Saturday, April 6, 2013

Pointing Fingers: Out of the Gender Non-Conforming Comfort Zone (an admission)

Who Made Me Gender-Role Police?

The story is titled “About a Boy: Transgender surgery at age sixteen” by Margaret Talbot in the New Yorker Magazine (March 18, 2013). It talks about how many more females are coming out as transgender now than in the past. But as I reflected on the amazing progress trans people have made in recent years, it made me aware of my own subtle bias about gender-role conformity.

Indeed, my doctors tell me that compared to twenty years ago, when it seemed that twice as many males transitioned to females than females to males, today there is equilibrium in the numbers, with as many females as males identifying as transgender. Margaret Talbot says this:
In the past, females who wished to live as males rarely sought surgery, in part because they could “pass” easily enough in public; today, there is a desire for more thorough transformations.
The subject of her story is a young transman named Skylar who underwent top surgery at the age of sixteen, a much younger age than would have been possible a decade ago. Though Skylar has transitioned medically and surgically, he is not fixated on conventional masculinity and completely comfortable with a certain amount of gender ambiguity. He is quoted as saying he does not feel the need to be a “macho bro.”

Skylar is not alone. Many trans persons of his generation have a level of comfort with their gender presentation that is admirable. I admit that I don’t possess that kind of self-confidence and because of my need to avoid drawing negative attention to myself and, by extension and association, to my cisgender* friends and family, I am guilty of a certain degree of gender policing. This means that I am guilty of making judgements simply on the basis of society’s expectations for what is appropriate for males and females.

I don’t think I am alone, many trans persons invest a lot of time, energy and finances in their attempt to retrofit their bodies to achieve congruence between brain and body. One pitfall some fall into is taking these efforts to the extreme of the respective ends of the scale, and potentially end up as grotesque caricatures of the gender they identify as. More disconcerting than this, however, is how for the majority of the trans population these options are out of their reach and they must cope with their gender dysphoria one way or another.

This has often caused friction in the trans community because this is where the gender policing comes into play. The standards of acceptability, after all, are part of the social construct and as such, come with a huge emotional, social, and financial price tag. It strikes me as ironic how in order to pass society’s test of what is appropriately male/masculine and female/feminine, we seem to force ourselves back into boxes and judge and discriminate based on how well we express or adhere to the gender binary.

The term “genderqueer” is one that not many people understand, but is totally germane to this discussion. Wikipedia has a good primer on all the nuances of this umbrella term (check it out here). It goes on to add:
“…genderqueer has been used as an adjective to refer to any people who transgress distinctions of gender, regardless of their self-defined gender identity, i.e. those who "queer" gender, expressing it non-normatively.”
Being part of the baby-boomer generation means that I am one who grew up in a vacuum of information, when the term “transgender” did not yet exist and the language, which today allows younger and younger persons make sense of their sexuality.

Nevertheless, I too am needing to educate myself constantly as our knowledge base and experience keeps growing. In the same way I covet having a support network of well informed allies, I realize I need to be better informed so I can be an ally to those who express their gender differently and more confidently than I have the guts to do. I also realize that I am more insecure than my younger counterparts who don’t need society’s stamp of approval to be comfortable in their own bodies. Perhaps there is even a touch of jealousy on my part.

To simply say that I admire their courage seems uber patronizing and hypocritical; I’m upset at how easy it is to devalue those who bend the rules that I have felt compelled to follow. I hunger for inclusion and equity and equality, yet I allow myself to deny others from the table based on my own biases.

What’s worse is the fact that even though I credit my Christian faith with having kept me from self-harm as I struggled with my gender identity and gave me hope, I shift to gatekeeping way too easily. I have never expressed this publicly or have said anything to any gender-non conforming or gender-queer person, but I have harbored those thoughts at times and I sincerely apologize.

