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Archive for the ‘Gender and Sexuality’ Category



Sex, Vulnerability, and Power

Dec6

by: on December 6th, 2013 | 2 Comments »

If I thought I was treading difficult territory when starting to write about money, writing about sex feels even more risky. It’s even more private, in some ways more charged, and equally considered off limits. I am only doing it because the conversation I had with a dear friend was so inspiring to us, that it seemed to me that what emerged might offer something of value to others, and I was encouraged by my friend’s enthusiastic response. I hope I don’t live to regret this choice.

The starting point of our conversation was a recognition of a peculiar way in which so much that is related to sex gets talked about as if we have no power or choice: either sexual attraction is “there,” and we “must” follow it; or it’s not, and we “can’t” enter a sexual relationship.

Sexuality, Spirituality, and the Erotic

For years I have felt a persistent discomfort when people around me talk about sex. One of the most important things in the world for me is something about honoring human dignity. Within this, I’ve always wanted speaking about or engaging in sexual relationships to be done in a way that honors that human dignity.

I often wonder what life was like in earlier cultures, before the split between the sexual and the spiritual was institutionalized, before the body became the site of sin, before being spiritual became associated with celibacy, asceticism, and withdrawal from the world. Were the conversations different? Did the experience of being sexual feel different?

When we have a powerful desire for something that has been associated with sin, or is seen as “animal-like,” this creates a strong tension. If, on top of that, we have been trained to believe that in order to sustain the social order we need to suppress what we want, the complexity of what happens can easily lead to a complex response that allows us to choose to follow the desire by playing with the edge of “badness” while telling ourselves that we have no choice, that the very experience of sexual desire takes us out of control.

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Pope Francis on the “Different Species of Human” a.k.a. Women

Nov27

by: on November 27th, 2013 | 4 Comments »

Credit: Creative Commons

Over at the National Catholic Reporter, Sister Maureen Fielder has an intriguing critique of Pope Francis’s public discussion on women. In sum, on the subjects of women and gender, Pope Francis’s comments make Sister Maureen want to cry. I sympathize.

In his already widely-discussed document “Evangelli Guadium,”which translates as “Joy of the Gospel,” Pope Francis has once again slammed the door shut on the ordination of women, as if the first time around last July was not enough. In the new document the pope writes, “The reservation of the priesthood to males, as a sign of Christ the Spouse who gives himself in the Eucharist, is not a question open to discussion.”

Yet for those of us who support women’s ordination, what is arguably even more disturbing than the pope’s continuation of the exclusion of women from the priesthood is the language he employs to justify his position. As Sister Maureen writes,

He talks about women’s “sensitivity, intuition and other distinctive skill sets which they, more than men, tend to possess.” He mentions “the special concern which women show to others, which finds a particular, even if not exclusive, expression in motherhood.” In another sentence, he talks about the “feminine genius.”

I am firmly of the belief that when average men, “regular fellas,” use this kind of over-the-top flattery to describe women it’s usually because they have an ulterior motive. Since Tikkun Daily is a family-oriented blog, I won’t get more specific about that male ulterior motive, other than to say that its precise location can be found below the belly button, but above the thighs.

But Pope Francis is not a “regular fella” – he’s the pope. So why is this pope, who otherwise wrote a thoughtful document on the spiritual dimensions of economic inequality, employing such patronizing language about half of the human population? As a 76-year-old pope, his motives are clearly different from “regular fellas” on the hunt for – to borrow a term from singer Ciara – “goodies.” But the pope clearly wants something from Catholic women nonetheless: their ecclesiastical submission.

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Everyday Life in a Transphobic World: Reflections on Transgender Day of Remembrance

Nov20

by: on November 20th, 2013 | 3 Comments »

safe

Credit: Lauren Quock (laurenquock.com).

The annual reading of the names of those murdered in the past year for being transgender is a somber reminder that the United States is dangerous place for trans people – particularly trans women and trans people of color. But the once- or twice-a-week murders we memorialize represent a small fraction of verbal and physical violence trans people experience on a daily basis. And as the campaign against the California law safeguarding rights of transgender school children demonstrates, nothing arouses violently anti-trans sentiment like the specter of trans girls and women using public restrooms.

