Feb 112013
 

Nobody is a smooth intermingling of labels and identities. Often, it is where the edges of identities butt up against one another that we find the most friction – which can, sometimes, be our source of strength.  A Roman Catholic upbringing and queer identity brought us to a couple of spaces traditionally utilized for meditation to focus in on the way these identities intermix.

To view the full set, click here.

Jun 262012
 

 

With the very caveat that sexuality and gender identity are two very different things, I have, for the time being, at least, placed both subjects in the same bibliography.  As I get more time, I will probably suss them out to separate posts — but because there is often significant crossover in the ways in which they are treated, I have initially opted for a consolidated list. Here, then, is my living bibliography – and suggestions are always very welcome, as I know there’s a lot out there that I haven’t included!  Please feel free to email me or comment on this post if there’s something – a website, article, book or other media – that you think is a particularly salient addition to the list.

News Articles, Books, and Movies

A Jihad for Love. Dir. Parvez Sharma. First Run Features, 2009. DVD.

Bornstein, Kate. My Gender Workbook: How to Become a Real Man, a Real Woman, the Real You, or Something Else Entirely. New York: Routledge, 1998. Print.

Califia, Pat. Public Sex: The Culture of Radical Sex. San Francisco: Cleis Press, 1994. Print.

Conover, Pat. Transgender Good News. Silver Spring, MD: New Wineskins, 2002. Print.

Ensler, Eve. The Vagina Monologues. New York: Villard Books, 2001. Print.

Feinberg, Leslie. Transgender Warriors : Making History from Joan of Arc to Dennis Rodman. Boston: Beacon, 1996. Print.

Finney Boylan, Jennifer. She’s Not There: A Life in Two Genders. New York: Broadway, 2003. Print.

Goldacre, Ben. “Out of the Blue and in the Pink.” The Guardian, 24 Aug. 2007. Web. 25 Feb. 2012.

Green, Jamison. Becoming a Visible Man. Nashville, TN: Vanderbilt UP, 2004. Print.

Hall, Donald E. Queer Theories (Transitions). Houndsmills, Basinstroke, Hampshire: Palgrave Macmillan, 2003. Print.

Huff-Hannon, Joseph. “Don’t Call Them Hermaphrodites.” The Daily Beast. Newsweek/Daily Beast, 16 Sept. 2009. Web. 05 Mar. 2012.

Kephart, William M., and William W. Zellner. Extraordinary Groups: An Examination of Unconventional Lifestyles. 6th Ed. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1998. Print.

Kinney, Ste. “Gender Up! A Virtual Genderqueer Speakout.” Facebook.com. 28 Feb. 2012. Web. 29 Feb. 2012.

Meem, Deborah T., Michelle Gibson, and Jonathan Alexander. Finding Out: An Introduction to LGBT Studies. London: SAGE, 2009. Print.

Nestle, Joan, Clare Howell, and Riki Anne Wilchins. GenderQueer: Voices From Beyond the Sexual Binaryy. Los Angeles: Alyson, 2002. Print.

Queen, Carol, and Lawrence Schimel. PoMoSexuals: Challenging Assumptions About Gender and Sexuality. San Francisco: Cleis Press, 1997. Print.

Queen, Carol. Real Live Nude Girl: Chronicles of Sex-Positive Culture. San Francisco: Cleis Press, 1997. Print.

RMPP Publications. So You Don’t Want to be a Sex Object. Denver: Rocky Mountain Planned Parenthood, 1973. Print.

—. The Right Combination. Denver: Rocky Mountain Planned Parenthood, 1974. Print.

Sprinkle, Annie. Hardcore from the Heart: The Pleasures, Profits and Politics of Sex in Performance (Critical Performances). New York: Continuum, 2001. Print.

Yoshino, Kenji. Covering: The Hidden Assault on Our Civil Rights. New York: Random House, 2006. Print.

 

Scholarly Articles and Textbooks

Alexander, Jonathan, and Yescavage, Karen. “Bisexuality and Transgenderism: InterSEXions of the Others.” Journal of Bisexuality 3.3/4 (2003): 1-23. Academic Search Complete. EBSCO. Web. 28 Feb. 2011.

Al-Omari, Aieman, and Randa Al-Mahasneh. “Listening Skills Among Undergraduate Students at the Hashemite University.” International Journal of Applied Educational Studies 10.2 (2011): 47-58. Academic Search Complete. Web. 21 Feb. 2012.

Bettcher, Talia Mae. “Evil Deceivers and Make-Believers: On Transphobic Violence and the Politics of Illusion.” Hypatia 22.3 (2007): 43-65. Academic Search Complete. Web. 21 Feb. 2012.

Califia, Pat. “Life Among the Monosexuals.” Journal of Bisexuality 5.2/3 (2005): 139-148. Academic Search Complete. EBSCO. Web. 28 Feb. 2011.

Carver, Priscilla R., Jennifer L. Yunger, and David G. Perry. “Gender Identity and Adjustment in Middle Childhood.” Sex Roles, 49:3/4 (2003): 95-109. Print. 25 Feb. 2012.

