Saturday, April 23, 2005

Complementarity:

An interesting discussion broke out on this comment thread on the Evangelical Outpost (as usual). In particular, Patrick makes an observation about homosexuality and complementarily that really "gets it"; his is a far deeper understanding of nature and the human condition than those who would just point to biological differences between men & women, note that gays can't procreate, and then conclude that homosexuality violates the norm of heterosexual "complementarily" or nature in any meaningful way. As Andrew Sullivan has pointed out, not only does homosexuality not violate the dominant norm of heterosexuality, it in fact, "resonates with it."

Joe Carter: "While we shouldn't attempt to reduce it to it's component parts, we also cannot ignore the physical dimensions of sex, especially sexual differentiation. Men and woman are different in both their physical and emotional makeup. Evangelicals believe that these gender differences are complementary and designed by God to lead to fulfillment and happiness within the union."

As a gay man, I agree with the above. Where we differ is that I don't think many Christians understand and accept the true nature of male and female Complementarity. Men and Women are different, but they are also the same. The concept of the one-flesh union as described is not the whole story, not even for heterosexuals.

It is indeed about the union of the man and the woman. But humans are more complex, and frankly more beautiful than this and it should be taken into consideration.

What I'm getting at is that it's not just the union of the man in the woman, it is also the union of the woman in the man. Or as Peter Gabriel says, it's in the Blood of Eden.

Every human being on the planet, no matter what gender, has inherently both male and female components within them to varying degrees. This is true physically, psychologically, emotionally, and many believe spiritually.

It's an essential part of the make-up of our humanity that should not be dismissed or overlooked when discussing what a marriage is and isn't.

When the "one-flesh" union or marriage takes place, it's actually a double-joining. It's more than just the single joining of a man to a woman. What also takes place is that the part which is female within the man joins with that which is male within the woman.

This double-joining is the bridge between the sexes. It's the phoneline through which men and women are able to communicate with each other and understand each other. Without it the joining between sexes would be in battle, not marriage. And sometimes it still is.

This is the essence of true Complementarity. That's how it works. Christianity seems at some point to have turned it's back on this fundamental truth. I suspect it's more because of the cultural prejudices toward women that were in the societies that Christianity sprang from than it does with Christianity itself. Women were not respected. So the part in men that is female also came to be despised. And the reverse for women.

But Complementarity is still a biological fact. And because of the variety and complexity of the human species it expresses itself in many different ways. The chromosome "Super-male" or female. Mammary glands in men, and penile tissue in women. The physically female blank slate of the fetus. The rush of hormones in different quantities and and at different times that run the development of gender in that fetus. Biologically, Adam comes from Eve's rib. There are also the other variances, including hermaphrodites who in truth are really a third gender, androgyny, and of course transgendered individuals and yes, gay and lesbian people.

Christian marriage assumes a standard of absolute male and female that does not exist in the reality of our species. And a thousand "defense of marriage" laws are not going to change that fact.

So a gay or lesbian union is in fact not the same as that of a heterosexual union. But it is still the union of the man in the woman and the woman in the man. It's in a different, but completely natural, configuration and proportion than that of opposite-sex couples. It's merely a different expression of Complementarity. And it also deserves respect, because it is the design of the Creator, and it's a beautiful thing.

The sheer elegance and genius of the way in which God created the male and female principles men and women to work with each other, in all it's permutations should be acknowledged, celebrated, and respected but above all else, understood.


Patrick correctly notes that the standard of "absolute" gender roles that Christian conservatives seem to posit is an erroneous view of nature, in my opinion, as erroneous as the view of the "social constructionists" who argue that "gender" is a social construct. Also short-sighted is the notion that the "differences" between men and women equal a perfect fit between the two of them. Patrick notes that absolute gender differences would seem to make marriage as much of a "battle," as a union. And that some marriages in fact look like this. Indeed, it was an Evangelical Christian (yes ironic) who noted that "Woman are from Venus, Men are from Mars," seeming to indicate that differences between the genders are as likely to make men and women appear to be a "clumsy matchup" as a "perfect fit."

6 comments:

Marty said...

Man that's really reaching for it. Quite a stretch actually.

It takes more than two halves to make a whole -- it takes two opposite halves. And it is no mere coincidence, nor "social construct", that every human on the planet -- without exception -- is the product of just such a symmetry of "opposites". Same-sex couples may be able to simulate such a "complimentarity", but it can never rise to the level of "one flesh" union that is the defining feature of marriage and family.

Nice try though. On a related note, i've often wondered why butch lesbians and effeminate gays don't seem to hit it off. Their complimentarity is pure symmetry!

Jonathan said...

The entire "symmetry of opposites" theory, as I wrote at the end of this post, begs a lot of questions.

For one, what's so good about differences? We could just as easily argue that same-sex couples are good precisely because they are the same.

Do you buy into the "diversity" agenda? Does diversity, in and of itself, make things better or stronger. Homogenous nations like Japan and Norway, it seems to me, could argue "'homogeneity' is our strength."

What about the "Women are From Venus, Men are from Mars" dynamic?

Obviously you need men & women to procreate. But gays through no fault of their own, can't. Gays seem to me to be awfully close to the natural and moral position of an infertile heterosexual couple.

And if you compare such couples (and there are a lot of them) to gays, one could rationally argue that homosexual partnerships are by nature, superior to heterosexual infertile partnerships precisely because they don't suffer from the "clumsy" gender differences.

