Are We BGLTQSI?

HDS
Cambridge, MA. As you know, I contribute one of these reflections just about every two weeks. I try to be regular in doing so, and for that purpose, also try to write the reflection, edit it, check it, and post it, all within one hour’s time. (Readers posting comments, mostly kind, are adept at picking up points at which a little more time might have been spent in editing or research. I plead guilty.) In any case, this particular reflection has taken a bit longer, since I decided that I needed to decipher the acronym in this notice posted in the student activities’ section of the Harvard Divinity School website: “Faith for All is the campus BGLTQSI student group. We endeavor to bring together students, staff, and faculty in regard to issues of sex, orientation, and gender by hosting and running events in the HDS and wider Harvard communities, thus raising the comfort and awareness of all, regardless of faith-based background. The steering committee invites all interested members of the community to get involved with campus and Greater Boston community events and to feel free to contact the steering committee members with any questions, concerns, or recommendations for events.”
     What does BGLTQSI stand for? I used my own memory (rather out of date, it seems) and consulted several students and staff, and Wikipedia too, to come up with this decipherment: B — bisexual; G — gay; L — lesbian; T —  transgender (“Transgender is the state of one’s ‘gender identity’ [self-identification as woman, man, or neither] not matching one’s ‘assigned sex’”); Q — questioning, or queer; S — straight, or searching, or supportive; I — intersex (“a general term used for a variety of conditions in which a person is born with a reproductive or sexual anatomy that doesn’t seem to fit the typical definitions of female or male”) The inclusion of “supportive” under “S” suggests the hope at least that heterosexuals might come and support their friends and colleagues in conversation and faith sharing.
     I have not had any direct involvement in Faith for All, but at least I know that the gathering of BGLTQSI functions on at least two levels: it serves as a support group for students, staff, and faculty of every kind of sexual identity, and for those wishing to support people finding themselves in BGLTQSI; and it marks a way of speaking that is quite common in academic circles today, at least on university campuses, by which traditional categories of sexual identity and gender are called into question as inadequate, too neatly labeling the complex identities people have today, in their own self-experience and in their relationships with others. While the terms “male” and “female,” and “man” and “woman” are not dismissed, there is an acute sense, such as carries over into the classroom occasionally, that humans are most aptly thought about and related to by BGLTQSI than by the simple “male” and “female” categories. Even if I make my own extension by adding “H” (heterosexual), it would still be a thesis that we humans all find ourselves somewhere in the mix of BGLTQSI(H), and rarely neatly as male or female. "Male" and "female," the theory goes, are not subtle enough to capture who we are.
     I mention all of this — quite outside my normal expertise, and not exactly an end-of-2008 reflection — because I still have in mind Pope Benedict’s words from his Christmas address to the Roman Curia on December 22, 2008: “When the Church speaks of the nature of the human being as man and woman and asks that this order of creation be respected, it is not the result of an outdated metaphysic. It is a question here of faith in the Creator and of listening to the language of creation, the devaluation of which leads to the self-destruction of man and therefore to the destruction of the same work of God. That which is often expressed and understood by the term “gender”, results finally in the self-emancipation of man from creation and the Creator. Man wishes to act alone and to dispose ever and exclusively of that alone which concerns him.” (See the whole address on the web.)
     Since I am neither an ethicist nor a scripture scholar, I will not presume to dissect the points Benedict makes here and in the surrounding text. What is of concern to me, I suppose, is how we might receive and hear his words at places like Harvard, as if to make sense of them on campus. On the one hand, of course, papal wisdom receives no special hearing at HDS, and no statement is beyond questioning; on the other, many would listen, since Benedict is speaking directly to an issue on many minds — how do we make sense of our bodily, psychological, sexual, and spiritual experiences, if we are to respect both ourselves as we are and God as we find God?
     As far as I understand what Faith for All is about, its members would mostly agree with the idea that this is a matter “of faith in the Creator and of listening to the language of creation” — while disagreeing with the Pope’s expectation that something like BGLTQSI(H) marks a sure step down the path of devaluation, self-destruction of the human, and of God’s work. My guess, from the students I have talked to, is that while some, I am sure, leave HDS finding themselves unmoored from norms of creation and from God too, others actually find God at HDS because there is Faith for All, in a community that thinks of itself as BGLTQSI(H).
     I know of course that being at HDS would be for most Catholics something like being in a foreign land, with its own language and customs that have to studied as carefully as a European missionary might have studied Chinese language, rites, and protocols in the 17th century. If we want to speak, we have a lot to learn first. Only if we who are Catholic in places like HDS look in both directions — to what the Pope says, and to what our students and colleagues say — can we begin to bridge the gaps of age, culture, and experience, of philosophy and spirituality, that have often made for deaf ears on both sides. I do not teach courses on sexuality, nor even on metaphysics, but I do know that when I teach, Church teachings are often in my mind, and that when I reflect on items such as the Pope’s address to the Curia, my students are also with me, mind and heart. I do not wish to be a relativist, but thank God I have two ears.
     But I close with a tantalizing dream: Knowing the vigorous intelligence of my students and colleagues, and the brilliance of our current Pope, I am sure there is a lot that can be said and argued about the metaphysics of sexual-identity, about how we are to decide when a metaphysics is timely or just out of date, and about how we find God in the bodies we have and are. It would be most interesting, I dream, were it somehow possible for the Pope to sit down with a group of Harvard students, instead of the Roman Curia, to discuss his message on gender and identity. I am very sure he could hold his own in the conversation — and also that in the HDS environment where nothing would be taken for granted, he would be challenged to say more, to explain more fully the link of metaphysics, gender, creation. He would have the opportunity to explain to some very bright and spiritual students whether he really traces humanity’s loss of God to groups like Faith for All, wherein the whole BGLTQSI(H), as if the entire human race, have gathered. If only popes could take sabbaticals…

