Tuesday, March 29, 2011

A note on sex, gender and religion

Try as educated people often do to inform the public perception of the terms “sex” and “gender,” it still comes to me as a pleasant surprise to hear strangers using these words correctly. Sex refers to a phenomenon that is understood exclusively in the context of biology, while gender is a socially constructed identity built upon a psychological and cultural underpinning. Gender is a concept that intrudes into our lives at a very young age. Every adult male can cast his mind back to a time when being seen by one’s friends playing with dolls would guarantee isolation at recess. And every adult female can recall being reminded to “act like a lady” whenever an audible fart would leak from beneath her Mary Kate and Ashley underpants. When asked one’s favorite color, one had every end of the spectrum to choose from, so long as it was consistent with the genitalia with which one was born.
What makes a color masculine or feminine? What makes having a vagina a prerequisite for playing with dolls? Why is having flatulence typical for males, but taboo for females? These cultural attitudes are completely illogical. And yet our children, at a time when they are most susceptible to programming, are being encouraged to preserve the tradition of ignorance that is gendering. This is not without consequence. Countless women report being completely demeaned in the workplace because of their expected gender roles. Transsexuals and transgender people must harbor fears of being discovered that nobody else could possibly imagine, let alone empathize with. And homosexuals must constantly face the raging stupidity of religious fanatics who bear the humble message that the creator of the universe is going treat them to an eternity of torture after they die. Let us use the sociological imagination to see what can happen when this message is taken seriously.
If you are feeling homosexual desires and you are a savvy enough young Catholic boy, you know that finding the answers to moral questions is as easy as locating your copy of The Catechism. In it you will find that you have nothing to worry about. You are in fact very special, for the homosexual desire you feel is a direct calling from God to lead a life of chastity—the same calling as that of entering into the priesthood. How difficult could this be given your tremendous advantage of having an omniscient deity on your side? Except that the human desire for sex is not something that is easily silenced. Once the primal instinct kicks in, your genes will find a way to spread, whether at the expense of your new bathroom rug, or at the expense of somebody’s childhood. I am forever astonished that given the proper context, something so complex as the rape of children by homosexual priests can be institutionalized.
Society should do away with the gender binary and all of its expectations. And outdated religious views about sex should be buried in the vast and growing graveyard of ignored bizarre ideas that come from the desert ramblings of Abrahamic faith. Future generations will be ashamed to learn that, at one time, subtle biological differences between males and females placed people under segregated jurisdictional laws of conduct, which socially enforced expectations entirely inconsistent with our objective understanding of sex. The sheer scale of this institutionalized injustice is enough to convince me to dress my baby in yellow when and if zie (gender neutral pronoun) arrives on this Earth.
I am not unfamiliar with the restrictiveness felt by anyone forced to wonder whether his or her nature is at the root of an unfavorable circumstance. It is an unending feeling of insecurity that taxes the mind with stress and anxiety. In no way can this suffering be justified. And yet human history, which is plagued with the struggles of entire peoples beset by their own nature, continues to repeat itself. The same unwillingness to explore perspectives other than one’s own continues to obstruct the causes of peace and human equality. Everyone claims to be in favor of these causes. Though too few people are willing to take action that appears to clash with their unique outlook. All who claim to be concerned for the well-being of others have a moral obligation to constantly seek out injustices that occur at the expense of those whose life circumstance predisposes them to adversity. The obstacles standing in the way of accomplishing this are all too often faith-based.

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