FSG: Faith, Sexuality and Gender

On the margins of orthodoxy

Can One be Glad to be Bi? 28 March 2008

The bisexual pop musician and now BBC radio presenter Tom Robinson is famous for his campaigning on behalf of gay rights during the 1970s and 1980s, particularly through the anthem ‘Glad to be Gay’, written in 1976. Later, he fell in love with and married a woman, and is now a proud father. Writing of these experiences, and of the vilification to which he was subjected over his straight romance by an unholy alliance of the gay-hating tabloid press and many in the gay-rights movement, Tom states: “I called myself ‘gay’ because ‘bisexual’ seemed a bit of a cop-out”.

I’ve written previously about this tendency of the gay, and particularly the gay-rights, community to dismiss bisexuals as not having the courage of their convictions to simply admit that they’re gay and commit themselves to a more honest gay lifestyle. This may be less the case nowadays than before: ‘LGBT’ (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender) is now the order of the day, and campaigns for the rights of the sexually marginalised now seek to be inclusive of the ‘cross-overs’ – the bi’s and the gender-queer.

But is there not still something of an issue about bisexuality, and about the transgendered (but I aim to come on to that subject in subsequent posts)? Bisexuality is not generally celebrated or affirmed as vocally and positively as gayness; and there are very few bisexual role models (despite the substantial Wikipedia list of bisexual musicians linked to above) for young people struggling to come to terms with mixed sexual feelings – arguably more difficult and confusing than less ambiguous gay desire. Indeed, when I went to university, I remember reading in what was somewhat coyly described as the ‘little blue book’ we were all supplied with (a mini-guide to sex, relationships and contraception) that indeed bisexuals often took much longer to come to terms with their sexuality and frequently found it less easy to establish happy sexual relationships as a result.

The years that followed provided ample illustration of the truth of this statement with respect to my own life, even though (or rather, precisely because) I was not able to be fully aware and accepting of my ambiguous sexual orientation until the age of 26! Until then, I’d thought I was straight. Existentially and experientially – in terms of the way I behaved, and responded sexually to women and men – I was straight to all intents and purposes; and I attributed the occasional and increasingly frequent momentary twinges of desire for other men to the Freudian concept of fundamental bisexuality: our latent potential to experience attraction for either sex, which in most cases is never realised (in both senses) because we find a way to adapt to social expectations of heterosexuality.

After I came to realise that my homosexual side represented not just an occasional erratic eruption of this latent universal bisexuality through the protective shell of the largely resilient straight personality I had constructed for myself, but corresponded to more deep-seated emotional needs and character traits, I then spent many more years attempting to work it all out – perpetually vacillating between thinking I was fully gay (and that my recurring heterosexual impulses reflected the continuing strength of the wish to suppress my homosexuality that had led me to believe I was straight in the first place), bisexual, or even in fact straight (when that continuing wish to not embrace my homosexual side really did make it difficult for me to open up to gay desire).

It’s only in fact in the last two or three years that I’ve finally come to fully accept my bisexuality; and this process has coincided with my being to resolve (largely) my inner conflicts regarding my mixed gender identity (both male and female); and between this bisexuality and transgenderism, and my Christian faith. It had in fact been my coming to faith at the age of 26 that had enabled me to accept my mixed sexuality in the first place: the love of God enabling me to love myself, perhaps for the first time, as I truly am. Given that this sexual self-revelation was one of the consequences of my encounter with divine revelation, one might think that I could have spared myself the agony of the years that followed: the sheer power and wonder of God’s love that I experienced at this time should have given me the trust that there was nothing I could do that could make God reject me, and that I would only lose his love if I deliberately and systematically turned my back on him. And yet, life and relationships do not always readily follow the blueprint that one might think was set out for them, and it’s taken me much, much longer to reach a point of relatively serene self-acceptance than it could have done, perhaps, if I were a more trusting person.

