Offensive message at Stratford’s Canada Day ceremony

Last week I went to Stratford, Ontario to celebrate Canada Day with my family in my hometown. The weather was beautiful and I got to see a bunch of old friends.

Behind City Hall, there were food vendors, booths from various organisations around Stratford, and live music and dancing. Some were done by actors from the Festival, and other acts were done by fiddlers and tap-dancers from around Perth County. I understand that they were recruited from a festival that was going on nearby.

Partway through the event, one of the groups of dancers came on stage, and there were two boys in the dancing troupe. After they finished, the person who was emceeing the dancers made a comment that still bothers me. She said in a very tongue-in-cheek way, “Look at that—those two boys are pretty smart, aren’t they? Learning to dance with all those girls.”

The audience laughed, while I looked around in horror.

What’s offensive about this comment is the suggestion that it’s not okay for boys to learn to dance because they like dancing. That would be beneath a man’s pride. That would be womanly. There are some things that men don’t do, and dancing is one of them, and if a boy enjoys that, he should be ashamed of himself.

But learning to dance in order to pursue sexual congress—that’s another story. You can still be a man if you’re dancing in order to get in a woman’s pants. It just means you’re really shrewd about it, that’s all.

Two things immediately come to mind that are really problematic about this:

  1. This sort of thinking is fantastically demeaning to women. It puts women in the place of being a sexual object to be pursued by men. Not only that, but these girls were about ten years old! Why on earth is this even being hinted at?
  2. Having attitudes like the one I outlined puts boys in a position where they have to rationalise all their actions, preferences and their own identity through the lens of manhood. Not only that, but it emphasises how fragile someone’s manhood actually is: If just the act of dancing publicly is enough to threaten it so much that it needs to be rationalised by appeal to the subjugation of women, then you are sending the message that a person’s manhood is a very fragile thing indeed, and that it’s okay to turn a few ten-year-old girls into sex objects in order to preserve it.

I would actually be interested in knowing if there’s a way to quantify how much violence can be shown to be directly causally related in a non-controversial way to some guy trying to defend his own manhood. These comments are not benign.

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The Grey Literature

This is the personal blog of Benjamin Gregory Carlisle PhD. Queer; Academic; Queer academic. "I'm the research fairy, here to make your academic problems disappear!"

10 thoughts on “Offensive message at Stratford’s Canada Day ceremony”

  1. Your comments are very insightful, and they elucidate underlying assumptions of that seemingly innocuous joke of which the joke-teller was presumably unaware. I found the blog helpful to read, as it will hopefully give me pause to think more critically about any gender-related jokes that I either hear or am tempted to make.

    Just a question that comes to mind based on the very last paragraph of your entry. Are you suggesting that it would be better to simply discard the notions of manhood and womanhood? If the category of, for instance, manhood were discarded, then presumably a man would never be motivated to use violence in order to defend the norm of manhood that he defends. If that would be the consequence of getting rid of notions of manhood, then that is a very persuasive argument, indeed, for getting rid of the concept.

    By the same token, however, you might simply be suggesting that people often operate with morally deficient notions of manhood and womanhood. In that case, men who feel the need to use violence to defend their self-understood manhood err not in having a notion of manhood, but simply in having an incorrect conception of manhood. The categories of manhood and womanhood are not in themselves wrong, but they can be spelled out in morally better and worse ways – and, of course, some such ways might be positively evil.

    That would be my diagnosis of the problem: such men do not err in having a conception of manhood, but in having the wrong conception of manhood.

  2. Thank you Phil! It’s good to hear from you.

    To be perfectly honest, I can’t think of anything of value that would be lost if the concepts of manhood and womanhood were completely abandoned. Perhaps there is a morally innocuous conception of manhood or womanhood, but I can’t think of one.

    When considering candidate definitions of manhood, I would suggest the following as a test for whether one’s conception of manhood is morally acceptable: Is it something that a person “has going for them” to be a man? That is, is manhood an asset? If manhood is an asset, then that definition of manhood is unacceptable.

