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Wishing Well

My contribution to June’s Carnival of Aces, hosted by dating while ace.

If you’ve ever heard a person talk about their faith in roughly the following format: “I had something going on, then God happened, then stuff changed for the better,” then you’ve run into a testimony. These word-of-mouth stories are the single most prolific and accessible method for Christians to talk about their lives and their beliefs.

I bring them up because the latest issue of the Asexual had me think about representation, even while I failed to write something clever on time. In my fantasy land, Christians happily bring up how their sexuality and their faith interacted and maybe took them through some hard times and maybe taught them something about themselves or the world and maybe meant their lives changed. For the better, because this is fantasy land.

In short, if I dream of representation, I dream of hearing testimonies from LGBTQIA folks, preferably asexual folks and, for the almond-whipped-cream-on-top-of-a-salted-caramel-cheesecake, demisexual or gray-ace folks.

All the more because these stories are meant as examples and as teaching tools. Testimonies are meant to tell others how to live. While I know, intellectually, there are plenty Christians with another sexuality out there, these are not stories easily found. They are not people likely to speak up, with how controversial a topic sexual orientation is, in the church around the world. Other voices dominate.

So I ache at the near-silence and I keep seeking it out, the person-like-me, both Christian and othered in their sexuality and yet managing to unite these two. I keep kneading my own faith into shapes that I think might be good and hoping someone else has a similar heap of dough already made into a nice cake.

That somewhere, someday, it might not be strange to suddenly hear a person talk about their sexuality and faith: “I discovered I was/struggled with being/came out as (not-cisgender-and-heterosexual (asexual (demisexual))) and then God happened, then my life got a bit better.”

Until it stops feeling like I’m yelling into a wishing well and only hearing my own voice coming back.

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On Virginity, the label

I live in a progressive society.

I am ‘not sexually active’, rather than a virgin (maagd).

I

Virgin and maiden and damsel (in distress) are the same word in Dutch.

Everyone is the hero of their own narrative.

I was a child in the nineties.

We were never told we should be the damsel.

Thus, it remained a word for other people.

II

…Born from the Virgin Mary… (geboren uit de maagd Maria)

Except that was not the Mary I liked or pictured.

My Mary was the respected wife of a middle-class carpenter with half a dozen children, who had been exiled to Egypt and returned to Israel only to move to a completely different town and build a new life there succesful enough to afford a pilgrimage to Jerusalem and the only woman on the planet to have raised God the Son with reasonable succes and saw him go off to do inexplicable things and then had to bury her eldest child.

The woman who went and asked that same Jesus for a miracle because her friends’ wedding was about to go off the rails.

The Virgin was a blue and white robed statue in old chapels.

Thus, it remained a word for other believers.

III

I was never asked if I was a virgin.

Society never impressed this word on me, but went out of its way to reject it as oldfashioned.

I was always asked if I was sexually active.

So, I was ‘not sexually active’.

Thus it remained a label for other cultures.

IV

I never needed the word to describe or defend the fact I did not have sex.

It was rather taboo to ask if someone had ever had sex.

If you had it, presumably you boasted.

If you did not speak of it, it was assumed you simply did not have it recently.

I moved too much so I did not grow up in one place.

I did not have a family that considered my sexual activity its businesss.

I had no people come on to me uninvited or presuming they could have sex.

Thus, it remained a line of defense for other people.

V

I did have talks with friends, of course I did.

It is really easy to turn the conversation to other aspects of a relationships.

People really love to talk about their own experiences, if they talk about it at all.

I also had kind enough friends that they simply respected my being single as a choice.

When I had a relationship, it felt so utterly personal, tender, vulnerable, I was circumspect.

In talking to my partner, the past seemed so much less relevant to discuss than us, now, until it didn’t exist anymore.

Thus, it remained a discussion I never had.

VI

Every single doctor I have ever had.

Every form.

Are you sexually active.

Yes. No.

I answer.

I get, perhaps, a look.

Thus, it remained a question I was never asked.

VII

The only time the issue of virginity was raised, was in a religious context.

It came dripping with bad and worse associations. Submission. Purity culture. Patriarchy.

I felt revolted at the mere idea of identifying with it.

I like having my judgment respected when it comes to my sexual activities.

I like having the freedom to discuss what I did and did not do without immediate censure.

I like having no law or rule dictate or limit my activities so long as I do not harm or harrass anyone.

I like the sense of safety and respect and responsibility that awards.

I like the idea that I answer to God, and God alone, when it comes to whatever consensual sexual activity I engage in.

The idea that I make choices to follow what I believe is right freely, in my own time and without outside pressure.

I like it a lot.

I like sexual freedom.

Thus, it remained a discussion I tried to avoid.

VIII

I am not a virgin.

I have never had occasion to identify with the word.

I have never much discussed it and when I did, disliked it.

I do not apply this label to myself.

IX

Ironically, people will apply the label if I am ever very clear about the limits to which I have been sexually active.

I cannot even make sense of where that line is drawn.

Is there one?

X

I do not wish to be a virgin, with all that that entails.

I am simply ‘not sexually active’.

On Virginity, the hymen

Lady bits will be discussed in this post.

I live in a progressive society.

I am ‘not sexually active’, rather than a virgin (maagd).

There are reasons for this. I want to illustrate that.

It’s always felt so… natural (vanzelfsprekend).

Privilege alert.

I

With great glee, teen magazines and sexual education revelled in one fact when I grew up.

Only one percent of girls would have their hymen intact and bleed when they had sex.

Hymen. In Dutch, literally virgin seal (maagdenvlies).

The accuracy of the statistic wasn’t important.

Its repetition was.

Scientific fact or fiction as a mantra, a talisman.

II

Your hymen will 99% likely not be intact.

It meant, do not fear sex.

It meant, it won’t hurt, try it.

It meant, you are safe, don’t worry.

