Thursday, June 27, 2013

sex without bodies: a response

There's nothing more illuminating than reading a piece of writing that you partially agree with--and partially vehemently disagree with. It throws into sharp relief those assumptions which inform and shape your own opinion, and the differing assumptions which inform and shape the author's. It becomes very clear where you agree--and just where you begin to diverge.

Andy Crouch's piece in Christianity Today, "Sex Without Bodies: the church's response to the LGBT movement must be that matter matters" is one of those pieces for me.

Crouch begins with an acknowledgment of the multiplicity and plasticity of human sexualities--the coalition of "LGBT" people is a coalition, not a monolith, and, as he notes, the increasing augmentation of this acronym to include "Q," "I," and "A" people is an indication of just how fluid expressions of human sexuality can be. And this doesn't even begin to consider the ways in which gender identity intersects with sexual expresssion in all sorts of ways: we simply can't take for granted that having a body part = gender identity.
So far, so good. 

And here's the part where I got lost:
There is really only one conviction that can hold this coalition of disparate human experiences together. And it is the irrelevance of bodies—specifically, the irrelevance of biological sexual differentiation in how we use our bodies... What unites the LGBTQIA coalition is a conviction that human beings are not created male and female in any essential or important way. What matters is not one's body but one's heart—the seat of human will and desire, which only its owner can know. 
On the contrary: it is precisely the relevance of the disparate, varied, multiplicity of human bodies that holds this coalition together. And here is that crucial point of divergence, which undergirds my disagreement with the rest of the piece.

Having diagnosed the LGBT+ movement as claiming "body-irrelevance," Crouch turns to the theological prescription for the church's response--that "matter matters."

And, oh my yes, matter matters. Amen and amen, but how? How does it matter?

It's worth quoting at length here:
Christians will have to choose between two consistent positions. One, which we believe Christians who affirm gay and lesbian unions will ultimately have to embrace, is to say that embodied sexual differentiation is irrelevant—completely, thoroughly, totally irrelevant—to covenant faithfulness. 
The proof text for this view will be that in Christ, there is neither male nor female. And as with all readings based on proof texts, upholding it will require openly discarding a vast expanse of other biblical material, the many biblical voices (including Jesus') that affirm and elucidate the significance of male-and-female creation. 
As this view gains traction in our culture, the created givenness of bodies must give way to the achievement of ascertaining, announcing, and fulfilling one's own internally discerned desires, with no normative reference to the body one happens to inhabit. It is no accident that as normative sexuality has been redefined, from an essentially exterior reality uniting male and female bodies to an essentially interior reality expressing one's heart, the charges of bigotry have been heard more fiercely against those who hold the traditional Christian view. How dare we Christians speak against any person's heart? 
The unspoken assumption at work in the above paragraphs is simply that to have a certain body means, always, to be a certain kind of human person, that is, a man or a woman. Because this assumption goes unacknowledged and unexamined, the conclusion is that people who want to break out of this gender essentialism must be actively ignoring their own bodies as irrelevant.

But the assumption that having a certain body means being either a man or a woman is (ironically, given the argument here), based on actively ignoring the particulars of the human bodies that surround us. There are so many people whose bodies, if we just paid sufficient attention to them, belie these binary gender categories that essentialists project onto them.

Taking embodiment seriously--really seriously--means understanding that biology is not Nature. "Nature" is a social concept, mapped onto our biology. There's nothing about having a womb that guarantees some sort of "womanly nature." There's nothing about having a penis that guarantees some sort of "manly nature." We learn these things as ways of interpreting our bodies but, crucially, they don't always fit the bodies we have. And so we do indeed face a choice--between denying bodily reality, or questioning the categories we've inherited that just don't do justice to reality.

For goodness sake, I've got a womb and a vagina and lactating--hell, leaky!--boobs, I've given birth "naturally" twice over, and I don't fit my church's notion of what a real woman is. Why? Because I think it's just fine to take this female body up to the pulpit and preach from it. My kind of body clearly can't do that. Except, y'all, that it can. And has. And insisting that it can't is a willful denial of actual embodied reality.

It's not the LGBTQIA folks who think bodies are irrelevant. It's those of us who think that having a certain body part--or not--is determinative for who you are, and who you can love, and what you can do with your body, and that those options can be neatly divided into A) male and B) female.

Yes, the church's response must be that "matter matters." But that means looking at human bodies in all their variety and specificity, and having the eyes to see the ways those bodies defy the gender essentialism we've been taught to see in their place.

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Seven tomorrow

Clare turns 7 tomorrow.