DePalma, Renée, and Jennett, Mark. “Homophobia, Transphobia and Culture: Deconstructing Heteronormativity in English Primary Schools.” Intercultural Education 21.1 (2010): 15-26. Academic Search Complete. EBSCO. Web. 28 Feb. 2011

Dialny, Abdessamad. Commentary: Sexuality and Islam. The European Journal of Contraception and Reproductive Healthcare. 15 (2010): 160-168. Print.

Martin, Michelle. “Study: Discrimination Takes A Toll On Transgender Americans.” NPR.org. National Public Radio, 28 Mar. 2011. Web. 04 Mar. 2012.

Marsh, Amy. “LOVE AMONG THE OBJECTUM SEXUALS.” Electronic Journal of Human Sexuality, 10 Mar. 2010. Web. 05 Mar. 2013.

Nagoshi, Craig, et al. “Gender Differences in Correlates of Homophobia and Transphobia.” Sex Roles 59.7/8 (2008): 521-531. Academic Search Complete. EBSCO. Web. 28 Feb. 2011.

Sargent, Stephanie Lee, and James B. Weaver III. “Listening Styles: Sex Differences in Perceptions of Self and Others.” International Journal Of Listening 17.(2003): 5-18. Academic Search Complete. Web. 21 Feb. 2012.

Stotzer, Rebecca L. “Violence Against Transgender People: A Review of United States Data.” Aggression & Violent Behavior 14.3 (2009): 170-179. Academic Search Complete. EBSCO. Web. 22 Feb. 2011.

Stryker, Susan. Transgender History (Seal Studies). Berkeley, CA: Seal, 2008. Print

“The Woman Identified Woman.” Duke University Libraries. Radicalesbians, 1970. Web. 04 Mar. 2012.

Wilson, Brenda. “Sex Without Intimacy: No Dating, No Relationships.” NPR. NPR, 08 June 2009. Web. 05 Mar. 2012.

“Women Deserve Equal Pay.” NOW. National Organization for Women, n.d. Web. 29 Feb 2012.

Wood, Julia T. Gendered Lives: Communication, Gender and Culture. 9th Ed. Belmont, CA: Wadsworth Publishing Company, 2010. Print.

Yip, Andrew K. T. “Queering Religious Texts: An Exploration of British Non-heterosexual Christians’ and Muslims’ Strategy of Constructing Sexuality-affirming Hermeneutics.” Sociology. 39.1 (2005): 47-65. Print.

 

Further Research

Guttmacher Institute: Advancing sexual and reproductive health worldwide through research, policy analysis, and public education.

 

Jun 262012
 

A growing list of books and resources to read about kink.  I haven’t done as much research and reading in the area specifically, so recommendations are always very welcome.

The List!

Clark-Flory, Tracy. “When Safe Words Are Ignored.” Salon.com. Salon Media Group, 28 Jan. 2012. Web. 05 Mar. 2012.

Easton, Dossie, and Janet W. Hardy. The New Bottoming Book. San Francisco, CA: Greenery, 2001. Print.

—. The New Topping Book. Oakland, CA: Greenery, 2003. Print.

Greene, Gerald, and Caroline Greene. S-M The Last Taboo. A Study Of Sado-Masochism. New York: Grove, 1974. Print.

Miller, Philip, and Molly Devon. Screw the Roses, Send Me the Thorns: The Romance and Sexual Sorcery of Sadomasochism. Fairfield, CT: Mystic Rose, 1995. Print.

Scott, Catherine. “Thinking Kink: Masculinity and Submission.Bitch Media. N.p., 29 June 2012.

Wiseman, Jay. SM 101: A Realistic Introduction. San Francisco, CA: Greenery, 1998. Print.

 

Community

FetLife is a social network for people who practice kink in their lives, and is a great place to learn, converse, and meet people in your community.

Kink Aware Professionals is a worldwide directory of professionals who have experience working with kinky folk.

Portland, OR Resources

Annamarie is a local kink and sex educator.  She has put together an excellent list of Portland-specific resources including munches, organizations, events and online information, which can be found here.

Jan 312012
 

There's an interesting new book out called Seeking the Straight and Narrow:Weight Loss and Sexual Reorientation in Evangelical America. In it, author Lynne Gerber discusses the fascinating correlations between attitudes towards fatness and homosexuality.

In a Salon interview about the new book, she notes "If you think about what fatness and gayness represent, they are similar. One is a sort of excess; the idea that fat people have this excessive desire for food, and gay people are depicted as having this excessive sexual tendency. Excess is directly linked to social efforts to control those excesses, to get fat people down to size and gay people into the 'correct' sexual orientation." (Read full article here.)

Social efforts to control excesses, especially within a religious framework, are generally predicated on the notion that conformity is better than non-conformity. Visible deviance from the norm is often met with disdain; at the least, those who do not conform are treated as less than desirable and at the most they may be openly excluded from a group.

