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On Queer Theory and Practical Engagement

Following a recent engagement with an advocate of Queer Theory, I had the opportunity to reflect on some of the challenges that arise in establishing meaningful lines of communication. Although I was not being asked to participant in a dialogue in this specific exchange, the engagement highlighted for me several of the challenges that would present themselves had that been the format.

Queer Theory is an academic lens that is primarily focused on how we know things to be true and what counts as knowledge, both of which are part of epistemology. Queer Theory is indebted to the writings of Michel Foucault and Judith Butler, among others, particularly those who identify existing structures of authority as sources of oppression that must be deconstructed.

For example, Judith Butler, in her book Gender Trouble, stresses the need to deconstruct not only gender, which is widely viewed as socially constructed, but also sex, which is widely viewed as fixed and stable aspect of personhood steeped in biology:

Is there a history of how the duality of sex was established, a genealogy that might expose the binary options as a variable construction? Are the ostensibly natural facts of sex discursively produced by various scientific discourses in the service of other political and social interests? If the immutable character of sex is contested, perhaps this construct called “sex” is as culturally constructed as gender; indeed, perhaps it was always already gender, with the consequence that the distinction between sex and gender turns out to be no distinction at all.

Whereas the biological distinction between male/female had been considered rather immutable, as we can see, there are those who wish to recast sex as just as socially constructed as gender.

That topic alone is worthy of extended analysis. However, I want to focus on the practical challenges associated with entering into dialogue with true believers of Queer Theory. In the exchange I am reflecting on, I was struck by how the appeal by proponents to concepts like microaggressions and, more recently, trigger events, function to manage community discourse on topics of genuine theological debate. (Trigger events are those circumstances that could cause symptoms to surface among those diagnosed with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.)

Before we go further, let me state that I believe microaggressions exist. In fact, my research institute has studied the experiences of same-sex attracted students at faith-based institutions of higher education and documented the occurrence of subtle verbal and nonverbal insults and offenses. Microaggressions are real and should be a topic of study.

But what happens if every rational point of disagreement is referred to as a microaggression?

In a recent exchange a Queer Theorist identified the phrase “Love the sinner; hate the sin” as a microaggression. I found this fascinating because, as I mentioned in the exchange, I take a completely different approach to foster cognitive complexity and empathy. I try to understand this phrase through the mind of those who use it. I find that while I do not encourage the use of this particular phrase, I understand how it frequently functions as a heuristic for traditionally believing Christians who wish to hold two claims simultaneously. The first claim being that same-sex behavior falls outside of God’s revealed will for genital sexual expression. The second claim being that there is intrinsic value and worth and dignity in all persons.

One of my goals in these kinds of exchanges is to understand the views of those with whom I disagree. I can appreciate how the “Love the sinner…” language, being as over-used as it has been, has been a source of great consternation to Queer Theorists and the broader LGBT community.

I have not seen this kind of mutual understanding as the goal of Queer Theorists. Rather, my experience has been that it is strategically necessary to frame any contrary assertion – regardless of rational argument – as a microaggression and summarily dismiss it and (by extension) those for whom it has functioned as a meaningful heuristic.

The same claim was made in response to the traditionally-believing Christian’s view that marriage is founded in the creation story as it depicts a male/female union. In other words, this perspective was also deemed a microaggression. I thought this was incredible at the time. Although I marveled at the Queer Theorist’s consistency, I was struck by how this maneuver functions in public discourse about sexual ethics: It shuts down meaningful discussion. There is little that can be said in response to the assertion that ones rational account of sexual ethics is nothing more than an aggressive and dehumanizing source of oppression.

I think a response that could be worth exploring would be to ask the Queer Theorist what kind of assertion could be made to express disagreement with the lens through which the Queer Theorist views the world. In other words, I know that I can argue my case and the case of those with whom I disagree. Can the Queer Theorist articulate a perspective that is not a microaggression or trigger point but which also stands in clear disagreement with the conclusions the person holds as an adherent of Queer Theory? If so, it may be an argument worthy of analysis. If not, it may be best to retire the notion that this was ever a rational dialogue.

