July 1, 2011 § 4 Comments
After reading Susan Cain’s article from the New Yorker on introversion, I’ve been thinking and writing a lot about the topic. I was wondering if it would fit in on this blog despite the change of pace.
I’m personally extremely introverted, but also very good at passing as highly extraverted. There is a funny gap between the perceptions people have of me who know me intimately versus those who know me in social or work situations – for the former, my introversion is a given, the latter are shocked when I mention it. Most of my love bonds are with other introverts, including Emily and Valerie and other friends who will likely begin to appear in this blog. As a group whose strengths are stigmatized, I think knowing how to love one’s self as an introvert and how to love other introverts is a skill we lack. I decided it definitely does fit in to my journey and thoughts on love.
It’s funny how simply being introverted did not teach me how to engage other introverts. I had to grow out of estrangement from my own natural temperament and learn skills of how to care for myself and my close introverted loved ones. These are some things I thought of after visiting Susan Cain’s blog that I’ve learned cultivated my bonds with other introverts that you might try in learning to care for your introverted loved ones. Not only do people who naturally tend towards extraversion often spook their introverted loved ones, but many of us introverts who are more skilled at passing will try to apply our same extravert-side with other introverts.
Tips for Being in Love Bonds with Introverts (Including Yourself):
1.) Allow for the gradual approach ~ I think of introverts like foxes. Three steps forward and two back is still progressing forward. The dance towards and away from something is part of the introvert decision-making process. It is our form of taking action. Try not to rush an introvert.
2.) Provide processing time ~ Especially after social or new experiences, introverts need time to process. I can feel my need to process intensify, and if I don’t make time to be alone and away from external stimulation so I can think back over what I’ve taken in, I feel “oversaturated”, like my thoughts are muddled and I’m edgier and more skittish than usual. I actually feel like I forget things if I don’t have adequate processing time, like they don’t sink in or become integrated fully into my awareness. Time in between, even if it’s short, is important to sort and store information and reorient towards taking in the external world again.
3.) Signal shifts before affecting them ~ Give a warning or notice of an anticipated or desired shift and a little downtime for your introvert to manage their own inner state. How many extraverts have been driven crazy by introverts who said yes to a suggestion then showed no sign of stopping what they were already doing? And how extraverts have then been even more upset when they grew disappointed and withdrew, then had their introvert turn suddenly engaged and ready? Give notice, such as, “We need to go soon,” or a subtle signal like letting the conversations die down, or hints like kissing your introvert lover on the neck and expressing desire, then moving away and giving them a minute to shift from what they were focusing on internally and reciprocate before either pouncing or assuming they’re disinterested.
4.) Gentle transitions ~ Introverts need special care surrounding transitions. They are likely to feel vulnerable and jarred by sudden shifts, when a gradual change would have made both activities enjoyable. Create rituals surrounding transitions when possible, especially when heightened emotions are involved. A pattern that marks and facilitates incoming change can ease the process.
5.) Exhibit patience and reduce pressure, directly or indirectly ~ First, you have to genuinely be patient to exhibit it. But if you do feel patient waiting for your introvert to go through their decision-making process, don’t assume they will know you are accommodating. Give some verbal or nonverbal signals that they can take their time. I often say, “No rush,” or, “Take your time,” or, “If you want to talk about it later, that’s fine,” or, “If you need a while to think about it, that’s okay,” or, “We can talk about it another time.” I say, “No pressure,” and use a casual, gentle tone a lot with my introverted friends. If an introvert freezes up, it’s best to de-escalate the situation rather than increasing pressure. This is tough in conflicts, but very important to keep introverts from becoming overwhelmed.
6.) Leave silences ~ Silent moments may feel awkward due to our social conditioning, but generating comfortable spaces and silences is necessary to get introverts to move past their inhibition. Most introverts won’t “butt in,” so leave some space that is not loaded with pressure or anxious vibes. This can be especially difficult during conflict or potential conflict and other emotionally loaded situations when introverts will try to act with extreme caution and care. Try to be patient and don’t hurry them or they may panic and become reactionary by fleeing or fighting impulsively.
7.) Manage interruptions ~ Try not to interrupt when an introvert is talking. If you do, pick up the thread for them by prompting what they began before you interrupted and asking them to continue what they were saying.
8.) Don’t “play rough” ~ Most introverts will respond to teasing, heckling or other rough wordplay as if it were genuine. This type of aggressive play won’t sit well with most sensitive types, so check the tendency and look for other ways to break the ice or display intimacy when you feel uncertain.
9.) Ask questions ~ Many introverts will give their opinion when prompted, as long as they feel safe. This includes big questions about values and beliefs. My own journaling and writing improved drastically when I began to ask myself questions first, then wrote towards an answer. It was hard for me to pour my opinion out at random, and easy once I was asked, even if I was asking myself.
10.) Try not to suddenly single them out in a group and if you do ally yourself with them quickly ~ Being prompted by a friend to tell a story or give an opinion work for me, but it won’t for all introverts. If you accidentally say something that draws group attention to your introvert unexpectedly, say something quickly to ally yourself with them and bring the attention back to you or spread it to both of you.