But what I wonder is this: why is conformity so desirable? Do we really want to just see others like ourselves? If I want to see myself reflected back, I'll go look in a mirror. The universe delights in variety; why should it be any different with people? It is our individual experiences which make us unique and beautiful creatures.

Why, then, is conformity so important?

Belonging to a group confers a sense of security. It provides us with the knowledge that there are people who know us and like us just as we are. In community, we have a validated identity and a bulwark against troubled times. However, that security can sometimes come at the sacrifice of individual identity, as individuals compromise their self-image to the will of the group.

But it doesn't have to be like that. We can create conscientious, inclusive community which delights in both the similarities and differences that we, as individuals, embody.

What do you think are some ways we can work to create truly inclusive community?

Feb 202011
 

We were standing outside Holocene, cooling down from that overheated dance floor, when you reeled out the door, steps unsteady and eyes full of malice.  After looking our little group over, you apparently decided that we didn’t pass your definition of acceptable gender presentations, because you stopped right in front of us and let fly some of the more transphobic comments I’ve heard in a drunken slur.  “Pick a fucking gender,” you said, “pick a fucking gender! And fucking stick with it!”

Dramatically grabbing your crotch, you graphically demonstrated the depth of your conviction. “Penis!” Pointing to each of us in turn, you emphatically blurted “Vagina!” and then grabbed your crotch again, yelling “Penis! Fucking pick a gender!”

With this charming display of transphobic pyrotechnics, you rather effectively gained the attention of not only my group but also the entire line waiting to get into the Holocene, startling us into silence. You finally reeled off down the street, a drunken fag in women’s shoes, a small-minded and fearful man. And I know what you’re afraid of: you’re afraid of me.  You’re terrified of me – a queer, genderqueer transman who doesn’t often pass, who is comfortable in gay and queer spaces, and who comes equipped with a cunt.  Well guess what? I come with a penis, too. Several, in fact, varying in length, width, and color depending on the preference of those I am intimate with.

I know you’re threatened, scared, and act hateful because of it, but it really makes me wonder what kind of internalized homophobia you must live with on a daily basis. Are you even remotely happy in your life? Do you ever genuinely enjoy life without thinking about how you have to live up to someone else’s notions of what is socially acceptable? Do you ever go out and just dance without drinking, just letting the music lift you up, free you, let you breathe and be? Are you always so desperately unhappy?

It’s a funny thing: I’ve lived all up and down the west side of this country and the only place where I have consistently met with queer- and trans-phobia is Portland.  I’ve lived here for the better part of six years now, and in that time I’ve been harassed on street corners and walking down the street just for being who I am and looking the way I do.  I kind of expect it from straight, cisgendered people – but the thing is that I regularly volunteer for educational panels speaking about being queer and trans, and am regularly pleasantly surprised by the amount of straight, cisgendered folk who are genuinely understanding and respectful. So when I get this kind of shit from within the queer community – from people who are supposed to know better – it’s especially hurtful.  And when I get it in the city which prides itself on having an especially large trans and queer population, which loves being weird, which celebrates difference, I have to wonder. Apparently difference is only fine if it fits within very strict standards of a given group – which negates the concept of diversity in the first place.

This isn’t the first time that I’ve gotten shit from within the queer community, but it doesn’t stop hurting, and it doesn’t stop me from wanting to take a knee to that crotch you clutched so tightly.  Even though gender and sexuality are two different things, we get lumped into the same category as people who are not mainstream – non-heterosexual, non-cisgendered, non-monogamous, non-vanilla, and so on. LGB has become LGBTQQIAAWTFBBQ as identity after identity is categorized under the rainbow flag of ‘gay pride.’ People call us a community, but the truth is that we’re not – we’re a population of individuals who experience similar kinds of oppression and discrimination from a heterosexist, monogamous, and cisgendered society. Community occurs when people intentionally band together, strengthening the ties of their similarities and celebrating their differences, supporting one another, and working for the betterment of all. What you did, screaming your hate into the night, was not an act of community. It was ignorance, and fear, and violence, and held nothing of respect, or kindness or basic human decency. And it was all the worse because you don’t pass either – you look as visibly gay as I’ve seen, and the fact that you poured out the same shit I’m sure you’ve been subject to onto me and my friends was atrocious.

I feel that when people have been subject to discrimination, to blatant hate and bias, they’re going to do their damndest to make sure it doesn’t happen again. They don’t perpetuate the cycle with vitriolic commentary and suggestion of violence. To do so is to become part of the problem, and to reinforce the idea that discrimination is acceptable. What you did tonight was small minded and weak, and I pity you.

Feb 132011
 

The Motion Picture Association of America was founded forty-two years ago by its longtime head, Jack Valenti. Since then, the MPAA’s standards for rating sexuality in movies have not changed significantly. American cultural values, on the other hand, have shifted and subjects which were once verboten are now considered blasé. Violence is rampant in the media: we see it on the television, in the news, in video games and splashed large across two story screens to the rat-a-tat beat of semi-automatic guns in movie theatres. Human intimacy, on the other hand, is dealt with almost shamefully, in cut scenes and R or NC-17 ratings. Two individuals engaging in a consensual pleasurable act is considered pornographic whereas an action movie hero’s stunningly high body count as he shoots, strangles, and slices life from person after person with no apparent remorse is considered appropriate for most audiences. It is clear that bias exists on the part of the MPAA against displays of sexuality, and queer sexuality especially.

