Are you religious? Or would you say you're spiritual? And how does your faith (or lack thereof) connect to your embodied existence?
Many queer and trans folks have a complicated relationship with their spirituality and/or have had a winding journey to what they believe now. That's why we asked nine queer and trans folks to share how their spirituality helped them find a deeper love for themselves and their bodies.
This article appears in Out's August 2019 issue celebrating the body. The cover features South African Olympian Caster Semenya. To read more, grab your own copy of the issue on Kindle, Nook, Zinio or (newly) Apple News+ today. Preview more of the issue here and click here to subscribe.
"My spirituality is so individual that I don’t expect anyone to really understand it. I grew up half-Hindu and half-Catholic. When my father was 17, he read The Autobiography of a Yogi and decided he wanted to raise his kids in a faith different from traditional Chrisitianity. My mother was raised Catholic. I was essentially praying to the Virgin Mary, and to Krishna, but I had the ability to navigate through my own spirituality. At 10 years old, I discovered Wicca. My dad was cool, but my mom freaked out. I later found the Self-Realization Fellowship, a religion often called “The Church of All Churches.” It helps you feel peace with whatever you’re going through. My spiritual practices are a part of the way I express my love for life through my body. Now, I’m in a place in my life where I am in love with myself and I can say it. It’s about realizing this is the only temple we get. Trust your journey because each one is individual and has its ups and downs, but you have to find the patience and tranquility to trust that it’s going to be OK." Follow Magnolia.
"My mom came to the United States from Ethiopia less than a year before I was born and was still very connected to Orthodox Christianity. But we were very spiritual in the home: she would lay hands on me when I was sick, share her prophetic dreams, and warn me of the evil eye. Now, I’m an intuitive, eclectic, non-theistic witch. I don’t follow a specific religion, but I use simple spiritual practices and rituals to connect with a higher power. You know that phrase, “my body is a temple?” Lately, I say, “my body is my wand,” meaning I have an obligation to take care of my sacred body and that it is the instrument with which I work my magic. Thinking of my body as sacred reminds me to care for that body in a world that demonizes blackness, womanhood, queerness, and more. On a practical level, it helps me to be more consistent with my self-care; on a spiritual level, it is deeply healing. Lately I've been blending my yoga practice and witchcraft so I can feel present and connected to a body I've often felt dissociated from due to trauma." Follow Haylin.
"I was adopted and my parents are both white Jews, so I got brought up with it in the household. My earliest memories are Chabot dinner every Friday night. Then, just going to synagogue every Saturday. Spirituality feels a little bit strange to me; it feels like sometimes my relationship to Judaism is participating in a set of cultural beliefs and practices that I grew up with simply because it feels comfortable and grounding and familiar just to keep doing that. On a day-to-day level, I engage more with a cultural sense of Judaism. My relationship with my Jewish identity has changed since leaving Little Rock, Arkansas, where I grew up, and coming to New York City. Because there weren’t a lot of Jews in Arkansas, being Jewish was an important identifier; and I’m also ethnically Asian, so it was always a curiosity. In New York, it’s been nice to be in an environment where people are more aware of the cultures and practices and it’s been a relief to not always have to explain what it is. I think now, especially in modern Reformed Jewish culture, there are a lot of people who have adopted it as a religion and culture who aren’t so tied to its ethnic identity." Follow Aaron.
"Most of my family is either Methodist or Baptist and I grew up going to church on Sundays, going to Sunday school, and being on the children’s choir. In high school, I started to question some of the things I was hearing in church. I also sought out a church separate from my mom's, largely because I was looking for one that had music that made me feel something and carried a message that I could really resonate with. Now, I am in the process of unlearning some things taught to me about my body that were reinforced by religion growing up. I give myself time to feel and understand my emotions, for self-reflection and affirmations, which includes celebrating my body by dancing (twerking) in the mirror. I’m just working on taking better care of myself and having conversations with God, my ancestors, or a higher being. A lot of this practice has been learning to accept and celebrate myself in ways I grew up being told were unacceptable be it by family or society. I don't go to church as often as I used to, but I think I talk to God more now than I did when I went." Follow Courtney.
