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.

Deep thoughts

Why do some people think that a person’s having a vagina or penis actually has anything to do with their resulting sexual preference? Does having particular genitalia supposedly cause you to have certain desires? Because if so, that seems oddly humorous.

Tune in tomorrow for a new installment of, “The Random Thought Which Popped Right Into Tom’s Head During Class Today.”

Michelle Malkin whips up violent, anti-gay frenzy

Conservative author/commentator/blogger Michelle Malkin has a new post out as part of an ongoing series about persecuted straight people in the aftermath of Prop. 8.  From what I can tell, her modus operandi is to blog about as many hyped-up, isolated instances of anti-Prop. 8 violence, vandalism or harassment as she can.  She does this in order to sell the broader narrative that the good, normal, straight people who supported Prop. 8 are under threat of attack by a vicious mob of crazed queers, who evidently roam the streets looking for church-going grandmothers to kick (and/or sodomize, probably).

Let me be clear:  I deplore individual and mob violence, and categorically condemn the few instances of vandalism to church and/or personal property that has occurred in the aftermath of Prop. 8’s passage.  I have written here and here about our need to maintain respectful dialogue and avoid scapegoating the Mormon Church in particular as we move forward.  But to those on the right who are shocked – shocked! by the huge groups of protesters who are inexplicably pissed that gay people have been relegated to second-class citizenship, get over yourselves.  You made that bed, now we all must sleep in it.

At any rate, Michelle Malkin’s persecuted-majority complex can be ignored easily enough, but she is apparently influential enough to inspire actual violent rage amongst some of her readers.  Check out these comments on just one recent thread of hers:

civil war against al-Gayda

S&W

lead-poisoning

gaynazis

These comments, coming from just this one post (I’m not sure I have the stomach to comb through looking for more), belie a shocking anti-gay sentiment that is murderous at its core.  It’s amazing what people will say under the guise of Internet anonymity.

Here’s a “note from Michelle” at the onset of the comments section (emphasis mine):

Note from Michelle: This section is for comments from michellemalkin.com’s community of registered readers. Please don’t assume that I agree with or endorse any particular comment just because I let it stand. A reminder: Anyone who fails to comply with my terms of use may lose his or her posting privilege.

Okay, that’s worth noting.  Nobody should be held directly responsible for comments that others make on your blog, unless you fail to deal with them in an appropriate and timely fashion.  Yet, her aforementioned terms of use clearly state the following (in part, emphasis mine):

I reserve the right to delete your comments or revoke your registration for any reason whatsoever. Rarely will I do so simply because I disagree with you. I will, however, usually do so if you post something that is, in my opinion, (a) off-topic; (b) libelous, defamatory, abusive, harassing, threatening, profane, pornographic, offensive, false, misleading, or which otherwise violates or encourages others to violate these terms of use or any law, including intellectual property laws; or (c) “spam,” i.e., an attempt to advertise, solicit, or otherwise promote goods and services…

Well, lookit that – Malkin “usually” purges her blog of such sentiments.  Okay, well, it’s been four six ten 549 days since the above comments have sat on her site.  Let’s see how long they remain. [Update on 6/15/10: after eighteen months, I think we can safely assume that Malkin has no intention of removing the hate speech.]

Finally, a note to Michelle, from a fellow Oberlin grad:  it seems to me that if your main thesis is about how out-of-control, violent and crazy those people are out there, then perhaps you should think take care that your words don’t engender out-of-control, violent, crazed people in your own backyard.  And if that happens anyway, then perhaps you should use the means you have already given yourself to purge those sentiments from the website in your name.

It's about diplomacy.

Here (and on Facebook) I last posted about how we need to be careful in response to the tenuous passage of Prop. 8 not to scapegoat the Mormons.  I was thinking about how Mormon temples have selectively been protested, there are websites that identify Mormon donors, and other websites with names like “Mormons Stole Our Rights.”  Some have pointed out to me that such efforts are, technically, factual, and not only that, warranted, given the exorbitant amount of resources poured into marriage discrimination by members of the Church of Latter Day Saints.  I agree with both points.  But as valid as it is to express our anger, we need to make sure our response is not more harmful than helpful in the process.

Our ultimate goal is to change enough hearts and minds on the issue of same-sex marriage such that equal civil rights may forever be secured for LGBT people.  While there are some genuine ‘haters’ on the other side, I am convinced that there are also many good people just across the line who will, if persuaded, help us permanently settle this question next time it goes up (in California, at least).  I am also convinced that if our response is instead perceived by most people across that line as a disproportionate attack, then our progress will actually be impeded by further division.

Let’s look to the historical example of emerging gay rights within the United Church of Christ.  In 1985, the General Synod, somewhat of a ‘governing body’ for the UCC, became Open and Affirming, which was a suggestion from the top that churches open their employment, volunteer and membership ranks to welcome LGBT people into full, equal participation.  Today, there are approximately 5,518 UCC congregations, of which, approximately 657 are Open and Affirming.  So even though the official standing from our top body of governence asked 20 years ago that all churches become Open and Affirming, approximately 88% are not.  This is because the General Synod’s resolutions are not binding.  There are two ways to look at this.

My impatient, inner-tyrant notes that even among our liberal UCC, many churches are not LGBT inclusive, and that is inexcusable.  From my theological standpoint, those churches should all become Open and Affirming, and they should do it today – because it’s the good, Godly, and right thing to do.  HOWEVER – if at any point this became a binding resolution, back then or even today, we would have lost countless congregations.  And here’s the really important point: there are churches that are Open and Affirming today that would have left the denomination had they been forced to adopt LGBT inclusivity back in 1985.  So though it’s taking a while, the non-binding nature of the UCC’s resolutions has actually created the space for changed hearts and minds on the issue – without fostering unnecessary division in the process.

Let me hasten to acknowledge that this is radically different from what we are looking at in California today.  However, the underlying principle is the same: it is through open (though often forceful) dialogue, rather than divisive tactics that shut down communication, that we are able to bring about change.

That is why I think we need to be careful not to primarily scapegoat just one group of people (Mormons) in our response to Prop. 8.  Even though I believe that all of the outrage directed towards the Mormon church is morally justified, I worry that a too-narrow attack on the Mormon church will cost us the support of many moderate Mormons (and others) who could be our allies next time around.

Check out this undeniably moving account on the aftermath of Prop. 8’s passage, as experienced by Vanessa, a Mormon woman who voted “Yes” while acknowledging the troubling reality of the human cost of denying marriage.  She is precisely the sort of person who I believe will ultimately change her position once she fully assumes her moral obligation to this human reality.  At the least, her post helps illustrate that Mormons who supported Prop. 8 are not a monolithic voting bloc that should categorically be cut off or dismissed.

We who oppose marraige discrimination must ask ourselves: what sort of diplomacy is needed in order to change the hearts and minds of people like Vanessa?  And are our present efforts helping or hindering this cause?