This was a good reading month! I read nine books (which I’m pretty proud of 🙂 ), five non-fiction and four fiction, including one re-read. If I had to pick a favorite… well, I’m not sure I’d be able to. At least five of them would be in the running. A summary and some of my favorite quotes from each book are included here, and if you decide to read any of them, please let me know what you think! Talking about a book with someone who’s also read it is just about as good as reading the book to begin with – and sometimes even better.Continue reading “january’s books”
Recently, when I mentioned I wasn’t yet part of any homeschooling support groups, a (non-homeschooling) friend mentioned a local co-op called Branches, so I looked it up. It is far more structured and school-like than I am interested in, and also has several concerning (to me) points in its code of conduct and statement of faith. When choosing a homeschool group, as when selecting a private school, it is important to read through to that level of detail because no matter where the co-op or school falls academically, it will be detrimental to your child if its culture differs dramatically from your home culture or endorses cultish or prejudiced beliefs.
Some of those concerning aspects were (unfortunately) fairly familiar to me – the parent must sign a strict statement of faith, and must cede to the group’s board the final word on the interpretation of that faith. Considering they are not my pastors, nor theologians, nor even members of my church, I don’t think they can legitimately claim to have that level of authority. I did appreciate their honesty, however, in stating that while they believe the Bible is the final authority it is their interpretation of that authority that will have the ultimate say… it reveals a weak point in Protestant understandings of religious authority in general.
However, one point that I had not run across before was as follows. In a list of forbidden behaviors, along with things like cheating and bullying, the group prohibits “personal appearance and behavior contrary to one’s biological sex.”
That is so broad and vague. While it was most likely intended in a transphobic manner, it is so loosely worded that it essentially prohibits all display of non-gender-stereotypical behavior. So… apparently in this group, math is only for boys, and the girls can’t be competitive in STEM topics or hope for a career as a scientist. Apparently, it’s inappropriate here for little boys to wear pink and purple shirts, or play house, or take care of baby dolls (because heaven forbid they grow up to be engaged and involved fathers when they have babies of their own). Apparently, girls need to wear makeup, do their hair neatly, wear skirts, and make sure they stay clean when they play; boys on the other hand should probably get muddy every so often to avoid an appearance of girliness. According to the words in this code of conduct, it is ok for girls to giggle and cry with each other, but boys should stick to anger and aggression if they have strong emotions. If a girl does just happen to be athletic, she should definitely stick with acceptable sports like gymnastics and volleyball, and avoid playing pick-up basketball or touch football with the boys. And just to be on the safe side, boys should play with boys, and girls should play with girls, to ensure that all the play is happily gender-conforming.
How can a child feel free to explore the fullness of the world around them if they have to be worried about stepping over a (socially-constructed, averages-based, generally-applicable, ambiguous) line all the time? Even a feminine, female-identifying, biologically female individual is going to have some aspects of their personality and behavior that fall outside female gender-stereotypical lines (for example, I am a cis-gendered female who likes my hair cut very short, does not wear makeup or heels, and has a career in the hard sciences). In this group, would that behavior be censored in a (transphobic) attempt to force all people into one or other of two black-and-white categories? I’m guessing it wouldn’t be – but the exceptions would be tolerated in an unpredictable, social-norms-based way (kind of negating the whole emphasis on biological differences) instead of by any sort of reliable and consistent rubric, which creates confusion and has the potential to lead to shame or stigma.
And finally, because this is what this kind of discriminatory rule is really intended to address, what happens to the child who actually struggles with gender dysphoria? Here, they would not be met with support and help, but with shame and rejection. Here, they would be told that because their brains and their bodies aren’t in sync, they are unfit to be part of an educational activity with other children (a mixed-gender educational activity, no less). Here, they would be told that the shape of their body is more important than their identity, their natural inclinations, their talents and giftings, and their mental health and emotional well-being.
That isn’t ok with me.