Marty said...

Sigh, so now you're subscribing to a "separate but equal" philosophy? While the rest of society recognizes and cherishes the value of both diversity AND integration, you're suddenly proclaiming the virtue of remaining separate, and homogeneous? LOL!

Obviously you need men & women to procreate. But gays through no fault of their own, can't.

Through no fault but their own -- they CAN! Gays can -- and DO procreate. But to do so, they must call in the third party cavalry -- the symmetrical opposite. Happens all the time. What's this "can't" business -- dont you mean "won't"?

Gays seem to me to be awfully close to the natural and moral position of an infertile heterosexual couple.

Awfully close, except for two big (HUGE) differences.

1. Infertile people know and readily admit that they are broken.

2. They invariably seek a cure.

Good luck convincing any gay person that they are broken and in need of a cure these days. For that reason, they are nowhere near the "moral position" of infertile humans.

As for the natural position, it is my understanding that gays are no more likely to be biologically infertile than straights.

Psychologically infertile, on the other hand...

Jonathan said...

I didn't say I supported separate but equal. And btw, don't you think that there is serious tension between "diversity" on the one hand "integration" on the other? I believe in integration, but by integrating, you have to integrate into something overriding diversity, i.e., the "melting pot."

Or as our motto puts it, "from many, one." And that "one" is a common creed (the Declaration of Independence, beliefs in liberty and equality and "rights") and a common set of (Ango-Western) values, a common language (English). It can't be a common "race" because our values say "race" is arbitrary (and to a lesser extent, the same can be said of "religion").

And btw, this invariably leads to race mixing, but it also requires that the minority cultures assimilate into the dominant ones, and not the other way around.

Homosexuals who want to integrate, wish to marry, move into the same neighborhoods, and live the same ordinary bourgeois lives as everyone else.

My point was, what's so good about "differences?" Beyond, procreation and perhaps, the child's developmental needs for parents of different genders I see no obvious answer.

So that if you took a straight couple who would never have children, and a gay couple who would never have children, there is no compelling case to be made, that the "differences" between the genders make them a "superior" couple. This equation is not taking into account all of the a) disadvantages that come with gender differences (Men are from Mars, etc.) and the b) Advantages that come with the sameness of a homosexual couple.

Regarding the procreation issue, it's the *couples* themselves that are infertile. Simply saying that gays are fertile human beings as individuals doesn't make the point because with infertile heterosexual couples, often one of the partners is perfectly fertile and the other isn't. But the couple together, by no fault of their own, is infertile. Ditto with the gay couple.

Regarding gays having children by bringing in a member of the opposite sex, they simply are taking advantage of the same techniques that again, sterile heterosexual couples have been using. For instance, the Baby M case, where Mr. Stern was fertile, Mrs. S, wasn't and they used Mary Beth Whitehead as a surrogate parent.

Finally,

"1. Infertile people know and readily admit that they are broken.

2. They invariably seek a cure."

Not necessarily. You are forgetting about arguably the dominant class of infertile people: "naturally infertile" people: Post-menopausal women.

And this is very important, given the high ranges of divorces and subsequent remarriages. And given the fairly small % of homosexuals, there are probably more "Bob Dole-Liddy Dole," "John Kerry-Teresa Heinz" (or "Price Charles and CPB") marriages than homosexual couplings. They don't see themselves as "broken" and their relationships have as little to do with procreation and child-rearing as homosexual relationships.

CPT_Doom said...

Great post Jon, and one that is close to my own thinking. I have often felt that intersexed (hermaphodite) people represent the truest merging of the two genders, in fact at least one cause of intersexism (sic?) is a condition where 50% of the person's genes are male (X and Y chromosones) and 50% of them are female (only X chromosones present) - can we truly assign that person to a gender?

But I am not sure I buy your complementariness argument in homosexual relationships, if only because you still require the male and female parts of the persons to be joining. Isn't is possible that gay and lesbian people, because we are already more of a mixture of male and female than heterosexual people, don't require the male/female dynamic because it is more strongly expressed within each of us? After all, butch lesbians can and do have relationships with other butch lesbians, and the same goes for effeminate gay men.

Even within the heterosexual community, I see most relationships as the complementary pairing of two individuals not two genders. Although certainly heterosexual relationships have the added benefit of including reproductive complementariness, that is not the sole reason for their existence, nor is it sufficient to maintain those relationships. They are maintained by the individuals, giving of themselves to complete the other, and holding back on certain personality characteristics that may clash. That same dynamic occurs in gay and lesbian relationships - despite sterotypes, it is not the sex that keeps us together, it is the love and the ability of two individuals to maintain that relationship.

1. Infertile people know and readily admit that they are broken.

2. They invariably seek a cure.


As Jon already pointed out, this is not the case. Infertile couples may a) choose to attempt some form of "natural" procreation, including surrogates and infertility treatments b) adopt or c) decide not to have children. All three choices are understood and supported in our society. More importantly there are couples who are perfectly fertile, but who choose not to have children, often because they simply don't want to expend the effort it takes to raise a child.

Marty said...

Good to see you again Doom.

Your trouble with points 1 and two above are that you skip over them completely to #3 -- which is actually just a repeat of #1. An infertile couple will not reach your examples until: 1. They see that there is a problem, 2. They try to fix the problem, and failing, return to number 1. Stuck at the problem, there is only the option of #3, the examples you cite.