Thursday, June 27, 2013

sex without bodies: a response

There's nothing more illuminating than reading a piece of writing that you partially agree with--and partially vehemently disagree with. It throws into sharp relief those assumptions which inform and shape your own opinion, and the differing assumptions which inform and shape the author's. It becomes very clear where you agree--and just where you begin to diverge.

Andy Crouch's piece in Christianity Today, "Sex Without Bodies: the church's response to the LGBT movement must be that matter matters" is one of those pieces for me.

Crouch begins with an acknowledgment of the multiplicity and plasticity of human sexualities--the coalition of "LGBT" people is a coalition, not a monolith, and, as he notes, the increasing augmentation of this acronym to include "Q," "I," and "A" people is an indication of just how fluid expressions of human sexuality can be. And this doesn't even begin to consider the ways in which gender identity intersects with sexual expresssion in all sorts of ways: we simply can't take for granted that having a body part = gender identity.
So far, so good. 

And here's the part where I got lost:
There is really only one conviction that can hold this coalition of disparate human experiences together. And it is the irrelevance of bodies—specifically, the irrelevance of biological sexual differentiation in how we use our bodies... What unites the LGBTQIA coalition is a conviction that human beings are not created male and female in any essential or important way. What matters is not one's body but one's heart—the seat of human will and desire, which only its owner can know. 
On the contrary: it is precisely the relevance of the disparate, varied, multiplicity of human bodies that holds this coalition together. And here is that crucial point of divergence, which undergirds my disagreement with the rest of the piece.

Having diagnosed the LGBT+ movement as claiming "body-irrelevance," Crouch turns to the theological prescription for the church's response--that "matter matters."

And, oh my yes, matter matters. Amen and amen, but how? How does it matter?

It's worth quoting at length here:
Christians will have to choose between two consistent positions. One, which we believe Christians who affirm gay and lesbian unions will ultimately have to embrace, is to say that embodied sexual differentiation is irrelevant—completely, thoroughly, totally irrelevant—to covenant faithfulness. 
The proof text for this view will be that in Christ, there is neither male nor female. And as with all readings based on proof texts, upholding it will require openly discarding a vast expanse of other biblical material, the many biblical voices (including Jesus') that affirm and elucidate the significance of male-and-female creation. 
As this view gains traction in our culture, the created givenness of bodies must give way to the achievement of ascertaining, announcing, and fulfilling one's own internally discerned desires, with no normative reference to the body one happens to inhabit. It is no accident that as normative sexuality has been redefined, from an essentially exterior reality uniting male and female bodies to an essentially interior reality expressing one's heart, the charges of bigotry have been heard more fiercely against those who hold the traditional Christian view. How dare we Christians speak against any person's heart? 
The unspoken assumption at work in the above paragraphs is simply that to have a certain body means, always, to be a certain kind of human person, that is, a man or a woman. Because this assumption goes unacknowledged and unexamined, the conclusion is that people who want to break out of this gender essentialism must be actively ignoring their own bodies as irrelevant.

But the assumption that having a certain body means being either a man or a woman is (ironically, given the argument here), based on actively ignoring the particulars of the human bodies that surround us. There are so many people whose bodies, if we just paid sufficient attention to them, belie these binary gender categories that essentialists project onto them.

Taking embodiment seriously--really seriously--means understanding that biology is not Nature. "Nature" is a social concept, mapped onto our biology. There's nothing about having a womb that guarantees some sort of "womanly nature." There's nothing about having a penis that guarantees some sort of "manly nature." We learn these things as ways of interpreting our bodies but, crucially, they don't always fit the bodies we have. And so we do indeed face a choice--between denying bodily reality, or questioning the categories we've inherited that just don't do justice to reality.

For goodness sake, I've got a womb and a vagina and lactating--hell, leaky!--boobs, I've given birth "naturally" twice over, and I don't fit my church's notion of what a real woman is. Why? Because I think it's just fine to take this female body up to the pulpit and preach from it. My kind of body clearly can't do that. Except, y'all, that it can. And has. And insisting that it can't is a willful denial of actual embodied reality.

It's not the LGBTQIA folks who think bodies are irrelevant. It's those of us who think that having a certain body part--or not--is determinative for who you are, and who you can love, and what you can do with your body, and that those options can be neatly divided into A) male and B) female.

Yes, the church's response must be that "matter matters." But that means looking at human bodies in all their variety and specificity, and having the eyes to see the ways those bodies defy the gender essentialism we've been taught to see in their place.

1 comment:

Sarah Moon said...

Yes! Great response to that piece!