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June 22, 2011

Born this wayLast Saturday I posted my latest article at Wheat & Tares: The shortsighted wrongheadedness of LGBT activism. I will admit I was trying to draw people in with such a provocative title (…after all, what do most people mean when they try to say LGBT activism is wrongheaded?) when really I was coming at the topic with a quite different (yet I believe, still controversial) criticism…namely that of queer theoretical critiques of the tendency for many LGBT activists to adopt strategic essentialism in their campaigning.

To summarize, from other social theoretical fields are derived certain problems with “essentializing” certain concepts. E.g., what is a woman? Is a woman a construct or is there something essential to a woman? What is blackness? Is there something “essential” to delineate whether someone is black or not?

There are theorists in each case who work hard to establish that these concepts are constructed…and so the constructs can be deconstructed as well. And yet, in some LGBT activism, you hear arguments that people just are that way. In other words, some people are essentially gay (and there is a gay essence for some people to either have or not have anyway).

And that’s kinda where I was going there.

(And I’ll have to admit that I have Alan from MSP to thank for even introducing me to this way of thinking…although I’m sure he’ll point out that I’ve done a terrible job understanding it.)

Anyway, one issue of the deconstruction problem is that it seems oftentimes unintuitive. How can one undo gender, for example? It seems like even if one finds out certain exceptions and problems, the exceptions prove certain rules.

In the case of orientation, it does seem that, yes, some people are straight, and some people are gay, and some people are bi, etc., It seems that there are men and women for all of this to happen.

That’s why the New York Times article My Ex-Gay Friend was really interesting to me.

Michael Glatze, ex-gay?

Michael Glatze, ex-gay?

See, it wasn’t just the idea that someone could change his or her sexuality. (There are issues with the research about that. What does it mean to be ex-gay? Does it mean to be straight? Does it mean to have no feelings of sexual attraction at all? Does it simply mean to have a kind of celibacy where one’s feelings are kept under ‘control’?) It wasn’t even really that Glatze went from one polar extreme to another. (I see a lot of people doing that in a lot of contexts…to the extent that I can really believe that polar opposites are actually similar to each other than they might expect.)

Rather, it was the details about his history, some of his methods, and the light it cast (in some respects) on the constructionist/essentialist concepts.

Very early on, the writer of the New York Times article writes something interesting:

While I was busy trying to secure a boyfriend, [Michael] was busy contemplating queer theory, marching in gay rights rallies and urging young people to celebrate (not just accept) their same-sex attractions.

The way my W&T article was framed, it portrayed many LGBT activists as just wanting acceptance (for the gay persons) or tolerance (from non-gay people surrounding). But a queer theoretical argument would argue for celebration, in a way.

The article has another quote that really kind of touches on the same issue:

It all sounded very much like the Michael I knew at XY, a young man who was fascinated by queer theory — namely, the idea that sexual and gender identities are culturally constructed rather than biologically fixed — and who dreamed of a world without labels like “straight” and “gay,” which he deemed restrictive and designed to “segment and persecute,” as he argued in a 1998 issue of XY. Though he conceded back then that it was important “to stay unified under a ‘Gay’ political umbrella” until equality for gays and lesbians had been achieved, Michael preferred to label himself queer.

As Ben and I reminisced, I couldn’t help wondering if Michael’s new philosophy might, in a strange way, be a logical extension of what he believed back then — that “gay” is a limiting category and that sexual identities can change. Ben nodded. “A radical queer activist and a fundamentalist Christian aren’t always as different as they might seem,” he said, adding that they’re ideologues who can railroad over nuance and claim a monopoly on the truth.

That second paragraph, with the author’s wondering, was what really intrigued me about the article. To a certain point, yes, if one takes a view of sexuality as cultural constructed, then categorizing oneself in one identity or another is limiting.

…and yet, I was faced again with the problem of the intuitiveness of essentialism. For all the cultural construction, it doesn’t seem like one can just step out of the culture. It seems that one’s feelings of attraction are deeper within than culture. (Then again, I have some things to say about that from a race perspective [I know too many people who innocently say, “I’m just not attracted to black people” as if such a racial valuation of attractiveness is essential and immutable as well], but that’s another topic.) So, even if we want to find sexual orientation constructed, does that mean we will start feeling differently about our attractions?

