The Ocean, the Boat, and the Wind: Part One – A Second Date

Let us begin with a joke we may all have heard before as well as a joke some of us may not have heard.

uhaul truck

More romantic than any wedding ring.

Question. What does a lesbian bring on the second date?

Answer. A U-Haul.

Question. What does a gay man bring on the second date?

Answer. What second date?

The joke illustrates an interesting yet stereotypical observation: lesbian relationships seem to have more of an element of commitment—a certain magnitude of intimacy—than gay male relationships. Lesbian relationships may be less focused on unrestricted sexual gratification in the relationship, whereas gay male relationships have the air of focusing entirely on unrestricted sexual gratification at the expense of relationship. Could it be said that lesbian relationships are more romantic than gay male relationships? Is there more love in a lesbian relationship than in a gay male relationship?  Is there love in gay male relationships?

What an odd questions for the progressively relativist 21st centurion. Are these observations and questions a concern of a bygone era? Not to the straight, traditional, orthodox, conservative Christian, who proclaims a defiant ‘nein!’ They do so because their understanding of love is threatened by “the gays.” It is threatened by any attempt to unsettle its sacrosanct doctrine. Ask a gay male couple, on the other hand, and they may reply with something along the lines of “why the hell would you ask such a question? Of course there is! Just look at us! Aren’t we proof?!”

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Om nom nom.

To the benefit of the gay male couple and to the detriment of the traditional Christian heterosexual couple, the posing of the question is to unmask the heteronormative homophobia within the concepts of traditional Christian doctrines of love.  However, the argument is not so simple.  There is as much a detriment to the gay male couple as to the traditional Christian heterosexual couple. Could it be the case that in spite of increasing civil rights and public support for LGBT persons (i.e.marriage equality movement), these advances are flawed by their reliance on heterosexual assumptions of love and romance?

This problem is both a risk and a present danger; a risk so profound and a danger so subtle that it must be addressed forth-and-out-right. This problem is the assumption of LGBT consciousnesses into heteronormative paradigms. Heterosexuality which seeks to differentiate itself from homosexuality by imposing boundaries between it and the homosexual-other is heteronormativity.

How ironic that the advancement of civil rights and public support is the very thing that brings a risk to LGBT consciousness. But it is not the advancement itself that brings the detriment; rather, it is the epistemological phantasms of heteronormativity that bring the risk of ruin. However, as a point of clarification, heteronormativity is not responsible for the advances in LGBT rights and support. This would be an affront to the history and legacy of those LGBT folk who fought and died for liberation.

But this problem is more entrenched than a mere apparition’s haunting. Heteronormativity is not the wind in the sails of LGBT civil rights; it is the ocean. The ocean, the world as we know it, is heteronormative. This is so by virtue of not only the vast majority of its inhabitants are heterosexual, but that whatever powers-may-be have instituted the heterosexual perspective as the dominant and normative paradigm. From east to west, from sea to shining sea, it is heteronormativity.

If the ocean is world of heteronormativity, then the LGBT community must be the boat. A distinct identity, it navigates the seas as an alien craft, searching for a shore of its own. However, there is no sign of land for this ship, and in the midst of terrible storms it must either fight to stay afloat or it will inevitably sink to the fathomless deeps, to be subsumed by the waves.

Caspar_David_Friedrich_-_Wanderer_above_the_sea_of_fog

“Wanderer Above the Sea of Fog” Caspar David Friedrich 1818, Oil-on-canvas

But why does the boat remain upon the waters? Why do LGBT persons rest upon the foundations of heteronormativity? It is because they have been led to mistake themselves for the boat. They do not realize that they are not in fact the boat. They are the wind. They have mistaken themselves aimlessly bobbing atop of the masses of the majority sexuality. But the boat, and the sails, and the rudder were all made to trap the wind, to navigate the ocean, within the boundaries of the waters, by the will of the sea. They have been subjected to believe that they are literally a vessel of the ocean.

Part Two explores the contours of heteronormativity. Part Three explores how religion plays into it.

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We All Need a Road to Damascus. You Won’t Believe Who Needs It Most!

Up and Coming: Don’t Miss!

A ‘sister’ site to the most infamous Onion, ClickHole’s purpose is ‘to mock content shared on media sites.’ It is a satirical website that, according to its senior editor, Jermaine Alfonso, is “The Onion’s response to click-bait content.”[1] Clickbait is the phenomenon of web content explicitly designed to generate online advertising revenue.  The success of the clickbait is in the headline and the image. An example might be, for the sake of an argument: “Puppies Meet for the First Time. Their Reaction…Priceless!” The image: two of the most adorable puppies imaginable. Another may be: “Best Foods for Losing Weight. You Won’t Believe What Made Number One!” The image: someone wolfing down chocolate like the world is ending. The key is generating a sense of impending sensationalism. In an age of digital immediacy, we must be informed instantaneously or else it doesn’t matter. But if some multimedia strategist is able to feed our dread for disinformation with a simple plug of anticipation, then they will have won someone’s advertising dollars.