Perhaps it’s just middle age! Too late, now, to hurl myself into a life of bisexual promiscuity which, for all my avowed religiosity, never failed to fill my fantasies in the years since my conversion? Perhaps, for faith and for sin, it’s never too late! But it’s beginning to get late for me; and I’ve work to do, including God’s work. When I wanted to, I wasn’t sorted enough to do it; now I’m sorted, I’m setting my sights on his purposes. Perhaps my years of agonising were a sign of God’s mysterious Providence all along.


Embryos, Persons and the Mind of God

“What one always has to bear in mind is that it’s the children that should come first – not chronologically or causally in this instance, of course, but in our thinking about what ultimately is in the mind of God for his children, as ‘our’ children have lived in his mind for all eternity. Does he want our children to be born of a father and a mother, and to grow up in the love of their father and mother? There can be no doubt, from the perspective of Christian faith, that the answer to this question is ‘yes’”.

The above is a quote from my last post, on gay marriage and adoption. This appeared first in my now discontinued (re-branded) blog, BTCP: Bisexual, Transgender, Christian and Proud Of It. There it inspired a couple of comments, which I haven’t copied over to the new format, one of which was to the effect that if it was in God’s mind to bring children into this world through the loving union of a father and mother, wouldn’t he just do this? My reply – paraphrasing myself – was essentially ‘no’: it might be God’s will that this should happen, but our sin impedes and distorts God’s will, and must therefore be allowed to damage creation (if our freedom to choose evil as well as good is to be genuine); and that God could not arbitrarily alter the laws of biology he had made to reflect and express his loving purpose in creation simply to prevent us from abusing those laws to create and destroy human life without regard to the moral law.

This got me thinking about how we live in the mind of God, both during our temporal existence as living and breathing human beings, and in His eternity (which we view from our time-bound perspective as ‘before’ and ‘after’ our mortal lives). And how does that relate to our human personhood, and the ethics of human reproduction and embryo research?

My point is this: from the perspective of faith, human life by definition is always personal in the sense that it is an embodiment – a bodily image or reproduction – of the personhood of God himself: Father, Son and the love of the Spirit that unites them and gives rise to the whole of creation as the expression and reflection of the divine love and self-understanding (the Word). In this light, insofar as any actual human life form comes into existence, it necessarily has this essential personal character – as part of its DNA, one might say. This is the case from the moment of conception: the human person that has lived in the mind of God for all eternity now also lives in a time-bound, physical form. The Concept (the Word) has manifested itself in a material body: conception; the Word becomes flesh; a human being is made in God’s image. That human personhood is therefore as complete in a single fertilised ovum or a collection of undifferentiated embryonic stem cells as it is in a newborn baby or mature adult: alive, and able to survive and prosper outside the womb.

When I say that this intrinsic personhood of human life is built into our ‘DNA’, this is also a reference to the fact that, with respect to our genetic inheritance, we are all the expression and product of the union of our biological father and mother, even if the loving moral and spiritual union of our father and mother that God wills for us was absent from the specific biological process of our conception. God loves us into being even when love is absent from the human reproductive processes involved.

Those who attempt to morally justify embryonic stem-cell research seek to do so by denying that undifferentiated embryonic cells do constitute a ‘human person’ or ‘human being’ that might have rights similar to those of born human beings or even foetuses, such as the right to life; the right not to have medical experiments conducted on one’s body / person against one’s will; or the right not to have one’s fundamental genetic structure manipulated and combined with that of other species. It is doubtless scientifically and descriptively true – looking at the question from a materialist perspective – that a collection of undifferentiated embryonic cells does not (yet) have the characteristics that one tends to think of as defining personhood: the beginning of the formation of a recognisably human body, with all the immensely complex variety of cell and tissue types, and bodily organs.

