Back to June pride-blogging with brief reviews of three nonfiction books that offer insightful writing on GLBT themes.
Written from within the evangelical community and addressed to that community, David G. Myers and Letha Dawson Scanzoni’s What God Has Joined Together: The Christian Case for Gay Marriage (HarperSanFrancisco, 2005) makes a welcome contribution to the dialogue about faith and sexuality. Myers is a psychology professor at Michigan’s Hope College, while Scanzoni is a professional journalist and nonfiction author. Her commercial magazine experience is evident in the book’s concise, approachable style.
The book’s argument proceeds in stages: Committed relationships have proven essential to human flourishing. Marriage benefits couples, families, and society as a whole. More and more scientific evidence is showing that homosexuality is a naturally occurring human variation, probably caused by some combination of genetic and prenatal factors, and that sexual orientation is nearly always resistant to change. (The authors document the general failure of “ex-gay therapy” and denounce the suffering it causes.) In addition, the Bible verses most often cited against same-sex intimacy have been taken out of context, when they really refer to specific abuses such as temple prostitution and rape. There is therefore no reason to oppose marriage for committed gay couples on the same terms as straight couples. “Marriage lite” options like domestic partnerships and civil unions actually do more to undermine a culture of marriage, by suggesting that less-committed relationships are equally good for couples and their families.
Readers familiar with gay-affirming theology won’t find a lot that’s new here, but that’s not a bad thing. Seeing the same reinterpretations of Romans 1:26, etc., pop up in many places, one has to conclude that this is no longer a “fringe” viewpoint. It’s a viable alternate view, supported by scholarship, that at the very least deserves to be admitted to the conversation at evangelical colleges, publishing houses, and places of worship. Hopefully, the fact that What God Has Joined Together was written by two straight allies will enhance its credibility in those circles.
I recommend the paperback edition because it includes a dialogue between the authors, discussing reactions to the book and how they themselves came to change their views on homosexuality. Scanzoni observes at one point:
I think when we keep a subject such as homosexuality distant from us, seeing it only in the abstract, it’s easy to believe false information, accept stereotypes, and act accordingly. Homosexual people are then seen as an “out-group,” a category distinctly different from the heterosexual “in-group.” A blind spot makes it hard to see gay people as human beings, as persons who want the same things as straight people do–to love and belong and just go about their lives with dignity, as persons made in God’s image.
But when a heterosexual person learns that what had been only a generalized abstract mental construct is actually embodied in an admired person who reveals his or her sexual orientation, something begins to happen. How can you continue to believe gay relationships don’t last after getting to know Pete and Tom, who have been together 50 years, and have watched Pete tenderly caring for Tom, who now suffers from Alzheimer’s disease? How can you claim that homosexual people are rejecting God when that life-transforming sermon you can’t get out of your mind was preached by a lesbian minister? How can you believe that homosexual people are unfit parents when you see the love and care that Elaine and Laura shower on their baby, or the fun little Joey has as he plays and laughs with his two dads, whom he adores? Meeting gay people replaces an abstract topic with real people and with the universality of human experience.
As Harvey Milk said… “Come out, come out, wherever you are!”
Whereas one might say that Myers and Scanzoni’s work seeks to integrate gay and lesbian couples into the bourgeois mainstream, Marjorie Garber’s Vested Interests: Cross-Dressing and Cultural Anxiety (New York: HarperPerennial, 1993) celebrates the deconstruction of social norms in the figure of the transvestite. Tracing the theme of cross-dressing through historical anecdotes, legends, high art and popular culture, Garber argues that wherever it occurs, it signals anxiety about the instability of some other social category, not only gender but (at various times) race, class, religion, or colonial power. “[T]ransvestitism is a space of possibility structuring and confounding culture: the disruptive element that intervenes, not just a category crisis of male and female, but the crisis of category itself.” (p.17) A little further on, she writes, “there can be no culture without the transvestite because the transvestite marks the entrance into the Symbolic” (p.34) The rest of the book works out this simple thesis at great length.
Garber’s book comes from that mid-1990s postmodernist period when everything looked like a text. She’s a Shakespeare expert, so it makes sense that she’d use the tools of literary criticism to investigate the cross-dressing phenomenon. However, I found myself wondering whether her romance with transgression fits the experience of most trans-people. From what I’ve read on their blogs (and I admit that I’m a beginner here), at least some of them are quite eager to resolve their “third-sex” status into something as close to “male” or “female” as possible. They want to pass for a particular gender, maybe not the one they were born with, but also not some liminal category between.
Bottom line: I wasn’t always satisfied with Garber’s analysis, but I’m still thinking about the book, months after reading it, and that’s enough for me to recommend it.
Wrestling with the Angel: Faith and Religion in the Lives of Gay Men, edited by Brian Bouldrey (New York: Riverhead Books, 1995), is a profound and heartfelt anthology of spiritual memoirs, with contributors including Mark Doty, Andrew Holleran, Kevin Killian, Alfred Corn, Fenton Johnson, and Lev Raphael. The authors touch on such topics as the connection between spiritual and erotic ecstasy, family secrets and reconciliations, and AIDS as a modern crucible of faith. Several Jewish and Christian denominations are represented, as well as Eastern spiritual traditions.