embodiment

The announcement that the Trump Administration is considering fundamental changes in federal regulations to enforce strict binary gender norms for all Americans is distressing, demeaning, ugly, to say the least. However, it occurs to me that this may be a good time to reflect theologically about gender; can those of us who oppose the various attempts to control others’ bodies find guidance from biblical texts and spiritual reflection? 

I have been engaged in various small ways supporting transgender people for many years, including during my time as Pastor of MCC Richmond VA where I worked closely with an active trans community on several projects. 

Additionally, over the past several years, I have begun to identify as gender queer—still am comfortable being a man in my birth body, but clear that my understanding of that gender differs from the norm. This process began many years ago when I started wearing long, dangly earrings that many say are feminine. (see my earlier posts, “Choosing to Be Me Again” and “Why Do Watches Have Gender?”). 

More recently, as the controversies swelled about bathroom and locker room usage, I began to reflect theologically about gender and specifically about the movement by many, particularly in church and government, to enforce rigid gender norms. 

The Apartheid of SexI begin from a truth I learned long ago from Martine Rothblatt in her book, The Apartheid of Sex: A Manifesto on the Freedom of Gender (1995). She writes

“There are five billion people in the world and five billion unique sexual identities. Genitals are as irrelevant to one’s role in society as skin tone.”  (xiii)

Of course, we know that skin tone and gender play powerful roles in how society is organized but her point is apt: neither makes any real difference, except as society creates and enforces, and we often reinforce, structures to keep these two aspects of ourselves in line. 

She also wrote that it is time to end the classification of people by sex, “because in truth our sex is as individualized as our fingerprints and as special as our souls (my emphasis).” (157). I hope to return to this proposal on another occasion. 

As special as our souls…………indeed. There’s where God comes in. 

The Hebrew text in Genesis 1:27 reads, “And God created man in His image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them.” (Jewish Study Bible). Those who seek to get everybody in one or the other box, male or female, rely on this text and others to say that what God has ordered must be followed. 

Of course, there are a number of objections to be raised about these arguments. First, for me, is the reality that the Bible, in Hebrew and Christian texts, makes many claims about what God orders and commands. Some faithful people believe that every word is dictated by God, but even if you do, and I don’t, we still have to engage in interpretation to understand what the commands mean for us now. My point: We don’t actually have any assurance that the statement in Genesis 1:27 means that there are only two genders. 

Second, could it not mean that God’s creation of each human involves our being some sort of combination of both? A footnote in The Jewish Study Bible, for example, says, “Whereas the next account of human origins (Gen. 2:4b-24) speaks of God’s creation of one male from whom one female subsequently emerges, Gen. Chapter 1 seems to speak of groups of men and women created simultaneously.”

Elohim in HebrewA note in The Inclusive Bible: The First Egalitarian Translation, points out that the Hebrew for God in this passage, Elohim, is actually a plural (literally “gods” or “powers”), but is ordinarily treated as a singular noun. “This verse and two others (Genesis 3:22 and 11:7) are notable exceptions. The ‘us’ has been explained as the majestic or imperial plural; others see it as God including the angelic host; still others, as a reflection of the more ancient polytheistic roots of the story.“ (There are times when the word is used of lesser, foreign gods, but to the best of my understanding and searching these three instances are the only times in the ancient text has God referring to God’s self as “us.”)

Might another way to read that is to see is that these groups, and God, are not as rigidly defined as we have been taught to believe? We now know, thanks to genetic studies, that many of us are not purely one or the other, that our genes are combinations of X and & Y chromosomes in varying proportions. I think of “effeminate men” and “mannish women” in this regard, Among some Native American tribal traditions, Two Spirit persons exhibit behaviors and attributes of both genders and are considered to have special spiritual powers. Is not God all of these, and more? 

However, theologically speaking, there is a larger issue at play here. When we interpret biblical texts—and that is what we always must do, interpret them because we cannot ever be absolutely certain of the intention by those who repeated these texts and eventually wrote them down—what is our standard of interpretation?

