Monday, December 11, 2017

Comrades in Solidarity

(Artist: Piron Guillaume)

The feminist movement, according to bell hooks, aims to end sexist oppression by overcoming “imperialist white-supremacist capitalist patriarchy.” While the feminist movement has at times taken the shape of a men verses women dichotomy, there are more constructive approaches. In her work, bell hooks suggests that even though women and men face different oppressions, both women and men must find ways of working together to effectively overcome patriarchal oppression. Working in the texts, Ain’t I A Woman: Black Women and Feminism, Feminist Theory from Margin to Center, Writing Beyond Race: Living Theory and Practice, and We Real Cool: Black Men and Masculinity, I argue hooks encourages both men and women to overcome sexist oppression as comrades in solidarity, not enemies.

First, I will discuss ways in which to encourage male participation, the need to better understand masculinity, the importance of rejecting anti-male feminism, followed by the need to recognize male pain. Lastly, I will conclude with embracing diversity. Integrated throughout the paper will be text from hooks supporting concepts of men and women working together as comrades in solidarity.


Encouraging Male Participation

Male participation in the feminist movement has been less than optimal, if not, there likely wouldn’t be a need for a movement anymore. According to hooks, “Women’s liberationists called upon all women to join feminist movement, but they did not continually stress that men should assume responsibility for actively struggling to end sexist oppression.” [i] Sadly, there seems to permeate an unproductive stereotype that feminist work is a woman’s work and men are the enemy, but this couldn’t be further from the truth. Not only is this thinking unproductive, it is also contributing to sexist oppression. Distinguishing who may or may not participate in the feminist movement on account of gender is also using gender as an oppressive, discriminating factor. As hooks noted in Writing Beyond Race, we need to “move away from the us/them dichotomies which promote blame and prevent us all from assuming accountability.” [ii] Male participation in ending sexist oppression starts with accountability and concern for women’s liberation. However, that participation is hindered when feminists, often women, within the movement exclude or marginalize male involvement due to gender, which in turn allows men to relinquish their accountability in the movement. As hooks points out, “Accountability is a more expansive concept because it opens a field of possibility wherein we are all compelled to move beyond blame to see where our responsibility lies.” [iii] Accountability requires that we collectively recognize we are living within dominator culture and collectively take responsibility to overcome senseless oppressions.

The exclusion of men in the feminist movement is not simply a matter of misogyny, or men having no concern for the liberation of women. Feminist tactics that have neglected their own part in male exclusion undermine their own goal to end sexist oppression. According to hooks, “This lack of [male] participation is not solely a consequence of anti-feminism. By making women’s liberation synonymous with women gaining social equality with men, liberal feminists effectively created a situation in which they, not men, designated feminist movement ‘women’s work’.” [iv] While there is work being done by feminists to find constructive ways of bonding women together in a sense of comradery and sisterhood, there has been less attention given to the encouragement of men’s efforts in the feminist movement. Limited male participation cannot be reduced to misogyny alone, but also the tactic of feminists excluding potential participants.

Not only should feminists refrain from excluding male participation, feminist should be encouraging male participation, or better put, encourage participation independent of gender. More recently, the #HeForShe campaign is working to change the aim of feminism as women’s work. Their mission statement echoes hooks’ call for diverse gender participation in the movement to end sexist oppression by stating, “it’s not just a women’s issue, it’s a human rights issue.” [v] Though the #HeForShe campaign might suggest binary gender distinctions in the title, I think it’s still worth noting that there is an effort to widen the genderized distribution of feminist work beyond the role of women, and the “women only” mentality, which at its roots perpetuates the oppressions of patriarchy.

Encouraging male participation also means moving past blame. It is easy to misidentify the problem of sexism with a personified male trope, when identifying the abstract idea of sexism requires more thought and work. In Writing Beyond Race, hooks discusses the need for moving past blame:

“We are more energized by the practice of blaming than we are by efforts to create transformation, we not only cannot find relief from suffering, we are creating the conditions that help keep us stuck in the status quo. Our attachment to blaming, to identifying the oppressor, stems from the fear that if we cannot unequivocally and absolutely state who the enemy is then we cannot know who to organize resistance struggle.” (pg. 29)

We have the capacity to transcend our reductionist blaming tactics, but we will be far more effective if we learn from our past and target ideas instead of people. This is not an easy task, because as humans we can easily be defeated with violence, or even apathy, but a hateful idea can live on like a parasite jumping from host to host. Overcoming dominator culture requires we accurately identify the various systems of oppression at work, instead of blaming another. [vi] Encouragement of male participation includes overcoming blaming culture, and embracing a willingness to listen. Men need not blame themselves for inventing sexism, any more than women should, but we should not shirk the responsibility to eradicate it.


Understanding Masculinity

A common criticism of the feminist movement is the condemnation of masculinity. Unfortunately, toxic interpretations of masculinity make it difficult to identify what is masculine and what is patriarchal oppression. In pushing against patriarchal oppression, feminists are often criticized of emasculating men. Hooks points out, “…imposed upon the consciousness of the American public [is] the notion that any career woman, any woman who competed with men, was envious of male power and was likely to be a castrating bitch.” [vii] When domination is considered a masculine quality, any attempts to challenge unjust domination will be perceived as emasculating. When violence is considered a masculine quality, any attempts to challenge unjust violence will be perceived as emasculating.  When power is considered a masculine quality, any attempts to redistribute power to other genders will be perceived as emasculating. In order to end the oppression of unjust domination, violence, and power imbalances we need to decouple the idea that these qualities are inherently masculine. To the extent we ignore issues related to masculinity, we undermine our own goals and objectives to end sexist oppression and usher in gender liberation.


