Am I a Satanist? Are you? How Satanism is empowering the trans community

Zinnia JonesAm I, Zinnia Jones, a Satanist? Here’s some rather interesting commentary on this subject that I found while browsing Tumblr:

I was somewhat surprised to discover Zinnia Jones is not really an atheist but has a satanist tattoo (why?) . . . I think most of the trans activists probably do worship satan and Zinnia simply let the cat out of the bag. “satan = father of lies”… of course they worship him.  The tattoo was to let other satanists know who they are–its usually visible in their photos.

That… is one hell of a theory. Trans people worshiping the devil and flashing secret symbols at each other like some kind of Masonic conspiracy? To be fair, this same person also accused me of being in cahoots with “Big Pharma” and getting high on mood stabilizers, so good old-fashioned Satanic panic is probably not that unusual of an idea within their particular worldview. But this isn’t the first time the Satan question has come up, and it does raise some questions worth exploring.

Am I a Satanist? I can see how someone might assume that. I do have that tattoo of the Baphomet pentacle. I’m wearing this upside-down serpent cross pretty much all the time. I’ve gone by the name Satana on a few other websites.

I named myself after Satan and I’m positively draped in demonic iconography. So far, it’s not looking so good.

I am an atheist

But no – I am an atheist. I do not have a religion, and that includes Satanism. I don’t affiliate myself with any religious identity or organization. In terms of religious practices, I’ve participated in Wiccan holidays and spell-casting ceremonies, but not because I think any of it is real. It’s just a fun and mostly harmless outlet for ritual and superstition – and for me, participating in practices where all involved acknowledge that none of it requires any authentic belief feels very freeing after a childhood spent in churches where everyone was expected to pretend that biblical stories and doctrines reflected the reality of the world.

My metaphysical views are naturalist: I don’t believe in entities like God, or Satan, or anything beyond the natural world. I believe the answers to scientific and philosophical questions are to be found within this world – that process of reasoned inquiry is our responsibility to ourselves and each other as human beings. My ethics and values are humanist, focused on facilitating human well-being and flourishing in this life. I am a secularist: I believe that for a pluralistic society to function, the government must not regard any religion or faith as privileged above others or entitled to impose itself and its precepts upon all citizens.

I’ve consistently held these positions since I realized as a teenager that many mutually exclusive religions would condemn me just the same for my disbelief, and that not one of them could be shown to be more objectively true than the others. I made videos about atheism for my first three years on YouTube. I’ve given speeches at secularist conferences. I called myself the “Queen of Atheism” until I realized how cringey that was. My atheist bonafides aren’t really something I thought I would have to clarify.

So why is there a devil tattoo on my chest? I got this because I just wanted something edgy (in case you needed any more proof that I’m an atheist). I wanted something that’s kind of in-your-face, something that would make bigots do a double take, something that’s a little bit scary. What better way than to embrace a symbol of the ultimate evil within this country’s dominant religion?

Christians often describe trans people as Satanically influenced

The association of trans people with the Christian concept of evil is not new, and it’s not something I came up with. Any religious sect which regards human sexual dimorphism and traditional gender roles as directly ordained by God can very easily come to view trans people as being in opposition to God’s will, and this stance can hardly be said to fall outside of mainstream Christianity.

Thomas White of the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood, a conservative evangelical group closely tied to the Southern Baptists, has stated that the “biblical worldview” “focuses on God creating men and women in His image and for His glory”, and that this worldview regards transgender acceptance as “embracing our sinful nature in rebellion against our Creator”. The CBMW essentially denies the very existence of gender identity discordance as a phenomenon, declaring in their Nashville Statement that there is a “God-appointed link between biological sex and self-conception as male or female”, and that “the grace of God in Christ enables sinners to forsake transgender self-conceptions”. This statement was co-signed by the president of the Southern Baptist Convention, the president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, the president of the Family Research Council, and the founder of Focus on the Family.

This group is not shy about attributing our existence as trans people to the work of Satan. Writing for the creationist group Answers in Genesis, president Owen Strachan of the CBMW explained: “We see the profound tension between God’s design and Satan’s attacks on this design. The Lord created man and woman and gives them specific roles to play for His glory; Satan targets man and woman and induces them to upend God’s design.” Continuing, he stated: “Conversion for transgender individuals will not be neat and clean. It will be messy. It will involve the recognition that sin has corrupted us in every fiber of our being”. Another CBMW writer said: “An attack on God’s design for men and women is an attack on God himself.”