 

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APA in Washington, DC

DCThis week is the 122nd Annual Convention of the American Psychological Association (APA). We are meeting in Washington, DC. I was just up there to work with the National Institute for Corrections on the various challenges that arise for incarcerated persons who are LGBTI. On this trip I will be co-chairing a symposium titled Integrating Identities – Spirituality, Religion, and Sexuality. The other co-chair is Joshua Wolff, a graduate of the Rosemead School of Professional Psychology and an emerging voice in LGBT studies in faith-based institutions of higher education among other areas of interest.

The papers presented here should be interesting. In addition to a study I will be presenting (co-authored with three students and research team members titled, “Experiences of Sexual Minority Students and Alumni in Faith-Based Higher Education”), Stephen Stratton (Asbury Seminary) and Janet Dean (Asbury University) will present a paper titled, “Identity Formation in Context: The Intersection of Sexual Identity and Religious Spiritual Identity.” They will be reviewing relevant themes from two previously-published studies of sexual and religious identity among Christian college students who are also sexual minorities.

The other two papers come from psychologists with expertise in LGBT issues. Glenda Russell (University of Colorado-Boulder) is presenting a paper titled, “Open and Affirming Congregation: Opening What? Affirming Whom?” Finally, Caitlin Ryan (San Francisco State University) is presenting a paper titled, “Beyond Either/Or: Helping Religious Families to Support Their LGBT Children.”

The two discussants (or colleagues who read the papers/PP slides in advance and comment on them and related themes they deem relevant) are John Gonsiorek (Psychology of Sexual Orientation and Gender Diversity) and Tamara Anderson (Biola University).

In addition to this symposium, we have two posters from the Institute for the Study of Sexual Identity on Thursday and Saturday. (A poster session involves displaying research findings and discussing them with other professionals.) The Thursday poster is titled, “What are Helpful and Unhelpful Resources to Religious Parents After a Gay Child Comes Out?” This should be interesting in light of Caitlyn Ryan’s presentation noted above and her work directing The Family Acceptance Project. The data we are presenting comes from a collaborative effort with The Marin Foundation and is based on interviews of Christian parents whose children had come out.

The Saturday poster is titled, “Youth Ministers: Attitudes Toward and Experiences with Sexual Minorities.” This poster presents data collected at two youth ministry events where attendees were invited to share their experiences with their churches and with sexual minority youth. This poster is one of several presentations we hope to have out in the next year or so on youth ministry and youth ministry education and LGBT issues facing the church.

There are many other exciting things happening at APA, but these are a few highlights of things I’ll be involved in.

 

 

 
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Posted by on August 6, 2014 in Conferences, Presentations, Research

 

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Single Sexuality and the Sexual Minority

Here is another excerpt from my new book (co-authored with Dr. Erica S. N. Tan), Sexuality and Sex Therapy: A Comprehensive Christian Appraisal. In the chapter on working withsextherapytext people who present with sexual identity conflicts or concerns, we discuss the topic of singleness:

In her Christian integration book Sexuality and Holy Longing, Lisa Graham McMinn includes the topic of homosexuality in her chapter on single sexuality. Christians who are single may be single for any number of reasons. some in their older teens or twenties are heterosexual but not currently married; others are heterosexual and much older, perhaps in their fifties or sixties, and they never did marry. Still others were once married, but now they are single due to divorce or the death of their spouse. Christian sexual minorities often do not marry because they do not believe they should enter into a same-sex relationship, nor do they choose to be in a mixed sexual orientation marriage (in which they marry someone who is heterosexual).

