Don't let your schooling interfere with your education.
~ Pete Seeger

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Questions of Sex and Gender

I recently read this quote from Jose Solano of Opine: "Is President Elect Obama signaling that he will not be a puppet of the pro-death and depravity culture? … Either way it's a sure win for the pro-family forces since we were not expecting anything from him but a degradation of the moral state of the nation, specifically for marriage and family." Then, in a recent blogpost, I referred to Pastor Rick Warren as a "gay-hater." I was responding to Warren's equation of homosexuality with bestiality, incest, and child abuse, and, when asked for clarification, affirmed that that was his intention.) I regret using that word, because I'm trying to get beyond judgment, and that is certainly a judgment on my part. It is inaccurate, because nobody is a hater by nature, even if they do hate in some instances. It also brought a reaction from some of my readers. I don't want to find the exact Warren quote, or even confirm it, for the purposes of this post. I'm more interested in the questions that this, and the response to it, generated for me,

It's easy to jump from any one of these statements to offense – to hear hatred and bigotry in the words. Perhaps too easy. What is really behind them? What needs do these people have? (Mine were acceptance and community.) What is their real intention? (Mine was to support gays and lesbians.) I asked Jose for clarification, and, so far, have not been answered in any meaningful way.

If Jose's and Warren's words are spoken in objection to homosexuality, as it appears – what does it mean to be homosexual? Is it just behavior, or is it ingrained - who you are, either genetic or by other factors? Who gets to make that judgment? If it is natural, genetic, or ingrained, what behavior by a homosexual individual actually constitutes "sin" or depravity?

I think intention is important – which leads to the next question: Given that the two people mentioned above are Christians, and so assumably embrace Jesus' admonishments to "love your enemy" and "do unto others as you would have them do unto you," does it matter that words spoken with the intention of love are heard as hate? Whose responsibility is it to verify that the words are heard for the intention with which they are spoken?

Having lived the reality of gender dysphoria, I know that sex and gender are far more complex than just "man + woman." There is a spectrum of sexuality, gender, and even biology that occurs naturally – that is, if you will, God-given. So I have no trouble granting people the natural urgings of their soul. To me, a committed sexual relationship between two homosexuals is no different, morally, than one between a man and a woman. I don't envy those Christians who are unable to reconcile the words of their prophets with the reality of humanity as it is. How do you express love to someone when you object so strenuously to the subjective reality of their lives? It's a real conundrum, and I don't have an answer. I do know that when a dear Christian friend chose to reject me so totally after my transition that she won't even allow her children to have any contact with mine (even though they used to be friends), it was very painful to me and did not feel at all like love. I've heard often from these people words like, "Hate the sin, love the sinner." But what, really, does that mean? How do you separate them? Would I, then, be acceptable if I remained the suicidal, neurotic, dysfunctional "male" I was? Why, then, not the happy, productive, healthy woman I am now?

Is it truly loving to approve of a person when they act in ways that make themselves miserable, but disapprove when they act in ways that make themselves happy? And how on earth do you reconcile that?

I've got no real answers to offer here. Just questions. Perhaps the biggest: Is it possible for all of us to live in peace and respect together, to listen to each other, to withhold judgment and yet retain our own integrity and dignity? Can we find the words that express respect even as they disagree? Can we grant each other the freedom to live according to our own consciences, whether we disagree or not?

I'd like to think that we can.


David Carrel said...

Tough topics, but glad to have the freedom to give my opinion in an atmosphere striving for love and understanding. Thanks Seda and Merry Christmas to you as well.

I had a conversation with my older brother this morning who was in Iraq, grew up in a Christian family, but has huge questions about God. I study the Bible and theology quite a bit, but I know that I am far from knowing and understanding everything about God. There are so many things that are confusing, that do not seem to have answers. Being involved in your blog has been one thing that I have not been able to see or understand a correct answer to. I know that I am supposed to love you, but I also know that I do not agree with the lifestyles you often talk about. And yet, how is it supposed to all work together? In my mind, I cannot comprehend someone being born gay, or a woman in a man's body, etc... I feel blessed to have been born in the US, to a great family, with what would be considered by some as natural desires as a man for a woman (I am not trying to start a debate, I only feel I can write that because of all the blogs you have written about often wishing your situation were different), and with so many more blessings than I deserve. So I cannot comprehend, but your blog has helped me along the path to that understanding.

You wrote: "what does it mean to be homosexual? Is it just behavior, or is it ingrained - who you are, either genetic or by other factors? Who gets to make that judgment? If it is natural, genetic, or ingrained, what behavior by a homosexual individual actually constitutes "sin" or depravity?" (ok this is about to be a long rabbit trail that will eventually help in my answer to the question).