    Allow me to explain why.

    If you’re serious about the equality of men and women, manhood conceived of as something superior to womanhood is obviously wrong. So, any definition of manhood that would allow a man to say “and for that reason I am better than a woman,” is one that should be rejected.

    This eliminates any conception of men as the gracious benefactors of women. On such a definition, men are there to help and protect women—to be their “knights in shining armour.” This justification of the concept of manhood is a mistake. It defines women as victims. It puts men in a position of power and women in a position of need, and it puts them in these positions by nature, not by bad luck. We can safely reject any “knight in shining armour” theory of manhood as being immoral.

    Next, let us consider whether manhood can be conceived of as something good that women just cannot participate in. Even here there is still something wrong, and trying to conceive of the two genders as “separate but equal” doesn’t help. We used that line for racial segregation too. By specifying certain qualities or roles for the exclusive use of men, even if we use the language of equality, we are saying very clearly that there are limits on what women can do—namely, the things that make men special.

    Lastly, if any conception of manhood makes being a man something greatly to be desired or fought over among men, then there is also something morally wrong with it, and not just because of its bad effects—having to “defend one’s manhood” in any sense is an act of pride.

    Manhood also constrains the identity, actions and preferences of the male-bodied. Men and women both use social pressure and violence to ensure that other men conform to the ideal of manhood. The joke at Canada Day was an example of it. Also, if you are a male who is attracted to other males, you are much more likely to kill yourself due to bullying. You are also more likely to be bullied for learning to dance. God help you if you wear the colour pink. Even if we ignore the major violence, the actions and preferences of men are limited because they have to keep up their fragile manhood. A man can’t admit to weakness, show emotion, participate in certain activities, wear certain clothes, or even take certain sexual roles without impeaching his manhood.

    So, as long as manhood is conceived of as something that is good, it is something that should be completely rejected, on pain of living a seriously immoral life. Participating in the institution of manhood is an act of utter pride and a serious offence against women. “Being a man” is participation in the root cause of a great many evils, including violence between men, domestic violence against women, and also the bullying of homosexuals to death. I don’t think one is equally responsible for the violence as the people who commit it, but self-identifying as a man and other forms of participation in the institution of manhood help create the conditions under which they occur.

    All that to say, it is really hard for me to think of manhood in a way that is morally acceptable, but if you have a suggestion, I would be glad to hear it. :)

  3. Murph,

    As far as I read your comments, the core of your argument seems to be that a) concepts of manhood and womanhood inevitably treat the genders unequally, b) it is immoral to treat genders equally, and therefore c)concepts of manhood and womanhood are inevitably immoral. There’s much of interest in your response beyond this core argument, but I take this to be your primary objection.

    But do differential roles necessarily imply inequality? I don’t see why that must be the case. Our lives are filled with role-differentiated practices: people occupy different roles in democratic political systems, in businesses, in charitable organizations, on athletic teams, in orchestras, and so on. In none of these cases do differential roles imply that the parties who occupy these roles are of unequal moral worth.

    What is it that justifies this kind of role differentiation? If the practice itself serves a morally defensible end; and if the scheme of roles is an effective way of achieving this end; and if those who fulfill these roles do so in a virtuous way, then it is morally permissible for the role-differentiation to exist.

    In short, that is the way in which I would understand the moral justification of concepts of manhood and womanhood. I believe that they serve a morally important end; they can do so effectively; and – and this is maybe the most important clause – they do so if and only if people fulfill them in the right way.

    Just because a good institution can be perverted and abused by people acting in immoral ways does not provide a decisive reason for abandoning the institution. This principle holds for a great many things – social institutions such as government or language, or technologies – but in no such cases do perversions of these otherwise beneficial entities justify altogether ridding ourselves of them. I hereby mean to refer to the last comment that you made that merely by identifying oneself as “a man” a male is complicit in various wrongs. I don’t think that is so if, as I have suggested above, there is not a necessary link between role-differentiated social systems and inequality of moral worth.