In a country in which it’s still legal in many states to fire people for being gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender, the right to use a public restroom may seem like small potatoes. But as a trans woman who regularly uses women’s rooms at work, in stores, in libraries and other public spaces, the fear of being verbally harassed, physically assaulted or even arrested is a daily fact of life.

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Catholic Bishops Elect New Leader, Still Insist on Conflating Same-Sex Marriage and Abortion

Nov12

by: on November 12th, 2013 | 1 Comment »

Cardinal Timothy Dolan, Credit: Creative Commons

“Accordingly, Jewish difference challenges Christians not first to speak but to hear speech not their own, not simply to love but to consent to the prospect of being loved by an other.”

Amen.

Karl Plank, a Jewish literature and thought professor at Davidson College, penned those words for his section of the book Merton and Judaism, an excellent multi-author examination of Cistercian monk Thomas Merton’s relationship with Judaism, including an examination of his correspondence with his contemporary, Abraham Joshua Heschel.

Plank is on to something mighty big with the quoted passage: namely, the strong tendency in Christendom to contort the very concept of love itself into a personal power tool. As if Person A (the high and mighty Christian) is a spiritual masterpiece, oozing with divine love, almost selfless, and Person B (Person A’s peer) is just a lowly, selfish desperado, lost and confused, and in need of Person A’s oh-so transcendent love and wisdom. Of course, the whole relationship or interaction between Person A and Person B has nothing whatsoever to do with real love, but is rather part and parcel of Person A’s gambit to assert their dominance – moral, spiritual, you name it – in their social universe.

Person B is merely the conduit to achieve that end.

Gay Catholics who are sick and tired of the never-ending “love the sinner, hate the sin” claptrap from Catholic clergymen would do well to meditate on Karl Plank’s insight into Christian-Jewish relations and, I would certainly argue, apply it to what is now and has been happening between gay lay Catholics and Catholic priests, and the bishops in particular. Namely, the former becoming nothing more than conduits for the latter’s efforts at the self-purgation of their own homosexual desires.

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My Life with a Pink Water Bottle

Oct19

by: on October 19th, 2013 | 7 Comments »

I used to wake up early on Sunday mornings to play pickup basketball with a group of 30-something men in Pittsburgh. This ‘over-thirty’ game comprised a collection of largely successful men still young enough to move without creaking, but old enough to show up to a gym knowing teenage phenoms and college-age athletes were not welcome.

For months, as a 39-year-old, short Jewish guy, nothing about me really stood out. That is, until I brought my wife’s pink water bottle after misplacing my own. Suddenly, I was noticed.

Taking a swig before our first game, one guy sarcastically said, “Nice bottle,” while lacing up his neon-green Nikes. It was the first word he’d ever spoken to me. I wasn’t amused.

“Where’d you get that thing?” asked another man as teams were being chosen, tipped off by the sudden conversation.

“At the store,” I replied, surprised by such clear and overt machismo in response to nothing more than a color from this group of 30-something business men.

When, after several games, a third man during a break in the action said, “You need to get rid of that thing,” I knew that I would not be returning to play with these guys.

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Politics, Humility and Homophobia: The Strangest Bedfellows of All

Oct14

by: on October 14th, 2013 | 5 Comments »

I opened my email to the news that Governor Brown had vetoed AB 1229 which would have allowed local governments to require a smidgen of affordable housing along with luxury developments. Immediately, I felt tense and angry, outraged that rent control is illegal in California, and now this further setback. I was despondent and disgusted that a liberal governor would veto one tiny step toward affordable housing.

Then I opened another email about a community college inviting for-profit education companies, at least one of whom had said public education was “broken,” to hold a conference on campus.

My stomach tensed. My forehead ached. I felt antagonistic, judgmental, enraged and ready to shout.

Once this state of mind didn’t trouble me. I may even have welcomed the adrenaline.

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Chuck Hagel: Not a Dot-Connecter

Oct12

by: on October 12th, 2013 | 5 Comments »

Credit: Creative Commons

Over at The Atlantic, Steve Clemons has an in-depth interview with Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel. It is well worth reading. Clemons, who has opened up avenues of U.S. foreign policy discourse that were virtually nonexistent ten or fifteen years ago, is an unabashed supporter of Chuck Hagel. Therefore, don’t expect a Mike Wallace-style interview should you read it. Nonetheless, Clemons does draw Hagel out on a “whole host of issues” – as our dapper president would say – and that may not be such a great thing for Chuck Hagel, or the country. Indeed, if our nation’s enemies learn what a terrible dot-connecter the Secretary of Defense really is, we’re in more deep doo-doo than we thought.

