Carol P. Christ’s Legacy: Who Is Gender Queer?

Moderator’s Note: Carol Christ died from cancer in July, 2021. Her work continues through her non-profit foundation, the Ariadne Institute for the Study of Myth and Ritual and the Goddess Pilgrimage to Crete. This blog was originally posted March 2, 2015. You can read its original comments here. It is being paired with an archive post tomorrow from Dr. John Erickson who responded to Carol with his own blogpost.

“It seems to me that calling oneself queer can be a way of affirming the parts (or all) of oneself that do not fit into the heteronormative paradigm. In my case, though I am white and straight, I am too tall, too smart, too assertive, too strong, too bold, too flashy, too unwilling to be controlled by men to fit the heteronormative paradigm of woman as in every way a little less than man–not as tall, not as smart, not disagreeing too much, not putting herself forward too much, not taking too many risks, not standing out in a crowd, and at least letting men think they are in charge. From this perspective, a whole lot of women are queer.”*

Continue reading “Carol P. Christ’s Legacy: Who Is Gender Queer?”

On the ‘Naturalness’ of Inequality by Ivy Helman

29662350_10155723099993089_8391051315166448776_oIn some regards, life on Earth seems to depend on some basic inequalities.  For example, differences in size, height, strength, speed and endurance advantages some and disadvantages others.  Depending on another for survival is another type of inequality. Being able to adapt to change increases one’s likelihood of survival as well.  

In this regard, inequality is natural, a normal part of existence.  In fact, the exploitation of such inequalities supports and perpetuates life on this planet.   Darwin said as much. Evolutionary theory does as well. At one point, we, homo sapiens, replaced our Neanderthal cousins.  Lions kill and eat gazelles. Some iguanas in the Galapagos Islands were able to become great underwater swimmers in order to reach edibles; those who couldn’t died. Continue reading “On the ‘Naturalness’ of Inequality by Ivy Helman”

B’tzelem Elohim and Embodiment by Ivy Helman

studyIt is quite common, I think, for Jewish feminists to gravitate to the first creation story of Genesis/Bereshit as an example of human equality but struggle to claim this same passage as an example of the goodness of embodiment.  Genesis/Bereshit 1:27 reads, “So G-d created humankind in the divine image, in the image of G-d, the Holy One  created them; male and female G-d created them.”  In this passage, we have not only equality between men and women, in direct contrast to the second creation story, but also a description of human nature.

Our Creator made us in the divine image: b’tzelem Elohim.  The most traditional explanations of b’tzelem Elohim describe our divine-likeness to mean: our intelligence, our capacity for goodness, our creativity as well as our inner divine spark.  Most traditional teachings also understand this description as a prescription for action: since every single human being is made in the divine image, we must treat every single human being with respect, dignity, concern and so on.  Continue reading “B’tzelem Elohim and Embodiment by Ivy Helman”

On Difference by Ivy Helman.

untitled.pngThere is no correlation between difference and danger.  Yet, differences are regularly considered threatening.  In fact, much of Western society’s patriarchal energy is spent categorizing, controlling, managing and fighting difference.  Difference is so ingrained within the psyche that most differences are understood to be antithetical, perhaps even unbridgeable, opposites.  Good/bad, black/white, rich/poor, women/men and human/animal are just a few examples.  To further amplify this distinction, patriarchy considers one aspect of the difference more valuable than the other.  

Feminism seeks to end this value-laden, polarization of difference.  In its earliest days, many feminists were convinced that advocating sameness was the best solution.  Abolition, the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA) and the right to vote were parts of this liberal agenda.  While sameness worked in some respects especially in terms of ending slavery and gaining the right to vote, the sameness platform also, albeit perhaps unknowingly and considerably to a lesser degree, bought into patriarchal views of the dangers of difference.  For example, ending slavery did not end racism nor did gaining the right to vote mean that women were equipped or allowed to think independently of their husbands.  Other first-wave feminists who advocated women as pure and moral persons and elevated motherhood fared little better playing into the patriarchal ideals of biological determinism and essentialism.       Continue reading “On Difference by Ivy Helman.”