  4. There is certainly a sense in which you’re right to say that in organisations such as orchestras, businesses or athletic teams, that there are different roles, but we do not ascribe higher moral value to the conductor than we would to the bassoonist, for example.

    Different roles themselves are not bad things. There is nothing morally wrong with “being strong” or “being nurturing” or “taking leadership in a marriage” or whatever your favourite role is that is normally associated with being a man or a woman. (Here’s a few other gender-roles, and there’s nothing necessarily wrong with any of them: doing the dishes (W), taking out the trash (M), cooking (W), being submissive (W), being the bread-winner (M), not wearing the colour pink (M), being attracted to women (M), being attracted to men (W), being interested in fashion (W), being interested in power tools (M), knowing how to apply make-up (W), not knowing how to apply make-up (M), etc.)

    Unfortunately, just the existence of a set of roles or qualities is not all that manhood or womanhood consist in. Genders are normative.

    What is wrong is the bundling of all the roles and qualities associated with manhood together, and all the ones associated with womanhood together, and then setting those bundles of roles and qualities up as normative for every male and female, respectively, and punishing digressions from those ideals.

    That’s something that we don’t do for orchestras, athletic teams or businesses. In those organisations, different roles are not set up as normative for certain classes of people, and divergences from those roles are not punished. No one has ever been bullied to the point of killing herself because she plays the trumpet rather than the clarinet. Westboro Baptist Church does not protest at funerals with signs about people who work in Human Resources when they really should have gone into Accounting. However, if you diverge from gender norms enough, you will be bullied and possibly seriously hurt or killed.

    Here’s a challenge for you: try wearing pink women’s clothes, high heels and make-up for a full week, and don’t tell anyone that you’re doing it for any reason other than your own authentic preferences. I say “for a full week” because I think that you would experience the greatest cruelty and fear on Sunday morning.

    You might be thinking, “The bullying and cruelty is not something a virtuous person would do—that’s just a person acting in an immoral way. It’s not the concept of manhood that’s the problem here, it’s the people in these situations who are acting badly.”

    It certainly is the case that the people are acting badly in those situations, but they are doing so because they are justified by the normativity of the concept of gender that we encourage by participating in it. The concept of manhood has two parts—descriptive and normative: There is a “this is what a man is” part and a “you really should aspire to this ideal (and women should not)” part. If you dropped either the descriptive part or the normativity of gender roles, that would be the same as dropping genders entirely. If you dropped the “this is what a man is” part, then there would be no “manhood” to set up as normative. If you dropped the “you really should aspire to this ideal” part, then it wouldn’t matter whether or not anyone was a man. If a male-bodied person wore a dress and manhood wasn’t normative, there would be nothing remarkable about that at all.

    Let us consider more subtle evils than being bullied, beat up or other such offences. Some are done by well-meaning people who (in some sense) love the objects of their hatred.

    For example, imagine you are the parent of a child that is male-bodied, but cannot identify with being a boy. He wants to wear a dress and make-up and be pretty. He wants to play with dolls and not with trucks. He speaks with a lisp. What should a fully virtuous parent do in that case? Should she encourage this behaviour, as she would with a little girl, or should she use her coercive powers as a parent to stop this behaviour, without regard for the child’s identity or preferences?

    Even if the parent doesn’t resort to outright punishment or shame to instil a proper respect for gender norms, if the parent somehow finds a morally neutral way to curb the child’s identity and interests, that is still morally suspect. (Imagine a non-gendered case—a parent who wants her child to play with astronaut toys rather than construction equipment toys. We would be rightly suspicious of a parent who used her coercive powers to try to enforce such preferences in her child. Why not just let the child do what he wants, even though he has different preferences from you?)

    If we’re serious about respecting a person’s autonomy, we should let the child continue to have whatever preferences he has in matters like toy or clothing preference. There is nothing wrong with wearing dresses, being pretty or playing with dolls—even if you’re a boy.

