Sometimes, when I don’t write, it is because there are too many things swirling around in my head, and not enough time, peace, and quiet to line them up and make sense of them. But I’ve been snowed in much of the last week and blizzards give you time to think.
And I’ve been thinking about sex.
This is not nearly as fun as it may sound, but stay with me here. What I’ve been pondering is how sex is positioned by the church, by society, and by myself, and what the consequences of each have been.
As a kid, though I was rarely in church, I absorbed the knowledge that sex outside of marriage was A Very Bad Thing. I was committed to abstinence until marriage long before Joshua Harris ever pondered the subject, and several high school boyfriends dumped me because I wouldn’t go all the way. (I’ve got no regrets there, BTW. High school boys. Pfft.)
I had also absorbed the understanding that as the woman, I was the gatekeeper. It was my job to fend off any boy’s advances. That a man would only be a gentleman to the extent I required it. That a healthy man will always want sex, and a smart woman will channel that into marriage. You know…sell her cow for a good price.
In retrospect, I can see this for the train wreck it would inevitably become.
I ended up unmarried and pregnant in high school. And so ashamed. I will never forget the day one of my dearest friends passed me a note. In it, she told me how disappointed she was in me. She hasn’t spoken to me since.
I dropped out of school, married my boyfriend (not a high school boy), had that baby, had another baby, and, you won’t be surprised, divorced not long after.
Then I spent a very long time trying to be a Very Good Girl. And I mostly was, doing the whole just-love-Jesus-so-much-that-some-man-will-fall-in-love-with-the-Jesus-in-you thing. That could be a blog post of it’s own, let me tell you. Suffice it to say, this didn’t work well for me. Possibly because men couldn’t see past the poor single mom thing to see the Jesus within me. Possibly because they weren’t turned on by deep emotional turmoil. Also possibly because I’m not that interested in men.
I was mostly a Very Good Girl. And then I realized that I am actually a Very Queer Girl and that it’s fine and dandy to be a Very Queer Girl and then I had to ponder what that meant about sex. Suddenly, sex was not just putting a penis into a vagina. Sex was this giant, grey, amorphous blob, and a piece of my identity-that piece that was proud to have only ever had sex with one man, like, EVER-was gone. It had been two men (gasp). I thought. It was hard to tell now that my black-and-white world had become grey-on-grey, the straight lines blended into oblivion. I had flashbacks to the Bill Clinton years.
And I had more shame. And no one to talk it through with.
One thing embracing queer culture will do for you is point out patriarchy. You know how, as a kid, you think your family is normal and other families are variations on normal and then you grow up and you realize that actually, your family was pretty weird? Yeah, that’s what I’m talking about. When you stop viewing couples as a man and a woman, stop viewing families as a mom and a dad, suddenly you realize that the way we do things is often super weird and nonsensical. Like division of labor in the home, and who asks who out on a date.
Immersing yourself in queer culture makes you think, because queer people–especially, in my experience, those of us who are also people of faith–have to break everything down and build it back up, thinking carefully about each piece before putting it back in place. Maybe they put it in a different place. Maybe they throw it out entirely. But man, do they THINK about it all. It’s an incredibly good learning experience.
And it’s made me think a lot about sex, and about marriage, and about sex and marriage. And, like I had to really delve into those passages of scripture that have generally been applied to homosexuality, I’ve had to ponder whether the passages generally applied to sex are being dealt with accurately. Are they prescriptive or merely descriptive? A reflection of God’s will or a reflection of the culture in which they were written? What are the individual pieces that my sexual ethic is built from, and do they really fit together the way I thought they did?
I haven’t entirely worked through this yet, but here are some of the building blocks I have taken down and examined (I will leave much of the discussion of the harm purity culture has caused to others for the moment, but trust me, that’s also a thing):
*The usages of ‘one flesh’ throughout Scripture overwhelmingly point to the developing of a new family/primary kinship, rather than sex.
*The Evangelical view of ‘one flesh’ being about sex equates Christ’s relationship with the church with the physical act of PIV sex.
*That’s pretty disturbing.
*There seem to be several veiled but positive references to premarital sex within Scripture.
*A culture of abstinence prior to marriage is unattainable (did you know that in late 1700’s New England, 30% of women were pregnant at their wedding?!)
*By viewing sex as All About Marriage, marriage becomes All About Sex.
*This is an extremely low view of marriage.
*Consequently this is a very low view of Christ’s relationship with the Church.
What if marriage, rather than being defined by sex, were defined by working out our love for others, learning to live harmoniously and selflessly, giving and receiving support, partnership? What if sex were not a commodity with which to buy commitment, or the fire that commitment is forged upon? I think there might be beauty there.