11.) Focus alongside one another ~ Introverts often like focusing intently on tasks. Cooking, dancing, watching films, and other activities that can be shared and yet individuated are a good way to spend time with an introvert. You can be connected while allowing them to put their focus on their own inner world, which will be less exhausting for them.
12.) Stay up late ~ Many introverts are less inhibited at night. Staying up late to continue a conversation or hangout can be an excellent way to get to know an introvert intimately. My best conversations with other introverts have mostly taken place between 10pm and 4am. You lose some sleep, but you gain true knowledge of a friend you might not get any other time, which I’ve definitely found worth it.
June 22, 2011 § Leave a Comment
I recently decided to begin openly describing myself as polyamorous.
I’m not a big fan of the attitude of “your sexuality labels are public property and should come from a fixed set, so stand and deliver!” that seems to be the status quo. I’ll often resist self-defining except with people who seem to be really listening. How someone labels their sexuality just doesn’t seem to me to be that strong of an indicator of who they are or how they are in their relationships. And, well, people are liars – consider the abundance of “monogamous” cheaters. And there is an assumed norm that doesn’t have to do the work of self-defining.
However, I do see value in the willingness to claim a countercultural identity publically as an act of defiance. And even more so, I believe that talking about countercultural views and practices regarding gender, sex, and relationships with people who are generally respectful and open can make huge strides in forming allies and can be freeing since witnessing someone else think or live in a new way can give you permission. So I’ve been trying to be more open with engaged people in talking about my personal beliefs and ethics, especially around sex and relationships, which are taboo starting out.
In thinking about posting on this subject, I didn’t want it to be polyvangelism. I recently heard the term polyvangelist used to describe those of us who are poly who think it’s a good idea for everyone. I laughed and blanched, since I recognize the impulse. But I have to remember that when I’m inclined to throw the poly card, I don’t just mean that someone should have sex with multiple people. Sleeping with more people is certainly not a fix for all relational issues. As Valerie said once, “When I hear about someone whose a chronic cheater, I always think ‘polyamory,’ but then… the skill set required for cheating and the skill set require for polyamory are really not compatible.” If I think a bit harder, I usually realize that it is actually some element of the relational dynamic that seems to be causing issues and making people unhappy. It’s not the monogamy, but the romantic myth at fault.
People think of polyamory in contrast to monogamy. By plain definitions, monogamy would mean having a sexual relationship with only one person in a span of time, and polyamory would mean having sex with any number of partners. I’m all for monogamy, plain and simple. I don’t think it hurts anyone. I’ve known a lot of people who are monogamous whom I believe really know themselves and are making conscious, self-derived choices. But usually monogamy is assumed to mean not only sex with one partner, but to include vast elements of behavior and a worldview mandated by the romantic myth. The romantic myth I think destroys a lot of beautiful bonds and causes a lot of suffering in the world.
One leg of the romantic myth that chills me is the concept of “emotional monogamy.” You’re supposed to dethrone all your meaningful bonds from the past and avoid making new ones or else stand accused. Communicating, “You are doing something wrong. You are immoral,” when what we really mean is, “I am scared,” or, “I am jealous,” or, “I am realizing that I do not trust you to tell the truth,” or, “I want greater connection with you and this contrast just made me realize it,” won’t help anyone create a stronger relationship. I think it’s a way projecting feelings of possessiveness onto another person rather than taking responsibility for them and sorting them out into some deeper meaning.
If we expand polyamory to simply mean having a life of many loves, not strictly sexual, then I think it is undoubtedly a good idea for everyone. People who only have sex with one person (or one person at a time) will more likely find their relationships taxed and strained by trying to get all their needs met from that one person. If you always drink from the same well, you’ll dry it up eventually. I think these kinds of relationships are often lost simply because when conflicts arise, the only person to go to in order to process those conflicts is the person involved. I think you need a friend who feels more objective and advocates for your bond to process things with in order to bring a more enlightened and balanced mentality back to the conversation and not just have incendiary rounds of fighting every time an issue is brought up, or worse, avoid talking about it until it blows up.
I talk a lot about sexual consent on this blog, so I end up talking a lot about friends I’ve had sexual relationships with, but those are not my only or deepest bonds. I just don’t see any truth in my bonds existing in a hierarchy where “romantic” bonds are above “platonic” bonds. Nor do I see that as a particularly relevant distinction, honestly. Sex does not an entirely new beast of a relationship make, at least, not in my experience. Yet no one finds a relationship self-help books that says, “Have lots of close and lasting friendships, and you will learn a ton.” The support and skills I have needed to maintain a bond with my best friend, Emily, I imagine are exactly the same as those needed to support a loving monogamous sexual relationship, since it is a long-term bond I prioritize. Even if I only slept with one person, I would still be polyamorous, since I already have a primary partner I’m not willing to give up in Emily. I’m just willing to have more than one.