Trying to discriminate against one group of people usually ends up this way, with the implementation of vague social rules that constrain and restrict all sorts of unintended behaviors while adding to the stigma and isolation faced by the target group. I would rather be with people who may not always act as I would, but who accept and love each other anyway, around whom I can be my authentic self and know their authentic selves. While this co-op may have good things to offer, they don’t outweigh the negatives of prejudice and social control. After all, we are homeschooling in part so that our children can be free to explore, learn, and grow in their own time and in their own way; we don’t need a group of self-appointed parental “experts” trying to shape us into their acceptable mold anymore than we need the public school system doing so. And I am sure that in the right time, we will find the right group and homeschool community for our family.
There are some things (both moral and doctrinal) about which the Church is incredibly clear and precise – things like the nature of the Trinity, or the objective sinfulness of abortion. She paints those pictures with clear lines and well-defined forms, even through the layers of human or divine complexity that color them.
There are other things about which she is largely silent, leaving the murky watercolors to be lived out in the conscience-informed prudence of her members. These things include education (where there are basic principles within which parents are left free to make decisions according to their wisdom and personality), housing choices (urban or rural? large home or small? bad neighborhood or good? – the choice may be a matter of obedience to God’s leading for an individual, but is never universally proscribed), career paths (let’s just say that some things are automatically excluded and that’s about it), and so on. These are things that touch a myriad of moral principles, but are not themselves defined or regulated in a binding way.
And while homosexual behavior falls solidly into the first camp, the Church having defined it as inherently disordered, transgenderism is just as definitely in the second camp. There is no official position, no magisterial teaching, no long history of tradition draw upon from the writings of the Fathers. We are left to figure it out on our own, to sort through the various principles that are at play, and to decide in the circumstances with which we are presented how best to behave as a follower of Christ in a shattered world. We cannot naively assume that everything is positive, nor should we cynically believe that everything is negative. We should not blow with the winds of extreme gender theory and deny that male and female have any real meaning, nor should we deny the reality of what most transgender and intersex individuals face by claiming that they are all perverts or performers. After all, if our reason and will can be weakened or damaged by sin, and if we respond to this brokenness not by throwing out our understanding of the importance of reason and will but by giving our support and love to those who are affected, why wouldn’t sexuality be the same? Can we give them the benefit of the doubt and believe what they say about their own experience? Can we acknowledge that maybe the general brokenness of creation has touched the link between their bodily and interior genders, and left them feeling incomplete or out of place?
I totally understand all the gut reactions most people have to transgenderism. It just feels strange. It feels especially strange when someone who has been living as one gender for years announces that they really identify with the other gender, because we don’t see the journey of growing self-awareness, suffering, and courage that have to build up in order for such an announcement to take place. You want to claim that their new identity must be a lie because otherwise your whole previous relationship with them feels false. You see their gender-typical body and wonder how in the world they can feel like the other gender. You feel like your own experience of your gender is being stereotyped and patronized by people who have no genuine understanding of it (especially when people like Jenner try to reduce femininity to fashion – I have serious trouble believing the authenticity of that transition, to be honest with you, because he/she doesn’t seem to understand or value womanhood as anything beyond physical appearance and sexual objectification). But those gut reactions, and the celebrities that fuel them, can’t address the moral and philosophical principles at play.
Can we find a way to embrace the “both-and” tension in this area, as Catholicism does in so many areas? Can we praise and value masculinity and femininity as the duality created in the image of God, without demonizing those who fall in between or are dealt aspects of both? Can we continue to see the beauty and mystery of the two sexes, both in marriage and society, but still make a space for those who, because of the fallenness of the world, don’t fit neatly into that dichotomy? The transgender individual is a human being just like us, called to holiness, called to Christ; he (in the universal sense) is our brother, for whom Christ died, for whom we are supposed to live, that he might know Christ and come to heaven in the end. How can we say we have truly loved him if our rejection pushes him away from the Church and away from Christ?