Applying for jobs. Lets face it, if you pick “prefer not to say,” you may as well have stamped your application with a rainbow flag. It’s a shame that one of the options in the drop-down box isn’t: “As Foucault successfully argued, our preoccupation with our own sexuality is a trap that the discursive regime we inhabit has laid for us. Although the knowledge gained from philosophizing about sexuality can be strategically deployed for emancipatory and deconstructive purposes, it is a two-edged sword, since such knowledge also provides a site by which we can be monitored, controlled, and disciplined by others, generating and producing a body of knowledge by which power can keep us under surveillance, and, more subtly, keep us keeping ourselves under surveillance. Knowledge is power, but it not only power *for* you but *over* you.”
[Posted from a friend’s Facebook timeline, with his expressed permission].
I briefly dipped into Kyle Harper’s From Shame to Sin: The Christian Transformation of Sexual Morality in Late Antiquity (Harvard University Press, 2013) this afternoon. I have not read it thoroughly, and so until I do so, I’m not going to comment on it fully, but it did leave me a bit frustrated by the way that he would amass all the right material, but seemingly come to the “wrong” conclusions (read: not mine; and certainly not the conclusions of many other scholars of ancient sexuality either). That spurred me on to jot down the few thoughts below.
It seems to me, having spent much of the last decade or more reading about sexuality and faith, that those who wish to argue that a passage such as the one found in the opening verses of Paul’s epistle to the Romans is an absolute and trans-historical condemnation of all gay relationships (and I use the term “gay” advisedly) must argue that Paul could have envisioned what is now being argued for in some (but by no means all) quarters of the LGBTQ community, that is, responsible, faithful, stable, monogamous partnering between members of the same-sex, as opposed to same-sex sexual acts of any kind, including, but not only limited to, pederasty or prostitution, both religious and economic. Because, until it is plausible that Paul had even a vague conception of what a gay Christian marriage could look like, we must accept that his opprobrium towards people who take part in any form of homosexual expression is culture-bound and time-specific – and is made in relation to “ways of being” that are simply not possible in the modern Western world given our different schema of sexual categories (which Kyle Harper apparently appears to agree with).
As an aside, it is worth pointing out that what Paul – and other parts of the Old and New Testaments – says in regard to these so-called same-sex sex acts is nothing less than outright condemnation; take e.g. Romans 1:32, Paul specifically states that those who participate in sexual acts with members of their own sex, deserve to be put to death. If we were to understand Paul to be saying this here, and extrapolate this idea further and apply it across the board, and in relation to the rest of his teaching, we would then need to develop a very different pastoral approach to a number of people within the church. Take, for example, the malakia mentioned in 1 Corinthians 6:9, if we take this to refer to men who engage in same-sex sexual acts, and take into account its wider lexical meanings associated with effeminacy and passivity, where would we, pastorally, draw the line? Ok, so don’t have sex with another man, and also don’t wear dresses? I know a number of my straight, exceedingly masculine friends, who, at some event like their bachelor’s party, wore drag. Are they to be put to death? And wait, didn’t Jesus wear outfits that by our definitions today would be considered “womanly”? Or what about, perhaps, something like: don’t wear perfume? Does aftershave count? What makes something masculine or feminine? Going back to that same word’s semantic range, in various Greek moralising texts, it is worth noting that it includes men who perform oral sex on women, and men who’ve had too much sex with women.
This leaves Christians who want to be pastorally sensitive to their gay brothers and sisters but also adhere to orthodox Christian tradition in a sticky situation. I take it we don’t plan just yet to put our gay friends to death, but then we are happy to speak of them as celibate gay Christians, and talk about the “positive” aspects that a gay sexual orientation can bring to the church – as long as it is rightly ordered, and remains free from genital expression. The seriousness of Paul’s language, however, if he is indeed speaking about all same-sex sexual acts everywhere and for all time, should at least make us feel uncomfortable about the possibility of this.