    (Keep in mind, children are people too. Granted, they are not ideally rational people—even less ideally rational than adults, if possible. And yes, I even grant that many choices a child makes should be overridden by the wisdom of their parents, for their own good. I’m just saying that this is not one of those things.)

    There would need to be some compelling end that would justify a parent constraining a child’s preferences, and even more so if this is done (as is normally the case) using shame, punishment, deprivation, etc. That’s to say nothing of trying to justify a teenager bullying a less manly teenager or Fred Phelps-style cruelty.

    If you think you can justify the behaviour of such a coercive parent by appealing to worries that the child would suffer bullying at school for such preferences, then that’s just another reason to do away with the concepts of manhood and womanhood.

    Further, for simplicity, so far I have largely left out the fact that human sexual biology is not a simple binary. There are people born with one testis and one ovary or with other ambiguous genitals. There are female-bodied people who are in fact androgen insensitive males (they have XY chromosomes). The fact is, humans are not all male or female, and this is shockingly common: Approximately 1 in 500 babies are born with ambiguous genitals. (Ethel Sloane, Biology of Women, 3d ed. Albany: Delmar Publishers, 1993, p. 168)

    Horrifyingly, it is still standard medical practice in Canada today for babies with ambiguous genitals to be surgically altered so that they are closer to having non-ambiguous male or female external genitalia, because we believe that a child cannot be properly socialised unless they are made to fit into either manhood or womanhood. We mutilate the genitals of our babies in the name of manhood and womanhood.

    You mention a couple times that genders are morally underwritten by an important end that they help to promote. I would be interested to know what morally defensible end you can come up with for the practice of gender normativity. To be frank, I can’t think of anything good that will be lost if it is abandoned.

  5. Hi Murph,

    The question of the good that conceptions of manhood and womanhood might serve will depend on how one fills in the content of a particular account of manhood and womanhood. The conception of manhood I have in mind is that men should assume primary responsibility for leadership, material provision, and protection, and should fulfill these responsibilities in Christlike ways. The conception of womanhood I have in mind is that women should assume primary responsibility for the well-being of children and the home, and should fulfill these responsibilities in Christlike ways. I say primary responsibility because I do think that there can be a great deal of flexibility in how these various responsibilities are taken care of by men and women working together.

    I understand the goods served by these conceptions of manhood and womanhood to be as follows:

    1) They serve the chief end of reflecting the whole nature of God, who has made women and men collectively in his image.

    This first end is the overriding good served by upholding conceptions of manhood and womanhood. The following ends are really only derivative from 1), but are still important to note.

    2) These conceptions underscore the interdependence and complementarity of men and women generally.
    3) They foster well-functioning families in particular, where both wife and husband understand themselves as working together in complementarity ways. (But to reiterate, there can be much flexibility in how these various responsibilities are taken care of.)
    4) For a wide swath of men – who broadly share a similar range of masculine psychological and physical characteristics – and for a wide swath of women – who broadly share a similar range of feminine emotional and physical characteristics – participating in these conceptions brings out the best in them. The best in men is generally brought out by challenging them to lead, provide and protect in Christlike ways. The best in women is generally brought out by holding up in highest esteem their concern for their children, families, and homes.

    As you say, there certainly is a descriptive and normative aspect to conceptions of manhood and womanhood. However, it’s not the case that those who commit violence against homosexuals are justified by gender norms such as those above. Immoral persons might rationalize their actions to themselves on the basis of such norms, but that is all – a rationalization, not a justification.

    They also might mistakenly think that one of the implications of holding to such norms is that those who don’t readily conform to them should be punished. However, they would, indeed, be mistaken in their line of reasoning. To reach that conclusion, they would need to supply an additional premise that is not contained within the norms themselves. The norm clearly contains within itself the implication that those who fail to subscribe to the norm are in violation of a moral principle. But it does not contain within itself what constitutes an appropriate human response to that violation: whether the response ought to be, for instance, violent vigilante reprisal, or social censure, or loving correction and restoration.