Do we interpret in opposition to what we see around us, that is, do we insist that any new realities discovered since the texts were recorded and canonized be disregarded and/or declared the work of evil forces? Or do we seek to bring the reality in front our eyes and the texts into harmony? Do we see in the texts the promise of more wisdom or do we simply repeat the wisdom from before? Do we let creation unfold or do we insist that God created everything eons ago and nothing has changed? 

Indeed, do we let God continue to create or do we give God thanks for what God has done and then, in effect say,” Stop God, we don’t want anything new, don’t give us any new ideas, any new information?” In my view, this is idolatry, creating a false idol, calling it God, and insisting that there is nothing new in God’s universe. 

Queering ChristianityWhen human beings play God by not letting God be God we suffer. In this case, transgender, gender variant, gender queer, folks suffer. What is being considered by the Trump Administration is codifying that which was never meant to be codified, at least not by God, who is the author of change and growth every moment of every day. 

As I have written elsewhere, “We serve a God who is always messing with our all-too-human arrangements, our desire for things to be neat and tidy and easy” (See “Faithful to a Very Queer-Acting God, Who Is Always Up to Something New” in Queering Christianity: Finding a Place at the Table for LGBTQI Christians, Shore-Goss, Bohache, Cheng, and West, eds. Praeger 2013). 

In that same essay, I quote Lisa Isherwood and the late Marcella Althaus-Reid, 

God dwells in flesh and when this happens all our myopic earth-bound ideas are subject to change; the dynamic life-force which is the divine erupts in diversity and the energy of it will not be inhibited by laws and statutes. Far from creating the same yesterday, today and tomorrow, this dynamism is always propelling us forward into new curiosities and challenges. It does not shut us off from the world; it is the world drawing us into more of ourselves as we spiral in the human/divine dance (“Queering Theology,” in The Sexual Theologian: Essays on Sex, God, and Politics, T& T Clark, 2004). 

This proposal by the administration—and supported by many in various religious groups—is anti-God. They claim they are serving God, but it is a hollow God they serve, as indeed are all our efforts to contain God in our self-justifying insistence on things remaining exactly as they were (or at least as we think they were). 

Biblical literalismWe must of course oppose it, and all like-minded efforts to limit and even eliminate human and natural diversity from the globe. It is always a tall order to stand against forces of repression and injustice, against those who refuse to see God really at work in changing us and the world. 

But we can do so knowing that God’s creation has many more than two genders. Indeed, the creation of genders is an on-going act of God because God is still creating humans.  Further,  even as we labor as faithfully and courageously as we can and as we know our own limits, God is not going away, God adapts and prods and beckons us in directions new to us (though not to God).  I say this not so much to offer comfort to those under threat from this proposal and many other efforts to limit humanity, but rather to affirm the reality that all things are, despite opposition, becoming new. 

Thanks be to God for all we have received, are receiving, will receive!

On February 22, 2018, I presented a ten-minute talk about men and erotic community on Jonathan’s Circle Live. Here is the link to that talk.

Jonathan’s Circle is a group of men, many in the DC Metro area but ranging as far as Australia, who share an interest in spirituality and sexuality, and engage in open conversation–sometimes in person for Circles, on a Google+ page, and through an online blog. Here is the link to blog, and here is the link to Jonathan’s Circle web page.

My talk certainly is not limited to men, so I invite all to check it out. Of course, I would be very interested in your thoughts.

I will be posting some additional writing on this topic here soon.

In many venues, I identify as a Queer Theologian (and poet), but I have made a deliberate choice here to leaven that with the idea of nakedness–because I believe (I want to say I know if it does not sound too dogmatic), that when we are most vulnerable we are most true to our inheritance as offspring of God.

Queer Virtue book coverIn her graceful and very wise book, Queer Virtue: What LGBTQ People Know about Life and Love and How It Can Revitalize Christianity, Elizabeth M. Edman shares a definition of priesthood that was given to her by a friend:

A priest is someone who stands in a place of remarkable vulnerability, and by doing so, invites other people to enter the sacred. 

