gender

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!

Monica Hesse, a columnist for the Washington Post, published an insightful piece about racism and sexism today, “The Point We’re Missing about BBQ Becky and Her Sisters.” Click on the link to read.

She makes two fundamental points:

  • using hashtags to jeer at, and make fun of, white women who call 911 to report alleged suspicious behavior by black men is a denial of the serious racism involved,
  • and it also signals sexist behavior in that the practice of creating “cute” nicknames when referring to the women–because white men who do similar things are rarely, if ever, labeled this way.
Monica Hesse

Monica Hesse

I urge you to read her post about these points–especially her iteration of the role of white women, especially in the South, in creating the “black sexual predator” who destroys white female purity (this system was of course created by white men to keep black men in line while many of the white men sexually abused black women).

But I also encourage you to reflect on her interaction with the young black teen on the D.C. Metro. His instinctive, self-protective action in the face of transit police boarding the train is very revealing, and all too common and necessary for the survival of young, and old, black men.

The “isms” are often, probably always, tangled up together. Part of our task is to untangle and name them, and change our attitudes and behaviors. Hesse helps us here.

 

 

 

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.

I am planning a new blog, not to replace this one, but in addition. Unlike this blog, with its many varying topics depending on what moves me to write, this blog will have a very specific focus: sex and spirit.

Platonic dualism

moredisciple.com

I have long believed that a major disservice of most of Christian belief and practice is how we long ago bought into Platonic dualism, separating spirit and body into two independent realms, and how that dualism haunts us today. This has resulted in a sex-negativity that denies the beauty of a primary way we are wired–I believe the word is created–to be drawn toward each other. There is an eros to life that touches us all.

I don’t mean that we are supposed to “have sex” with everyone, far from it. But I do believe that the energy between and among us has an eroticism at its core that we deny at our peril. Indeed, the world is paying dearly for this denial, and has been for a long time. Think ISIS if you want to see this denial operating at its most efficient.

My own personal journey is not the focus of the blog, but it will inform it, as will the wisdom of many people, women and men, who are engaged in reuniting body and spirit, spirit and sex. I will tell personal stories at times, and relay the stories of others. I also will invite guest writers to share their experience and knowledge for the benefit of all.

imageThis is not a site for titillation, although there will be topics and images that may cause your temperature to rise (I hope not in anger). At least I hope they do. Don’t be ashamed if the picture of a naked person or persons or the discussion of some activity causes you to feel passion. Passion that draws us together, that connects us with our inner beauty and desires for love, is good. Very good.  Part of this adventure is about being open and honest about a very central part of living, our physical/sexual/emotional desires. They can teach us much if we do not bury them in shame and fear.

And it is a site for serious spiritual reflection. I am a theologian by training, and I intend this to be a theological resource, to dig deeply into our embodied, even sexual, relationship with the divine (God for me, maybe something or somebody else for you).

creation Sistine ChapelIn 1985, I entitled my Master’s Thesis at the Episcopal Divinity School, “Sexuality as Revelation: Becoming Lovers Like God.” I continue to seek how to love with the fullness of God, and to help others to do the same. This involves my heart of course, and my mind, but it really involves all of me, and that includes my genitals and my skin and all the other erotic organs of my body. God and I have shared them, and continue to do so. Indeed, I am grateful for the times God and I have made love, and I look forward to more.

Yes, this is another coming out for me. LGBTQ folks learn that coming out never stops, and sometimes we discover we are led to claim new identities, new experiences by sharing them with others.

One thing that has troubled me is the name of this online adventure. I have thought of some names, and several friends have suggested others. I would be interested in knowing what my readers think. What would most draw you in, if you were interested in the topic, or even just stumbled across the blog? Feel free to vote for one of the poll options, and/or suggest your own, and offer any other comments you wish.

Have at it. Let me hear from you. And thanks in advance for your interest and support.

 

 

Can anyone be unaware of how angry many Republicans, very conservative Republicans, ae? As I ponder many things I am reading these days, I think I can understand why, from their vantage point, the nation feels in grave danger.

  • vogue.com

    vogue.com

    I have been reading some blog posts about a movement called Free the Nipple–a campaign to change our laws and practices so that women can be bare-chested in public just like men. It seems fair and right to me. Why the double standard? And did you know that it was not until the 1930s that men in the United States could legally go around bare-chested in public (including at the beach)? But some on the Right say the growth of this movement surely is the result of the Supreme Court decision to legalize marriage between two women or two men. Slippery slope here we go!

  • ibtimes.co.uk

    ibtimes.co.uk

    I went to a rally last evening in the District of Columbia to protest the American Enterprise Institute giving Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu an award–and to protest Israeli policies that are causing such pain to Palestinians. The most moving speaker was a lawyer, a Palestinian himself admitted to the bars of Israel, Palestine and the United States, who spoke of the need for empathy. He said that is missing in the attitudes of many Israelis, including the Prime Minister and his government, towards Palestinians. But he also said empathy is needed for Jews who have suffered great trauma. The key difference he said is that Israelis have great power and Palestinians have very little. The second most moving speaker was a young Palestinian-American poet who read about visit to Palestine where he began to claim his Palestinian name, Amin, rather than going by his middle name, Drew. I encourage you to listen to the poem, “Amin,” read at a poetry slam, available here. Here too, you can see how things are unraveling. Israel is, many on the Right believe, our most

    Amin Drew Law vine.com

    Amin Drew Law
    vine.com

    important ally, needing and deserving rock solid U.S. support–whatever Israel wants, Israel gets–and the Prime Minister is right about everything (unlike our President, who is wrong on just about everything, including most of his Middle East policy, except for giving billions to Israel). . . .  but every where the voices of criticism are rising. This must be Obama’s fault. . . . everyone knows he is a Muslim in Christian drag and really hates Jews (and especially Netanyahu).