For being a satirical click-bait website, ClickHole eerily gets it when it comes to several issues.  Consider this recent post:

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The part of the article that really spoke out to me was this:

“When my cousin John told me he was gay, it was like a light turned on in my brain, and I realized that just because someone is gay doesn’t mean they’re a bad person,” said Brian. But isn’t it kind of weird that he had to personally know a gay person in order to realize that writing off a whole group of people based on their having a sexual orientation different from his own is sort of a bad idea?

Poor Brian Shiffel, being thrown under the proverbial clickbait bus; his story made sensational in only 107 characters. Of course he’s not real, but what if he was? In fact, he is very much real; he is an amalgamation of many persons like him. Sure, they may not have had as strong of feelings against gay people as Brian did, but check out the story of ‘up-and-coming’ Pastor Adam Phillips hither and thither. To the soothing background tune of some ambient guitar, his face softly lit, he tells his story:

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After much digging into the Bible, he became fully convinced that inclusion of LGBT ‘brothers and sisters’ was consistent with “the whole arc of Scripture” and “where the Holy Spirit was guiding the church today.”  In spite of his epiphanies, the Evangelical Covenant Church voted to cut his church off from its denomination. Adam continues to serve as a pastor of his church to “push forward in faith.”

Where it was a cousin, a close family member, who helped Brian come to a different conclusion concerning the inherent worth and value of LGBT persons, it was specifically Christians who “happen to be gay” that forced the conversion within Adam. However, in concert with ClickHole, I pose to Adam:

“Isn’t it kind of weird that you had to personally know a Christian person who happened to be gay in order to realize that writing off a whole group of people based on their having a sexual orientation different from your own is sort of a bad idea?”

No Exceptions

This is demonstrative of a tremendous frustration I have with both Christian allies as well as LGBT folk who profess to be Christian. In the dialogues concerning the relationship between faith and sexuality, many take the stand that one’s faith takes priority over all other forms of identity. Because of this hierarchy, it is faith-as-ultimate that determines the contours of all other categories of identity: race, gender, sexuality, disability, et cetera. I am convinced that while personal faith is a profound category of identity, it exists intersectionally with other categories of identity—not superior to them. One’s sexuality has as much influence on one’s faith as one’s faith has influence on one’s sexuality. This frees up LGBT folk who happen to be Christian to explore how their faith may be different from their straight ‘brothers and sisters.’

Furthermore, LGBT folk who happen to be Christian need not be held victim to the whims of church councils and denominations who have to wrestle with the question of inclusion. A legacy of Protestantism is that one’s faith is not determined by one’s membership in a church community but by justification by faith alone. Protestantism should shine with this tenet, but it seems to do the exact opposite. I have and will argue in future writings on how the experience of coming to know God and the experience of coming out are so similar that in many ways they must be correlated and integrated. Churches must form around the holy work of the LGBT Christian themselves; LGBT Christians need not compromise anything about themselves and their experience to be persons of faith.

In a similar fashion, LGBT folk who happen to be Christian who want to see a reformation of their churches and denominations need not play by their rules. Where churches are making the move towards greater inclusion of LGBT folk, churches must also critically examine patterns of heteronormativity that still, even if implicitly, create barriers for LGBT folk and their authentic experience of faith. In a previous post, I broached the subject of celibacy among LGBT Christians as a potential example of these patterns.  Any theology that explicitly or implicitly compromises the inherent worth and dignity (a very theological point itself) ought to be challenged, rejected, or converted.

An Exception

Ah yes, conversion. In all of these conversations, from Brian Shiffel or Adam Phillips, we must be reminded of the element of conversion and repentance.  What better story of conversion than that of Saul of Tarsus.

With the martyrdom of Stephen, a great persecution began against those who called themselves Christians in Jerusalem. Saul was among those persecutors. On route to Damascus to persecute more Christians, a great light from heaven flashed and down fell Saul.  A voice said “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?” Saul replied “Who are you Lord?” The voice replied “I am Jesus whom you are persecuting!” Struck blind, Saul arrived in Damascus where a man named Ananias was expecting him.  Having been told by God that Saul was approaching, God instructed Ananias to place his hands on him so he may see again. While Ananias feared Saul for his notoriety, God still instructed Ananias to go, saying “Go, because he is my chosen instrument to carry my name before Gentiles and kings and the people of Israel.”  Upon the meeting of Ananias and Saul, the latter’s eyesight was returned, and he became a disciple of Jesus, proclaiming that Jesus is the Christ.

Conversion_on_the_Way_to_Damascus-Caravaggio_(c.1600-1) (487x640)Now, I pose the question to Saul:

“Isn’t it kind of weird that you had to personally encounter Jesus in order to realize that writing off a whole group of people based on their having a faith different from your own is sort of a bad idea?”

Troubling, no? Saul still had a ferocious time proving his worth to those who were skeptical of his change, and perhaps I am doing that to Brian and Adam. Is it warranted? Upon conversion and repentance, are people resolved from the memory of their past injustices? Again, streams of Christianity would say yes, wherein both God and humanity must forget the state of the pre-convert in light of their conversion. Are the doctrines of atonement and salvation really get-out-of-jail-free cards, from God’s judgment, humanity’s judgment, and our judgment?