A previous part of the article struck me here:

When [Michael] did feel an erotic pull toward another man, he said he tried to “sit with it and unpack it,” a technique he learned during a stint at a Buddhist retreat, where he went after leaving San Francisco. (Michael, who meditated regularly for a couple of years, said he was asked to leave the community for “talking too much about the Bible.”) “I observed it instead of just acting on it, and I began to see it as an aspect of my own brokenness, not as my identity,” he said. “The more I did that, the less I felt the desire,” he went on, adding that he has never undergone reparative therapy or attended an ex-gay ministry.

It seems to me that Buddhism is somewhat popular with a lot of secular types of people (at least, around the secular ex- and not-quite-believing Mormon circles I hang out around [which is admittedly not that representative of a sample])…and I’ve looked a little bit at some Buddhist ideas…and I’ve been somewhat put off.

I talk a lot about authenticity here and elsewhere. I like to believe that certain feelings one may have are a roadmap to what he or she ought to be doing. My ideas of autheticity are centered around, I suppose, a certain individual essentialism. My dispositions to a certain subject are deepseated, and I can’t so easily consciously change them.

…and yet, from a Buddhist perspective, such things are anatta/anatman, or “not self.” While my ego wants to cling to these things — and have “me” identify with these things as if they are me — but with training and practice, I could theoretically come to see all of these things as being “not me,” and thus let them pass away. And, at least theoretically, through this process I would be liberated from the suffering related to false consciousness.

To hear of someone like Glatze doing that with his own sexual orientation is a bit jarring to me, and yet, I still can’t help but feel like it is an idea that would be quite attractive in deconstructing social constructs. On the one hand, I want to imagine that sexual orientation ties in with one’s “most authentic self,” but this other New York Times article points out the difficulties with this.

These things swirl around ideas of free will and choice. John G-W wrote a bit about these things with respect to the same NY Times article.

  1. Identities — obviously to me — are unstable and socially constructed.

    I guess the big question over which Christian conservatives and the gay community and supporters are fighting is, To what extent are drives/desires socially constructed?

    And I guess we should unpack that a bit further… Are drives and desires the same thing?

    I am certain that there are certain kinds of desires that are most definitely socially constructed. If it were not true, companies would not invest billions of dollars in marketing.

    It also seems to me there are things that we want/need at some very deep level, that come from some part of us that we can’t really control, and that isn’t really amenable to social engineering or psychology.

    It seems to me that the data is overwhelming that sexual orientation falls in that latter category. We can use various repression, self-control, and feeling-management techniques to deal with the discomfort that might result from resisting the sex drive, but that’s just something about us that really doesn’t change that much.

    Sexual identity however is different… That’s our self-image, how we choose to think about ourselves and/or present ourselves to the world… The existence of ex-gays and gays, and the fact that some people may take decades to achieve self-awareness that enables them to recognize their own same-sex attraction, while others (increasingly) are coming out in their teens or earlier, is proof that the identity thing is very, very amenable to social construction.

  2. John,

    The thing is it seems that sexual orientation relies on ideas of sex and gender that aren’t necessarily so rock solid. Now, of course the church wants to say that gender is eternal — but even its own conception of gender has problems.

    If we can’t answer what a “man” or a “woman” is, or what “male” and “female” are, then sexual orientation as an essential platonic kind of thing doesn’t hold up well. The immediacy and primacy of sexual orientation would be irrelevant.

    The Glatze story is interesting (especially with its ties to Buddhist ideas) because it suggests that perhaps even orientation *is* amenable to psychology. This isn’t too foreign with Buddhist ideas, which maybe I’m just not interpreting correctly, but it seems to me that at the end of the day, someone who has successfully stripped everything that is “not self” and who has achieved nirvana ESPECIALLY wouldn’t identify by the things he cannot control. It’s not so much a matter of using repression, self-control, and feeling-management to deal with discomfort that might result from resisting the sex drive — but of using techniques to recognize that the sex drive isn’t a part of oneself at all.

    Certainly, this is a different issue of sexual identity.

  3. I’m going to disagree with JGW and say that “sexual identity” and “sexual orientation” are both socially constructed. This whole “sexual orientation identity” notion is born from the APA not knowing how to do good therapy with ex-gays.

    In the end, there’s nothing that holds us to categorizing ourselves and each other based on gendered sexual object choices or inclinations (other than habit). I think this is something that ex-gays and queer theorists can both agree on. Of course, the difference comes when ex-gays like Glatze uphold heterosexuality over homosexuality anyway, which shows that they don’t really take seriously the notion of not categorizing people based on gendered sexual object choices or inclinations.