I say all of this while at the same time claiming I have never felt as comfortable in my own body as I do today. I am grateful for having had the ability to access the help I needed and that I live in a time and place that made it all possible for me. But I am also acutely aware of the role privilege has played in all of this.

I celebrate the fact that younger persons are being able to access help and will benefit from this early intervention. But this also means that all of us need to do a better job at allowing them to find their own comfort zone and fight like hell to protect their right to do so.

Friday, April 5, 2013

Homosexuality & Christianity: Interview with Kathy Baldock

Here is a link to Matthew J. Roth's interview 
with my friend Kathy Baldock.

If you want to know the etymology of the words "homosexaul" and "heterosexual" and how they ended up in the Bible, you need to read this great interview!

Click on the photo to be redirected.

Equally worth reading are some of the comments. In particular, several by "Tim," which were made in response to "Mark." I've copied and pasted them below:

Comment Stream by Tim:
According to the ancient rabbis, as written in the Talmud, one of the problems in Sodom was heterosexual adultery which is quite different from homosexuality. The example the Rabbis give is Potiphar’s wife enticing Joseph to commit adultery with her in Genesis 39:9.
In plainer words, according to ancient Jewish Rabbis, the men of Sodom were having sex with other men’s wives, not with other men. Take a moment to get your mind around that. This testimony from the Talmud is 2000 years old. It’s not something gay people made up recently.Hundreds of years before the birth of Christ, our ancient Jewish ancestors understood the Sodom story as dealing with greed, heterosexual rape and inhospitality, a vicious lack of hospitality toward strangers. 
The sins written in the Talmud indicate the immoral condition of Sodom but no mention is made of homosexuality. Nothing is said of gay men or gay marriage or gay anything. The ancient Jewish rabbis were crystal clear about Sodom. The sins they listed did not include homosexuality.Also, anyone can tell you that rape, or even attempted rape, has nothing to do with “burning desire” or even about sex. Rape is about power over the victim. Nothing more. You cannot believe that homosexual rape that occurs in prisons today is only done by homosexual people…. well, maybe you can, but all modern experts will tell you that you are wrong. 
Interesting that you mention pagan festivals. These were indeed common among the Egyptians, the Canaanites,and later the Greeks and the Romans… and often including sexual orgies as part of that worship. So yes, homosexual acts did take place at those times. However, research of Greek and Roman worship practices of the time show that these acts were generally performed by married people as part of their worship, and usually with a temple prostitute employed for such use. In some cases it was temple priests who had castrated themselves and took the part of the woman in these temple sexual rituals. Again, homosexuality, as we understand it today, not mentioned. And yes, I agree, it is wrong for any married person to engage in a sexual act with someone other than their spouse, regardless if the other person is male or female. 
As for the sources I used earlier… the Talmud was written well before many books of the Bible, and before ALL the books of the New Testament. This was the “study guide”, if you will, of the Hebrew priests for their understand of the Torah. This is what the Hebrew priests taught at the time of Christ. You can dismiss it all you want, but this was the world which Jesus knew.1Cor 6:9 has two words that, when translated into English, have been understood to be directed against homosexuality. The Greek the words, malakoi(s) and arsenokoitay, are problematic for different reasons, however. 
Malakos – is an adjective, it appears in Matt 11:8 and Luke 7:25 and is the neuter/plural form of malakos. malakoi appears in 1Cor 6:9 and is the masculine/plural form of malakos. This is the full extent of the appearance of the malakos adjective in the New Testament. 
It appears in ancient Greek texts and is understood to mean, variously, freshly plowed (when talking about land), luxurious (when talking about clothing) and is also used to mean temple idol slaves or servants (Homer and others). 
The Latin Vulgate Bible, from the 5th century translated malakois (Matt 11:8 and Luke 7:25) into mollibus, which means “luxurious” or “effeminate”. It translated malakoi (1Cor 6:9) into idolis servientes, which means idol slaves or servants. 