Who Is Gender Queer? by Carol P. Christ

carol p. christ photo michael bakas“It seems to me that calling oneself queer can be a way of affirming the parts (or all) of oneself that do not fit into the heteronormative paradigm. In my case, though I am white and straight, I am too tall, too smart, too assertive, too strong, too bold, too flashy, too unwilling to be controlled by men to fit the heteronormative paradigm of woman as in every way a little less than man–not as tall, not as smart, not disagreeing too much, not putting herself forward too much, not taking too many risks, not standing out in a crowd, and at least letting men think they are in charge. From this perspective, a whole lot of women are queer.”*

I wrote the above statement in response to a question posed to Vanessa de la Fuente after she called herself a gender queer Muslim feminist. Ivy Hellman asked if it is appropriation for a woman who does not herself identify as LGBTI to identify herself as queer: “where have you left room for queer individuals in their specificity and with their concerns? As a queer person (who happens to be Jewish and not Muslim), I have a problem with this because you end up losing what is particular about a certain group of people and their contributions as well as their particular gifts, struggles and perspectives within Islam (in your case) and Judaism (in mine).”

Vanessa responded that she claimed the term gender queer to describe herself as a feminist Muslim convert with dark skin who along with the “the women who participated in the mosque of women project” was about to “march along with feminist collectives, women theologians, trans women, lesbians, immigrant women, rural women, sex workers women, indigenous women, housemaids unions, all together to call for the early adoption and passing of the bill that legalizing abortion and ask on behalf of all women of Chile that our government hears each of our particular demands .”

I agree with Ivy that it is wrong for others to claim lesbian, gay, Jewish, or Muslim identities as a way of supporting struggles to end discrimination against particular groups. But am not so sure about the term “gender queer.” Though queer theory originally called attention to the ways in which butch lesbians and drag queens challenge gender stereotypes, the word “queer” has broader connotations, including “strange” or “different.”

*

Not long ago my friend Cristina called me “eccentric,” and I cringed. When I was very young, very tall, and very thin, my mother used to say to me, “You should be careful never to  gain weight because then you will not only be taller than the other girls, you will be bigger too.” While recognizing that in many ways I do not fit the “norms” that define the ideal female, I have spent a lifetime trying to pretend that I am “normal.” The idea I might be able to affirm that I am not normal but that I am nonetheless fine just as I am was an idea that my mother and I simply were not able to consider.

When I asked Cristina please not to call me “eccentric,” she responded that for her eccentric is a positive term because the last thing she would want to be is normal. Cristina’s embrace of her eccentricity caused me to wonder why I was still expending so much energy trying to claim my normality.

These questions were in my mind when in a ritual at the Skoteino Cave on the recent Goddess Pilgrimage to Crete, I dropped a stone down a deep hole affirming my desire to let go of my fear of being different. While sitting in meditation in darkness of the cave, I was surprised to hear the words from a Sesame Street song my little brother used to sing form in my mind: “One of these things is not like the others. One of these things just isn’t the same. If you can tell me which thing is not like the others, then we’ll finish our game.”**

As the words from the song swirled in my mind, I found myself physically raising my hand like a school child and while answering silently, “I am. I am the one who is not like the others.” This meditation was powerful because being taunted, excluded, or categorized because of my difference had caused me to spend a life time wanting to be like the others.

*

Before I posted my response to Ivy and Vanessa, I asked my theological pal Judith Plaskow (who like Ivy identifies as lesbian) if she would categorize me as gender queer because I am so much taller than women are supposed to be. She said yes. She went on to say that she gets tired of insisting that a woman can be as smart as she is and still be a woman. Sometimes, she mused, it is easier just to acknowledge that she is gender queer.

