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The Ocean, the Boat, and the Wind: Part Three – From On High

We left off with the posing of this question: “What made the majority the majority, and furthermore, what actually gave them the power to name?”

In the immediate cultural context of heteronormativity, it is the majority population of heterosexual persons that become the self-as-norm and the homosexual person as the other-against self (obvi). But is it simple enough to say that the power to become the majority arose from the efficacy of sexual reproduction, wherein homosexual acts are seen as deviant—an anomaly? However, the anomaly of homosexuality (as we understand it today) only became abnormal at the earliest with the invention of sodomy as a category of sin within the medieval Roman Catholic Church or at the latest with the invention of heterosexual and homosexual categories in the late 19th century. Sure, men fucked men and women fucked women since time immemorial, and a lot of people thought it was weird or gross or wrong, but it wasn’t homosexuality.

So, if we are to attempt to pinpoint the inception of these hetero/homo dialectics, we can be safe to launch our dart within a span of several hundred years. But the fact remains that within that span, the one who gave the power to name the homosexual person as ‘abnormal’ was…the Church. This illustrates a principle (or illusion) that power is granted from transcendence. The metaphor is as ancient as Godself—wisdom, enlightenment, and power come from above and rest upon the below-ones who are worthy. Another ancient metaphor illustrates that those who are touched by the transcendent become transcendent themselves; to be touched by power is to become powerful.

Fig. 1. Luke Hillestad, The Crowning, unknown, oil paint on canvas, 30 in. x 40 in. Artist collection (image file provided by the artist).

Fig. 1. Luke Hillestad, The Crowning, unknown, oil paint on canvas, 30 in. x 40 in. Artist collection (image file provided by the artist).

The anthropologics is that societies form and determine the parameters [boundaries] of the transcendent and the mundane. This practice is a part of religion, because religion is a discourse based upon ultimacies and transcendencies; it is the discourse that shapes our understanding of things beyond our understanding, ascribing meaning to observations otherwise without tangible meaning. That ‘God’ fits within the discourse of religion is only because a premise of classical theism (and probably a whole sort of other theisms) is that God is beyond understanding. In some theisms, God can be understood but only within certain degrees, ranging from metaphors of disinterested creator to personal friend and companion. The point, however, is that classical theism sets up the dialectic of above and below, wherein God is above and humanity is below. If we concatenate these lines of inquiry, we link the metaphors of power, transcendence, and God.

When we ascribe something to the ‘realm’ of God, we are making a claim to its importance and ultimacy.  The irony, then, is when we say “God is love” or “God is sovereign,” we are less so saying things about Godself and more so saying things about ourselves and our values. This speech act exists in spite of and apart from a belief in God. If God exists, we can only understand God’s existence through the speech act of assigning our concept of existence onto God. Paul Tillich once said that God does not exist […] because God is beyond essence and existence. Following in a similar radical line: if God exists, then God only exists because we say so.

All of this is to illustrate the following:

  1. In a society, there will be a time when effort is made to develop a sense of understanding of the society itself, their identity and values.

  2. In a society, there will be a time when effort is made to explain things beyond the understanding of the society itself (i.e. religion).

  3. In a society, there exists more of some people (majority) and less of other people (minority).

  4. In a society, the majority amasses power to make (1) and (2) happen, whether democratically or through authoritarian measures or otherwise, and where the minority may not take to the results of the majority’s actions.

  5. The minority’s objection is perceived as deviance, and the development of the self-as-norm and the other-against-self is done as a means to justify (1) with the premises of (2).

In conclusion, what we say about God, about what we consider to be ultimate and important, the source of our power is used against others to support ideas about ourselves. This is the basis of heteronormativity.

But there is still hope, because these axioms of heteronormativity fail on one particular premise. As a case study, heteronormativity based in conservative religious fundamentalism fails to recognize that the power of religion is not in religion itself, but in its use. They believe that the premises of religion themselves are what justifies their prejudice.  Rather, it is themselves that justify their prejudice.  But take religion proper (theism) out of the equation, religion still remains (system of ultimacies). They are usurping the subject of religion, objectivizing it in the same manner as they objectivize the minority, the other-against-self (and we all know another term for this usurpation is idolatry.).

True and good religion is not usurpation of the object of our ultimacy but participation with the object of our ultimacy. Through this we realize the object is actually subject, and that it desires us as its ultimacy as well. This symbolic language is used to illustrate the point that it is favorable to practice love as power in relationship rather than hate as power in estrangement. The demonstration of the relational intimacy between a subject and its subject of ultimacy fosters mutuality wherein the power experienced is shared to the benefit of both subjects. If we part from this discussion with only a utilitarian ethic, we can be happy enough to leave with an ethic wherein both parties benefit rather than one at the expense of the other.

Abyss

Fig. 2. Luke Hillestad, Abyss, unknown, oil paint on canvas, 39 in. x 43 in. Artist collection (image file provided by the artist).

So, maybe the lesbians are on to something (winky face). But if we are following through with the stereotypical premises of the first post—that lesbian relationships embody a certain degree of romance more than gay male relationships—I fear that we may be leveraging heteronormativity unto gay male subjectivity. After all, the modus operandi of heteronormativity is to judge the other-against-self using religious premises to justify its own self-as-norm prejudgments.

So, instead of levying these heteronormative prejudgments upon gay male bodies, subjectivities, and ethics, perhaps we must participate in them instead. I am intrigued to explore the concept of love and romance from a gay male perspective within the context of a condemnatory heteronormative culture. The purpose of this is to not only annunciate a unique concept of romance in which gay males experience and participate, but to also develop a concept of queer romance that is distinct yet relatable to gay male and lesbian concepts of romance. My hypothesis is that the findings will be intriguing at the worst but world changing at the best (even in the smallest of worlds: the self). I think it will help construct queer ethics as well as open up possibilities to religious and spiritual experience otherwise not explored in LGBT communities.

Will you participate?

Part One introduces a problem of love and romance in the heterosexual/homosexual dialectic. Part Two explores the contours of heteronormativity. 

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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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The Courage to Come Out (And Other Queer Correlations)

Why do queer persons come out?

beat

‘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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