Tag Archives: Gender

“You’re Pretty”

Previously published on my Tumblr page, http://a-woman-apart.tumblr.com

Today I was riding to work with my Uber driver. He was an elderly gentlemen with a mild manner and a nice sense of humor. He had joked the day before that it was “destiny” that I was riding in his car again, and somehow I ended up riding in his car today as well. The day before he had asked if I had a boyfriend (Note: he is happily married and was not hitting on me) and I told him no, and he commented that it made sense because I needed to focus on school and work.

Today, though, he brought up the subject again.

Him: “It’s strange that you don’t have a boyfriend.”
Me: “Oh, really?”
Him: “Yes- you’re pretty.”

All I could do was what I usually do, which was laugh and say “thank you” instead of saying how I really felt. Usually, I’m only slightly offended, but today, his words stung, because I think for the first time I saw the hidden implications behind them. The unspoken idea is that if you’re a pretty woman, then you’re desirable, and if you’re desirable, you must be willing to be the object of someone else’s desires. That someone else is almost always assumed to be a man. Men always ask me if I have a boyfriend, and sometimes if I say no, then they do ask if I’m interested in women, or the ever-irritating, “So do you like men?” The implication there is that if I’m not interested in them, it must be because I don’t like men, which is pretty much saying they think they’re the best thing that could ever happen to me (betraying a high level of conceit).

In asking about my sexual preferences either way, they’re showing a pretty marked lack of concern for my privacy. Maybe the fact is that I don’t have a boyfriend could mean that I just don’t want to be involved with anyone, regardless of gender. Or that I’d just rather be alone than be with the wrong person. It is inconceivable to a lot of people- in this world that leans so heavily towards heteroromanticism and amatonormativity- that anyone could simply want to be unattached, but especially a woman. If a man is a bachelor, he’s said to be just “sowing his wild oats” or thought of as unlucky. If a woman- especially one who is considered attractive- is alone then she’s the object of confusion and pity (or she’s thought to be stuck up).

The other implication is that prettiness is valued above other traits- that a woman who is “unattractive” cannot be expected to have a partner. This makes all sorts of assumptions on what is considered beautiful, and the importance of said beauty in the world. It also puts women under obligation to “put out” if they’re thought to be attractive. So it sends two messages: “If you’re not pretty, no one wants you” and “If you are pretty, you should share it with someone”.

Pretty or not, you do not owe anyone anything. You are under no obligation to anyone to be a part of a relationship if that’s not what you truly desire. You also don’t have to do the things that are expected to follow, such as getting married or having children. You can be as involved or uninvolved with other human beings as you like. It’s your life. When strangers probe you about your relationship status, it might seem harmless on the surface, but what they’re really saying is, “You’re not normal. I don’t know you, but here’s what I think you should do to fit in”. Well, I’m here to say that you don’t have to put up with any of it. You do not have to answer questions about your sexuality if you’re not comfortable.

I really didn’t expect to make a post like this, but I’m becoming pretty convinced that asking a woman why she’s not married or doesn’t have a boyfriend should be on a list of “things not to ask women.” It’s even worst if you’re not asking, but you’re actually telling her that she should just magic up a relationship. Even if she does want to be in a relationship for herself, putting pressure on her to do things is not going to help the process. Society at large subtly and overtly sends women the message that we are not our own- that our lives and bodies belong to other people. I’m fighting to take back my autonomy, and not internalizing these mass-marketed, harmful messages is a part of that.

“Hey God, it’s me, ________.”

Previously published on my Tumblr page, http://a-woman-apart.tumblr.com/

“Hey God, It’s Me, Margaret” was a coming-of-age book written by author Judy Blume. It chronicled the life of a young girl who moved from New York to New Jersey (I think) and was being raised by areligious parents; her mother was raised Catholic and her father was raised Jewish. She had a wonderful relationship with her grandmother on her father’s side, but her mother’s parents had all but disowned their daughter after she decided to marry a Jew.