The problem, though, as I see it, is this: Paul, nowhere gives us even a hint that he does have the kind of relationship that I sketched above in view. If we take the other instances where same-sex sexual acts are alluded to in the Pauline corpus (1 Corinthians and 1 Timothy) we see that even there those passages speak about people who are “men-bedders” (arsenokoites), which the best traditional guesses believe to be the active partners in a same-sex sexual act or a specifically coined term to speak of men deviating from their “natural” sexual desires for women, and the best revisionist guess interprets (rightly, in my opinion) to be a sort of prostitution (or, at least, some sort of sexual act with an economic component) [the most honest and responsible scholarly answer, however, would be that we just don’t really know for certain what that terms means], and “effeminates” (malakia), which, again, most traditional interpreters take to mean passive men in a same-sex sexual relationship, and which, as I pointed out above, has a range of different association (and in fact not all negative) depending on the context of its use within Greek literature. The question could be asked, if Paul wanted to condemn all same-sex sexual acts everywhere and for all time, why did he need to uses two different terms to do it? In either cases, though, it appears that Paul is condemning men who don’t act like Jewish men (perhaps specifically even Hellenistic Jewish men, think of Philo’s writings on the topic), and that what he really has in view is gender deviance (which Kyle Harper agrees with. He then just somehow gets to universal condemnation of all same-sex sexual acts as well). Therefore Paul is condemning active males doing the “wrong” activity, and passive males, and active females etc. The action is wrong in relation to his or her gender role, and the expectations surrounding it, and not intrinsically linked to the person’s sex or sexuality. Needless to say, divine inspiration or not, Paul seems to be a product of his time in some of his thoughts about gender (and yes, I did put the “some” in there before you all point me to articles arguing for his progressive views of women; trust me, I’m aware of them).
This returns me to the passage in the epistle to the Romans, because according to traditional interpretations it also refers to female homosexuality (although, this too is a much-debated matter) – and as such, it is one of the rare instances of this in the entire corpus of Greco-Roman literature. What is telling, if this is indeed referring to female same-sex sexual acts, is that in almost every other instance of these acts being referred to in other texts in the ancient world, they are usually described in order to illustrate women transgressing gender boundaries. So if anything, it strengthens the case that what is really in view here is a patriarchal condemnation of gender deviance, both of members of one’s own biological sex and also of others (and I expressly use the plural here, for I have no doubt that intersex people would be included in this also, as they certainly were in other literary sources from the period).
To sum up, what, or who, Paul appears to be condemning, are:
1. Active men in a same-sex sexual act.
2. Passive men in the same-sex sexual act.
3. All women who have sex outside of a submissive role to their husbands.
Now those of you who are good at basic logic will say, hey, wait a moment, that is everyone outside of monogamous heterosexual sex! But to do so means you would have missed the point, because what I’m arguing (which is nothing new at all) is that, for Paul, there is no such thing as heterosexual sex, and by implication, there can be no such thing as homosexual sex. And therefore, he can’t condemn it.
One thing I’ve been thinking a bit about recently – all empirical scientists everywhere close your eyes, or look away now – is this: with everything I know about God, about his character etc. – from what I’ve learnt from his word, my own experience, and the experience of other’s around me, in the world, I just can’t imagine that He would think that a loving, monogamous, responsible relationship between two people of the same biological sex would be morally wrong, or sinful. Can you? This is a sincere question.
A final word: I’d like to put down on record that my belief that gay marriage is neutral in the eyes of God in the same way that heterosexual marriage is, based upon a thorough reading of scripture and from much prayer and thought, and made in consultation with other believers. So please, Christian-who-holds-to-traditional-Christian-sexual-ethics, please don’t say that all who argue for a revisionist view do so without basing their views on the Bible (and instead base them on contemporary experience) – I for one, certainly do base my beliefs on what the Bible has to say, I just appear to have come to a different interpretation of it than you.
Picture 1: Photo taken in the chapel of Merton College, Oxford, of the brass on the joint-burial tomb of John Bloxham and John Whytton.
Picture 2: Taken from James Ingram, Memorials of Oxford, vol. 1 (Oxford, 1837).
According to Carolyn Dinshaw, Getting Medieval: Sexualities and Communities, Pre- and Postmodern (Durham, N.C., 1999), p. 248 n. 52, John Bloxham, warden of Merton, was accused by two fellows of “de crimine pessimo, non nominando" [i.e. sodomy] but because nothing could be proven, no judicial action was taken.
On the pair, see further, Alan Bray, The Friend (Chicago, 2003) [along with James Davidson’s review of it, ‘Mr and Mr and Mrs and Mrs’ in the LRB].
I live in fear of screwing up. If I mess up it’s not “Laura did something wrong”, it’s “that lesbian Christian woman did something wrong,” most likely followed by an “I told you so.” …
It is an unjust burden that LGBTQ Christians have to be on their best behavior; that we are not allowed to be human because we must be more than. On a personal level, feeling such responsibility has at times made me bitter or feel like I’m putting on a show. In trying to show the world that not all gay people are heavy drinkers and drug users, for example, I should be allowed to have a glass of wine. In trying to show the world that not all gay people are promiscuous, I should be allowed to have relationships that fail. In trying to show the world that not all gay people are atheists I should be allowed to ask questions and express my doubts."
