Bisexuality refers to a person who possesses the traits of both sexes or one who sexually desires both sexes. These two definitions highlight the multiple social meanings attached to bisexuality throughout human history and across religions. On the one hand, bisexuality can refer to physical or supernatural entities incorporating both masculine and feminine characteristics. This is especially true of pagan and neopagan religious traditions. This existentialist approach to explaining bisexuality tends to transcend gender categorization, as can be seen in the mythologies of ancient Hinduism, the deity hierarchy of Wicca, and queer theologies. On the other hand, bisexuality can refer to sexual behavior and/or sexual orientation where object choice is not limited to one specific gender. This active notion of bisexuality is often condemned in religious texts and is best viewed through the lens of the gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender (GLBT) movement. Scholars have yet to find general consensus on how to classify bisexuality and its place in a world where gender operates as a principal organizer of love. The beginning of the twenty-first century finds defining bisexual love as a very complicated task.

Possessing Traits of Both Sexes Existential bisexuality refers to a person possessing traits of both sexes. Perhaps the best-known example of an entity possessing male and female spirits is the berdaches, now referred to as two-spirit people, of indigenous North American tribes. This is a difficult concept for many people to grasp because in Western civilization gender consists of two mutually exclusive poles, male and female. If you are one, you cannot be the other. This is not the case for indigenous American people— gender is more about balance than difference. Women are viewed as manifestations of the female divine and men represent the male divine, and the two come together to make the whole. Since religion and spirituality form the foundation of indigenous cultures, two-spirit people are held in the highest esteem because they embody the spectrum of divine love—their essence incorporates the wholeness of the divine itself. Two-spirit people maintain distinct social roles within the group, wear both male and female dressings, and are the only tribe members able to preside at certain ceremonies.

A similar form of existentialist bisexuality can be seen in some traditions within Hinduism. Believing that cooperation between the two sexes is paramount to spiritual wholeness, each person’s soul is likened to the godhead. In this way, human souls are bi-gendered. Sexuality is seen in many Hindu branches as being a central pathway to spiritual awakening and liberation. Tantric practices, conceptualized here as the ritual channeling of the universe’s energy for self-actualization, frequently use yogic sexual engagement. These acts are performed so individuals might eventually be transformed into gods and goddesses, consolidating their genders and existing in harmony simultaneously as both male and female. Tantric denominations can also be found outside of Hinduism, including Buddhism and Jainism, and have existed in a number of countries, including China, Indonesia, Japan, and Sri Lanka.

The idea that humans can spiritually transcend gender also translates into the ability of gods to change genders for specific purposes. According to the Mahabharata, the revered epic poem of ancient India written circa 350 BCE, the god Vishnu transformed himself into a female enchantress called Mohini (illusion), to deceive demons and conquer them. Later translations have argued that Vishnu did not need the power of illusion to perform this feat. Instead, he simply tapped into the feminine aspect of the godhead, symbolized by all gods and goddesses, making such a change possible. In some circles of contemporary Wicca, the All (or supreme Godhead), exists via the joining together of the female essence of the Goddess and male essence of the Great Horned God. This trinitarian model is similar to Christianity’s Holy Trinity, and in fact predates it. Beneath the All, Goddess, and Great Horned God are sets of gods and goddesses, such as Greek and Roman pantheons, in which many characters possess properties of both sexes.

The connection between these religious narratives and the concept of bisexual love is spiritual. In this sense, bisexuality exists on a spiritual dimension where love and its many physical expressions surpass the need for classification by way of gender. In the New Testament, St. Paul writes that in Christ there is neither male nor female for all is one in him. This echoes the general belief that love, in and of itself, is central to religious experience and spiritual enlightenment regardless of tradition. At the same time, the religious literature attributed to Paul is believed to have played a major role in the repression of homosexual/ bisexual behavior within early Christianity and beyond.

Experiencing Sexual Desire for Both Sexes Being actively bisexual implies that a person has sexual desire for both sexes. Most investigations into bisexuality, especially its role in religion, begin—and often end—with a historical analysis of homosexuality. To date, scholars have not been able to identify the origins of homosexuality/bisexuality, a question that continues to provoke academic and religious debate. Most scholars consider bisexuality to be socially constructed and hence contingent upon historical time frame, cultural meaning, and geographic area. In other words, bisexu-ality should be defined by the ways in which societies have reacted to same-sex sexual behavior, love, and societal attempts to regulate sexuality. Religious beliefs and practices reflect the greater culture and are usually important influences in the process of sexual regulation. Examples from the ancient world include ritualistic group orgies among humans in honor of the sexuality of their gods and goddesses.

Oral pagan traditions have long told the story that sexual orgies act as a critical component of worship. In the centuries between the building of Babylon and the time of Christ, pagans thought that the shorter days of winter were due to the sun god’s departure. Months later when spring arrived they would celebrate the return of the sun god through banquets and orgies. Yet same-sex sexual behavior was not only a human occurrence. In Greek mythology, Zeus descends to the earth as an eagle to capture Ganymede, a beautiful human boy, so that they could be lovers on Mount Olympus. Eros, or Cupid in Roman mythology, shoots arrows of lust and love at both humans and gods. Once victims are injected with this euphoria, they are blind to gender. Sex occurs between women, between men, and between men and women all in the name of love.

A modern example of bisexuality is the global gay and lesbian religious movement and its effects on other religious institutions. Intrinsic to today’s dialogue between religion and sexuality that was not present in the ancient world is sexual orientation. Like the love expressed through sexual behavior, sexual orientation is dependent on gender to exist as a social label. The new queer movement, which began in the late twentieth century, focuses on deconstructing sexual orientation and the relevance it has to human interaction and intimate relationships. Queer theology was born from this attempt to liberate human sexuality and has had a significant impact on the way that various religions deal with homosexuality/ bisexuality.

Queer theologies are becoming more common each year and at the heart of these messages is love. In part, the existence of GLBT religious explanations of love stems from the rejection of nonheterosexual identities by other religions. The orthodox communities of Christianity, Judaism, and Islam believe that love cannot be found in sexual desire or behavior when geared toward members of the same sex. Using scriptural passages from their respective canons—New Testament, Torah, and Qur’an— these religious traditions teach followers that homosexuality/bisexuality is sinful in the eyes of God. Queer theologians believe that these interpretations create and promote sexual oppression. They contend that rather than being rejected by God, GLBT individuals enjoy a unique relationship with God. Moreover, bi-sexuality in particular represents God’s love most effectively because it is not hindered by gender preference. Finally, queer theologies illustrate that bisexuality may be the penultimate revelation of human love because it transcends not only gender, but sexual orientation as well.

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