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September 24, 2012 Print

Dig Deeper: Stop Being So Heteronormative!

by Jeff Johnston

As a rule, only very learned and clever men deny what is obviously true; common men have less brains, but more sense. Walter T. Stace

We just need people to understand that marriage is a reality that we conform ourselves to and not the other way around. Doctor Angela Frank, of the Boston Catholic Diocese

I was testifying against the redefinition of marriage before a committee at the Maryland State legislature, about 12 years ago. A Unitarian minister also testified, but in favor of redefining marriage to eliminate the one-man, one-woman requirement. He started talking about how diversity was good, and I remember clearly the shock I felt when he said, “Blind is good, seeing is good. Deaf is good, hearing is good. Disabled is good, fully abled is good. Gay is good, straight is good.”

Put aside the fact that he placed “being gay” on the same side as being deaf, blind or disabled, which I’m sure upset some of his lesbian-, gay-, bisexual-, and transgender-identified activist friends (LGBT) and their allies. Blind is good? Deaf is good? I thought, “Are you crazy? Is anyone even listening to what this guy is saying?”

A few heads nodded in agreement with this man, as if he had said something especially wise and profound. Most the committee members kept doing what they usually do – look bored, read memos, glance at the clock and whisper to their aides. Again, I thought, “Did you even hear him?”

Against Binocular-normativity

But the more I thought about his statement, the more it began to make sense to me. Maybe being blind is good. I’ve always been nearsighted and have astigmatisms, and as I’ve gotten older, it has also become more difficult to see things close up. That condition is called “presbyopia,” or “old eyes,” and it happens to almost everyone. I began to think, if so many people have bad eyesight, maybe we aren’t meant to see clearly. Maybe losing your eyesight is good.

Sadly, the world is geared toward those with 20/20 vision. So as I embraced and celebrated my poor vision, I began a multi-faceted campaign. I asked billboard companies to make their signs larger and lobbied the state for bigger street signs. The library had a few large-print books, but not many, so I called book publishers by the dozen, asking for more large-print books and for even larger large-print books.  I hate to brag, but manufacturers finally developed large-screen, flat-panel televisions after years of my hounding them.

Aside from my own near-sightedness, astigmatisms and presbyopia, three family members have lost an eye – for a variety of unrelated reasons. Two of them wear prosthetic eyes. Yet everywhere I look, it is a two-eyed world. When was the last time you saw someone on television take out his prosthetic eye? My family started a campaign; you may have seen some of our bumper stickers: “Monoculars Unite!” “Blind is Good!” “End Binocular-Normativity!”

Textbooks should show more people with no eyes or one eye – why do they all assume people have two eyes? Kids with glasses get teased and called “four eyes.” Our national anthem is an insult – no, I can’t “see by the dawn’s early light” – until I fumble around and find my glasses. I spent a month protesting 20/20-vision-normativity by not wearing my glasses. After a couple car accidents, my wife made me put them on again.  People with good vision don’t have to spend thousands of dollars over their lifetime for glasses, contacts, prosthetic eyes, LASIK, cataract surgery, seeing-eye dogs or learning braille. It’s just not fair.

From Homophobia …

Okay, the first part of this article was a spoof.  Here’s the truth: I really did hear a Unitarian minister make that ridiculous statement; I do have astigmatisms, nearsightedness and presbyopia; and I have three family members who have lost an eye. But we haven’t started a campaign against the societal belief that most people have two eyes. Being blind really isn’t good – it’s not the equivalent of seeing. Sight is valuable and wonderful, when someone loses an eye, or two eyes, we grieve and work to compensate the loss. But it is a loss.

So let me explain where I’m going with this. I’m sure you’ve read and heard the word “homophobia,” a term created by a psychotherapist in the 1960’s, to describe anyone with an irrational fear of homosexuals, homosexuality or of being homosexual. The invention of this word turned fear or dread of homosexuality into a pathology, a mental illness. There may be some people with an irrational fear of homosexuality, but now the term has become so broad that it’s almost meaningless. “Homophobia,” as used today, includes everything from a pastor reading Bible verses to violence and murder. 

I want to be clear; many people with same-sex attractions have been treated badly. They are teased or taunted with hateful language. People have said mean, cruel and ignorant things about them. Some LGBT-identified men and women have been assaulted, physically harmed and murdered. Sadly, some of the harm, vitriol and hatred has come from people who call themselves Christians and claim to commit the act in Jesus’ name. That is horrible, and we stand opposed to it. But that doesn’t mean that all opposition to homosexuality or to the radical gay agenda is driven by fear, dread or “homophobia.” 