Does that mean I just don’t love people I sleep with as much? No. Looking at love bonds as a hierarchy where participants rival for affection, or simply at yourself as a limited vessel holding a finite amount of love you must pour out judiciously is a mindset simply too small for love. In “The Ethical Slut”, they call this mentality starvation economy thinking. I don’t love my best friend less because I begin to love my new lover or my other best friends more. In my experience, the opposite is actually true, that both the capacity to love and the skills involved expand as you use them.
I’m polyamorous because my priority and I believe my rightful purpose in life is to seek as much genuine love as possible, and I assume it is the right of everyone else to do the same. C.S. Lewis, who really shaped my thinking as a young person, says that God does not find our desires too big, but too small. A love ethic does not require that we want less, that we tie ourselves to a small set of people and beliefs and restrict our desires and growth outside those boundaries. It requires that we grow, that we enlarge our hearts to carry more empathy and find greater connection, that we suffer the depression of letting go of the old to replace it with the new, always seeking greater truth and connection with the divine. I find it most in other people, so I’m not willing to whittle myself down to one.
April 23, 2011 § Leave a Comment
I found a book called Healing Sex by Staci Haines when I was working on healing my own sexuality. I wish a wider audience could be drawn to this book. It is written specifically for women who were victims of childhood sexual abuse. I had to keep from getting bogged down with the fact that it wasn’t “for me” and that I didn’t identify as a victim of childhood sex abuse. But I think the same experiences of dissociation and the same healing process are applicable to anyone who has experienced more psychological culturally inflicted sexual trauma, and I think that’s all of us to more or less of an extent.
A lot of people would like to be more present during sex. A lot of people would like their partners to be more present and for greater connection to be possible. There is a lot of body negativity and sex negativity being ingrained into children in our society, and you get a double dose if you are raised in a conservative religious environment. As a result, many of us wind up alienated from our sexual selves, worried we may be wrong, we may be harmful, we may be sinful, we may be perverse. These worries are usually not conscious; they exist in the body as sensations of pain in experiencing desire where there should be pleasure. The dynamics of healing laid out in this book are relevant to anyone’s experience of getting back in their body, back in their consent, back in their sexuality after past experiences that left them fearful of or alienated from their sexual selves. I think most people will relate to some elements of what is described.
The book begins with an explanation of the experience of dissociation, or the experience of checking out and shutting down mentally as a safety mechanism to avoid experiencing trauma in the moment. It’s a sort of cognitive flight response when fighting isn’t an option and physical flight isn’t either. While this protects the victim in the moment, the trauma remains unprocessed in the body to be addressed in a safe place. Unfortunately, this often does not occur and the trauma remains, occupying a space in the body and psyche. The mind and body need to be reintegrated and the trauma released and experienced for healing to take place.
Disconnect between the mind and body is more pervasive than in just the lives of survivors. It’s a widespread Western cultural phenomenon. We live in a culture of rampant body hatred and abuse, whether it veers towards neglect manifested in a sedentary life of overconsumption or in brutal diet and fitness culture rooted in dominating the body into submission and perfection. We rarely find our bodies a comfortable place to be and fail to even begin to know how to make it so.
I believe sexist gender oppression is also one of the primary forces at fault in creating widespread dissociation. I had a unique experience as a child in that all of my genuine love bonds were with males in my family, while the females in my family were mostly shut off and consistently abusive. As such, I took on a lot of male social conditioning and got to understand it better than I would have. My experience is that men are collectively taught and required to dissociate. Part of sexist masculinity is to be shut off from emotions, shut off from the body, able to commit violence, which requires a disconnect from empathy and therefore from one’s own body to be tolerable. I learned to dissociate to avoid being targeted for abuse and in order to fit in with the people I was bonded with, all males, who were generally well practiced at dissociation and at times would literally become frightened and paralyzed by strong expressions of emotions, excepting anger, which of course was what all negative emotions were translated into since it is one of the few emotions “appropriate” to men. Anger or numbness – that was the choice. I think that’s the choice we put before males in this society.
Women are taught to dissociate in equally distressing and covert ways. Self-sacrifice and longsuffering are still seen as Christian feminine virtues in our culture. Physically, women are not supposed to even take up space or take risks or be strong and active, though this has improved a great deal after Second Wave feminism. When one of my best friends almost died because she had been living with a burst appendix, and by living with I mean walking to school and going to class, her male doctor saw her CAT scan and went on an impassioned feminist rant about how only women die from ruptured appendixes because they are taught to ignore pain and not complain or take up too much attention.
My strongest response to this book came in the preface, when Staci Haines names collective dissociation as the root of the eradication of empathy in the modern world. I see empathy as a form of genius at the heart of all great artistic creation and every great movement for change and love. The social immune system of a species that thrives only in groups is empathy, the capacity to feel what another animal experiences in your own body. If you dissociate, you don’t feel even your own experiences in your body. This leaves no room for empathy. You shut off this species survival mechanism. From this place, it is easy to oppress and abuse, to neglect and ignore without an experience of empathic suffering to check you. And you get what we have now, a species killing itself and being conscious of this without any significant response or feeling.