It meant, there is no magic.

It meant, there is no unforgivable sin.

It meant, you will still be the same person.

III

There is no magic.

Your body cannot be a sacrifice.

Your blood does not have special powers.

You will not be targeted by evil sorcerers or monsters or bogeymen.

IV

There is no unforgivable sin.

You are not more virtuous for having had less or more sex.

You are not more holy before you have sex.

You do not have to be an angel.

You will not be a slut.

You do not need to be ‘kept safe’ for your own good.

V

You are safe, do not worry.

You are not in danger because you are innocent or beautiful.

Others’ lust is not on you.

Sexual harrassment is a crime.

We make laws, we bring justice.

If you are in danger, we are on your side.

We will teach you how to speak up.

We will teach you how to fight.

We will teach you how to be prudent.

We will teach you how to wield our laws.

VI

Do not fear sex.

You will still be the same person.

Your body is yours to do with as you please.

We have enshrined this in the declaration of human rights.

We are dedicated to bringing this freedom to everyone around the world.

This freedom is your inalienable right.

VII

Try it, it won’t hurt.

Here comes the sticking point.

What if I don’t want to try sex?

Then I don’t, I suppose.

VIII

They said, your hymen will likely not be intact.

You may not have a detectable hymen in the first place.

It may break when you ride a bike or a horse.

It may break when you insert a tampon, fingers or a device.

It may break with rigorous physical activity.

They said, be careful with the vagina, that may be narrow.

IX

The vagina may be narrow.

I have discovered the truth of this last part.

It is a flexible channel with muscles around it.

Go figure what inactivity does.

X

Relevant: bikes.

The Dutch ride bikes regularly from age four.

I have always wondered if other nations had a higher percentage of intact hymen.

XI

Relevant: tampons.

I preferred tampons.

We swim a lot, in Holland.

Hobby, outing with friends, day out in summer, exotic vacation.

Imagine having a 25% chance of not being able to do that.

XII

Relevant: fingers.

It’s hard to bend over and see, easier to touch lady parts.

We were informed it’s good to clean and be familiar with those lady parts.

We were told about a terrifying host of things that can be wrong .

Mostly, I remembered it was good to inform a doctor if anything seemed off.

That means knowing how my genitals looks when they’re alright.

XIII

Relevant: stimulating devices.

I explored enough to know parts were functional.

I found that it worked differently for me, however.

It took me a while to figure out, hey, other sexuality.

XIV

Upon the stage of public opinion, the Dutch don’t really have conservative evangelicals.

We have conservative Muslims.

They are not considered white, so they are ridiculed more openly.

Thus, Christian girls worry a lot less about being a virgin, at least in a clear physical sense.

Muslim girls, well-informed, do worry about not being virgin in any discernable physical way.

I have overheard several serious discussions of the wonders of goat’s blood packets in the marriage bed while on the train, over the years.

XV

An intact hymen is for other cultures and other times.

Physical inspection was for horrible quack-doctors among Victorians.

Physical mutilation is for horrible witch-doctors on other continents.

Here, just sign a petition, send a card.

XVI

Except, not really.

I read about sexual education going out the window.

I read about girls not knowing about or being scared of their own genitals.

I read about women feeling scared about not having an intact hymen.

I read about people getting sick, of STDs spreading again.

I speak to fellow Christians honestly believing this is all a good development.

I am speechless.

XVII

Your hymen is likely not intact.

It’s just a little fold of tissue.

It’s okay.

I find I am holding a talisman.

Anxiety and the Church

I

I joke, sometimes, that my demons are all inside my head. A life of insecurities fed by a vivid imagination and an intellect as adapt at self-deception as it is at self-reflection.

I have a hard time acknowledging that this internal conflict is legitimate.

II

I am fighting myself.

It’s not real.

(Others won’t care.)

III

I have buried what I want so far I do not have words.

(On top, in ascending order: Fears. Excuses. Euphemisms. Silence.)

IV

I grasp at vapour eminating off what cringes in the shadow.

(I put you there, I am sorry.)

V

(Silence.)

It is reflex, when someone starts in on abstinence, starts in on homosexuality being a sin.

Stop. Listen. Internal fact-check. Extrapolation of world-view. Phrase counterargument. Project likely reaction. Stay quiet.

Empathy. Open-mindedness, I used to think.

The truth: I am weak to claims that it isn’t polite to talk sex and politics and religion.

I allow the dominant discourse to go unchallenged.

(Inoffensive.)

VI

(Euphemisms)

When I speak, it is in the other’s words, the other’s paradigm.

Intercultural. Bridging gaps, I used to think.

The truth: I would rather step on my own convictions than another’s.

I contradict myself, from conversation to conversation.

(Inoffensive)

VII

(Excuses)

When I attempt to speak honestly, either feeling safe or feeling too angry to curb my words, I still struggle.

I still slant what I think to an angle or omit controversialities or insert rationalisations.

Simplifying, explaining, I used to think.

The truth: I do not wish to break relationships, and worry too vividly.

(Inoffensive)

VIII

(Fears)

When I break down in a safe space, with a trusted person, I do not control the words.

I sketch the shape of fears grown like fungus in the dark, hardly knowing the place they arise from.

Venting, being open, I used to think.

The truth: I am scared of things I have not dared to examine, for fear of what I need to change.

I have an outlet, and the status quo continues.

(Inoffensive)

XI

What do I want?

I sit in a dark room staring at deeper shadows.

My eyes adjust.

X

I am accepted.

What do I fear?

XI

I stare back at myself, older, hands hidden the shadows.

Perhaps holding children, adopted, biological.

(Deliberately a single parent, with added stigma.)

Perhaps holding a partner, unknown age, gender, religion, ethnicity.

(A relationship, might be rejected)

XII

What do I fear?

Offence.

(Will I remain acceptable?)