Renowned theologians Jürgen Moltmann et al. would not say so.  With God’s preferential option for the poor and the oppressed, God still judges the oppressor in spite of forgiveness of sins. However, atonement is the freeing “the oppressors and the oppressed from oppression and to open up to them the situation of free, sympathetic humanity.”[2] The oppressed and the oppressor both need a Road to Damascus experience wherein their eyes are opened to the freedom and opportunity in God. The invitation for the oppressor is to hear the voice of the oppressed and to recognize them as human, uniquely and inherently celebrated. The invitation for the oppressed is to recognize the oppressor as an ally through God’s work of a new being and a new reality in forgiveness. The story of oppression is not forgotten, but it is transformed as it becomes a new story of redemption.

A free, sympathetic humanity is open to all, not just straight Christians or gay Christians.  In atonement, the world is opened to all, where we then recognize the inherent worth and dignity of all creation. The memory of rejection—Brian and Adam’s story—will still be remembered, but the cycle of oppression is broken, and the invitation to a queer narrative of faith is opened. In this, a true sympathy for different faiths—straight, gay, lesbian, bisexual, trans, queer—are freely and sympathetically enjoyed by all. You won’t believe what happens next!

[1] http://splitsider.com/2014/06/inside-the-onions-new-click-bait-parody-clickhole-com/

[2] Moltmann, The Crucified God, some page.

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The Courage to Come Out (And Other Queer Correlations)

Why do queer persons come out?

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‘Coming out of the closet’; a colloquialism typically used to describe the event(s) constituting a person’s self-disclosure to themselves, to others, and to their worlds, concerning their sexual and/or gender identity. The idiom uses the metaphor of a closet to represent the hiddenness of a secret (or at least, shrouded) identity, a place where things are placed out of sight.

The irony, however, is that this place can be readily accessed at any time.  It is opened and closed at will. Also, the contents serve different purposes for different people. For some, it stores the clothes that we select to wear on a daily basis; for others it stores the surplus of linens for anticipated guests. For some, it hides holiday presents from curious children; for others it hides boxes of memories to be forgotten, to be veiled away.

Decaying_100_Yr__Old_ClosetsWithin the closet, one’s company is both the comforting securities of its contents as well as haunting torment of their self-exclusion from the world. The comfort of the closet is a misnomer in that its security only exacerbates the anguish of the secret. It can debilitate and destroy its inhabitants through its coddling repudiation of the self. Eddies of distress devolve into maelstroms of dyphoria; the closet is torn apart from within. Clothes and linens eaten by moths, presents soiled and ruined, memories coalesce within the pounding darkness.

And yet, within in the climax of the tempest and the quiet of the storm, an invitation is made aware: the invitation to remove oneself from their closet and to emerge into the world as their whole self. The contents of the closet are made bare, with all of its terror and desolation made manifest; but them who emerge are not destroyed. They have persevered, and they shine because of it.

What brought this person to this moment?  What necessitates the person to come out? Is coming out a necessary process? What is it about the act and process that would deem it to be necessary in the first place? These are not questions about whether or not the coming-out process is necessary in this ‘day and age’ because of greater acceptance of queer persons (let’s be honest, the magnitude of acceptance is good, but not great). Nor are these questions about the value of the coming-out process, as if we are undertaking a quantitative study of whether it actually ‘gets better’. Rather, these are questions about why it happens at all, and what it is about queer persons that makes a coming-out process what it is.

‘Who are these queer persons who come out’ and ‘what brings them to a place of coming-out’—when combined—are questions about the being of queer persons (an potentially ironic statement for those keeping score at home). However, the coming-out process illustrates a unique integration of the being and ethic of a person. Through an act of deep personal significance, authentic participation is realized through self-affirmation. It is also an integration of self and world that triumphs among acts of humanity. To come out is a holy act. To come out is a courageous act. 

Extravagant-Style-Walk-in-Closet-Supported-by-Accent-and-Decorative-Lamps-with-Gold-Lighting-to-Work-with-Sleek-Modern-Wardrobe-and-Shelving-936x625I will explore the dynamics of courage within the phenomenon of the coming-out process experienced by queer persons, particularly within Christian contexts. I seek to accomplish this by correlating the work of Paul Tillich, specifically his concept of the courage to be , with the experience of queer persons, culminating with the development of a Tillich-inspired queer theology.

My argument is that the coming-out process—as experienced by queer Christians—develops a queer faith that is reminiscent of and potentially directly inspired by the work of Paul Tillich. This is so because the deconstructive work queer Christians must undertake in order to come out within their faith requires the passage through doubt of the heteronormativity of their pre-coming-out faith and emerges within a faith that blends the motif of ambiguity experienced in queer identities as well as in Tillich’s radical theology.

