Category Archives: 70 Sexuality and gender

Our Queer Primate Cousins (Repost)

A favourite argument used by the religious right against homoerotic relationships, and by the Vatican theologians against any form of sexual expression outside of marriage and not open to making babies, is that such sexual activities are “against nature”, and that the “purpose” of sex is procreation.
Well, the people making these claims have never considered the actual evidence from , well, you know, – “Nature” itself, which shows the exact opposite. (But then, when did the Vatican, or the wingnuts, ever consider the trifling matter of evidence to interfere with their convictions?)

 

In the lively comments thread after an earlier post in this series, reader CS in AZ reminded me of a famous exchange with Anita Bryant:

This reminds me of Anita Bryant, back when she was on her anti-homosexul crusade … she said that homosexuality was unnatural and so repulsive that “even barn yard animals don’t do it” — then someone pointed out to her that barnyard animals in fact DO do that, with some frequency, as anyone who grew up around farm animals knows very well! LOL… well, she was only momentarily flustered, then she just pivoted 180 degrees and said, “well, that doesn’t make it right!”

 

Well no, but it sure as hell don’t make it wrong, either. On the subject of sexual ethics, “Nature” is entirely neutral. However, as so many self-righteous bigots attempt to introduce nature into ethical and political discussions, it is worth knowing just what “natural” sex really is (it’s also just fun to know.)

 

 

 

Bonobo females, with onlookers

 

In all the animal kingdom, those closest to us humans are the primates, who are generally divided into three classes – apes, old world monkeys, and new world monkeys. In all three of these groups, and in other mammals, birds, reptiles, birds, fish and even insects, homosexual and non-reproductive sexual activities have been widely reported in formal scientific studies. It is striking though, as Joan Roughgarden notes in “Evolution’s Rainbow”, that these supposedly “unnatural” sexual activities have been most widely reported among the primates, and especially among the apes, who are closest to us on the evolutionary scale.
 
So, in today’s lesson from nature, I want to consider just these. What do they tell us about “natural” sexual behaviour? Do they in fact indulge in what the theologians call “sins against nature”? Do they have sex which cannot produce babies? You betcha!
In some species, same sex encounters are actually more common than heterosexual activity. Among Bonobo Chimps, the most common form of sexual activity is between females, in a unique form of genital rubbing. Some evolutionary biologists have even speculated that the particular shape of their genitals has evolved to facilitate this.(Male same sex activities are also commonplace, but not to the same extent as females).

 

For Orang-Utans, Bruce Bagemihl describes homosexual activity as “characteristic” of younger males, but less common as they age. Gorillas live in small groups, some of which are “cosexual”, with a dominant mature male, younger males, and females, and some of which are all-male. In the all-male groups, homosexual encounters occur daily, and may exceed the frequency of heterosexual encounters in the cosexual groups.

 

What about “orientation”? Can we learn anything that might contribute to the vexed essentialist / constructivist debate for human sexuality? Without getting into a formal analysis, I was interested in Bagemihl’s accounts by two features: that in many of the species he describes, most individual animals practice both same-sex and opposite-sex activities, resembling the human descriptor “bisexual” – but individuals vary in the balance between them. Some are more primarily hetero, some more homo, which reminded me inevitably of Kinsey’s well-known thesis that we all sit somewhere along a bisexual scale. The other striking feature is that in many species (found among other primates as well as the apes), there are substantial variations between specific local troops. In some species where overall, same sex activity is commonplace, there are specific troops where it is much less so – and others where it is almost mandatory, immediately prompting parallels in my mind with human ideas about the social construction of homosexuality.

 

What about the specific sexual activities? Are they (at least the heterosexual ones)”geared to procreation”? Hell, no. For both same-sex and between sex activities, there is an extraordinary range of activities that have been observed. For full details, read Bagemihl’s book, but in summary these include the obvious opposite-sex copulation supposedly demanded by the “plumbing”, but also a great deal more. These include fairly conventional-seeming mounting, but without penetration or ejaculation, fellatio and cunnilingus, solitary and mutual masturbation, stimulation by a finger inserted into an anus or vagina, and activities less familiar or impossible for humans: anus to anus rubbing, clitoral penetration by females, and “penile fencing” by male Bonobos – while suspended from tree branches. I also bet you can’t do this: one female was described as masturbating herself with a foot, while using her hands to do the same to her partner. Many animals also use, or even make their own, “sex toys” – dildos and other objects for insertion into available orifices, and masturbation aids from leaves and fruits.

 

In another notable departure from Vatican descriptions, I was also impressed by the number of species where researchers observed more displays of simple affection between same sex couples than for opposite sex couples, and more frequent incidents of violence used to force submission (i.e. “rape”) in opposite sex couples. So much for the Vatican’s dismissal of “homosexual acts” as mere gratuitous self-indulgence, to be contrasted with (heterosexual) “loving conjugal relationships”. Onlookers are also less likely to disrupt or attack homosexual interactions than heterosexual ones: “homophobic” violence is less of a problem than violence directed at opposite sex mating.

 

Even where sex is of the standard, male-female variety including penetration and ejaculation,it is emphatically not exclusively directed at procreation. Heterosexual intercourse often continues almost right through pregnancy, and resumes soon after birth. In some species, young females reach sexual maturity, and begin sexual intercourse, several years before reaching full maturity and fertility – a period (known as adolescent sterility)where their completely “conventional” sexual activity cannot possibly lead to pregnancy. What then, is the “purpose” of sex?