Margaret doesn’t tell anyone about her fervent prayers to the heavens- her parents want her to wait until she’s older to decide which religion she wants to follow (if any at all). Her prayers are of the typical self-absorbed teenager variety- she prays to “get her period” and for boys to like her and to do well with assignments in school. At one point in the novel she gets upset with God when He doesn’t seem to answer her prayers and refuses to talk with Him anymore.

Well right now, whenever I try to pray, I feel like I’m behaving exactly like little self-absorbed tweenage Margaret- my requests for more strength when I feel overwhelmed seem so pathetic. There are moments when I’m confronted with just how privileged I am and I wish that I could just slap myself.

I know, I know- it’s true that just because I haven’t suffered as much as someone else, it doesn’t make my suffering any less valid. That’s not the point. The point is that if I were to go around preaching the power of a positive attitude to make everything okay- which I don’t, by the way- I would definitely be giving out false platitudes.

Let’s backtrack a little and I’ll talk about what brought this on (besides my feeling pathetic already).

Last night, at around midnight, I couldn’t sleep (due to drinking copious amounts of Coke Zero) and so I fixed myself a bowl of cereal and turned on the radio. BBC World News was on and they were talking about a practice in southern Malawi concerning girls who reach puberty. These girls are given a few sex education courses, then turned over to a “hyena”- a man who is literally paid to have sex with these children- for three days for their “initiation” and “cleansing.” This cleansing is supposed to educate the girls in sex so that they can please their future husbands, and also protect their families and villages from bad fortune.

If you thought that was bad, it gets worst- during this ritual it is required that no protection be used. The “hyena” that BBC interviewed was actually HIV positive and deliberately hid that fact from the parents of the girls he “serviced”. So not only are these girls subjected to rape and possible unwanted pregnancy, they are also exposed to any of the diseases that the “hyena” may be carrying.

I think about things like this a lot when I think about our Westernized “health and wealth” gospel.  Here I am praying to get through the work day (and “claiming blessings” for myself), and a 13-year old somewhere across the world is probably praying to make it through 3 days of sex with a man she doesn’t even know. If she refuses, she is said to be endangering her village- think about that kind of pressure.

I also think about things like that- and the religious/cultural beliefs that are behind them. It’s been proven time and time again that people will do amazingly horrific and harmful things in defense of a tradition. For us here in the Western world, these practices- and others, like female genital mutilation, child marriage, and child slavery- are unthinkable, but for people in these cultures it is simply “the way we do things”.

So now I wonder how many things that are acceptable in Western nations today may be equally as barbaric? (Think conversion therapy, forced sex reassignment of intersex infants, male circumcision, and other unnecessary/ineffective medical procedures by greedy doctors).

I cannot believe that a God who is all-powerful and yet does nothing to help the people who are going through these atrocities. Yet I cannot accept a God who is helpless, either- and that’s where my responsibility comes in.

I am not helpless.

I can use my position of privilege and influence to actually make a difference for someone somewhere in the world. If I am able-bodied and able-minded, then it’s for a purpose. No one should have to go through what these children in Malawi are going through but the stubborn tribal leaders insist on telling the people that these unhealthy practices are actually for the good of all the parties involved. If we by word of mouth raise our voices in dissent of these practices maybe we can put pressure on the people to change. The leadership has to be forced to change their stance on these issues.

So now I think it’s time for me to change the way I pray. I need to expand my vision beyond just the limited perimeter of my neighborhood. I need to get out of the mindset of “barely getting by”. I need to stop hiding.

Here’s a quote.

Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness, that frightens us. We ask ourselves; Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, and fabulous? Actually who are you NOT to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people will not feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We are born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It is not just in some of us; it is in everyone and as we let our own light shine we unconsciously give others permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others. -Marianne Williamson

I want to be that light that shines in the world. No more prayers just to make it through the day, or fix that relationship, or what should I do if X invites me to a party and I don’t want to go. That’s small stuff. No more being apologetic just for being, so embarrassed by my own existence that I practically beg to be rescued from it. I won’t be Margaret, and turn my back on God when I don’t appear to get my way- and I also won’t ask God to do for me what he/she/it has already empowered me to do for myself.