But firstly, the religious – or certainly, the Catholic Christian – moral objection to stem-cell research is not based on such a definition of personhood: the bodily characteristics that appear to denote our status as human beings and persons are in a sense only the ‘outer’ material form of our personhood that in essence lives and exists in God. Once those cells exist, a human person that lives in the mind of God has begun to unfold in time and space, and to reveal and be a small but integral part of God’s loving creative and redemptive purpose.

Secondly, from a purely logical perspective, it is quite arbitrary to declare that after, say, 14 days from conception, what had previously been regarded as a mere collection of undifferentiated cells is now to be regarded as an embryonic human person with rights that it did not have during the first two weeks of its existence. The embryonic person would not exist now had it not gone through 14, or however many, days of undifferentiated-cell existence. This is a continuous process; and to declare that in the later stages of its development, the embryo has a humanity or personhood (humanity defined as personhood) that it did not have in the necessary earlier stages that went before seems completely illogical and self-serving; and it flies in the face of our intuitive perception of when our lives as human persons begin: from the moment of conception when the DNA structures that define who we are started to be laid down.

Besides which, the time limit from which embryos and foetuses are recognised as human beings or persons with legal and human rights is arbitrarily moveable depending on the purpose that is being justified: 14 days in UK legislation with respect to regulating stem-cell research, but 24 weeks when it comes to the legal limit for abortions. When does an unborn human person become a full human being and, as it were, a citizen with full legal rights? It appears to be the case that what defines the threshold for an embryo or foetus to be recognised in law as a human person in this way is merely the point at which they become physically (visually) recognisable as viable, autonomous human entities from the particular perspective that is invoked: that of the medical researcher who recognises that, beyond a certain point, he is extracting cells not from an amorphous, undifferentiated mass but from an actual living embryo that is starting to take on the visual, albeit microscopic, form of a human body and person; or the perspective of medical practice and childbirth, where the 24-week abortion limit was based on the latest stage at which a foetus could not survive if plucked untimely from the womb – a time limit which, for that very reason, is being revised in the current UK Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill, as medical advances have made it possible for foetuses to survive from an earlier age.

This really is a rather primitive and, indeed, material, irrational and superstitious way to decide when an unborn human entity becomes a human person: simply when it corresponds to our bodily image of a human being – paradoxically defining the humanness of unborn life purely in relation to the appearances and conditions for survival of born life. The unborn clearly don’t stand a chance if the odds are so heavily weighted against them. In reality, the vision of faith and the science in this matter fundamentally concur; at least when the science is logically understood as describing a process whereby recognisable bodily-human personhood (what we think of as our existence and personhood) necessarily begins in the undifferentiated (‘unrecognisably’ human) embryonic stem-cell state. If we are living human beings and persons now, that is because what we are now was already laid down and was potential within what we were from the moment of our conception – and, in the light of faith, within the eternal mind of God.

This is why, for me, it is so revealing that the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill, which has provoked such heated debate in the UK during the last week owing to prime minister Gordon Brown’s initial refusal to allow his Labour Party MPs a free vote on its morally controversial aspects, should sanction such diverse measures as the creation of hybrid human-animal embryos for the purposes of stem-cell research, and the removal of a legal reference to the ‘need for a father’ on the part of children born to Lesbian couples through IVF or other assisted-conception treatment. This latter provision extends to the very birth certificate of such children, in which it will now be possible for both women to be registered as the real (biological) parents, even if neither of them actually are the genetic parents (for instance, if a fertilised egg from another couple is used as opposed to IVF using the eggs of one of the women). This means that such children are officially without a father. They retain their existing legal right to try and trace their genetic father as soon as they reach the age of maturity (18 in the UK); but they will never be allowed to officially recognise that person as their true father – in the eyes of the law, he becomes a ‘mere’ sperm donor and no more.