 

Joan Roughgarden puts it neatly, in describing “at least six” situations that lead to sex among bonobos:

 

1. Sex facilitates sharing for example, reducing conflicts over food supplies) 2. Sex is used for reconciliation after a dispute 3. Sex helps to integrate new arrivals into a group 4. Sex helps to form coalitions 5. Sex is candy – females sometimes barter sexual favours to obtain gifts of food from males 6. “Oh, I almost forgot – sex is used for reproduction”

 

There’s something else she forgot – sex is fun.

 



Books:

Bagemihl, Bruce: Biological Exuberance: Animal Homosexuality and Natural Diversity (Stonewall Inn Editions)
Roughgarden, Joan: Evolution’s Rainbow: Diversity, Gender, and Sexuality in Nature and People
Sommer, Volker and Vasey, Paul: Homosexual Behaviour in Animals: An Evolutionary Perspective

Parable of the Gay Samaritan

At his personal blog a few years ago, Fr Geoff Farrow published a post called  Delivery “Salvation”, in which he describes an encounter with two young men who came to his door attempting to deliver some salvation, in the form of a pep talk on heaven and hell. We are all familiar with the scenario. How many of us though, have the presence of mind to reply as he did, by quoting from the Gospel of Luke:
Jesus was asked about the afterlife in the Luke 10: 23-37. “Rabbi, what must I do to inherit everlasting life?” The question, by a lawyer, was prompted because there were 614 laws that an observant Jewish person was expected to keep. To break one law, was to break them all. In the rabbinic tradition of questioning/discussion this question was posited, “What does God expect of me?” “What is essential, or central?”
This question is applicable to contemporary people as well, regardless of one’s religion (or lack thereof), “What must I do to achieve my full potential, to be truly whole and at peace?”
In the rabbinic tradition, Jesus answers the lawyer’s question with two other questions. “What is written in the law [Torah/Bible]?” In addition, “How do you read it?” Incidentally, that second question is of critical importance, because our motive in reading any spiritual text, will determine its spiritual value/harm in our life.
The lawyer responded by citing a passage from Deuteronomy 6: 4-5 “Hear, Oh Israel!” that is prayed by observant Jewish people to this day, as Christians pray the “Our Father.” And Leviticus 19: 18, “love your neighbor as yourself.” Jesus approves the lawyer’s quotes and says, “You have answered correctly. Do this and you shall live.”
Luke notes that the lawyer, “because he wished to justify himself” asked, “and who is my neighbor?” Jesus then tells the story of the Good Samaritan.
Interestingly, Samaritans were regard as being beyond any hope of eternal life since they had comingled Judaism with pagan beliefs and practices. Their theological beliefs and religious practices were seen as flawed, heretical and impious. Jesus deliberately selects a suspect minority group who were believed beyond hope of eternal life to illustrate what God expects from us. I suppose that if Jesus told this parable in the USA today, it would be the story of the Good Faggot.
 
He does not elaborate further on this idea of recasting the familiar Good Samaritan as a Good Faggot, but there is no need. It has been done before, for example by Richard Cleaver, in the introduction to his book “Know My Name“. I summarise his telling here:
Cleaver imagines a modern traveller from Jerusalem to Jericho, who is attacked by muggers and left for dead in the gutter. A bishop comes past  in his Cadillac, which had been given to him by a car dealer, one of the most generous financial supporters of the diocese. Seeing the half-dead body at the roadside, he first thought it was just a pile of litter. Realizing it was a human body, he considered stopping, but decided against: he saw that the body was naked, and feared that taking a naked man into his car might cause a scandal. So, he drove on, consoling himself that these kinds of social services were better left to the professionals.
He then describes another traveller passing by, a prominent Catholic layman. He too thought of helping the man by the wayside, but then considered the implications. If the man was already dead, it was too late for help, and he would find himself caught up in endless bureaucratic red tape. If he was not dead and recovered, there was a danger that the injured man might find a reason to sue him for any mishap en route to the hospital. There was also the problem of the man’s nakedness –  what had happened to his clothes? There was an assumption that the man obviously was not a man of god to be in that state, or must have done something to bring about his own misfortune. So he, too, went on his way.
Then a third traveller came past, a gay man returning home from his head office in Jerusalem, where he had just been fired, because someone had discovered he was gay, after his lover had beaten to death in a gay-bashing. When he saw the injured man, he immediately stopped, and was reminded of his lover’s beating and death. Realising the man was still just about alive, he applied what first aid he could, loaded him into the car and drove him to the nearest hospital.
“Later, the newspapers got hold of the story and came to interview him.  The bishop read the story and called a press conference, at which he announced that the diocese was giving its Good Samaritan Award to the man who had helped the mugging victim he himself had driven past.
At the award banquet, held at the episcopal palace, the bishop stood with this arm around the good Samaritan and gave a little homily about showing mercy to the neighbour in distress. This act, he concluded, showed a true Christian spirit. He turned to the man and shook his hand, adding, “God will bless you abundantly for this.”
“Oh, I didn’t do it for religious reasons. It just seemed to me like the human thing to do. I haven’t been to church since my priest refused me absolution when I confessed I was in love with the redheaded guy who was captain of the football team.” The gay man smiled at the cameras.
The bishop was trying to figure out how to deal with the question he knew was coming next.”