This expansive understanding of priesthood fits well, as Edman says, within the Protestant concept of the priesthood of all believers. In that way, it undercuts the clerical hierarchy that is so often an impediment to spiritual growth and health among “lay” people. Indeed, it may help end what is often seen as a binary of lay/clerical difference–a chasm which leads too many non-clerics to think they have nothing useful to contribute to spiritual life and too many clerics to think, or at least act as if, they have everything that is needed.

Robin clergy collar less smile Sept 2015 smaller3_edited-4There is institutional authority vested in the office of priest or pastor, or rabbi or imam–depending on the tradition and the community, it can be a lot. However, it is the authority of personal and interpersonal vulnerability that is far more powerful in ways that transcend the usual humanly created boundaries. And that authority is available to all the faithful. We are called to be, as Edman says, a priestly people.

I am a nudist at heart, but I did not change this blog name simply to take my clothes off (or feature others who do so) online–although that may happen from time to time. At the same time, I recognize being physically naked as part of a continuum of spiritual and emotional nakedness and vulnerability.

I still wear a clerical collar when I go to church, but I am not sure entirely why. I have no formal or pastoral role in worship, and even if I did it is not my clothes that make it possible. It may be a sign of comfort for some, but increasingly I chafe and wish to dress as more myself.

Robin with longer hair and beard (cropped)_edited-1I started this most recent journey in my life by taking off all my clothes and discovering much joy in nakedness by myself and with others. Now I see that I may want to consider each item of my costume–not as a form of striptease but as a way of really exposing, at some deep levels, all of me.

Taking off the collar may be a greater signification of my priesthood–a priest forever, as my friend and mentor, Carter Heyward, has written–than wearing it. Then I am more likely to stand in that place of remarkable vulnerability and thus invite people to enter the sacred.

That is my desire, and I believe it is God’s desire for me, and you, and all creation.

 

 

Back in mid-October, when I posted “Inaugural Address,” I expected to be back here within a week or two. It has now been almost seven weeks.

I have been busy, yes, but also discouraged. I felt shut down by WordPress, the hosting site for this and other blogs in which I participate. A day or so after “Inaugural Address” appeared, I heard from one of their “Happiness Engineers” who told me this blog, The Naked Theologian, would be labeled “Mature Content.”

At 71, I am surely mature–at least in body–so I suppose I should not feel bad. But, of course, they do not use the age of the blogger to make this determination. Instead, as you might suspect, this label is because of the presence of a naked body or two, and maybe even the name of the site. .

WordPress_logo4WordPress has a policy which they were quick to send me when I objected. They said it was nothing personal–why do authorities so often say that, when what they are doing feels very personal to the person to whom or about whom it is being done–it is just their policy to label the appearance of a naked body as requiring a special level of maturity. In other words, young people might be injured were they to stumble on the site, as well as those for whom the naked human body is offensive, based on religious belief, or simply makes them uncomfortable. They can see the site if they choose, but in doing so they signal they do not object to Mature Content. As you can imagine, there are restrictions on how the writer and blog readers can link the blog elsewhere on WordPress and this blog will never be featured on “top ten” list or in the WP Reader.

Included in that policy is the prohibition of blogs that promote sexual abuse, pedophilia, sexual acts that might be perceived as pornography, sexualized violence, etc. I am glad for that portion of the policy but wish somehow it was not connected to the simple fact of bodily nudity.

But I recognize that our society, and much of the world beyond the United States, is not comfortable with, indeed often appalled and deeply offended by, the naked human body. Even the sight of a mother baring a breast to nurse her child can create panic among some people (as happened here).

nursing motherSo, why have I been slow to write more here? In part, I was looking for alternative  host sites where this blog and its sometimes naked bodies would not be labeled or in any way restricted. But I stopped that some time ago, as I realized that Tumblr (where I once had a blog for People of Faith for Equality in Virginia) and others that appear more open also use the Mature Content label for nudity, etc.

Still, I did not post here. I am realizing that the response of WordPress tapped into my own issues of body-phobia, the lurking feeling that somehow, despite how much I like being naked, it really is not okay.

My answer today: Nonsense.

Further, this is a theological blog, not a blog about nudism or naturism (which I practice as much as I can). It is about being open as the tagline says. And that includes being open to Creation, all that God has brought and is bringing to life. The human body is a beautiful creation in all the trillions of forms it takes. Thanks be to God for your body, my body, all bodies!

