Gender’s not just between the ears, and sex isn’t just between the legs

Originally intended to dispute the biology-is-destiny formulation, the distinction between sex and gender serves the argument that whatever biological intractability sex appears to have, gender is culturally constructed: hence, gender is neither the causal result of sex nor as seemingly fixed as sex. The unity of the subject is thus already potentially contested by the distinction that permits of gender as a multiple interpretation of sex.

If gender is the cultural meanings that the sexed body assumes, then a gender cannot be said to follow from a sex in anyone way. Taken to its logical limit, the sex/gender distinction suggests a radical discontinuity between sexed bodies and culturally constructed genders. Assuming for the moment the stability of binary sex, it does not follow that the construction of “men” will accrue exclusively to the bodies of males or that “women” will interpret only female bodies. Further, even if the sexes appear to be unproblematically binary in their morphology and constitution (which will become a question), there is no reason to assume that genders ought also to remain as two. The presumption of a binary gender system implicitly retains the belief in a mimetic relation of gender to sex whereby gender mirrors sex or is otherwise restricted by it. When the constructed status of gender is theorized as radically independent of sex, gender itself owes a free-floating artifice, with the consequence that man and masculine might just as easily signify a female body as a male one, and woman and feminine a male body as easily as a female one.

This radical splitting of the gendered subject poses yet another set of problems. Can we refer to a “given” sex or a “given” gender without first inquiring into how sex and/or gender is given, through what means? And what is “sex” anyway? Is it natural, anatomical, chromosomal, or hormonal, and how is a feminist critic to assess the scientific discourses which purport to establish such “facts” for us? Does sex have a history? Does each sex have a different history, or histories? Is there a history of how the duality of sex was established, a genealogy that might expose the binary options as a variable construction? Are the ostensibly natural facts of sex discursively produced by various scientific discourses in the service of other political and social interests? If the immutable character of sex is contested, perhaps this construct called “sex” is as culturally constructed as gender; indeed, perhaps it was always already gender, with the consequence that the distinction between sex and gender turns out to be no distincton at all.

It would make no sense, then, to define gender as the cultural interpretation of sex, if sex itself is a gendered category. Gender ought not to be conceived merely as the cultural inscription of meaning on a pregiven sex (a juridical conception); gender must also designate the very apparatus of production whereby the sexes themselves are established. As a result, gender is not to culture as sex is to nature; gender is also the discursive/cultural means by which “sexed nature” or “a natural sex” is produced and established as “prediscursive,” prior to culture, a politically neutral surface on which culture acts. This construction of “sex” as the radically unconstructed will concern us again in the discussion of Levi-Strauss and structuralism in chapter 2. At this juncture it is already clear that one way the internal stability and binary frame for sex is effectively secured is by casting the duality of sex in a prediscursive domain. This production of sex as the prediscursive ought to be understood as the effect of the apparatus of cultural construction designated by gender.

Judith Butler, Gender Trouble, pp 9-11

A Radical Reading of Galatians 3:25:29

Galatians 3:25-29

25 But now that faith has come, we are no longer subject to a disciplinarian, 26 for in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith. 27 As many of you as were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. 28 There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus. 29 And if you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to the promise.

I have seen the assertion that the identities so important in identity politics are subsumed by our identity in Christ. Someone is not a Jew, they are a child of God who is Jewish. Someone is not a slave, they are a child of God who is in bondage. Someone is not a woman, they are a child of God who is female. Someone is not black, they are a child of God who is of African descent. Someone is not gay, they are a child of God who is attracted to the same gender.

In the Kingdom of God, the ways in which we divide ourselves are overridden because we are in Christ who unites us.

But telling someone “there is no longer Jew nor Greek” does not lift the Roman boot sandal from the necks of the oppressed. Saying “there is no longer slave nor free” does nothing to change the fact that “Abraham’s offspring” is still held in the violence of slavery. Saying “there is no longer male nor female” does not erase the ways in which women are oppressed, othered and systematically devalued. Telling each of these “I don’t give credence to this class division” means that you don’t take seriously the ways in which the members of each class are oppressed.

Likewise, “There is no longer gay nor straight, there is no longer trans nor cis” doesn’t erase the experiences of the queer person whose life is at risk for simply being who they are. They cannot simply say “I’m not gay, I belong to Christ” and suddenly have the reality of their oppression disappeared.

The tendency amongst some to say that in Christ we move past our (previous) identities creates room to erase the experience of the oppressed and hides the need to work on the racism, sexism, heterosexism, transphobia that is at the root of the exclusion of many from having a voice in the Body of Christ. When straight, cis, white men appeal to “There is no longer,” then they run the risk of furthering violence against those who still are.

