On “gender-neutral parenting”

There’s been some flurry recently about the hetero Canadian parents who are raising their youngest without revealing the biological sex of the child.  They seem to want to resist the way people typically gender children (and adults), treating them differently according to their gender.

At this point, I’m fully on board.  For whatever reason, we (Western? American?) human beings often act as if we are entitled to know the gender of others, such that it stresses us out if we can’t tell for certain.  We want to know this apparently so that we know how – and to what extent – we might relate to one one another.  Maybe this goes back to wanting to find the best possible mate. I suspect it has to do with being able to treat people differently, or expect different things from them, or apply any number of other social norms upon them according to their privates, and frankly, how many of us really believe that it’s important for us, as individuals, to make such genitalia-based considerations?  I know I don’t.  Yet, by default, I gender people all the time, and seek to “know” other people’s gender when the lines are blurry.

But I am in no way entitled to find out this information about others, now am I?  What a strange pattern of behavior.  We should really question our underlying motivations for wanting to know the biological gender of others as prerequisite for interacting with them.  As a parent, I can understand not wanting other people to ‘gender’ my child and treat her according to whatever crazy notions they hold about how girls should be treated.  I get that.

Be a gender superhero!

And, having said that, I think that “gender-neutral parenting” is problematic.  It seems akin to people who profess to be “colorblind” when it comes to race.  Only a small fraction of people are actually colorblind, and I’m betting that even most of them are capable of discerning between different shades of skin color.  We have color.  And our color is often different from others.  And most significantly, the reality of different skin colors has been imbued with tremendous social meaning for hundreds, if not thousands of years.  By declaring ourselves to be “colorblind,” all we are doing is playing “let’s pretend” so that we might ignore the painful reality that our society still doles out unfair advantages and disadvantages based on color to this very day.  We have color.  And that matters.

So too – we have gender.  And that matters.  Gender is one way that we are different from one another – and it is a particularly embodied way at that.  To try to minimize and hide this difference from others, no matter how grand the intention, strikes me as an attempt to ignore or push aside a difference that is very real, maybe even important, and, by the way, one which is perfectly fine.  It’s okay, it turns out, to have a vagina, and not a penis.  Or vice versa.  Or something in-between.  The particularity of each human body is perfectly wonderful, according to God and nature.  Where there are problems, they belong to us, and it is up to us to adapt our social norms, roles, and expectations accordingly.

All that is to say, I am more in favor of abolishing the traditional limits associated with masculinity and femininity then with abolishing gender outright. There’s nothing wrong, in my view, with claiming and celebrating the particularity of one’s own gender. But there’s a lot wrong with imposing norms on others based on their gender.

It gets better: Christianity is (slowly) getting better too

God is not a homophobe.

1 Corinthians 6:9-10 and clarity of vision

A friend of mine has a parishioner who is struggling with the notion of how queer inclusivity reconciles with biblical teachings.  The verses particularly in question are 1 Corinthians 6:9-10:

Do you not know that wrongdoers will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived! Fornicators, idolaters, adulterers, male prostitutes, sodomites, thieves, the greedy, drunkards, revilers, robbers—none of these will inherit the kingdom of God.

This is one of the seven-or-so Bible quotes that gets frequently trotted out in order to condemn gay folks on the cheap.  It’s particularly convenient for the nay-gay-sayers because, like Lev. 18:22, it seems so uncomplicated: here is a list of people who are sinners, condemned, officially blocked by God (and/or Paul) from getting into heaven.  Clearly, this thinking goes, whatever Paul meant when he included the words “sodomites” and “male prostitutes” on this list, is the same as our understanding of the queer folks in our midst today.

So when my friend asked me my thoughts on it, I first cracked open my exegetical resources, then read the passage in its broader context.  I read about how these verses — especially in view of Paul generally and 1 Corinthians particularly — are about behaviors which demonstrate greed and excess, and which result in breach and division within the community.  Reading in this light, it does not seem at all convincing that Paul’s inclusion of the words “sodomites” and “male prostitutes” amounts to God’s categorical rejection of all people in same sex relationships.

But then a couple days later, I woke up thinking about this text, and for some reason, thought immediately of a second verse:

You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your neighbor’s eye.

To me, these words from Jesus are a fundamental aspect of Christian posture and priority.  When it comes to judging the evils of others, I need to be sure that I’m know what I’m looking at.  When I endeavor to say “God sez…” I need to make damned sure that I know what I’m talking about.  Maybe I should devote more time and energy into my own spiritual well-being, before attacking that of someone else.  And at the end of it all, I think it behooves Christians to construct arguments about who’s in and who’s out with more than just a small handful of references that work best when stripped from their original context.

First the log…then the speck.