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This Massacre Must End: The Lethal Consequences of Compulsory Pregnancy

Sep27

by: Margaret Morganroth Gullette on September 27th, 2013 | Comments Off

As soon as the Battered Women’s Shelter opened in my Sister City in Nicaragua, I got to know the abused girls (all thirteen to fifteen years old), who came to live there. I have a favorite, Adelina, the silent, skinny, thirteen-year-old who came first. Adelina had been prostituted by her mother to a neighbor who paid in groceries. Social services found out, arrested Adelina’s mother and neighbor, and sent Adelina to us.

(Credit: Amnesty International/ Creative Commons)

Adelina thought she was in love with the perpetrator. I met her the next morning, after her night of wakeful tears. I knelt down, watching her draw and speaking to her through a finger puppet. “Me gusta tu dibujo,” the puppet said in a squeaky voice: “I like your drawing.” Eventually, by saying “I wish I could draw, but I don’t have any fingers,” in puppet-voice, I succeeded in making her laugh. That laugh founded an affectionate relationship.

She lived in the shelter for over a year, studied, and proudly got admitted to the Free High School for Adults. Then she was remanded back to her mother, continuing to arrive for therapy every day. Now I learn she is pregnant, by a boy three years older. He is a drunk who has been seen passed out on the waterfront. I am distraught and helpless. She is vomiting and miserable.

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Thou Shalt Not Employ a Transgender Professor? It’s Not a Verse in the Bible

Sep27

by: on September 27th, 2013 | 6 Comments »

I don’t know H. Adam Ackley, the professor of theology at Christian Azusa Pacific University who was recently fired after coming out as transgender after teaching there for fifteen years, but having gone through my own difficult coming-out experience at Yeshiva University, I can imagine some of what Professor Ackley is going through.

ackley

Dr. H. Adam Ackley tells his students for the first time of his transgender identity. He had just written his name on the board. Credit: RNS/Annie Z. Yu.

Unlike Yeshiva University, Azusa doesn’t grant tenure. If I hadn’t received tenure before coming out, I am sure that like Professor Ackley, I would have been terminated, and for similar reasons. Some may think that religious universities are driven in this regard by fear of God, but there is no verse in the Bible in which God says, “Thou shalt not employ a transgender professor.” No, religious universities, like secular organizations that fire transgender employees, are acting out of fear of human beings: fear that students won’t register for classes with a transgender professor; fear of parents, who might send their children and tuition elsewhere; and fear, above all, of alienating alumni and other donors whose contributions keep the lights on and the doors open.

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Burying the Aborted Dead: Can Pope Francis and Spiritual Progressives Find Common Ground?

Sep22

by: on September 22nd, 2013 | 1 Comment »

Across the world, gay Catholics and allies have been rejoicing over the comments made by Pope Francis in his America magazine interview. Yet looking strictly at the pope’s comments on homosexuality, I see only a more clever iteration of the Catholic church’s “love the sinner, hate the sin” teaching. Frankly, as one who rejects sexual identity labels as nothing more than the social trauma-rooted intellectual residue of the twentieth century, and who embraces homosexuality as an extraordinary erotic gift from Almighty God that is available to all men and women of open mind and open heart, I think the pope’s ever-evolving cleverness on homosexuality is getting way too much attention.

Yet far more interesting and substantive are his remarks on abortion, given in his America magazine interview and subsequent sermon to a group of Catholic gynecologists.

Credit: Creative Commons

To the Catholic gynecologists, Francis said abortion was part of the “widespread mentality of profit, the ‘throwaway culture,’ which has today enslaved the hearts and minds of so many.” Just a day earlier, the pope caused a stir stemming from his America magazine interview when he said, “We cannot insist only on issues related to abortion, gay marriage and the use of contraceptive methods. This is not possible.”

Reviewing the pope’s zigzaggery on this issue, at least in terms of his communication style, a legitimate question could be raised: Could Pope Francis be trying to turn a new page on the Catholic approach to abortion, specifically an approach that would uphold the fundamental sanctity of every human life from the moment of conception, while simultaneously steering conservative Catholics away from their decades-long effort to use the heavy club of state power to control the lives of women who seek elective abortions?


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