It’s time for change.

Love the Sinner, Hate the Sin?

Previously published on my Tumblr page, http://a-woman-apart.tumblr.com/

I know that I ended my last entry abruptly, so I’m going to try and revisit the topics that I discussed in “No Father but God” individually and in greater detail.

I was left feeling a little bit conflicted after I kind of wrote in support of Christians who condemn homosexuality as a sin, but claim to still love gay and lesbian people and want the best for them. My point was that even though the religion as a whole teaches that homosexuality is a sin, doesn’t mean that Christians or Muslims condone the actions of gunmen like Omar Mateen.

Since then, however, I’ve come across a number of posts from people in the LGBTQIA community who came out of Christian or Islamic backgrounds. These posts talked about the psychological burden that repressing their homosexuality placed on them, and the sort of empty well-wishing they received from people who quote the cliche “Love the sinner, hate the sin”. These posts argued against the notion that you could truly love a person while considering their lifestyle “disgusting”. They challenged the Catholic idea that it’s okay to be gay, as long as you don’t act on your feelings. They said that this was tantamount to telling people to love freely, but then forbidding them from expressing that love in any way. They insisted that ultimately, these restrictions and commands fuel a homophobic culture that inevitably results in attacks like those on the Pulse nightclub on Orlando.

So who is right? Can you still say that you “love” LGBTQIA people if you vote against them having the right to marry or create families? Can you say that you have their best interests in mind, but don’t want them to share your churches, classrooms, or restrooms? Can you say that you really support them when you don’t want to see them portrayed on television, but are totally unaffected by depictions of gratuitous violence or extramarital heterosexual affairs?

I still think that the question is a difficult one to answer. If you truly believe that the Bible or Quaran is divinely inspired, and that God in His holiness cannot abide homosexuality, I can see where you would be stuck. You’re left to choose between following the dictates of your God versus being accommodating to another person, and if God trumps all, I can see why you might be having trouble. Or, if you think that homosexuality is a disease that can somehow be “cured” by conversion therapy, I can see why you are aghast that anyone would “choose” to stay that way.

Your situation might be further complicated if you’re gay and you’re Christian, and you’re left to scour the scriptures for evidence that you really can be both, to the chagrin of Fundamentalist Christians and your fellow LGBTQIAs. You may be demonized and told to just “pick a side”. For you, it isn’t that simple. Jesus is your Savior. You still believe He died for your sins, and even though He himself didn’t mention homosexuality, you’re left to wonder if millions of Bible-quoting Christians could be wrong in saying that your very existence is sinful.

I don’t think there’s an easy answer to the argument. On the one hand, I could just come out and say, “Christians, you’re wrong. Science has shown us that homosexuality isn’t a choice. In fact, it’s present in plenty of other mammals. So if it’s something that you’re born with, how can God punish someone for making them in the way that He made them?”

Fundamentalist Christians: “Well God gave each of us the power of choice, and sin entered the world when Adam and Eve took the fruit in the garden of Eden. He doesn’t make us sin and He doesn’t tempt us. James said ‘each of us is tempted by sin when he is taken into his own lusts and enticed’. Jesus came to save people from sin, not encourage them in it.”

Then of course, I could argue that there is no evidence that there ever was a Garden of Eden, lesser evidence still about the existence of Satan, and the idea of what is “sin” varies from culture to culture. Then we’d just have this,

“Well the Bible is God’s word. Everything in it is true.”

That is what we’re up against. So while I cannot support or defend mainstream Christianity’s views of homosexuality, I can almost identify with their stubborn insistence of ignoring “logic” and facts and just insisting on their own way. “God says homosexuality is wrong, so it is, because God is sovereign” and “His ways are higher than our ways” and so on, so forth. It’s pretty much like talking to a brick wall, because no matter how cunning the arguments we bring in favor of acceptance of the LGBTQIA “God’s logic” trumps all.