If this sounds like a bit of repetition from “Inaugural Address,” so be it. Sometimes, this writer needs to write  to help himself get real and accept the full import and power of the call on his life to speak faith to power (even WordPress). In other words, I need to claim my own maturity.

I can’t promise I won’t revisit this topic in the future, but I expect to be posting more frequently and about other theological topics very soon. I hope you’ll stay tuned, and tuned in, even if in doing so you may experience Mature Content.

Welcome to the inaugural post on The Naked Theologian!

I began a blog in this space some years ago, while I still lived in Richmond, VA, where I pastored the Metropolitan Community Church. Then it was called “Robin Gorsline’s Blog.” Later, in keeping with my commitment to the importance of social change—promoting justice and equality for all—I changed the name to “Make Love. Build Community.”

I still believe in that truth—the more love there is the stronger the community, and it is up to us to do the loving and building—but it’s time for another change.  Despite the new title, this blog is not a nudist blog, in the sense of focusing on nudism, or as many call it, naturism, and related activities, although I, and maybe others of my friends, will appear naked here and I will sometimes talk about nudity.

Robin standing hands open by Wayne

Photo by J. Wayne Higgs

I have claimed the mantle of The Naked Theologian because I am a theologian and I spend many of my days naked (and would like to spend all of them this way)—and because I believe that our world desperately needs to accept and celebrate the gift of our bodies, our “creatureliness,” in all their wondrous God-given varieties.

As a theologian, poet, and citizen who cares about healing the world, I want to help overcome body- and sex-negativity, including white racism and supremacy and male supremacy, hetero-supremacy, ableist supremacy, ageist supremacy, in my own nation and around the globe.

I especially want to do this for and within faith communities, certainly in my own beloved Metropolitan Community Churches—because I believe that distortions of religious teachings, especially in my faith tradition, Christianity, have been the greatest source of body-and sex-negativity and related social ills.

I also am taking a stand here as a 71-year-old cisgender gay man (who often feels gender queer), whose body is far from buff and who has suffered for most of my post-pubescent life with feelings of inadequacy about the size of my genitals.  When I first felt a call to claim the moniker of The Naked Theologian, I reacted negatively, saying to myself, “You can’t do that, you don’t have the body for it.”

But as I prayed, and discussed it with my husband and several friends, I came to understand that this wrinkling, “small-packaged,” somewhat overweight elder body could be one God will use to convey the truth about the beauty of every divinely ordained human body (which is every . . . body).  I pray that through this blog more and more people will stop judging not only the bodies of others but perhaps most importantly their own.

Adam and Eve in Eden nakedThe more we can stop dividing people into categories—based not only on gender and gender identity and race and sexuality, but also on age, ability, body type, ethnicity and national origin, religion, dress (including undress), and how well we, they, measure up to restrictive, even punitive, advertising and fashion standards—the more peaceful we will be, as individuals and as societies.

The biblical vision of Eden keeps calling to me. I have in my mind’s eye, in my heart of faith and love, in my soul, a video of the first humans and birds and four-legged and creeping creatures, as well as the flowers and trees and running and still waters, sky at night and day—all parts simply enjoying life together.

I believe the patriarchs used, and continue to use, one part of that story as a way to create control, through the suggestion of body shame between those whom they named Adam and Eve. Somebody had to stop all this freedom—things would get out of control and pretty soon people would be deciding, for and by themselves,  all sorts of things, including when they wanted to be naked and when they wanted to be dressed (as in when temperatures dip or the sun feels too hot or just wear favorite cloth on a special occasion).

The Dinner Party large view

The Dinner Party installation by Judy Chicago

It is not a formal theological text, but the artist Judy Chicago’s untitled poem which accompanied her installation “The Dinner Party” expresses much of what I believe is the true message of Eden. Her artistic vision has been criticized as incomplete in that the installation—a table with place settings for 39 significant, powerful women—not only has only one Black woman, Sojourner Truth, represented, but also unlike the other 38 whose portrayals focus on their vaginas, Truth is shown without her genitals and with three faces. Still it is a powerful artistic statement about the centrality and power of women in our world.