    No doubt the scowling picture of Glatze in the NYT is intended to convey: “Look, it’s an ex-gay who hasn’t resumed being gay, but is supremely unhappy!” when in fact, he might actually be plenty happy. The storytelling about his short affairs with Buddhism or queer theory is pulling, but Glatze’s ideas about homosexuality (like it being about striving for unfulfillable sexual hedonism) nevertheless seem like they’ve been pulled directly out of an anti-gay treatise.

  4. Alan,

    I agree that Glatze seems to be drawing nearly wholesale from anti-gay treatises (which makes his story seem somehow…less exciting.) What if he were “ex-gay” but without all of the value judgments denouncing homosexuality? Would more people then be having a different conversation about not categorizin people based on gendered sexual object choices.

    I will say, however, that there still exists something that holds many people to categorizing themselves based on gendered sexual object choices or inclinations — the immediacy and primacy of these inclinations. Even if someone says they love the person, not the gender (or something that similarly expresses such an open sentiment), most people are going to effectively only feel attracted to certain types of people, and these certain types are going to make gender seem more compelling of an idea.

  5. What if he were “ex-gay” but without all of the value judgments denouncing homosexuality?

    Then he wouldn’t be “ex-gay.” :p The term is a denouncing of the gay. If I were a man who loved men, and then started loving women and not men, then I would not look back on my life and say that the gay “disappeared” because I’d still hold those relationships dear to my heart. There are plenty of people whose sexualities are fluid over the course of their lives. It’s not that strange of a phenomenon.

    I’m not really convinced Glatze is one of these people, though, precisely because of how he denounces homosexuality.

    • Seth R. permalink

      What if he holds the relationships “dear to his heart” – but just not the sexual aspect of them?

      • then that would still fail to answer the question of why he equates the gayness he renounces with purely the sexual aspect of those relationships.

  6. hence why I put the term in quotation marks. Although I’m guessing that maybe there are at least some people who use this term and get caught up in this kind of thinking mainly because that’s the kind of language we live with. So, even if sexual fluidity isn’t that strange of a phenomenon, I still think that many people don’t know how to talk about it, because we don’t socially have a vocabulary for it.

    For example, when you say “there are plenty of people whose sexualities are fluid over the course of their lies,” the thing I can’t help but feel is that these “plenty of people” are still nevertheless a category of their own. So, even if it’s not that strange of a phenomenon, how would one propose moving away from the rhetoric that “some people” (or maybe “plenty of people”) are a “certain way”?

  7. Yeah, but…

    If my sexuality were all socially constructed, why amn’t I straight?

    Why does Glatze have to use Buddhist techniques, or any techniques at all, to be straight?

    I went through the whole social constructionist/queer theory thing in grad school… I took it as far is it can go. Which, when it comes down to it, isn’t really very far. At a certain point I just started feeling silly, because it was like pretending that men don’t have penises and higher levels of testosterone, and women don’t have the capability of giving birth. The idea that there aren’t essential differences between people related to sexuality and gender just seems to me like a bunch of make believe that somebody started in order to stuff a doctoral thesis and make it look more impressive. Like, wouldn’t it be cool if I could demonstrate through all these clever theorems that gravity doesn’t actually exist!!

    Of course there are hermaphrodites and bisexuals. But that just means sexuality and gender aren’t binary… Not that the rest of us — gay and straight men, straight women and lesbians — don’t really exist.

  8. Andrew — “using technique to recognize that the sex drive isn’t part of one at all” is all about identity.

    It’s simply a person choosing to consciously define what he or she chooses to connect to the self.

    Of course there are plenty of religious techniques and theologies that essentially make the case that our bodies are not ourselves, that physical reality is illusory, etc.

    That, by the way is NOT Mormon theology. Mormon theology is heavily committed to the notion that our bodies ARE ourselves. So my sexuality and my gender DO matter.

    If our bodies matter, then body parts, drives, instincts, desires, pleasure, all matter… My relationship with my husband matters — the physical, emotional and spiritual aspects of it. The whole ball of wax. And I just don’t find any theory that tries to disconnect me from the things that really matter very useful or desirable.

  9. Saying that sexual orientation is just a function of “habit” sounds an awful lot to me like what bishops were advising their gay parishioners for decades. Just get married, have sex with a woman, focus your desires, your attentions on your wife, and everything will work out hunky dory. Homosexuality is an illusion, it doesn’t exist. Ignore it and it will go away…

  10. If my sexuality were all socially constructed, why amn’t I straight?

    Because it’s not just homosexuality that is socially constructed, but heterosexuality, too. They’re a pair that were constructed together. That’s the part that those bishops didn’t get. They might say, “Don’t define yourself by your sexuality,” but then they’re defining all people as “heterosexual” anyway. Like Glatze does.