Sure, there are some good arguments that LGBTQIA people who remain Christian bring up in defense of their lifestyle. One is that the story of Sodom and Gomorrha is misinterpreted. Christian LGBTQIA people often point out that God didn’t destroy the city specifically because of homosexuality, but because of their violence, sexual assault, and greediness. I think they also point out that “Man shall not lie with man; it is an abomination” was a command given to the early Jews under the Law and doesn’t necessarily cross over into Christianity- especially since Jesus never mentioned this passage in all of his ministry. I’m not aware of how they handle the Pauline epistles; Paul basically tells the Romans that God actually inflicts homosexuality on people that disobey Him/refuse to serve Him. (Maybe that was just considered so absurd that it’s considered not to be canon)

Anyway, I am kind of diverging from the point. Can you really “love the sinner, hate the sin?” or is the very idea that homosexuality is inherently immoral toxic enough that we must stamp all residues of it from our society in order to have a healthy future? Do Christians who believe and teach that being LGBTQIA is wrong bear responsibility for the actions of people who carry out physical acts of violence against LGBTQIA people? Are the two interrelated, or can Christians that vote for anti-LGBTQIA laws and cringe at the sight of two men kissing on television wash their hands of any blame for the murder and continued abuse of LGBTQIA people?

Not everyone has a religious justification for being anti-LGBTQIA, just like not everyone has a religious justification for being racist. On the other hand though I do find it alarming that when people are prejudiced against someone based on gender expression or sexuality that they can so easily find a religious justification, and the religious right are sometimes slow to denounce the actions of people who commit overt crimes against the LGBTQIA community. Maybe saying, “I don’t believe it’s okay to be gay, but I don’t think that we should kill gay people” isn’t really enough, when your words and teachings are being used to justify the persecution of LGBTQIA people around the world. Maybe you do bear some responsibility after all.

That being said, it isn’t going to be an easy road going forward. A lot of Christians feel like they’re being marginalized and backed into a corner where they either have to submit to the so-called “gay agenda” and renounce their “rights” as Christians or they have to “stand for truth”. They see this as some kind of a “battle” that they’re fighting and that the LGBTQIA community gaining visibility is just another sign of the “perilous” times we live in.

As happy as I am to no longer be caught up in all of that whirlwind, as I continue to examine those beliefs- which are based very much on fear- the sorrier I feel for everyone who is still involved. Of course, there are many good things that come with having faith, but if your religion is at war with your identity as a person then that can become increasingly difficult. I’m still trying to make sense of it all myself. It’s a little bit easier for me, since I don’t accept the idea of a fallen, sinful world, but some people do and as frustrating as it is we have to recognize that those are their religious beliefs and they are close to their hearts. That being said, it’s never okay to use your religion as an excuse to marginalize and oppress someone else.

Love the sinner, hate the sin? Maybe it’s possible, maybe it’s not. (Please post a comment, if you can.)

Born This Way

Previously published on my Tumblr page, http://a-woman-apart.tumblr.com/

I attended church this morning. I just felt like going for some reason, even though I knew that it would be a Mother’s Day celebration and my own mother was miles away. I felt a little sad not to have had her there. Honestly, since I had Saturday off I could’ve traveled up there, but exhaustion and other circumstances kind of caused things to fall apart a little bit.

The service consisted of worship as usual, a series of baby dedications and gifts for the newest and oldest mothers. The sermon was about the woman at the well. The pastor admitted that the woman at the well might not have actually been a mother, but she was a good representation of a woman who was ostracized, suffered from broken relationships, and yet still cared about God and wanted to be seen as something other than her circumstances. Jesus reached out to her on her level, and that’s pretty significant.

Of course, though, a sermon about Mother’s Day wouldn’t be complete without some kind of contrast being drawn between women and men as caretakers and separate members of society. The pastor made reference to the biblical myth of Adam and Eve. God is said to have created everything and called it all “good”, including man, but then he observes “that it is not good for man to be alone. We must create a helper for him”. He puts Adam to sleep, and takes a rib out of his body and out of that rib forms Eve.

The pastor of course put in a disclaimer about this story. He knew that women would be groaning and thinking, “So I’m just created to help a man” and so he says that that same word “help” was used by King David to describe divine help from God. He called God his “help” so according to the pastor we as women are being honored by this divine distinction. We are God’s expression of divine assistance to all people (nice save, Pastor).

