Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Forbidden Fruit, Hidden Lies

In the Beginning, “God created man in the image of himself...male and female he created them.” (Gen. 1:27) Male and female. Two genders. No queers.

That's the story, as it goes within mainstream Catholic discourse. I tried to live that story for twelve years. I figured that maybe if I just limped along for long enough, trying to strengthen my broken femininity, eventually it would completely heal. I would be whole again. Made in the image and likeness of God. As He intended, according to His authentic plan for human sexuality.

Then I was sitting there, in the middle of the winter, and I looked down at my body, and I realized that I didn't feel feminine. That I only rarely feel feminine. That my body image is more often than not male, and that in twelve years of trying to be the perfect woman, I'd only succeeded in fostering a deep strain of self-loathing, and a profound resentment for women to whom femininity comes easily.

I made tremendous progress at first: I went from being unable to be emotionally open with anyone to being able to be emotionally and sexually open in a romantic relationship with my husband. I went from feeling completely alienated by the idea of child-bearing to being an enthusiastic mother, a fruitful vine, open to life. I went from seeing Mary as an image of female subservience and humiliation to seeing her as an icon of archetypal femininity, “fair as the moon, bright as the sun, terrible as an army set in battle array.” Everything that could be altered by a shift in ideology, by a willful change in my relationships with men and with God, by an alteration of behaviour, I had changed.

I had figured that the rest would follow naturally. Since I had come so far, surely those last few steps would be a cinch. And yet I found myself running again and again up against this barrier: that I could not change the way that I feel about my body, that I could not change my alienation from femininity, that I could not change the orientation of my involuntary attractions. I felt confused and frustrated. Everywhere I turned well-meaning Christian conservatives were rhapsodizing about the beautiful wisdom of the God who had created us to participate in the image of the intimate life of the trinity through our masculinity and femininity. Yet there was nothing on offer for people who found themselves slipping through the cracks: the transgendered, the intersexed, the queer. The best that I could find were some dubious psychoanalytic theories, and expensive treatments that allow some people to enjoy some reduction in unwanted SSA – and perhaps, in a minority of cases, to experience sufficient OSA to successfully marry. Since I was already successfully married, that didn't help much. Everything I encountered seemed to just assume outright that all people with gender-identity issues are suffering from a form of mental illness, probably because they had bad parents. I felt angry and abandoned. It seemed that the deepest vocation of the human soul, my Christian maturity, my conformity with Christ, depended on my ability to become someone that I could not become.

Then I took another look at Genesis: “In the Beginning...God created man...male and female he created them.” In the Beginning. The Beginning. In the Beginning, God created man to live forever and never to taste death. In the Beginning man was created without suffering. In the Beginning women were to give birth to their children in joy. In the Beginning things were very different than they are today. Since the Fall every part of the human person has been subject to frailty and imperfection: not merely in our psyches, our spirits and our wills, but also in our bodies. The intellect, the will, the memory, the conscience, even the ability to give and receive love can all be weakened or effaced by a variety of biological and neurological conditions which are completely involuntary. Why, if all parts of the human person are subject to the Fall in this way, would sexuality, masculinity and femininity, be the one thing which was kept miraculously exempt?

I realized that on this one particular issue men and women are being sent back to the gates of Eden. We are being told that in order to become perfectly conformed to Christ, we must somehow, through prayer, psychotherapy, exorcism, or shere willpower, become as we were before Eve took a bite of the apple.

But it is impossible to go that way. There is an angel standing at the gate, flaming sword in hand, crying “None shall pass.”

(Part 10 of 12)

10 comments:

  1. I think this is a very insightful post. We as Christians need to recognize that in the world as it is, there are people who fall through the gender cracks. The very existence of some people that are intersexed/'hermaphrodite'--- that are biologically not simple male or female--- shows that we have to open ourselves up to the fact that some people don't quite fit into the male/female picture as it was in Creation, before the fall.

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  2. This is good. This is very good. I can't wait for the next post.

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  3. Excellent post, Melinda, regarding post-Fall life in every aspect of our world. I certainly sympathize with you in discovering (after many years) that my same-sex attractions hadn't floated off into the ether, despite my best intentions, understanding, prayer and work. My homosexuality seems to be my lifelong companion, waxing and waning ... but, it's part of who I am. The bursting forth of those attractions, after such a long time, was unwanted, disappointing, discouraging, and very, very troublesome, to say the least.

    But onto another view of the Fall:

    We need only look to what's occurred in the area of mental diversities or conditions: schizophrenia or autism, as a path to understanding differing sexual conditions.

    The psychiatric world, which is indeed non-Catholic from its inception, blamed schizophrenia on cold, distant mothers: autism on refrigerator moms. Endless repetition on faulty parents. Finally, as good research has shown much schizophrenia and autism has genetic components. But, as Temple Grandin adamantly answers the question, would she choose to be non-autistic: her answer: "Definitely not. The way I think has many, many positive aspects to it that non-autistic thinking lacks."

    So, absolutely, sexuality is not untouched from the Fall. If we submit our will to Our Lord's Will, why shouldn't our sexuality be included in that. We certainly can ask to be healed in this area; but, ultimately He knows what is best for us. Are we different than St. Paul who begged thrice to have the 'sting of his flesh' removed?

