NaBloPoMo Day 27: I spent the time I would ordinarily be writing dealing with some unexpected snafus at home, so here’s a video :p From a series from Basic Rights Oregon highlighting LGBT families of color.
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.
I’m participating in National Blog Posting Month – which means I’m aiming to post at least once a day for the month of November. Most of these will be my posts, but there’ll also be a few guest bloggers, which I’m really excited about!
AWH Reader Faith has generously shared some of her writing on growing up trans and Christian, and her Christian faith now as a transsexual woman. This is the first of two posts. – Grace
Like most of these notes, this one was triggered by a question. “Why didn’t you transition sooner?” There are all kinds of reasons (excuses) I could give, but here’s the real reason: I wasn’t a woman until recently. OMG! Did she just say that out loud? Transsexual heresy! o_0
OK, pick your jaw up off the floor and listen for a few minutes. I wasn’t able to be a woman until I grew up. Long before I was a woman I was a little girl. I craved approval, others’ opinions of me were much more important to me than what I thought of myself. Actually I didn’t have much of an opinion about me apart from what others said about me. My self worth was mostly controlled by my parents, teachers, and peers. I was terrified of conflict, I never wanted to disagree with anyone or have them feel that I was in the wrong. I learned fairly young that being a girl was something that I should only do secretly. Playing the boy everybody told me I was kept me out of conflict and sheltered me from at least some disapproval.
But the little girl kept dreaming and praying and wishing she would grow up to be a woman. As her body changed and betrayed her, she retreated into a fantasy world where she was somehow magically transformed into a beautiful woman (who, crazy as it sounds, could build a mean racing engine). On the outside, she tried to fit into the role that was expected but she wasn’t very good at it. And how could she be? A little girl is not able to be a man, even if she can grow a foot-long beard.
Years went by, and the little girl told her secret to her brother who she trusted more than anyone else in the world. Rejected! God, how that hurt! But we don’t grow without pain, and even though I didn’t know it at the time I was starting to grow up. The hurt healed, and I grew into the new freedom and responsibility I had thrust upon me. At 35, it was way past time for this girl to grow up!
Like kittens always grow up to be cats, when little girls grow up they become women. This woman didn’t care what people thought about her, she cared what God thought about her. She learned that with God’s help she was able to do anything God called her to do. This woman was no longer willing to live a lie in order to win approval and avoid conflict.
Growing up to be a woman was painful at times, but now that I’m grown up I can see that it had to be this way. Without that pain the little girl would have been a desperate fantasy in a dark basement instead of growing up to be a real live woman with the sun on her shoulders, the wind in her hair, and joy in her soul.
Trigger warning for rape, heterosexist/misogynist violence.
NewBlackMan has a moving essay by Aishah Shahidah Simmons, aka AfroLez, on how she came to terms with her sexuality and why she’s vocal about her identity as a black lesbian. The conclusion includes a powerful reminder of how much progress has yet to be made towards equality, even with the most recent gain of marriage equality in New York state. We still have work to do to make sure queer and trans people of color, low income queer and trans people, and others also achieve equality:
There’s marriage equality for all in NY, and yet for so many of us who are Queer identified, we’re still not safe and protected. I believe EVERYONE, regardless of their sexual orientation, who wants to get married, should have the right to get married. At the same time, I don’t want to have to get married to have rights and privileges, which should be made available to everyone, regardless of their marital status.I celebrate this Marriage Equality victory while not losing sight that the battle is SO far from being over that it’s not even funny.
Just ask my Black Lesbian sisters (The New York Four) who are (unjustly and inhumanely) incarcerated for protecting themselves against sexist and homophobic violence perpetuated against them in the (safe, White) queer friendly Village… You can read Imani Henry’s poignant 2007 essay.
This is one of many countless examples of the ongoing assaults on Queer people of Color throughout NY and across the country… Just ask or check in with The Audre Lorde Project or Queers for Economic Justice, to name two radical and revolutionary NY-based Queer organizations. Also the recently released Queer (In)Justice The Criminalization of LGBT People in the United States by Joey Mogul, Andrea Ritchie, and Kay Whitlock is groundbreaking, sobering, and a must read (Queer Injustice).
Trigger warning: rape/sexual assault.
You know, sometimes I feel like I’m exaggerating the awfulness of what I was taught about sex, like it couldn’t possibly be as bad as I feel it was. After all, in addition to all the warnings about premarital sex, I did also hear a lot about how sex is a beautiful gift from God to married couples, and how married people have the best sex (in retrospect, this is kind of a weird thing for married adults to be discussing with teenagers y/y?).
