The title of this post was taken from a 2017 tweet by the popular transgender activist Anshika Khullar, where they shared their head-canon that “the sun is trans and the moon is non-binary”. Originally intended as a caption for their design of a queer Sun and Moon embracing, Anshika brought up a really important, and overlooked, quality of ancient lunar gods.
In Ancient Greece, gender was not just something you associated with people, or animals, but instead applied to the entire world. The sky, and everything in it, was gendered according to its perceived impact on society. In modern explorations of this practice, scholars overwhelmingly stick to binary genders, declaring the sun as male, and, to complete the heteronormative ideal, the moon as female. The moon goddesses Selene and Artemis are women, they argue, so the moon must be female too.
In the ancient world however, the moon wasn’t always considered to be feminine. In fact, ancient Greece got a lot of its opinions on astronomy and cosmology from the Babylonians, who viewed the moon as a dude called Sin. Like an ultra femme werewolf, on a full moon, Sin became feminine, and was worshipped as a god of female fertility. His cross-dressing priests just served to emphasise this fluidity of gender.
The Ancient Greeks tell us that the Egyptian moon was intersex, with both the ability to become pregnant, and to produce sperm. It seems like these sources are on about Neith here - a super ancient goddess, who could independently create life, and who had feminine facial features, hair, breasts, and a penis (which was always erect?!). Neith’s worshippers talk about her as ‘two thirds male, and one third female’, and are seemingly all pretty cool trans allies. The only problem is that Neith wasn’t a moon goddess - that was a dude called Khons, or Khonsu, who is literally never ever chatted about. But hey, the Greek audience probably wouldn’t have picked up on this, and would’ve continued believing in the Egyptian non-binary, intersex moon.
Even in Greece though, the moon wasn’t always thought of as a cis-gender goddess. A group of Aphrodite lovers in Cyprus worshipped her as a moon goddess, which they did through cross-dressing, to apparently show that the moon was both male and female. A statue of her apparently looked hyper femme, but also gave her a beard, and a penis. Aphrodite was even born entirely from her dad’s chopped off dick, essentially making her biologically male, but was worshipped as an ultra feminine woman. A trans Aphrodite? I’d argue so. This sexy goddess had a range though - in different places she was also worshipped as a goddess of war, unholiness, and a digger of graves. In one touching tale, Aphrodite even demonstrates her ability to transcend gender by taking a guy’s goat, and turning it from female to male.
Now that lunar classic: the moon goddess Artemis. The Spartans worshipped a version of Artemis called Artemis Orthia, who helped their young boys become all adult and masculine. Apparently a wooden statue of her even demanded blood (!!) which had to come from teenage boys being whipped? I mean? Okay Artemis…
People in touch with Artemis’ normal bio of the ‘virgin goddess’ might be surprised to hear that she could also be pretty sexual when she wanted to be. Not only was Artemis Tauropolis associated with the sexuality of adult men (ugh), she also loved to be worshipped through sexual dances - I mean, wouldn’t we all? Artemis’ gal pals worshipped her by doing the cordax, a super-hot sexy dance in her honour - which was way more sexualised than was normally allowed for ‘respectable women’. If they did it for Artemis however, it was all good, they could be as sexual as they wanted. As well as this, some female dancers dressed up in male clothing, wore massive strap-ons, and pretended to have sex with each. All hail Artemis, Queen of Boys, Strap-ons, and Girl-on-Girl action.
Even ancient Greek philosophers wrote that the moon was non-binary. Plato, you know, that super-famous smart guy, wrote that the OG people were spherical - made up of ‘girl halves’ and ‘boy halves’. They could either be male, like the sun (made of two ‘boy halves’), female like the earth (made of two ‘girl halves’), or androgynous, like the moon, (made of a ‘girl half’ and ‘boy half’). These, he said, were the original genders. Handily, this also explained sexualities: people nowadays are all one half, trying to find their missing part.
Most scholars argue that the point of this story was to symbolize how the moon both received and reflected light - a pretty new scientific discovery in the time of Plato. They argue that the ‘receiving’ and ‘giving out’ of light, isn’t really about light, it’s about sex, and the moon playing both the giver, and the taker. While normally I’m always behind the everything is about sex gang, I can’t help but think maybe this is a reach to avoid the literal reading of what Plato’s on about - that the Greeks believed originally there were three genders, and that the moon was the androgynous, equally masculine and feminine one. Not to overstate my point - but the later ‘Orphic Hymns’ recorded the moon goddess Selene, as ‘both male and female’.
My takeaway from all this ranting is that the Greeks perceived the moon as fluid in gender, at once both male and female. When modern scholars describe the paintings of moon gods as ‘challenging to identify as either male or female’, they’re completely missing the point - it’s not accidentally confusing, it’s deliberately fluid. I can’t state strongly enough, that I believe the world of Classics’ reliance on outdated terminology and conceptions of gender has prevented scholarship from fully discussing and appreciating ancient societies - and in this case, moon gods. Their varying genders are not accidental, but a deliberate depiction of a god with a fluid relationship with gender. In the words of Anshika Khullar, “the moon is non-binary”.