Through this process, the faith of queer Christians (queer as in an all-encompassing inclusive term for LGBT folk) actually becomes queer Christianity (queer as in inspired by the insights of queer theory). In another sense, the faith that queer Christians come out into is not and cannot and will not be the same faith as prior to the coming out experience. The endeavor queer Christians undertake in coming out of the closet and into queer faith is dangerous, but such experience of dread in spite of hope only illustrates the ultimate nature of this act as a holy and courageous act. Studying it will bring insight to the experience of queer Christians, as well as provide all with an inspiring look into the promises life has for those who embrace the courage to come out.

Stay tuned for further discussion.

 

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Made Eunuchs: Celibacy and Gay Christians

Gay Christian celibacy is sexy…apparently.  I mean, it’s sexy in the way that something is the new black; so fetch, tres chouette. The Huffington Post Religion News Service recently published a spot on Julie Rodgers and other gay Christians who have ‘come out’ but refrain from any sort of sexual relations.  Rather, they favor choosing the tale-as-old-as-time Christian practice of celibacy.

But celibacy has always remained the song-as-old-as-rhyme option for Christians who wrestled with same-sex attraction.  Everyone knew that lively bachelor with all of the girl friends; everyone knew that spinster woman that was always too busy for a man, but no one knew the hidden struggle they faced [but oh did they talk!].

But now, gay Christians, they who have experienced liberation from the oppression of their hidden sexuality, are still choosing the celibate life.  Why? It is the belief of many religious traditions that being gay in and of itself is not a sin, but choosing to act on it constitutes sin. So, if someone’s gay but does not act on it, they’re effectively ‘in the clear.’

A gay Christian who chooses to be celibate is not necessarily a bad thing, but if it is a result of bad faith, it is a bad thing.  It is my argument that this phenomenon is a result of bad faith, but it does not have to be. I want to explore this phenomenon, critically examining the context of the movement in hopes to unmask the structural disenfranchisement levied upon LGBTQ Christians by heteronormative Christianity.

My hope is not for LGBTQ Christians who have chosen the celibate life to relent. Rather, it is my hope for them to recognize the significance of their context and consciousness as LGBTQ Christians. This is in contrast to the reception of a faith that imposes its will upon the subject without consideration of them; in this case heteronormative faith imposing demands upon LGBTQ faith.  In short, I want LGBTQ Christians to become the co-authors of their faith and not the passive inheritors of a mere straight-faith. So, let us begin.

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Wherefore Celibacy? Our Context

Acknowledging at least two phenomena is required for understanding the option of celibacy as a public option for gay Christians: the particular queer kairos we are in and the response of the evangelical and/or fundamentalist consciousness.

I marked the downfall of Exodus International as a particularly powerful event within this queer kairos, and it seems as though the Huffington Post agrees. But how kairoi work— as clearly evidenced by the Christ kairos, which some argue as being the Kairos to end all kairoi— is that there are prophecies, undercurrents, hints, glimmers, promises, and signs before the fact. All the more so, —as kairoi work out as well—when we are in the midst of one change occurs at a startling rate.  That’s what these last few years have felt like; what an exciting time to live in!  It is also an exciting time to come out, but we must always remember the prophets who came before us, whose lives to whom we are indebted.

But enter the evangelical and/or fundamentalist consciousness and its response to the queer kairos. I need to differentiate the two by the mechanism of relationality that each embody.  When fundamentalism tries to understand something other than itself, simply put: it doesn’t!  The fundamentalist’s relation to that-which-is-other is polemical; it tries to ignore it, invalidate it, or destroy it.

The evangelical, however, actually engages with the object of its attempted understanding. However, the mode of understanding is still couched in its own rules of the game. In understanding the other, the evangelical baptizes the other into its own understanding; the evangelical cannot understand the other without establishing the rules, language, and conditions of their own context as being the parameters of dialog.  By doing this, the evangelical assures the dialog will result in the convincing of the other into accepting the evangelical’s truth claims. In short, the goal of evangelical apologetics is assimilation.

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The Rules of the Language Game: Christian Sexual Identity

What have been the rules of the game for Christians-who-happen-to-be-gay?  The article spells it out well: “leave their faith, ignore their sexuality or try to change.” However, the article uplifts Rodgers as “among those who embrace a different model: celibate gay Christians, who seek to be true to both their sexuality and their faith.”

I agree that Rodgers et al are seeking to remain ‘true to their faith,’ but are they being true to their sexuality?  For evangelical apologetics, this question makes no sense; it does not fit within the paradigm of the apologetic itself. As I have addressed elsewhere, a common mode of navigating the Christian/gay identity problem is through compatibilism, where the two identities are compatible in so far as the Christian identity is superior to the gay identity.  But I expand that argument: Christian identity is not simply superior to sexual identity; it defines the parameters of the identities subservient to it.

In the article, this language game is so explicit. A ‘former lesbian’ and “mother of four whose conversion story went viral after it was published in Christianity Today,” Rosaria Butterfield’s linguistics lesson illustrates this:

While she affirms celibate gay Christians, she says they should not use “gay” as a descriptive adjective. “The job of the adjective is to change the noun (…) [O]ur sexuality exists on a continuum, but our Christianity does not.”

