Always my son

NaBloPoMo Day 11: Just a video and article recommendation today. There’ll be a guest post on this blog tomorrow and a post by me at another blog, so I figure I get a free space to work with!

Colorlines shared this lovely video about a young gay Latino man and his family not only coming to fully embrace him and his sexuality, but also to provide support for LGBT youth and their families. The video touches on some interesting issues around ethnicity, masculinity, and sexuality, and religion as well. I particularly loved what the dad had to say about rethinking his approach to masculinity when he realized how damaging his assumptions had been to his son and their relationship. The Colorlines article about the Family Acceptance Project that this video came out of is also really worth reading – it’s a project focusing on how families of LGBT youth of color respond to their coming out. This video is the first of several resources they’re hoping to develop for different communities that tell stories of families of color who have accepted their LGBT children.

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Mark Driscoll Apologism Bingo

Since Mark Driscoll’s last round of public queer and trans baiting, I’ve wanted to make a bingo card of some of the ridiculous excuses some Christians make for why Driscoll’s behavior is either acceptable or just not a problem they should have to deal with. Alas, I couldn’t find a bingo card generator, and I didn’t have the HTML skills to make one myself. But now! I have mediocre n00b HTML knowledge to inflict on share with my readers :-D

And the timing couldn’t be better, since Driscoll appears to have gone and stuck another homophobic foot in his mouth yet again, like clockwork [eta: Molly points out in the comments that Driscoll wrote this in 2008, but it’s just getting attention now]:

First, masturbation can be a form of homosexuality because it is a sexual act that does not involve a woman. If a man were to masturbate while engaged in other forms of sexual intimacy with his wife then he would not be doing so in a homosexual way. However, any man who does so without his wife in the room is bordering on homosexuality [sic] activity, particularly if he’s watching himself in a mirror and being turned on by his own male body. (Dangerous Minds)

There’s really nothing that needs to be said about that, right? The man clearly has some personal issues to work through.

So, here it is: a handy guide to the absurd defenses of Driscoll fanboys and people who just find his public comments too inconvenient and embarrassing to handle honestly. What did I miss? Share your favorite example of ridiculous Driscoll apologism in the comments!

Mark Driscoll Apologism Bingo:

No one respects women more than Mark. He hates violence against women. Mark is just a provocateur. People hate/persecute Mark because he preaches harsh bible truth. You’re giving non-Christians excuses to slander and hate us! People have come to Christ through Mark. Don’t lose sight of the big picture.
“Jesus wasn’t just a gentle peacemaker.” This is sinful gossip and slander. You’re turning Christians against each other and destroying our unity. Mark is just rough around the edges. He’s refreshingly blunt. Mark loves his wife and celebrates femininity, just not in men.
Mark really loves Jesus. Mark isn’t in my/your church; he’s not my/your problem. FREE
SPACE
You’re supporting worldly criticisms of Mark by unbelievers. Why are you so emotional/angry/bitter?
Mars Hill is growing. God is really using Mark. You haven’t listened to every sermon Mark Driscoll has ever preached. You should share your concerns with Mark privately. Matthew 18! Just pray for Mark and pay more attention to your own sin. Mark just wants men to feel comfortable in church.
If we ignore him he’ll just go away. You should be working towards love and reconciliation with Driscoll. People who call Mark out are the real bullies. You’re just as much of a sinner as Mark. Mark is doing God’s work in godless, unchurched Seattle.

Rachel Held Evans: Mark Driscoll is a bully. Stand up to him.

There have been lots of posts on Mark Driscoll lately (and there are a few more to come, sigh), but I had to share this post by Rachel Held Evans calling on Christians to speak out against Driscoll’s bullying. Trigger warning for bullying and homophobic language.

If this Facebook status were Pastor Mark Driscoll’s first offense, it might not warrant a strong response. But Mark has developed a pattern of immaturity and unkindness that has remained largely unchecked by his church. In evangelical circles, he’s like the kid from high school who makes crude jokes at every opportunity, uses the words “gay” and “queer” to describe the things he most detests, encourages his friends to subject the unpopular kids to ridicule, and belittles the guys who aren’t “macho” or “manly” enough to be in his club.

As blogger Tyler Clark put it, “When you put out a call on Facebook for people verbally attack ‘effeminate anatomically male’ men, I find myself back in high school—shoved against a locker, with the bullies calling me a faggot.”

What we have on our hands is a bully. 

And this bully is teaching the young men at his church and under his influence that bullying is an acceptable expression of “biblical manhood.”

This has to stop. As followers of Jesus, we are obligated to stick up for the least of these, especially when they are being publicly bullied in the name of Christ.