    If, in fact, the proper end served by all of our actions – including the way we understand and conduct ourselves in relation to gender – is the glory of God, then, as I understand it, this same end actually prescribes the loving response, not the violent one.

  6. Phil,

    I’m not sure that we can jump so quickly to assuming that manhood and womanhood reflect the nature of God in any way that justifies the evil that manhood and womanhood create.

    First, God is not male or female. God is spirit. (John 4:24)

    Second, as I mentioned earlier, it is just a fact of our biology that God has not even created all of us male and female, to say nothing of genders. (And recognising this fact does no violence to the truth of the poetic expression of Genesis 1:27.)

    Also, I’m not sure that it’s true that leadership, participation in the workforce or even physical protection are domains of life that men are better suited for, or even that males who do not aspire to achievement to such areas are doing anything even slightly wrong. The psychological characteristics which you argue make men better able to enter such roles are arguably the product of social conditioning and our own prejudices.

    Women have proven themselves to be equally capable in areas such as intelligence, leadership ability and even in areas of physical strength and ability, despite the common belief held for millennia that they are naturally less intelligent, less inclined toward leadership, or less able to participate in physically demanding activities such as law enforcement or military service.

    You appeal to an empirical claim, that participating in manhood as you define it would bring out the best in men. There are, I’m afraid, large numbers of people for whom coercion into these gender norms is severely distressing, and for whom even “loving correction” for their departure from heternormative gender patterns could be characterised as abusive.

    Abusive behaviour runs counter to God’s character in a very clear way. It is a sin against God. This is even more pernicious because this abuse is conceived of as a rehabilitation rather than as a punishment. A person who just wants to punish deviance will eventually have to admit that justice has been served. On the other hand, there are no lengths to which a “morally motivated” tormenter will not go in order to bring about a “cure” for the one she is torturing.

    Gender normativity on the other hand, is arguably not a reflexion of God’s character at all, and I find it doubtful that you will be able to construct a clear case for this based on Scripture, without assuming what it is that you’re trying to prove.

    The fact is, like many issues that have been read back into Scripture, it is more than a little anachronistic to try to find the “Biblical position” on what manhood and womanhood are, as if the writers of Scripture had every social issue facing us today in mind as they crafted the nuances of the texts of the Old and New Testaments. Such issues are not at all what Scripture was written about. All Scripture was written to speak of Christ—to prophesy His coming and to glorify Him. (Luke 24:26–27) The writers of Scripture just didn’t have the issue of 21st-century gender normativity debates in mind when they set pen to papyrus.

    Similarly, the authors of the Bible didn’t have the issue of 19th century African slavery in mind when Scripture was written. In fact, if you try to do a simple, non-reflective reading of Scripture, you could say that it has a very pro-slavery stance, and that the institution of slavery even reflects the nature of God:

    Slavery was written into the Mosaic law. At no point in Scripture are we encouraged to abolish slavery. Paul even describes himself as a slave of Christ Jesus. (See Romans 1:1. Yes, it’s “slave”—doulos in Greek. Look it up. Don’t let the ESV confuse you.)

    One could argue that because slavery reflects the nature of our relationship to Christ, it is hallowed by that reflexion, despite the countless evils and horrors that it encourages. As long as slaves and their masters treat each other with Christlike character, there is nothing wrong with the institution itself.

    I think this argument is entirely analogous to that of gender normativity:

    Marriage and many other heteronormative roles for men and women were written into the Mosaic Law. At no point in Scripture are we encouraged to abolish heteronormativity. The relation between Christ and the church is compared to a man and his wife.

    You argue that because heteronormativity reflects the nature of God, it is hallowed by that reflexion, despite the countless evils and horrors that have resulted because of it. On your account, as long as men and women treat each other with Christlike character, there is nothing wrong with the institution.