The Dinner Party Emily Dickinson

The Dinner Party, Emily Dickinson

Chicago composed this untitled poem which I have long admired and considered almost a personal credo, even though it perpetuates the gender binary (the art and poem were shown for the first time in 1979).

And then all that has divided us will merge
And then compassion will be wedded to power
And then softness will come to a world that is harsh and unkind
And then both men and women will be gentle
And then both women and men will be strong
And then no person will be subject to another’s will
And then all will be rich and free and varied
And then the greed of some will give way to the needs of many
And then all will share equally in the Earth’s abundance
And then all will care for the sick and the weak and the old
And then all will nourish the young
And then all will cherish life’s creatures
And then all will live in harmony with each other and the Earth
And then everywhere will be called Eden once again

As I begin this phase of my blogging journey, my prayer is that we learn to live free and easy, knowing that we, body and soul, are good, as God created long, long ago, and keeps creating every moment of every day.

Today, Iowans vote in the caucuses. Praise God that this round will soon be over!

Before the outcome is announced, I want to offer a couple of thoughts about one of the candidates–or more accurately some thoughts about the way I perceive many of us responding to one of the candidates.

I can hear some readers already saying, “Oh no, he’s going to write more about Donald Trump.” But not today (and I hope most earnestly I never have to say another word about him, even as I know I will).

Hillary Clinton speaks in Washington

tvguide.com

No, today, I want to talk about Hillary Clinton. Or, as I said above, about us and Hillary Clinton.

I am not endorsing her today, and do not yet know for sure who will get my vote in the Maryland presidential primary on April 26 (but it will not be Cruz or Trump or Rubio or Bush or Kasich or Christie or Fiorina or the doctor–I know . . . big surprise).

However, I do begin to feel very tired of all the people I encounter, in person and through the media, who say some variation of, “I just don’t know about her . . . not sure I trust her . . . seems too rehearsed . . . not genuine . . . says whatever she thinks she needs to say to get ahead . . . be nice to have a woman president, but . . .

It is that last one that really gets me. Be “nice” to have a woman president? Nice? Is that all?

shirley chisholm-1972

btchflicks.com

I cannot imagine why we do not hang our heads in shame that Hillary Clinton is the first truly serious woman candidate for President of the United States of America. Sure, others have run–my favorite was one of the first, Shirley Chisholm (and back much earlier, Margaret Chase Smith)–but none of them was really a viable candidate.

Nor am I sure there will be another one for a long time, because we are still trying to get ourselves ready to elect a woman. Of course, there are women Senators and Governors who could run, who may even run–Senators Elizabeth Warren and Amy Klobushar and Governor Nikki Haley come to mind–but given how we nitpick Hillary Clinton I wonder why they would even try.

Elizabeth Warren

Senator Elizabeth Warren twitter.com

I do not mean that I agree with Clinton’s every position, any more than I agree with all any of the other candidates say (some obviously more than others!). What I mean is that all the reservations, while real, are also true about the men. But we reserve so much of this language for her, and her alone. I believe we are holding her to a higher standard than any man who has a serious chance of becoming President.

Do we not think that the men are calculating, too? Even Trump, seemingly shooting from the hip, tests everything he says, and if it is not working he stops saying it. We complain that she takes so long to admit a mistake, but when was the last time you heard one of these men apologize for a mistake, including for making outrageous, demonstrably false, statements.

We are still a racist country, and a sexist one, too.

Nikki Haley

Governor Nikki Haley christianitytoday.com

Of course, electing Barack Obama did not end racism, nor will electing Hillary Clinton end sexism. In some ways, the two Obama terms have resulted in racial tensions–white privilege and supremacy–becoming more obvious. That will, I hope, help us to continue the work of truly overcoming our ugly racialized heritage.

May it also be so whenever we do elect our first woman President. But first we are going to have to get over enough of our sexism to treat the woman (or women in the future) the same way we already treat the men . . . as politicians, flawed, incomplete, human beings, not saviors but ambitious folks who want to lead (and who have a host of mixed motives and drives).