We are also obligated to use the proper channels to do so. Many have asked that Mark apologize, but he has refused. Many have written blog posts expressing their concern, but he remains defiant. It’s time to take some more practical steps:

Today I emailed Mars Hill Church to request that the elders take whatever measures necessary to stop Mark’s bullying once and for all. No more empty apologies. This behavior must change.

If you wish to do the same, here’s how:

Write: 
Mars Hill Church
1411 NW 50th
Seattle, WA 98107

Call:
(206) 816-3500

Email:
life@marshillchurch.org

If you know Mark personally or attend his church, approach him as a friend and request that he get the counseling he needs to deal with this destructive pattern. Bullying is as harmful to the bully as it is to the victim.

Read the whole thing: Rachel Held Evans | Mark Driscoll is a bully. Stand up to him..

ETA: The Tyler Clark post RHE quotes is also excellent, particularly in how it pinpoints that isn’t about sexuality so much as it is about gender expression. An excerpt:

Your language is not only hurtful to gay men. It is hurtful to many straight men. As a [straight] man who has always been intimidated by more traditionally masculine men, your words tell me that I am not welcome in your church or among your friends.

Over the years, I have fallen away from the church. Recently, however, I have been longing to reengage. As a look for a new church, I need one that is welcome to all men—no matter how masculine.

When you put out a call on Facebook for people verbally attack “effeminate anatomically male” men, I find myself back in high school—shoved against a locker, with the bullies calling me a faggot.


Must read: On Cage Fighting, “Masculinity, Misogyny, and the Fear of Losing Control”

Christian and former cage fighter Matt Morin has a fantastic article on mixed martial arts (or MMA, the technical title for cage fighting) and its implications for thinking about masculinity from a Christian perspective. It’s a brilliant and thorough takedown of Mark Driscoll’s absurd fetishization of violence and domination as the epitome of “real” masculinity. Morin systematically unpacks misogyny, the homophobia, the harmful assertions about “real” masculinity, and the deep-seated insecurity about gender and embodiment that underpin the current trendiness of MMA in some complementarian circles.

And he does it all from a perspective informed by Christian anthropology! It’s very heartening to me to see challenges to Christianized toxic masculinity from within Christian circles. It drives home the ridiculousness of complementarian assertions that gender essentialism and bigotry are inseparable from being a “real” Christian. And it’s extremely powerful to have a Christian man explicitly reject Christian patriarchy and call it out as misogynist, homophobic, and harmful to everyone.

Seriously, it’s an amazing article and an absolute must-read. Check it out – The Confessions of a Cage Fighter: Masculinity, Misogyny, and the Fear of Losing Control [discussions of physical violence].

Morin particularly takes apart this clip of Driscoll claiming that MMA represents “pure” masculinity:

Transcript:

And I don’t think there’s anything purer than two guys in a cage, no balls, no sticks, no bats, no help, no team, and just see which man is better. And as a pastor, and as a bible teacher, I think that God made men masculine, he made humanity male and female. And men and women are different, not that one is good and the other’s bad, that’s why I married a woman, I’m very glad to be married to her [laughing].

But i think men are made for combat, men are made for conflict, men are made for dominion, and it doesn’t matter what you do to a bunch of guys, I mean, you could put ’em in the worst public high school, and tell ’em that they need to just be into their feelings, and talk about their feelings, and cry a lot, and fingerpaint their inner life, but at the end of the day, they’re still gonna want to throw down. And when they go out to recess, two guys are gonna go at it and see which one is the dude.

And that’s just the way that men are made. So we either allow that in way that is violence [sic] and inappropriate, which is what a lot of guys do, through criminal activity, or we put it together as a viable, legitimate sport, and let men be men and do what men do, and let the other fat, lazy men sit around and criticize them while watching.

Driscoll appears to have a talent for packing lots of wrongheadedness into a small number of words. Where to start? Perhaps with his statement that humanity was created “male and female,” a launching point for much of complementarian theology. Driscoll takes for granted – as do most people, to be fair – that all humans fit into binary categories of sex and gender: male/female, masculine/feminine. But both sex and gender are far more complicated than a binary system can account for.

In biological terms, what we boil down to the single word “sex” is actually made up of several different paramaters (e.g., genes, gonads, genitals, secondary sex characteristics like body hair and breasts, etc.) These factors are interrelated, but don’t always correlate with each other as we expect, and don’t always easily add up to an answer of “male” or “female.” Intersex is the most obvious example of this, but there’s also a tremendous among of variation in sexual characteristics between people who fit “typical” expectations of male or female sex, as we can plainly observe by huge differences in appearance (and specifically sexual development) between men or between women.