    Famously, George Whitefield, an American evangelical, campaigned for the legalisation of slavery on the basis of Scripture’s putative endorsement of it. Whitefield’s contemporary, Wilberforce, campaigned successfully for the abolition of slavery in the British Empire. History condemns Whitefield and holds Wilberforce up as a hero of the Christian faith, even though it is much harder to make a Scriptural argument for Wilberforce’s position.

    If we are willing to completely abolish slavery on such theologically shaky grounds, I think we should be willing to reject gender norms on the same terms, and we may be morally culpable if we do not. (James 4:17) If we are to retain gender norms on Biblical grounds, there should be some clear and unambiguous way in which Scripture endorses gender normativity—an endorsement that is much stronger than the one we have in Scripture for slavery.

    You might argue that the evils of human slavery are much greater than those of heteronormativity. That may be the case (or it might just be the perspective of a heterosexual man—I think I’ve argued extensively about the evil, pain and abuse that gender norms cause), but a Christian should strive to give no quarter to sin at all. If you are serious about addressing the sin in your life, seriously consider whether your position on gender normativity is one that is an insult to God.

  7. Murph,

    You’re certainly right to point out that we need to understand the Biblical text in light of the authors’ original concerns. All too often, we as contemporary interpreters fail to do just that.

    I also find it a weighty point when you say that forcing someone to conform to a gender norm can be abusive, and it must especially be so when a person may not be physiologically suited to any one of the norms. And I agree that God is not abusive.

    I do regularly find myself second-guessing my current stance on the issue of gender norms, but, in asking myself the following questions, I still find myself driven to conclude that conceptions of manhood and womanhood are good, and are part of God’s good design.

    First, I find it difficult not to understand Christian Scripture as recommending certain concepts of manhood and womanhood. Even when the putative counterexample of slavery is considered, I think there are sufficient differences between the two issues so as draw somewhat different conclusions about what Scripture says about each.

    One criteria that I use to determine if a principle is culture-specific or transcultural is whether it is rooted in the character and nature of God. I start by saying that based on Genesis 1:27, the complementarity of manhood and womanhood seems rooted in the character of God. But, as you point out, it seems like (on the basis of a passage such as Romans 1:1) that slavery might also be rooted in the character of God.

    Maybe using the specific term “character and nature of God” doesn’t quite capture what I’m thinking here. However, doesn’t Scripture present manhood and womanhood to be rooted in God’s nature and plan in a much more frequent and deeper way than in the case of slavery? In other words, aren’t there much deeper Scriptural roots for gender roles than for slavery?

    Both Genesis 1 and Genesis 2 seem to me to underscore the conclusion that God designed human beings to reflect His image collectively as men and women, and that these genders are designed to be complementary. Moreover, it is significant that this design was part of God’s original, pre-fall creation.

    In Matthew 19, Jesus brings these two passages (Genesis 1 and Genesis 2) together and, with these in mind, seems to confirm a heterosexual norm for marriage.

    Then in 1 Corinthians 11:2-16, Ephesians 5:22-33, and 1 Timothy 2:11-15, Paul employs arguments that seem to corroborate the view that complementary gender roles are rooted in God’s intentions, both in his original design as well as in his redemptive designs.

    It’s true that Paul exhorts slaves to submit to their masters “as to the Lord” (eg., Colossians 3:22) in a way that is seemingly analogous to the way he encourages wives to submit to their husbands (Ephesians 5), but Paul’s direction to slaves doesn’t have the same Scriptural background as his direction to wives. That is, the direction to slaves isn’t built on the same foundation of Genesis 1 and 2; it’s not corroborated by something like Matthew 19; and it isn’t amplified by anything like the passages in 1 Corinthians 11, the rest of Ephesians 5, or 1 Timothy 2.

    In sum, Scripture seems to reveal that complementary gender roles were intentionally instituted by God, whereas I don’t know of any passages that suggest that God intentionally instituted the practice of slavery for anything like similar reasons.