XIII

If you let go, you could easily step forward, I do not tell myself.

If they stay secret, you could easily stay there, I do not tell myself.

If they come with you, they could get hurt, I do not tell myself.

XIV

What do I fear?

(Deeper, go deeper)*

Finding my future self empty-handed.

XV

I look up at the light.

No one I love deserves to live in a pit like this, I tell my future self.

Duh, she answers.

(I imagine she fears less.)

XVI

I am accepted.

I still fear the church.

I remain silent, I twist my words, I hide what I believe.

I lie, because I am scared of the future.

I fear having to pay a price for my heart’s desires.

XVII

What do I fear?

Losing everything.

My present community.

A potential future family.

Having neither.

XVIII

I am fighting myself.

If I do not win, it will be real.

(Go on the offence)

* I watched Revolutionary Girl Utena, all three seasons in a single weekend. I love fantasy that deconstructs shit, and this came with a bonus absolutely gorgeous queerplatonic relationship (or so I interpreted it). Definitely recommended. (And free on youtube here!)

God Curse Judgmental Gentlemen

For December’s Carnival of Aces, about staying in the closet, I’d like to write about my own struggles with my fellow Christians. Thinking I should tell them about asexuality, feeling I can’t.

Yes.

I am a practicing Christian who identifies as neither hetero nor gay, but as demisexual. I’ve explored my sexuality in my mid-twenties. I’m from an open culture and a liberal church and a loving family.

Aside from a few private conversations, I am in the closet. This blog has a pseudonym. Acquintances don’t know and, mostly, don’t ask.

Part of me just doesn’t want it. Sexuality is mine, not for others to know or judge. As a woman, you’re too quickly an object anyway. I honestly love being a sexual subject, undisturbed, not much noticed because of beauty or age or behaviour. Unshamed and as such, unashamed. Not harrassed so far and yes, I’ve been lucky but I can say this for my country: people can just be people.

One drop of acid in all the honey…

I dread to speak of asexuality to my brothers and sisters in faith. At the same time, how the hell are they going to get informed, given a fair chance to be a constructive part of the discussion, if someone doesn’t speak up?

After several hours’ bible study and arguing in prayer, I can only conclude the following: the core of the Christian gospel holds for sexual natures and behaviour as it does for any part of us. In other words, being Christian, you believe you are forgiven any wrongdoing, you believe you are loved. You believe this is a base to build an awesome, joyful life and be a good part of humanity. More to the point, you believe all people are loved, equally, by a God whose say-so you’ve accorded the absolute and ultimate authority.

I felt confirmed in my own faith and practice. I felt the more puzzled by why sexuality, any (a)sexuality should be a problem. I felt the most surprised by my own troubled and continued silence.

Why can’t I come out to fellow Christians, if I believe God Himself is alright with my demisexuality?

Truth is: I’m scared.

I don’t believe most of my fellow Christians obey God. I have seen them exclude, discriminate and commit violence on people with other sexualities. It does not inspire confidence. I have found some of them to be as proud as the Israel chastised by old-testament prophets. I think them to be so far from the truth, sometimes… will I be accepted in my lifetime?

Yes, by some. Not by others. But fear speaks in black and white, not shades of grey.

I have trouble quantifying exactly what my concerns are. I can’t say what would be the correct course, for one community to engage the other. On a personal level, it’s silenced me. It may do for a while yet.

Read your Bible (but I didn’t read that)

Advent.

Lighting four candles, one more each week. Reading the story of the immaculate conception… Mary, visited by the angel Gabriel. Mary, the archetype virgin who dared to have a kid. Mary, mother of the gently smiling face of women’s split sexuality. (The other face smirks)

Refreshingly, the pastor remarked that we spent too much time focusing on the virgin bit. It was cool, what she did, but let’s not get obsessed, shall we? I settled in for some original food for thought.

Let’s focus on Gabriel, he said. And then proceeded to sexualise Gabriel’s visiting Mary. Proceeded to call his speech “courting her” to have God’s child and “seducing her” with the image of what she’d do. It got a bit suggestive.

And I just. No.

I could not conceive of an angel being sexual, here. This story, out of all stories, is supposed to be non-sexy. That’s the point. Wasn’t no sex. Why read into it? Why pretend there was some sort of spiritual version of attraction?

And then realised that was the whole point: if you’re sexual you can and do read that sort of thing into it. You can read attraction or sexual tension into any story. Into almost any situation, in fact. That’s how powerful our imagination can be. Whether it’s there or not… ‘s mostly in our mind.

Conversely, we can happily go through life without reading a sexual layer into anything. Nothing need be sexual if it isn’t explicit. Not flirting. Not a romantic movie. Not a gaze aimed at us.

So yeah, even the story of the immaculate conception can have a sexual charge to some readers. And in other cases, what might be sexually charged to one person, is not to the other. At all.

I know that what I find to be sexually charged is far more limited than it is for most people. ‘s why I consider myself to be on the asexual spectrum.

And… it’s alright. It’s all in our minds anyway. Like a lusty angel Gabriel is now in mine.

No, not the one from Supernatural. Unfortunately.

A Christian’s Love

Part two of the three-parter for the September Carnival of Aces.

I could write a thousand posts about future fears or current worries concerning my religion and my sexuality. I could show you a thousand shades of theology and at some point, I will get to examining helpful ways of uniting the discourses of Christianity and asexuality.

For today, though, allow me to take you to the real intersection of those identities, where personal faith meets demisexuality, in the heart. The full measure of what the greatest command, love others like yourself, does to me.

I am human. A potential for terrible sin and a potential for awesome goodness coexist inside me, wrapped in a fragile body. In order to be the best flawed mortal I can be, at any given time, I need to be able to accept myself fully, while knowing the worst of what I am. I also strive to do what good I can without crossing my limits or forgetting to enjoy it. I love myself.