How is the single state as experienced by a sexual minority similar to or different from other experiences of singleness? For example, in terms of one practical difference, single heterosexuals can date and explore physical contact (hugs, kisses) with someone of the opposite sex without concern that it will be viewed as immoral behavior. The same option for exploration is not available to the sexual minority in the church. This is a significant difference that may not be fully appreciated by those who discuss celibacy and singleness for sexual minorities. Another notable concern is that at times, Christian sexual minorities in the church are given the message that attempts to have their needs met emotionally or physically (e.g., touch) need to be met with caution because they may “fall” or find themselves participating in immoral behavior. One ministry leader once commented that Christian sexual minorities should not live together for fear of “falling” into a sinful sexual relationship. While this may be sound advice for some individuals, the message that could be sent to the sexual minority in the church is that he or she is hypersexual and this his or hers sexuality and attractions are to be feared.

In terms of similarities we can point to the need for the larger body of Christ to provide support for singles. Much of our local church programming is oriented toward married couples and families. Programs for singles are often geared toward getting them married, as though being single in some way makes a person “incomplete” or “less than” in ways we may not want to convey. What about the question of whether the body of Christ provides singles (straight and gay alike) with enough emotional and spiritual support to make celibacy a viable possibility? Is it a legitimate question to ask, Who shoulders the burden of this glaring failure, and what does that mean in very practical terms for the church today?

Discussions of singleness and practical ways of including and nurturing the faith of single persons extends to so many people in the church today. How the church responds to the needs and experiences of single persons speaks volumes to the Christian sexual minority in terms of their potential place and worth, as well as expectations for living and stewardship of sexuality and sexual identity.

 

“Creative Fidelity”

Here is an excerpt from my new book (co-authored with Dr. Erica S. N. Tan) titled Sexuality & Sex Therapy: A Comprehensive Christian Appraisal.In thesextherapytext chapter on Sexual Interest and Arousal Disorders, we have a closing reflection on integration. It’s here that we introduce the concept of “creative fidelity” by Lewis Smedes. It’s a concept I have long appreciated and just wanted to highlight:

For those who marry, we appreciate the concept of “creative fidelity” introduced by Lewis Smedes (1994, p. 145). Smedes points out that a married person’s obligation to be faithful should not be reduced to avoiding sexual behavior that detracts from the marriage; rather, there is a positive expression of fidelity that warrants our attention. Smedes develops this idea of creative fidelity as faithfulness to calling (the state of marriage), service, one’s partner (and their well-being), our own personal growth, and so on. On the matter of desire,

“A man or woman can be just too busy, too tired, too timid, too prudent, or too hemmed in with fear to be seriously tempted by an adulterous affair. But this same person can be a bore home, callous to the delicate needs of his partner. He or she may be too prudish to be an adventuresome lover, but too cowardly to be in hones communication and too busy to put himself out for anything more than a routine ritual of personal commitment. He/she may be able to claim that he/she never cheated; but he/she may not be able to claim that he/she was ever really honest. He/she may never have slipped outside the marriage; but he/she may never have tried to grow along with his/her partner into a deep, personal relationship of respect and regard within marriage. His/her brand of negative fidelity may be an excuse of letting the marriage fall by neglect into dreary conformity to habit and, with that, into a dull routine of depersonalized sex…. anyone who thinks that morality in marriage is fulfilled by avoiding an affair with a third party has short-circuited the personal dynamics of fidelity.” (pp. 146-147)

So discussions of sexual desire/interest/arousal should not be limited to a negative discussion about what is absent; it should also reference a positive discussion about what is possible. It should include a proactive posture toward one’s partner (for those who are married) in terms of “creative fidelity” toward the whole person and redemptive structure of marriage itself.

 

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A World Safe for Diversity

In our weekly time of study and discussion followed by prayer, we reflected on the following video by Os Guinness. The title of the talk is, “A World Safe for Diversity.” It is an argument for the importance of religious liberty. It’s going to take you a little while, so pour yourself a good cup of coffee and give it a listen.