    JGW, let me ask you this:

    Is it a requirement that we divide ourselves based on the gender(s) of who we’re attracted to? Is it like the necessity to eat or breathe? Don’t misunderstand me. I’m not asking about the necessity to love and be loved, but about the societal divisions.

    Studies of queer youth in areas that are gay-affirming (where youth don’t have to come “out” or stay “in” to be “in”) have shown that “sexual orientation” loses its identitarian efficacy. We might look at a kid and see that he’s with another boy, and think, “oh, he’s gay,” but he doesn’t necessarily think of himself that way, and it isn’t really necessary that we think of him that way either.

  11. John,

    I agree that Mormon theology essentializes the body as part of oneself (as opposed to many other philosophies…so it seems obvious to oppose a Buddhist concept from that vantage point.) So at some point, it just gets to be a point of: which one is right? Which one does one believe in? Can’t quite go anywhere from there.

    But I think there are issues with what you’re saying. If our bodies matter, and body parts, instincts, etc., matter, then that doesn’t necessarily mean your relationship with your husband matters. After all, if you’re taking for granted certain relationships as legitimate e.g., (body parts to identity, desires and pleasure to morality, etc.,) then who’s to say that someone can’t instead argue for certain normative standards based on this. (If bodies are important, who’s to say that the union of male body and female body [as opposed to ANY other kind of union] is not also more important?)

    Why shouldn’t we instead start taking other traits and say that the relationships between these traits are legitimate. E.g., dark skin, broad nose, kinky hair. Why not reify this idea as “black” and say that “blackness” entails specific roles, expectations, etc.,

    I guess I’m not arguing that certain traits exist, but I question why we have to group these traits together. E.g., give name to “black” and try to totalize someone based on the visual traits.

    If you want to challenge one thing in one way, you need another foundation for such a challenge if not to argue for a constructed nature deep down, I think.

  12. Alan – The point you’re making about “identitarian efficacy” (really???) is what you would expect if I am right — that this is about identity, not about sexuality. Yes, if we develop social norms that love and accept everyone regardless of who they love, of course we would expect people growing up in such an environment to stop identifying as gay or straight. Of course!! Just as we would expect that in a society that doesn’t differentiate between people on the basis of skin color, that people would stop thinking of themselves as black or white or Asian or whatever.

    But if you are right, and sexuality itself is what is constructed… Who’s to say that heterosexuality shouldn’t be normative? Why shouldn’t a bishop expect everybody to be straight? And why wouldn’t his advice to a young man simply to focus his sexual thoughts and desires on a woman actually work? Why do we know so many guys who have been married 10, 15, 20, 25 years, and who still struggle with same-sex attraction? If there wasn’t something essential in us that kicks back, no matter how hard we try to shape our sexuality in a particular direction…

    This is where queer theory flops, I think… And where, frankly, I believe it failed Michael Glatze. He invested in a view of sexuality that says there are no moral norms that can or should govern sexuality. It’s merely what we make of it, and we can make it anything we want.

    I remember when his story hit the media, and I remember his statement about how homosexuality was nothing but “pornography.” I had seen a couple of issues of XY magazine because Göran had bought one or two issues. And I remember thinking they were pretty… pornographic!! And Glatze’s statement really struck me. Here, he had been playing a role in defining homosexuality in a way that was pornographic, and that’s what homosexuality came to be for him. Sad.

  13. Andrew – Without my attraction to men, my relationship with my husband wouldn’t be possible.

    Morality only makes sense in a framework of choice. If I can’t choose to be straight, heterosexuality isn’t really a choice for me, much less a moral choice… Beyond that, not sure where you’re going with this.

    The analogy with racial traits makes perfect sense to me. My attraction to guys could be comparable to dark skin. And there’s no reason for building an identity around either. But if you told me that building an identity around race doesn’t make sense because there’s no such thing as skin pigment, I’d just say you’re crazy.

  14. JGW —

    I read Andrew’s comment to basically preempt yours. If we stop thinking of ourselves as black or white or Asian, then we cease to be black or white or Asian. It’s not like there’s some Platonic form of blackness or gayness in the universe, that outside of our cultural construction of it, a person is still “black” or “gay” regardless of what everyone says. If gender was indeed defined in the universes as a linking of body parts, then just like Andrew suggests, Mormonism has no reason to not group body parts A with body parts B and assert them as categorically complementary regardless of what is practiced on Earth.