Scratch the surface of contemporary Christianity, and it’s not hard to find references to Satan as playing a key role in transgender lives. Ed Vitagliano of the American Family Association describes trans people as “prisoners, held captive by a spiritual oppression that is slowly crushing the life out of them”, and “often taken captive through the public proclamation of Satan’s lies.” Writing in the National Catholic Register, Glenn Stanton of Focus on the Family refers to “the devil’s attack on gender”, stating that “in this gender revolution, Satan is attempting to trick all of us into doubting something deeper: the very image of God.” An article in the Catholic publication Crisis Magazine claims that “maleness and femaleness are primary targets for the father of lies”, and celebrates the “brilliant depiction of Satan as asexual in The Passion of the Christ”: “The satanic antichrist will appear not only without knees, upon which to offer worship, or wounds, which attest to sacrificial love, but also without sex, in androgynous sterility.” Mel Gibson himself explained the intention behind this depiction of Satan to Christianity Today: “We dubbed in a man’s voice in Gethsemane even though the actor is a woman … That’s what evil is about, taking something that’s good and twisting it a little bit.”

The Christian Medical & Dental Associations, a group with over 19,000 members, hosts an article about trans people which makes reference to Satan no less than 10 times: “Satan knows how to prick our fleshly desires and our sin nature to influence a corrupted repertoire of life management paradigms and decisions.” Even Mormons are getting in on the action – the official LDS page on Satan claims that “he attempts to undermine the family by confusing gender”.

And the Catholic Church, the largest Christian sect with over a billion adherents, has come very close to stating outright that trans people are in league with Satan. Delivering a keynote address at the National Catholic Prayer Breakfast, Cardinal Robert Sarah, a top official at the Vatican, warned of the “threat” of “a demonic ‘gender ideology’”, and attacked laws allowing trans people to use restrooms and locker rooms of their gender. And Pope Francis has criticized the acceptance of trans people in the harshest of terms, lamenting how “terrible” it is that children are being taught “that everyone can choose their gender” and declaring that “we are living a moment of annihilation of man as image of God”. Francis has also described “gender theory” as one of many “Herods” that “destroy, that plot designs of death, that disfigure the face of man and woman, destroying creation”, and further criticized “the biologic and psychological manipulation of sexual difference, which biomedical technology allows one to see as open to free choice”. One bishop relayed that Francis had told him “gender ideology is demonic”.

So: Major currents within Christianity regard trans people as anywhere from directly under the control of the devil, to an unfortunate side effect of a Satan-inspired moment of apple-eating in a garden 6,000 years ago. When we live as the gender we know we are and seek treatment that’s known to improve our lives, we’re told that we’re “embracing our sinful nature”, that we’re “an attack on God himself”, that “sin has corrupted us in every fiber of our being”, that we’re “destroying creation”. Our honest existence is viewed as a manifestation of the ultimate evil aligned against the ultimate good.

Many trans people have found meaning and resonance with Satan

When churches have staked out positions that are so truly repulsive, is it any wonder that trans people would be, well, repulsed? Why wouldn’t we want to run in the opposite direction from this as fast as we can? Just compiling that list of examples made me want to head for the nearest black mass. And it seems that many trans people feel much the same way. When I asked my followers about the appeal of Satanic themes and aesthetics for them as trans people, my mentions erupted. There are so many more trans people who are into this than I expected, and their reasons for embracing the symbolism of Satan reflected some consistent motivations.

Many of them were inspired toward Satanism by the hostility of mainstream and conservative Christianity against queer and trans people. To them, affiliating openly with Satanic ideas and images was affirming and empowering, a way of happily adopting the notion of being in wholesale opposition to a theology and culture that regards us as evil.

“It’s in direct opposition to one of the most oppressive belief systems towards trans people in the US. There’s strength in identifying with monsters.” —Katlyn G.

“For me it’s partly growing up goth, feeling isolated in a conservative household where I was punished for even being assumed queer. Satan felt like the ultimate rebellion.” —Johnny A.