"I grew up with Islam. Even as a young person I navigated it with such adoration, but when it was enforced I'd feel very reactive to it. Faith always felt like it should never be restrictive. Instead, it should be a template, a guide to be your best self. No matter how you identify! I'm constantly in a conversation with God. I think a lot of my work is about demystifying the relationship between queerness and Islam. People will misuse anything to shame and hurt others, but faith was never supposed to demonize or hurt the way it often does. I'm here for higher levels of forgiveness, care, and kindness as frequencies we tap into. That is really godliness, I think—to use those qualities to heal and help others heal. Everything comes back to my body. I've experienced extreme levels of trauma, especially due to other people's hidden, ashamed queerness, or a reaction to my own queerness. I'm trying to heal those harder, brutal parts of abuse so that I can better understand and access my spirit and mind. Spirituality isn't about judgment. Or pain. Or hurting. It's about lightness and finding the divine in everything." Follow Fariha.
"My beliefs are rooted in the history of my family’s village and practices throughout the Middle East. I’m Palestinian, but we migrated to Chile when I was young. There’s a misconception that men inform us of our traditions or spirituality, but I grew up with mostly women in my life and a lot of who I am today is because of them. My great grandmother who was a medium and she was able to connect through saging and bukhoor, or scented wood. She would wake up early in the morning and go breathe the air, put the energy out there, and connect to our ancestors and we would do a lot of meditating. As a kid I was surrounded by photos of my ancestors, family treasures, and clothing that my great-grandmother embroidered. I have a lot of that here in my apartment in Brooklyn and it adds to my spirituality. There’s this third eye necklace that was passed down from my great grandmother to my grandfather to my mom then to me. It keeps me protected and connected to all of them and my ancestors. There was a moment in time when I was disconnected from my culture and religion because of my queerness, so now I just have my own relationship to spirituality. I celebrate it." Follow Elías.
"Growing up in the American South, my family had deep roots in Christianity. However, that practice never fully resonated with me. I read a lot about African-American history, particularly during American slavery, the Harlem Renaissance, and the Civil Rights Movement. I wanted to know what spiritual traditions my ancestors practiced before leaving Africa, as well as what practices they carried out in praise houses during slavery. Within these past four years, I have been brought to Ifa and Hoodoo. Ifa, a spiritual system based out of Nigeria and West Africa, is balanced on three legs; Orunmila, Orisa, and the ancestors. Through Ifa, we recognize that our Ancestor spirits are always with us and must be honored, acknowledged and consulted. According to oral literature, Ifa has been practiced for over 80,000 years making it possibly the oldest monotheistic religion in the world. Particularly in the African diaspora, Ifa has withstood the subjugation of the Mid-Atlantic Slave Trade. It’s a faith that many people of African descent have connection to through their own ancestors but many people are becoming more aware of through recent cultural phenomena like Beyoncé’s Lemonade." Follow Shydeia.
"I’m a Pilipinx ex-Catholic who likes to queer religious rituals like the novena by incorporating pre-colonial practices, such as hilot and Babaylan, and spiritual/earthly work like tattoos, edging, surfing, stretching, prayer, and poetry. I work with what I know, including my body, sex, and the sea. I rejected the Church and Christianity at-large when I started to occupy my queer, sexual self and really take on my struggling mental health from ages 16 to 25. I re-entered a church on my own volition when my gay godmother passed away; I wanted to honor her with the kind of prayer she knew. That’s how I started to incorporate Catholic ritual into the personal spirituality I was already nurturing and forming for a decade. The way that I practice not only helps me transcend the body, but it helps me be back in my body. Prayer can be anything and it’s OK if it’s erotic and feels pleaesurable and good. With Catholicism, there’s so much shame and guilt, but then I think that we’ve been blessed with pleasure and joy, and reveling in it is sacred too." Follow ica.
"With all of today's scientific knowledge, and lack of knowledge, it's really hard for me to believe in following any dogma. I didn’t grow up feeling spiritual, but I was totally agnostic. After I moved to New York City, I fell in with these artists who were gorgeous and inspiring. I guess it was a spiritual awakening of sorts. As I started learning more about philosophy, psychology, religion, and esotericism, I came across Gnosticism and the work of the psychologist Carl Jung, and realized that described a lot of what I was experiencing. It’s kind of anti-religion and very loose. For me, it’s about the way you experience the world and I connect that to my DNA and genetic memory that as a species we have an instinctual drive to evolve. As I grow spiritually and as a person, I've been putting that into my art in order to document the growth and what I've gone through to get there. My spiritual practice and my art practice have become one and the same. Whether it’s in my blood, an evolutionary thing going on, or divinity, my spirituality is this all- encompassing feeling." Follow Posck.