Early on in the talk he makes the point about how the different revolutions (French and American) had different relationships with religion. This was a point I was making in a previous post, citing Doug Laycock, a religious liberty attorney at UVA. In that context I stated:

In part because religion does not have a positive cultural association in French history (as contrasted with the positive cultural associations in the U.S.), we see a very different contemporary relationship with organized religion in France. If Christians continue to engage in the culture wars as they presently do, will we be at risk of losing positive cultural associations and good will that have long been a part of our history?

I see this as an important consideration for how religious people engage what they see as an erosion of religious liberty.

As I understand Guinness, the argument that needs to be made is that religious liberty is not the freedom to discriminate (as it is often perceived) but as fundamentally the freedom of conscience–to live your life consistent with your conscience. I will come back to this in a moment.

“Civility is not niceness,” says Guinness. (I talk about “convicted civility” all of the time–drawing from Richard Mouw–so this got my attention.) Civility refers to the “virtue and duty that allows citizens in the same society to negotiate differences with others peacefully.” Civility is also not unity–that our niceness will get us to a “human unity” if we just talk it out long enough. Our differences are “ultimate and irreducible,” and Guinness provides examples from different religions. We don’t believe the same things.

When we treat civility as unity we then frequently move to exclude from the public square the dissenting voices. This amounts to essentially the use of coercion to silence speech.

As one person in our discussion group shared, the alternative is that different groups defend each others freedom to exist. “Neither tries to annihilate the other. Neither tries to disenfranchise the other.”

Should those interested in religious liberty make legal battles? Guinness is not against that, as I understand him, but there may be benefits to being more selective about those battles while recognizing that legal battles are not sufficient moving forward. Persuasion and education are critical.

Interestingly, cultural debates regarding the gay rights movement have taken center stage. There is some irony to be found here, as the freedom to make your case and to live your life consistent with your conscience made it possible to even have such a movement. What would be a true loss is if that freedom were eroded. The freedom that made such a movement possible. What is more important than legal battles around photography and cake baking is (for Guinness) engaging in persuasion and civics training as to why religious liberty matters–why freedom of conscience matters. Toward that end, those interested in freedom of conscience will defend the smallest minority groups and their right to exist while fundamentally disagreeing with them where there are genuine differences.

 
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Posted by on February 28, 2014 in Worldview Integration

 

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The Appeal and Motivation of Types of Congruence

I was providing a training for counselors recently, and at one point we were discussing the concept of congruence, which I was describing as an end goal in a counseling process I had helped co-develop with Warren Throckmorton (referred to as Sexual Identity Therapy). The thinking is that when you counsel someone who experiences a conflict between their sexual identity and their religious identity, you want to help them resolve that conflict; that resolution can be thought of as congruence.  The experience of congruence may look different for different people.

cropped-identity2.jpgWhen I think of congruence, I am thinking of helping a person live his/her life and form an identity in keeping with his/her beliefs and values. I came across the idea of congruence among gay Christians when I conducted a series of studies of sexual minority Christians. (“Sexual minority” in the mainstream LGBT literature refers to people who experience same-sex attraction whether or not they identify as LGBT or report same-sex behavior.) In any case, I was comparing those who integrated their attractions with a gay Christian identity and those Christians who dis-identified with a gay identity. If I were to translate this to the SF crowd, I would say that the gay Christian identity was closest to what we might describe as a Side A gay Christian. The group that dis-identified with a gay identity were either closer to what readers here would think of as Side B gay Christians (in terms of not viewing same-sex relationships as morally permissible) but without the “gay” identification, if that makes sense.

Our research group concluded that both groups achieved personal congruence. The one group achieved congruence as (“Side A”) gay and Christian by adjusting their beliefs and values so that they aligned with their behavior and identity as gay persons. They were part of a fellowship that affirmed them as gay Christians and celebrated gay as an expression of God’s creativity. (I saw these findings as comparable in some ways to the results Michele Wolkomir reported in her book, Be Not Deceived, where she reported that the shift for gay Christians was toward the valuing of tolerance in supporting a gay Christian identity.)