I’ve also seen LGBT-identified men and women treated with love and respect, including by people who disagree with them. But that disagreement is still labeled “homophobia.” If I really believe what the Bible teaches, that sex is good and was designed by God for a husband and wife within a marriage, I’m a homophobe. If you believe that same-sex sexual behavior is a sin, you’re a homophobe. Reason, biology and natural law point to the male body and the female body having been sexually designed for each other? Sorry, homophobic. Citing statistics demonstrating that LGBT-identified men and women are at greater risk for chemical addictions, sexually transmitted infections, self-harm and a wide variety of psychological problems equals homophobia.  Publish research that demonstrates kids do best with their biological mother and father – totally homophobic.

… To Heteronormativity and Heterosexism

Any more, people who oppose homosexuality aren’t just mentally ill – for good measure gay activists and their allies also call us haters, bigoted, extremist, fundamentalist and discriminatory. The Christian equivalent of the Taliban. Opponents of homosexuality are accused of being secretly gay, wrestling with internalized homophobia, closeted and self-hating. Don’t address the arguments; label the person. Truth doesn’t matter, just attack the person.

People in virtually every culture, throughout history and around the world, have known that marriage is between a man and a woman. So academics and activists try to explain why male-female marriage is ubiquitous, looking for deeper “structures and beliefs that assume that heterosexual relationships are normal.” They move beyond “homophobia,” and invent terms and concepts that most people have never heard, like “heteronormativity” and “heterosexism.” Terms that are gaining more traction.

“Heteronormativity” is the assumption or belief that there are only two distinct, complementary sexes, that marriage is male-female, and that a logical outcome of the marital union is children. It’s the belief that opposite-sex attractions are the norm, that men and women, although similar, are also fundamentally different. “Heterosexism” involves applying those beliefs to others – viewing male-female relationships as better than same-sex relationships – and oppressing all other “sexualities.”

This ideology developed primarily in the academic and activist world, as radical feminists and self-described queer theorists applied Marxist ideology to sexual relationships and sexual identity; it demonstrates their status as oppressed groups. Some had a more radical goal: to challenge and transgress the sexual norms that oppressed men and women. The term has become more mainstream; the quote about “structures and beliefs” in the previous paragraph, for example, comes from The Lancet, an esteemed British medical journal, in an article examining how homophobia and heteronormativity contribute to the spread of HIV/AIDS.

A Christian Worldview

Christianity – and Judaism before us – teaches that original sin marred the goodness of God’s creation. Sin impacts the whole human – body, soul and spirit. We were originally designed to have two eyes with 20/20 vision, not to be blind or nearsighted, not to have one eye or no eyes. Calling blindness “good,” knowing how we were designed to see, distorts reality. Those of us with faulty eyesight are suffering sin’s impact on the body. Jesus came to restore sight to the blind, doctors work to heal blindness and Christians pray God’s healing for any loss of sight.

Similarly, our sexuality and relationships have been dreadfully impacted by sin. Many of us under-estimate the power and effects of sin; we don’t understand how what Dallas Willard calls “radical evil in the ruined soul” has affected our sexuality and relationships. Sin devastates lives. And sexual sin, because sexuality is so good, so powerful, and such a deep part of our being, is especially destructive. 

Even in our sexual brokenness, we see glimmers of God’s design. One of those glimmers is that though humans have the capacity for all kinds of sexual behaviors, and despite sin, the world is largely heteronormative – and not arbitrarily so. Most cultures recognize the truth displayed in our bodies, that humanity is divided into two sexes, male and female. And almost all have some form of marriage – mainly to keep children with the husband and wife who procreated them.

Aside from nature and culture, God has also revealed his truth for our sexuality in the Bible. We go back to the words of Genesis – affirmed by Jesus in the Gospels – and read that God created us male and female in his image. Things are defined by their perfection, by what they are supposed to be, not by their brokenness. So we don’t redefine God’s creation or gauge how we should live by the broken sexuality we see around us: adultery, pornography, sexually-transmitted infections, HIV/AIDS, abortion, infertility, transgenderism, homosexuality, misogyny, lust, divorce, rape.

Same-sex lusts, fantasies and sexual activity violate God’s male-female design in a unique way. Instead of normalizing brokenness, calling homosexuality “good,” and identifying people by their sexual attractions, those who follow Jesus are called to bring redemption, grace and transformation.

This does not mean that those with opposite-sex attractions can lord it over those with same-sex attractions or that we can despise those whose sins are different from our own. We are all sinners, and Christians are to reach out with Christ’s love, respect and truth to bring healing and transformation in people’s lives.

Nor does it mean that men and women with same-sex attractions are somehow irreparably evil or damned to hell or without hope of Christ’s redemption. Christians are to reject hatred, fear, violence and anger, and reach out in love. Christ offers forgiveness and restoration for all who struggle with homosexuality – or any other sexual sin.

The world is heteronormative. Women bear God’s image and are called to become more like Jesus – as women. Men bear the image of God and are called to become more like Jesus – as men.  Ranting and raving against a male-female world is like screaming at the sun for shining on the earth. It’s like living in Alaska and shouting at the snow. It’s like, well, it’s like starting a campaign to stamp out binocular normativity.






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