The process of somatic (meaning mind-body reintegration) healing Staci Haines outlines involves working with triggers, the action or event that sets off an experience of dissociation. Tracking what causes you to check out, where you feel the experience in your body, what causes you to get fully into your body, where it is in your body you feel strong and safe is the heart of the work in this book. From here, you can begin to make choices and enact change in your dissociative response. This is the process of somatic healing, tracking and embracing triggers to heal dissociation rather than navigating them and losing a part of yourself and your experience. I can’t do it justice in this short space, since specific exercises and very well described methods of increasing self-awareness and emotional awareness are the heart of how this book not only diagnoses but offers solutions to the experience of dissociating during sex.
It occurred to me how focused solely on the mind the spiritual practices I learned in Christian culture were. Somatic spiritual practices were completely foreign to me. With an emphasis on right belief over right action, dogma over a lived love ethic, and a strong assumption of the goodness of the mind over the baseness of the body, my Christian spiritual practices got me in my head, which wasn’t entirely a bad thing. I learned a lot about my own beliefs and gained self-awareness and wisdom. But it was imbalanced. I never got in my body and found the wisdom there. The idea that I could access the divine in my body, not just my mind, was completely foreign to me. The idea of the body as simply good was completely foreign to me. It was a difficult shift to make.
Then I thought about dogs – how much we love our dogs as physical beings, noticing the features of their bodies with love and giving them care and affection through touch and physical sensation and how each dog can seem beautiful despite the incredible spectrum of their appearances. If I could believe a canine body was inherently good and worthy of all good things, how did it correlate that I had trouble thinking a human body was inherently good and worthy of all good things? In short, I found that I carried a lot of my despair and fear of the human race in my body, repressed there in an attempt to gain “hope” and through it access to loving practice. It didn’t work, of course, but left me disconnected. Somatic healing took place as I began incorporating my body into my spiritual disciplines, newfangled ideas to supplement Bible study, reading, introspection and prayer like meditation focusing on sensations in the body, mindfulness and practicing being present, and somatic exercise, and, I’ll say it, somatic sex. I’m still working to find strong physical spiritual disciplines in my life now.
One thing I loved about this book is that it encourages you to go into your trigger while equipping you to make the experience tolerable and productive to your healing. I think a lot of us avoid having any kind of difficult or unpleasant emotions during sex. We think that anything that isn’t totally pleasant and predictable isn’t an appropriate part of sex. We’re too freaked out and think our partners will be freaked out. We try to hide any negative or confused emotions from ourselves and anyone we’re with. But most of us have more shaming, damaging, harmful formative sexual experiences in our pasts than positive, happy, healthy ones. Complex feelings will come up, and not addressing them will not send them away, but keep them operating in our sex lives and blocking us from creating the sexual connections we want. Lack of recognition of this fact and lack of knowledge about what to do with negative emotions leaves us hiding and disconnected from ourselves and our partners.
Understanding the dynamic of the healing process and being equipped with the skills to make choices and to help our partners make choices for themselves enables us to experience and facilitate sexual healing. My sex life got way better after I read this book. I did a lot of work on my own to simply become capable of experiencing desire and pleasure while staying present, sorting through more fear and grief than I would have guessed I had stored in my body from my past experiences. I was able to witness complex dynamics partners were experiencing and hear about experiences of friends without panicking or ignoring or simply being confused about what was going on and to help them feel less threatened by their experiences by sharing my own.
I think we’d be a lot better off if we started from the assumption that we have all histories of sexual trauma. Not only does refusing to believe this create a silent culture of extreme and taboo shame for the many people who experienced physical sexual abuse as children (estimated 1 in 4 women and 1 in 6 men when last I heard a statistic) and mark them as unduly damaged and beyond our skill to heal, it belittles experiences of trauma sustained by people who have experienced psychological abuse by a coercive culture and often our own experiences of suffering. This leads us to apathy out of repressed awareness or a sense of helplessness.
I think one of the most important foundations of a love ethic is that of taking responsibility. Trauma does not just go away. Even if we don’t think about it. Even if we throw money at it without thought, effort, care and personal transformation. We are not helpless to heal trauma, even on a grand scale. But to do so we have to first face and name it, to take responsibility for it despite the discomfort and despite our doubt that we might simply see it, find that we are helpless to heal it, or fail.
People like Staci Haines and work like Healing Sex and generationFIVE show how much power we do have when we choose to address suffering in the world and commit ourselves to healing it. And I think hope and loving action are best served by a foundation of personal transformation, the experiential knowledge that if we can heal and grow and change, then those things must be possible on a larger scale.
April 21, 2011 § Leave a Comment
I just came across a rant online entitled, “there is no such thing as a gay Christian.” I’ve heard this plenty of times, and this time, I got to thinking on how I might respond if I spoke from my deepest, truest self. It goes something like this…
I agree that you have the letter of the law right. You can quote Biblical text to back your opinion. But I would have the letter of the law right if I said slaves should submit to their oppressors or that you should stone your parents to death for cooking on a Sunday. Whenever you quote the Bible, you are appealing to some other authority outside of the simple letter of the Biblical text. Whether or not you like to be confronted by this point is beside the point.