Paul can be read here as preaching the other side of Jesus’ first recorded sermon in Luke 4:18-19. Walter Brueggemann writes in The Prophetic Imagination (p. 84):

In Luke 4:18-19 he announces that a new age was beginning, but that announcement carries within it a harsh criticism of all those powers and agents of the present order. His message was to the poor, but others kept them poor and benefitted from their poverty. He addressed the captives (which means bonded slaves), but others surely wanted that arrangement unchanged. He named the oppressed, but there are never oppressed without oppressors.

His ministry carried out the threat implicit in these two fundamental announcements. The ministry of Jesus is, of course, criticism that leads to radical dismantling.

If he came to “let the oppressed go free” then he has also come to oppose the oppressor. If Jesus is setting the tone of his entire ministry by speaking to the oppressed, then Paul is speaking to those in the oppressing classes of their participation in the Kingdom of God. Paul is removing the ability of the oppressors to other the oppressed.

The voice of Paul here must be directed at the oppressor, not the oppressed. He must be saying to the men that they can no longer exclude and other women. He must be saying to the slave owner that the category of slave cannot exist in Christ, for if he is speaking to the oppressed, then he is simply allowing for the erasure of their oppression in the eyes of their oppressors. When straight or cis people say “I don’t see you as gay, I see you as my sister. I don’t see you as trans, I see you as my brother,” they don’t do anything to stand with the oppressed, rather they erase the oppressed, saying “The way you fit into my framework is more important than your lived experience.” If Paul is telling the slave “You are no longer a slave,” and not addressing the reality that this offspring of Abraham is held as property of another human, then Paul is not preaching a gospel of freedom for the oppressed, but a perverted gospel that ignores cries for freedom.

My Genderqueer Manifesto

The very first thing I want you to notice is that this is titled My Genderqueer Manifesto. It’s not The Genderqueer Manifesto nor even A Genderqueer Manifesto. This one is mine and no one else’s. Just like my gender(s). And like my gender, I reserve the right to modify it on a whim, to update it to reflect new knowledge, and for it to be completely nonsensical to those outside of my head. Modifications, updates, and other changes may (and likely will) be made without this document ever being updated.

I am genderqueer.

In that big QUILTBAG in which so many of us hang out, you can find me in the Q and the G. G for genderqueer. Q for queer. But not Q for questioning. I’m not questioning. I am the question. My life, my identity, my practices are a big fucking question mark, and I love it that way.

So what’s it mean when I say I’m genderqueer?

  • It means sure, I’m a guy. Except when I’m not.
  • It means sometimes I’m a girl too.
  • It means sometimes I’m neither, or both, or something else entirely.
  • It means I’m rarely a man, and even less often a woman.
  • It means that when I fix a car or build something that I don’t feel manly or like I’m living up to the gender that is assigned to me. It means I’m really more of a tomboy in those moments.
  • It means that I’m not crossdressing when you see me in skirts and makeup. I’m not wearing women’s clothes. I’m wearing my clothes, thank you very much.
  • It means you can refer to me as “he.” Or “she.” Or “ze.” Or any other personal pronoun you prefer. They’ll all be right enough, and I don’t mind any of them. Well, except maybe “it.”
  • It means that my beard is pretty and girly, at least when I want it to be.

So what does it not mean when I say that I’m genderqueer?

  • It does not mean that I want to start taking hormones or have my body surgically modified. Some genderqueer people do. That’s cool. It’s not for me.
  • It does not mean that I’m under any obligation to make my identity apparent to others. Most days I’ll be in slacks or jeans and a button down. You’ll likely not actively notice anything about my gender.
  • It does not have any bearing on my sexual orientation. I’m mostly attracted to women, and also to other genderqueer folks. I’m sometimes attracted to guys. None of that has anything to do with my gender identity nor with my gender expression. I’m just omnomsexual.1
  • It does not mean that I feel I was born in the wrong body. I fit my body perfectly. I am my body. My gender and my body are inseparable, but that doesn’t mean that I let others assignation of gender to my body limit me.

I notice that my expression of gender varies along with where I am on the extraversion/introversion spectrum. The more extraverted I am, the more stereotypically feminine I am likely to appear. The more introverted I am, the more stereotypically guy my appearance will be.

Usually.

But no matter my expression, I am always genderqueer.

Even when you can’t see my queerness, it is there. It is who I am. It is how I am. Forget that if you prefer. My queerness is not your responsibility, and it does not need your recognition. But forget it at the risk of failing to see and understand me.