Consider the MPAA’s treatment of movies which include queer sexuality. As noted in Censuring the Censors, the documentary “This Film Is Not Yet Rated splits its screen to show similar sexual scenes, with gay ones on the left side, straight on the right…. Each time, the gay scenes received an NC-17 rating while the straight scenes got an R.” The MPAA is biased against displays of queer sexuality, which reinforces the antiquated notion that queer sexuality is shameful. Queer sexuality is therefore rarely even touched upon, and it is even rarer still that a movie about queer sexuality gets wide distribution and rave reviews. When was the last time you saw a feel-good boy-meets-boy movie with an all-star cast?

The MPAA’s primary concern appears to be how much money a given movie will bring in. As Richard Corliss says in Censuring the Censors:

All national film ratings systems are supposedly created to protect impressionable children from adult content. But the U.S. scheme differs from the ones in other countries in several major ways…. The U.S. system, founded in the mid-’60s, is controlled not by a government agency but by the very industry that manufactures the product — to be precise, by the six major studios that constitute the MPAA.

The MPAA is unique in that it is an advisory board which is not comprised of neutral outsiders but is instead controlled by those who are most intimately concerned with the outcome of the ratings – the major movie studios. The Motion Picture Association serve as gatekeepers to the American public; if film makers produce material which the MPAA considers especially objectionable, it is rated NC-17, which means that the movie will not be seen in most movie theatres, will not be advertised in newspapers and will be denied exposure to the American audience at large – thus denying the ability of film makers to make the same kind of profit they would if their film were rated R. Film makers know this, as do the producers who back them and whose bottom line is the profit a film turns.

When the MPAA was first founded in the 1960s, its primary goal was not to advise parents as to whether a movie was appropriate for their children or not. Instead, its focus was on the censorship boards which still existed in many cities across America. These censorship boards had the power to ban any media which they considered immoral, and the movie ratings system was imposed by the movie studios to give the censorship boards an idea of what kind of material the movies contained. Censorship boards no longer exist, yet the MPAA is still going strong. Since the original purpose of this organization is extinct, it is curious that the MPAA has not been taken over by an outside party but instead remains in the hands of the studios who are not so much concerned with whether a movie is appropriate for a given audience but with how much they can profit from its release.

Money is a driving force for the MPAA’s rating system, and the MPAA has determined that displays of sexuality would not garner them as large a profit as violence.  Their initial categorization of queer sexuality as shameful has not changed notably since its foundation over forty years ago.  In Valenti Defends the Movie Rating System, the MPAA’s founder Jack Valenti speaks to its definition of appropriate intimacy, saying the following:

When I designed the rating system in 1968, I retained two social scientists from different universities. I asked them to put to paper the precise demarcations between rating categories so we would have specific guidelines. For example, what is too much violence for each of the categories? Much as the Supreme Court to this hour cannot define “pornography,” these professors were unable to mark precisely where the lines should be drawn. Like Justice Potter Stewart’s musing about pornography, the raters can say, “I can’t define it but I know what it is when I see it.”

Time and again, the raters define queer sexual acts as pornography where comparable heterosexual scenes are labeled as appropriate for mass distribution. In this again the MPAA differs from its foreign counterparts. Corliss reports that “in Europe, scenes of sexuality that would be proscribed in the U.S. often get a pass…. Conversely, foreign ratings boards are tougher on the most extravagant forms of movie violence, to which the MPAA board is so famously indulgent.”

Why is sexuality met with such stiff resistance, when the portrayal of violent acts against other human beings is not?  There exists in this country a fear of sexuality which becomes outright terror when the word queer is tacked on to it. This can be seen across the board: from the stiff resistance on the part of conservatives towards gay marriage to the ban of queer couples adopting in several states, avenues where queer sexuality may be displayed, whether overtly or not, are met with prejudice. The MPAA reflects these regressive attitudes, and one might say that they are only upholding the status quo. However, is it not also the responsibility of the MPAA to be open to helping engender positive change? As the self-proclaimed guardians of what is appropriate for the movie-going American, shouldn’t the MPAA’s first concern be the message delivered by the movie? Roger Ebert calls out the Motion Picture Association, saying that “the MPAA should have changed its standards long ago, taking into account the context and tone of a movie instead of holding fast to rigid checklists.” It is clear that the MPAA needs to revise their standards of appropriateness and consider the entire message of a movie instead of getting hung up on whether a girl having sex with another girl is morally acceptable.