The thread that these two measures in the Bill have in common is that they involve a denial of those two aspects of unborn human life that are fundamental from its very beginning: that it is personal and a product of the union of a man and a woman, in the sense that, from conception, the human entity is an individuated, unique and living combination of the DNA of its parents – DNA which in turn defines their personhood. And from the faith perspective, the unborn human being is also of course sacred: a living human person ultimately made by God in his image, which we are therefore commanded to respect and protect. And such is, not just the vocation of the believer, but the true calling of science: not so much to determine the ‘mind of God’ through empirical and theoretical enquiry into the material world that is in God but is not God; but to seek ways to cure the ills of our mortal existence that do not violate the purity and beauty of human life that is called in Christ to share God’s mind and love for all eternity.


Gay Marriage and Adoption: the best possible for children in this less-than-best-possible of worlds 27 March 2008

My gay half-brother recently came out to our mutual father. I was very glad for him, as I think this was a healthy thing to do. Our father took it quite well apparently, claiming that he wasn’t disappointed and even stating his view that no one’s sexuality was ever totally clear-cut. Perhaps at some level, this opinion – which corresponds to Freud’s theories about inherent bisexuality – influenced my own.

On the other hand, my brother’s ‘confession’ to our father again saddened me, as I was reminded that I myself have not come out as bisexual to my family – not even to my brother. This is not (only) out of cowardice – moral or otherwise – but related to the fact that I’m in a long-term straight relationship. I know that my partner, who knows about my sexual ambiguities, would have a great deal of difficulty in coping with me deciding to announce to the world I was bisexual (which, of course, I’m doing here but in an anonymous form), and this might well end our relationship. I honestly don’t think that would be the right thing for us to do at the moment; nor do I think God wants me to do it.

I am concerned, however, that my half-brother’s affirmation of his sexuality appears to have hardened his attitude towards Christianity and the Church. It doesn’t help, perhaps, that he currently lives in Spain, where the positions are so polarised: the Catholic Church strongly backing traditional morals and family values, as well as (far-) right-wing politics, and the socialist party that was recently returned into power pushing through a secularising, liberal agenda. In the government’s last term in office, they legalised gay marriage (civil, not religious, marriage but called marriage nonetheless); and in their new four-year term, they plan to legalise adoption of children by gay couples. My brother would like eventually to get ‘married’ and to have children, potentially through adoption.

In the UK, where I live, gay ‘civil partnerships’ (effectively, gay civil marriage but just avoiding the use of the term ‘marriage’) were introduced about three years ago, I think. Gay adoption was legalised some while back, too; but at the end of 2006, there was a lot of controversy about an Equality Bill – eventually passed into law – that insisted that gay couples be given equal, non-discriminatory treatment by adoption agencies assessing their suitability to become parents. This provoked the Catholic Church into saying they’d have to close their numerous and highly valued adoption agencies, as they would otherwise be forced to take gay potential adopters onto their books, which would go against their religious principles. Subsequently, I believe that some Catholic agencies have indeed closed.

These are difficult, complex issues; and while on principle, as a Catholic Christian, I feel I should wholeheartedly agree with the Church’s condemnation of gay marriage and adoption, I have to balance such a stand – built on a would-be mature understanding of the profound basis of Christian teaching on sexuality and marriage – with acceptance of and compassion towards the feelings of the people involved, including my own. Do not condemn the wish of gay persons to marry and have children without considering whether I, too, under different circumstances, might not feel I wanted to get married to another man and maybe adopt children with him; do not judge the splinter in the other man’s eye without first removing the plank in my own.

It ultimately comes down to the injunction to put the needs of others ahead of one’s own. The need or wish of gay couples to have children – whether genetically theirs or adopted – can be seen as quite natural; indeed, this is the most commonsense, humane way to view it, despite the fact that the Church might label it as ‘unnatural’. It’s an (almost) universal human attribute to want to have children, or at the very least feel twinges of longing or regret about not having children, at some point in one’s life; being gay, straight or indeed bisexual changes nothing about that. But what one always has to bear in mind is that it’s the children that should come first – not chronologically or causally in this instance, of course, but in our thinking about what ultimately is in the mind of God for his children, as ‘our’ children have lived in his mind for all eternity. Does he want our children to be born of a father and a mother, and to grow up in the love of their father and mother? There can be no doubt, from the perspective of Christian faith, that the answer to this question is ‘yes’.