I just read this short but lovely piece by Melissa Harris-Perry and her daughter Parker, and can't help but think about how closely this describes my feelings, too, as I watch Clare growing.

It's such a strange thing to see her, tall and strong and fearless, running or riding her bike or swinging from the rigged up bedsheet hanging off her bunk bed like Tarzan, and think, that little body used to fit in my lap--in my arms--in my womb. She's all legs and pointy elbows now, even if she does still have the rounded tummy of a little kid, and her sweet baby face looks completely different with her new, still overlarge front teeth.

She's learned a lot this year, my first grader. She's discovered that she loves reading after all, and that she's really great at math. She's had a revolving door of BFFs and even talked about her first crush though I think that was probably just the result of peer pressure and our unfortunate cultural inability to handle cross-gender friendships. She loves dancing and making up her own melodies on the piano. She loves the backyard, except for the mosquitoes, and digging for worms--the bigger and fatter and slimier the better. Yesterday she found a really good one, and announced proudly, "LOOK! It just pooped in my hand!"

She's an attentive big sister; sometimes too attentive, and I find myself repeating "give Zadie her own space, please" altogether too often. And yet Z shadows her every move with her own clumsy toddler version of whatever Sissy is doing, and her favorite time of day is 3:15pm, when we hop into the car to pick up Clare from school.

Sometimes I look at her and see the baby she used to be. Last night, after finishing our chapter in The Hobbit, I looked at her and saw the lovely, lively, intense and, I pray, still completely fearless woman she'll be. I don't know if she'll grow up to be the astronaut dirty-ologist theologian mother who takes her children with her to live on the moon that she's currently planning to be, but I do know, whatever it is she does, it will be magnificent.

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

thoughts on driving through Kentucky

So, instead of my usual route from Newark to Nashville I drove through Kentucky, to stay with friends in Lexington on the way down South. And then, also, on the way back up, a last minute offer to stay at another friend's home sent us back through Woodford Reserve country.

I have never before seen such hospitality--and I grew up in the South, y'all. But when we arrived in Midway we found that the caretaker of the house had not only gone to the store and stocked the fridge--with everything from toddler friendly snacks to Heineken--but had brought over toys from her house for Z, and a training potty.

A training potty. For people she'd never seen before or ever heard of. I'm still overwhelmed by it all.

After sleeping well and late, we got back in the car, now stocked with snacks for the road courtesy of our hostess, and got underway. A couple hours later, after gassing up, we were in a left turn lane waiting for a green light onto the entry ramp to the highway when a large, old diesel truck roared up behind us and camped out on our bumper revving its engines. Figuring they were in a hurry I accelerated to 80 on the entry ramp while merging but they zoomed past and I got the most baleful stare of my life from the dude in the passenger seat. I don't know if it was the NJ plates, the Obama sticker or just that I was driving a Prius. I've heard that some people have a manhood issue with that.

And that was Kentucky. Beautiful, hospitable, warm, lovely--but maybe not so universally friendly to Obama-loving Prius drivers from Jersey...

Monday, June 03, 2013

Mondays are awesome

Mondays are awesome at our house.

Mondays are Brent's real day off. (Saturdays don't count. Too much stuff happens and there is, inevitably, the sermon.)

Also, I get to take Clare to school on Mondays, because it's Brent's day off. The tradeoff for having to get up (remember, JTB =/= morning person) is conversation with Clare over breakfast and in the car on the way to school. Most of the time, with both kids, conversations consist of "hands to yourself" "get out of your sister's face" "what is this mess and when did it happen" "why is your underwear/socks/entire school uniform in the middle of the living room floor" and "what just happened and why is she crying about it." So getting to have a real conversation with my brainy and unpredictable conversationalist is a treat.

In the car she spotted a high school kid on the sidewalk, walking to school, smoking. "That boy shouldn't be smoking!" she said.

Discussion of smoking being bad for your body, etc. Then, "did you ever smoke, Mom?"

"Yes, honey. I tried it when I was a teenager."

"But why? Didn't you know it was bad for you?"

"Yes, I knew. But my friends were smoking and I wanted to try it too. It wasn't really fun. So I didn't keep doing it."

"You did it because your friends were doing it?! Maybe you should have told your friends it was bad for them instead."

"I should have! But I wasn't really a very confrontational person back then."

"Oh." Pause. "Are you a confrontational person now?"

"Um...yeah, I'd say so." Laughing to myself that this is seen as an unquestioned positive.

"Do you think I'll be confrontational when I grow up?"

"I'm pretty sure of that, honey."