Vatican Theologian Confesses: «I’m Happy to Be Gay and I Have a Partner» Video

«I know I will pay the consequences, but it’s time the Church opened its eyes»

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“I want the Church and my community to know who I am: a gay priest who is happy, and proud of his identity. I’m prepared to pay the consequences, but it’s time the Church opened its eyes, and realised that offering gay believers total abstinence from a life of love is inhuman”. Monsignor Krzysztof Charamsa, 43 and Polish, who has been living in Rome for 17 years, speaks with a calm smile on his face. He is not just any priest, but has been a member of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith since 2003, is assistant secretary of the International Theological Commission of the Vatican, and teaches theology at the Pontifical Gregorian University and the Pontifical Athenaeum Regina Apostolorum in Rome. Never before has a priest with such a high-profile role in the Vatican made a similar statement. Today, on the eve of the Synod on the family, Monsignor Charamsa will be in Rome at the LGBT Catholic International Meeting organized by the Global Network of Rainbow Catholics, to support the discussion on gay Catholics.

Why did you decide to come out?
“There comes a day when something inside you snaps, and you can’t go on. If I had been alone I would have lived the nightmare of a denied homosexuality, but God never leaves us alone. And I think He has helped me take this important existential step. It’s important because of its consequences, but it’s also the premise for living honestly, which should be natural for every homosexual. The Church is already behind in tackling the issue, and we can’t wait another 50 years, which is why I’ve decided to tell the Church who I am. I’m doing it for myself, for my community, and for the Church. It is also my duty towards the community of sexual minorities”.
What do you think you will achieve?
“It seems to me that in the Church we are ignorant about homosexuality because we don’t really know any homosexuals. We have them all around us, of course, but we never look them in the eye, because they seldom say who they are. I hope that my personal experience will help stir the Church’s consciousness in some way. I will personally reveal my identity to the Holy Father in a letter. And I will tell the universities in Rome where I teach who I am; to my great sorrow I will probably no longer be allowed to work in Catholic education”.

You are making this announcement on the eve of the Synod on the Family, which begins tomorrow at the Vatican.
“Yes, I would like to tell the Synod that homosexual love is a kind of family love, a love that needs the family. Everyone – gays, lesbians and transsexuals included – foster in their hearts a desire for love and family. Everyone has the right to love, and that love must be protected by society and law. But above all it must be nourished by the Church. Christianity is the religion of love, and love is central to the figure of Jesus we bring to the world. A lesbian or gay couple should be able to openly say to their Church: ‘we love each other according to our nature, and offer this gift of our love to others, because it is a public matter, not just a private one; we are not merely engaged in some extreme pursuit of pleasure’”.
But this is not how the Church sees things.
“No, this is not the position of current Church doctrine, but similar views have been aired in theological scholarship. Above all in Protestant scholarship, but we also have excellent Catholic theologians who have given important contributions in the field”.

Catholic Catechism based on the Bible defines homosexuality as an “intrinsically disordered” tendency…
“The Bible says nothing on the subject of homosexuality. It instead speaks of acts that I would call “homogenital”. Even heterosexual people may perform such acts, as happens in many prisons, but in that case they are acting against their nature and therefore committing a sin. When a gay person engages in those same acts, they are instead expressing their nature. The biblical sodomite has nothing to do with two gays that love each other in modern-day Italy and want to marry. I am unable to find a single passage, even in St Paul, that may be seen as referring to homosexual persons asking to be respected as such, since at the time the concept was unknown”.
Catholic doctrine excludes gays from the priesthood: how did you manage to become a priest?
“The rule was introduced in 2005 when I was already a priest, and only applies to new ordinations. For me it was a shock. It didn’t use to be like this, and I think this is a mistake that needs to be corrected”. Have you always known you are gay? “Yes, but at first I didn’t accept the fact; I submitted zealously to the teaching of the Church and to the life it forced upon me, according to the principle that ‘homosexuality does not exist (and if it does, it needs to be destroyed)’”.
How did you go from denial to being happy about being gay?
“Through study, prayer and reflection. A dialogue with God and the study of theology, philosophy and science were crucial. Moreover, I now have a partner who has helped me transform my fears into the power of love”.
A partner? Is that not even more irreconcilable with being a Catholic priest?
“I know that the Church will see me as someone who has failed to keep a promise, who has lost his way, and what’s worse, not with a woman, but a man! I also know that I will have to give up the ministry, even though it is my whole life. But I’m not doing this so that I can live with my partner. The reasons are much wider-ranging and based on a reflection on Church doctrine”.
Could you explain?
“If I failed to be open, if I didn’t accept myself, I couldn’t be a good priest in any case, because I couldn’t act as an intermediary for the joy of God. Humanity has made great progress in its understanding of these issues, but the Church is lagging behind. This is not the first time, of course, but when you are slow to understand astronomy the consequences are not as serious as when the delay regards people’s most intimate being. The Church needs to realise that it is failing to rise to the challenge of our times”. English translation by Simon Tanner www.simontanner.com

GENDER AS SOCIAL GROUPING (Reblog)

WHAT IS GENDER? PART 4:

This post is the fourth in a series on What is gender? Click here to read the first post, or here to return to the previous post.


 THE CONVERSATION ON GENDER GROUPING.


