I am strictly a Star Trek dilettante, but one of the episodes of Star Trek: The Next Generation that I’ve seen all the way through is one called “The Outcast,” in which Riker falls in love with a member of an androgynous humanoid society called the J’naii. It is forbidden love because the J’naii have evolved beyond gender and consider male-female sexual-relating as primitive and an abomination.
Riker thinks this particular J’naii, named Soren, is really a woman because she (um, they? Xe? I don’t recall the Enterprise addressing the pronoun issue) just seems like a woman–i.e. she has fine features and a high voice and also, she’s played by a female actor–that helps a lot–but Soren is all like, “That’s not how we J’naii roll,” and Riker’s like, “Oh no, baby, I think that is how you roll,” and she/xe’s all like, “Yeah, you’re right, that’s how I roll”–and so they fall in love and maybe get it on or at least kiss the way men and women sometimes do. (I don’t really remember. How it was on the show, I mean.) Anyway, the rest of the J’naii get wind of this disgusting display of heterosexuality and they are not cool with it because–I bet you can guess why, but I’ll tell you anyway–gender dichotomy will lead to the breakdown of their society. Every J’naii knows this. Only sicko pervs like Riker would dare question it.
Long story short, after Soren bravely comes out of the closet as a flaming female, declaring her love for that manliest of primitive men, Commander Riker, her fellow, er, comrade J’naii force her to undergo some kind of therapy to get straightened out (if you’ll pardon the expression). When Riker next sees her, she’s gone back to being a xe, and xe has to give the “I was confused about my sexual identity but I’m happy now, sorry I misled you and everything” speech. Riker doesn’t buy it. In fact, he’s pretty broken up about the whole thing. It just ain’t right. Roll credits.
It’s a reasonably straightforward analogy to the plight of homosexuals in our heteronormative society. But I’ve thought about this particular episode a lot over the years, for different reasons. It’s difficult for me to imagine a world where there are no men and no women, just people. I’m well aware that there are people whose gender identities don’t match their biological sex and that there are people who identify as neither male nor female. They should live well and be happy, but I can’t imagine a world where there is no concept of male and female. I know the Proclamation on the Family is all bourgeois and crap, but to me the existence of transgendered people has always seemed a proof that gender is not merely a societal construct; it strikes me as perfectly reasonable that one’s maleness or femaleness could be a spiritual as well as a biological reality. I don’t know that it’s true, of course. It just feels true to me. And to be perfectly honest, no offense to the non-binary among us, a world where everyone is gender-neutral—like the J’naii—seems like it would be kind of boring and quite possibly a bummer. (Judging from the Star Trek wardrobe department, it would most likely be the death of fashion.) That’s probably my social and religious conditioning talking, but there it is.
I attended a Baptist college, and while there I took a philosophy class in which we discussed the existence of God and the nature of God, and at one point the professor asked, “Why do we refer to God as ‘He’? Is God a man? Does God have…genitalia?” Most of the class tittered at this because of course God is not anthropomorphic, of course God doesn’t have genitalia, what a silly idea. As a Mormon, who’d been taught all her life that of course God has a physical body, my reaction was different—more along the lines of what it would have been if someone asked me about the existence of my dad’s genitalia. I WOULD RATHER NOT SAY. But this is the problem with an (eternally) embodied God: if God is a physical being, of course God has genitalia (ALTHOUGH I WOULD REALLY RATHER NOT DISCUSS IT), and of course God is a man or a woman. Unless God is intersex, of course. I suppose that’s possible. But what’s it to us?
There was a time when I thought Mormonism made a great deal of sense in this department. We have a Heavenly Father and a Heavenly Mother; it’s only logical. Genesis says we were made in the image of God, male and female, which seems to suggest that God is both male and female. As noted in Elizabeth Cady Stanton’s The Women’s Bible, the Holy Trinity of Father, Mother, and Son makes more sense than Father, Son, and Holy Ghost. Some Mormons theorize that the Holy Ghost is Heavenly Mother, but the Doctrine and Covenants says the Holy Ghost is a personage of spirit, not flesh and bone, which would suggest that the Holy Ghost is not Heavenly Mother, because if Heavenly Father is a personage of flesh and bone, wouldn’t his eternal companion also be flesh and bone? (Unless Heavenly Mother is Satan. I mean, Satan’s Plan–it’s just like a woman to try to be controlling like that.) But whatever. As I was saying, in a world where you need males and females to reproduce, in a world where, generally speaking, there must be men and women, it makes sense to imagine God as two complementary beings. It’s not necessarily factually correct (like anyone can even know that, Napoleon), but it’s not illogical.
