Nearer my god(s): LGBTQ-inclusive spirituality books, part 2

  • by Brian Bromberger
  • Tuesday August 8, 2023
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Nearer my god(s): LGBTQ-inclusive spirituality books, part 2

Continuing my survey of spiritual resources that are affirming and accepting of LGBTQ people, these books can be used individually as well as in faith communities.

The previous roundup focused on Christian assets. This list focuses on non-Christian wellsprings. In the last decade there has been an explosion of queer interest in Buddhism, Native American, yoga and Wiccan traditions as they attempt to provide inclusive spaces where people don't have to choose between essential parts of their identity.

Author Kate Ott  

Sex, Tech & Faith: Ethics for a Digital Age by Kate Ott, $22.99 (Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.)
Ott is a straight Professor of Christian Social Ethics, but is very LGBTQ-friendly. She presents a values-based, shame-free, pleasure-positive discussion of Christian sexual ethics in response to a range of pressing issues in our digital times including online pornography, dating apps, sexting, virtual-reality hookups (including Grindr), and sex robots.

You might not agree with all her conclusions, but her arguments are quite thought-provoking, as she asks what role spirituality plays in your dating profile, your app behavior, and how you understand your sexual self. She provides a very helpful Youth Study Guide to engage teens and young adults in the subject matter of the book, perfect for church groups, as well as those trying to integrate with integrity their sexuality and spirituality

Christianity, LGBTQ Suicide, and the Souls of Queer Folk by Cody J. Sanders, $39.99 (Lexington Books)
With LGBTQ youth facing a higher risk of suicide than their heterosexual peers, this book investigating the role religion plays in queer suicides couldn't be more timely. Sanders, an American Baptist chaplain to Harvard University, interviewed nine LGBTQ suicide survivors, "who voiced a desire to help churches to become safer, more life-giving places for LGBTQ people," by being in conversation with the literature of philosophy, theology, psychology, and other disciplines to make churches aware how poisonous theologies demean and devalue queer lives. Highly recommended for ministers, social workers, divinity students, as well as trauma survivors, it may help to understand and combat this disturbing phenomenon of soul violence.

Queer Judaism: LGBT Activism and the Remaking of Jewish Orthodoxy in Israel by Orit Avishai, $30 (NYU Press)
It has only been recently that Orthodox Jews in Israel could start embracing their LGBT sexual or gender identity and stay within the Orthodox fold, being accepted for who they are. Avishai, a Professor of Sociology and Women's, Gender, and Sexuality Studies at Fordham University, has drawn on more than 120 interviews, illustrating how queer Jews accomplished this radical change through both political activism and personal interactions with religious leaders and community members.

This shift to create spaces so they could go about their daily lives has occurred in a relatively short time span. Rather than rejecting their religion, queer Orthodox Jews draw from their lived experiences as well as Jewish traditions, symbols, scriptures, and mythologies to embrace their sexual identity, so as to give their lives meaning. While scholarly, it's approachable and touching at times.

The Wrong Kind of Jew: A Mizrahi Manifesto by Hen Mazzig, $18.00 (Wicked Son Press)
Mizrahim are the Jews of the Middle East and North Africa (particularly Tunisia and Iraq). Mazzig is an educator and founder of Mizrahi Heritage Month, and advocates on behalf of their history and culture.

Part memoir, part proclamation, he writes, "I'm a bad Jew. I'm bad at meeting expectations of what Jewish looks like, sounds like, thinks like, and means. But I have the audacity to know that I am a bad Jew and feel good about it."

The same could be said for his proud secular, progressive, queerness. Last year he was named among the top 50 LGBTQ influencers. He not only breaks expectations of what many hold about Jews and race, but also their sexuality. Audacious is the word here with his incredible candor about a neglected and misunderstood minority in Judaism and the role queerness might play in it.

Fritz Bauer: The Jewish Prosecutor who Brought Eichmann and Auschwitz to Trial by Ronen Steinke, $30 (Indiana University Press)
German Jewish judge and prosecutor Fritz Bauer (1903-1968) played a key role in the arrest of Adolf Eichmann and the initiation of the Frankfurt Auschwitz trials. He was also a closeted homosexual. But he was brought up as a Reformed Jew, which emphasizes social justice. He was an early opponent of Nazism and when they came to power in 1933, he was sent to a concentration camp, but eventually released.

When he returned to Germany in 1949, after exile in Denmark, he made many contributions to the postwar German justice system so it would be more independent and democratic, as well as reforming the penal system. But it was his Jewishness that prompted him to prosecute Nazi war criminals. Later he tried unsuccessfully to overturn Paragraph 175, which criminalized homosexuality. A tortured figure, it appears he committed suicide in 1968, never able to reconcile with his sexuality, but is now considered a gay martyr in Germany.

Muslims on the Margins: Creating Queer Religious Community in North America by Katrina Daly Thompson, $30 (NYU Press)
Thompson, a Professor of Humanities and African Cultural Studies at University of Wisconsin-Madison, offers vivid stories of real experiences and diverse perspectives of nonconformist Muslim communities who have reinterpreted their religion and created space for queer, trans, and nonbinary identities within Islam, both in North America and in several international communities.