The Motion Picture Association could make a beginning in this by revising their rater selection and training process. Criteria for serving on the deciding board for the MPAA include marriage and children under the age of seventeen. While This Film Is Not Yet Rated noted that these criteria are not always followed, the majority of the members have children, and all but one of the members as of filming of the documentary were in heterosexual marriages.  The film also mentions that the board’s chair, Joan Graves, who is a registered Republican, has a personal hand in hiring every member of the MPAA rating board. Given that the stiffest resistance to queer rights comes from the Republican Party, and given that Graves would be most likely to hire those who would best reflect her interests, is it any surprise that the MPAA displays a homophobic bias?

The training of movie raters, Corliss notes what a former rater for the MPAA has to say about the process in This Film Is Not Yet Rated: “‘there was no rater-training process,’ Jay Landers, a former member, tells Dick. ‘People were hired, they were put into the screening room, put into the rating chair and started rating films.’” Entirely lacking a set of standards, raters are left to arbitrarily decide based on their feelings of what is appropriate. Criteria for rating movies based on previous judgments are entirely absent. Training that might positively expose movie raters to different social or cultural values does not exist. Instead, the criterion used – which is kept secret by the MPAA – is presented to the rater while the film rolls, and the public suffers for it. Instituting some form of training for raters which includes cultural and social awareness training would be a positive step to changing the ways in which queer sexuality is viewed. As the raters gain a deeper understanding of people different from themselves, they will be less likely to judge queer sexual acts as immoral. By giving scenes of queer intimacy the same consideration as their heterosexual counterparts and rating them by the same criteria, they improve the public’s access to positive portrayals of queer individuals. As the public’s positive exposure to queer people and queer sexuality increases, so will their attitude change for the better.

The Motion Picture Association of America is the gatekeeper for the positive portrayal of queer people in film. As long as they continue to treat queer sexuality as shameful, they will impede the acceptance of queer people in society.  This Editorial is Not Yet Rated notes that “an MPAA spokesperson said in “This Film Is Not Yet Rated”: “We don’t set the standards, we just reflect them.” I challenge the MPAA to step up and take responsibility for the message they’re sending. Stop engaging in biased rating practices towards queer sexuality. As the deciding board for all mass-distributed films in the United States, the MPAA, however flawed and self-interested the board is, has the power to be an arbiter of positive social change. It is their civic responsibility to stop being part of the problem and start being part of the solution of genuine acceptance for every person, regardless of their sexual orientation.

Works Cited

Corliss, Richard. “Censuring the Movie Censors.” TIME.com. 2 Sept. 2006. Web. 8 Feb. 2011.

Ebert, Roger. “Getting Real About Movie Ratings.” The Wall Street Journal. 10 Dec. 2010. Web. 08 Feb. 2011.

“This Editorial Is Not Yet Rated.” The Los Angeles Times. 14 Oct. 2006. Web. 8 Feb. 2011.