Gender is perhaps even more complicated than sex, with incredible variance in both gender identity and gender expression. We’re all assigned a gender at birth based on what our genitals look like, or are prematurely surgically altered to look like, as is sadly the case for some babies born intersex (trigger warning). But the gender we’re assigned at birth doesn’t always fit with our actual gender identity (i.e., some people are trans), and there are many people whose gender identity is nonbinary: neither male nor female, or not entirely one or the other. And in addition to gender identity (what we feel internally), gender expression (how we express our internal gender) also varies widely. Many cultures past and present have recognized this.

Perhaps Mark Driscoll doesn’t know – or doesn’t want to know – that gender variance is in the bible. The very same bible he quotes as evidence that humanity was created male and female features eunuchs – not just people who were castrated, but also people who in Jesus’ own words were born eunuchs – and others who challenged binary sex and gender categories. Peterson Toscano, creator and performer of the play Transfigurations, points to some of these examples:

(I’ll try to get a transcript of this up later.)

Of course, there’s a lot more wrong with Driscoll’s comments than the assumption of binarism (which, again, is widespread), and I’ll get to those and some of Morin’s criticisms of them in subsequent posts.


The “Sissy Boy” Experiment

Trigger warning for suicide, physical and emotional abuse, heterosexism, cissexism.

In the past couple days CNN’s Anderson Cooper has been reporting on the case of Kirk Murphy, who at the age of 5 was subjected to gender “therapy” intended to make him less effeminate and prevent him from becoming gay later in life. The graduate student who oversaw Kirk’s case was none other than George Rekers, the so-called expert on ex-gay therapy who was caught last year returning from vacation with a gay male escort.

Despite Rekers’ citing of Kirk in several publications as a successful example of eliminating gender variance in a child and preventing him from becoming gay as an adult,* Kirk did in fact identify as a gay man in adulthood. Sadly, he committed suicide at 38, which his family attributes to the “therapy” he received as a child, along with the fact that he never fully embraced his sexuality or had a committed relationship with another man.

CNN’s coverage is worth checking out (see video clips below), as is Box Turtle Bulletin’s excellent and comprehensive investigation into the professional and family contexts in which Kirk’s treatment and its aftermath unfolded.

Part 1

Part 2:

Part 3:


“Masculinity, a delicate flower”

I laughed when I read the above phrase, the title of a kind of absurd TIME article by Meredith Melnick on masculinity and male gender identity. It so perfectly captures the contradiction at the heart of patriarchal claims about masculinity. According to complementarians, masculinity is all about being strong, aggressive, independent, attracted to women (and only women), leading and protecting the “weak” (because proper men can’t possibly be weak and anyone who isn’t a man is by definition weak), rational, etc. All of these characteristics are supposed to be inclinations that come “naturally” to men – recall Mark Driscoll’s statement that “Men want to be men.”

At the same time, complementarians constantly obsess over whether men are behaving in a sufficiently “manly” fashion; no detail of appearance of behavior is too trivial for them to assign a proper gender to it (true story: I once heard a pastor say that canaries are not an appropriate pet for a real man). Any departure from conventional masculine gender expression is an “assault” on masculinity, and a disqualification from it. They’re constantly wringing their hands over the inadequacies of modern men, supposedly emasculated by feminism. Driscoll’s derisive claim that “Sixty percent of Christians are chicks, and the forty percent that are dudes are still sort of chicks” perfectly captures both complementarian anxieties about emasculation and complementarian contempt for women and “inadequate” men.

How resilient can such masculinity really be if it’s so easily disrupted? How confident can these men be  in their “natural” masculinity if they’re so easily emasculated? How rational is a masculinity that perceives pink nail polish as a threat to its integrity?

This kind of masculinity is the complete opposite of “natural.”  It’s a carefully orchestrated performance, a facade that must be constantly maintained (“gender role” is an apt phrase for it, come to think of it). The moment the act of manliness is dropped – or simply fails to be convincing – one ceases to be a “real” man. This explains complementarians’ ever-present anxiety over male gender expression and sexuality, and their constant need to vigorously demonstrate their “manliness” in these respects.

To wit, Mark Driscoll’s latest bizarre, exhibitionist assertion of his heterosexuality:

Mark Driscoll isn’t satisfied with condemning actual gay sex; he must also distance himself from anything that could be remotely construed as implying it, even harmless, meaningless Facebook memes. Mark Driscoll, despite being a 40 year old grown ass man, seems to think “poking” is a serious synonym for sex. And Mark Driscoll really needs you to know that he would never think the idea of “poking” another dude is anything other than gross. This and other public comments by Driscoll betray a terror of being perceived as anything other than 100% straight, a need to be ever vigilant against any and all associations with anything even kinda sorta maybe queer-ish. Even poking other men on Facebook. That’s mature, manly leadership for you.