“Part of me likes it because I identify with Satanism. Another part of me likes it because I was raised a Mormon, all my life trans people were basically compared to devil worshippers and after coming to terms with it I ended up identifying with satanic imagery more and more.” —Zoey G.

“…we have often been spat upon by the ‘good Christian folk’ (who really embody none of the principles taught by Jesus in the Christian mythos) in authority. Our desire to find symbolism and solidarity in resisting their moral rule and transphobic mores is obvious.” —Lycha

“I was raised and abused in a Catholic household. Christians turned they’re back on me when I came out. Christians shamed me for who I am. Embracing the symbology of Satanism has been a cathartic rejection of the belief systems that have hurt me the most.” —ersatz_human

“I grew up unaware of my identity but I knew I didn’t feel safe in religious spaces and tended to find safety in the opposite direction, and I related a lot to LGBT coded villains/lessons about the devil, I ended up defensively embracing the aesthetic and it… stuck.” —Milo L.

“I was raised in an intensely pentecostal Republican household. Both of us kids turned out queer. It symbolizes my rejection of my entire oppressive childhood, I guess.” —Erin A.

“Jesus’s fanclub hates us, lots of us escaped that fanclub, and loudly, visibly rejecting the symbols and trappings of the past is Kinda Our Thing, Ya Know?” —Herracks

“Being raised conservative Christian, I generally dislike Christianity now. I just love narratives where people or characters appear to be evil but turn out to be wonderful and kind.” —Kimberly D.

“Because my very being is adversarial and in opposition to misogynistic heteronormative patriarchal western Christian culture which dominates our society.” —Lilith F.

“Because it is a rejection of some of the systems used to oppress us. It is also something I grew up with in 90s when I listened to death metal, so oddly it’s some nostalgia for me.” —Jen D.

Some noted that displaying Satanic images helped them gain confidence and take back control of the experience of being trans in public, or even connect with other queer and trans people:

“I began displaying Satanic symbols right around when I went full-time. I found I was more self-conscious about whether people would give me shit about my Baphomet pendant than about my skirt, or what restroom I was in. So I never stressed about passing. As a baby trans girl, displaying Satanic imagery gave me a feeling of control over what people would fixate on, if they saw me. It still does, and I even get a surprising number of compliments on it.” —Wren

“One, an ethos or personal code based on principles of self-enlightenment and pride. Two, a representation of a big f***-you toward authority, especially the Christian kind. Three, a dramatic flair for unveiling things which cause discomfort or revile in others. … a desire to publicly display contempt for cisgender heteronormativity in very visible displays, especially  knowing how many ‘normal’ people fear and detest our existence, is easy to grok.” —Lycha

“It makes people who hate us for being us feel afraid, and they deserve to feel the fear they’ve caused us.” —Chloe

“I was wearing stuff with pentagrams in college before I knew I was trans, because it seemed to attract other people who thought like me. Fifteen years later, more than a few of us are out as trans, enby, GNC, bi, pan… so it worked better than I could have ever imagined. … I’m proud to be part of this hive of queer metal aesthetic satanists.” —Vyr C.

“Just to piss people off. And yes, you can quote me.” —Trav M.

Éliphas Lévi’s seminal illustration of Baphomet as the “Sabbatic Goat” (1854)

Others found a more trans-specific meaning in the character of Baphomet, a goat-like demonic occult figure which has traditionally been depicted with mixed sex features – both a penis and breasts.

“I’m not that into Satanic imagery per se, but I am a fan of Eliphas Levi’s hermaphroditic Baphomet image specifically. One of the few serious tattoo ideas I’ve had is ‘solve’ and ‘coagula’ on my arms.” —Morgan M.

“Exploration of gender and sexuality is a pretty common theme in witchy etc. art which is something I readily connect with. Especially all the ‘here’s a hot drawing of Baphomet, check out her dick’.” —Nicole

“I discovered Baphomet as a teen. Often considered satanic by Christians, Baphomet is a 19th century occult figure that represents the rejection of binaries and the embodiment of hedonism (among many other things). I didn’t know I was nonbinary until my mid-twenties but the physical idol that represented an embodied rejection of binaries and experiencing the world in a grounded sensate/pleasure/moment-driven state was obviously appealing to a repressed kid like me. Baphomet has been maybe the perfect religious iconography a nonbinary person like me could have. And even though I consider myself to be an atheist witch, Baphomet is the closest I’ve ever felt to anything that might be considered deified.” —Andy H.