"What is it with the Evangelicals going: ‘Homosexuality is a sickness’? And why is it always the same Reverend who’ll be caught buying crack from a gay prostitute, saying ‘we were just playing tummy-swords’?
And then he’ll deny everything: ‘I did NOT perform a homosexual act!’
No, you didn’t. Elton John performs a homosexual act. You just blew a guy.
But that’s OK.”
- Robin Williams (via @sturdyalex).
a prayer candle featuring Sufjan Stevens
where can i purchase this
"I’ve had people tell me that I should just be sad and not joke around on Twitter, but they don’t understand that joking and being deeply sad are very close to each other.”
'More so than ever, anger marks the general mood of Too Bright, especially in lead single “Queen”, which addresses the concept of gay panic and how it feels to know that the very fiber of your being makes others feel threatened. “My boyfriend is always like, ‘Why are you still going on about this stuff? Things might not be perfect, but can we start getting on with everything else?’” he laughs. “I’m glad things are getting better, but I’m going to push and be pissed off until they’re perfect. That will probably never happen, but I feel some weird duty nonetheless. Even though I can get married in Seattle, I could go to another country and get the death penalty just for being myself—I’m not making music just for fiancés in Seattle.”’
Youngest Son | All Soul’s Day
Today I make my first, brief (and probably only) foray into music journalism. To anyone who knows me, the idea of me as a music reviewer would be utterly laughable. I’m practically tone-deaf, can’t sing in tune to save my life, and even after a few years of piano lessons can barely play chopsticks. So take everything I say here with a generous pinch of salt; I am no expert.
BUT, that said, it is an absolute pleasure to share with you my thoughts on Steve Slagg’s musical project, Youngest Son, and his latest album All Soul’s Day. Those of you who have followed this tumblr and its twitter account for the past few years will know that I’m quite the fan-boy.
Steve’s music, his lyrics, the accompanying stories, and the artwork could be seen by some to fit an incredibly niche market - it is, after all, the production and expression of a young, angsty gay man and his thoughts on (predominantly) faith, grief, and death. To be honest, I’m not sure what anyone who doesn’t have anything invested in any of those things would make of his music, but I’d like to think that he does reach beyond them, and has wider appeal. Brent Bailey, noted precisely this, far more eloquently, over at his blog, Odd Man Out:
There’s a greedy part of me that wants to claim Steve exclusively for the gay Christian subculture; because as much as that subculture needs role models and advocates and bloggers, we also need musicians and artists and poets. Nevertheless, Steve’s music covers big, even universal, themes, and his honesty and courage should appeal to a wide spectrum of people for whom the Christian faith may be complicated. Consider this my exhortation for you to explore the work of Youngest Son—the music, of course, but also the affecting essays and gorgeous artwork that accompany the music on Youngest Son’s website.
I can’t do much better than echo his recommendations.
Right, so down to some of the details. If you’re unfamiliar with Steve’s work at all, I’d recommend that you listen to his three albums in order - they kinda work that way; and you can follow the different narratives and see how the stories develop.
On All Soul’s Day, the stand out track for me, is his version of the hymn ‘We Rest on Thee’. I love the original hymn on which it is based, and his version is an adaptation, not too dissimilar from the way Page CXVI have experimented with other hymns. The first time I listened to it, my eyes became misty, and I felt a lump in my throat, especially at the dulcimer (I think?) musical interlude. The album also includes covers of previous songs of his. My other highlight, worthy-of-mention track, is the opening track of the album, ‘Blank Face’. As I’ve said before, Steve’s music has a soothing, healing-balm-like quality to it, it’s the kind of thing you want to play in a darkened room after a long, tiring, day, and ‘Blank Face’ is a classic Youngest Son track for this.
Over the last few years, there have been a few musical artists that I continually return to, artists like Perfume Genius and Sufjan Stevens. For me, Youngest Son is right up there with them.
Gay Cinema and TV
Recently I’ve been having a sort of gay-themed movie marathon. Below is a list of some of the things I’ve seen recently and not so recently (in no specific order, except for number 1). If you’re someone who thinks that Will & Grace or that couple in Modern Family provide authentic representations of gay people, then maybe it’s time you watched some of these - that said, and this is a big disclaimer, gay-specific cinema and TV in general is much like Christian cinema and TV and is notoriously bad. However, at least some of the films and TV shows on this list go some way in presenting more authentic narratives of gay life than either what Hollywood and the media or the Church would have you believe. I’ve put stars (*) next to the ones I think are must sees.