If demisexual is what I am, I should discover and accept that part of myself and work to incorporate in into my person and express it honestly.

Everyone is human. Each person a creature of unimaginable complexity and incalculable worth. Each person an agent for good and evil. Each capable of empathy, of imagination, of intelligence and stupidity. Each needing other humans to love and to be loved. Each worthy of time and expense and relationships. Each both powerful and limited by society, by their own minds, by circumstance. Each an other to be loved.

Everyone should be loved and gender and sexual identities should not limit that, as they do now. We should explore all the different ways we can love and practice those that suit us.

Everything is creation. Even the smallest slice of science highlights a reality wondrous beyond our wildest dreams. As much as we say, open-minded as we are, our perceptions are limited and limiting and the greatest and scariest thing is to walk beyond them and discover something new.

Confronted with an unfamiliar aspect to humanity, such as asexuality in all its shades and variations, the best I can do is to discover it and understand its implications.

I am a human amongst others, in a creation vaster than I know. And I know that the best I can do, here, now, is to love others as I love myself. For those I love, it means I need to love them well. For strangers, it means I need to accept them as beings with an equal worth to myself, deserving of the same empathy, the same consideration as I, whoever and whatever they are. For my enemies, it means I can wish better for them and work to mitigate whatever evil is committed.

Loving myself, loving others, is ever evolving, always a work in progress, and always worth doing, always rewarding. I can work up hate over what’s wrong in the world or work to clear the path and appreciate that which is good and strange when it comes my way. I choose the latter.

I am mortal. I cannot do as much good as should be done. I cannot love everyone equally. I have no control over the world, over each group, or even completely over myself.

I will stumble over my own prejudice and privilege, fear others’ disapproval over my sexuality and regularly be tied up into knots over whatever mistakes I made. But when I fall, and I will, there is so much to get up for and discover.

I can love myself. I can love others. I can love all of it and it’s best life I could wish for, whatever shape it takes.

I am demisexual, and if I was thus created, who am I to tell God it’s not good? The same goes for the way others are.

Far More Intimacy In God’s Name

A group that advocates the need for less sex in relationships… is religious leaders. I am only acquainted with my own, so excuse the Christian bias, here.

Here’s why this isn’t helpful: they still advocate for intimate relationships outside family to include romance, marriage, children and sex, albeit after marriage. Such relationships are elevated in importance over all others. Worst case, relationships with people of other religions and friendships with other genders are actively discouraged.

Aside from the misinformation and social problems this causes, this theory is especially weird when contrasted with practice.

My religious community has provided me with a half-dozen types of relationships, from “habitual greeting on a Sunday, but member of the same community” to “see them every week in small groups and also hang out randomly because they’re cool people” I have no words for outside of that community, because “fellowship” has become a weird and icky word in the Christian propaganda.

It’s a relationship sandbox for people re-entering society after some type of isolation, such a long-term therapy, and sought out either by individuals or by organisations encouraging them to go to church. Social engagement is important, too, whether through volunteer work or by churches cooperating with non-profits and grassroots initiatives.

On top of that, and hardest to explain, is how central and intimate a relationship with God is. I guess with one or multiple gods, or saints, if your religion is different. Prayer is a private conversation. A religious text is a personal diary or a letter as much as it is a history. Science is an exploration into the endless wonder an eternal mind produces. Human variety is an expression of how limitless we can be, not how limited we are.

In other words, a church can provide a feeling of community and a platform for platonic (and yes, romantic or sexual) relationships few other organisations can. Prescriptive attitudes and a bias towards monogamous heterosexual marriages is detrimental to that.

Welcoming church?

Well, if you really want to be one…

So to this questionaire1 I’d like to add:

  • Do you exclude any people or individuals out of principle?
  • Have you ever outright told people they were “wrong”?
  • Do you have a pro-active anti-discrimination policy?’
  • Do you organise activities aimed at socialising?
  • Do you encourage or discourage relationships of any kind?

Further reading (and image)

1. Self-evaluation guide for welcoming churches (blog post).

Asexuality and Verbal Warmongering

While staying in the US, I’ve had Chick-fil-A’s fresh lemonade and loved it. The trouble is that they are part of a group express a “Christian” philosophy that opposes mine. Much like Hobby Lobby who recently has in court tried to fight for a weird-ass religious freedom1. What’s so bad about it is rather neatly on display in a twelve-minute sermon. Go watch it2 if you’d like and then come back to read what’s so toxic about it for a Christian demisexual in an asexual community, associated with a wider LGBTQIA community.

I’ve commented as I listened. Warning: prejudice and sarcasm.

The first minute is lighthearted stand-up comedy. When he’s established himself as a jovial all-American guy, he starts.

1:13 “I want to sound a warning: there is a war on religious liberty in the United States of America.” First off, no there’s not, there’s freedom of religion. Second, he’s claiming there’s a fight and thus an us versus them with his words right off the bat. Not a good sign. Third, what people spout off in America doesn’t stay in America, but finds its way around the world, especially since English-language material is dominant in the worldwide Christian community, the way what’s said in Arabic finds its way around the umma.

1:28 “This war on religious liberty is targeting people of the Christian faith.” It’s hard for a vocal, affluent majority to be the underdog. Notice that he tries to create enmity amongst the audience with his words before defining the supposed villain.

1:49 “We are on the verge of having our faith criminalised.” After plugging his book and name-dropping Mike Huckabee (? no idea who the dude is, not sure I want to Google him) he digs the hole for the as-yet mysterious enemy a little deeper. By the time he lets them enter stage left they might as well be wearing devil’s horns. And you’re about as far as you can get from persecution, in America. Hell, even in Holland we’re rather privileged as minorities go. Muslims catch the worst of the prejudice.