  • FILE - In this Friday, April 11, 2014, file photo, University of Missouri President Tim Wolfe participates in a news conference in Rolla, Mo. Missouri football players announced Saturday, Nov. 7, 2015, on Twitter that they will not participate in team activities until the university president is removed from office. The move aligns the team with campus groups who have been protesting the way Wolfe has dealt with issues of racial harassment during the school year. (AP Photo/Jeff Roberson, File)

    University of Missouri System former President Tim Wolfe, who has resigned theblaze.com

    The President and Provost of the University of Missouri have resigned, succumbing to pressure from students and faculty angry at them and the university for a lack of sensitivity about white racism. There were other issues, but it seems anger about inadequate responses to racism that was the most persistent issue. Nobody says it for publication, but I keep hearing what feels like another slippery slope argument. . . .  elect a Black man as President of the United States and this is what you get: uppity students forcing a good white man out of office to appease Black militants. And this is the real kicker: the football team, supported by their coach, threatened not to play if the university president did not resign. The “real men” on the campus refusing to play . . . . America is really in trouble!

So, is President Obama really to blame for everything? Even the campaign for women’s embodied equality? Yes, even that it seems. If he had appointed justices like Chief Justice Roberts or Justice Alito–those wonderful Bush II appointees (or even Justice Thomas, courtesy of Bush I), then the decision in the marriage case would have gone the other way. Obergefell v. Hodges would have left the sanctity of “traditional” marriage intact.

Texas Senator Ted Cruz bbc.com

Texas Senator Ted Cruz
bbc.com

So, folks are angry, and they show it by supporting people who want to evict 11 million people from our country, believe abortion is genocide as practiced by Planned Parenthood, and vow as public servants and leaders to disobey orders of courts with which they don’t agree to protect the rights of people to discriminate against some people based on their religious beliefs.

All this is but the surface. I did not mention guns or health care, for example. And there is so much more.

But for today, I guess, these three will be enough. Times really are tough.

dailymail.co.uk

dailymail.co.uk

You just know that pretty soon naked women will be parading on Capitol Hill demanding paid leave for child care. Israel will have to pull back the settlements of all those peace-loving good Jewish neighbors in the West Bank. And all the university presidents in the country will be Black (maybe a few of them women, too, but at least they probably won’t go topless).

Oy vey! We need to make America great again!

Robin Oct 20 2015

Wearing earrings to my first Open Mic Poetry Reading at the New Deal Cafe in Greenbelt, October 20 2015

My life has undergone a wonderful shift, reclaiming a piece of my personal identity I gave up five years ago: I am wearing earrings again.

I don’t remember exactly when I started wearing earrings–one in each ear, usually somewhat long and dangly–but it was some time in the early to mid-90s. Nor do I remember exactly what prompted me to have my ears pierced, but it was probably because it had been the custom for many gay men to wear one earring in the left ear. I thought then, as I do now, that I like both my ears and would not favor one over the other.

I do remember finding a pair of long, dangling rainbow earrings at a flea market in Brooklyn and buying them, and finding great pleasure in wearing them. They were my first (other than boring studs and rings). Sadly, I have lost them.

But I have many other pairs. I kept them when I stopped wearing them in 2010, thinking I might resume the custom later.

Why did I stop?

Robin with earrings

Pastoring with earrings before 2010

Leaders in the congregation where I served as pastor told me that although they supported my habit, they also believed it cost us members. Not wanting to hurt the church, I took off my earrings. I remember well how many in the group applauded when I did this; a few others did not. They told me they were unhappy that I given in to these opinions.

The truth is that the number of visitors to the church did not increase nor did our rate of new member retention improve.

What caused me to return to this practice?

Some of my earrings, on a holder created by my daughters 20+ years ago

Some of my earrings, on a holder created by my daughters 20+ years ago

First, I have been missing the joy I felt in choosing earrings each day, and looking for new ones, too. I also felt I had lost a part of myself.

But what pushed me at this time was participating in a online symposium for my denomination, Metropolitan Community Churches (see October 16, 2015 “What’s Sex Got to Do with It?”), “Who Are We, Really? Re-Engaging Sex and Spirit.” As I listened to presentations and prepared my own remarks for a panel on healing queer bodies and healing the Body of Christ, I realized I had been living in denial. I denied my own sense of self by removing the earrings, and I had become disconnected from the me who is gender queer.

I am male-bodied and glad of it. I like having and using a penis and other aspects of male embodiment. I am gay and glad of that, too. I like other penises, and other aspects of male embodiment in men generally (and my husband’s in particular!). But I have my own ways of expressing those truths, and one way is by decorating myself in ways that honor my own particularities. Those decorations include earrings (and wearing colorful socks that match or accent the rest of my clothes, and using scarves and various other items of clothing).

Those practices have caused people to ask me if I am transgender. I have to say “No” even as I honor my trans siblings as they explore, express and live their truths. I am glad to be on the gender continuum with them, as a gender queer.

And there is one other aspect. As I age, my relationship with sex has changed. I no longer take it for granted. My body requires more attention, to be healthy, of course, but also to be sexy and sexually active. For reasons I do not fully understand, earrings help me feel more sexual and desirable, even to experience more desire. I do hope someday to wear only earrings at a nude or clothing optional beach (just have to be careful not to lose them!).

And then there is one more very important thing: I really want to undermine the rigid gender binary (for more on this, see “Why Do Watches Have Gender?”). This is the spiritual and political activist in me. I seek to undermine any system that undercuts the souls of God’s people in all our wondrous, divinely-inspired and created, variety.

So, the earrings are back!

I’m back!