The other group achieved congruence by dis-identifying with a gay identity and the gay community, which was in keeping with their sexual ethic; instead, they aligned their behavior and identity with their conservative Christian beliefs and values. (This result, too, was in some ways comparable to but different from Wolkomir’s findings about ex-gays, as she found that they valued personal righteousness in a way that reflected their primary motivation for moving away from a gay identity.)

Completely independent of that research, I saw the concept of congruence discussed in the 2009 American Psychological Association task force report on Appropriate Therapeutic Responses to Sexual Orientation. In my own work, I had not been explicitly naming different kinds of congruence. What I was doing was simply describing different maneuvers (that is, shifting beliefs/values or shifting behavior/identity; Wolkomir’s emphasis on tolerance or righteousness). But I had not thought that much about the motivation to do so or given a name to the various motivations that could be present.

460In any case, in the 2009 task force report, the task force recognized that when people who adhere to traditional faith commitments experience a tension with their sexual identity, they may prefer one type of congruence over another. Much of psychology is steeped in what they referred to as organismic congruence, which they defined as “living with a sense of wholeness in one’s experiential self” (APA, 2009, p 18).  I think of this as essentially recognizing one’s impulses as important data, in some cases as a reliable moral guide for making decisions about one’s life. Congruence is then achieved by making changes in beliefs and values that will align well with the impulses one experiences in one’s sensate self.

In contrast, the task force reported that telic congruence refers to “living consistently within one’s valuative goals” (APA, 2009, p. 18).  I think of this as essentially connecting life here to transcendent reality and purposes, and making decisions based on one’s ideals.

Many gay Christians who experience a tension between their same-sex sexuality and their Christian faith experience their sexual drives and desires as instructive for how they should best meet their needs for intimacy.  Other gay Christians who feel that same tension turn to sources of authority outside of their sensate self and choose to live in a way that corresponds with that ethic.

Where do Side B gay Christians fit into this discussion of congruence? I’ll invite them to chime in for themselves, but I would wonder if they wouldn’t find the telic congruence as more of a reflection of how they align their behavior to correspond with their beliefs and values as traditionally believing Christians. They don’t appear to me to be making a shift that is obviously a reflection of organismic congruence. Where does identity fit in? I imagine there is great variability among Side B gay Christians, but the identity piece is not found in denying a gay identity in the same way people did in the research I noted above; rather, identity seems more nuanced and multifaceted, framed in many ways in positive terms (by use of the word “gay” at least as an adjective).

Let me take this one step further. In the context of this training, we were discussing the appeal of both types of congruence. As we discussed organismic congruence, the draw that most everyone recognized is the role of impulses in decision-making. We reference our sensate self as we decide about when and how much to eat, about the importance of regular exercise, ample sleep, and so on. It’s not as though we want to distrust these impulses, although we might feel impulses that we need to curb in one way or another.

When we turn to sexual ethics, however, can we as readily turn to our impulses as reliable moral guides? As we extend the discussion to sexual impulses, how does the discussion change? Should it? You could imagine scenarios in which impulses may not provide particularly helpful guidance that should in all cases by followed.  In The Abolition of Man, C. S. Lewis challenges the appeal to instincts: “Telling us to obey instinct is like telling us to obey ‘people.’ People say different things: so do instincts. Our instincts are at war.” I think of Christians I’ve met in counseling who will talk about God releasing them from their commitment to their spouse in order to pursue another person who they have fallen in love with. I think of men who have justified affairs because their wife was not as responsive to sexual intimacy as they wanted.

Other gay Christians who experience a tension between their same-sex sexuality and their Christian faith look to ideals they wish to live by. They see these as transcendent purposes that they trust will provide a way of living and an identity.