Oh but it does, Ms. Butterfield; Christianity has always existed on continuums, flow charts, bubble graphs, et cetera.  There are Catholics, Orthodox folk, Protestants; and within these phylums there are classes upon orders upon families. Ms. Butterfield’s claim is a prime example of the dynamics of the evangelical/fundamentalist consciousness I illustrated earlier. Viewing their faith as a culturally-immune pinnacle of revelation, the evangelical consciousness becomes the imperial determiner of reality—or at least the reality that really matters: the spiritual one.

But is it really Ms. Butterfield’s fault? By no means! But this is illustrative of the power of religion, the power of any ideology, upon the consciousness of its adherents. This is made all the more fascinating when ideologies intersect, when identity allocations and hierarchies are demanded.  In the case of Ms. Butterfield, her ideology has dictated the rules of the game concerning the relationship between her Christian and sexual identities. The sexuality continuum is open, but the Christianity continuum is closed. The possibility of entertaining the concept of sexuality from a Christian standpoint is expressed, but the inverse is not.

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Made Eunuchs by Other People: Choosing Celibacy

Rodgers reflects on the misunderstanding ‘both sides of the culture war’ have on celibate gay Christians:

 “For those who have a more affirming position, it’s as if we’re repressed, self-hated homophobes, encouraging the church to stand in its position on sexuality. And conservative Christians think that those who shift on sexuality are being rebellious.”

As a representative of the former positions, I don’t think Rodgers et al are encouraging the church to stand in its position on sexuality. Rather, I think the Church (note the big ‘C’) is ‘encouraging’ Rodgers et al to stand under the church’s position on sexuality. This is because the Church—the ideological institution and the institutional ideology historically engrained in patriarchy, racism, and heteronormativity—has historically been the structural disenfranchisement levied upon LGBTQ Christians.  By ignoring the cultural and contextual importance of persons, religion can impose male-centered theology on women, white-centered theology on persons of color, and heteronormative theology on LGBTQ persons.

I believe this is the central problem of the gay Christian conversation: the incommensurable relationship between their sexuality and their faith/spirituality that is enforced by this institutional entrenchment. This incommensurability must be resolved. LGBTQ Christians are not fully liberated if they are not liberated from heteronormative faith that makes LGBTQ persons veritable eunuchs through the arrest of authenticity and freedom to be. Whether this is enforced through a literal reading of Scripture or a pastor’s admonition, a faith that is incongruous with the experience of LGBTQ persons is not and cannot be the faith of LGBTQ persons.

The best part of all of this is: it does not have to be! ‘Gay Christians’ must recognize the importance their culture and context has on their faith in addition to the importance the history of faith has on LGBTQ culture and contexts.  The problem? You guessed it, the incommensurability. For the LGBTQ Christian, the choice to be celibate must come out from queer faith and spirituality, and not from the heteronormative demands of some religions. LGBTQ Christians, you are invited to your faith, a faith that takes seriously the import of your experience as an LGBTQ person, and not in spite of it. Navigating these queer invitations to Christian faith and spirituality is part of the journey to which LGBTQ Christians are liberated to respond.

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[Un]becoming Ryland

It has been a long time since I have written anything. Actually, let me correct myself; I have been writing a lot here and there, but I have not published anything in a long time. Was it the busyness of a full time job, the malaise of my living situation, an absence of a muse? I do not know. However, I knew that if I were to survive as a queer theologian or thrive in what gives me life, I would need to start writing again.

Ryland Whittington

Ryland Whittington

And so, out of the blue—in my new apartment—checking in on Facebook—in the midst of unloading boxes—I saw an article that my friend posted. The first words immediately drew my attention: “I am Ryland-.” I remember learning the story of Ryland in a training I attended on the LGBTQ community and health. Ryland is a transgender boy, who at the early age of five began to recognize that his experience as a boy did not line up with his bodied situation as a female. At first, Ryland’s parents thought it was a phase; that Ryland was a tomboy. However, the psychological stress and dysphoria Ryland experienced began to take its toll. After many meetings with doctors, psychologists, and other professionals, Ryland’s parents decided it was best for Ryland to begin the transition from a girl to a boy immediately.

Ryland’s story, for the time being, ends there. But then the next words of this blogger’s title further drew my inquiry: “-the story of a male-identifying little girl who didn’t transition.” This was not Ryland’s story; so, whose was this? This was the story of Lindsay, a woman who always “seemed to prefer ‘boy’ things.” She always preferred blue to pink, green to purple, short hair to long, and when playing Cowboys and Indians, she would rather play the Indian than the Belle in Distress.

Lindsay “desperately wanted to be a boy.” She was fortunate to grow up in a loving, open-minded, accepting family:

“They just let me be me.  They let me be a girl who wore jeans more often than skirts.  They let me play with slingshots rather than princess wands.  They didn’t conclude that I was gay, or transgender. They didn’t put me in a box that would shape my future, at the expense of my own free will.”

Lindsay continues to reflect on her gender play, and even her sexuality. During a sleepover, she experimented with a girl friend. Lindsay reflects:

“Looking back, I believe she had been molested and was acting out what had been done to her.  This doesn’t make me transgender.  It doesn’t make me a lesbian.  It made me a child growing up in a broken world.”