And several forged a positive identification with the philosophical precepts of Satanism and groups like The Satanic Temple, such as human self-reliance, independence of thought, freedom of self-definition, mutual respect, and celebration of diverse identities:

“Demons (and Satan specifically) for me are strongly associated with self-determination, confidence, and passionate expression of one’s desires. Demons don’t judge you. They don’t say ‘no, you’re filthy and sinful and wrong’. They say ‘I understand you, and you’re okay’.” —Lily F.

“So, finding truth through oneself, and being proud of who you are, appeals to trans folx. We resent the idea of someone else telling us who we are or who we are supposed to be.” —Lycha

“To me, Satan represents rebelling against societal norms/ideas for the sake of knowledge, freedom, self-care, self-definition, self-love, etc.” —Morgan L.

“My reason for it is that my personal beliefs align far more with Satanism than any other religion. I’m not a card-carrying Satanist, I’m not very spiritual, but I believe people should have their own free will and enjoy their lives while they are here.” —Remora

“Subversion is in our blood?” —Mikki G.

“Satanism and other occult and pagan religions tend to enforce central tenets of not only being true to yourself, but also to not transgress on others and their lives, which are things I can most certainly get behind having been raised a devout Catholic.” —Kathy R.

“Satanism, as a modern religious movement, has always had my back, too. They reject oppression through direct action, and they’ve been pretty effective at it! I’m not a member, but I’ve thought about it.” —Andy H.

“Because Satan is a symbol of rebellion against tyranny and arbitrary authority. At The Satanic Temple, we use Satan as an image to provoke to challenge their assumptions about religious favoritism.” —Jamie E.

“After a lifetime of trauma in various shades of Christendom, Satanic imagery makes me feel at piece. The Satanic Temple is far more welcoming than any church I’ve been to with a concept of Satan, and I don’t feel obligated to fulfill bullshit performative standards of gender and sexuality when it comes to wearing or being around Satanic symbolism or imagery. In fact, the diversity of gender and sexuality is celebrated rather than shunned and shamed.” —Brandi K.

The Satanic Temple in particular has made a name for itself as a progressive Satanist organization that enthusiastically welcomes queer and trans members. Like gender, Satanism is a spectrum: the earlier Church of Satan, founded in the 1960s, has been described as endorsing precepts of individual power and autonomy that reflect Nietzschean and Randian themes; they’ve also accepted trans Satanists as members for their entire history. The Church of Satan and The Satanic Temple, both of which are atheistic and celebrate Satan as a kind of literary archetype and inspirational figure, distinguish themselves from various smaller currents of theistic Satanism that regard Satan as a real supernatural being. And in contrast to the Church of Satan, The Satanic Temple has taken a far more active role in the political sphere, challenging Christian privilege and normativity in the United States and its threats to the separation of church and state. In response to laws and rulings allowing monuments of the Ten Commandments on government property and the hosting of Christian after-school clubs in public schools, the Temple has created a statue of Baphomet to be placed beside the Oklahoma State Capitol’s Ten Commandments Monument, and has promoted an After School Satan Club for Satanist youth.

The Satanic Temple’s nontheistic and naturalist stance, explicitly humanist values, insistence on provisional belief based on evidence over authority and doctrine, celebration of LGBT members, and secular activism for important social causes make it one of the rare religions that poses no actual obstacle to my potential membership. It’s an unusual experience for me to look at a faith group in its totality and realize that there just aren’t any personal dealbreakers to be found. While I’m broadly averse to affiliating with larger institutions, especially religious ones, this is a group I could easily see myself working with on causes of shared importance to us. And when I consider how the influences of the twin forces of transphobic Christianity and trans-celebratory progressive Satanism have informed my personal alignment in the perennial battle between good and God, I realize it’s more accurate to say: I am not a Satanist – yet. 

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About Zinnia Jones

My work focuses on insights to be found across transgender sociology, public health, psychiatry, history of medicine, cognitive science, the social processes of science, transgender feminism, and human rights, taking an analytic approach that intersects these many perspectives and is guided by the lived experiences of transgender people. I live in Orlando with my family, and work mainly in technical writing.
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