Letters from Midgard
A Heathen's View of LGBT
Only a few hours after my last article was posted, a reader asked me about Heathenry and homosexuality. There is no official Heathen position on this issue, just as there is no official Heathen position on any issue. Anything you read here is what I think.
The Old Norse culture was extremely homophobic. As just one very brief example, if you were to describe a man using a feminine adjective, you had just given that man a legal license to kill you. There are other examples, including some memorable ones in the major sagas. In many cultures, there are mistakes one just doesn't make. Anything remotely resembling homosexuality in the Old Norse culture was a "mistake" that could, and probably would, kill you.
And, however much we may admire our Heathen forebears, we don't have any holy books, or gods, that tell us we have to live or think as if we are in the Tenth Century.
So, what is the Heathen position on homosexuality? As with most issues, the Heathen position on this issue is all over the map. I have no statistics to cite, just my own observations. I know gay and lesbian and bisexual and transsexual Heathens. I know straight Heathens who are accepting. Some are folkish, others are not. Some are liberal, others are not. And there are some Heathens who might as well be back in the age.
It's interesting to ponder why this topic still causes so much storm and stress at this late date. I have a hypothesis, based on observing some reactions in myself. Some readers probably won't like the comparison I'm going to make, but it's useful. I'll ask you to identify the useful part and toss the rest.
I remember meeting a woman with severe cerebral palsy when I was a child. It was an emotionally wrenching experience that I am embarrassed to remember, especially the involuntary muscle spasms in myself. Part of the embarrassment was from wondering if the person we were visiting thought I was mocking her. The other part was from wondering why this was happening to me.
Many years later, I understood that perception is just the outer layer of consciousness. All those nerve impulses have to make their way from outside the skull to the inside. Once there, the world has to be rebuilt, simulated, and verified. This involves a large amount of assumption and imagination, far more than we're usually aware of. Most of the time, this serves us well. Sometimes, it can get us in trouble, as I discovered when my own muscles were reacting against my will to a subconscious construction of life with cerebral palsy.
I'm happy to report that, after several visits, my problem went away. Something in me that I didn't quite control eventually realized that she and I were not the same entity. Then I could start to get to know her.
I wonder if the visceral response many heterosexuals have to homosexuality is the result of a similar phenomenon. In order to understand the concept, we have to mentally construct and simulate what it must mean, and our minds might be better at this than we appreciate. I am a Freyasman from a very young age, and the mental calamity that would result from homosexual sex lends me some understanding of homophobia.
The important thing is, however, that no one asks me to make such a choice. Or, if someone did, "No, thank you" would probably mark the end of it. Many of the LGBT people I know have a sense of personal decency about them that the rest of us could stand to emulate. People who are not willing to take "no" for an answer, or who want "sex" with children, are really a different kind of problem, one that is hardly the sole province of LGBT persons.
I think it likely that there are very few people who are able to deliberately choose their sexuality, regardless of what it happens to be. The loud voices saying this is a moral issue seem eager to ignore the fact that morality necessarily involves choice. And even if one can choose, so what? It's better to conclude that these are all just different ways of being human, and then leave each other to be who we are and find appropriate partners for ourselves. To do otherwise would be a tremendous waste of honorable people and good friends.
Steven Thor Abell is a storyteller and the author of Days in Midgard: A Thousand Years On, a collection of original modern stories based on Heathen myths. As of 2013, he is also Steersman of the High Rede of The Troth.
Abell's column, "Letters from Midgard," is published on occasional Thursdays on the Pagan channel. Subscribe via email or RSS.