Queer is a territory of tension, defined against the dominant narrative of white-hetero-monogamous-patriarchy, but also by an affinity with all who are marginalized, otherized and oppressed. Queer is the abnormal, the strange, the dangerous. Queer involves our sexuality and our gender, but so much more. It is our desire and fantasies and more still. Queer is the cohesion of everything in conflict with the heterosexual capitalist world. Queer is a total rejection of the regime of the Normal.

Toward The Queerest Insurrection

I refuse to let myself be managed and policed and limited by narrow, binary gender. I am both/and/neither/nor. I am “Yes, ma’am,” “Yes, sir,” and “I don’t know what to call you.”

I am a walking, talking, living, breathing question mark exploding every binary that tries to catch me.


1) Omnomsexual. adj. Involving, related to, or characterized by a sexual propensity for people who are nommy; of or involving sexual activity with a person or people who are nommy, or between individuals who are nommy.

I have a consent fetish

A couple of the fetishes on my FetLife fetish list are things like consent, yes means yes and only yes means yes. These are big deals to me. In fact, they’re probably my only dealbreaker fetishes. I suppose that makes consent the only true fetish I’ve got. It is the one thing I absolutely must have in order to play with someone.

Because of this consent fetish, there may be a long time between expressing interest in someone and actually playing with them. Before I can do anything, I have to feel comfortable that the consent that’s given is fully informed and enthusiastic. That means talking about what consent means to us, talking about what exactly we do and do not want to do, talking about values, desires, expectations, demands. It means making sure that consent is not just an absence of “no,” but the enthusiastic presence of “yes.”

This can make things complicated. It means I won’t play with anyone who can’t or won’t have an open, direct conversation about what they want and need. It means that if someone prefers to communicate in hints and flirtations to the exclusion of directness, we’re not going to be able to do anything together.

Consent, to me, is so much more than negotiating and honoring safewords. It’s about getting to a point where I trust the negotiations are free from coercion. It’s about trusting that if consent changes or is revoked in the midst of a scene, that such will be communicated.

I see a world around me in which consent is not valued. Some people are socialized to accept that things are taken from them and others are socialized to take. Some are told to never say “No” and others are told to never take “no” for an answer. Women are often expected to, among other things, rebuff sexual advances even if they welcome them, and to welcome them even if they do not want them. We’re surrounded by a million cultural forces telling us what we should do, bending our will. Because of this, consent is a goal to reach under quite strained circumstances. If I’m going to tie you up, spank you, set you on fire, fuck you or engage in any other such delights, I need to know that the “Yes” I get from you is a yes that you mean, not one that you have given under duress, or because you’re expected to, or because you just figure you oughta. That’s what I mean by “Only yes means yes.”

It often feels to me that, despite all the focus kinksters put on consent and negotiation, there’s very little addressing how to do those things without coercion. Kinky settings can often lead to an expectation of availability. Just look at how many submissive women have to say things like “I’m a submissive, not your submissive.” There’s an expectation amongst enough folks that if you’re at a party, at a munch, on FetLife, open about being kinky, that you’re fair game because, hey, you can always say “No,” right? None of that takes into account social pressures, the conditioning that some people have to say “Yes,” the subtle ways that people can be coerced, or the effects of an expectation of availability. That’s why I like “only yes means yes” as a starting point. It’s not enough that someone can say no, that they can reject advances, that they can use their safeword if they need to. A panic button isn’t enough for me to call a situation consensual.

So I may go slow. I’ll likely ask very specific questions. I’ll assume that if we come to a consensual arrangement, that the consent is specific to that time, that place and those specified activities. Instead of saying “If you’re not comfortable tell me, and we’ll stop,” I’ll say something like “Are you comfortable with insert specific thing?” and I’ll stop unless I get a clearly affirmative answer.

Some folks think that asking for permission isn’t sexy. I think that it’s what makes what comes next sexy. You know how many times I’ve asked “Can I kiss you?” I’ve not yet had anyone who didn’t appreciate being asked. You think it’s not sexy to get a bottom’s permission before each new thing? You whisper in someone’s ear “I want to do X to you. Do you want that?” and have them repeat back to you what they want you to do and then tell me that’s not hot.

I spent most of my formative young adult years in an emotionally abusive relationship. I had to learn a lot of this shit the hard way, and I know I hurt some folks along the way in doing so. This is what it takes for me to be happy. This is what it takes for me to trust that someone’s yes is undoubtedly a yes. This is the best understanding I can get of what it means to negotiate the things we do when we live in a world infused at every turn by patriarchy, by kyriarchy. I love playing with power, but when power is so unbalanced in the world, and so abused, it takes a very serious, deep approach to consent for me to play with power in a safe, useful, respectful and feminist way.