However, as Mormons we haven’t fully realized this theology. (We haven’t fleshed it out, as it were. Ha ha.) Heavenly Mother is a mystery, one that we’re expected not to be too curious about. The same people who expound endlessly on the importance of earthly families having both mothers and fathers also insist that Heavenly Father alone should be quite enough for anyone. I guess I don’t disagree. Not anymore, anyway. I used to, back when I was emotionally and intellectually invested in the idea of God as Father and Mother—two Gods, in fact, not one. But years of wondering what ever happened to Heavenly Mother—why shouldn’t we pray to Her? Was she having a Mom’s Day Out (where a day is as ten thousand years)? Was she too busy tidying up Kolob? What did she do all day that was so important she couldn’t be bothered by the children? Why was she so, you know, un-maternal?—I began to find the whole concept of Her depressing.
If you’ll bear with the sci-fi anecdotes a little longer, Whoopi Goldberg once said that she loved Star Trek as a kid because it was the only TV program that showed black people in the future. Mormonism may be the only Christian religion that allows for a female deity, but Mormonism does not show women in the future. The eternal fate of women would not concern me if I hadn’t been taught all my life that my femaleness was an essential and eternal characteristic, that I was formed in the image of God literally because God was literally a personage of flesh and bone. If I’m going to be a woman forever—and I kind of hope I will be—I can’t help but be curious about what a woman inherits in the next life. But the church has told me often enough that this question is not pertinent to my salvation, so perhaps it’s time I believed it.
I’ve decided I’m not married to the idea of Heavenly Mother anymore. I’d rather believe she doesn’t exist than believe that she doesn’t matter. And that’s the only conclusion I can reach regarding Mormon teachings about God: Heavenly Mother doesn’t matter. I mean, neither the man without the woman nor the woman without the man, etc., but what about life eternal being to know the only true God? If Heavenly Mother mattered, knowing Her would in fact be pertinent to our salvation. But we don’t and it isn’t.
I know that I don’t need the church’s permission to know Heavenly Mother. There are people who believe in Heavenly Mother because they’ve had personal spiritual experiences that make them certain She is there. I’m not one of those people. Granted, I’m not a very spiritual person. My own experience has led me to an undeniable knowledge of God, but it consists of two things only: 1) God exists. 2) God loves us (even me). Beyond that, I really don’t know anything for certain. I don’t have the sort of relationship with God that feels personal in the same sense that my relationships on earth are personal. I don’t know what God looks like. I don’t know God’s personality. I don’t know if God has a sense of humor (although I hope for my own sake God does). I don’t know if God is male or female (or intersex). I don’t know if God is actually embodied, or if that’s just the only way Joseph Smith could understand God as a reality. Whatever. My days of angst over what the nature of God says about my own alleged divine nature are over. I just don’t have the energy for it anymore. The questions are too frustrating.
This does throw a wrench in doctrine of the Family—for me, anyway. I can only buy the necessity of a man and a woman sealed together for eternity if Heavenly Mother exists and serves an eternal purpose, and I’m no longer convinced that she must. As far as I know, God could very well be a single Father (no offense to Eliza R. Snow). Maybe there’s an Aunt God in a neighboring universe who occasionally visits Kolob to provide Heavenly Father’s spirit offspring with a positive female role model. Or maybe there’s no need for that because God is both male and female in one personage, embodied or otherwise. Maybe when we’re resurrected we’ll all be like the J’naii, neither male nor female. (Though I hope we’re issued robes, not jumpsuits.) Maybe God is two spinsters who have decided to combine their eternal households and share custody of each other’s cats. (Nothing funny, they just like cats.) I really don’t care anymore, because it is whatever it is. There’s no point getting upset about it. Certainly if I get to the other side and find out there is a Heavenly Mother, she was just really tired the day Joseph Smith had his First Vision, I won’t try to argue with her about it. (“You’ll understand when you’re a goddess.” “When I’M a goddess, I won’t ignore my children for thousands of years!!”) But because I don’t know, because I’ve been told so many times in so many different ways that it’s not important for me to know, I’m just going to enjoy my earthly illusions while I can and believe things about God that make me the least angry and confused.
I no longer yearn for a relationship with my Heavenly Mother because my experience has taught me that I can make do without one. I lost my earthly mother almost 20 years ago, and to be honest, I long more for her than I possibly could for a Woman I’ve never met (or at least have no memory of). I suppose when I cross the proverbial bar, I’ll learn all kinds of things I never knew before. Maybe I’ll find out there is a Heavenly Mother. Maybe I’ll find out there are two or seventeen (and they’re all just lovely). Maybe I’ll meet Aunt God. Who knows who I’ll meet? It could be anybody. If I find out there is no Heavenly Mother, never has been, I’ll probably just say, “Okay, then. Well, where’s my real Mom?” Which is probably just as well, since if I am introduced to Heavenly Mother, my first words will probably be something like, “Where the hell have you been?” (And then I will probably want to see my real Mom.)