Valenti, Jack. “Valenti Defends Movie Ratings System – Latimes.com.” Los Angeles Times – California, National and World News – Latimes.com. 18 Oct. 2006. Web. 8 Feb. 2011.

~~~~

This paper was originally written for Professor Denning’s Writing 223 E class at Marylhurst University, Winter Quarter 2011.

Jan 302011
 

Christianity, by and large, maintains heterosexuality as the only correct sexual orientation, defining non-heterosexual ideations and acts as sinful transgressions against the will of God. Some progressive Christian communities are changing to reflect a wider acceptance. However, in many fundamentalist and mainstream Christian communities there still remains an often unspoken pressure for queer individuals to downplay or suppress their queer selves in service to their Christian identity. Therefore, a person is forced to choose between their spiritual and sexual identities, resulting in a fragmented personal experience. Defining non-heterosexual ideations and acts as sinful is harmful to queer Christians. This definition is harmful because it confers second-class status on non-heterosexual individuals, denying them genuine integration into their religious community. Additionally, it further enforces a fragmented personal experience for said persons, resulting in an incomplete religious practice as they are not fully present in their worship of God.

Where does such a prejudice initiate, and how widespread is this belief? In At the Intersection of Church and Gay, Eric Rodriguez addresses its origins:

Six passages from the Bible (Genesis, 19:1–28; Leviticus, 18:22, 20:13; Romans, 1:26,27; I Corinthians, 6:9; I Timothy, 1:10) have generally been used to support the contention that homosexuality is a sin. Based on these passages, Christian doctrine has decreed homosexuality to be “unnatural,” a “perversion,” and an “abomination in the eyes of God” (Clark, Brown, & Hochstein, 1990; Greenberg & Bystryn, 1982; Keysor, 1979; Scanzoni & Mollenkott, 1978). While a few Christian denominations (i.e., the United Church of Christ and the Religious Society of Friends [Quakers]) view homosexuality in a more positive light, the preponderance of mainstream Christian denominations does not (Ellison, 1993; Mahaffy, 1996). In one study, 72% of Christian religious organizations surveyed condemned homosexuals and homosexuality as being an abomination (Melton, 1991).

One can note that negative attitudes towards queer people are endemic within Christian communities, and the people who perhaps suffer most from these prejudices are queer Christians.

For the purposes of this essay, the term “queer” is used as a catch-all for individuals who self-identify with a sexual orientation other than heterosexual, and is used interchangeably with the phrase “non-heterosexual ideations and acts.” The meaning of sin is, at first glance, simple: The Collins English Dictionary defines sin as a “transgression of God’s known will or any principle or law regarded as embodying this.” In most cases, something that is sinful is a verb – an act, such as thievery or lying. When applied to non-heterosexual ideations and acts, however, sin also becomes a noun, defining queer identified people as sinful. Labeling a crucial aspect of an individual’s identity as sinful revokes their ability to seek absolution; in being queer, they are always fallen from grace, with no hope of redemption.

This can precipitate a crisis for the queer Christian: as a Christian, they seek to do the will of God and free themselves from sin; and as a queer, they are forever in a state of sin, and cannot therefore adhere to the will of God. Such a situation leaves an individual with few choices, and they must either suppress an aspect of their identity or find a way to integrate them by redefining both the queer and Christian aspects in a positive light. The personal integration of fragmented individual identities does not happen without the aid of one’s community, however, so an individual thus conflicted must either find existing queer-positive Christian community or be within a community which is open to this change.

Being subject to the censure of one’s religious community for the way in which one loves is no easy thing. As Alison Webster notes in Queer to be Religious: Lesbian Adventures Beyond the Christian/Post-Christian Dichotomy, many people within the larger queer population “…share an assumption that there is something a little odd, if not masochistic, about a Christian affiliation, however ambiguous and of whatever kind” (29).  She then goes on to say that “on the other hand there is, of course, the more obvious pressure from within the Christian community. The agenda here is that to remain within the Christian fold you must give up lesbianism. The more conservative the Christianity, the more explicit this pressure becomes, but it is certainly present within liberal strains of Christianity too” (30). One might ask why queer Christians don’t remove religion from their identity altogether, and thus forego so much suffering. While the reasons queer Christians don’t leave their religions behind is unique to the individual, it does still come down to being forced to choose between aspects of their self image: the queer or the Christian. Leaving a religious practice altogether is no healthier than suppressing one’s sexual orientation and either choice can negatively affect a person’s self esteem and ability to function in society.

Not only will this crisis affect an individual’s self image; when placed between the proverbial rock and hard place of choosing between their queer identity and their spiritual self, a person’s faith may also be adversely impacted. While the Christian religions say that they are but human agents seeking to best fulfill the will and word of God, in many cases individuals within Christian communities consider the particular doctrine of their church to be the perfect and infallible word of God, and therefore uncontestable.  If a person is told, by word and deed, that they are not worthy of God’s love by members of their religious community, then they may begin to question the validity of an ongoing relationship with God altogether. They may opt to suppress their faith entirely.  At the very least, the preoccupation of being convinced they are not worthy of God’s love may turn a faith that should be a source of love, strength and renewal into one of desperation, misery and depression.

Defining queer identity as sinful is also problematic within the larger Christian community. By classifying queer people as perpetually in a state of sin, they are denied inclusion into their Christian community as true peers. Because they cannot be absolved of their sin short of eschewing a portion of their self-identity altogether, queer individuals are not allowed to join in their religious group as true brethren who have been forgiven of their sins and enveloped in God’s love.  Queer Christians therefore become second-class citizens in their community – a community which offers no pastoral or spiritual care for their unique needs.  For queer people in a homophobic and heterosexist world, there are issues specific to their experience including: supportive queer youth groups; adoption; marriage and domestic partnership resources; elder care, both physical and spiritual, and so on. When a Christian community is not prepared to deal with these issues from a queer perspective, the assistance that they can offer becomes less relevant – and, in some cases, downright harmful, as the queer Christian is often forced to downplay or suppress their identity in favor of receiving access to pastoral services and care.

For queer Christians, it is imperative that the definition of sin is revised so it no longer includes non-heterosexual acts and ideations. The definition is nothing but harmful to queer Christians, causing unnecessary anguish as the queer Christian is forced to either choose between their queer identity or spiritual self or remove themselves from their religious community of choice in order to find a gay-positive church congregation. Further, the definition of queer as sinful is harmful to the Christian community, as it denies the genuine inclusion of diverse members who also are drawn to worship within a Christian framework. In denying or being merely tolerant of queer Christians, the religious community forsakes the gift of a varied and vibrant congregation.

There exists a dual rift: that between the queer person and their Christian self, and that between the queer Christian and their larger Christian community. In order to heal these rifts, the negative association of queer as sin needs to be removed. As long as non-heterosexual acts and ideations are considered abominations by Christian organizations, there is no way that their queer congregants will achieve a healthy integration of their personal identities and into their religious community.  By considering queer people in a positive light rather than a negative one, Christian communities open the door to creating truly welcoming community for every person, regardless of their identity.

 

Works Cited

Rodriguez, Eric M. “At the Intersection of Church and Gay: A Review of the Psychological Research on Gay and Lesbian Christians.” Journal of Homosexuality 57.1 (2010): 5-38. Academic Search Complete. EBSCO. Web. 26 Jan. 2011.

“sin.” Collins English Dictionary – Complete & Unabridged 10th Edition. HarperCollins Publishers. Web. 29 Jan. 2011.

Webster, Alison. “Queer to be Religious: Lesbian Adventures Beyond the Christian/Post-Christian Dichotomy.” Theology & Sexuality: The Journal of the Institute for the Study of Christianity & Sexuality 4.8 (1998): 27. Academic Search Complete. EBSCO. Web. 26 Jan. 2011.

