Tag Archives: heteronormativity

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.


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 Two – Other and Self

Let us remember that heterosexuality which seeks to differentiate itself from homosexuality by imposing boundaries between it and the homosexual-other is heteronormativity. Now, let us explore in greater detail the contents of this ocean.

Fg2or the sake of the arguments to follow, we will use the term “homosexuals” vis-à-vis discussions concerning heterosexuals. With this assumption, we will act as if conversation does not include bi or trans individuals. This is because we will adopt another assumption: that bi and trans sexualities are incomprehensible within a heteronormative paradigm. The heteronormative paradigm comprehends its self-perception vis-à-vis its perception of the homosexual. From the heteronormative perspective, there is only the homosexual as the other.

Perhaps it is this way we can reclaim a particular definition of heteronormativity through contextual morphology, or, language. An irony of the concept of heteronormativity is that it can only be understood within the context of the heterosexual/homosexual dialectic. Literally, heteronormative would be ‘other-normative’, derived from the Greek adjective ἕτερος: ‘another,’ ‘different’. Only in a certain cultural context does the hetero in heteronormative correlate to the hetero in heterosexual.

But does this mean that one cannot understand the hetero in heteronormative without understanding the hetero in heterosexual? Perhaps not; perhaps it is that one cannot understand the contextual hetero (as in heterosexual and its contextual cognate heteronormative) without understanding the morphological and etymological hetero of what I propose as the core of the heteronormative paradigm. This proposal is as follows.

In the heteronormative paradigm:


  1. The heterosexual person views the homosexual person as other, and proceeds to evaluate the homosexual person as other-against-self.
  2. In this system, the self is the seat of normativity, or, the self-as-norm.
  3. This implies that the other (which is not the self) is not the norm.
  4. The self-as-norm defines itself as much by distinguishing itself from the other as by its own perceived standards of itself. Thus, heteronormativity’s focus is on the other but only in so far as it is the other-against-self; the antithesis to the

The self-as-norm becomes such through the conflict of other-against-self. In this, either the self must triumph over the other to become the norm, or the self triumphs over the other to become the norm by virtue of itself. In other words, the self must either actively overcome the other to assert its normativity, or it must assert its normativity prior to the declaration of overcoming the other.

Correlatively, the self-as-norm becomes such through its own power to name the other, wherein the self-as-norm subjugates the other by naming it not the norm, or, abnormal. The ability of heteronormativity to name the other as abnormal is demonstrative of the power it exercises from its majority status. In another manner of speaking, the power to name the other as abnormal is actualized in and through majority status. However, where this argument may demonstrate the validity of the clichéd ‘power in numbers,’ this is only one facet of the dynamics of these power relations.

bBut we must ask what made the majority the majority, and furthermore, what actually gave them the power to name? In the next post, I will answer that question.

Stay tuned!

Part One introduces a problem of love and romance in the heterosexual/homosexual dialectic.. Part Three explores how religion plays into it.


Filed under The Ocean, the Boat, and the Wind

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?!”


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.


“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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[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.


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?


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