1. Brokeback Mountain - yes, it is the clichéd quintessential gay film, but to be perfectly honest, I think it’s one of the best films in cinematic history (gay or straight). The soundtrack is superb, and it really is worth watching even if only for the landscapes and vistas. If I had to recommend only one gay-related film, this would be it.*
2. Milk - the biopic of Harvey Milk, ‘the first openly gay person to be elected to public office in California’ (as Wikipedia relates).*
3. Blue Burning - a more recent (2012) film, that feels kinda made-for-TV-Hallmark-y. Trent Ford is great in this. It deals with pre-DADT material.
4. Geography Club - school/teen coming out comedy-drama.
5. Weekend - this British film about a weekend-long sexual relationship between two men was well-received. Personally, although well executed, I found it a bit lacking, and if there was one film I’d happily leave off the list, this would be it.
6. Freier Fall - this German film is great. It has a similar aesthetic to Weekend, but feels more authentic - perhaps, also, just because of my love of all things German.
7. The Normal Heart - I cannot recommend this highly enough! Julia Robert is amazing (and her character provides a particularly interesting critique, whether intentionally or not, of the gay men’s lives within the film). It covers much of the same ground as the documentary How To Survive A Plague, and so watching them in tandem provides a nice complement. And if you need another reason to watch it, well… Matt Bomer.*
8. C. O. G. - this quirky (and quite difficult-to-watch-in-parts) film is based on a David Sedaris short story. It stars Jonathan Groff (of HBO’s Looking fame; see below), and has some truly cringe-worthy moments of hilarity, with a crazy Christian fundamentalist and the terrifying character “Curly” (I wont give any more away - but be prepared, there are some hectic bits) thrown into the mix. It does come across as slightly underdeveloped in a way.
9. A Single Man - Tom Ford’s directorial début, based on the Christopher Isherwood novel. It feels like one, long fashion ad - and I’m saying that as a good thing. It’s almost too aesthetically pleasing. But for all that, the storyline holds up too.
10. Shelter - great, lesser known film about the the (b)romance that develops between two younger surfer types. Sincere and honest.*
11. Prayers for Bobby - I think this film actually was made for Hallmark. It deals with gay Christian whatnot. Some humorous bits for gay kids who’ve grown up in conservative Christian families. Based on a true story, which also makes it tragically sad.*
12. Hawaii - this Argentinian film is simply lovely. Watch it!*
13. The Broken Hearts Club - feels a bit dated now, but some funny and sad bits.
14. Keep the Lights On - quite dark in parts.
15. Get Real - somewhat dated, but funny, British school comedy-drama.
16. The Way He Looks - lovely coming-of-age Brazilian gay drama about a young blind boy and his burgeoning love for a friend.*
17. Jongens (Boys) - A Dutch-language film telling the story of two young friends, coming out gay.
As far as TV series go, gays are less well catered for with anything decent.
HBO’s Looking - although lacking somewhat in plot, is carried by its slick presentation, good soundtrack, and Jonathan Groff. It feels a bit like an updated Queer as Folk, although without such self-conscious “gayness”; and the feel of extreme gay-subculture of the 80s/90s.
Very refreshing is the indie, Australian, Please Like Me, written by Josh Thomas, who also plays the protagonist. You start off finding him intensely annoying (at least I did), but he grows on you a few episodes in. The other characters are hilarious (I laughed for days over the scene in episode 1 where he attempts to change behind his bedroom door - watch it, it’ll make sense). It has a very Australian-middle-class, Napoleon Dynamite, self-produced, low budget feel, but it really is quite good. Also, the antipodean-Asian tension represented by Mae - Josh’s father’s girlfriend’s character - is great.
I’m sure I’m forgetting some gems, so I may update this list later. In the meantime, I’m always open to recommendations.
I would like to start this post off by saying something like this: “Straight people often ask me what it’s like to be gay, so here are some of the things that come to mind…”
But the truth is, I think I remember being asked that question once, by a friend who I had prompted to ask it by sharing with them this wonderful piece by Misty Irons.
So instead, I’ll jump straight in with just one everyday, seemingly mundane, difficulty that I’ve faced.
I am the only non-straight, single sibling out of four. All the rest are straight and married (and most have kids). We all get on fairly well. And yet at family occasions, I am still the single one (most of them don’t know that I am gay, or at least if they suspect it, they haven’t said anything). So whether its family lunch, or Christmas Day, I’m the odd chair at the table.
Obviously also we’re all family, but for most of them, they have their “best friend” with them at the occasion - or at least someone very special, who at one stage wasn’t their family. I in turn do not. I don’t have that person with me to whom I whisper some secret comment about this or that, or whom I “deconstruct” the day with in the car ride home after.