    A second criteria I use to determine if something is culture-specific or transcultural is whether or not a principle is confirmed in the Old Testament and New Testament – and, more specifically, if it seems confirmed in the Old Testament, by Jesus, as well as by later New Testament writings. Scripture’s teaching about gender roles seems consistent across all three of these eras – OT, Jesus, later NT – as reflected by the passages I’ve listed above.

    It seems that slavery might pass this test, too, as it is seemingly sanctioned by both Moses and Paul. Significantly, though, corroboration by Jesus is missing in the case of slavery. Also, while Paul seemingly sanctions slavery, he also urges Philemon to take back his runaway slave “no longer as a slave but more than a slave, as a beloved brother” (Philemon 15-16). And how do we take into account, when Scripture does sanction slavery in the OT for instance, the fact that (as far as I understand) slavery in that time and context was very different from what comes to mind when most of us hear the word “slavery” now? Where all Christians – and virtually all modern people – strongly agree is that forcible, unchosen, chattel slavery of the kind characteristic of the antebellum American South is immoral. I think that Christians, though, as well as other people, are justifiably less certain about where to draw the line among forms of economic relationships that are morally suspect in a less extreme way. In light of all this, I’m not sure what to think about what Scripture says about slavery.

    Second – apart from Scripture – if God did design humans according to the gender norms of manhood and womanhood, isn’t there apparent physiological corroboration of this claim whereas there isn’t any parallel corroboration of a claim that God designed humans to fulfill norms of master and slave? In other words, I see no physiological evidence to support the claim that God made humans to occupy complementary roles of masters and slaves. However, there is apparent physiological evidence to support the claim that God made men and women to occupy complementary roles, chief of which is the complementarity of men’s and women’s reproductive systems. As you have said, a significant number of people do not fit neatly physiologically into either of these categories. But men’s and women’s reproductive systems are nonetheless uniquely complementary.

    Third, I try to give a lot of weight to the point that forcing someone to conform to a gender norm can be abusive. And I readily concede that many times people have been coerced into gender norms in abusive ways, or have been unduly punished for failing to conform. We need to be on guard against such abuses. But isn’t there a relevant difference between simply encouraging or urging someone to conform to a gender norm, and forcing them to do so? (And especially when that forcing assumes the coercive power of the state?) And, if it is true, that God, with good intentions, has given us a framework for conceptions of manhood and womanhood, and has designed most people physiologically to occupy these roles, wouldn’t it be best to encourage each such person to be a man or woman (as the case may be) in a Christlike way, while encouraging every person to occupy one or the other role but not forcing anyone?

  8. Phil, I have composed a response for you, but I’m afraid that it’s 13 pages long, and it contains formatting that I think helps with the clarity.

    Hence, I uploaded it as a PDF and as a Word document.

  9. Today I received the following email from Phil:



    Since my reply to your most recent essay is also likely too long to be reasonably posted on your blog, I’ve attached both Word and PDF versions of it. If you see fit to, please provide links to them on your blog, along with some small note briefly explaining what they are. If you’d rather not, though, that’s fine with me and feel free simply to look over my reply yourself.

    I haven’t responded to all the issues that you raise, but I do comment on many of the relevant Scriptural passages. Despite the many issues I don’t touch on, I hope that the essay nonetheless benefits our dialogue in certain important ways.

    Also, while I have found our discussion over these last few weeks very stimulating, I’ve also found it not a little exhausting and time-consuming. So, at least for now, I plan to take leave of our ongoing discussion. If you wish to respond to this last document, please feel free to do so, knowing that I would take the time needed to read your reply. However, I would not plan to respond for the foreseeable future.


    I have uploaded Phil’s response as a PDF and as a Word document.

  10. Phil,

    Thank you for your reply. I can certainly understand your fatigue over thinking through this issue. Over the last couple years, I have at times become very tired of having to think about it. There are many times that I wished I could have just “taken leave” of the discussion myself.

    You are experiencing what I sometimes think of as the “freak show” mentality toward this issue. It’s something that I struggle with myself.