When Adam and Eve were in the garden, God commanded them not to eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil because they would surely die. Satan told Adam and Eve that God just didn't want them to be like Him. So Adam and Eve ate of the fruit. From that point on, they, or we as humans have judged. We each judge what is good or evil in our own eyes. So there are over 7 billion judges on the earth right now, which makes it really difficult to be able to know what truly is good and what truly is evil; because everyone has their own opinion.
Ultimately, there is One good, holy, just Judge and He is God. He is the One who ultimately is Good and the only One capable of judging good and evil.

So having said all that, the only thing I can say to do is look to the Bible, God's Word, for answers. But even then, there will be 7 billion different opinions, so we can only do the best we can and ask God for wisdom. But several things are certain: Always do everything in love. Realize that God is the ultimate judge. Do to others as you would have them do to you.

And as far as the last few questions: I think that you and I have showed that there is a way to discuss with love, respect and integrity, but I don't know about everyone being able to. I think that you and I and whoever reading this, just needs to try to do their part and influence others to do the same. I am sure that there will be places where worldviews collide, but we should act as mature adults in trying to figure out a way to continue in peace and harmony.
Ok, well, I am not sure if any of that made sense and I feel like I left more questions than answers, but that is all I am going to write for now. We'll check back later.

Seda said...

Okay, David, finally I got a round tuit, and so here’s my answer to you. I’ll focus on just three of the statements you made, and just give you my own humble opinion, which you should, of course, take with a handful of salt. Or at least some open-minded consideration.

“I know that I am supposed to love you, but I also know that I do not agree with the lifestyles you often talk about. And yet, how is it supposed to all work together?”

I think this is largely what the Great American Experiment is about – how do you live together with people who are very different in looks, outlook, culture, background, and belief? Specifically, here, how do you love someone when you believe that their behavior is wrong? (Correct me if I’m saying something that is not what you mean.) And actually, I think the Bible can be a pretty good guide for this – if that’s what you want to use.

There is a big difference between what Jesus said, and what Paul said. Jesus was the one who said, “Do unto others…” and “Judge not, lest ye be judged.” Paul, on the other hand, was full of condemnations and damnations and judgment. I won’t get into my opinion on all that, but it’s worth noting that Jesus was discrediting a corrupt religion, and Paul was creating a new one. (Also not a judgment on Judaism in general – this is specific to the Sadducees and Pharisees, and the way Roman government supported them in being corrupt.) I think you’re aware of this, and practicing it. So long as the other is not doing something that actively impinges on someone else’s safety and choice, you withhold judgment, love them, and let God sort it out. But, following Paul, I guess you police your own fellowship as you see fit. I’m not in that fellowship (thank God), so I’m exempt – I’m the Samaritan woman, or the Roman centurion, or whatever.

In my mind, I cannot comprehend someone being born gay, or a woman in a man's body, etc.

Nevertheless, it happens. And it seems to me, as seen again and again in real life, that the more people deny that self when they are gay or trans, the more pain occurs in themselves and their loved ones. I have seen it and experienced it, and you read about it often in the news. It might not have to be that big of a stretch. You’re aware of intersexed people, I’m guessing? There are people who are born with ambiguous genitalia. How do you tell whether they’re men or women? The only way is to ask. And so it is with gender. Usually, gender coincides with sex. Sometimes it doesn’t. That is biology, and if you attribute causation to God, then it is God who directs it. Or, God makes mistakes. Or, She takes a hands-off attitude, and it’s random. When you look at the Book written by Semetic men over 2000 years ago, you have a choice whether to try to reconcile the words to the scientific reality of today, or twist the science to match the face value of the words. You choose what to read as allegory or parable or myth or political manipulation or simple fact or guiding principle.

I think I’ve told you before that I grew up on a ranch in Wyoming. When I was about 17, we had a Jersey bull that was gay. At least, that’s my interpretation. Whenever a cow came into heat, he would follow the bull that was following the heifer, and he would continually try to mount the bull. I never saw him attempt to mount a cow – not once in his short life – but he annoyed the other bulls to high heaven. He was worthless for the purpose that we kept him, and so we ate him. He was very tasty. So for me, I guess it’s not that much of a stretch.

Adam and Eve ate of the fruit. From that point on, they, or we as humans have judged. We each judge what is good or evil in our own eyes.

The question I have here, is what would it look like to spit the fruit out? What if we abdicated our judgment, and saw only good? Or saw neither good nor evil, but only what is? Is it possible to return to the innocence of the Garden? How? Remember, God made mankind to live in the Garden and be blessed. It was mankind’s choice to eat of the fruit of the knowledge of good and evil – not good and evil itself – that got mankind kicked out.