…I’m going to skip over Miley Cyrus, who he just mentions for pearl-clutching mileage…

2:14 “It was about that time that Phil Robertson, one of my heroes of the faith from Duck Dynasty did an interview with GQ magazine.” Nevermind that this dude from a B-rated TV show is clearly set up as part of the “us”… that interview was controversial to the point where it’s actually on the Wikipedia page of Duck Dynasty when I googled it.3 (and hey look, there’s Mike Huckabee too, mentioned in one breath with Sarah Palin, the world’s most famously clueless Republican. Oops.)

2:25 “Phil Robertson defended traditional marriage.” A marriage in which a man marries a woman to form an alliance between families, gain property and secure legit offspring. A marriage in which a man must have sex to produce an heir and spare, and a woman must have sex because her body is the property of the husband. A marriage which has little to do with equality, love or living a happy life with the partner of your choice and all those other modern things we young rebels wish to have.

…Miley Cyrus again, for bonus pearl-clutching… (“celebrated for her active debauchery” SRSLY?)

2:33 “But Phil Robertson castigated for standing up for the Bible” Notice that our mysterious villain has yet to be revealed and Phil Robertson, too, is first firmly established as a paragon, before it’s said WHAT actually he defended. Now it sounds as if Robertson’s defended the Bible literary, historical or spiritual value. I doubt that’s actually what he said. (Especially since I got spoiled by the Wikipedia page, like a good quasi-millenial)

2:43 “I feel like a Duck Dynasty guy living in a Miley Cyrus world and Washington DC is twerking on all of us.” MENTAL IMAGE… MY POOR EYES… Also, getting close to a conspiracy theory without revealing the subject of the discussion. I notice that the sermon’s been cut for length. I’m glad.

2:56 “I believe that we are just a few short years away from the government imposing their will on Christian churches.” Ladies and gentlemen, we have reached the heart of our conspiracy theory, in which freedom of religion will suddenly disappear. Brace for further wild speculating along this line.

3:05 “I believe that pastors could find themselves at odds with the law of the land” Because freedom of expression will suddenly disappear as well??? There are always pastors at odds with the law. They are diverse, like the Christians in their congregations. That’s the point of your freedom. And of redemption. Can’t choose for or against God if you can’t choose.

3:30 “Brothers and sisters, my fellow southern Baptists, the Supreme Court may have redefined marriage, but God hasn’t redefined anything.” Actually, He has. Over the course of the Bible He changed the law by which humanity was supposed to live several times, and it’s subject to further interpretation by way of Bible study and personal revelation according to even the most conservative Christians. The definition of marriage changed as well, as this boy explains in his Bar Mitzvah speech on marriage equality4.

3:57 “On Friday, a mom-and-pop bakery out in Oregon was fined [a lot] for refusing to participate in a lesbian wedding.” What, you want your country to condone discrimination for “religious reasons”? Very, very, very slippery slope. Also, as far as I know you may pick your customer, but you cannot break a contract once they are your customer or then proceed to harass your customer… so what part of the story aren’t you telling me here?

4:06 “[Amount repeated] That was the price they had to pay for standing in the faith.” No… that’s what they were fined for discrimination and thus violating human rights. As Christian, you’re supposed to appreciate every human, actually, and their sexuality, even if you object to it, should be no reason to treat them badly. As Christian with another sexuality, that makes me very scared of what you’d do if I visited your church and spoke up about it.

4:22 – 5:10 Marriage clerks have to resign if they refuse to bless gay marriage, oh the horror. Well, duh. The separation of church and state, advocated by Martin Luther himself 500 years ago, ensures churches a measure of freedom in the management of their privileges, such as blessing marriages, but also means church and state may differ on the subject. It ensures you are free to practice your religion as you see fit while others’ rights are not infringed upon, which may create mild moral dilemmas for people with government jobs. Oh, the horror.

5:18 “The Supreme Court’s decision now means that Gay Rights trump religious liberty.” No, it doesn’t, it means that Christians practicing their religion may from now on not infringe upon one of the basic rights of people because of their sexual orientation. For someone with a non-standard sexual orientation, that’s very comforting. God has not punished Holland with a great flood for legalising gay marriage years ago. Though that flood may still happen, if you keep ignoring environmental change.

5:20 “Churches and faith-based organisations must prepare for the law-suits and government investigations that are on the way.” Yes… if you discriminate against people, then yes. Be prepared for the law to be enforced by the government of your country and God save you from America…oh, wait… Also, did I mention the conspiracy theory?

5:43 “Thank goodness there are men of God like your pastor […] who are willing to stand up to the government and stand up for the Word of God.” Don’t worry, no really, you get to choose what happens inside your church, just not outside. And I am a Christian, who together with other Christians went over the Bible rather thoroughly, led by a pastor, and then decided gay marriage should absolutely happen in their church, indicated by a vote from the members and ratified by the church council and included in our rules, completely according to church management as Calvin proposed back during the Reformation. I feel insulted that he accused us of being less than Christian. As a member of a religion who knows her position to be alien to others of that religion, I feel discouraged.

6:13 “Public schools where they are now deconstructing gender, they’re teaching children about gender fluidity.” Oh good, that should be a helpful addition to sexual education that should lessen bullying based on gender and help even cisgender children with being more comfortable with not being very manly or girly-girlish. Inviting a guest speaker would be really good. A pair of representatives from the local LGBT awareness centre answering crude questions from red-faced teenagers really helped prevent bullying based on sexual orientation in our high school and helped me not be totally clueless ten years down the line now I’m exploring my own sexuality.

6:20 “[They’re teaching t]hat there’s no such thing as male or female. That you might wake up feeling like a boy, but by third period you might start feeling like a girl.” Er… you should fact-check. Really, even the five-click google method of research should suffice. (in which you click the top five results after googling a question, fact or word) Here, I’ll help: “God in his eternal wisdom created more than the two simplistic gender roles your limited mortal mind can conceive of.” There you go, I’ve even packaged it in Christianese.

