A pagan and a Jew walk into a bookstore: reclaiming spirituality as an adult queer

By Alixandria Thomason

My partner and I spend a lot of time smiling at each other over rows of bookshelves. The small section of pagan books that faces the back of the store somehow contains more titles than his Judaism section. These are, of course, separated by an absolute sea of Christian books, Bibles, and devotionals. The “religious” section is quite laughable at times.

Not that we have anything against Christianity (most of the time), but we both grew up in that faith and learned it didn’t have a lot of room for people like us. I was kicked out of my family when I brought home my first girlfriend at the age of nineteen, and he has to deal with zealots on the daily who debate if his gender is “real.” As adults we both found our own spiritual legs to stand on and our definitions of family grew as we did. 

I was born into a very religious and conservative family, fathered by a Baptist preacher who also ran as the Republican candidate for state representative in Kentucky. It wasn’t uncommon to hear phrases in our house such as “if that were my child, I’d beat the gay out of him.” Little did he know, a flaming homosexual was living right there under his roof. 

I fell in love with the girl I taught prayer groups with. We went to Jesus retreats together, lead FCA, slept together on Saturday night and then we’d (she’d) pray for forgiveness Sunday morning. It was a weird emotional whiplash, constantly being torn between a religion I thought I needed and a girl I desperately wanted. We kissed in more empty Sunday school rooms than I care to remember, and cried through more guilt-laden services than I can count. Did it make me a hypocrite that most of the worship songs sounded to me like they were written about a woman’s body? 

I remember doing a study group about Genesis where someone said of Eve, “she must have been the most beautiful woman to ever exist.” I looked across the room at the girl I loved and thought, “No one could ever be more beautiful than you.” 

Now, as a thirty-one-year-old woman, I still talk about religious trauma with my therapist. It helps to have this new faith to hold my hand on my bad days. The rules are much easier: be kind, do good, breathe deep. My soul still longs for ritual, the steps that make us feel whole and like we are doing it right. Sometimes I even pray- now to the universe instead of anyone in particular, but that act makes me feel less alone. 

For me paganism started as a way to regain control over a life I felt had slipped through my fingers. I felt alone, like there was a glass ceiling between me and the god I had known growing up. I remember standing in the middle of fields as a kid, praying by tilting my head up and talking to the sky. God was up there. Stepping into paganism was the first time I looked inside my own soul for that eternal voice, not in a distant galaxy far, far away. I started trusting my intuition, speaking softly to the moon. I let my body move to the drumbeat of the seasons, the turning of the year, the forever ebb and flow of nature. I found a home within my own ribcage, I found a voice that had been long silenced. I found god not inside of cold, lonely buildings, but in the fading autumn light, the curve of her hips, the single count of a breath held before finding ecstasy with a lover. It was still just as holy, just as sacred. But this spirituality I could feel down to my bones.

Last June, the day after I turned thirty, I met Ashlend in person for the first time. We had been internet friends for years, but this was the first time we had seen each other face to face. Nine hours into that first date, sitting in the grass at the park, I knew that this was someone really special. We talked about everything, including religion. I knew he was Jewish from our talks online, but I assumed he was born into it. I didn’t know many queer people who belonged to Abrahamic religions by choice. Things I have learned: The Talmud recognizes six genders. 

This is the way he explained his faith to me: “Why Reformed Judaism? Because of the community. The community is first, and the religion is second. It’s welcoming to all, and it validates all genders, unlike Christianity. They walked with us during Pride, and they stood beside People of Color demanding racial justice. It’s a religion about what we can fix now instead of worrying about what will happen after death. It’s about what we can do to take care of each other.” 

I asked if he felt like he had been accepted for who he was in the Jewish community, and he responded with a resounding yes. “Without hesitation, absolutely.”

I am so thankful for the spiritual journey I am on, and the partner I get to walk beside while I do it. It’s so wonderful getting to celebrate two very different spiritualities in one home. I enjoy watching video services from his temple (thanks to the ever-present Covid situation), and he brings me feathers and beautiful stones to put on my altar. The religious section of our personal bookshelves is piled high with titles like “Backwoods Witchcraft” and “Almost Jewish,” my “Holy Wild” text sitting right next to his Torah. And somewhere, buried deep in the boxes I’ve lugged around from living place to living place, is my old Bible. 

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