As I detailed in the last post, for many transsexuals the site of gender embattlement is their subconscious sex, which is often confused withgender identity. Subconscious sex is a person’s persistent embodied sense of belonging to one sex or another. It is not how one chooses to identify, but how one experiences oneself. For example, technically speaking I had a male gender identity for much of my life. I identified as a male because everyone told me I was male, and I more or less believed them. I at least believed them enough to consciously think of myself as “one of the guys,” even if I didn’t experience myself precisely in that way. However, despite actively choosing to identify as a male, a boy, a man, and a guy, I had a persistent subconscious sex: female.

At least for my early years, I determined my gender identity according to mygender grouping. This gender grouping was a complex interaction of myassigned sex, legal sex, and how people perceived me (my perceived gender). All these factors made people treat me like a guy, so for all social intents and purposes I was one.

In that sense I’ve changed genders. Since I usually think of gender in terms of my subconscious sex, I think of it as being constant throughout my life because my subconscious sex hasn’t budged an inch. But for people who see gender as the social group one “swims in,” after transitioning my gender changed from boy to girl. With that change came a difference in how I was treated, what was expected of me, and who related to me familiarly.

This particular definition of gender – social grouping – is where a lot of the tension comes between transgender women and so-called trans-exclusive radical feminists. Since many radical feminists define gender as an experience of being part of a social group, they define their own womanhood and feminism in terms of their experience of being perceived and (mis)treated as women in a sexist society. Since I spent many years of my life being perceived and treated as a man, those feminists want to exclude me because my social experience of gender differs from theirs.

This assumption is partly untrue. While I haven’t lived my entire life being perceived and treated as a woman, I’ve lived some of it in that capacity, and certainly enough to have experienced a broad, frightening range of misogyny. In some ways, as a transsexual woman the degree to which I experience misogyny is heightened: I’m held to more demanding stereotypes of femininity; threat of rape also becomes threat of homicide; and my body is questioned, objectified, judged, interpreted, and claimed by patriarchal forces to an outlandish degree. Also, while my childhood was not marked by abuse and propaganda aimed directly at me, because of my subconscious female sex I still internalized a great deal of it. Even being treated as a boy, I still flinched with a sense of personal affront when men objectified women’s bodies.

Even my male privilege was a two-edged sword. I imagine it’s a parallel experience to a butch lesbian who get mistaken as a man. While the social benefits were appealing, all it did was reinforce the idea that it’s better to be perceived as a man; it didn’t particularly glorify me.

For some transgender people, their gender identity is based on this social grouping. For example, a very feminine male who expresses herself flamboyantly might identify with women because she fits in – with their world, their oppression, their perceived place in society. An androgynous female might identify as neither a man nor a woman because they don’t fit in with typical femininity, but they also don’t fit into the world of male privilege. Heregender means a different kind of belonging – not what sex you belong to, but which social group.

Gender breakdown transgenderist

Conversations on gender, whether within philosophy, ethics, or sociology, need to take this perception of gender seriously. Gender identity is caricaturized as radical self-definition, just as willful and random as picking out a dress. Sometimes this is the case, but gender identity rarely happens in a void. Some people’s social reality simply lies outside the binary, and for them it’s meaningless to say “you’re a woman because you have a vagina,” if they haven’t experienced their social reality as a woman.

It’s sometimes remarked that “the experience of the sexes” is markedly different, and this is true. A female with regular menstruation has a different experience than a male with regular spontaneous erections. Even though I experience an emotional “period” from my hormones cycling and syncing to other women via pheromones, I do not bleed on a monthly basis. Similarly, the material fact that I have functioning mammary glands and a feminine center of gravity, as well as the possibility that my neurological wiring is transsexed, separates me out from males. These are material facts that can’t be overlooked.

However, “the experience of the genders” is much MORE markedly different. If you are perceived as a woman or treated as a man, regardless of your anatomical sex you are participating in a widely encompassing social experience. If you are a female who is perceived and treated as a man, the fact that you are anatomically female only means so much when it comes to your gender; your experience day in and day out of being perceived as a man is much more defining in some ways. Very few people ever “see” your “sex,” as in spot your genitals or chart your DNA. 99% of the time we rely only on perceived gender, from which we also assume anatomical sex.

This “social grouping” concept of gender affects a large array of people, both transgender and not. Bearded ladies, feminine men, butch lesbians, drag queens, transsexuals, tomboys, intersex persons… all may experience this distinction between the brute fact of one’s primary sex characteristics and where one fits into society. The fact that one’s perceived gender has such far-reaching effects can’t be overlooked. Most conversations about manhood, womanhood, and everything in between are meaningless without engaging the social grouping of gender.

GENDER AS SUBCONSCIOUS SEX (Reblog)

WHAT IS GENDER? PART 3:

This post is the third in a series on What is gender? Click here to read the first post, or here to return to the previous post.


THE CONVERSATION ON “GENDER AS SUBCONSCIOUS SEX.”


For transsexual persons, their assigned and determined sex are more straightforward. The doctors see a majority of sexed characteristics lining up one way, and so they assign gender based on that sex. For a male-to-female transsexual like myself, a rigorous medical evaluation of my body would probably conclude that my primary sexual characteristics at birth  – chromosomes and genitals – are male-typical. So I am, by most definitions of determined sex, a male. The doctors assigned my sex (male) without any consternation, and consequently assigned my gender (boy) without missing a beat.