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8 years 11 months ago
The classic metaphyics of binary sex/gender does not reflect the underlying biology. The defining genotypes are not polar - in other words, to have a genetic make-up that is neither XX nor XY is not very unusual. The incidence overall is greater than 1 in 1000, so a very rough estimate would be that about 7 million people in the created world are neither XX nor XY. As our understanding of the biological (i.e. the created) facets of sex/gender grows, will metaphysics and theology keep up?
8 years 11 months ago
Let's bring this back to earth. A bipolar attitude on gender led for many years to the mutilation of intersexed infants to try to make them one sex or the other. Thankfully, many OB/GYN's have moved. The Church should too.
8 years 11 months ago
They got you on this one - that is, the intellectuals of a great university. The same type intellectual group, that by the way, thrashed Galileo once upon a time but having slunked away from any responsibility loved to point blame to the Church, only. Favorite topics are Malthusian calculations, Darwinian oaths, and, anything that would tend to equate humans with animals. Like speaking monkeys and talking cats. The whole purpose being to show that there is nothing but mere chance and no basis for any morality but what is agreed upon. Of course humans are diverse, history is full of eunuch stories - notice no "E" - not enough sex in an "E", perhaps? All this, of course, is not metaphysics, but experiental, even for the Pope. All this is perhaps not what the Pope refers to by "gender". Think of genetic manipulations and embryo modifications of certain types. All persons need and deserve dignity in how they are created, that is not the issue and never has been despite the efforts to back the Church into the corner by trying to make it the issue. To my knowledge the Church and the Jesuits in particular led in the efforts to recognize and support diversity - gender diversity if you will. That having been done, then to try to turn the tables (by the diverse)and back the Church into the corner on the male-female issue is simply to fall into the trap of condemning the hand that had fed for the further purpose of destroying what is metaphysical. That is, the recognition of a created universe and an absolute morality. Why?
8 years 11 months ago
I have a young cousin by the name of Ariana. My cousin was born in Sausalito, California and grew up in Mill Valley, California. Last June she graduated from Yale. While she was there, she was an active member of the LGBT club. Ariana is heterosexual. The reason she joined this club is that she missed her friends back home who are LGBT. Often when people from the San Francisco Bay Area travel to other parts of the country or the world, they encounter very different attitudes toward gay people and transgender people. I am a gay man who has been in the same relationship for over 42 years. For now I am not going get into another conversation defending my relationship, etc. etc. I have been very resistant to anything Benedict XVI has to say because of this thoughts about gay people and women and artificial contraception. However very recently I came across a few things that Benedict wrote. I found them very profound. I am now much more willing to listen to him than I was before. The Vatican's rigid moralism in the sexual field makes the Christian message that the Catholic Church needs to bring to the world not easy to hear by a large number of contemporary people.
8 years 11 months ago
Christ would never refer to anyone as "BGLTQSI..." because such terms do not respect the Dignity of the Human Person from the start. According to Christ, to look at someone with lust, is to break the Commandment, "thou shall not commit adultery". Those who profess to be Catholic know that the sexual objectification of any person is a form of slavery. Christ came to set us free. Love is not possessive nor does it serve to manipulate.
8 years 11 months ago
Truth is absolute, as it is God. Morality cannot be absolute, since it must be based on human nature as God created it and how we understand it. To claim our understanding of human nature is absolute is to not only dabble, but wade, into hubris.

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