    Men who are married 10, 15, 20, 25 years and “still struggle with same-sex attraction” are in a position in which their culture maintains heterosexuality as a norm. When these men come to a “truth” about their gayness, they’re coming to a truth of their desire within an overarching hetero/homo binary framework, where a truth of their being is covered due to the maintenance of a norm. If a child grows up without the maintenance of this norm, then that kid is simply going to be with whoever he is with. Saying this is different than saying that “we can all have sex with each other and like it if we want,” which is not what I’m saying.

    As I’m sure you’ve noticed, plenty of same-sex attracted men in the Church continue to dismiss their same-sex attraction as a “non-essential” part their being (like Glatze does), and opt for their “soul” being heterosexual. Unless you begin to topple the binary system that allows heterosexuality to be maintained as a norm (which is the sexual orientation classification system), a “true existence of same-sex attraction” will always retain an element of political paralysis.

    And where, frankly, I believe [queer theory] failed Michael Glatze. He invested in a view of sexuality that says there are no moral norms that can or should govern sexuality. It’s merely what we make of it, and we can make it anything we want.

    My guess is that Glatze dabbled in queer theory like every Californian gay college boy in the 1990s did, since it had such momentum at that particular time and place. He either dismissed queer theory, or never really got it. To blame a pornographic outlook on queer theory is unfair.

  15. “But if you told me that building an identity around race doesn’t make sense because there’s no such thing as skin pigment, I’d just say you’re crazy.”

    But “race” is very much a social construct. It’s constructed differently in different cultures. Someone who’s considered “white” in, say, Jamaica or Brazil might be considered “black” in America. A lot of Japanese people would say that Italians and Swedes are both “white” (hakujin) but they’re different “races” (jinshu). And for me when I was living in Japan, it made a lot less sense to me to identify as “white” than it did to share an identity of “not-Japanese” with people from various other countries.

  16. Hey everyone,

    My trackbacks don’t seem to be working as efficiently as they should be, but I would like to note that John has also written a sort of response post about this very subject at his own blog.

    A comment that he posted there that I think could be relevant to discussion here was this one. An excerpt:

    Andrew – I’ve said all along that sexual identity is constructed, as is racial identity.

    But saying that sexuality is constructed is analogous to saying that skin pigment doesn’t exist. It’s like saying race doesn’t exist because there are no physical variations between people. That’s just demonstrably false. There are people with dark skin, light skin and everything in between, just as there are people who are attracted predominantly to men, people who are attracted predominantly to women, and people who are attracted more or less equally to both men and women. This variation and these attractions exist. Should we categorize people as gay, straight or bi? Not necessarily helpful.

    But do we insist that these attractions simply don’t actually exist? That’s the extreme to which queer theorists want to go, and I just can’t go there with them.

  17. “If we stop thinking of ourselves as black or white or Asian, then we cease to be black or white or Asian. It’s not like there’s some Platonic form of blackness or gayness in the universe, that outside of our cultural construction of it, a person is still “black” or “gay” regardless of what everyone says.”

    Exactly. One of the things I liked most about living in Japan was that among a lot of non-Japanese — not all, but a lot — there was a sense of solidarity that transcended boundaries like nationality, “race,” religion, class, and so on on. We were all just gaijin.

  18. Alan – All I hear is fancy reiterations of “our identities are socially constructed,” which is what I’ve maintained from the beginning.

    The gay guys who are married to women would still want to be with a guy even if they were in a culture that didn’t maintain heterosexuality as a norm. The only difference in that universe is that they would have ended up with a guy in the first place, and wouldn’t have to be dealing with the dilemma of being married to someone they’re not attracted to, and nobody would have made a fuss about it, and YES, they probably wouldn’t think of themselves (nobody would think of them) as “gay.”

    So what I hear you saying is, society didn’t construct their desire. And that’s what I’ve been insisting all along.

    I think Glatze “got” queer theory all too well. He understood that desire is “constructed,” but he couldn’t justify the notion that the only way we should affirm same-sex desire is by deconstructing morality itself. Of course he fled to the safety and security of fundamentalist Christianity (after dabbling briefly with Mormonism).

    I don’t think it’s helpful to dismiss this problem so lightly… If you do, you fail to understand how the ex-gay movement is fed by moral and spiritual anomie in the gay community…

  19. Kuri – yes we don’t think of ourselves as white, but our skin is still light. It’s not like I can “think” myself into having dark skin pigment. Which is essentially where we go with queer theory when we say that same-sex attraction is socially constructed. Sexual identity is constructed, amen, amen & amen. But sexuality itself? I see so much evidence to the contrary, and nothing but hip philosophy in favor.