Surprisingly, this wasn’t the only seemingly sexist verse/story that he would convert into something more euphemistic. He quoted from 1 Peter 3, the passage about women needing to be submissive to their husbands, and not to treasure outward beauty over the inner beauty of a “quiet, peaceable spirit”. He placed emphasis on the part of the passage that tells women that their unbelieving/stubborn husbands can be won “without a word” by the gentle reverence of their wives. The pastor joked that “men don’t respond to words, they respond to beauty”, only, it was part serious as well, because it was a reference to that “inner beauty” that Peter was talking quite seriously about.

Finally, he quoted the verse that says that men/husbands should “give honor to the wife, [she] being the weaker vessel” so that “their prayers would not be hindered” (1 Peter 3:7). This verse, while seeming to be positive (in that it ostentatiously encourages men to take care of their wives) also has some negative connotations, the chief one being that this enforces stereotypes that women are “fragile” or “weak” as compared to their male counterparts. The pastor tried to save this from its negative implications by stating that God had actually designed us [women] to be more “vulnerable” or “weak” because “his strength is made perfect in our weakness” (2 Corinthians 12:9). He said that when we as women try to be “strong” and “macho” then we are actually acting adversely and contrary to our design, and we cannot experience the presence of God as deeply because we are refusing to be vulnerable and just open ourselves to him.

I’ll say this before I go on. I really admire my pastor. I think he actually did a pretty great job, considering the material he has to work with. That being said, I know some things now that I didn’t before, namely about intersex people and non-gender-conforming individuals, who are totally erased and ignored by these gender stereotypes.

If God really just made them “male” and “female”, and he is the all-powerful, all-encompassing God that he is constantly made out to be, then what about people who are born into bodies that don’t fit fully into either biological box?

Now I don’t know about all of the science behind how/why people are born intersex, but I will discuss one phenomenon here. It is that of the “chimera”, which is a word for some person or animal that is a conglomeration of other types.

Most people are aware about the differences between identical and fraternal twins. With identical twins, the twins were actually at one point a single embryo that split into two. Therefore, these twins have the same DNA. In the case of fraternal twins, each of the eggs that originated them was fertilized separately, and for some reason each off these fertilized eggs was implanted in the womb. These embryos each have different DNA and will display different physical characteristics.

A “chimera” is formed, when two separate human embryos- or fraternal twins- are fused together into one single embryo. These individuals will have two different sets of DNA that manifest in different ways.

Sometimes, the original embryos are either both male or both female. In these cases, changes to genitalia might not be present. However, one thing that can happen is that certain parts of the person’s body have one DNA, and the other parts of the bodies have others. In the case of one woman, her ovaries actually had the DNA of her “lost” twin, making it appear that her own biological children did not share her DNA at all. This nearly resulted in her children being taken away, under the presumption that she had stolen them from someone else.

Finally, if the two embryos were different genders- one biologically male and one biologically female- it is very likely that the person will have physical characteristics of both of them, such as someone having both ovaries and testes, etc.

Now, the church can’t have it both ways. You can’t say that people are “born for a purpose” and then just totally ignore a whole subset of people who are born. Though, that is why it maybe wouldn’t surprise me if the majority of doctors who do “corrective surgery” on intersex patients, many times under false pretenses, were somehow motivated by a religious conviction (though I cannot prove this at all). The idea of “fixing” a person so they fit neatly into the gender binary smacks of bigotry in all the “right” ways.

Finally, lets assume that it’s true that God did create people “male” and “female”. The idea that man was created first kind of goes against some new scientific discoveries, and here is why.

There are numerous scientists that have come to the conclusion that all fetuses actually start of as-

Wait for it-

FEMALE.

Apparently, as a fetus is developing in the womb, during the early stages it is biologically female, and only begins to develop the characteristics that are indicated by the “Y” chromosome- male characteristics- later on. This was considered the reason why males also have nipples, and also a possible reason for gender dysphoria in men, which ultimately leads many of them to transition to a female identity (we still don’t know a lot about what causes female gender dysphoria or even about female sexuality).