I was reminded that identity theories and politics name the experiences of excluded groups in order to call attention to injustice and to offer more inclusive theories. My work on women’s experiences is situated in this framework. While it can be exhausting to explain that women are, can be, and have been different than gender norms have dictated, I (along with Judith) continue to insist that our theories and our politics take account of and value all of women’s multifaceted and intersectional experiences.

Queer theory challenges identity theory by asking whether there are any fixed identities at all. Vanessa speaks to this point when she writes, “I think the beauty of being human is being able to flow, to mutate, to be free of categories and asserting oneself to embrace our quirks and our dark areas and our sorrows and doubts, without wanting to be anyone but myself and without wishing to be anywhere else than in the present moment . . . I am a queer person for many reasons . . . I surrender to the possibilities of life, of my body, of my mind, of my soul.”

As Vanessa states so eloquently, identifying as queer means no longer having to try to fit in, to be like the others, to be normal. Identifying as queer means that it is fine to be different, eccentric, not like the others. It means telling the gender police to “go jump in a lake and swallow a snake and come out with a belly ache.”***

*

Before beginning to write this piece, I watched the most recent episode of Grey’s Anatomy. I was delighted to see the camera focus on the way the character played by Geena Davis (who is six feet tall) “towered over” Arizona, Amelia, and Bailey. I hope Davis’s character will survive her brain surgery because it is such a rare treat for me to see a woman who is different in the way I am different have a part on television program. Thanks to Shonda Rhimes for creating a series where women who are not like the others are celebrated in their difference.

*The quote is edited slightly from the way it appears in the responses to Vanessa’s post.

**The Sesame Street game taught children to identify difference: for example, colors or apples and oranges.

***A children’s rhyme used to respond to being taunted.

Carol leads the life-transforming Goddess Pilgrimage to Crete (facebook and twitter)–space available on the spring and fall 2015 tours.  Carol’s books include She Who Changes and and Rebirth of the Goddess; with Judith Plaskow, the widely-used anthologies Womanspirit Rising and Weaving the Visions; and forthcoming next year, Goddess and God in the World: Conversations in Embodied Theology. Photo of Carol by Michael Bakas.

Remember the Sabbath Day: The Cost of Difference by Linn Marie Tonstad

Linn Marie TonstadI grew up Seventh-day Adventist and was educated at Seventh-day Adventist schools all the way through college. I can tell endless quirky stories about growing up – about the time my parents gave me The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe to read at the age of seven and I was certain, certain, that they had no idea what devilish literature they had given me (all those horrible hags and werewolves), so I promised myself never to tell them because they would feel so bad for having led me astray. (I figured it out when I reread the story at the age of nine.) About my joy in meeting missionaries from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, or Jehovah’s Witnesses, at the train station on my way to and from school, so that we could proof text against each other. I was always certain that my marked Bible (marked with Sabbath texts, carefully traced with different colored pens, based on a pamphlet I had picked up somewhere) would eventually lead someone to the truth. (Again, I was nine.) As I entered adolescence, I became increasingly worried about the early Adventist dictum that the degree of responsibility you have as a believer is proportional to the degree of light you have been given – after all, I had a lot of light! In fact, I knew the truth.

But no stories like this will tell the truth of my relationship with the church. Yes, I grew up in ways that seem strange to many people: keeping Saturday holy starting Friday at sundown, without TV or movies until about the age of eleven, as a life-long vegetarian (although I became a pescetarian in my twenties), believing that Jesus Christ will return soon, having read the Bible cover to cover by the age of nine (do you see a pattern emerging?), and so on. Having spent the last decade plus outside Adventist institutions, I know much more than I did then about the ways in which my upbringing and beliefs were unusual by mainstream standards. Yet unlike many people who become theologians, and unlike many women who become feminist theologians, I never experienced the church as a particularly repressive site, even though the external forms of my life look very different now. I loved the church, and despite some unfortunate experiences with authority during my high school and college years, the church gave me gifts that I have valued ever since. Continue reading “Remember the Sabbath Day: The Cost of Difference by Linn Marie Tonstad”

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