    "And he said to me: My grace is sufficient for thee; for power is made perfect in infirmity. Gladly therefore will I glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may dwell in me."

    Leading with our weakness, accepting our homosexuality, and living in right relationship with Our Lord, wherever that finds us: single or married ... is an incredible Grace of God. How wonderful, Melinda, that you can be a wonderful, loving wife and mother ... just as you are.

    I contend this whole 'reparative therapy' approach is very non-Catholic, reductionistic science, and sits on a mountain of faulty theology. What exactly did homosexuals do throughout the centuries pre-Freudian atheistic psychotherapy? Perhaps, we, homosexuals, make too much of ourselves? Just my opinion, though.

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  4. This post reminds me of our marriage prep with a fantastic priest getting his PhD in Marriage and Family Theology. He really wanted us to understand that even after baptism, concupiscence still remains. That we may NEVER be fully restored to Eden in this life and that can manifest in a variety of ways. He didn't want us entering into marriage with some unrealistic, idealistic, theologically incorrect vision of heaven on earth (even if yes, we do get slices of heaven on earth here and there). I feel like too often in Catholic culture we skip from totally fallen to totally perfectly redeemed Sainthood, forgetting all the complexities and journey in between.

    Also, fwiw, I don't identify as queer and have always been romantically attracted to men, and many have commented on my femininity (sometimes to the point of um, perhaps insulting me without realizing it? Like I'll get comments on how "meek, humble, dependent on men" I can be. Uuuh, gee thanks. Anyway, whether said in an idealized light or in an odd, half-insulting way (haha), the comments have always struck me as odd. Because I have often not "felt" feminine either... I didn't love kids or babies growing up and had a deep-seated fear that I wasn't "motherhood material." To this day I feel awkward holding other women's babies. I didn't feel like a great cook, good at fashion, or just, well I dunno... like I was oozing with femininity. On top of that I could be really forcefully opinionated and really favored the "egalitarian" model of romantic relationships than the "husband is the head" set-up. So it was a surprise when I reverted to Catholicism when folks really wanted to attach this "idealized feminine image" to me and assumed "femininity" came easy to me. I guess I share this because so often I see us Catholics making assumptions about what life must be like for others (and assuming they are lacking compared to those others) that may or may not really fit!

    Thanks again for writing this series!

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  5. Great words.

    I know that feeling.

    I can control behavior (for the most part), but I'm limited in how much I can control who I've been made.

    Accepting my orientation/identity - something I have only limited control over, at best - was huge, and changed my life. Forcing myself into an ideal was really breaking me.

    When it comes to the stuff I cannot control, your starting point has to eb the hand you're dealt.

    Anyway, thanks for writing these. I'm getting a lot out of them...

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  6. Right on! Even if I believe I "should" want to change my "orientation", I may be unable to do so. I certainly cannot do so merely by deciding I'd like to. No, that requires something beyond my ability and strength, dare I say it requires a miracle? And what if that is a miracle that God has not chosen to grant (at least not yet)? Do I have the right to demand a specific miracle from Him? Is it right for me to hold off approaching Him until He has granted such a miracle? Does He refuse to accept me for His own because I have not yet experienced this specific change? GOD FORBID!

    As the popular Protestant hymn has it: "Just as I am and waiting not / To rid my soul of one dark blot / To thee whose blood can cleanse each spot, O Lamb of God, I come, I come."

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  7. Hi Melinda, I was at a pro-life rally today in Belfast Northern today. As we were going passed, there was some gay people who seemed really angry as we were marching passed. i was wondering if you had any advice on how to dialogue with them so that I can understand them and let them know that we do not hate them because i have a family member with same sex attraction so i want to be able to just talk to them and find out why they are hurting

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  8. Did you give up on this series?

    R.

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  9. Melinda,

    I would like your feedback on this issue.

    Men and women are sexually different not just in appearances, but in sexual brain chemistry too.

    Women experience a flood of oxytocin — the same hormone which they produce in labor and in nursing a baby. Oxytocin causes a woman to be forgetful, decreases her ability to think rationally — and causes an incredibly strong emotional attachment to form with the man she is with. Men also produce some oxytocin during sexual intercourse. But their bodies also produce a hormone called vasopressin. Vasopressin, called “the monogamy molecule,” kicks in after sexual activity, and its impact is to heighten a man’s sense of responsibility. It encourages that part of him which says, “My gosh, she may be carrying my child! I’d better get serious about life! I’ve got to get to work, to provide for this family!”

    Sex speaks the language of permanence and family.

    Marriage laws were created to affirm what already existed.

    A lot of things have confused this language between men and women.

    This confusion has become widespread severing marriage from sex, and sex from family.

    Contraception is a major culprit here because it seeks to sabotage this sexual link to permanence and family.

    NFP is not great in itself, because it can be used outside of marriage too. it just helps read this language.


    I welcome feedback on this issue.

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  10. Melinda,
    Thank you so much for your posts. I've read all ten articles in your (hopefully) 12 part series and they really speak to me. I'm a young adult struggling with homosexuality. I'd love to talk with you via email. Is there a way to contact you?
    God bless you!!
    -Hopeful

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