Growing up gay in the conservative church, I believed I was barred from ever having a gay relationship and that, unless something truly miraculous happened which allowed me to marry a woman, I would spend the rest of my life celibate. This wasn’t because my Christian community overtly hated gay people – though many did. It wasn’t even because of the “clobber passages” – the handful of passages that allegedly directly mention homosexuality.
No. I and my Christian community believed I was barred from a gay relationship, first and foremost, because of gender complementarianism: the belief that the union of male and female within the covenant of marriage creates a morally exclusive spiritual state, and that such a state is the only valid and virtuous “container” for sexual activity.
This belief, rooted in the Genesis creation account, forms the most solid foundation for non-affirming theology in the church. All else is peripheral to this foundational marriage mythos: the union of male and female within marriage is exclusively and normatively moral for sexual relationships.
I believed in this natural law, this mythos, with the same certainty as I believe in the multiplication table, the periodic table, or the law of gravity. It was an undeniable, inalterable aspect of the universe. I believed that to tinker with it was tantamount to tinkering with DNA: it would alter the very fabric of sustainability for our society. To screw around with that foundational stuff of the universe was to imperil all of human life.
And yet, there was discomfort. This discomfort with gender complementarianism started small, like a tiny ringing in my ears. More and more, it made less sense: I couldn’t say how or why, but it just didn’t cohere. That discomfort grew into agony; the ringing in my ears became a fierce, unending shriek. Christians are too quick to cast this discomfort as a willingness to bow to my sin nature and the prevailing culture, but that’s the lazy, unexamined excuse.
This was my life. This wasn’t some theory, some abstract concept that complimented and validated my morally superior heterosexual relationship. I was gay, and this directly effected me, my present and my future. I was barred from erotic love, marriage, and family, while the vast majority of the Christian world knew no such prohibition. I had the unlucky draw: because of the freak chance of being gay – of no choice of my own – I was destined to this life of bachelorhood because of some abstract theory of gender.
And by what authority? Because of some ancient book? Not even that – an interpretation of an ancient book? A book that was authoritative only because it said it was, all external evidence be damned?
Meanwhile, I met gay couples who were a greater witness to the holiness and sanctity of marriage than most straight marriages I’ve encountered.
Was I truly being asked by my tradition to ignore all the outside evidence? How was that honest? How was that good? Years ago, I committed myself to valuing truth, no matter the cost. How was following my conservative Christian faith not compromising my integrity?
That crystal clear view of gender complimentarity, for a myriad reasons, started to reveal itself to me for what it was: clouds. Solid from a distance, but nothing but vapor up close; nothing to build a foundation on.
It was that intangibleness, that sense of building my castle on a cloud, that had tortured me. It was that sense of detachment from the universe – from the real cosmos of the here and now, where I lived out my life and connected with people and slept and worshiped and worked – that brought on my total breakdown.
Over time, I’ve come to see gender complementarianism for what it truly is: superstition. The belief that the union between male and female creates magic is nothing more than gender alchemy. I’ve been yelled at that only heterosexual sex can create babies, and that this makes it morally exclusive and superior, but I don’t buy nor understand that anymore. What about infertile couples? The elderly? Those who prefer not to have children at all? Having children is certainly a wonderful thing, but to say that it’s the only moral path for sexuality – especially on this devastated planet – strikes me as dangerous and myopic.
Gender alchemy wrought unprecedented anguish on my psyche, as I tried to align my here-and-now, my flesh and blood to a theoretical system of gender that is only true because it says it’s true. And I’m done with it. Not only am I done with it, I’m done debating it with Christians.
I appreciate the fact that gender complementarianism is a deeply held belief, that it is the cornerstone for non-affirming theology, that it is meaningful and beautiful to many Christians. Because it matters to them, it matters to me, but I’m done arguing and defending. I’m too fatigued, too battered down by the psychic costs of such a debate. I just can’t do it anymore. How do I fight against a toxic cloud? How do I fight against superstition that invalidates my deepest passions and the most important relationship in my life? The only way I know to change minds, at this point, is to stop trying to control the beliefs of the church, and to live my own life with integrity.
Now, post-gender-alchemy, I have a new source of consolation: science. Science is the answer to the pain of a lifetime built on the intangible. Science is solid, rooted in the here and now. Science is in a constant state of self-reformation and criticism, refining itself through a series of laws. Science allows me to embrace all truth, no matter where I find it. Science allows me to be open minded and skeptical at the same time; it gives me truth about the universe without judgement.
Science tell me that when I experience union with my partner, that union is real – as real as the electricity surging through my brain, as in any other brain. Science tells me that my relationship with my partner is adding years to my life, and it tells me how to create a sustainable, secure, and life-giving relationship with my partner that benefits the world. I can’t help but believe that I’ve found true magic, true alchemy, and it’s rooted in testable and observable reality.
3 thoughts on “Gender Complementarianism is Superstition”
Steve, I am not yet where you are with all this and I will tell you why. Even the ancient pagans recognized that the unity of male and female brought oneness and unity to what was belived to be incomplete in singleness. Opposites join to restore the wholeness of humanity. Beyond that, even Jesus quoted the Genesis passage, that the two should become one flesh. I might add that he also suggested that it was better to remain single for the sake of the Kingdom if it was something one thought one could do.
Alchemy and science are antithetical to each other. Science proves the superstitious nature of alchemy which involved the summoning of demons that John Dee liked to call angels. It’s all gnostic nonsensense, more unbelievable than resurrection or the existence of a spiritual realm.
Science is also prone to deceit. In our day it has become a priesthood of it’s own that is will to bend truth to fit the latest grant or government contract. There is no pure science anymore IMHO. If you do not beleive me, try disagreeing with the current status quo in Science, whatever that may be. It’s like fighting the Inquisition.
Reality is just an hallucination that we all agree on.
Finally, how do we know what is moral or right, let alone agree on those things, if there is no solid unchanging standard. In times past, God or the gods supplied these things. Do we create our own reality or do we look to a Landlord that created everything? If there is no God that establishes a standard of righteousness, then really, we can do whatever we want and the most ruthless among us will have the last word.
I have known gay couples, like you have, that have lead sanctified lives, dedicated to each other. I have known more, many more, that did not. In my own life, I have known both love and sex, but there was never a sense of completion with my partner. There was no oneness. Though there was love, we were always both looking. It’s why I gave it up.
I think that two men can come to love each other deeply, even two straight men, but I do not think, I do not see equivalence with the love generated by a successful heterosexual relationship. Creation itself militates against it.
So, for now, I must respectfully disagree with your conclusions, but I would also wish you the best in your life with your partner and I would never want to force you to accept my opinions on these matters. I just see it differently.
Jeff, thanks so much for commenting. I think there is great value in staking out our differences. I disagree with nearly everything you have just written – especially your assessment of gay relationships, science, and reality. I believe in Philip K. Dick’s assessment of reality: “Reality is that which, when you stop believing in it, doesn’t go away.” In other words, I believe that reality is within and beyond the hallucination. To me, God is an incredibly subjective, unstable foundation for understanding reality, because religious experience and belief is, by its nature, subjective.
These underlying differences between us reveal fundamentally different, maybe irreconcilable worldviews. To me, it is valuable to articulate and understand those differences. Perhaps the only way we can come to a mutual understanding is through long-suffering engagement, which is why I’m not interested in debate, and more interested in relationship. So please, keep coming by and commenting, and I will continue to enjoy and engage in our discussion. You are certainly welcome here.
Steven, this is so beautifully written and powerfully said. Thank you for your bravery and truth-finding and sharing. Total love and support from your cousin in Oregon. – Helen