One year for Halloween, I and my boyfriend at the time decided to cross-dress for a party. He wore a dress, heels, makeup, and hairspray. I slicked my hair back, colored it, created a 5 o’clock shadow with some mascara, and donned a suit and tie. We did a really good job. So good, in fact, that it made a lot of people really uncomfortable. Why is that?
Most people identify with their physical bodies and assume that their body defines who they are. Because of our body, we think that we are white, black, Native American, hispanic, or any other ethnicity you can name. Or we think that we are male or female. Or we believe that we are beautiful or ugly, disabled or not, sick or healthy, weak or strong. Truly, we have limited ourselves by the boundaries of what is just a vehicle to experience the world with.
As with all things, however, there are no gray areas. We may “define” ourselves as male or female, for example, on the basis of a physical representation, but even this distinction is not always easily made. Throughout history, intersex people have walked among us, expressing both male and female physical characteristics. When this occurs in industrialized societies, “corrections” are usually made surgically, with doctors essentially choosing which gender the person will identify as, at least outwardly. As a result, some intersex adults are unhappy with their “assigned” gender and choose to change it in later life.
Of course, a person does not have to be born with an intersex body to feel conflicted about their gender. Anatomy does not always relate to identity. Transsexual, or transgender people are born with a body of one sex, but they identify with the other. Chaz Bono made the decision to change his body’s physical gender to correspond with how he feels inside, with how he expresses himself in the world. Wendy Carlos is another famous person who went through this process in the 1970s. Both are lucky to live in an age where they have the option. In the past, transsexuals could choose to live as the opposite sex, although discovery was a risk if society was intolerant. In the case of Albert D. J. Cashier, born Jennie Irene Hodgers, he lived almost his entire life as a man and even fought in the Civil War. A few people discovered his secret over the years, but it wasn’t until the end of his life, when he was hospitalized with dementia, that his true gender “came out,” and he was forced to wear a dress.
Why should we constrict ourselves on the basis of our outward packaging? Who we are has very little to do with our physical body: it is what it is. We are born with a given genetic makeup. We can paint our body, pierce it, tattoo it, dress it, and surgically alter it. All of these things are ways in which we attempt to express our true selves externally, and there is nothing wrong with that. After all, it’s fun!
The problems come when we expect people to behave according to their anatomy. Because you’re “a woman,” you should fit in this box, or because you’re “hispanic,” you should fit in that box. Human beings cannot be defined so narrowly. And yet, many have tried and have even enlisted God in their cause.
Historically speaking, God used to have a wife. All ancient cultures understood that there can be no masculine without the feminine, and vice versa. Creation involves both kinds of energy, and God is the ultimate Creator. In the ancient world, the Creator was expressed in a way that people could relate to: in the bodies of a man and a woman. Eventually, however, our spiritual leaders talked about a single creative force, a single God. But people still viewed this creative force as external to them, so they again chose to view God as having a body. Now God was male, a father without the feminine principle.
In the Christian book of Genesis, it states that “God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them.” The first issue we have here is language. A lot of—maybe all—human language uses gender. So some may interpret this statement to mean that a separate male god with a body created men with a similar body. He created women, too, but it’s not clear what the prototype for their bodies was. The problem with this point of view is that it limits God to a body and completely ignores the spirit.
“We are spirits in the material world,” Sting told us in song. God is not external at all. We are not separate from God. God does not have a body. We are certainly “made in God’s image,” however. We are energy. We are co-creators, endowed with the same power and creative ability as our Creator. In our “natural state,” we don’t have a body at all. We are unlimited. We are light.
So is the body unimportant? The body is our material home while we are here, and as such, it deserves our love and care. But we must understand that its importance does not—cannot—eclipse the importance of the spirit within. It doesn’t matter how we choose to express our spirit outwardly. We are all here to express the God consciousness in our own unique way, no matter what that looks like.
We do, as a whole, have some healing to do with regard to our bodies. We focus a lot of fear and hate on what is basically a vehicle, something that moves us around. Hating someone on the basis of their genetics is like hating a Chevrolet for being a Chevrolet. Inside, we are all male and female, we are race-less, we have no “one” sexuality, and we are all infinitely, indelibly beautiful and perfect. We know this; we have only forgotten. That’s all healing is: remembering who we are.