Waiting on Rev. Warren…

I’m coming to this late, but my friend and fellow CTS seminarian Adam Yates took Rev. Rick Warren to task for his silence on the Ugandan parliament’s proposed legislation to make homosexuality a capital offense.  It’s a good read:

…So Rev. Warren, which will it be? Will you be either cold or hot and renounce your tepidity? A person cannot be a Christian and a coward; the conviction of our faith in Jesus Christ compels us to speak out and stand by our beliefs even when there are consequences for doing so. As Christians, we cannot stand by and keep silence while great evil is underfoot.

Rev. Warren, who has considerable influence with the backers of the “kill gay people” legislation, has finally felt compelled to break his silence, and to his credit, he unequivocally condemns the proposed legislation as “unchristian.”  Whaddya say, Adam, did Rev. Warren end up hot or cold?

Happy National Coming Out Day!

Thank you, lesbians, gays, bisexuals, transgendered folks, and all otherwise-queer people who are among my closest friends and parental figures, most awesome mentors and professors, and all those who’ve helped mold and nurture me into the queer-loving straight guy I am today!  Would that I might develop a similar courage and conviction to fully COME OUT in my own right, the born-again child of God I was created to be.

God is genderqueer

I realized the other night that I don’t experience God as simply male or female.  With all due respect to my Lord and Savior, who, according to the Gospel writers, gave God a decidedly masculine ‘Father’ identity for God, I simply can’t make gendered pronouns for God fit my experience of God.  Neither “Father” this, “She” that, nor “God Hirself” quite seems to do it.

Not that my gender-confusion over God is a bad thing.  To the contrary, a singular notion of the image of God is so far beyond my comprehension that having no good pronouns actually works better than forcing inept ones.genderqueer

To me, God is combination of two or more elements: a stable, all-encompassing entity of spirit-force who is amorphous and certainly un-gendered in any conventional sense, juxtaposed with a hundred trillion images of all of the diversity of creation: animals, plants, earth, sky, and humans too.  In that sense, that of specific manifestations of God, characteristics like gender, sex, identity, race, ability, outward appearance, to name a few, may be in fact intricately connected to the fundamental nature of God.

Meanwhile, here’s what some of the internets say about genderqueerness, helpfully edited by me to be inclusive towards deities.

Wikipedia:

Genderqueer and intergender are catchall terms for gender identities other than man and woman. People [and/or deities] who identify as genderqueer may think of themselves as being both male and female, as being neither male nor female, or as falling completely outside the gender binary. Some wish to have certain features of the opposite sex and not all characteristics; others want it all.

Fact-index:

…There are different modes of being genderqueer, and it is an evolving concept. Some believe they are a little of both or feel they have no gender at all. Others believe that gender is a social construct, and choose not to adhere to that construct. Some genderqueers do fit into the stereotypical gender roles expected of their sex [and/or divinity], but still reject gender as a social construct. Still other people [and/or deities] identify as genderqueer since…they do not fit many of society’s expectations for the gender in which they identify…

A God who falls completely outside the gender-binary?  Who transcends the expectations and limitations of society?  Who manifests certain features of masculinity and femininity at once?  Now that makes sense to me.  God is genderqueer!

Separation of Church (marriage) and State (unions)

One of the more frustrating aspects about the current debate over same-sex marriage is the utter shallowness of the theology on the anti-marriage side.  Having wrongfully presumed that it is their prerogative to determine whether other people’s civil marriages meet their theological criteria, the only theological criteria they offer up is that of gender. Britney Spears wants to drunkenly marry some guy for 15 minutes?  No problem.  A couple of straight swingers want to get married and swap partners every night til death do them part?  Let ’em.  But to allow any two women or two men to get married would go against their religion.

Of course, few if any would advocate that we hold anyone else’ civil marriages up to religious scrutiny.  That would be considered inappropriate, overreaching.  Yet, that is precisely what we do any time civil marriage is denied on the basis of gender, as there is no argument against same-sex marriage that is not religious in origin.

Here’s the problem:  gay people not only are allowed to get married in my church, but have been for decades.  As far as religious marriage – as opposed to civil marriage – is concerned, we will continue this forever.  Yet, other peoples’ concept of religious marriage have overreached into our church building, effectively neutralizing our religious marriages so that they do not result in the same civil benefits as others.  If religious marriage is going to be interchangeable with civil marriage, as is presently the case in American society, fine.  But not if only one narrow interpretation of religious marriage is going to be enforced on everybody.

So the sanctity of marriage should be protected.  The marriages that my church conduct should have the same legal standing as any other religious marriages.  People smarter than me have drawn up big arguments around the following idea, but in a nutshell, here is my plan for restoring marriage in America.

  1. Religious and civil marriages should no longer be synonymous.
  2. Civil marriages should be called civil unions.
  3. Civil unions would provide all civil rights presently enjoyed by those who are married.
  4. Religious marriages would retain the title of “marriage” but would not, in and of themselves, provide any civil rights, benefits, etc. from the national, state, or local government.
  5. Civil unions would be not be denied on the basis of gender.
  6. It is up to the individual community of faith to determine its own rules regarding who may be married there.