So if you lost that knowledge, what would that look like?

You would see a man rape a woman, and you would only see the pain that was caused, and you would want to heal it. You would not see that man evil. You would wonder why he did it, and seek answers, and seek healing for all. And, of course, we could all come up with many more examples, from massive violence like the invasion of Iraq to the most minor violence, like calling someone a fool.

At least, I think that is possible. I think it might just be a better way to live. I think it might create more peace and healing in the world. And I also think that is a bit of what Jesus was getting into when he said the Sermon on the Mount, which, when you think about it, is really the heart of the Bible anyway.

At any rate, David, I honor your path. You have set the Bible before you as a guide and principle, but you do not pretend to have the answers. You are not afraid of the questions, and you are not afraid to question what answers arise. I don’t have the answers either, but would like to think I also am a seeker of truth – not someone who knows, but someone who wants to know.

Be well.

David Carrel said...

Thanks for the answer and the time of thought Seda!
First question you picked out about loving and not judging: I think that Jesus also said some pretty condemning things, especially in the Sermon on the Mount, which you are right is basically the Bible in a nutshell. I love the passage and just got done doing a study on it, which was great. In chapter 5 of Matthew, Jesus does a series of "you have heard it said...but I say unto you" which He then points out that people will be judged as in verse 22," if you say 'you fool' you will be guilty enough to go into the fiery hell," and so we see Him telling the truth about our sin leading to death. In Matthew chapter 16 and other places as well, Jesus says, "Beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and the Sadducees." Verse 12 says that the disciples understood that meant to beware of the doctrine of them. So Jesus does not just accept whatever doctrine is out there. In fact in the end of Matthew, He says that there will be many false christs and to not believe them.
I think you are right when you say that Jesus was discrediting a corrupt religion, but I don't think that Paul was creating a new corrupt religion. I think that Paul laid out guidelines for the church that are good and needed. He wrote in I Corinthians 5 that a little leaven leavens the whole lump. Leaven in the Bible refers to sin (even Jesus used this as quoted earlier). In this reference Paul is talking about a man who was sleeping with his step-mother, yet he was still in the church and everyone knew about it. He said to get that out of the church cause it was affecting the church. So we cannot just let apparent sin stay in the church without confronting it, as Jesus talks about in Matthew 18.
Nevertheless, all this is talking about being in the church and so it would not apply to you. Jesus said in the Sermon on the Mount something I never understood until this year cause it is said in culturally relevant terms to the day and I never understood it. In Matthew 7 after saying the Judge not verses, He says to not expect unbelievers to follow the guidelines He had laid out ofr them. In my notes in my Bible it says, "It is counter-productive to try to teach the treasures of Biblical truth to those who reject and ridicule Scriptures." Which Seda, I would not put you entirely into that category, because you are not overly critical of the Bible and to my appreciation, you often use it. But I think overall, you would not accept the Bible in its whole as what it claims to be, the inspired Word of God. So I do not expect you to agree with everything that Scriptures has laid out, much less to live by it.
So, because of what I just wrote, we as Christians definitely (not that I thought so before) do not need to be fighting actively against the LGTBQ, which is why I do not. But at the same time, I think that we should still express our beliefs on principles.
Second question or comment: Yeah, I know what you mean about it happening, and I didn't mean it doesn't, just that I still can't comprehend it.
Third: haha, that would be great to return to that state, as I believe, those who accept Christ's gift of payment for sin on the cross as their substitute will one day experience when we arrive in God's eternal kingdom. But we can't spit it out. We are born in sin. We all choose to sin. If we went back to that state of innocence, rape and war would not happen. We wouldn't even see it in the first place, much less know what it is like to react in perfect goodness to it.

And so, we go on. Thanks for another great discussion to make me think. Thanks for letting me join on the path to truth. "You shall know the truth, and the truth shall set you free."

Seda said...

Hey, David,
I wouldn't really call what Jesus said in Matthew 5 condemnations. True, he was speaking strongly about behavior, and even thought, and condemning aspects of those. But he was not condemning people, and that, I think, makes a difference. BTW, I won't go there, but verses 29 and 30 could be used to justify sex reassignment surgery. ;-) (I love the Bible - you can prove anything you want with it.)

As for Paul, I didn't mean to say he was creating a corrupt religion, just that he was starting a religion. I made and make no claim as to its corruption or lack thereof. (I do think there are corrupt Christian churches today, and I think you'd agree with me on that. But that doesn't condemn the whole batch.) So Paul and Jesus were on different missions, and it makes sense that they came up with different language about it. And, like you say, Jesus' words would apply to everyone, while Paul's are far more specific to those people who join the church.