We are not electing a dad or a mom, or a favorite brother or sister, or even aunt or uncle, and surely not our best friend or favorite neighbor. We are electing a President, a mortal human who will not meet all our needs or ever be perfect.

In that sense, they are each qualified, no more or less than any other, even allowing for differences in genitalia, breast size, and facial hair.

The death of David Bowie has not only denied us more amazing music and cultural creativity but also the answer to a question that continues to burn in some hearts. That question: was he straight, gay, or bisexual . . . or something else? 

David Bowie

91x.com

I did not realize the level of interest in this question until a clergy friend of mine,  not gay although certainly supportive of LGBT equality, asked me what I thought about Bowie’s sexual orientation and how I thought the LGBT community viewed him as a sexual being. He seemed genuinely puzzled by the lack of clarity about his orientation (really, I think, because he just assumed Bowie was gay). 

And then, I watched a post by comedian Sam Kalidi on Queerty (click here for link) in which he pasted together interviews with Bowie about his sexuality. Bowie was quite funny as he more or less dodged answering the question, except one time when he said he was bisexual (and in the same interview, said he was very promiscuous). 

No one asked him if we were queer. And that’s how I tag him–queer, as in not wanting to be locked up in unhelpful boxes. 

David Bowie with boa

theguardian.com

I have written elsewhere about queerness, specifically about God’s queerness (“Faithful to a Very Queer-Acting God Who Is Always up to Something New” in Queering Christianity: Finding a Place at the Table for LGBTQI Christians Santa Barbara CA: ABC-CLIO, LLC, 2013). Although I am not equating the late British singer and actor with God, I do see in Bowie behavior similar to what I identify as God acting queerly . . . “to act unconventionally or oddly, irregularly in response to the normal . . . interfer[ing] with and spoil[ing] the expected by acting outside normative social boundaries and rules.”

As I am using the term, it is not a catch-all term for LGBT people or certainly the old pejorative term applied to homosexual men. Instead, it is a capacious term, leaving boundaries open for people who live, who act, in ways that feel congruent with their own selves whether or not their actions, their lives, fit within existing social molds.

DavidBowie naked cock TheManWhoFellToEarth-12_infoboxAnd that it seems to me is how Bowie often acted. Indeed, as my clergy friend said, he seemed gay, and he certainly helped create gay sensibility. But that doesn’t mean he had to “be gay,” whatever that means (at least not to fit the expectations of others). 

I identify as a gay man, I am married to a man (18 good years, and counting), and we have sex with each other. I like looking at men, clothed and naked and in between, and being naked with them, too (but sex only with my husband). That surely makes me gay. And as a political and social statement, I am glad to stand on that ground with gay brothers, lesbian sisters, and bisexual and trans siblings of all sorts. 

David Bowie on stage nearly naked

gregwilson.co.uk

But I really am more queer than anything. I wear earrings, long dangling ones most of the time, and I like to wear skirts or sarongs (I used to do this at Radical Faerie gatherings, and occasionally I would ride the New York subway that way on the way to a gay club, but it has been some time since I have done so). The latter is not because I want to be a woman, but because I like the bodily freedom of not wearing pants. 

I just like to be playful with my body and I don’t think much of rigid gendered behavior; I certainly don’t want to enforce rules on people, other than the prescription to do no harm to others or myself. 

David Bowie all art is unstable

theodysseonline.com

This is how I saw Bowie. As you can see from the videos, he could be very funny. And who knows how he actually identified himself to himself. Probably bisexual, if he had to choose. But somehow I think he did not really want to choose, and maybe he never really did. 

I honor him for that. I doubt anyone has any doubt of his solidarity with LGBTQI folks and other sexual minorities, so he did not need to declare sides for that reason. What he leaves us, I think, is a legacy of living as himself, creating his own persona not bound by the rules or boxes of society. 

David Bowie older

galleryhip.com

 

Thank you, David Bowie, for sharing your freedom. I am inspired, and I trust others are, too. I am glad you are shaking things up a bit even now on earth, and suspect your spirit is having good fun with your fellow angels right now.