What is the appeal of telic congruence? Telic congruence can give a person a sense of peace or security or worth if they believe they are doing something or making choices that are tied to transcendent purposes and structures of meaning. While this may be part of the appeal, there may be potential dangers as well. We discussed whether a person could connect striving toward telic congruence as a reflection of their worth or believe failure to make sufficient strides as placing them at risk of salvation or something along those lines.

As the task force report observed, telic congruence may prioritize values, but it “can be aware of sexual stigma and respectful of sexual orientation.” Likewise, organismic congruence, while it prioritizes “self-awareness and identity,” it can “be congruent with and respectful of religion” (p. 18).

It was a thought-provoking discussion that introduces not just the value of personal congruence but the motivations and appeal of different types of congruence. Perhaps there are yet more ways to conceptualize congruence that can add to our discussion as well.

 
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Posted by on February 21, 2014 in Sexuality & Gender

 

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Developmental Trajectories among Gender Dysphoric Children

sextherapytextInterVarsity Press Academic and the Christian Association for Psychological Studies are set to publish a new book I wrote with Erica S. N. Tan titled, Sexuality & Sex Therapy: A Comprehensive Christian Appraisal. I am hearing it will be out in April.

After four foundational chapters offering theological, sociocultural, biological, and clinical perspectives on sexuality, we discuss several sexual dysfunctions, the paraphilias, sexual addiction, and other clinical presentations. Here is an excerpt from the chapter on Gender Dysphoria.

What we are discussing is onset and course. Specifically, we are discussing a study of children who persist and desist in their experience of Gender Dysphoria:

Although there is relatively little research on gender dysphoria as compared to many other sexual concerns, there has been some preliminary research (Steensmaet et al., 2010) on possible developmental trajectories among those who persist (in their experience of gender dysphoria) and those who desist (or who do not continue to experience gender incongruence).

When these two groups are compared, it is interesting to note that there are apparent differences in underlying motives in cross-identification, as well as differences in responses to changes at puberty. In considering motives for cross-identification, one persister shared the following: “In childhood (and still), I had the feeling that I was born as a boy. I did not ‘want’ to be a girl. To myself I ‘was’ a boy, I felt insulted if people treated me as a girl. Of course I ‘knew’ I was a girl, but still, in my view I was not” (Steensmaet et al., 2010, p. 6). In contrast to this, a desister shared this: “I knew very well that I was a girl, but one who wished to be a boy. In childhood I liked the boys better, the girls were always niggling [petty, nagging]. I was tough and wanted to be as tough as the boys” (p. 6).

When the researchers looked at the different responses to puberty, they noted the strong reaction against these changes among those who persisted with their gender incongruence. One persister shared the following: “It was terrible, I constantly wanted to know whether I was already in puberty or not. … I really did not want to have breasts, I felt like, if they would grow, I would remove them myself. I absolutely did not want them!” (Steensmaet et al., 2010, p. 8).

Again, in contrast, a desister shared this: “Before puberty, I disliked the thought of getting breasts. I did not want them to grow. But when they actually started to grow, I was glad they did. I really loved looking like a girl, so I was glad my body became more feminine” (Steensmaet et al., 2010, p. 12).

Keep in mind that both groups engaged in some cross-identification at a young age, about 6 or 7 years old. However, Steensma et al (2010) reported that for those who desisted—whose gender dysphoria abated over time—that change occurred at between 10-13 years of age, whereas the gender dysphoria seemed to increase for those who were called persisters.

The persisiters would go on to disclose and make a plan for some kind of transition between the ages of 10-13 years old, while those who desisted tended to identify with their birth sex at age 13 and older.

Although I have provided clinical services and consultations in the area of gender dysphoria and have conducted research involving transgender Christians, I have not written that much about it. I enjoyed the opportunity to work on this chapter with Erica and to reflect further on gender identity and gender dysphoria from a Christian worldview.

 

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