    Frankly, I think queer theory amounts to a sort of political strategy that could only possibly look hip or useful from the vantage point of ivory towers… Or worse, it’s just a way to make a name for oneself in academia. I don’t see it doing much useful in the real world… And when Christian right ideologues start citing it as proof that gays can be changed it may actually be doing harm.

  20. So what I hear you saying is, society didn’t construct their desire. And that’s what I’ve been insisting all along.

    we don’t think of ourselves as white, but our skin is still light

    And because our skin is light…then…we’re white? I don’t see your point. If all you’re arguing is that difference exists, then I have no qualms with that.

    However, when you say “sexual orientation,” I think of a “classification system that includes gay, bi and straight.” I don’t really see much a difference between it and “sexual identity” except that the latter can include more categories.

    Similarly when you say “race,” I think of a “classification system that includes white, black, Asian, etc.”

    Now you’re just saying plain ‘ol “sexuality,” and plain ‘ol “skin pigment.” These things, too, can be deconstructed into various conceptual parts that point to them as socially constructed categories. But because this is true doesn’t mean that queer theorists argue we can “think” ourselves into whatever we want and argue that we should be allowed to “do” whatever we want. This is disingenuous.

    I for one am glad for the Eve Sedgwick’s and Michael Warner’s of the world who’ve gone back into history and looked at why we think about gender and sexuality the way we do (and yes, come up with some dense theory regarding it), instead of letting things like “heteronormativity” (a useful notion born from queer theory) slither in the world.

    I think Glatze “got” queer theory all too well. He understood that desire is “constructed,” but he couldn’t justify the notion that the only way we should affirm same-sex desire is by deconstructing morality itself. Of course he fled to the safety and security of fundamentalist Christianity (after dabbling briefly with Mormonism).

    That’s interesting how the only way you can read Glatze’s lifestory is to demonize gay and queer theorists as amoralists and blame his choices on an “anomie” of queer cultures.

    Just so you know, if you keep insisting on these things, people might start to believe you and flock to fundamentalist Christianity.

  21. More thoughts:

    The gay guys who are married to women would still want to be with a guy even if they were in a culture that didn’t maintain heterosexuality as a norm. […] They probably wouldn’t think of themselves (nobody would think of them) as “gay.”

    What are you thinking of them as? “Gay” or “not gay?” What is “gay” if not “wanting to be a with a guy” instead of “being with a girl” (assuming you’re a man)? Are you saying that there exists a physical law that makes people “gay” so that the category might as well stick around even after people stop defining themselves based on a gendered sexual object choices?

    I think you’re not seeing how the “homo” and “hetero” parts of sexual orientation require a maintenance of gender dualism. That there somehow only exists “boys” and “girls” in this world, and some go with the “same” and some go with the “other.” Basically, you’re privileging genitalia (and reproductive capacity?) in your conceptualization of relationships, which is precisely what heteronormativity is about — it’s certainly what the Church does when it insists that man + woman is the only acceptable relationship. The optimal church for you might be one that accepts both “eternal gender” and homosexuality, but in my view, such a church would still be exclusionary.

  22. Alan – I’m not privileging anything. The concept of gayness makes room for me to exist in a world that told me I can’t possibly exist. What it sounds to me like you are saying is that my feelings aren’t real — which is the same message I had to do battle with two decades ago in order to find a reason not to commit suicide.

    The effect of what you’re insisting here should be simply to silence me completely. It should make it completely impossible for me to talk about my experience or to speak meaningfully about my relationship with my husband. This is kind of topsy turvy and sick, actually, to be told that I am being oppressive and exclusionary, and that I’m supporting heteronormativity by insisting that I am what I am.

    There’s not a single word I can use you can’t somehow insist is some sort of fictional social construct that has no real meaning. It really gets pointless eventually, and you shouldn’t be surprised when most folks just get exasperated and decide there’s no point in talking to you any more about this. How does this help anyone or advance any cause?

    Far from convincing me that queer theory has any applicability in real people’s lives, I’m more convinced than ever that its main use is to “demonize” anyone who fails to see the emperor’s clothes — including, or especially, gay men and lesbians who fall outside of a very narrow political enclave built and maintained mainly in academia. I’ve seen this before.

    The truth in deconstructionism is that words are arbitrary and socially constructed… That is a useful concept. But that’s the nature of all language. You won’t fix that. There’s no language you can construct that can’t be used to “oppress” someone. I feel pretty “oppressed” by your whole language and demeanor right now, truth be told. What you can do is let folks speak for themselves… Let them tell their own stories in whatever language they choose.