Things I’ve been reading, early November edition

It’s been a while since I’ve done one of these, so this is going to be long. There’s lots of good stuff here, though, on a number of topics.

An Outlaw’s Theology

I lose my voice! I lose it because my witness and story are not heard. All my life, it is my voice that conveys my story. Deep from within me, it is my distinct, personal, intimate power of expression. Upon it ride the images and imaginations of my spiritual beliefs, all my hopes and dreams, all facts and truths as I know them and as they live through me. I am baffled, because now I have no voice.

This is not hyperbole. I am not speaking allegorically. I intend no metaphor. One moment I turn to you, my juror, and weave my life story into and throughout yours. About the atrocities of the Vietnam War and the crimes of our government, I speak clearly. My voice is passionate. I expose the sufferings of innocents: skin burning alive with napalm. My voice is truthful: classmates, friends, cousin, and kin, my whole generation, lied to and betrayed by elected officials. My voice is hopeful: “Pacem in Terris,” Peace on earth declares my spiritual leader, Pope John XXIII, and so I declare “Peace!” My voice is confessional: I am just one guy–reaching out in despair, frustration, anger, almost hopeless, but then not–with gritty hope I act as best I can. When the leaders no longer listen, then words are not enough. The draft raid is my way of speaking, “Peace!”


Ears of Stone

It was quite acceptable to talk “politics.” There was at least a nascent sense that the war was intolerable, granted the American system and its “normal” workings. One gained this small leverage. But the fact that the war might be inconsistent with the words and example of Christ, that killing others was repugnant to the letter and spirit of the Sermon on the Mount–this was too much: it turned living ears to stone.


Breaking of the Bridesmaids: a parable for patience, justice and Occupy protests

I begin this way only because our understanding of this text has become so ingrained that it is difficult to think of the story in any way other than a cautionary, apocalyptic tale about the return of Jesus.


Can I worship to this song? Poetics and Process

Being a theologian who loves music can be tricky in the current worship culture. I find myself thinking “can I sing this song with integrity?”

I take worship pretty seriously so I just don’t have the luxury to ‘turn my brain off’ or ‘turn a blind eye’ to the content of the songs that we sing as a congregation. I can’t do what some of my peers do and say with a shrug “these are simply the songs that we sing and that is just the way it is – don’t get too worked up about it or put too much thought into it.” It’s just not possible with my personality and passions.


Women’s boxing split as governing body suggests skirts

During last year’s World Championships, the Amateur International Boxing Association (AIBA) presented competitors with skirts, rather than the usual shorts, which it wanted to “phase in for international competitions”.

AIBA asked boxers to trial the skirts, which they said would allow spectators to distinguish them from men, but at last week’s European Championships in Rotterdam only two nations – Poland and Romania – had taken on the alternative outfits.

Poland Boxing actually took it a step further and made it compulsory for their boxers to wear skirts, saying they are more “elegant”.

“By wearing skirts, in my opinion, it gives a good impression, a womanly impression,” Poland coach Leszek Piotrowski told BBC Sport. “Wearing shorts is not a good way for women boxers to dress.


Lost Boys: New child-sex-trafficking research demolishes the stereotype of the underage sex worker

Most astonishing to the researchers was the demographic profile teased out by the study. Published by the U.S. Department of Justice in September 2008, Curtis and Dank’s findings thoroughly obliterated the long-held core assumptions about underage prostitution:

  • Nearly half the kids — about 45 percent — were boys.
  • Only 10 percent were involved with a “market facilitator” (e.g., a pimp).
  • About 45 percent got into the “business” through friends.
  • More than 90 percent were U.S.- born (56 percent were New York City natives).
  • On average, they started hooking at age 15.
  • Most of them serviced men — preferably white and wealthy.
  • Most deals were struck on the street.
  • Almost 70 percent of the kids said they’d sought assistance at a youth-service agency at least once.
  • Nearly all of the youths — 95 percent — said they exchanged sex for money because it was the surest way to support themselves.

In other words, the typical kid who is commercially exploited for sex in New York City is not a tween girl, has not been sold into sexual slavery, and is not held captive by a pimp.

Nearly all the boys and girls involved in the city’s sex trade are going it alone.


In which some guys do not want to kill stuff at mens’ ministry

I’ve always avoided men’s ministry. I find it almost impossible to believe I share common ancestry with the guys who are into mixed martial arts and anything else that involves beating the hell out of another human being. Tying MMA into a sermon is as incompatible with Christianity as comparing following Jesus with soldiers attacking an enemy combatant.