Of course, this anxiety over gender and sexuality is hardly unique to complementarianism. This is another lie of patriarchal Christianity, i.e., the claim that its definition of real masculinity is “countercultural.” Nothing could be further from the truth. It’s merely one manifestation of the constant societal pressure that men and people perceived as male are under to “act like a man”:

Manhood is a social status, something a guy earned historically, through brutal tests of physical endurance or other risky demonstrations of toughness that mark the transition from boyhood to manhood. But while that masculinity is hard-won, it can be easily lost.

Once earned, men have to continue proving their worth through manly action. In modern society, that may no longer mean, say, killing the meatiest wooly mammoth, but there are equivalent displays of masculinity: earning a decent living or protecting one’s family. One misstep — losing a job, for instance, or letting someone down — and that gender identity slips away. (from the article linked above; Melnick makes some seriously problematic assumptions about gender identity and expression, but on this point she’s spot on).

Patriarchal fantasies like Driscoll’s Ultimate Fighting Jesus are merely less subtle, more overtly violent and misogynistic expressions of pervasive cultural associations of masculinity with aggression and dominance. Likewise, the perpetual vigilance with which complementarians police masculinity and indeed all gender identities mirrors broader cultural anxieties over and limitations on sexuality and gender expression. The phrase “no homo” is a secular example of this:

The sad and awful irony is that all this angst over acting real makes it remarkably difficult for men and people perceived as male to actually be real, i.e., authentic and true to themselves in their gender expression (and sexual expression as well, not only by making heterosexuality compulsory, but also by insisting that specific gender roles be observed in sexual encounters between men and women).

Far from encouraging realness in masculinity or any other gender identity, our society actually punishes people for being real. Even men who buy into the act are harmed by the severe limitations it places on their emotional expression and behavior, the impossible standards of godlike dominance and control it imposes on them, and the damage it wreaks on personal relationships. Such masculinity is by nature fragile and constantly under threat.


An Open Letter to SGMS [Guest Post]

Written by Max, a fellow Sovereign Grace escapee, and originally posted at Gender-NOS. Trigger warning for suicidality and eating disorders.

SGM Survivors or SGMS is one of the two main sites for former or questioning members of Sovereign Grace Ministries churches. It’s been a space for healing and recovery for many people, but as I’ve noted here before, there’s a lot of homophobia and transphobia in the comments, and it’s far from safe space for anyone who isn’t a straight, cisgender, conservative evangelical.


Dear Sovereign Grace Ministries Survivors:

I’m gay.

Yep. I’m gay, always have been, and not only that my lover and I have been together, in a committed and supportive relationship for almost seven years. We got married in October, 2009, in the city of Boston, Massachusetts.

Oh, before I go on I suppose I should offer some further explanation about who I am and why you should care, or at least pretend to care. On SGMS, I go by the handle of “platypus” now, on the rare occasions I still participate in discussion. I used to go by “prodigal daughter”, and in my earliest days I used my real name, T. M@lament. I’m Larry’s niece, actually, and my family attended CLC from ’94 to, I think, ’08. I stopped attending sometime in ’04, when I was eighteen. Actually, my attendance dropped off slowly from seventeen to eighteen as my depression got worse and CLC seemed determined to exacerbate it rather than offer any form of comfort or beneficial support. By the time I was eighteen I gave up the sham entirely and fully ceased attendance rather than apply for a membership I didn’t want and knew would be denied, anyway. I was too deep in my “sins” of mental illness: depression, anorexia nervosa, cutting myself.

It was also when I was eighteen that my parents, still loyal CLC members, found out about my girlfriend. I never had the luxury of coming out. I was intrusively found out – if the choice had been given, I never would have come out. I knew how it would go. Long story short, two weeks after being outed I was homeless, community-less, family-less. For the record, they do insist that this was all my choice since I “chose” to be gay and therefore “chose the consequences”… But that is definitely a matter of argument, and not one I’m going to tackle here.

I’ve been on SGMS since its very early days. In fact, I found the site about two or three months after its birth on wordpress (I think that was the original host? For some reason I’m blanking) by googling “SGM” and “cult”. Actually, I performed the search on a computer in the patients’ lounge where I was being treated inpatient for my anorexia. It was my sixth hospitalization, the others had been for suicide attempts and medical stabilization from anorexia complications.

