Sunday, October 18, 2009

Picturing the Feminine Divine

Emily over at Questioning Transphobia has a post about a controversial calendar featuring depictions of Mary (the mother of Jesus, according to several Abrahamic religious traditions) as a transgender woman. I find this issue quite interesting. Lately, I've been more interested in Mary than ever before, especially Notre Dame D'Afrique. Even though I'm not Catholic, it's devotion to Mary is one of its features that draws me to it the most. The idea of an African woman producing a vessel of salvation for mankind is an intensely powerful idea. I love speaking to Notre Dame D'Afrique.

Sometimes, I deal with the feeling that I'm not really worthy of love. Is it any wonder given the sort of messages that society feeds to women every second of the day? It can be difficult for me to feel important enough for the Creator to really be interested in my problems. I think about that line from an old movie where the narrator says, "There's eight million stories in the naked city."

Sometimes, I think about the Bible's account of Jesus and his life on earth as a man. I wonder how his life would have differed if he had spent this time as a woman instead. It can be hard for me to relate to Jesus' experiences as a man, but Mary is different. Mary was a mother. Mary was a wife. Mary was a girl-child who lived her life in a male-dominated world. Mary lived the experience of being oppressed on the basis of gender. Mary experienced being unmarried and pregnant and dependent on others in order to stay alive. Mary experienced having a secret that could have killed her if others found out. Mary is my sister. She is my mother. She is my girl-child.
I know that Christianity teaches that the Creator can understand our feelings and worries and thoughts and I believe that's true. However, sometimes it can be hard to feel like it's the truth. The Creator is so often portrayed as some sort of male person, that it can be hard for me to see beyond that on some days. Mary helps me cross that barrier. Her presence is reassuring. I know there is a divine personage who has experienced what it's like to be me.

When I think of it that way, I can understand why Mary has been portrayed in so many different ways. If Mary is my sister, my mother, and my daughter, then how could she not be a woman of color? If I am to relate to her, how could I see her as someone completely foreign from how I see myself? My Mary is black. My Mary is a single mother-to-be. My Mary knows what it means to suffer physically. This is the Mary that looks after me with the care and compassion of a mother, a sister, an aunt.

The depiction of Mary as a transgender woman seems very natural to me. I really don't understand how it is any different than the myriad ways that Mary has already been depicted. I know that some people arrogantly think that they can own the divine. They don't want others to know that Mary belongs to everyone. She is the face that we see when we think about the feminine divinity. If Mary looks like us and the Creator deemed her worthy of recognition and respect and admiration, how could we worthless? In my opinion, depicting Mary as a transgender woman only magnifies her image and I think this is something that could be quite empowering for all women.


Lucy said...

I think it's not insignificant that one of the trans women portrayed as Mary in the calendar is a trans woman of colour. As you say, Mary as an image of the female divine is open to looking like all kinds of women.

Anonymous said...

In the old testament the Creator referred to itself as "We". In hebrew texts, the feminine part was called the Sophia... Wisdom++

The Right Guy said...

I love you Bint, but honestly, I think you are off the beaten path a bit and I will leave it at that. As far as God and gender is concerned, it's not an issue for god as it's a petty one. God transcends gender, sex, or any other human condition, and frailty. As far as Jesus being a man, I think that the more important thing to think about is that he was a human being first that spoke to the human condition, not someone that is bound by constituencies or subcultures, but everyone. I think he understand the ties that bind us as they say. Anything else is filtering for our own reasons.

If Mary was a transwoman, then not only did she have a virgin pregnancy, but possibly an hysterical one as well... Considering Jesus had siblings, it's highly unlikely.


Sophia is a greek word...May be you mean hokhmah.

bint alshamsa said...

The Right Guy,

I think you're absolutely right about all else being filtering for our own reasons. That was part of what I was trying to say. I think that this filtering occurs because God can feel so far blindingly perfect that our minds find it hard to get a grip on. Making Jesus or Mary look more like us, makes them more accessible, sometimes. To me, the fact that Jesus and Mary have been depicted in so many ways seems to be proof that they do not belong to one particular constituency or subculture. I think Mary can be Notre Dame D'Afrique, Our Lady of Prompt Succor, La Virgen de Guadalupe, and Madonna Della Strada all at once. I don't think that when people create these images, they are necessarily trying to make claims about what Mary actually looked like. I think they are simply showing aspects about her that they can relate to and, in the process, reflect our notions of what constitutes feminine beauty.

On a good day, I can see the bigger picture--that Jesus was a human and, as such, he is capable of understanding any human experience. However, the fact that he can understand what I've experienced doesn't mean that I can understand what HE experienced. It's just easier for me to relate to Mary, when it's an issue that is specific to womanhood.

Sean G (AKA - Papa Giorgio), M.A.T.S. said...
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Sean G (AKA - Papa Giorgio), M.A.T.S. said...
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queen emily said...

