This month we celebrate the gift of life in its many colors, which holds great significance for the LGTBQ community. For years, women and men who were not heterosexual had to hide their true identity or live secret lives. I remember when I was growing up in Totowa, New Jersey our next neighbors came over to visit one evening with their two children. The man seemed uncomfortable and not all that happy and later I learned that he left his family because he was gay. My mother at the time said something to the effect, “he is a bit odd. I think he is a queer.” And that is how most baby boomer and older generations viewed anyone outside the heterosexual norm. Pejorative terms were used to describe persons, as Elton John recounts in the movie, Rocketman: “I am a fag, a puffer, a queer” terms which in the 20th century meant, “I am an oddity, not normal.” And who defined “normal?” Well religions did a fine job limiting nature to two options “male” and “female” because that is how God created us, according to the book of Genesis. Yet, what we usually miss is that God created male and female, not male or female. God endowed nature with a much greater freedom of expression than humans have assumed.
One has only to study the evolution of sex from simple cellular to multicellular complex life to realize that nature is not entirely binary. The first sexual beings to emerge perhaps 2.5 billion years ago were what biologists call isogamous —somewhere between male and female. Polygenetic types have been identified among some species, such as the Cardinal and various other bird species, insects, and crustaceans. “There is a phenomenon among some birds known as bilateral gynandromorph where half the body is male and the other half is female, a chimera,” says Daniel Hooper, a postdoctoral fellow at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology. Gynandromorphs, known as “half-siders” among ornithologists, are uncommon but not unheard of. They likely occur across all species of birds, Hooper says, but we’re only likely to notice them in species where the adult males and females look distinct from each other, a trait known as sexual dimorphism. As evolutionary biology unfolds, scientists are realizing there is an incredible diversity and range of genotypes among non-human species, leading to the remarkable revelation that nature is not clearly defined in terms of binary sexual differentiation.
The word sex has a Latin root, the verb secare. In Latin, secare means (literally) “to cut off,” “to sever,” “to amputate,” “to disconnect from the whole.” To be “sexed,” therefore, literally means to be cut off, to be severed from, to be amputated from the whole.[i] Ronald Rolheiser uses a simple example to illustrate:
Were you to take a chain saw and go to a tree and cut off one of its branches, you would have “sexed” that branch. This branch, could it feel and think, would wake up on the ground, severed, cut off, disconnected, a lonely little piece of wood which was once part of a great organism. It would know in its ever cell that if it wants to continue living and especially if it wants to produce flowers and bear fruit, it must somehow reconnect itself to the tree.[ii]
We wake up in our cribs lonely, cut off, severed from the great whole. Sex is a dimension of our very awareness and gender is an expression of sexual identity in search of wholeness. Sexuality is a sacred energy given us by God to overcome our incompleteness, to move toward unity and consummation with that which is beyond us. It is also the pulse to celebrate, to give and to receive delight. All of these hungers in their full maturity lead us to full alive as persons, co-creators with God and co-responsible with God for the planet, standing with God and blessing the world. To live chaste does not necessarily mean to live without sex but to live with the reverence of life, to experience things reverently in a way that the experience leaves both others and ourselves more integrated. We are chaste when we do not let impatience, irreverence, or selfishness ruin what is a gift by somehow violating it. When we violate anything and reduce it to an object for consumption or misuse, we violate the dignity of life and the gift of personhood.
Personhood is the heart of the matter. To be a person is to be an authentic relational being, a flowing of being in the giftedness of one’s life. Personhood is not a given or a mandate; it is a constructive process of ongoing identity. To be free as person is to be fully present to oneself. Beatrice Bruteau writes that a person is “the creative activity of life as it projects itself to the next instant.”[iii] The breakthrough of personhood in recent times is a rediscovery of nature as open, porous, symbiotic, synergistic and therefore that which cannot be bound, controlled, manipulated or used. Rather, the fragility of boundaries and the recursive loop of identity construction means that no category can ontologically define personhood; rather “self” is an ongoing dynamical process, a mini expanding universe open to life, which is why the rainbow aptly symbolizes the freedom and authenticity of the LGBTQ community because it signifies the desire and hope for the fullness of life.
God looks at what God brings into being and sees it is “very good” because God is the vital core of every being, the invisible mysterious center of personhood who dwells within as fidelity in love, a love so great that every person whether gay, straight, trans, bi, queer is loved uniquely and unconditionally by God. The Franciscan theologian Duns Scotus used the term haecceitas to describe the uniqueness of every single life: God loves “this” person, this unique gifted, blessed, individual who from all eternity is uttered into beingness by the Word of God. God dwells in “this” person in no other way than the freedom of this single person. To know God is to know oneself loved by God in the freedom of one’s own self. What God desires is a heart which can respond in love: love of neighbor, love of the earth and all creatures, love of the poor and, most important, love of self. God does not know biological essentialism (God does not even know patriarchy!). God only knows the human heart, the “thisness” of you and me. We have only one real task in life, to live from the heart in truth and freedom. It is time to put away our fears and judgments and to look into the eyes of another, to gaze at the face of another, and to love the other as our self.
[i] Ronald Rolheiser, The Holy Longing: The Search for a Christian SpiritualityHoly Longing 193 (New York: Doubleday, 1999), 142
[ii] Holy Longing, 193.
[iii] Beatrice Bruteau, “The Living One” in The Grand Option: Personal Transformation and a New Creation (Notre Dame, IN: University of Notre Dame Press, 2001), 142; Ilia Delio, “Evolution Toward Personhood,” in Personal Transformation and a New Creation, ed. Ilia Delio, (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis, 2016), 141.