    “Freak show” mentality occurs when someone looks at the trans, gay, intersex or the otherwise queer and says, “Isn’t that strange.” Then, she makes an attempt to fit them into her worldview that answers most of the questions that are important to her. The solution that she comes up with may not be one that is very liveable for people who aren’t straight (i.e. heterosexual and following a heteronormative gender pattern), but it is one that answers most of the “big questions,” allows her to keep her prejudices in order, and it doesn’t ask her to make any serious sacrifices—she doesn’t have to leave her church, confront deeply entrenched widely-held and evil beliefs, give up her privileges as a straight person, or change her life significantly. There are always a few niggling little doubts and loose ends about how her position regarding queers fits into real life, but those don’t seem important enough to think through. The stance she takes is the cause of a great many evils, but most of those evils can be pinned on individual vice as easily as they can be on the system that allows for them. And since this issue doesn’t affect her, or the majority of people anyway, she glosses over those problems.

    When she has come up with such an answer, she leaves the “freak show,” goes home and pretends that the problem no longer exists. The only problem with that sort of thinking is that some of us can’t go home from the “freak show.” We live here. Due to facts about our biology or psychology that cannot ever be changed, we can’t just turn off the debate when it becomes tiresome.

    For two years, I have had to deal with a near-constant assault of Christians who have attacked me because of my sexual orientation. I have been warned in serious tones that I am going to hell. I have had concerned visits, phone calls, emails. I lost my church. I lost nearly all my friends. My family thought I was having a psychotic episode when I told them. Not only has there been open abuse, but there has been a massive change in the way that I am treated. Whereas before I was respectable—I was Christian leadership material, now I am, at best, a “project”—someone to be converted, or in some cases, just a cautionary tale.

    I don’t mean to belittle your efforts, but you haven’t really struggled with this issue. You haven’t thought it through, except as an exercise in how to maintain your previously-held beliefs. I don’t say that because I think you have been doing so consciously, or because you haven’t been taking this issue seriously, or because I think you’re unintelligent or because I think you are evil. Quite the opposite. I hold you in the highest respect. You are a very clever man and a very good one.

    I just mean that you haven’t been motivated to think about this issue because you have always had the option of putting it aside and living your life the way you always have.

    There are incredibly strong social, political and economic incentives for you to “tow the party line” on gender issues. For example, if you come out with a pro-homosexuality stance in the church, you will most likely be branded a heretic. You will have to give up any hope of future church leadership. You will lose the respect of many people whom you value highly. If you change your mind on this, there will be a very high price to pay. Everyone you know and whose opinion you value will do their best to try to convince you that you are not a Christian if you take the “wrong” position on this issue. You can’t even imagine the horror, the vitriol and the hate with which the church will treat you, but you probably have an idea.

    In my case, I came to exactly the same position on sex and gender as the one you seem to be taking (and for many of the same reasons) until September of 2009, when I started seeing a psychiatrist because I had been experiencing many of the symptoms of depression, including suicidal fantasies on a daily basis for the previous two years. It took two years of depression and nearly killing myself before I seriously reconsidered what I thought about sex and gender.

    Sometimes, it takes something big to shake a person out of her dogmatic slumber.

    I’m not saying that your questions aren’t legitimate, or that there aren’t good answers to them. I’m not saying you’ve been dishonest or that you have had anything but the best of intentions. I’m just saying that we should be aware of the non-rational forces that are at work in this issue, which are very powerful.

    In our debate, I think you and I have shown, if we can agree on nothing else, that two reasonable people can come to widely divergent conclusions given the same text.

    That shouldn’t be surprising to Christians. Christians still haven’t settled the issue of whether we should baptise our babies or not, despite both sides claiming victory on the matter in no uncertain terms, and each side claiming that the other has an inadequate and sinful understanding of Scripture. In the same way, may I suggest a cease-fire on this issue.

    We both think we’re right. We both think the other party is sinning before God. We both think our position is justified by Scripture. We both want to do what’s right. Let’s now each choose to accept the other, and let’s accept each other as brothers.



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