    Alan, there is moral and spiritual anomie in the gay community. I’ve witnessed plenty of it. We need to be able to find our religious and moral bearings in a spiritual language that has meaning to us. Which means I (and many others) need to be able to speak about our love, our relationships, our identity in the language of Mormonism (or in the language of Catholicism or Evangelicalism or Pentecostalism or Orthodox Judaism). When queer theory denies our right to do this by accusing us of buying into oppressive heteronormativity, it will produce the kind of panicky reactions we see in a Michael Glatze. I think I understand exactly what happened to him… And I think I understand what kinds of spiritual and linguistic space we need to open up to help him and others like me.

    Is that allowed?

  23. First off, my annoyance with you is in how you’re talking about queer theory as amoral. Your stacking it up against religious thought, and I simply do not agree with this dichotomy. Queer theory is about anti-homophobic, feminist, anti-racist and anti-colonial work. Even if it were solely about deconstruction, that’s not the same as saying it’s nihilistic. As human beings we have to construct. That’s a basic premise of deconstruction, because if we didn’t construct then there’d be nothing to deconstruct. Derrida once described deconstruction as “dancing on the edge of black hole.” We’re dancing. We’re not being sucked into a black hole. So stop talking about queer theory as if it’s about being sucked into a black hole. The “ivory towerness” of it is a separate topic. Again, my irritation is how you say thinks like “Glatze really got queer theory” because he saw nihilism and then dismissed it for religious thought. Talk about reductionist.

    There is a spiritual and political reason I’ve tried to break down the concept of “eternal gender” with you, and it has to do with the “T” in “LGBT.” “Eternal gender” might make sense for you and your sense of your sexuality and life (given your history with a heteronormative church), but others find it oppressive, including myself. “Eternal gender” would require me to view my partner as a “man” and myself as a “man” who are in some way fundamentally different than a “man” and “woman.” I find myself sometimes veering in the direction (just like Glatze) that “gender” is a necessary component of an acceptable relationship, which gives ammunition to the Church as “true” with its current ideas. The answer for me is not to essentialize gayness (because I don’t feel that way about my gayness) — but rather to de-essentialize a binary gender system. But then, that’s my experience of the world. Is that allowed?

    And I think I understand what kinds of spiritual and linguistic space we need to open up…

    there is moral and spiritual anomie in the gay community. I’ve witnessed plenty of it.

    If you have doubts about my ability to keep gayz of the Michael Glatze variety engaged in a discussion on their own terms, then I would point you to this lengthy thread.

    Again, though, when you wholeheartedly denounce the moralisms of gay cultures or queer theory as “immoral” or “amoral” or “spiritual anomie” (summarizing them as what? Godless pits of hedonism?) you’re not doing anyone any favors.

    Glatze would probably tell you that the current gay rights attempt to mimic heterosexual kinship structures (e.g., “gay marriage”) doesn’t detract from homosexual relationships as primarily being about lust and pornography. If anything, gays are just trying to “fit in,” he’d say. The guy was with another guy for 10 years. I really think you’d have to utilize critiques of the gay marriage movement to meet him halfway in history, rather than try to emphasize why gay marriage is somehow “good” because people are somehow “essentially gay.” He’s already decided emphatically that people are not essentially gay.

    …to help him and others like me

    How is Glatze like you? Because you play the “God” card? Because you both agree that gay cultures and queer theory are pits of godless hedonism? Please…

    Honestly, I think Glatze is more like me in that neither of us insists upon people being essentially gay.

  24. (Andrew, mind fixing the link in my post?)

    • Alan, I see where you were trying to link something, but from my viewpoint, I can’t quite tell what specifically you were trying to link. “lengthy thread” is surrounded by a tags, but they don’t have any hint of a URL that I can guess at…

  25. Alan, I think you’re projecting a lot of stuff on me that isn’t there.

    First off, I’m not sure we’ve had a real discussion about “eternal gender,” and I think you’re making some assumptions about my views of gender that don’t really fit with my actual views. It sounds like I’m being stereotyped here on the basis of the fact that I identify myself as a believing Latter-day Saint.

    Second, I’m not saying everything about gay culture is evil… Again, my actual position is more nuanced than that. I’ve said repeatedly elsewhere that much about gay culture has been adaptive and positive. In fact, “gay identity” is probably one of its major achievements. Saying that, by the way, doesn’t mean I think we need to hold on to gay identity forever… If it helped us achieve our balance for an historical moment, that’s good enough. But lots of people still need a functional concept of gay identity, and it’s not helpful to dismiss or condemn as “wrong-headed” those who do, a major concern I’ve tried to express in my response to this post.