Lindsay (the one on the right).

Lindsay (the one on the right).

Nowadays, she is successfully a woman who still loves football as much as she loves “putting on an apron and creating elaborate meals for friends and family.” In the end, she feels bad for Ryland, and how her parents “may be robbing her by choosing a gender for her at such a young age.”

While I appreciate her autobiographical exploration of gender, I think Lindsay oversimplifies not only Ryland’s story, but the story of transgender persons themselves. While not knowing the extent of Lindsay’s experience (even though she specified that she ‘desperately’ wanted to be a boy), her narrative does not exhibit the sort of gender dysphoria typically experienced by transgender persons. And yet, Lindsay identifies herself with Ryland’s story. She is apt to reflect on the ways her gender expression does not conform to the norms of a specific culture’s understanding of how “girls” behave. However, the missed mark is the lack of any recognition or even reflection on the very real and existential disconnection between one’s sex assigned at birth and one’s gender as determined by culture; this being a quintessential piece to the narrative identity of transgender persons.

Lindsay’s identification with Ryland’s story primarily serves as an apologetic towards transgender persons, but can come off as a polemic against them. The apologetic is sympathetic, wherein Lindsay correlates her experience as a ‘tomboy’ with the gender dysphoria of Ryland, effectively creating some sort of camaraderie. And yet, there is still a denial of the experience of transgender persons as authentic and right (or at least ‘ok’).

But the apologetic comes through in a most interesting way: a free will argument. By claiming that Ryland did not possess free will in the decision to transition to a boy, Ryland becomes the victim of not only culture’s gender demands, but a victim of his parents’ arrest of his free will. But the will of the parents and the will of culture are formally the same: they are determinative forces upon the free will of an individual, child or adult.

I don’t typically see this sort of apologetic—Lindsay’s identification with Ryland’s transgenderism—in gender discussions as much as I see it in sexuality discussions. In those discussions, the apologetic follows as such. A heterosexual person will admit to thinking a person of their same sex and gender (very important we have both) is sexually attractive. As a means of identification with gay, lesbian, or bisexual persons, the heterosexual person demonstrates relatability to the continuum of sexuality because they happen to find someone of their same sex and gender attractive.

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Marlene Dietrich, Gender-Bending Bisexual Actress

I think recognizing the continuum of sexuality is important for the Heteronorm (referring to the superpersonal forces of heteronormativity), in spite of the potential for the Heteronorm to use it as a means of an in-breaking of their majority status within the minority and effectively subsuming it. However, a crucial mistake the Heteronorm makes in this apologetic move is by assuming that what moves one along the continuum is as fluid as the continuum itself. Just because a straight female finds another woman to be sexually attractive does not effectively make her bisexual (though it’s a critical part). The experience and testimony of being bisexual is more than passing phases or brief enchantments; it is correlative to the transgender person’s experience in that there is a deep experience of “I can do no other and my experience as a sexed being who does not line up with my culture’s expectation of my being.”

So, Lindsay is doing something similar, but operating out of the Cisnorm (refering to the superpersonal forces of cisgenderism). Lindsay has come to recognize her own cisgender identity; the sex she was assigned with at birth corresponds to the gender identity culturally associated with it. And yet, because she had some male gender identifications, she assumes she can relate with the transgender person, one whose sex that was assigned at birth does not correspond to the gender identity culturally associated with it.

All this to say the following. Lindsay identifies with a piece of the gender puzzle with Ryland’s case, but she is mistaken to assume that her experience of gender correlates with the gender dysphoria of Ryland. Thus, while I appreciate her story, Lindsay is not Ryland.

And neither am I, nor are any of us. So why am I writing about this? What could I possibly have to say about this?

Well, I could start by saying that while I’m fairly cisgender, the gender of male that I identify with does not fully correspond to certain cultural expectations of the male gender. I never thought of myself as a manly man, much to my frustration. I identify with more culturally feminine things. I could also say that when I was three I was fascinated by my mother’s dresses, and when I was five I dressed up as Maleficent for Halloween. I could also say that while I am primarily attracted to men, and while I find women attractive, it is also more feminine qualities of men that I find attractive. I could also say that during my coming out process, it was a very difficult deciding if I was going to come out as gay, bisexual, or whatever.

Hold up; am I not doing the same thing as Lindsay and others? Am I trying to prove myself as a dialog partner with transgender and bisexual persons? Why and what and whom am I trying to prove myself?!

Candy says I hate the quiet places that cause the smallest taste of what will be.

Candy says I hate the quiet places
that cause the smallest taste of what will be.

I think of my transgender acquaintances and my unconditional intrigue towards and of them. When I close this window, a picture of Candy Darling, a transgender woman and Warhol Wunderkind, on her death bed, will show up on my desktop. It is one of the most beautiful photographs I have ever seen, and it constantly evokes a response from me every time I see it. At the Annual Meeting of the American Academy of Religion in Chicago, I saw a transgender couple (male-to-female and female-to-male) sitting alone in th midst of the chaos of the conference, and I was moved by their beauty. As well, I think of the praises and accolades given to Felicity Huffman and Jared Leto for bravely portraying transgender women in film, and even as more transgender persons make their way into media, it certainly seems that trans is the new black.

