I have a confession. I’m not heterosexual, and I hope you’re not either.
One of my concerns with the debate about Same Sex Marriage- especially as argued on the basis of civil rights- is that the revision will legally redefine our most basic institution by affirming a really significant fiction. It’s not simply a fiction, but a newfangled fiction and a dehumanizing fiction. It identifies persons by something called sexuality (another newfangled creation). It says this one is heterosexual; that one is not; and that that is the most important thing you can know about them,
I don’t believe in heterosexuals; or homosexuals for that matter. They simply didn’t exist until slightly over a hundred years ago. That might be hard to believe, but it is true. Of course there have always been people, who were attracted to the same gender, and there were those who acted on that attraction; but they weren’t treated as a specific kind of human being because of that. They weren’t identified as a human being by that.
My beef isn’t with labels. They’re necessary and helpful. It’s good to know that this woman’s a plumber. Its proper to speak of the local Radio Control community, but we know that these labels only tell us a little bit about the people to whom they are applied. They tell us how someone makes a living, where their expertise lies or that they enjoy model cars or airplanes. With sexual identity we’re talking about something different. We are claiming that these people are a particular and distinct type of human being because of the distinction.
When the medical community first dreamed them up, both heterosexual and homosexual were labels for sexual deviations. Did you know that? A heterosexual had non-procreative sex with the opposite gender. A homosexual did the same with the same gender, and then in addition there were normal people. Before psychology (I think it was a German) first spoke hetero and homosexuals into existence ex nihilo, there were just people.
People are sexual beings, and people have all sorts of odd sexual things going on. All people. Some are frigid; some like toes; others are into flannel or… stranger things, but there’s only one sort of ‘people:’ those who are particularly peculiar in some sexual way or other.
That seems the right way to account for things- to me anyway, and not just because I distrust real innovation. It levels the playing field. Xians and conservatives especially need to realize this. The new categories of humanity blind them to their own issues, and privilege them from the get go. ‘Hetero’ starts out normal, okay, straight… ‘Homo’ indicates aberration, bentness, kink. I have too many memories from High School with ‘hetero’ friends. I know myself too well. That way of viewing people is either silly or dishonest. No, there are just people- sexually odd people. Sexually sinful people.
Identifying people as ‘Homosexual’ or ‘Heterosexual’ is problematic because it tells us nothing about them- other than things that really aren’t much of our business, but it treats those things as the most important thing about them. It identifies them as a human being by those things that are none of our business! Jenell Paris asks us to imagine two filled paper grocery bags. You can take one home. Which do you choose? Hard to decide because you have no idea what’s inside them. What if one is labeled ‘Homosexual’ and the other ‘Heterosexual’? No help at all; sure, when you start unpacking them, you’ll take out a box of ‘same sex desire’ or ‘other sex desire,’ but that’s only one package. The bag is full. What about all the rest of the bag’s contents- honesty, love, hardworking, loyalty, compassion, bravery, intelligence, humor or…. their opposites. Which bag contains which of those?
Identifying people as Homosexual or Heterosexual is problematic because it really doesn’t tell us much about those things which aren’t our business, either. What does ‘gay’ or ‘straight’ really mean? The labels treat sexual desire as simply binary. You’re gay or straight- whatever that might be meant to indicate, but human experience touches every point along that continuum. There are very flamboyant and effeminate men who have never been attracted to a female. There are very masculine men who have the same experience. There are very flamboyant and effeminate men who are married with children. There are men who married, but were awakened later in life to a same sex relationship. There are those who’ve made a life of pimping themselves out to other men simply for survival. There are happily married men who just occasionally recall an experience from summer camp as a teen… The experience of women is as diverse. There are an infinite number of people, which the term ‘homosexual’ is supposed to describe, and yet they are as different as can be. Which of these is really ‘gay?’
Identifying people as ‘Homosexual’ or ‘Heterosexual’ is problematic because it forces people- especially young people- to struggle with placing themselves in an identity which is artificial, imprecise and arbitrary. Are you gay? Are you straight? Are you sure? Ever been curious to peek at the urinal or in the locker room? What does that mean? Can you ever be true to who you are without knowing? Can you marry, if you’ve wondered or peeked; or would that be a sham? What about all those girls who were once Lesbians, but now have a boyfriend or vice versa? Did they change? Are they bi-sexual? What is bi-sexual? Is being curious bi-sexual? Is knowing that someone of the same gender is attractive mean that you are bi-sexual? Does acting on a dare and then surprisingly enjoying it mean that you are bi-sexual? What about seeing something in a movie or at a party that awakens curiosity that you’ve never felt before? Did that make you bi-sexual? Did you change? What does it mean? How can you be true to who you are without answering these questions with certainty?
Kids, those are questions you oughtn’t have to struggle with. It’s an artificial identity. All of humanity has known what we seek to deny with our innovations. People are attractive; sex feels good; everyone wishes to be cared for. To this universal knowledge we can add that of our own Xian confession: people are broken. There are simply and only human beings in particular places in life to which they bring all sorts of sexual peculiarities. That’s true of you and your friends. That’s true of me and your mother.
Redefining marriage so as to extend it to Same Sex couples on the basis of civil equality depends on labeling, identifying and classifying human beings on the basis of an arbitrary and inaccurate binary characterization of sexual desire. It requires that we legally redefine our most basic institution by affirming that these labels are accurate and radically significant descriptions of human beings as human beings.
I believe that this labeling is dehumanizing in that it causes us to live according to artificiality, it privileges one group over another by making one think that their struggles are somehow different from that of the others and it causes us to judge on the basis of something other than a man or woman’s character by treating something other than a man or woman’s character as apparently the most important thing we can say about them. We ought to know better than that.
You are each a wonderful human being, and the most important thing you can know about yourself is that God claimed you by name in your baptism. That is who you are. You have a lifetime of struggling to be faithful to that identity, and you have assurance of forgiveness when you inevitably fall short. That’s what I know about you. You’re people, and you’re people redeemed by Christ.
Hope to write more latter. Love each of you.
Letter I– The Discussion
Letter II– Equality
Letter III– Institutions
Letter IV– Human Stuff
Letter V– Children, Love and Sexual Restraint
Letter VI– What I Meant to Say
Letter VII– A Commercial For the Opposition; Sorta
You are here
Letter IX– O Brave New World