When I found SGMS and started reading Kris’s first few posts (there were only seven or eight total, then), I couldn’t even type a comment of my own because I was shaking so hard. When I had to go back in for another session, I looked at my therapist and told her through tears, “I’m not alone any more. And I’m not crazy!”

SGMS became a hugely important part of my recovery as I found validation for all the things I’d experienced but forced to deny from years of gaslighting. I reconnected with people I hadn’t talked to in years, compared stories, realized I wasn’t, in fact, alone. Basically, I enjoyed all the great things that all the survivors get out of that community. It was amazing, and powerful, and I really believe it helped save my life.

The only problem, and it was actually a pretty big one, is that soon after starting to participate in discussions I realized that I’d left SGM, yes, but SGMS was not the safe haven I had initially believed. The people, while overall very welcoming and supportive to other survivors, by and large held to the same Christian, conservative, reformed views they always had. They were absolutely most supportive and sympathetic to survivors who still believed like them.

Often, I witnessed a commenter, hurting and scared and in need of an understanding ear, come on, share their story, and at some point reveal they had left Christianity along with SGM… Instead of the love and support they needed, they would be pushed to the fringes of the group discussion and “reminded of the savior’s love”. Encouraged to come back to the fold, not throw the baby out with the bath water. Really, non-Christians there receive the same allegedly well-intentioned shunning that those who question SGM’s practices are subject to.

Because of this, I didn’t reveal that I’ve left religion entirely and now identify as an atheist. I felt I had important things to add to the discussion and knew that if I outed myself my arguments would be discounted based solely on my differing beliefs. After witnessing constant, not always subtle jabs about ‘effeminacy’ and gender policing and other homophobia I also didn’t reveal my sexuality. I was forced to make the painful, self-betraying decision that I needed the support the group offered more than my dignity.

Now, I’ve come to the conclusion, after three years of participating with a practiced filter and hiding the truth in shame, that I can’t and won’t do it any more. I’ve been trying to think of a single succinct reason why, but an easy answer isn’t presenting itself. There are a number of reasons.

First, I’m speaking out because something the gay community has long known is it’s much easier to hate a faceless threat. If you know someone gay, it’s harder to maintain the lie that all homosexuals are perverts, deviants, a menace to all that is good and wholesome and straight. You’re forced to see us as real, normal, average people who you interact with every day and not just some abstract, monstrous concept who at least have the decency to hide their faces from civilized society.

Some of us are effeminate. Some of us are butch. Some fall in between or just don’t really give a shit how their gender manifests. Some sleep around and some, like me, have been in the same loving relationship since highschool. And yes, some of us (as has come up frequently on SGMS lately) sexually abuse children. But frankly, as far as that one goes?The number of gay people who sexually abuse children is far lower than that oheterosexual men. Statistically speaking, the greatest danger to your kids is your husband, ladies. And anyway, that’s really not my point so I don’t want to dwell on it, but it fucking needed to be said. That lie is probably the single most pernicious, dangerous, and disgusting stereotype ever to have been perpetuated against gays and yes, it makes me absolutely outraged.

The real point here is I want to challenge you. Open your eyes. Get your heads out of your asses and realize that lots of people have been seriously injured by SGM and just because they don’t all still think like you doesn’t mean they are in any less need, or are any less deserving, of support. It also doesn’t mean that they have less a right to participate in your discussions or that their  arguments are less valid or their points less intelligently made.

If you are truly a group for survivors then you should be willing to offer that support to anyone who bears the survivor label. Period. Simple. End of story.

If you don’t want that inclusivity, if you’d rather keep it safe and sanitized for others who still think like you, that’s honestly fine too – but maybe you need to do what you’re always trying to get SGM to do and come clean about it. Be frank about your intentions and your target audience. Don’t act like you’re better than those of us who have left the faith, or are gay, or do drugs, or are holding on to our bitterness and anger, or vote liberal.

Finally, a simple challenge to you. If you are truly concerned for any of us who fall into those aforementioned categories (or any others I didn’t think of) consider this: shunning us, making fun of us, or perpetuating lies about us, is not going to help us see the savior’s love and return to church. You may not want to hear this, but you are the exact same hideous animal as SGM. You’ve just managed to hide it a little better.

I’m not sure if I’ll be around on SGMS much from now on. Especially after the latest round of gay-bashing, I’m feeling nauseous. I wish you guys all the best in your recovery from SGM and thank you for what you have done for me, but I can’t fake it enough to be a part of your hate any more. I hope that you reconsider how you handle some of the issues that come up, because SGMS has truly been such a help to so, so many people, and there are so many others out there! The biggest reason I hope you amend your talk is them: how many people has SGM left for dead who will feel unable to find refuge in your community because they don’t fit?

Sincerely,

Platypus