6:27 “And that’s okay.” Yes. It is, if it works like that for someone.

…and we’re skipping his hyperbolic story about a Nebraska school, I feel he’s repeating his mistakes… (“You’ve got to start calling the kids purple pinguins.” SRSLY?)

…and we’re also skipping further ‘anecdotes’ of people being ‘discriminated against’ because of their opinions on LGBTQIA issues, I feel he’s on repeat again and I don’t know the specifics of those cases…

9:15 “Dietrich Bonhoeffer said this. ‘Silence in the face of evil is itself evil. God will not hold us guiltless. Not to speak is to speak. Not to act is to act.’” You do realise he was protesting his church’s pacifism towards the Nazis and arguing for not condoning the Holocaust, right? Ooooh, Godwin’s law!

9:30 “We have reached a Bonhoeffer moment for every Bible-believing Christian in the United States of America” That’d be why I’m speaking, or rather writing, instead of just punching a wall and yelling at God about your utter stupidity and could He please have a little less mercy on that. And this is relevant for Christians worldwide and especially every asexual spectrum person among them and in touch with them.

…we get our final ‘anecdote’, a boy’s religious valedictorian speech was ‘censored by five government officials’ and he was ‘helped by the holy spirit’… (Ripping your speech in half is ‘an act of civil disobedience’ SRSLY?)

11:00 “They may demand to know the content of our prayers. They may try to shut down our bakeries. They may try to silence our voices. But we will not be silenced. We will not be intimidated. A Chicago pastor said this. We don’t bow down to the Republican Elephant. We don’t bow down to the Democratic Donkey.” I give you some more pearls of conspiracy theory rhetoric. AND THIS BUGS ME, WHO IS OUR MYSTERIOUS VILLAIN??? He has yet to name a concrete person or group the audience is meant to oppose. It’s implied it’s some sort of amalgam of the government and the LGBTQIA community, but MYSTERIOUS VILLAIN IS MYSTERIOUS!!!!!11!!!1!

11:22 “We bow down to the line of Judah.” Oh really? If you want to follow Mordechai’s example from the book of Esther, you’re only to bow down to God, not Jesus’ human patrelineal ancestors. “The King of Kings and the Lord of Lords.” Right, that one. Good save.

Aside from a cathartic blog post, I hope this serves as an example of what harm this type of rhetoric can bring if you’re both Christian and part of the asexual community. A short summary.

  1. These rich, white, heterosexual men and women in power are imaging themselves in the role of victim and underdog, fearing a nebulous mish-mash of government and LGBTQIA activists and promoting that fear. They lash out like cornered cats you really want to avoid.
  2. The inaccurate and defensive speechifying means there is no occasion for a dialogue or hint of welcome for the strange and unknown, like, say, an often overlooked and relatively new fourth sexual orientation and its diverse expressions in a percent of the population and the implications this might have over the course of their lives.
  3. They refuse adamantly to consider people who aren’t cisgender or heterosexual as normal or Christian. THAT HAS HUGE IMPLICATIONS. It means they refuse me and any Christian or seeker with an LGBTQIA identity spiritual guidance. It means they refuse us unbiased pastoral aid. It means they refuse us the space to practice our faith in peace anywhere they are present. It means they refuse to recognise us as Christians. And for one Christian to disapprove of another’s journey as follower of God… That hurts. I can be part of a different church and another denomination but… I would at least like for God to judge my worth, not for my fellow believers to sit in judgment when they really should know better.
  4. They spit this venom not just at Christians with an LGBTQIA identity, but at other Christians who approve of the LGBTQIA rights to be informed, educated, married, etc. and really, at anyone. To put it mildly, that gives me a bad rep by association, okay. I gotta explain that bullshit ad nauseam if I want to identify as Christian in public or people think I think like that too.
  5. Being American and white and English speakers, they play a large role in determining what the mainstream discourse is, what gets told in churches, in the media and in Christian schools and organisations worldwide. They are a roadblock in the face of myself and other demisexuals, grey-asexuals, asexuals, aromantics and others on the asexual spectrum from finding out about that sexual orientation, from being accepted for it, from being able to integrate it with their religious beliefs and identities. And I think that’s very sad.

Further reading and watching

  1. Last Week Tonight’s report on Hobby Lobby’s case in court for religious “freedom”. (video)
  2. Fox News dude Todd Starnes’s sermon “Chick-Fil-A is the official chicken of Jesus” (video)
  3. Duck Dynasty wikipedia page (webpage)
  4. Duncan McAlpine Sennet’s Bar Mitzvah speech on marriage equality in Portland Oregon (video)

Asexuality and the Trouble with Chastity

Chastity symbolised

Chastity as allegorical woman.

The second installment in the blog series on Asexuality and Christianity, from the perspective of a Dutch Christian demisexual woman. This will be a post on the origin of chastity, where did the Christians go with the idea of not-sex-having and how it can interfere with understanding asexuality. Do keep in mind that with roughly one billion Christians and 70 million asexuals (if that 1% holds up), experiences with sexuality meeting religion may vary wildly. Yes, I am very interested in hearing about your experiences.

Words as used in this post:

Chastity: the Christian virtue of responsible and moral sexual behaviour

Abstinence: the choice not to engage in sexual behaviour for reasons

Asexuality: umbrella term for people with orientations who rarely or never feel sexual attraction.

The Very Holy Text: why bother?

The Bible isn’t a book, today it’d be a fic archive or a story database or a Collected Works of the Christian Religion. It is a series of stories, from various genres and authors, cultures and centuries. Four times the collection was canonised as THE collection of texts that told people about God: originally written by the Jews, added to and adopted by Christians, partially adopted by Muslims in addition to the Qur’an and translated after the Reformation by Christians so they can read it. A lot.