    Because of the extreme homophobia in many religious communities, there’s been a counter-reaction among many LGBT folks of rejecting everything religious out of hand; jettisoning old moral systems whole cloth. And it’s led to dysfunctional behavior. I’m not blaming this on the gay community, by the way. The blame in my mind rests squarely with most of our religious institutions. But regardless of who’s to blame, we still have the power to claim faith, and to hear and respond to the voice of God; and to be/become faithful. That is and always has been my position, and is very far from denouncing the gay community as “the godless pits of hedonism.”

    Oddly the nuance of my own position seems to have been lost in your assumption that just because I’m religious, I must be anti-gay, seething with internalized homophobia, or whatever. And when you react that way, it only confirms in my mind that you are aligning yourself with those in the gay community who are incapable of seeing religious gays as anything but traitors to the gay cause.

    Queer theory is godless. I use that term in the value-neutral sense of the word. It does not concern itself with God; actually, much of what I’ve seen of its use it is pretty hostile to God concepts. I’ve never said it was amoral. I do believe it attempts to substitute human-centered moral systems for God-centered moral systems, and I consider that a problem.

    I know academic institutions well enough to be acquainted with their take-no-prisoners territoriality. So I don’t necessarily trust the motives of ideologues who think its cool to deconstruct everything, and “dance on the edge of the black hole.” Deconstructionism has its uses, but it can go too far.

    I understand my own personal history — and I understand human history — as a series of overtures by God, and our respective responses to those overtures. I understand the relationship between us and God in terms of successive covenants and agreements that overlap and build on one another. I’m doubtful that’s its ever useful to completely demolish any edifice, especially when you don’t have a suitable one to take its place; and that’s certainly not my impression of how God works with us.

    God is at work in the gay community. And, as always, the voice of the Spirit is still and small. So my main concern is to make space for us to hear and respond to it… That’s all.

    • So my main concern is to make space for us to hear and respond to it… That’s all.

      Do I need to pull up 100 links to books on Amazon, showing intersections between queer theory and religious studies, done by theists? Are you going to keep creating a divide between gays and God that you’re for some reason blaming me now for maintaining?

      When it comes to “ex-gays feeding” on such a divide, I find it unfortunate that you’d rather affirm it (to give them more to feed on) than reject it (to point them in a different direction). There have always been religious queer people. It’s not like religious gays are a new phenomenon, so why treat them as if they are? That only creates a perception that the old heterosexist God-fearing traditions are right because they’re old and widespread and only “recently” questioned, as opposed to pointing to the courage of individuals throughout history who’ve held steadfastly against heterosexist assumptions.

      If you perceive me as “against” you, it’s not because you’re a theist, but because of the ways you break up history for a particular agenda, by denouncing whole groups of people (the gay community as spiritually lacking or queer theorists as godless) in order to do what? Make space for John Gustav-Wrathallism?

      I take offense to your description of the gay community as godless victims, so it doesn’t really matter to me whether you blame gays or religious institutions for it.

      Another example:

      I know academic institutions well enough to be acquainted with their take-no-prisoners territoriality. So I don’t necessarily trust the motives of ideologues who think its cool to deconstruct everything,

      Are you willing to denounce the Mormon hierarchy as “untrustworthy” and having a “take-no-prisoners” “do-it-my-way” mentality? Because frankly, the academy correlates a lot less (that is, it allows for deviance a lot more) than the Church. I would say that I had some great mentors in my grad program who were just fine with me studying Mormonism and queer theory, and who recognized that deconstruction is always put in service of a construction.

      My focus here has been on eternal gender, believe it or not — the idea that a person is “gay” in the Heavens due to a universal categorization of ourselves based on genitalia. You’ve seemed to have done emotional somersaults on the question, and understandably given your life story. But I really think it’s you who’s projecting here. My language, such as the bit about “godless pits of hedonism” is for rhetoric’s sake… to emphasize the battlelines you’ve drawn to ask you how much they really exist, how much you’re waging war against a foe of your own making.

      • Alan, I apologize for whatever I’ve said to lead this discussion to this level of animosity. That wasn’t my intention, and it’s certainly not my desire to continue in this vein…

        Maybe we can try again some other time and do a better job of sharing view points without it turning personal and ugly.

  26. Sure =)

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