities. The Deities with Whom any given metagender person might have relationships will vary based on individual experience and predilection, and may include (but are not limited to) Paneros of the Tetrad++ as well as other members of the Tetrad++ group, but no matter which Deities may be involved, a recognition on the part of the Deities concerned that an individual has this identity in relation to their service to the Deities concerned is a prerequisite to it.
We are metagenders, and though we are currently few, we are most definitely here, we most certainly exist, we have a discrete role in our respective communities and an emergent one in our wider societies, and specific imbalances of our societies to help address and redress within our work, in service to our Deities and to our communities. We–as well as other gender-diverse identities–are not a symptom of a world-gone-wrong and all of its problems in relation to gender, we are an antidote to that world-gone-wrong, existing in greater numbers and with greater visibility now in order to correct the imbalance that our exclusion and destruction has cost human civilizations in the past few centuries and millennia. We will no longer be ignored, and we are no longer asking for permission to exist or be recognized by others; we will no longer be silenced, and will speak out freely and proudly now and into the future. With our Deities above and below, before and behind, and on every side of us, and Ancestors of generations beyond generations supporting us, we now march forward to do our work in the world, whether the world wants us or feels we are needed or not, undaunted by what challenges may face us. We as metagenders can do nothing other.