It’s loved, it’s read, it’s memorised. The sermon on Sunday, bible studies during the week and daily moments of meditation all have this purpose. I’ll be quoting from it a lot, because this is the text to which people relate and that they see as the final word on a whole host of subjects.

Here’s the catch: interpretation changes.

Rev. Robert Schuler

Crystal Cathedral pastor Robert Schuler

A good explanation based on the source text has more authority than a ‘traditional’ point of view. It is experienced as a living text to which people may relate differently based on circumstance, time, culture and yes, faith. What is popular known as “Christian” at the moment, is the type of Christianity that yells loudest in the voices of rich old white dudes from North-America and Europe. Statistically, the average Christian is a poor middle-aged lady from Africa or Asia. So.

Let’s see what the dominant discourse in Christianity says about sex and not having sex, and where it might be a stumbling block.

Chastity, sexual virtue according to Christianity

Here’s a short summary of the thought behind chastity, good sexual behaviour. A Christian follows Jesus’ example, and Jesus didn’t have sex, so sex isn’t inherently good. God created people to have sex, and it begets babies and pleasure, so sex isn’t inherently bad. Paul encourages people not to have sex if it distracts from good behaviour and encourages people to have a legit relationship, to marry, if they do desire sex. I’ll dive into his letters in a separate post, same with Augustine, Christian writer and saint from the 4th century said to have majorly influenced sexual morality in Christianity.1

keep-calm-and-lock-your-chastity-beltRoughly speaking, to remain abstinent in the pursuit of God was thought best of all. In the catholic church, it was powerful enough to create a separate social class in the Middle Ages. Monastic life developed over time and chastity was seen then and now as a defining trait of saints, and since they were held to a high standard, it meant staying away from sex entirely. I do not know enough about the orthodox church to comment on their morality. The rest of this post will largely apply to the lay part of the catholic church, and most of the protestant church.

Most people were encouraged not to have sex before marriage, to marry and remain faithful and not divorce. The degree to which sex was regarded as bad varied. Calvin actively encouraged sex within marriage as a means to express love, a view which has become more popular over the last century. Sexual acts outside of the heterosexual zone, whether homosexuality or even masturbation, were generally seen as bad. It affected men more obviously and women more deeply, to the point where we’re only now learning more about how female sexual arousal actual works.2

To be chaste, in the original sense, is to behave according to the sexual moral of the time or to have sex in such a way as is best for yourself and your environment. It is also seen as good to pair sex and love or sex and a relationship or sex and marriage. Obedience to God and being good, being loving is seen as more important than any dictum of society.

Sometimes faith favours the feminists, mostly outside the western world. Christianity can give women space to follow their own ideals rather than submit to their husbands. It can help in encouraging men and women to pay more attention to their marriage as a beneficial relationship rather than a social necessity. It can create a safe space in places where sexual abuse is prevalent.

Other times, it’s used as prescriptive morality. It is used to reject sexualities other than heterosexuality. It is used to promote marriage and marital sex. It is used to preach abstinence rather than provide people with a basic sexual education, even in developed countries. It is used to keep intact all the inequalities that permeate the western world, because all the arguments in favour of those were formulated by Christians in the first place, and more often repeated and better preserved than Christian arguments against the inequalities.

Original sin, what tradition says about sex, sexuality, nature and morality

Sex became bad because lust became a sin. Lust became a sin because it’s a gut reaction rather than a feature of higher reasoning. It is emotional, it crosses social divides, it makes men need women… and that made it evil. These days, rhetoric about sex can go in the other direction, where it’s made out to be awesome because it’s natural behaviour. But what the Bible truly preaches is moral behaviour, based on the “loving your neighbour as yourself” commandment. And that can lead in different directions, depending on what you consider to be morally good.

Let’s look at some of the popular bible verses on the subject, shall we? For transparency’s sake: I selected them from several Bible books, to illustrate how interpretations may vary.

  • Matthew 5:28 “But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart.” Spoken by Jesus, can be used to:
      • Point out that what you think influences what you do.
      • Reject sexual objectification.
      • Say committing adultery, and even considering it is bad.
      • Argue that women naturally lead men astray and should be chastely dressed.
      • Say that base desires such as lust are bad and temptation is everywhere.
  • 1 Thessalonians 4:3-5 “For this is the will of God, your sanctification: that you abstain from sexual immorality; that each one of you know how to control his own body in holiness and honor, not in the passion of lust like the Gentiles who do not know God;” one of several such urgings written by Paul, which can be used to:
      • Reject any sexual behaviour, based on what a person believes to be immoral.
      • Tell listeners to control their bodies, i.e. remain abstinent entirely, have sex sparingly or simply to use condoms and not have sex while drunk during orgies.
      • Oh the ways in which people can be red-faced, uncomfortable and incoherent while trying to tell inquisitive teenagers exactly what Gentile “passion of lust” looked like in the Roman empire.
  • In the ten commandments, “You shall not commit adultery” and “You shall not covet your neighbour’s wife, or his male or female servant,” which can be used mainly to:
      • Say adultery is bad… and yes, faithfulness during a relationship is far more important than whether or not you have sex before it.
      • Say jealousy is bad.
      • Say you need to be honest in your relationships.
      • …so mostly, if you’re polyamorous you’re shit out of luck with this bible verse, but funnily enough, that’s not really on most Christians’ radar.

Those were a few of the verses meant to point out some of the more common interpretations to come out of them, and also how different pastors come to different conclusions based on the same text.

In the Christian tradition, what’s emphasised most of all is that there is sin, which humans may commit, that sex leads to numerous ways in which you can harm people, so it’s good to behave in a sexually moral way. What is moral in terms of sexuality… ah, there’s the rub.

Modern-day chastity and why it’s a problem

Chastity has come to mean pre-marital abstinence, especially in the Protestant churches. Individual abstinence is usually celibacy.