Maybe the fact that I had trouble with sex when I got married has more to do with personal and family hangups than it did with anything I learned at church. Maybe I’m assigning blame unfairly. Then again . . .
h/t Jesus Needs New PR (warning for some potentially fatphobic language).
Then I watch clips like this, and remember that this bullshit is EXACTLY what I was taught. That I’d be dirty and used up and unwanted if I had sex. I remember, and I start to think it’s a fucking miracle that I ever managed to have sex with my husband at all.
Small bloody wonder so many evangelical couples find the transition into marital sexuality awkward and even traumatic. How are you supposed to literally change your perspective on sex overnight? Sex one night before your wedding makes you like a germy piece of candy or a cup of spit, but one night after your wedding is a beautiful and glorious gift from God? What about the couples who buy into Joshua Harris’s ridiculous standard of saving their first kiss for their wedding day (seriously!)? How can a couple entering marriage with virtually no experience with being physically affectionate possibly be expected to navigate such a transition without major issues?
These kinds of teachings set couples up for lousy sex lives, which make for not so great marriages. Cis women in particular bear the brunt of teachings that they are being used and besmirched if they have sex, and many can’t magically shut off the effects of years of indoctrination. They aren’t going to feel any less used just because they’re married to the person they’re having sex with. They aren’t suddenly going to feel like their sexual desire or their husband’s sexual desire is any more legitimate than it was before they got married.
Abstinence advocates will say that they aren’t talking about married sex, of course. Just premarital sex – oh, and all non-hetero sex, and masturbation, and any sex involving trans or genderqueer people. Kids just need to remember that only hetero cis married sex is clean and safe, and everything else is dirty and perverted. Well. The problem there – apart from the big, hopefully obvious one of treating something almost all humans do as shameful and wrong in all of its forms but one – is that it’s very difficult to make such a statement not come across as a blanket condemnation of sexual activity (perhaps because, um, it basically is). The message people hear is that any sexual contact or activity is polluting and degrading, and the intense emphasis on maintaining virginity reinforces this powerfully. A few words here and there about how beautiful marital sex is doesn’t dilute the impact of that message. If virginity is a state of purity and self-control, then sexual activity – whether in marriage or not – is implicitly coded as impure and indulgent.
And as many survivors have attested, these teachings are incredibly damaging to people who have been raped or sexually assaulted. The abstinence movement’s concept of virginity is framed entirely around the notion of “purity” or “impurity” of the body and the mind. A virgin body is one that is untouched and unsullied: an unwrapped piece of candy, a rose with all its petals. A virgin mind is “innocent” – which often is a euphemism for “ignorant” – of sexuality. Whether sexual contact or knowledge is freely chosen or imposed on someone is immaterial in such a framework. Coerced sexual contact doesn’t make one any less of a chewed up piece of gum. Survivors of sexual abuse from evangelical or fundamentalist families often feel used, guilty, and worthless because they are no longer “virgins” or “pure” – and they are often treated that way by Christian loved ones and fellow church members. For example:
I had a good friend in college who had to gather a lot of courage to tell her serious boyfriend that she was not a virgin because she had been raped as a teenager. Her boyfriend then went on a tirade about how he thought he was getting something new but it turns out she was “used merchandise” and thus she cheated him. She went on to marry this guy. I still hate him.
I hope it’s been clear that my point isn’t to belittle people who choose not to have sex before marriage. That’s a legitimate choice to make. The point is that the way the professional abstinence movement frames virginity, premarital sex, and sexuality in general is deceitful and dangerous. It relies on shaming tactics and misinformation, and promotes an unhealthy, negative attitude about sexualities and bodies. And it’s not just wrong in the abstract; it’s not just a movement with terrible ideas. It has far-reaching, negative consequences for basically everyone who’s exposed to it unarmed with accurate information.
Happy New Year, all! One goal I’d love to make a reality this year is to have some guest posts and perhaps some regular guest or co bloggers on AWH. If you’re interested, please drop me a line in the comments here, on Twitter (@graceishuman), or over email: arewomenhuman2 at gmail dot com .
Posts from anyone are welcome on pretty much any topic related to religion and issues of justice and oppression. However, as another one of my goals for the year is to have a broader discussion of gender and sexuality issues in Christianity (rather than just focusing on straight marriages and cis girls/women), I’d especially love to have some guest posts from trans women,people of non-binary gender, cis or trans men, and asexual, LGB, or queer identified people. Anonymous posts are welcome, too.