All of this leads me to ponder on our relationship to the other, whomever it may be. What is it about transgender people that has cisgender people so fascinated? What is is about gay people that has straight people so fussed up? What are the dynamics of our understanding of the other?

In positive and praiseworthy circumstances, the move to understand the other is a move towards relationality, towards participation in the object as the subject that it is. Through empathy—understanding someone as themselves—we cannot help but understand one another through ourselves. We come to know people through our own filters, our own glasses, our own eyes. It is a developmental stage to understand persons vis-a-vis ourselves, a stage that is revisited over and over again. To not understand you apart from my own understanding can be as inauthentic as to not understand you as yourself in the first place.

However, there is a darker side to the understanding of the other: understanding as an act of usurpation. The act of knowing can be an act of domination. Under this guise, one shapes the object of their observation.  The observer has not participated in empathic knowing, but rather stood back and looked, attempting to craft the object in the image of one’s own understanding. The existentialists have described this as the “Look,” the recognition of the subjectness or—in most cases—the objectness of the other. In Feminist critique, the Look is the subjugation of women by men, where women are subjected to a permanent object status. Women, according to feminists, must then reclaim their position as subject, to assert themselves as a subjective subject (See Simone de Beauvoir’s The Second Sex).

Has Lindsay given the Look at Ryland, consigning his transgender status as a permanent object? Have I, in making Ryland a symbol in my own image, made him an object for analysis, critique, and intrigue? Is the transgender the “Second Gender?” In our attempt to relate to the other, will we seek for the other to become us, or will we allow the other to be the catalyst for our unbecoming in the pursuit of relationality?

CANDYDARLING

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On Identity: My Panel Discussion at PFLAG

PFLAG On Sunday, March 16th, the anniversary of my baptism, I participated in a panel discussion for PFLAG (Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays) on the intersection of faith and LGBT issues.  I shared the panel with several great representatives of the discussion, and I invited many friends and family to the discussion.  Awesome.  I now wanted to share my talk with y’all as a means of inviting you into the conversation, as well as an attempt to restart my blog. I’m also going to insert stock images that I find concerning “identity” along the way.

Today I would like to frame my part on the topic of identity. Now, identity is a tricky subject here.  Where on the one hand, LGBT persons use identity politically, that is, in order to be recognized; LGBT persons must ‘come out’ and assert their ‘identity’ as ‘born-this-way.’ They could not choose-this-way and they must be acknowledged-this-way.  On the other hand, queer theorists would rather not tie themselves down to an identity, but rather deconstruct identities, never submitting to norms but always subverting the norms.  Still, as an existentialist, I find identity to be a very important part of my work. And so, it’s because of this that I am interested in the relationship between sexual identity (LGBT) and religious identity (Christianity).  I would like to propose three perspectives on the issue of the relationship, and I find that my story aligns up with this method rather well.

"Identity" is an eight-letter word. What are some other eight-letter words?

“Identity” is an eight-letter word. What are some other eight-letter words?

The first is there is an antithetical relationship: one cannot be gay and be a Christian. Now, I have had the luxury of a life of no explicit discrimination.  I am very fortunate to have been raised in a family that was not fundamentally religious and to have been brought up in Lutheran churches that at best didn’t talk about issues of sexuality or at worst ignored them. But discrimination can be just as implicit as it is explicit.  I’m talking about being born and raised in systems that condition to think a certain way.  As a young Minnesotan Lutheran in Sunday School, how could I not read the Bible literally?  How could I not believe that God wrote the Bible word for word? How could I not trust the Bible was infallible in all it taught (I never bought inerrancy, by the way.). Still, reading Romans 1:18-32, 1 Corinthians 6:9-11, and believing that God was personally writing to me telling me that those who have these feelings will not inherit the Kingdom of God, I would lie awake in fear of hell.  And yet, even if I could change, maybe I am outside of God’s love and care.  Maybe I am reprobate, maybe I am an enemy of God, maybe I am destined for hellfire. Except, at this time I probably started thinking of hell as my worst nightmare and as a black abyss rather than volcanos. And yet, those teen years were a veritable hell of depression and anxiety.

However, in my junior year of high school I had a turn around. I refer to it as my faith-commitment experience. (Remember, I was raised Lutheran, second baptisms are just kind of silly, after all). What saved me from this dark depression was the concept that God loves me unconditionally, in spite of what I’ve done or how I’ve felt.  In my room, I have a plaque, a plaque I received for my baptism. It says “God danced the day you were born.” In the midst of the deep dark teenage depression, this phrase haunted me with its truth. And I had learned to accept the love of God, and everything turned around.  Sure, of course I still had these thoughts and feelings, but God loved me regardless. God danced for me, regardless.

The Law is written on our hearts, and fingerprints!

The Law is written on our hearts, and fingerprints!