What we always have to appeal to in order to know how to live our lives as Christians is the spirit of the law, not the letter. This is what Jesus did, and this is what we have to do, either mindfully or by simply following the mandates set out for us by authority figures.
I say your argument has got the spirit of the law all wrong. So perhaps, in essence, we’re following a different spirit under the same name. If you are drawn to Christianity for a sense of moral superiority or shelter from the judgment and torture of an angry, violent God, then your spirituality is completely different from mine. What draws me to Christianity and the God Jesus represents is the ethic of love – radically simple and full of hope and life and vision for a world where connection and compassion and joy are found in abundance. I believe that is the spirit of the law, the spirit of teachings of Jesus, the spirit of God is the spirit of love. Not a spirit of threat and harm and restriction and fear.
If Jesus was showing us a better way, doesn’t it seem suspect that the same marginalized hated group in our culture is translated into the taboo sinner and moral scapegoat in our dominant religious culture? That doesn’t seem like a better way to me. Broader culture would suppress and kill and otherwise terrorize people out of same sex relationships; Christian culture would convert and consign to hell and terrorize people out of same sex relationships. I don’t even see that as a different way, much less better.
I would agree with the definitive statement that there is no such thing as a Christian hate crime or a Christian war. To be “Christian” derives from following in the teachings and example of Christ, and Jesus definitely didn’t do either of those things, but opposed them with his words and exemplified a better way, one of nonviolent resistance fueled by a divine love.
But to say there is no such thing as someone who loves and follows the Way of Jesus and has relationships and sex with people of the same sex… No one has yet articulated for me how same sex relationships contrast with the love ethic taught by Jesus. Arguments to that nature are shallow and cyclical and generally infused with an atmosphere of belligerence, threat, fear, and hate.
Anything that makes me feel like closing off a part of my soul or cowering or shutting out someone or something, I name to be the influence of a spirit of anti-love, or Satan if you will (though conjuring an image of horns and hooves seem like a distraction to me). Anything that makes me feel like my heart has enlarged to incorporate something or someone that was previously outside its bounds, that my soul has woken up and been united into one, clear, bright flame, I take to be the influence of the spirit of love, or the Holy Spirit of God.
That is how I discern what is the true spirit of the law, of the teachings of Jesus reflected in the Biblical scriptures. God is Love. And love is simple. As simple for me as that.
June 19, 2010 § Leave a Comment
I just read Thomas’s blog post on Yes Means Yes regarding the terms we use to describe gender orientation: http://yesmeansyesblog.wordpress.com/2010/06/10/would-that-make-me-queer/#more-1647.
Most of the people I know with any level of intimacy have some qualm with labeling their gender / gender orientation. They can almost always point to some aspect of what is implied that does not accurately reflect the way they relate to their sexuality and/or sexual partners. Cisgendered, heterosexual men may be as uncomfortable as gender queers wary of labeling when called upon to self-define, and it isn’t hard to see why.
I think the issue relates more to body sovereignty than language. When you are called upon to define yourself, the stakes can seem raised, as if you are being threatened somehow. I think it’s because you are. You may trip the label signifier that defines you in a manner other than what you feel/know yourself to be. In literary theory terms via Lacan: you may be aware that your social I and your ideal I are about to hit a patch of dissonance. Often, you know your listener(s) will not extend their attention past about three words, so which three will you choose???
I have found that with some people I can talk about my sexuality openly, and with others I want to grasp any fragment of information in a clutch of animal-like ferocity. Describing the difference is similar to describing why one person can approach you on the street or give you a comment and you feel threatened while from another you feel flattered. I think it has to do with your internalized sense of whether or not this person is trying to better understand and relate to you on your own terms or maneuver some type of ownership over you.
I would say defining someone is in some manner taking ownership of them. Hence, you find Thomas exploring this topic as an issue of feminism, applying the same awareness of prejudice and lack of consent and body sovereignty as one would in an analysis of a sexual encounter.
Thomas points out what I think he considers an inconsistency in his feminist MO of letting others define their own gender and gender orientation:
“But when Larry Craig or Ted Haggard tell me they’re straight, I don’t accept their self-definition. I think they’re full of shit. And I’m not the only one. Asher used the term “closet case,” a term the very existence of which presumes that there is a fact of the matter that can be different from what people say about themselves.
But, if we try to go whole hog with that, and come up with “objective” criteria for pigeonholing people by orientation, the enterprise is doomed from the start.”
This is not, I think, a matter of rigid defining, but a response to an awareness of someone who is manipulating their identity to claim a social/political status or statures.
In the case of “closet cases” that are not infuriating, the manipulation may seem more spurred by fear rather than power mongering, and a desire to self-protect from a societal prejudice.
When you push back against someone else’s self-definition, you take a huge risk of being wrong and, since I can’t think of another way to say it, emulating the behavior of the oppressor. But there are times when you will be inclined to take the risk either because you are invested in a person’s further self-discovery or, in a very different circumstance, because you think they are a conniving hypocrite who lacks integrity and should be held accountable.