Speaking of which – a friend and fellow SGM refugee has started an excellent blog on (among other things) growing up a female assigned genderqueer person in evangelicalism. Check it out: Gender – NOS.
As I was writing the previous post, I kept wondering if I was being overly harsh in comparing mainstream conservative Christians to Fred Phelps – who is, after all, universally disliked, unbelievably odious, and, in my opinion, downright evil. The man is by all accounts a controlling, angry, and extremely abusive husband and father, who has brainwashed his family into thinking he is practically God, and who believes some very strange and dangerous things (the documentary Fall From Grace gives a pretty chilling picture of Phelps and the WBC – also on Netflix streaming. If you’re beginning to think that everything I watch is on Netflix instant watch, you’re not too far off).
Obviously not all conservative Christians are like Phelps in these respects – and I’d venture to say most are not. Most have good intentions – like most people in general. Many conservative Christians I know are loving parents and spouses, good neighbors, great friends. So I’ve been pondering whether the comparison was hyperbolic, or unkind, and pondering how it would come across to the people in my life – friends, family, all of whom I love, many of whom are lovely people whom I trust and respect – who are conservative Christians.
When I criticize conservative Christians and their beliefs, I’m not claiming that they are all or mostly evil people, nor do I believe that. That goes for any major demographic, really. But I hesitated to add a bunch of disclaimers about how Christians can be nice people to my previous post, because I didn’t want to water down the power of my point.
On further thought, I think this is actually quite an important point to address. In way it’s the central point: good people can, despite good intentions and sincere beliefs, despite doing much good in most other aspects of their lives, believe and say things that have horrible, awful implications. They can do terrible things that have devastating effects on others without intending to. Hardly anyone is mostly or all bad, much less consciously or deliberately evil; most people, I believe, are just trying to do their best to live decent lives. Most people don’t set out to do evil. Yet hardly any of us manages to avoid doing or enabling evil in one way or another.
Fred Phelps hates gay people. He makes no secret of that. While there are mainstream conservative Christians in this country who share his overt, conscious hatred of gay people, not all do. Probably most don’t. Many truly believe they are being loving by telling LGB people their orientations or lifestyles are wrong, by opposing marriage equality, etc.. But people don’t have to be conscious of hatred (or fear, contempt, self-loathing, and any number of other emotions that can fuel homophobia) for their beliefs about and actions towards LGB people to be hateful.
When I say conservative Christian beliefs on homosexuality are no different from Fred Phelps’, I’m not talking about the conscious intention behind those teachings. I’m talking about their implications. Their practical, real-world effects.
This is how oppression works. Systemic oppression cannot be sustained without the complicity of otherwise good people – through beliefs, actions, and inaction. And it cannot be sustained without the myths about human nature and behavior we buy into as a culture. We pretend that only bad people do evil things, and that it’s really easy to spot such people – as if there were some obvious marker distinguishing evil people from good. We desperately want to believe these things, because the reality that we’re all capable of doing and enabling evil is frightening, and requires that we scrutinize ourselves more closely than we’d like.
We all want to believe we’re good people who do good things, myself included; that’s understandable. But the idea that “those people” over there are the real bad people, and we’re all good, is an incredibly dangerous one. It’s what allows systemic injustice and inequity to survive and flourish.
This is what Christians who are puzzled and offended by accusations of homophobia and comparisons to people like Fred Phelps need to understand. Sure, it’s a good thing that you don’t picket funerals or scream at people about how they’ll suffer an eternity of torment in hell. But in the grand scheme of things, your beliefs about LGB people aren’t made any less harmful or hateful by the fact that they don’t act on them the way Westboro Baptist does. Your beliefs still fuel homophobic speech and behavior, and enable and support wide-scale denial of rights to LGB people. This is why claims that you “love the sinner and hate the sin” ring hollow. The implications and effects of your beliefs are not loving.
And really, this is what anyone called out for enabling oppression of any kind needs to understand. Being called out is not a comment on who you are. It’s not a comment on your intentions. It’s a comment on what you said, and what you did. We’re all capable of doing and saying things that support and even promote oppression without intending to do so, and without being evil. It’s unjust and enabling of oppression to demand that people evaluate us based on what we intend and not on the actual, tangible effects of what we do.