~~~~

This essay was originally composed for WR 223 E, taught by Susan Denning at Marylhurst University, Winter Term 2011.

 

Aug 252010
 

I. Eckankar: The Light and Sound of God

Come to modern form in the fertile grounds of the new age spiritual practices of the 1960s, Eckankar melds its roots in Indian Radhasoami (Olson, 1995, p. 363) traditions with Western religious beliefs. The term Eckankar likely comes from the Sikh phrase Ek Onkar, which means “one God” (Kalsi, 2005, p. 224).Paul Twitchell, the founder of Eckankar, is considered to be the 971st spiritual leader of Eck – also known as the Mahanta, or “living manifestation of God” (Robinson, 2007, ¶ 3). Eckankar claims to be the first religion, from which all others are drawn from, with the unbroken lineage of Mahantas keeping its teachings alive through time. After translation (death), the Mahanta’s soul advances to a higher spiritual plain where they continue to learn and teach, much like the Ascended Masters of Theosophy, as “advanced spiritual beings who once lived on earth” (Chryssides, 2005, p. 442).

Each person has an eternal Soul, “a particle of God sent into the lower worlds (including earth) to gain spiritual experience” (Eckankar, 2003, p. 1).  Eckists believe in reincarnation and a karmic cycle, and trust that through conscious spiritual exercise they can reach a state of spiritual enlightenment, both in this life and the next, where they become “Co-workers with God” (Eckankar, 2010, ¶ 6). Soul travel, dream work, and guardian spirits are also important facets of the Eckist teachings.

Eckankar recognizes the validity of other religions as ways to spiritual enlightenment, but says that Eckankar provides “the most direct teachings on the Light and Sound of God” (Eckankar, 2010, ¶ 7), the two pillars of Eckist faith. There is no doctrine of sin, with Eckankar teaching a lesson of personal responsibility, advising that one follow the guidelines established by Richard J. Maybury: “1) Do all you have agreed to do and 2) Do not encroach on other persons or their property” (Eckankar, 2003, p. 6). Membership is renewed yearly, and is estimated at upwards of 50,000 active members in over a hundred countries worldwide (ReligionFacts, 2008, ¶2).

II. Life without Compromises: Queer and Eckist

For this paper, I interviewed Frank Martorelli, the Regional ECK Spiritual Aide (RESA) – or spiritual director – of Washington State, and discussed what it meant to be both queer and spiritual. Frank was first introduced to Eckankar in 1976, shortly after graduating from college. He had been raised Catholic, and felt keenly the dissonance between his personal need for a spiritual practice and his identity as a gay man. Regretfully, Frank distanced himself from the Church. He explored various spiritual teachings, and found a wide array of beliefs which resonated with him. Frank says that “this included the ideas of reincarnation and past lives, karma, out-of-body experience, dreams, visions, meditation and contemplation, intuition, light, sound, spiritual guides and teachers, and others…. and they are all integral to the teachings of Eckankar.”

Through Eckankar, Frank found a spiritual home which he continues to value more than thirty years later. In 1999, Frank was asked to step up to the position of RESA by Sri Harold Klemp, the current Mahanta. Frank describes the honor, saying “[Sri Harold Klemp] was aware that I am gay when he invited me to serve in this position, and it has been deeply humbling to think that, as a gay man, I would be serving in this way.  I simply did not grow up with the message that ‘gay’ and ‘spiritual’ were in any way compatible. The [Catholic] church taught that I was an abomination, condemned to hell.  To have found a teaching that not only does not espouse this message, but actually teaches the opposite, is a great blessing to me.”

As we continued to discuss what it means to be openly queer and spiritual, Frank mentioned the importance of individual choice and responsibility for followers of Eckankar. He notes that identifying as queer or transgender is seen as a personal decision and that Eckankar “as an organization takes no stance.  I know many ECKists who are gay/queer, and also have an ECK friend who is considering SRS[1].  This again is a personal decision, and Eckankar takes no stance either for or against.”

When it comes to gay marriage, though, Eckankar does take a legal stance, albeit one which follows the laws of the local government. Frank elaborates: “In areas where gay marriage is legal, Eckankar allows and performs same-sex weddings. In areas where gay marriage is not legal, Eckankar does not perform same-sex weddings.” Eckankar makes this distinction out of respect for the rules of government. Frank also touched on the fact that not all individual Eckists are accepting of queer people, but that his overall experience as an openly gay man within the Eckankar community has been positive.