Much as the writer points out in “Schrödinger’s Rapist,” there can be a sense of entitlement to someone’s space, attention, and trust, and I would say there can also be a sense of entitlement to knowledge of another person’s identity, especially when it comes to gender and gender orientation. It has taken a remarkable effort of self-chosen reconditioning for most of us (myself included) to become comfortable not knowing someone’s binary gender label, much less branching out from there.
I once had a group of very progressive folk turn suddenly to me during a planning retreat late at night expecting an explanation of my sexuality after someone offhandedly referred to me a lesbian, and I said, honestly surprised, “Who said I was a lesbian?” The questions continued until I was asked why I am private about my sexuality unless it’s relevant and “how that works.” Finally one person said, “This is getting inquisitory,” and everyone sort of backed off, feeling a bit ashamed it seemed.
In a far less jarring instance, one of my roommates suddenly asked me how I “as lesbian” liked living in JP (which, as a side note, I will say was even more interesting considering I had only had sexual relationships with men since moving into the house).
Oddly, my severe discomfort and annoyance in both situations made me feel like I was out of line. Maybe I’m ashamed or homophobic or sexist or sex-negative? When I brought this up with my very-most-feminist friend, she said, “Making assumptions about someone else’s sex life – NEVER a good idea!” My friend continued to point out that while she is careful to guard against presumption when someone has not revealed a self-defined sexuality, she also doesn’t feel like she can bring it up out of sheer curiosity. It takes some other more relevant incentive to get her to breech the subject.
In short, to her, a person’s sexuality (including their gender and gender orientation labels) are not public property, but belong to the individual who chooses when, how, and if to define state them. In both instances, I felt uncomfortable because in our society, even among very considerate and progressive people, it is not acceptable to be private about your gender or gender-orientation. It is the possession of the public, of others. It does not inherently and exclusively belong to you.
The most awkward and often threatening moments in life are those when someone approaches you from a standpoint that you owe them something. At least, they have been for me. In the same way that feminism challenges us to dismantle our entitlement to another person’s body, it challenges us to dismantle or entitlement to defining ourselves or even being privy to their self-definition regarding gender and sexuality. As the author of Schrödinger’s rapist breaks it down with physical space in public, for some people the boundaries of handing out identity labels you may or not define the same as they do may be lax and for others, no risk is acceptable.
“But how does that work?” people will ask. It’s pretty simple: you respect consent, so when both of you want to talk about it, you do; when one of you doesn’t, you don’t, and there are no punishments (physical, psychological, or social) levied as a result.
May 1, 2010 § 1 Comment
The release of Jennifer Knapp’s new album and the recent news that she decided to be open prior to its release that she has a female partner and is still a Christian has completely consumed my inner (and much of my outer) world lately.
I love this woman. Her art has changed my life, no sentimentality included. Many, many people feel this way.
I am deeply upset by the news. Let me explain. Her same-sex romance and continuing ownership of the Christian faith does not constitute a moral conflict for me. This would not have been the case some years ago. I am upset, because it causes me great pain to relate to the spiritual turmoil she clearly went through in reconciling her faith with same-sex love and attraction. I went through a process of grieving when I read the reasons for her long break from making music. All I kept thinking was, “That’s it!? That’s why?” A great artist was broken to the point of being unable to create for eight years. To me, that is nothing short of severe injustice and of tragedy. The “Christian music industry” (VOMIT) was largely to blame. But that is not what I want to focus on just now. That was only part of what happened. She felt herself torn between her partner and her faith – between two parts of herself. That is some of the worst pain and the worst cognitive dissonance to reconcile and recovery from.
I decided to post this in an attempt to succinctly convey the total shift I experienced in moral comprehension surrounding same-sex attraction, sex, and love. If you love Jennifer Knapp or are otherwise at all conflicted about how the combination of homosexuality and Christianity interact, I think you will want to read this post.
On we go.
When you ask any Christian why they believe homosexuality is wrong, they will invariably answer, “The Bible says.”
This response is not ubiquitous or necessary in discussion of any other supposed sin. Everything else has moral ramifications that can be elaborated upon and even separated from church-speak all together. I can explain to a friend of any and all or no religious backgrounds why it is a sin/immoral choice/bad idea to: kill, rape, exploit, drink too much, eat too much, use too many resources, ignore others, and so on and so on. I do not need to appeal to anything outside of my own intuitive moral sense, the Spirit of Love in me, and trust that it will resonate with the same in their moral conscience and leave them with a personal moral decision.
But with homosexuality you get the same old, “God wills it. Look, the Bible says…” argument every time. This was the case for me initially. I could not come up with anything besides, “The Bible says…” and this seemed anomalous to me. So I kept coming back to those passages regarding homosexuality over and over again, trying to gain some moral grasp of what they were saying and why.