Put from a more human-centric point of view, this means that children need a father and a mother, rather than the indeed ‘unnatural’ combinations of father and father, or mother and mother. I am reminded of this every time I see my nephew and niece, whose parents have just split up. The little boy and girl are missing their daddy dreadfully, and they undoubtedly transfer onto me, and onto other male family figures and friends, some of the needs for a loving male parent and role model they would otherwise invest in their father. Better, in an ideal world, for children to have loving parents of both genders around them. But then, clearly, we don’t live in such a world, at least not yet; and the love of two new parents of the same sex can in some cases be the best alternative. In a world where so many straight people are so selfish with respect to their children’s needs, maybe it is a God-given blessing, including for children, that some gay people conform their lives to a greater extent to the loving pattern of Christ.

But gay families and gay marriage? We live indeed in a broken world. But before condemning gay people who seek, however imperfectly, to mould their lives around a template of love and commitment that owes much to the inspiration of Christian tradition and teaching, we Christians must consider the flawed patterns of our own lives from the perspective of faith. Let us not judge others for wanting to make life-long commitments to each other and to children if we are not prepared to do the same. And whereas, for a gay person, it might be morally a better thing to renounce adopting children by putting the children’s needs for a father and mother before their own need for children, it is better that those children know the love of a gay household than that they never experience a loving family home as a result of the selfishness or dysfunctionality of their biological parents.

(Originally posted on http://btcp.wordpress.com on 25 March 2008.)


40 Years On: Two Generations Paying For the Sins Of the Fathers

I have an adopted mixed-race sister, born in 1968. It’s only just occurred to me that this makes her not just a ‘love child’ but a child of the 60s’ ‘love revolution’. Apparently, her genetic parents were lively, interesting young people in swinging London; no doubt swept along to some extent by the wave of idealism and ‘free love’ of those heady times. Not a parentage to be ashamed of, in many ways.

But in other ways, my sister’s history, and indeed that of my whole family, speaks of the destructive long-term impact of the break down of traditional sexual morality and family life that set in on a mass scale as a result of the sixties sexual revolution. Two years on from 1968, and my parents were separating as a result of my father’s affair with another creative young person immersed in London life: an out-of-work actress temping at my father’s office. This separation, and the divorce that followed it, was an enormously traumatic event for my mother, my siblings (adopted sister plus genetically related brother) and me. We carried the scars of it for many, many years afterwards. Our subsequent relationships have all been rather fragile and have involved unhappy break ups like that between my father and mother; and my own sexual and emotional development was profoundly stunted and distorted by it. It took me decades – literally – longer than it should have done for me to disentangle my confusion and guilt about my sexual orientation and gender identity; and maybe the mixed nature of these, which I now accept (bisexual and androgynous respectively), was intensified more than it would have been if I’d grown up in a happy home with a father I could look up to.

My personal history is of course replicated throughout our society, where now almost as many marriages end up in divorce as don’t, and there are many lonely, unhappy children out there, bearing the brunt of unstable parental relationships and neglect. It’s not an entirely negative picture, however. Different kinds of family unit have developed, including happy second marriages with children from both previous relationships; and many children with only one significant parent in their lives are of course hugely loved and valued.

But an enduring cultural legacy of 1968 and all that is a continuing selfish individualism and irresponsibility that many people bring to their sexual relationships: thinking only about their own gratification and about ‘what’s in it for me’, rather than the long-term consequences of unwanted pregnancies, sexually transmitted infections, and broken hearts and homes. So many people, it seems, are no longer prepared or able to accept difficulty, renunciation and sacrifice as an integral and enriching part of loving relationships, where it is often necessary to place the needs of others and the long-term good ahead of the promptings and desires of the ego and of now. And in many cases, that is because those people lack a knowledge of the greatest good, and the greatest love (that of God himself), in whom all sacrifice is consummated and all suffering – so transitory in the perspective of eternity – is made good.