And so, that brings me to the second relationship between LGBT identity and Christian identity, that of compatibility. The identities are not mutually exclusive, but rather, they can coexist.  The caveat, however, one identity is still more important than the other, and often it is the identity that can provide the most universal and most ultimate qualifier.  What’s more ultimate: one’s sexuality or one’s faith?  In this, you then develop a hierarchy of identity, ranked by their ultimacy. Thus, religiously speaking, one can be gay and be a Christian, but one must not commit idolatry by placing their gay identity above their Christian identity. You may find this in gay/Christian reconciling groups, wherein the means of making compatible the relationship requires finding “a clear, consistent biblical standard for interpreting the text, a principle we can apply to various passages that will help us to determine, fairly and consistently, how to translate them for our culture.” [1] Such principles may include, what I discovered for myself, the unconditional love of God.

But I am no longer interested in compatibility between the identities; I am interested in something much greater, more coherent, and more creative.  What I am interested in is the third relationship, that of integration, where both the stories of LGBT persons and the traditions of Christianity have a lot to offer to each other. As part of my seminary education, I committed fully to Bethel’s mission of integration, and so I allowed all of my beliefs to be deconstructed and reconstructed.  It was in the course of my education that I came out and came into queer theology. Instead of being at odds with one another—instead of playing king or queen of the hill—I find LGBT perspectives and queer perspectives have a lot to offer to Christianity, and vice versa.  From Christianity, we have the prophetic, liberationist bent of all of Scripture that can be experienced through queer narratives.  I also think that queer theorists give Christianity the tools to be critical of its own tradition and to see how Christian faith is in many ways naturally deconstructive.

I can talk more about this, but I wanted to end with this. In the midst of all of this queer theologizing, this plaque that I had for years still sat there, and though I had looked at it hundreds upon hundreds of times, something stood out to me and hit me more than it ever did before.  And what is that?  The words “God danced the day you were born” are in a rainbow.  In this revelation, I see a major piece of integration throughout my whole life made complete. The God of today, the queer God that I have come out and into, is the same God, and always has been.

The very plaque.

The very plaque.


[1] Lee, 194-5.

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Wisdom and Minnesota Nice

Hey’all, I’m reblogging these from the Bethel blog.  Besides, this buys me time to write other stuff.  K’cool!

Since I would imagine that most Bethel students, faculty, and staff are born-and-raised Minnesotans, the idea of “Minnesota Nice” comes as a given. We Minnesotans appreciate politeness, not making a fuss about things, slowing down to let another driver merge into our lane, and our self-deprecating humor. For those outside of the North Star State, this behavior comes off as annoying, obnoxious, or—at worst— passive-aggressive.

The crowning achievement of Minnesota Nice

Still, it takes no small amount of intercultural competence to understand how Minnesotans and non-Minnesotans can come to understand and appreciate each other while we’re here. In fact, it takes no small amount of wisdom for us to learn how to live with and love one another. These talents, intercultural competence and wisdom, are skills the Bethel community deeply values.

Some suggest that Minnesota Nice is influenced by an implicit code of conduct for Scandinavian culture as being summarized in these tenets:

“Don’t think that you are special.”

“Don’t think that you are good at anything.”

“Don’t think that you can teach us anything.”

For the Minnesotan, we are shaped by society to think that we are not more special than anyone else, not better than anyone else, and not to stir up the status quo. Thus, Minnesota Nice “doesn’t have all that much to do with being nice. It’s more about keeping up appearances, about keeping the social order, about keeping people in their place.” At best this is meant to foster harmony in community; at worst it truly is a passive-aggressive judgment of persons and their worth in a community. Ouch!

Now, don’t get me wrong; I’m really proud of my Minnesota Nice, especially the whole avoiding-conflict-at-all-costs part. But, I wonder if we actually stir up conflict in the way we avoid it.  Consider Proverbs 15:1 (please-thank-you):

“A gentle response turns away anger, but a harsh word stirs up wrath.” – NET Bible

Nice wisdom, absolutely; but I wonder if at times we Minnesotans think we’re giving a ‘gentle response’ when really it’s a passive-aggressive response. This proverb is about meeting conflict head on, not aboutavoiding conflict, and certainly not about frustrating conflict through passive-aggressive behavior. In this sense, a ‘gentle’ a.k.a. passive-aggressive response can indeed stir up wrath.

Dearly beloved, allow me to suggest a few pieces of wisdom for moving forward in living with and loving one another in the land of Minnesota nice.  First, to the Minnesotans: recognize the strengths and setbacks of our culture. Accept and acknowledge our cultural penchant towards passive-aggressiveness, but don’t be ashamed of it.  For the non-Minnesotans: think about how you can integrate culturally while you are here. Learn the culture and share your own. And remember, a harsh word will certainly stir up the wrath of a Minnesotan (but they probably won’t let you know it).

And finally, some words to both: learn to accept each other’s culture, especially the differences.  Meet each other halfway as a means of understanding and relating to one another.  In conflict be aware of culture, because a harsh word (whether aggressive or passive-aggressive) will stir up wrath, but a gentle, sincere, and honest response will turn anger away.

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