I was born into embattlement because the doctor’s biological designation assumes something about my gender trajectory. She assumes that since my body has male-typical characteristics, I will embody those characteristics in a male-typical way and will experience them as normative. In other words, unlike intersex people where the locus of conflict begins before we even talk about gender, for transsexual people the locus starts with and encompasses all of gender and reflects back on sex.

Gender breakdown transsexual

For many transsexual people, their fight with gender is not merely social; there’s a deep physical component to it. The embattlement isn’t just with “you have a penis so you’re male so you’re a boy so you should behave in xyz fashion.” The embattlement questions whether having a penis makes one a boy, and sometimes even whether it makes one male, or whether one ought to have a penis at all. So even though the facts of sex development are at least mostly unambiguous, the interpretation of these facts is almost as problematic as for an intersex person. A conflict exists right at the point at which you start making assumptions about a transsexual based on their genital morphology.

To be clear, I’m not talking about all transgender individuals, but specificallytranssexuals with serious body dysmorphia. I’m talking about people who feel and experience themselves very strongly as belonging to a particular sex, even when the physiological data of their sex characteristics would beg otherwise. I’m talking about transsexuality here as a phenomenon, not an identity. Some transsexed individuals identify as transsexuals, some as transgender, and others as gender non-conforming.

I use the word “belonging” very deliberately because I think it’s the most accurate word to describe the transsexual experience. Phrases like “I feel like a girl trapped in a boy’s body” or  “I always knew I was a girl” are oversimplifications. Other phrases like “I want to be female” or “I desire to become a woman” are also oversimplifications. The reality is somewhere in the middle, with a feeling of belonging, of ought-ness, regarding the other sex. On one hand I grew up knowing full well what it meant to have a penis and be called a ‘boy,’ so I didn’t assert that I wasn’t male. But at the same time being female felt so right and proper to me that it wasn’t simply that I wanted “tobecome a girl,” but “to be as a girl.”

I’ll try to illustrate what I mean with a personal experience. Freshman year of high school I learned about intersex conditions. I heard that some girls are born with ambiguous genitalia, and that doctors surgically “fix” the genitals to be one way or another (see the previous post).  This caused an earthquake in my soul. I spent almost a full week completely convinced I was an intersex girl. I would do regular checks on my penis in an attempt to find evidence of a surgical intervention. I thought my penile raphe – a dark line extending along the penis shaft to the anus – must be a scar from when they surgically constructed my neo-phallus. I almost asked my parents if this was the case, but a quick google search told me that a penile raphe is male-typical. I almost cried. I’d finally found a word – intersex – that somehow fit the feelings I didn’t have words for. I was not happy to find out my genitals were “male-typical.”

I want you to reflect for a second on how visceral this experience was. The word “intersex” brought up feelings I couldn’t even begin to articulate. Not that I wanted to be a girl or express femininity, but that my body was a girl’s body that had been altered to look like a boy’s. That I was in fact a girl – a boyish intersex girl, but a girl nonetheless. The feeling wasn’t so much in my head as in my bones. When I heard about intersex conditions, it was like my whole body screamed YES at once.

The term gender identity is often used to describe this sense of belonging to the other sex. The problem is “gender identity” nowadays simply means what you “choose” to “identify” as, which does little justice to the transsexual experience. That’s why I’ve decided to distinguish gender identity fromsubconscious sex, a term coined by Julia Serano.

Serano unpacks this distinction in her book Whipping Girl:

Personally, I have always found the term “gender identity” to be rather misleading. After all, identifying as something, whether it be as a woman, a Democrat, a Christian, a feminist, a cat person, or a metalhead, seems to be a conscious, deliberate choice on our part, one that we make in order to better describe how we think we fit in the world. Thus, with regard to transsexuals, the phrase “gender identity” is problematic because it seems to describe two potentially different things: the gender we consciously choose to identify as, and the gender we subconsciously feel ourselves to be…

I am sure that some people will object to me referring to this aspect of my person as subconscious “sex” rather than “gender.” I prefer “sex” because I have experienced it as being rather exclusively about my physical sex, and because for me this subconscious desire to be female has existed independently of the social phenomena commonly associated with the word “gender.”As mentioned previously, my initial experience with my female subconscious sex was not accompanied by any corresponding desire to explore female gender roles or to express femininity… And my female subconscious sex was most certainly not the result of socialization or social gender constructs, as it defied everything I had been taught was true about gender, as well as the constant encouragement I received to think of myself as a boy and to act masculine. (78, 82)

There’s growing scientific evidence that this subconscious sex is hardwired in the brain – what I call brain sex. The evidence isn’t conclusive, and there are problems with how people approach the idea of brain sex. Most people think of it in terms of having a stereotypically feminine or masculine hard-wiring, like a ditzy cheerleader brain versus a dumb jock brain. Most of these stereotypes center on sexist, derogatory assumptions about men and women, but are notwhat we’re probably talking about with regards to brain sex. I don’t have a female brain because I’m bad at math. That begs the question why my many girl friends who are great at math aren’t transsexual or at least butch (or why this stereotype even exists when in high school many of the best math students were girls). When we talk about brain sex and subconscious sex, we’re talking about something that’s clearly there regardless of social norms of femininity or masculinity.