The King James version (1611), which relied heavily on the Vulgate, translated malakois to “soft” in Matt and Luke, as it was referring to clothing. But in 1Cor, evidently not being happy with “idol servants” they translated malakoi into “effeminate”. It seems to many scholars that the Latin translators were closer in time and culture than the English translators, so they would have a better idea of meaning. None-the-less, the KJV translation has, of course, stuck ever since. 
As far as arsenokoitay is concerned it appears twice in scripture and not at all in classic Greek literature. It is a compound word, not uncommon in Greek. 1 Cor 6:9 uses arsenokoitay and 1Tim 1:10 uses arsenokoitais. The words combined to make the first word are arsen (adjective neuter/singular), o (masculine definite article) and koitay (noun feminine/singular). The second word is the same, except that koitais is feminine/plural. 
Now, the first thing is that the Greek language is gender specific. These words have feminine endings which means they refers to something female. The word parts are varied, however. arsen means “male”. o is the male definite article (the). koitey, the root of koitay and koitais, means “bed” or “place where koitus (coitus) occurs” – can we presume “female’s bed”, since it is feminine?What was being communicated here? No-one is really sure. The KJV opted for “the abusers of themselves with mankind”. The NIV went with “homosexual offenders”. The NRSV went with “sodomites”. 
The notion of “men in a bed together” is not literal at all, but shows the same bias as KJV, by assuming a lot of things that the Greek, or Latin, doesn’t say. 
But the Vulgate, translated 1000 years earlier, and closer to the original culture, than the KJV translated to adulteri, which means “adulterer” but in the female tense. You could argue that this doubles up on the earlier use of adulterer appearing in the same verse, but that one is male tense.So which meaning do you want to use? It seems you have quite the range of choices, and if biblical scholars can’t agree – can we? 
So let’s look at the Levitical laws and what they say about the “sin” of homosexuality.First, one must realize that the book of Leviticus was written for the Hebrew priests (from the tribe of Levi (hence the name)), and not the entire Hebrew population. Second, these particular books (18 & 20) are part of the Holiness Code — a set of rules for priests to follow, or not follow, as part of worship to the one and only God. Indeed, Lev 18:3 states that the priests are NOT to follow the worship customs of where they have been (Egypt), or where they were going (Canaan), and what follows is a list of some of the pagan worship practices God finds unpleasing. 
Now, the current English translation of Lev 18:22 says that men who have sex with men, as with a woman, have committed an “abomination”. Leviticus 20:13 takes it even further and says they should be put to death. But is this what it says in Hebrew? 
The best translation I have seen is “With a male, you (masculine) shall not lay in my wive’s bed.” Other translations seem to indicate that it is wrong for one man to take the position of a woman. And others seem to indicate that is anal sex, or sodomy, that is wrong. Why is it wrong? Because it is an “abomination”. So what does that mean? 
The word translated as “abomination” in these verses is “to’evah”. “to’evah”, by itself, indicates something unacceptable to local custom. Genesis 43:32 has a curious observation about the meal that Joseph ordered to be prepared for his brothers during their second visit. Joseph, still masquerading as an Egyptian — he recognizes his brothers, but they don’t yet know who he is — has a meal prepared for his guests. But Joseph eats alone, not with his brothers, because for Egyptians to dine with Hebrews is “a to’evah for the Egyptians.” Another Egyptian to’evah, according to Genesis 46:34, are shepherds. Joseph coaches his family to tell Pharoah that they are shepherds so that they can settle in Goshen, “because every shepherd is an Egyptian to’evah.” After the 4th plague, as part of the negotiations between Moses and Pharaoh, Pharaoh agrees to let the Hebrews sacrifice to their God within the land. But Moses counters that it’s a bad idea, because (Exodus 8:22, also numbered 8:26) what the Hebrews sacrifice is a to’evah of the Egyptians, and if the Egyptians see the Hebrews offering such a sacrifice, the Hebrews will be stoned to death. According to these texts, a to’evah is culturally determined. Something can be a to’evah in one culture but not in another. So the Hebrew sacrifices are a to’evah for the Egyptians, but, obviously, hugely encouraged in Hebrew society; shepherding is similar. And it was only in Egyptian culture that Egyptians couldn’t dine with Hebrews. Another way to look at it is this: The Hebrew to’evah seems to a statement about how people perceive something, not about the thing that is perceived. There’s nothing wrong with shepherds, for example, but the Egyptians see them peculiarly. Apparently this is what “abomination” is supposed to mean in English too. 