Men’s ministry lacks metaphors and activities for guys like me. I was the last guy picked for anything involving sports. I opted for the tiny barbells at the gym. It took me years to forgive my college roommate for tackling me “just for the fun of it.” I’m not an aggressive guy. If you’re the kind of guy wondering, “Could I take this guy?” The answer most certainly is: yes.

When we moved to a new home in Columbus, OH this month, one of my first purchases was a bunch of pansies for the front porch. I also spend my evenings hanging in the living room with my wife and our house rabbits. I feel like that says quite enough about me.

My penchant for pansies aside, I generally find that I exist in a separate universe from the “men’s ministry” dudes who use fighting, military, wrestling, and weight-lifting metaphors for the Christian walk or plan events around aggressive activities.


Do not resent, do not react, keep inner stillness

When I was in seminary I had the great blessing of becoming the spiritual son of a Greek bishop, Bishop Kallistos of Xelon. He ended his life as the bishop of Denver of the Greek Archdiocese. It was he who taught me the Jesus Prayer. The whole spiritual vision of Bishop Kallistos had three very simple points.

  • Do not resent.
  • Do not react.
  • Keep inner stillness.

These three spiritual principles, or disciplines, are really a summation of the Philokalia, the collection of Orthodox Christian spiritual wisdom. And they are disciplines every single one of us can practice, no matter where we are in life – whether we’re in the monastery or in school; whether we’re housewives or retired; whether we’ve got a job or we’ve got little kids to run after. If we can hold on to and exercise these three principles, we will be able to go deeper and deeper in our spiritual life.


A Sense of Owingness

I can think of myself as an empty container of freedom, as a sovereign who exists prior to my entanglements with others, but this is a paltry and ghost-like self. The person who matters is the one who is son, father, husband, cousin, son-in-law, friend, and each of those roles limits my ability to do just whatever I want, whenever. As son, I owe piety; as husband, I owe fidelity; as father, I owe gentle instruction; as friend, I owe loyalty. Consequently, I am what I am in virtue of the responsibilities I bear. Insofar as I matter as a person, I am constituted not by sovereignty, but by what I owe. And only by knowing what I owe to others do I know who I am and what I’m for; ignorance of owing is to be devoid of a self.

If this is true, then the ability to cultivate a sense of owingness is to become a real human being, a free human being. But almost every bit of our cultural life is stacked against our developing this sense, and so we are deaf and dumb about what matters most.


Writing for “that chick blog” on Gender and the Gospel

And so it was to a community wrestling with what it looked like to enact the Great Commission and bring the Gospel message to both Jew and Gentile that Paul wrote these revolutionary words.

“There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” (Galatians 3:28)

This is not of course to suggest some sort of Gnostic erasing of gender or ethnicity. But for Paul it was central to the very message of the Gospel that the people of God now includes Jew and Gentile, and male and female, on equal footing.

So then part of faithfully proclaiming that Gospel is proclaiming to the people of God that gender, social class, and ethnicity do not define who God can use and how he can use them.


“What Is Process Theology” by Marjorie Hewitt Suchocki (pdf)

Well, some nuts are hard to crack, but try this: Process theologies are relational ways of thinking about the dynamism of life and faith. Process-relational theologians integrate implications of a thoroughly interdependent universe into how we live and express our faith. We are convinced that everything is dynamically interconnected; that everything matters; that everything has an effect. Such insights can be adapted to many faith traditions, but this particular booklet applies them to Christian faith.


#1 King Jesus Gospel Question

Our responsibility is not to persuade, or to convince, or to defend. Our responsibility is to be a “witness.”


Why Men Should Not Be Pastors

8. Their physical build indicates that men are more suited to tasks such as chopping down trees and wrestling mountain lions. It would be “unnatural” for them to do other forms of work.

6. Men are too emotional to be priests or pastors. This is easily demonstrated by their conduct at football games and watching basketball tournaments.


This is the face of obesity

This is the face of obesity.

I am 5’7” and I weigh 235 pounds. This puts me well into the obese category. I’d need to lose another 40 pounds to be classified as “overweight” by standard BMI calculations.

This picture was taken after I had just spent five hours hiking a rugged 8 miles around Lake Vesuvius in southeastern Ohio.


I’m Religious, Not Spiritual
While I’m not Orthodox enough to hold to everything the author writes, his understanding of the holiness of the body is amazing.

Thus, if we will be like Jesus, we must fully inhabit our bodies and not descend to some Gnostic pretense that we are above our bodies, fallen though they are. Our bodies are not–as is too often and too regrettably preached at Christian funerals–mere containers housing our spirits, which are “set free” at our death to be with God. No, we are our bodies, our bodies house the Holy Spirit and are therefore themselves holy.