In 1965 a boy named David Reimer was born biologically male, but a botched circumcision left his penis horribly mutilated. A prominent sexologist John Money firmly believed that gender identity (and by extension, subconscious sex) was socially and environmentally created, and that any child could have any gender identity bestowed on them by upbringing and hormones alone. He performed a sex reassignment surgery on David to transform his mutilated penis into a neo-vagina. Money was certain that David would happily live as a girl. However, from ages 9-11 David clearly developed and identified with a male gender identity. The social experiment was a failure; David’s brain was hard-wired with a male subconscious sex that thwarted any effort to raise him as female. At age 13 he became suicidal and told his parents he’d end his life if he had to see Dr. Money again.

The typical transsexual embattlement with gender differs from that of an intersex person and is more similar to that of David Reimer because it’s mainly about the subconscious sex. I have a transsexual friend who has both xx and xy chromosomes, so she technically has a genetic intersex condition even though she doesn’t identify as intersex. Her experience is transsexual because she has a subconscious female sex but was assigned male because of her genitals; her chromosomes had nothing to do with how the doctors perceived her or how she perceives herself. Her embattlement isn’t between her genitals and chromosomes, but between her genitals and her subconscious sex. This is why even if subconscious sex is determined by an intersex condition in the brain (brain sex), it doesn’t really matter. Transsexual women aren’t embattled because a brain scan shows we have a female brain or a gene test shows we have female chromosomes – even if that turns out to be the case. We’re embattled because of how our brain identifies itself versus our sex characteristics and how society identifies us.

If brain sex determines whether one feels male or female, then it’s possible that just as one can be born with genitals that are a mix of feminine and masculine, a person could have a brain sex that is biologically undetermined. This means that in some cases, gender non-conforming people who experience themselves as a “third sex” could have an androgynous brain sex. This could also explain why some intersex people don’t experience an inherent subconscious “male” or “female” sex, but a third “bi-gender” or “undetermined” identity.

Regardless of whether subconscious sex flows from brain sex, or is determined by other factors, it’s a pervasive component of gender that affects everything from perception of oneself as sexed to perception of one’s proper social group. The notion of having a subconscious sex is foreign to cissexual (non-transsexual) people because they never notice they have one. If their subconscious sex perfectly aligns with their assigned sex, they have no reason to tease out the difference between the two, and the subconscious sex remains unconscious. However, if a cissexual person is asked if they would change genders (“No, then I wouldn’t be me anymore”), or if they’re questioned about what makes them a man or woman (“My penis”; “But what if your penis is amputated?”; “I’d still be a man”), their subconscious sex emerges at least into preconsciousness. They’ll still never be forced to notice subconscious sex in the same manner as transsexuals, for whom it’s a constant self-awareness if they don’t transition.

We can talk about gender identity broadly in a way that encompasses subconscious sex, just as we can talk about transsexuals as part of the transgender umbrella, but we also need to talk about these things on their own terms. When a transsexual talks about their gender, they’re often talking about this pervasive, all-encompassing experience of sexual embodiment.


Click here for Part 4, the conversation on “gender as a social grouping.”

A Theology of Gay Inclusion, Pt 8:

In March 2010, Fr Owen O’Sullivan published an article in the theological journal “Furrow” on the inclusion of gays in the Church. The CDF seem to have found this article dangerous, and have ordered him not publish anything further without prior approval. In the modern internet age, this attempted censorship simply does not work: the original article has been published on-line in a series of posts at an Australian Salvation Army blog, “Boundless Salvation”. 



Here is the eighth (and final) extract:

Are homosexuals showing church and society a way forward?

There is a long history in the Christian community of the stone which the builders rejected becoming the corner stone, the ‘sinners’ being preferred – as in the Gospel – to the holy huddle of the mutually approving who follow the official line.

Forty years ago, in Ireland as in other countries, homosexuality was a subject that ‘decent people’ didn’t talk about. But homosexuals found the honesty and courage to come out, to declare themselves, and to share their thoughts and feelings, often in the face of derision, hatred, violence or the threat of hell. They began to organize, to challenge the system, and to go political. They have brought about a 180 degree turn in public attitudes, exemplified by the Civil Partnerships Bill now going through the Oireachtas (legislature), something unimaginable forty years ago. Would that the church had so re-invented itself in the same forty years! Maybe the missing ingredients were the same: honesty, courage, openness, dialogue, challenging the status quo.

One finds a similar process at work among the ‘Anonymouses’ – alcoholics, gamblers, narcotics- and sex-addicts. They are at the bottom of the heap. By coming out, facing the truth, revealing their feelings, supporting and challenging each other, they have built communities which reflect what the church is meant to be – but often isn’t. Leadership is from the bottom up, the despised and rejected at the bottom of the hierarchical pyramid showing the way to the wise and learned at the top.

And recently we have seen how it was the suffering of the most helpless in society – children – which eventually led to the exposure of much of what was rotten in the church.

Will homosexuals help us to re-discover new/old ways of doing theology and developing pastoral practice, where human experience is the starting point? That has happened already with other teachings that didn’t tally with human experience or meet human needs. Will they help us to read scripture with one eye on the page and the other on life? They are equally parts of one process. Perhaps they will show us that human experience is as valuable as scripture, as Saint Ignatius Loyola, for one, affirmed. ‘The word became flesh…’ (John 1.14) – God still speaks.