Traditional pre-marital abstinence doesn’t work because it’s enforced for women only. Logically, it means men are having sex with some women. Not good, if women are celebrated or doomed based on whether they are perceived to have had sex. That sanctification of abstinence can be taken to extremes. In the catholic churches Mary has become synonymous with Virgin, and her virginity her crowning glory.

In order to be protected women, was the idea, needed to be controlled and protected to a ridiculous degree. From research into sexual harassment in the Middle East3, we see that sexual harassment has a proportionate relationship with the level of restriction women experience, not inversely proportionate, as the “protection” argument would have you believe. In other words, if you don’t want to be harassed, go live in a place where sexual freedom abounds.

pre-marital abstinenceThere’s a modern-day version of pre-marital abstinence, which puts men and women on an equal footing, at least as far as not having sex goes. This could work in theory, if everyone were heterosexual and everyone ended up in a relationship with their one true love while still of a reasonable age. Since ¼ of adults remain single, sexualities abound and relationships are messy, that doesn’t work. Sorry, Disney.

But…

I’ve witnessed couples decide together not to have sex until they were married, and it was beautiful. They had decided to follow a sexual morality that went against the grain of their society, and stick it out together, out of love for each other and as an expression of what they believed. This I had absolutely no trouble with, especially since sex does not have the attraction for me it that it does for people who do desire sex often.

I do feel revulsion every time I hear a private or public appeal for people to abstain from sex before marriage, to the point where I am very skeptical of anyone tackling the subject of sex in a church. I felt hesitant starting this blog series for that very reason, and oddly enough, it was also the deciding factor for me to start writing it, in the end.

Why, I wondered, do I desire to be free to have sex, if I rarely want to have sex? If being abstinent is easy as pie, for me? Why, if the few I’ve desired are guys, have I wanted to punch people in the nose for disapproving of my hypothetically being attracted to women?

The trouble with chastity

Smash-the-Paradigm-PostersThe first problem: presumption. If anyone encourages me to have sex, or to abstain from sex, they presume to tell me what to do. My body is mine. My vagina and womb are mine. The desires in my head are mine. I am a rational creature who has full access to information about sex and sexuality. To decide what happens to my body is my right. I have inherited this right from the generation before me, who fought for it. I will not let that right be taken from me. Not even by bending my head to people who presume to know more than I. I consider it proper as Christian, even, to bend my head only to God, and pass on both the freedom and responsibility inherent in that to others.

The second problem: power, and its abuse. I cannot be obedient to any sexual morality outside of my own. By surrendering the choice of what’s right and wrong to anyone, whether well-meaning family or religious leader or community, I give them power. If power is distributed unequally, especially between genders and about sex, it creates systematic abuse of that power. I cannot condone such injustice and still presume to be loving my fellow humans as much as myself.

The third problem: possibility. I didn’t know what I orientation I was going to end up with until my mid-twenties. It’s made me more sensitive to having options closed off. That you can decide how others love and have sex is wrong… it seems even more unjust if it’s potentially about you. If and who you’re attracted to may not become clear to you until your twenties or thirties, especially if you’re on the asexual spectrum, and it’s suffocating to have only one approved road to travel down as you grow up.

sexualrightsarehumanrightsThe fourth problem: practicality. I’ve grown up in a country where the amount of sexual freedom is very high. I’ve dressed and undressed in front of boys. I’ve been alone in rooms and cars with guys. I’ve been alone at bus stops late at night. I’ve been out on the street at all times of the day. I’ve dressed in all sorts of clothes. We’ve all grown up freely mixing and mingling. It’s just not a problem. It’s immensely liberating to be a person who’s free to go anywhere, anytime to do whatever she prefers to live her life. The restrictions in other countries are exasperating, from needlessly needing to watch what I wear to who I’m with at what location and what time. Especially when you don’t understand what the problem is. People seem better able to control lust, like the Bible preaches, in a liberal country. So why impose rules that hinder women?

The fifth problem: pressure. I didn’t experience it. I have sex if and when I feel desire. I have a relationship if and when I fall in love and it’s reciprocrated. If I feel neither, I need not have sex or a partner. I will not worry my family. I will not be considered less of an adult by society. I can do what feels good and know to be right. The lack of demand to do anything sexual that comes with sexual freedom is ideal, if you’re any shade of asexual. I wish it on everybody.

The sixth problem: exclusion. If having sex is the norm, it excludes people who don’t. That’s exacerbated when there are only a few options not to have sex, such as pre-marital abstinence and celibacy. It masks the existence of asexuality, and can be used as an argument to deny asexuality altogether.

The seventh problem: people versus God. If people are allowed to determine who and what is Christian, it excludes other believers. It also goes against the core of Christianity, that judgment and control and fear of the afterlife are surrendered to God, so that the way is free for you to live a good life you otherwise can’t. So that people might gradually discover how they should live and love. Discover what they consider to be morally good sexual behaviour and act on that of their own free will.

So in less than 200 words…

I believe that original chastity, practicing morally good sexual behaviour, is great to think about and act on. I believe that how it’s currently preached creates more trouble than advantages. I believe it means Christians on the asexual spectrum deal with other problems than other aces in the western world. I believe that a critical examination of the bible may yield a surprisingly supportive narrative for ace Christians. I believe it’s possible to unite Christianity and asexuality as discourses, but it will go against the mainstream ideas about what it means to not have sex in the Christian community.

Further reading

  1. Augustine’s view in a nutshell on Christianity Today 
  2. Stuff Mom Never Told You video: Vaginas Get Boners Too
  3. Research into harassment women experience in the Middle East and North Africa, PDF. 

Recommended reading

For a more in-depth exploration about several issues touched on here, go read the Ace Theist’s posts on Asexuality and Religion

Images

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https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/f/f8/Hans-Memling-allegory-chastity.jpg

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https://simplyjaymary.files.wordpress.com/2014/11/chastity3.jpg

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