Those of us – and there are many – who’ve been unlucky in our human loves (as have our children after us, in many instances) but blessed to encounter something of the ineffable love of Christ must therefore offer our struggles and heartaches for those who put their own wishes, dreams and pleasures first, and yet do not know true love and peace: not that of 1968 but of eternity.

(Originally posted on http://btcp.wordpress.com on 18 March 2008.)


The Wrong Of Abortion

Filed under: abortion,ethics — John @ 2:15 am

Everyone knows in their heart that abortion is wrong. How? The most primitive basis for ethics – and the way we learn to tell right from wrong as children – is the recognition that other people deserve to be treated in the same way we would like to be treated by others: do unto others as you would have them do unto you.

So defenders of abortion need to answer the following moral objection: if you believe that it’s a woman’s right to choose to terminate her unborn child, then you must hold that it would have been right, under different circumstances, for your mother to have had you terminated before you were born. I don’t think many people would accept that it was ethically or emotionally indifferent whether they’d been born or not, and what decision their mothers had made about whether to give birth to them or not.

If, however, as a pro-choicer, you answer the above question in the affirmative (yes, my mother did have the right to have me aborted), this means either that you’re just being politically correct but don’t really mean it at a visceral, emotional level; or that you genuinely don’t think your own life is intrinsically valuable, or sacred in religious terms. In which case, you value your own life as little as you value that of unborn babies.

(Originally posted on http://btcp.wordpress.com on 25 October 2007.)


Feminine Guys Are More Attractive

An interesting addendum to my comments in my post yesterday on the Providential and Evolutionary Purpose Of Homosexuality about women who are attracted to gay and / or feminine men : saw this article on Yahoo! news today. It appears that statistically more women prefer ‘feminine’ partners than macho ones, as they think they’ll be less dominant, more faithful and better fathers.

Still, it’s only one study, I suppose; and the finding is not universal for all women and cultures.

(Originally posted on http://btcp.wordpress.com on 8 August 2007.)


Vagaries Of the Human Heart

Filed under: heart,honesty,love,openness,prayer,religion — John @ 2:11 am

I don’t know where that phrase came from. Was I thinking of ‘arteries of the human heart’, or ‘vagaries of human art’? Just being vague, perhaps.

The heart is a very unpredictable thing, partly because we spend so much of our lives out of touch with it; so that when it manifests itself, this can come as something of a surprise. I sometimes wonder whether my heart has grown a little colder as I’ve grown older. Which is not the same thing as being cold-hearted, as I seem over time to have become more susceptible not less to being moved to tears by dramas and traumas of one kind or another, including my own; and I’m highly sentimental about the children of family and friends my partner and I occasionally spend time with – not having children of our own.

But I feel there’s still a part of me that remains closed off to love: unloved and unloving. Not that I don’t know in my mind that there isn’t any part of me, good or bad, that isn’t infinitely loved by God, as he graciously lets me know in prayer. But still I hold on to, and hold in, some of the bad experiences from my past that continue then to have power over me and drive my actions in the present. I busy and bury myself in my work, which has always been something of a security blanket; although the evidence that this has been a path to material security or personal happiness is far from convincing.

But things are shifting. I was struggling this morning to pay attention to my work. My heart just wasn’t in it, as they say. So instead, I turned to prayer. Maybe the fact that my heart wasn’t in it was telling me something, is the answer I thought I got. Things have got to change. And they will change dramatically only when I open my heart fully to God – which will doubtless mean opening up fully, also, to those I haven’t been honest to for so many years.

Then, perhaps, my heart may not seem such a wasteland, or as the French say, a terrain vague.