I think that while The Right Guy is right that God does not have a sex(being pure spirit and all that), I don't think you can draw the conclusion that God is not culturally gendered (by the Bible, by just about everyone still) as male. So why do we as a culture insist so vigorously that "he" is *nevertheless* male and only male? It couldn't be to do with the considerable cultural power accrued by men in the movement from God-the-Father to men as heads of churches, households etc..

Even within the limited terms of a patriarchy it *still* is unbalanced and has a feminine absence - God the Father is protective etc, but no God the Mother for creation? Weiirrd. No wonder the Blessed Mother stepped in to cover that up. Not to mention the ridiculousness of the dominant representation of Jesus as a lily white dude.

All of this points to the politicised and selective nature of our current religious imaginary.. all *so* much more inaccurate and exclusive than any re-imagining of the Virgin Mary!

Sean G (AKA - Papa Giorgio), M.A.T.S. said...


I apologize, my editing skills were on vacation.


I do not wish to argue or belabor the point I am going to make, just putting it out there for digestion. Typically those called "fundamentalist," people like myself who take the Bible a bit more rigidly than that of some, are one's who would support a portion of what you speak of here. Obviously there is much to be debated here, that however, is not my purpose... I am looking for agreement.

Young earth creationists (YEC) are almost unanimous in the view that Adam and Eve were of a red or medium brown feature than that the lighter and darker races (Ethiopian and Irish as two examples). The Hebrew root word for Adam means red-clay, and out of the 220-or-so peoples from around the world on all the continents separated by oceans (brown, red, yellow, white) who have an ancient story of a worldwide flood and animals, people escaping and many even having a bird being released and sacrifice (like the Hebraic story)... out of those about half have a story of the first family being red in color.

I have witnessed to many Nazi Low-Riders and skinheads using some of these evidences as well as Numbers chapter 12 where Moses marries a Cushite woman (the early originators of the Ethiopian peoples -- which is why there is a large black Jewish population from Ethiopia and why they may have the real - or the fake Ark - both of which are spoken of in the Old Testament). Miriam spoke out against this interracial marriage so God struck her with a disease that turned her medium skin ashen white until she repented from this God blessed interracial marriage.

There are other points I make depending on whom I am talking to: a Christian Identity adherent or a Nation of Islam guy; both of whom have religious explanations of the races. (“Race does not really exist, both scientifically [Scientific American for example], and Biblically [Acts 17:26 for example]).

Evolutionary thinking use to teach that the races came from three different "strains" or "offshoots," if you will. The Bible however has always taught that all of mankind/womankind came from Adam and Eve. In fact, the evolutionary model was the excuse for biological racism which says one race has evolved further than other races, and why race was even considered a factor.

(Side Note: Hunters use to track down and kill the Aboriginal man and woman (Australia), kill them, boil off their flesh, and send the bones back to the US and Britain for study as missing links in our "greatest" universities. There was even an aboriginal man put in the same cage with a monkey at the NY Zoo so people visiting could see the missing link. Well, science has caught up with the Bible due to mitochondrial evidence, and the "mitochondrial eve," that says we all came from one seed.

Similarly, just as all ancient religions taught an eternal "creation" or posited some eternal state of "things" in a Platonic understanding (pantheism) or the opposing materialistic view (polytheism)... at any rate, the Hebraic/Christian understanding has always been that the universe began to exist.

• Albert Einstein developed his general theory of relativity in 1915;
• In the 1920s using Einstein's theory, a Russian mathematician and Belgium astronomer predicted the universe was expanding;
• In 1929, Hubble discovered the Red-Light shift showing that galaxies are moving away from us;
• In the 1940's, George Gamow predicted a particular temperature to the universe if the Big Bang happened;
• In 1965, two scientists discovered the universe's background radiation -- and it was only about 3.7 degrees above absolute zero.

Almost all scientists up until the 50's likewise posited an eternal state of the universe, and hence God was not needed in their equation... that is, until the Big Bang. Again, science finally caught up.


Sean G (AKA - Papa Giorgio), M.A.T.S. said...


This is a fascinating study that you may wish to understand a bit more. I will here recommend a book and some DVDs:

Darwin’s Plantation: Evolution’s Racist Roots (Ken Ham & Dr. Charles Ware), 192 pages.

(Free On-Line) - One Blood: The Biblical Answer to Racism --

DVDs ~ Some of my favorites:
Only One Race: The Scientific and Biblical Case Against Racism (Ken Ham).

The Real Roots (John Mackay)

The Origin of the Races (John Mackay)

I know its hard for one to spend $ on products they have no idea about. I have over 500 DVD documentaries geared towards this type of stuff (philosophy, science, politics, theology, apologetics, etc), and these are still some of my favorites.

I hope this post finds you well.

God Bless and Much Thought (the two go well together)

Papa Giorgio.


Sean G (AKA - Papa Giorgio), M.A.T.S. said...


Miss Al-Bint,

You do not have to approve this post, I am merely confirming you received the edited (I neglected to actually read through my post and catch the many spelling errors) comments. I apologize profusely for re-posting them, but the newer versions made more sense when reading them.

There is an option to permanently delete the above "This post has been removed by the author," just for cleanliness of your blog.

Much Thought,

Papa Giorgio