Amidst the complex and shockingly specific Law of the Old Testament, in the list of people who get stoned to death, with abrupt vehemence, homosexuality (specifically male, but we all agree that the culture did not fully perceive women as moral agents and they should be included) is listed. No Christian can quote the Law without appealing to some authority beyond the text as to which parts of the Law are still relevant to us under the New Covenant, with the Holy Spirit replacing the Temple and so on, and in what way. For example, I do not leave the corner of my fields for widows and orphans, but I give a portion of all of my resources to the under-resourced. I wear multi-colored clothes made of blended fabrics, but I try to wear excessively expensive clothes that flaunt wealth. I hold my father’s hand when his skin is discolored and cracked instead of sending him to a tent and bricking him in the head if he treads back without being “purified.” All Christians understand that Jesus eradicated the Law, stating that the Jewish clergy belied God in the way they kept the letter of the Law and not the spirit of the Law.
Then there is that bit in the story of Sodom and Gommorah – the men turning to lust after one another. A close reading of this eradicates its relevance pretty fast. This was not a culture where men were so “evil” they wanted to kiss other men and marry them and adopt babies, oh my!, but a vicious, overt rape culture. When the angels show up, the townsmen literally pound on the door and demand that they be handed over. Not for consensual sex of any kind – the town was primed for gang rape, slavering over fresh victims. That is so far gone, it isn’t difficult to read the story and think, “I don’t know if I could have thought of anything but fiery destruction to solve the problem either…” I would say this is tantamount to the moral confusion of trying to deal with legitimately evil people, which is a separate, long, and terribly difficult discussion in and of itself. Frankly, I don’t fully understand the story’s ramifications, but what I take away from it is that even Abraham, who was super righteous by all accounts, was LESS merciful than God, even though he perceived the opposite during his moral negotiations with God on the subject.
So, we’re on to the more actually challenging question of mentions of homosexuality in the New Testament.
Jesus said not a word about it. This is a very significant indicator of a very relevant fact – the sin that should be taboo in the Christian church is not homosexuality, or any sexual sin.
What is it? Hypocrisy. Willfull distortion of the truth, projecting an image of righteousness and piety, for the sake of gaining leverage and power that you use to exploit people and get away with abuse. There were PLENTY of people having same-sex romps all around Jesus as he lived and taught and healed. It was Rome. But the people he railed at, shamed, and blamed for the impending demise of the Jewish people’s world as they knew it were the hypocritical religious leaders who had learned to implore the authority of God without exhibiting the love of God. Jesus talks to these people in a manner radically different from his norm. It’s a huge part of what gets him killed.
Then we are left with Paul, and a less quoted bit of Revelations (written by John). Paul’s words are the crux of anti-gay sentiment in the Christian church. This is where my very real moral dilemma got stuck for a long time. I could not figure out what to do with Paul. I kept thinking, if I can just understand why this is listed as a sin, then I will be at peace with it.
I noted first off that homosexuality is NEVER singled out as a particularly “bad” sin. It is mentioned only in lists of the kinds of people who won’t enter the Kingdom, and if you notice the context, these lists are sent by Paul to communities in the midst of radically altering their moral views to the very new and largely undefined Christianity and scared that they aren’t good enough, that they aren’t doing something. It can’t be as easy as loving, can it? And what does that mean? He was trying to answer so many questions, because people were so willingly to follow the Way of Jesus, but struggling to comprehend what it was. Married couples were confused as to whether they should become celibate to “be saved,” and Paul tried to direct the to understand that having sex or mutually choosing to abstain were both ok. The lists are there to comfort them, not terrorize them! He is trying to say, you are not missing some magical thing that is required to get you into heaven. He named the people who were to be left of the Kingdom, naming liars, cheaters, murderers, etc, etc. Basically, those people who make a lifestyle of exploitation – they relate to others as predators, by going for whatever they can get from them. They choose dominance over love. They seek to destroy life rather than nurture it.
So why are homosexuals in this list? The answer I found from Biblical scholars is one I had a hard time with for a while, but now think is true. In short, the word homosexuality did not exist in Roman culture the way it does in ours. There was no such thing as same-sex marriage; there was not even separate caste marriage. Early Christians habitually broke marriage laws by marrying people of differing cultural and social standings. It was assumed at the time that men (those who were dominant) had the right to the bodies of women AND children, both male and female who were perceived as lesser and therefore property (inherently and rightfully submissive), and that they would have sex with them, that is get pleasure from bodily exploiting them. A man was not considered homosexual if he had sex with males – there was instead a lot of highly disturbing politics regarding tops and bottoms that I won’t go into now.
What did exist, rampantly, was temple prostitution. Boys and girls were sold or given to temples (and remember this was the most multi-cultural society before ours, there were a freaking ton of religions) and visitors would have sex with them without a fleeting moral qualm. This still exists today, if you ask me, in many guises. I would say Las Vegas is one of them – we go there to worship money. Paul wanted early Christians to know that they were to have absolutely no part in this. The people Paul was talking about when we say “homosexuals” would be more aptly described as “sex traffickers.” That is so in line with Jesus’s teachings, there is no contention. Anyone who is predatory with their sexuality, who does not honor the human rights of those they have sex with, IS A SINNER, until they repent and stop.
But how many Christians are mobilized to stop sex trafficking, sexual abuse, or rape apology in the current world? You hear statistics like in THIS country, someone is sexually assaulted every two minutes, and by the age of eighteen one in three women and one in six men have been sexually assaulted…. And you turn around and see Christians fighting “sexual immorality” by telling kids they must abstain even from being turned on by each other until marriage and that if gays are allowed to marry the world will end.