To say the “to’evah” is “one of the worst sins” does not jive with the Bible in the verses quoted above. Since homosexuality, as described in Leviticus 18 & 20 is called a “to’evah”, it must then be considered “culturally wrong”, or a “taboo”, for the Hebrews, or more specifically, Hebrew priests (as Leviticus was written for Hebrew priests from the tribe of Levi). But this does not mean it is “culturally wrong”, or a “taboo”, for non-Hebrews… like most Christians today, who are primarily Gentiles. 
We don’t gain God’s acceptance by trying to keep the law. God expects us to believe in His Son, and to be transformed into His image through the power of the Spirit. Did the law serve a purpose? Yes, but now we serve the Lord in the Spirit of the law, as the nature of Christ indwells us. Salvation then is not man’s ability to conform to God’s will through his own obedience to a law (which results in self-righteousness), but acknowledgement of our own sinful nature by putting to death the old man and experiencing new life in Christ, which obeys God by nature. In terms of the life of liberty in Christ, we are told, “Let no man therefore judge you in meat, or in drink, or in respect of an holyday, or of the new moon, or of the sabbath days: Which are a shadow of things to come; but the body is of Christ” (Colossians 2:16-17). 
For those who would still like to hold the Church captive to aspects of the law, look to James 2:10:“For whosoever shall keep the whole law, and yet offend in one point, he is guilty of all. 
There is NOTHING in the Bible to support that homosexuality, in and of itself, is sinful. 
1 John 1:8 “If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us.” 
Matthew 7 “1 “Do not judge, or you too will be judged. 2 For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you. 3 “Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? 4 How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? 5 You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.”
Comment Stream by Ryan Shaffer:
Part of the problem in accepting homosexuality and bisexuality to be as neutral as heterosexuality is that what is labeled “traditional marriage” is overidealized and that we use gender much like race to create bias and stereotype. Read Mt. 22:23–33, Mk. 12:18–27, and Lk. 20:27–40. Jesus Himself states that marriage is only valid on Earth, but upon the resurrection, we will be made neuter like the angels. From this story and from Genesis 2:18 (in which “The Lord said, ‘It is not good for the man [Adam] to be alone; I shall make a suitable helper for him’”), I gather that marriage serves a primary purpose as the strongest possible bond of fellowship between two followers of the Lord that can exist in our mortal state. If we can stay relatively on track without it, then the Lord asks us to forego it. But make no mistake, marriage is about doing life together with someone and sharing burdens during the couples’ lives together, and this romantic love that is felt from it is simply a greatly intensified version of agape — loving brothers and sisters under God. You get lost in the worldly gender separation, you get lost in the world. 
I think those who put up a good fight to marriage equality because of what they believe please the Lord for prioritizing faith before the status quo. However, remaining closed-minded and not taking into consideration all possible interpretations of Scripture, not questioning everything around you and just assuming that what you were taught by another human is THE set of interpretations to follow; I believe, does not please Him. In fact, I would think it rather shows him that you are not interested in coming closer to Him, that you’d rather stay where you are. And that’s always the choice, isn’t it? No matter what situation, that is the bottom line. So decide, but do some major soul-searching and pride-stripping before you make your final decision.

Another great article is one written by Rev. Mark Sandlin, "Clobbering "Biblical" Gay Bashing"