I think overall, you would not accept the Bible in its whole as what it claims to be, the inspired Word of God.

You're right about that. I think some of it is, but a lot of it is political, not spiritual. It's all mixed together in a big jumble - stuff that's really good and right on, allegories and parables that have to be interpreted, and so on. And even if it started out perfect, it's been corrupted by translation and changes through oral history and just the fact that it originated in a patriarchal culture that didn't really get that women are people, too. For instance, I don't think hell is a place where people go after they die. I think it's allegory for how people live today. "Behold, today is the day of salvation." It's not something that happens when you die, it's a choice you make, day by day - today.

Have you read Eckhart Tolle? He wrote a book called "The Power of Now." I think you'd like it.

As for returning to the Garden - I actually think it is possible, at least to some extent. I think Gandhi did it. And Mary Baker Eddy. And others. I suspect there may be people who are there and don't even know it, on a conscious level. I've blogged on it before:

When's the last time you did a study on Ecclesiates ch. 3, David? There's another good one for you...

David Carrel said...

I have recently read Eccles. 3 and am very familiar with it, but have not done a good study on it recently. I do like the verse there is a time to laugh and time to cry as that is great advice for living here. haha.
I think your interpretation of Mat. 5:29-30 is a little stretched, but you probably already knew I thought that.
You are right about Jesus not condemning people on the earth. I was trying to find places where He did when He was on earth, but thinking about it more; it does not make sense for Him to condemn people while on earth. He did call the Pharisees hypocrites and tell them they were of their father the devil, but yeah, he wasn't very condemning of people. But He will be our Judge one day.
You are right about corrupt churches as you correctly assumed. haha. You know how much that makes me mad.
The Bible is hard to interpret so many times. In fact, most scholars decide on a certain part to be expert in as trying to study everything is the work of hundreds of lifetimes! But that is good; it means we can always learn and grow. I wish that I could convince you of the Bible's inspiration, (II Timothy 3:16-17, II Peter 1:21) and of God's perfect love for us and perfect Sacrifice for our sins. Recently I have received material for telling the Bible in chronological order and how the Bible all works together as one big, awesome story of God's plan for you and for me. It is so neat and I always get so excited talking about it. It drives everything I do and would love for it to do the same for you.
Very interesting post about judging; thanks for linking that. I hadn't read it before and it is very close to what I wrote about in my first response to you. However, I wouldn't agree that we can return to the garden, but we should still strive to not judge, certainly. Oh, and I do still think it is literal; I know, I am an old fogie, haha.
Thanks once again for your thoughts Seda. Happy New Year's!!

Seda said...

That interpretation of Matthew was, as you say, stretched. That's why I just point it out, without going there.

I wish that I could convince you of the Bible's inspiration, (II Timothy 3:16-17, II Peter 1:21)

I've studied it way too much, and compared it to reality and my own reason, too much to believe it's a flawless document. It's deeply flawed, it's contradictory, and it does have some incredible beauty, truth, and inspiration.

and of God's perfect love for us

You don't need to, there, David. I already buy it, despite the bad joke of being created woman in a male body. I love the Christian Science synonyms for God: Love, Life, Truth, Principle, Spirit, Soul, and Mind. Universal intelligence. Omnipotent love. All life. I think I'd add, Beauty. It's such an incredibly beautiful world - and universe! - we live in.

Happy New Years, David! Be well.

Security is mostly a superstition. It does not exist in nature, nor do the children of men as a whole experience it. Avoiding danger is no safer in the long run than outright exposure. Life is either a daring adventure, or nothing. To keep our faces toward change and behave like free spirits in the presence of fate is strength undefeatable.
~Helen Keller

Reading List for Information about Transpeople

  • Becoming a Visible Man, by Jamison Green
  • Conundrum, by Jan Morris
  • Gender Outlaw, by Kate Bornstein
  • My Husband Betty, by Helen Boyd
  • Right Side Out, by Annah Moore
  • She's Not There, by Jennifer Boylan
  • The Riddle of Gender, by Deborah Rudacille
  • Trans Liberation, by Leslie Feinberg
  • Transgender Emergence, by Arlene Istar Lev
  • Transgender Warriors, by Leslie Feinberg
  • Transition and Beyond, by Reid Vanderburgh
  • True Selves, by Mildred Brown
  • What Becomes You, by Aaron Link Raz and Hilda Raz
  • Whipping Girl, by Julia Serano
I have come into this world to see this:
the sword drop from men's hands even at the height
of their arc of anger
because we have finally realized there is just one flesh to wound
and it is His - the Christ's, our