There's a critical questioning of established norms and the hope of creating more inclusive religious futures that engages tradition, but isn't bound to it either. A local note: the book is dedicated to Jack Fertig (Perpetual of Indulgence Sister Boom Boom) who converted to Islam two years before his death. Again, scholarly but compelling and understandable.

We Have Always Been Here: A Queer Muslim Memoir by Samra Habib, $18.95 (Viking Press)
This is a dramatic memoir with Habib growing up as an Ahmadi Muslim in Pakistan, where they faced regular threats from Islamic extremists who believed the small, dynamic sect to be blasphemous. The family fled to Canada as refugees, which meant dealing with bullies, racism, possible poverty, and an arranged marriage at age 14.

Fortunately when their prospective husband mentioned he could see occasions when it would be necessary to beat them, Habib's family —because the Ahmadi sect believes in nonviolence— allowed them to refuse the marriage. They had to deal with men wanting to police them, women who only showed them pious obedience, and then an exploration of queer sexuality, as well as a developing interest in writing, photography, and activism. We find out how their family dealt with their queerness.

Habib works with LGBTQ organizations internationally to raise awareness about issues impacting queer Muslims around the world. Habib was named one of the "21 LGBT Muslims who are changing the world" by The Advocate with their photo project, "JustMe and Allah" featured in The Washington Post. The book is a testament to the power of fearlessly inhabiting one's true self. Despite the anti-LGBT stance of her culture, Habib returned to their religion and helps other queer Muslims to do the same.

A Queer Dharma: Yoga and Meditations for Liberation by Jacoby Ballard, $17.95 (North Atlantic Books)
This book adroitly interweaves the teachings of Buddhist meditation practice with yoga practice as it has impacted queer folk. Ballard is a social justice educator, yoga teacher, and Buddhist teacher-in-training, who uses the wisdom of his elders and stories from his own personal journey as a trans person, to offer tools for processing and healing from trauma individually and in community. He explores questions like, "The world won't stop being homo-and transphobic, so how do I encounter that in a way that does the least harm? How do we love what is uniquely queer about us?"

Concepts like loving kindness, letting go, compassion, joy, forgiveness, and equanimity are explored through a queer lens, and each paired with corresponding meditations, practices, and beautiful line drawings of queer bodies.

He uses concepts from feminist, Black and queer theory to critique mainstream yoga and the mindfulness movement exploring how it intersects with capitalism, cultural appropriation, and sexual violence in perpetuating queer-and transphobia. Geared toward all marginalized people to summon their Buddha nature and embrace everyone with open hearts so as to transform suffering into liberation. Ballard's vulnerability is moving and as a balm on the road to spiritual healing.

Reclaiming Two-Spirits: Sexuality, Spiritual Renewal & Sovereignty in Native America by Gregory Smithers, $21.95 (Beacon Press)
Two-Spirits is an umbrella term denoting feminine and masculine qualities in one person manifested in sexual and gender diversity. Prior to European colonization, Indigenous people in Native North America accepted and celebrated Two-Spirits by different names such as miati or okitcitakwe long before Europe did. After 1492, in order to safeguard their existence following violence and persecution, they took their culture underground so as to preserve them.

Smither, a professor of American History at Virginia Commonwealth University, uses archaeological evidence, art, oral storytelling, and some written sources to detail the history of this community and how they were denigrated and erased from history. However, because of their resistance and refusal to be silenced, they've re-emerged in all their complexity.

While embracing tribal traditional roles, Two-Spirits have refused to be subordinated into Western LGBTQ identities. They adopt a non-binary point of view using gender-neutral terms to express their identities. Lucid and readable, with engaging stories about current Two-Spirits that recovers a lost history that seems even more relevant today, the book was a finalist for the 2023 Publishing Triangle Randy Shilts Award for Gay Nonfiction.

Queering Your Craft: Witchcraft From the Margins by Cassandra Snow, $16.95 (Weiser Books)
"Witchcraft, like queerrness, is an orientation of otherness... not requiring an outside authority to intercede on behalf of them," writes author Snow.

This book combines queer aesthetic and culture (DIY Culture and chosen family over formal covens) with pagan and metaphysical spiritual practice, for the beginning LGBTQ witch. Snow, a professional tarot card reader who also runs a queer and feminist theater company in Minneapolis, argues that even though witchcraft has always appealed to outsiders and outcasts in society, much of its practice still adheres to society's binaries and prejudices.

She sets out on how to make conventional prayer, words, and symbols work for the queer practitioner while still being true to oneself. The book covers the personal, the collective, and the political, arguing how deeply intertwined all three are in a 'magickal' practice for queer people. It serves as a queer introduction to witchcraft, learning the craft with lots of spells and rituals, covering topics such as meditations, altars, grimoires, divinity, shadow work, sabbats, astrology, and moon magick. Her Queer Witch Manifesto is radically inclusive, suggesting wicca is a highly individual spiritual path that looks different for each witch, exploring and celebrating one's uniqueness with pride and compassion.

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