But I don’t know anything about Greek or Biblical scholarship on my own. I had to allow that perhaps Paul did mean just all same-sex desire and sex. And this is where it really got tricky.
Then I noticed something. The Christian church relates to Paul’s letters in much the same way that we do the Old Testament. There are passages we literally ignore and passages we tout. Women don’t cover their heads all the time, and men grow long hair without being metaphysically shamed and lessened. Women speak in church, and no one is suddenly stripped of their moral insight.
The best parallel I can find to the way the Christian church relates to homosexuality is slavery. Paul ALLOWED for slavery, as did the Old Testament. He sent a slave back to his owner. He said, “Slaves, obey your masters.”
Abolition was an issue that drew sides both within and without the Christian church. There were those who argued that the Bible allowed it and told slaves to be subservient. People believed being black was having “the mark of Caine” and being destined for suffering, which they gladly exploited for their own gain. And there were those who argued that all human beings were equal in God’s eyes, and that no one who served the Spirit of Christ, the Spirit of Love could or would rob another person of their right to freedom and body sovereignty.
No one could erase those lines from the Bible. Paul did say, “Slaves obey your masters,” although maybe he meant bondservants and maybe slavery was different in that culture, but who knows. We learned to believe that the Way of Jesus leaves no room to own slaves. We gloss over those verses. We know they are wrong.
I believe that Paul also allowed for sexism. And that the Way of Jesus does not.
The anti-gay factions of the Christian church claim to uphold the sanctity of the Bible. They quote it as if they are not appealing to any other authority besides the letter, but, undeniably, they are. The letter of the law is nothing without the Spirit – this is one of the greatest tenants of Jesus’s teachings. And the letter does not animate itself regardless – there is always some “interpretation” being made. The Bible says, “Fear God,” “Love is God,” and “There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear.” We’re all making decisions in how we understand it. How could we not?
What they are actually upholding and arguing is the sanctity of gender – specifically binary gender in which males and females are delegated into very specific, appropriate, and “God-given” roles.
I find no reason to believe, either in the Bible, in my own moral conscience, or in Jesus’s teachings as I have been able to discern them, that any trait found righteous in a man should be sin in a woman or vice versa. Men are called to be tender, to be non-violent, to uphold the rights of the weak, to divest of the “privilege” of exploitation. Women are called to be defiant and adhere only to the authority of God and the inclinations of their own moral conscience, to resist tyranny and defend themselves and others from oppression, to be their own moral thinkers and judges.
There is lots more to be said of the gender politics of Jesus. The fact that the tomb was discovered by two women, a direct parody of Jewish law where the testimony of two men was enough to confirm or condemn and women’s testimony counted for nothing, the inclusion of women in Jesus’s set of intimates, his insight into how people won’t marry in Heaven but be like the angels (which signifies to me that we are to be without gender/sex), and then the female leaders Paul himself commends in other letters than the “wives be submissive” and “women be silent” ones and his statement that “in Christ there is neither male nor female.” In summary – Jesus demands the divine, human rights of women be upheld the same as men’s, and children are naturally thrown in. Love, not ownership and not oppression, are the Way of Jesus. You cannot reconcile the two.
If we as a culture take ownership of people by defining their gender and their appropriate roles, their appropriate behaviors and temperaments, and their appropriate lovers we strip them of moral autonomy and body sovereignty, and we replace a love ethic with legalism. I believe, in short, that Paul was transitioning from Jewish law to the Way of Jesus, and that the place where he was most caught up in the old was in regards to patriarchy (the inherent right of the strong to rule over the weak and to take possession of their bodies, in a myriad of ways, through psychological terrorism or force) and so you get justification of slavery, sexism, and homophobia. If this is not Paul’s error, then it is ours in how we have understood him and just as relevant.
How can a loving action be made sin by the mere coincidence of gender? Gender has to be sacred – more sacred than love. I don’t mean love as affection or simple bodily desire or even extreme feeling or obsession. I mean love as the will to extend one’s self for the purpose of one’s own or another’s spiritual growth. Sexual desire calls us to closer communion with others (even when we’re teenagers and in our time of deepest introversion and resistance to intimacy), and we either learn to allow it to guide us wisely, crush it out of ourselves to our own loss, or turn what was meant to be sacred into a means of exploitation, of ourselves and/or others.
I think Christianity does demand a love-centered sexual ethic. And I do believe that our society does not have one. Rape apology, child abuse, and sexual trauma in the form of body-negativity, sex-negativity, gender-normative social conditioning, and homophobia abound.
Let me ask you this – doesn’t anybody think it’s odd that non-Christians are just as disgusted and abhorred by homosexuality as Christians? Doesn’t the coating of a severe preexisting prejudice in religious language seem slightly convenient to anyone?
We are using the name of Jesus to excuse our sexism, rape apology, homophobia, and the dominance of a huge number of people’s sexualities through physical or psychological violence, especially through shaming.
And that to me smacks of the taboo sin. Hypocrisy.