Perhaps, too, homosexuals are showing men a way forward out of self-imposed isolation, out of individualism built on machismo, and a way of dealing with personal issues such as men’s identity, men’s spirituality, addictions, domestic violence against men, male suicide, how abortion affects men, bereavement, paternity and parenting, access to and custody of children in a separation, and care of one’s health. The issues are different, but the qualities needed to face them are those that homosexuals developed in recent times.

Some of what the Scriptures say.
A few quotations: –

‘God saw all that he had made and indeed it was very good.’ (Genesis 1.31)

‘God does not see as people see; people look at appearances but the Lord looks at the heart.’ (1 Samuel 16.7)

‘Anyone who is not against us is for us’. (Mark 9.38-40; Luke 9.49-50)

‘Why do you not judge for yourselves what is right?’ (Luke 12.57)

‘Whoever comes to me, I shall not turn away’. (John 6.37)

‘God has no favourites.’ (Romans 2.11)

‘We belong to each other.’ (Romans 12.5)

‘Each must be left free to hold his own opinion.’ (Romans 14.5)

‘You should never pass judgment on another or treat them with contempt.’ (Romans 14.10)

‘Do not let what is good to you be spoken of as evil.’ (Romans 14.16)

‘Your bodies are members making up the body of Christ.’ (1 Corinthians 6.15)

‘By the grace of God, I am what I am.’ (1 Corinthians 15.10. See also 12.18-21, 26)

‘Your body, you know, is the temple of the Holy Spirit, who is in you since you received him from God.’ (2 Corinthians 6.19)

‘You are, all of you, children of God through faith in Christ Jesus. All baptized in Christ, you have all clothed yourselves in Christ, and there are no more distinctions between Jew and Greek, slave and free, male and female, but all of you are one in Christ Jesus. (Galatians 3.26-28)

‘We are what God made us’. (Ephesians 2.10)

‘Everything God has created is good.’ (1 Timothy 4.4)

The Letter to the Hebrews speaks of ‘the whole church in which everyone is a “first-born” and a citizen of heaven.’ (12.23)

Or read 1 John 4.7-21.

Conclusion
For those who don’t like the above, the great consolation is that it’s all God’s fault. Why? For creating in diversity instead of uniformity, as we see all around us in – guess where? – nature, for making some people different from others. Or did God make a mistake?

A Theology of Gay Inclusion, Pt 7: “In the end we will be judged on how we have loved.”

In March 2010, Fr Owen O’Sullivan published an article in the theological journal “Furrow” on the inclusion of gays in the Church. The CDF seem to have found this article dangerous, and have ordered him not publish anything further without prior approval. In the modern internet age, this attempted censorship simply does not work: the original article has been published on-line in a series of posts at an Australian Salvation Army blog, “Boundless Salvation”. 

Here is the seventh extract:

‘In the end we will be judged on how we have loved.’

Many of the passengers on the 9/11 flights, when told they were going to die, phoned their families to say that they loved them. In former times, we might have thought that a better response would have been to beg God for forgiveness of their sins. I prefer the first, and I dare to think that God would, too.

If God is love, and if sex is loving, then sex between two people of different or the same gender can only be looked upon lovingly by God. The real sin would be to live without ever having had this contact with another human being.

Sacraments are places where God’s story and the human story meet. Not only do we need to tell the human story, but we need to tell it first; that was Jesus’ way of doing things and of teaching. The human story of some homosexuals is that awakening to their sexuality has meant taking responsibility for themselves and growing up. They say they have grown into better people for having taken the risk of giving and receiving love. A gay man said that, in experiencing being despised and rejected for being gay, he found that, ‘The ultimate sign of a person’s love is the figure of Jesus on the cross. The wound of homosexuality is not unrelated to Christ’s presence in the Passion. Through suffering, rejection and pain, people grow, change, and are transformed.’ Another said simply, ‘God wants us to be the people he created us to be.’ This echoes the saying of Saint Clement of Alexandria that, ‘We ought not to be ashamed of what God was not ashamed to create.’ Where is the Good News for homosexuals? Is it in the Wisdom of Solomon, ‘You [God] love all things that exist, and detest none of the things you have made, for you would not have made anything if you had hated it. How would anything have endured if you had not willed it? Or how would anything not called forth by you have been preserved? You spare all things, O Lord, you who love the living. For your immortal spirit is in all things.’ (Wisdom 11.24-12.1, NRSV)

A Theology of Gay Inclusion, Pt 6: “Our sexual relationships”

In March 2010 year, Fr Owen O’Sullivan published an article in the theological journal “Furrow” on the inclusion of gays in the Church. The CDF seem to have found this article dangerous, and have ordered him not publish anything further without prior approval. In the modern internet age, this attempted censorship simply does not work: the original article has been published on-line in a series of posts at an Australian Salvation Army blog, “Boundless Salvation”. 

Here is the sixth extract:

Our theology of sexual relationships

We have the commandment, ‘Thou shalt not kill,’ but have developed an elaborate theology around self-defence, just war, capital punishment, and indirect killing. But, where the sixth commandment is concerned, a blanket disapproval covers everything outside the marital bed, and much within it. Some theological language around sexuality is so spiritualized and out-of-the-body that it becomes a way of avoiding the truth that God created people sexual. Is there not much in our tradition that is anti- the human body, despite the Incarnation and Resurrection? We are not far from thinking, if not actually saying, that people should have as little sex as possible, and ideally – as in celibacy – none at all.