Actually, I balked at the idea of fetuses starting out female, but then I realized that the very nature of how the chromosomes work tends to lend itself to that conclusion. Women are XX. Men are XY. Why isn’t it the other way around, with men being YY and women being XY?

(See what I did right there?)

Anyway, the Bible isn’t really the first one with crazy creation myths, and I think as long as we realize that these are myths, then we can stop basing our entire lives and identities around them. I don’t believe that women were made out of the first man’s rib anymore than I believe that the Goddess Athena burst out of Zeus’s head, fully developed and fully armored. Even so, because I’ve just been inundated with these ideas and concepts for so long, it’s difficult to imagine anything else. I am so grateful however for NPR, the Discovery Channel (when they’re not showing nonsense) and the Internet because I can actually be exposed to real scientific research that shows that we’ve just been spoon-fed these illogical stories from birth and have been brainwashed to believe in them.

Also, there are a number of studies showing that male and female brains might not be as dissimilar as everyone is saying. I started reading a book that I got from Half Price Books called “Gender: Psychological Perspectives” by Linda Brannon and it seems to support the notion that gender is partially a social construct. How much of a construct it is is open to interpretation.

As feminists we get to talk a lot about “fighting the patriarchy” because that’s what our society is, a patriarchy. However, as Betty Friedman pointed out in her most popular book, some societies are matriarchal. If male dominance was an absolute thing, totally immutable, then we wouldn’t have those matriarchal cultures. In those cultures women rule, and men actually cut their genitals because of “menstruation envy”. If the patriarchy was totally “natural”, we wouldn’t have some cultures where goddesses are central.

So yes, “God doesn’t make mistakes”. If he “forms the bones in the womb of her who is with child” then he must’ve been aware of that when he/she/it created intersex people. Or LGBT/non-gender-conforming individuals, who are also influenced by factors in the womb beyond their control. We are “born this way”. I didn’t used to believe it, but now I’m willing to argue with anyone who says otherwise.

I’ve changed a lot since even 2 years ago. To be honest I’ve always been fascinated with the idea of gender identity though. I am cisgender, but I remember when I was first exposed to a transperson (it was Chaz, Cher’s son) on TV I asked my mom if God was okay with people doing gender reassignment surgery. She said, “No. He doesn’t even want you wearing the other gender’s clothes, much less changing your body” and she also indicated that if some people changed genders and then dated people of their former gender (FTM dating F) then they were homosexuals and that wasn’t allowed either.

Now I realize that that’s not how that works- transgender women are women, transgender men are men. If a transgender man dates only women, he’s straight. If he dates only men- even if his biological gender was female- then he’s gay. Same (but reverse) with transwomen. Also, not everyone fully “transitions” but that doesn’t make them any less a member of the gender that they identify as.

I know it sounds really stupid but watching all the LGBT-ers on YouTube helps a ton with perspective as well. My pastor rightfully pointed out that “the ultimate hope of each person is to be fully known, and fully loved”. I know that my church has a lot of love in it, but we can’t just totally erase a group of people to avoid either having to accept them or to avoid throwing them out. Christianity at its core is not a religion that supports different sexualities and gender diversity.

Sometimes, it feels like you have to choose between being Christian and being LGBT and I think that’s really sad for people who really want to hold on to their faith. I don’t think that the road forward is going to be easy for anybody. Personally I think I  am starting to see Christianity as more of a guideline and not an absolute instruction for my whole life. I can take the parts that I agree with, and then discard the parts that aren’t relevant to me in society today.

I know that sounds a lot like “buffet religion” but then who are you to judge me? Who are you to tell me in what way I can worship and in what way I can practice my faith? Even Paul said that each person “to his own master stands and falls” (Romans 14:4). If there is a God of judgment, then He will judge me at the end but in the end I know I can’t turn my back on people that just need a friend, because they don’t fit into the gender binary, or they are married to someone of the same sex, or they have piercings or tattoos or anything else superficial.