“Perpetual maidenhood”: carving out a queer spiritual space in the world of heteronormative “feminine spirituality”

Diana. Size: 33" x 22". Painting by Jules Joseph Lefebvre. Provenance Hung in Mr. Buechner’s office in Corning, NY. The Schweitzer Gallery, NYC, 1974. The Thomas Buechner Estate, former director of the Brooklyn Museum and founding director of the Corning Museum of Glass. Sold at auction in 2012. Public domain. Source: Wikimedia Commons.

Queer women and non-binary individuals occupy an awkward place within the feminist spirituality movement. While many non-heterosexual women are happy with neo-pagan communities that often equate the female reproductive capacity with Goddess, this has had an unintended consequence of alienating those who do not conform to a heterosexist and patriarchal expectation of “femininity” and “female sexuality” that serve men.

Many women’s spirituality communities have long adhered to the idea of “Triple Goddess,” which is believed to represent “three phases” of women’s lives — maiden, mother, and crone. In this scheme of things, Goddess is almost always addressed as “Mother,” perhaps in reaction to the Judeo-Christian tradition of calling its deity “Father God.”

There are several problems with this.

First, if motherhood is equated with the idealized state of “Goddess-ness,” then it leaves out those who choose not to become a mother. This seems rather chauvinistic: women aren’t really women unless they make babies?

Second, while cronehood is generally respected in such communities (and some of them even have a “crone council”!), this still seems ageist. While the mainstream culture venerates youth and denigrates the elderly, relegating a post-menopausal woman into a venerated-yet-segregated subcommunity is still a symptom of a culture that divides people merely based on chronological age and physical signs of aging.

Third, the entire concept of “Triple Goddess” was an invention of Robert Graves and did not exist until the mid-20th century.

Fourth, the traditional connotation around “maidenhood” revolves also around “innocence” (as in denial of sexuality) and an implicit social pressure to “grow up,” get wiser, and get married to a man.

All these are problematic if any Goddess-centric community seeks to be more inclusive of queer and non-binary femmes who do not conform with the hidden heterosexist norms, as well as those whose sexuality does not revolve around childbirth, heterosexual intercourse, and monogamous marriage and family.

How can we create a space for queer women and non-binary femmes?

One feasible solution is to reclaim the idea of maidenhood and turn it on its head. Instead of the patriarchal expectations of maidenhood, we could draw inspirations from Artemis or Diana (if you have watched the movie Wonder Woman, you get the idea), or maybe Freya.

Lasara Firefox Allen, in her book, Jailbreaking the Goddess, deconstructs the concept of “Triple Goddess” and proposes a five-fold model in its place. In this scheme, Potens is independent, fierce, and at the same time, fully embraces her sexuality and sensuality.

Too often, the queer community (especially those who are outside the idealized middle-class “gay and lesbian” couples you may see on advertisements — as if they are “just normal couples except they’re same-sex”), sexuality and identity are extremely difficult to navigate. In this age of identity politics and nearly limitless “gender identity” and “gender pronouns,” one’s sexual identity is often commodified as if it is a consumer product anyone can buy and switch at will— yet, a true sense of authenticity is hard to come by. Even though the mainstream society views queer people as “over-sexualized” individuals who are only interested in sex, the truth is that they struggle not only with sexual identity, but also with self-image, body acceptance, and relationship.

To this end, it is critical to carve out a space for queer femmes and non-binary folks in the world of feminist spirituality and articulate a new vision for thealogy that is inclusive — yet, without doing injustice to or de-centering common female concerns in feminism (after all, females do not cease to experience menstruation for instance just because they are not heterosexual or no longer identify as a woman).

This is a challenging task ahead, but an idea of “eternal maidenhood” as a vocation for queer and non-binary femmes within the religious feminism can point to a promising direction.

My vision is ultimately to create a space that celebrates and honors those who are called by Goddess to her path but may not feel at home with the common “Divine Feminine” movement, not only the queer and non-binary femmes but also those who are polyamorous and/or pansexual.

Discussion? You are invited to my new Contemporary Priestess discussion forum.