We wish that eros be safely tucked away and put to sleep in the bed of monogamous heterosexual marriage. But re-awakening it could help us to see our relationship with God as a love affair, with emotion. All our theology, not only of sexuality, is so deeply pervaded by exclusivism, by either-or instead of both-and, that we are probably not capable even of imagining such an awakening. In the Septuagint Song of Songs, the word used for love is agapein; this includes the sexual. Yet the church is afraid of sex; it’s our Pandora’s box, better kept locked. Why is the church so afraid of erring on the side of love? Jesus had no such fear. The difference between being open, or not, to questioning your prejudices is what Christian tradition calls conversion.

A Theology of Gay Inclusion, Pt 5: “What’s wrong with saying ‘Do your best’ ?”

In March 2010, Fr Owen O’Sullivan published an article in the theological journal “Furrow” on the inclusion of gays in the Church. The CDF seem to have found this article dangerous, and have ordered him not publish anything further without prior approval. In the modern internet age, this attempted censorship simply does not work: the original article has been published on-line in a series of posts at an Australian Salvation Army blog, “Boundless Salvation”. 

Here is the fifth extract:

What’s wrong with saying “Do your best”?

What’s wrong with saying to the homosexual, ‘Being a homosexual is not sinful; performing homosexual acts is. So do your best. If you fail, go to confession, ask for forgiveness, and try again. God will help you’?

What’s wrong with it is that it ignores the full truth, and nothing worthwhile in human relationships can be founded on half-truths. There’s an analogy here with Humanae Vitae. That document states, in effect, that a man should love a woman in her totality, and not implicitly say to her, ‘I love you – but not your fertility; I don’t want that.’ The church says to homosexuals, ‘We love you – but not your homosexuality; we don’t want that.’ In effect we say, ‘What a pity you’re not normal!’ We ‘respect and love’ them – except for what is a most precious and important part of what they are. All the talk in the world about loving the sinner while hating the sin rings hollow: how can you respect or love a person while repudiating something they see as central to their self-understanding? Sexual orientation is central to that.

Jesus – who is not recorded as having said anything about homosexuality – went about including those the religious authorities of the day excluded on the grounds that they did not fit the established pattern of behaviour. Should we not consider the possibility that we might be wrong? It wouldn’t be the first time!

Think, too, of the Gospel parable of the ten talents: one man, motivated by fear, wrapped up his talent, buried it, and then handed it back intact. Jesus had strong words for him. (Matthew 25.14-30; Luke 19.12-27) For homosexuals, is the gift of their sexuality meant to be wrapped up, buried, and returned unused? Why did God make people sexual, if not for them to give expression to it?

A Theology of Gay Inclusion (Pt 4): "Homosexuality is objectively disordered."

In March 2010, Fr Owen O’Sullivan published an article in the theological journal “Furrow” on the inclusion of gays in the Church. The CDF seem to have found this article dangerous, and have ordered him not publish anything further without prior approval. In the modern internet age, this attempted censorship simply does not work: the original article has been published on-line in a series of posts at an Australian Salvation Army blog, “Boundless Salvation”. 

Here is the fourth extract:

‘Homosexuality is objectively disordered.’

Saying that homosexuality is objectively disordered presumes that sexuality can be evaluated outside of the context of persons and their relationships. Context matters. In the context of a loving, committed relationship, sexual acts have a different significance from what they have outside it. To ignore the context is to ignore the person, to ignore the full truth. To ignore the person is the pharisaism that Jesus condemned in the Gospel. Human relationships, like human beings, are so diverse that a one-size-fits-all approach to morality does justice neither to them nor to itself.

In the days before the church changed its teaching from support for to opposition to capital punishment, we heard the metaphysical argument that the dignity of natural law, outraged by the act of murder, required the death penalty as fitting punishment. When someone shifts the ground of moral debate from the inter-personal (e.g. human relationships) to the biological (e.g. objective disorder), it sounds like an admission of defeat. It’s a materialistic argument which elevates the biological to the metaphysical. There’s more to humanity than the biological. Quasi-metaphysical arguments about moral behaviour acquire a (bogus) aura of irrefutability because, like Saint Anselm’s metaphysical proof of God’s existence, they involve a jump from the speculative to the real order. But such a jump is invalid.

In this debate, to say that serious account must be taken of the quality of relationships between people is to leave oneself open to a charge of subjectivism. But its opposite pole, objectivism, is as fallacious; it is distorting and incomplete, as if everyone else had an axe to grind while the objectivist is a privileged person with a detached view from nowhere, above all personal considerations. Objectivism posits a reification of relationships, as if they could be considered ‘in themselves,’ apart from the human beings involved. This ‘dispassionate’ approach has its head in the sand, afraid of what it might see. The best authorities in sexuality are those who lead loving, committed, healthy, integrated sexual lives; the authority of experience trumps the experience of authority any day.

To homosexuals, the pastoral rhetoric about respect is dishonest, because it is not possible to respect a person while hating the actions that express what that person is. A frequent comment by homosexuals is that they believe they have become better human beings by coming out and entering into a committed relationship. If you have to suppress your sexuality, can you develop as a balanced human-being with feelings of self-worth? What is it like to live with your soul split from your body and your mind? Reality wins every time; reality is truth.