When asked if he would recommend Eckankar as a spiritual home for queer people, his response was enthusiastic. “Eckankar is a beautiful spiritual teaching and all are welcome…. No matter who you are, no matter your lifestyle, Eckankar is not here to put any more labels on you. Eckankar is here to help people find their way home to God again.  It is a teaching rooted in love, not fear or condemnation. Would I recommend Eckankar to others in our community?  Absolutely!”

III. Queer People: Human or Devil? Other Religious Views

The challenges of finding a spiritual home for a queer person can be many, as Frank experienced. In many religions, a person can be seen as inherently sinful simply for identifying as other than heterosexual or cisgendered[2]. Many Christian denominations still believe in ‘traditional family values’ which declare marriage (and, perforce, sex) for any purpose other than begetting offspring and homosexuality as sinful (Woodhead, 2005, p. 340 & 343). Zoroastrianism, while not possessing a doctrine of sin, also places emphasis on procreation being the focus of marriage (Hinnells, 2005, p. 250). Even the Bahá’í faith, a newer religion with strong focus on humanitarian issues, strongly encourages members of the faith to commit to a heterosexual marriage with the aim of procreation (Momen, 2005, p. 427).

By and large, it is not until one approaches religion either from the ancient past or looks at modern developments that one sees a space where it is safe to be perceived as openly queer. Ancient Rome is notable in its laissez-faire attitudes towards homosexual expression (Smith, 2005, p. 79), although its policy changed with the death of the Classical age and the birth of the Holy Roman Empire. As Christianity gained a hold on Rome, homosexuality was deemed a sin punishable by death (ReligionFacts, 2005, ¶ 8). In many world religions, having a queer identity became analogous to being at best, a damned soul, and at worst, a willing creature of the Devil. This attitude was prevalent through the late twentieth century, and can still be witnessed in many religions today.

IV. Finding a Spiritual Home in Eckankar

The options of finding a relevant spiritual practice for an openly queer person are more numerous now than ever, although it still remains a challenge within the framework of many modern religions. In closing our discussion, Frank shared with me a passage from We Come as Eagles by Sri Harold Klemp:

Many of us grew up under strict moral codes, both religious and societal. The moral code of the religions taught that love between people of the same sex was very wrong. But with the more open consciousness of today, we find that people of the same sex do love each other, and often more truly than do many people of the opposite sex.  So we realize, finally, that love loves, without regard for human opinion and human laws.

Eckankar clearly provides a welcoming atmosphere for queer identified people. Perhaps it is with eyes looking forward to new religions and those that are open to progressive change that some queer people may find the best answer for their spiritual homes. Such religions may be less likely to judge a person on the basis of perceived labels and to accept a person as they are, for who they are – a spiritual seeker.

 

Bibliography

Chryssides, G. (2005). New religious movements. In C. Partridge (1st Ed), Introduction to world religions (p. 440-445). Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press.

Eckankar (2003). About Eckankar: An overview of Eckankar and its teachings. Chanhassen, MN: Eckankar.

Eckankar (2010). Official main site of Eckankar, religion of the light and sound of God. Retrieved Aug 15, 2010 from http://www.eckankar.org/

Kalsi, S.S. (2005). Sikhism: Beliefs. In C. Partridge (1st Ed), Introduction to world religions (p. 224-227). Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press.

Klemp, H. (1994). We come as eagles: discover your greatness as Soul. Chanhassen, MN: Eckankar.

Momen, M. (2005). The Bahá’í faith: Family and society. In C. Partridge (1st Ed), Introduction to world religions (p. 427-431). Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press.

Olson, R. E. (1995). Eckankar: From ancient science of soul travel to new age religion. In T. Miller, America’s Alternative Religions (p. 363-370). New York: State University of New York Press.

ReligionFacts (2008). Eckankar. Retrieved Aug 15, 2010 from: http://www.religionfacts.com/a-z-religion-index/eckankar.htm

ReligionFacts (2005). Timeline of homosexuality. Retrieved Aug 15, 2010 from: http://www.religionfacts.com/homosexuality/timeline.htm

Robinson, B.A. (2007). Eckankar™ religion of the light and sound of God. Retrieved Aug 15, 2010 from http://www.religioustolerance.org/eck.htm

Smith, C.C. (2005). The ancient religions of Greece and Rome. In C. Partridge (1st Ed), Introduction to world religions (p. 74-88). Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press.

Wilhelm, N. (2010). TransEnough lexicon. Retrieved Aug 15, 2010 from: http://transenough.com/2010/01/21/transenough-lexicon/

Woodhead, L. (2005). Christianity: Family and society. In C. Partridge (1st Ed), Introduction to world religions (p. 340-343). Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press.


[1] SRS: Also sexual reassignment surgery. A term for the surgery or surgeries wherein a person’s physical characteristics are altered to better match their gender identity. (Wilhelm, N., 2010)

[2] Cisgendered: A person whose assigned gender is synchronous with their gender identity. (Wilhelm, N., 2010)

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This paper was written for Theology 301: Comparative Religions, taught by Dr. Lioy at Marylhurst University, Summer 2010.

 

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