[CN: homophobia, transphobia, mention of suicide]
In November 2012, I had the fortune to visit my friend Jonathan at the Kilns in Oxford. Jonathan was a scholar in residence at the house, and he made dinner for me on the AGA stove, demonstrating how it’s always on and you have to cook carefully and quickly. Afterward, we retired to the library for a cup of tea and sat and chatted for awhile. Jonathan mentioned that there was an American couple also living at the house, and the husband is a blogger – “Perhaps you’ve heard of him? Matthew Lee Anderson?”
I had, indeed, as Christian blogging is a fairly small world and any person of note inevitably comes across my feeds. I emailed Matthew to tell him that I was sorry to have missed meeting him – he and his wife were out on the night I visited – and that I wished him well.
I honestly didn’t give it another thought until this weekend, when a friend posted a 10,000 (11,392, in fact) word longread by Matthew, on why he opposes same-sex marriage (which he calls gay marriage, a term that erases bisexuals like myself). It seems, at first glance, like some kind of behemoth that will put to bed the arguments about marriage once and for all.
The piece – which again, I reiterate, is the size of my Oxford dissertation – carves a long winding path through natural theology, arguing, essentially, that same-sex marriage is a failure of “moral opportunity” because a marriage between two cisgender men and two cisgender women necessarily negates any possibility of children. Children function as “icons” of the love between a man and a woman (as penis in vagina sex is necessarily open to the possibility of procreation and any children produced from said union carry DNA from both parents). As such, children are the endpoint of a truly eternal marriage – the passing along of the DNA of the union between cisgender man and woman is a testament to the immortality of a man and a woman’s love, an exemplar of how just and righteous such love is.
A union unable, by its ontological nature, to produce children “naturally” is therefore a failure to uphold the ontological and eschatological purpose of marriage. As a result, such marriages can never really experience true commitment, love, and sacrifice. Such marriages – even such families – are suspect by their very nature. They fail to conform to the Platonic ideal of a community – which is a man and woman coming together for the further propagation of the species. In the ideal world, a lifelong commitment to each other and to Christ will produce children who are icons of this love and will go on to meet other icons and produce their own little icons and so on and so on. We never die because our children live.
A queer relationship – defined by Matthew as cisgender, gay couples – goes against the grain of our ontological beings by being unable to produce children through a natural means. Such unions may call themselves marriages; some may even have children through adoption or IVF. But such unions are a sham, a mere shadow of the Platonic ideal. Matthew writes:
Treating same-sex and different-sex erotic relationships as equivalent removes from eros the glorious possibility that we might discover a love stronger than death, that a man and a woman might be so devoted to one another alone that they would form a community whose children would be icons of their exclusive, permanent commitment. That glorious aspiration and the hope of its fulfillment make us vulnerable to nearly infinite depths of sorrow and loss. But they also make the world a more exciting, dramatic, and beautiful place to live.
It all sounds beautiful and his work is certainly well-written, insofar as I was moved by his descriptions of marriage as a giving and loving and receiving of a wholly other person. These images are not part of my disagreement with the piece and I do not want to denigrate any one else’s commitment to their marriages in the process of disagreement – something Matthew’s piece, by its very nature, is required to do.
The part of this piece I most object to is not the procreation argument. It’s not even really the lack of Scripture and the reliance on natural theology – a sector of theology that has its own problems in terms of historically being used to support white supremacy and eugenics.
No, it’s far simpler than that. It’s that he dehumanizes queer people throughout his work, to the point where he cannot even begin to accept our lives and our understandings of ourselves as valid. He writes:
One side is ‘deceived’ on some level; either they have made certain deliberative mistakes, or they have closed themselves off to certain thoughts or arguments, or they not had enough experiences, or they have drawn the wrong lessons from the experiences they have. One side is giving approval to what the other thinks is a grave moral wrong. There are a host of ways in which our critical reflection about the world can go wrong; there are far fewer ways that it can go right.
When such disclaimers are placed within pieces concerning the very humanity of another person, the writer necessarily and automatically discounts the consideration of their humanity within any counter-argument. I cannot talk about my journey as a bisexual woman; I cannot point out how cruel and insulting and dehumanizing his position on adoption is. I cannot even point to holes in the logic of his piece – the leaps from iconography to the sham nature of same-sex marriage – without being confronted with the fact that I have a dog in this fight and Matthew does not.
He is allowed to say what he wants because he is positioned as having a monopoly on the moral rightness of his married love. I, as a single, bisexual woman, have not the moral authority to speak on the issue because I am deceived, I have interpreted my own life incorrectly, and I am necessarily wrong – not because I am an inhuman beast, but because “objective” moral reasoning necessarily carries dehumanization of the subject as a consequence.
I submit then, to the reasoning of the Objective Male, that moral reasoning in the light of faith need another criterion of understanding – that of empathy. An argument not only lacking empathy but also the desire to preserve the humanity of the Other is necessarily flawed. On its very face, making an objective observation – particularly an objective moral observation – about the lives and the quality and the humanity of another human being is a failure of imagination, a failure to love fully and deeply and greatly.
I’ve no doubt Matthew struggled deeply with his position, that he thought out his arguments carefully, and did not publish this piece lightly. But the fact of the matter remains that, as a straight, married, cisgender, white man, he attempted to take objective reasoning into a space that is inherently unreasonable. The nature of love is the mystery around which the universe turns, the thing that motivated Christ – a poor brown man born not of a union between man and woman but of God and Woman, who practiced resurrection and sacrifice and adopted the rest of us into his family. The eschaton of the universe exists within love, and to look at someone else’s love for another and call it false or a sham is to deny that love has deep, abiding, life changing power. It is to dehumanize the very creations of God we are called to love and sacrifice for. It not only places a hard and heavy yoke upon the shoulders of queer people, but fails to understand and grasp the ennobling sacrifice that was Christ taking on our burdens for himself.
If we are called to be like Christ, then an argument that contains within it the necessary dehumanization of a class of God’s children is an argument to be found reprehensible on its face. This is why arguments for slavery, for beating a child, for wifely submission, for racial segregation, for anti-semitism are morally reprehensible and are recognized as such, even if one can argue their points from natural theology, moral reasoning, and Scripture. Such arguments necessarily rely on the dehumanization of their subjects in order to function as sound moral reasoning. And as Christians, this kind of dehumanization is something we cannot and should not engage in.
But in a world where my own humanity is still up for grabs, where my own understanding of myself and my God can be written off as mere devilish deception and greed, where my relationships are illegitimate before both the state and the church, such “moral reasoning” does, in fact, seem reasonable. It allows straight cisgender people – for whom these issues will never be quite real – to feel as though they are doing the good, noble, Christian thing.
“It’s logic,” they proclaim, as their compatriots deny us celebrations of love and grace.
“It’s the only reasonable thing,” they declare, as trangsgender teens throw themselves in speeding semis.
“It’s really just objective thought and I’m sorry you can’t handle it,” they announce, as a man’s lifelong partner is forced out of the hospital by security because their marriage is not “real” or recognized by either state or church.
Logic or reasoning that does not contain within it an amount of empathy and humanity for the Other is logic and reasoning that has no place within the Church writ large. This is why I reject “debates” about my humanity on their face – because my humanity and my position as someone beloved by God is only up for debate in the minds of my oppressors. And oppression is not something in which the Church can engage.
I know my humanity, my place before God as an adopted child in the inheritance of Christ. The question is, do straight people?