Rejecting Anti-Male Feminism

Another common tactic used by feminists is a reductionist approach that pits men as the enemy of feminism. Anti-male feminist views, though unproductive, still rear their head in contemporary discourse. However, by falsely assuming all men are misogynistic oppressors, the feminist movement has divisively cut the possible number of participants in half. If a movement such as feminism aims to end sexist oppression, but then uses gender exclusionary tactics, labels, and language, anti-male feminists have already begun a journey counterproductive to their primary objective. If misandry is the primary objective, it’s not feminism.

Broad generalizations such as “men hate women” and “men are the enemy” are often contributors to stereotypes against feminist and perpetuate false assumptions of “feminist, man-hating lesbians.” Misogyny cannot justify misandry, especially when misandry perpetuates misogyny. Feminism cannot be a movement built upon “all men are the enemy” and then to be taken seriously as a movement to end sexist oppressions. [viii] This mentality also alienates the participation of women who do not share exclusionary sentiments. One example hooks points out in Feminism: From Margin to Center is within the black community.


“Despite sexism, black women have contributed equally to anti-racist struggle, and frequently, before contemporary black liberation effort, black men have recognized this contribution. There is a special tie binding people together who struggle collectively for liberation. Black women and men have been united by such ties. They have known the experience of political solidarity. It is the experience of shared resistance struggle that led black women to reject the anti-male stance of some feminist activists.” (pg. 70)


There is much we can learn from this example. By binding together in the spirit of solidarity, we can form a comradery that provokes us into action, not as women against men, but men and women against sexist oppression. Moving past anti-male feminism requires us to abandon the “battle of the sexes” mentality that holds us back.

Another area in which anti-male feminist ideals have appeared is within shaming men’s sexuality. Tactics deployed by anti-male feminists not only create useless divisions among those who share a common goal to end sexist oppression, they are also contributing to sexual shaming with harmful psychological effects. It is the inverse of “slut shamming.” Sexual shaming regarding any gender has no place in the feminist movement.

The extreme of anti-male sexuality can be seen is feminist lesbian mandates. To clarify, not all lesbianism is misandist, just as male homosexuality isn’t misogyny. Within the feminist movement there has been a significant effort put into ending heterosexist oppression and liberation of the queer community. However, radical feminist views prevalent in the 1980’s took anti-male stances that require commentary. While these anti-male sexuality positions are slowly dwindling, some dogmas and stereotypes still linger. Women’s sexual liberation is closely linked to lesbian liberation, which is a positive advancement for homosexuals. However, a feminist movement that condemns men’s sexuality and mandates lesbianism is not sexual liberation. That is adopting the role of the oppressor. As hooks, stated, “Just as the struggle to end sexual oppression aims to eliminate heterosexism, it should not endorse any one sexual choice: celibacy, bisexuality, homosexuality, or heterosexuality.” [ix] Just as a person can be committed to the feminist movement to end sexist oppression regardless of gender, a person “…can be politically committed to feminism regardless of sexual preferences.” [x] Though the feminist movement has struggled with abuses of male sexuality, male sexuality cannot be the primary target to end sexist oppression. “As long as feminist women condemn male sexuality, and by extension—women who are involved sexually with men, the feminist movement is undermined.” [xi] We need to abandon and reject anti-male sexuality stances which create unnecessary and harmful divisions.


Recognizing Male Pain

Patriarchy hurts everyone. All lives matter. We are all in pain. Though these statements may be accurate, they are also weaponized by white-supremacist patriarchy to prevent genuine solidarity with those that are different from ourselves. In this example, I’d like to focus on the black man.

The black man is in pain and due to stigma, toxic masculinity perceptions, stereotypes, racism and sexism, the pain of the black male has gone unaddressed, and “there is a crisis in the black male spirit in our nation.” [xii]  Black males, from slavery to prison, from schools to the projects, have endured relentless dehumanization. Black males have often been relegated to another species, outside the category of human, and referred to as the “endangered species” which also implies a subhuman, animalistic undertone. It doesn’t take much to imagine the pain associated with such dogmas and stereotypes.

Sometime the pain of black men is used in the Oppression Olympics against black women as they argue over who is more oppressed than whom. This is just another way patriarchy prohibits the solidarity of souls. It only prevents black men and women from working together to put a stop to collective suffering. “Historically and today, white-supremacist patriarchy has found that the best way to prevent solidarity between black females and males is to make it appear that females are getting power while black male power is diminishing.” [xiii] This is a divide and conquer tactic used to further perpetuate white-supremacist patriarchy. Patriarchy inherently create power imbalances where even those that aren’t at the top of the pyramid will do whatever is necessary to protect what little soft power they have in the pecking order. A person may not be on the top rung, but it at least it’s not the bottom rung. This mentality divides the oppressed groups into categories that pits the pain of one against the other.

For example, starting around the first wave feminist movement, “many white women’s liberationists did not care about the fate of oppressed groups of men.” [xiv] Though white women suffered from sexist oppression many were unable or reluctant to realize that they still had more power and privilege than poor, uneducated, non-white males. Dismissal of male concerns, in this case black mens’ concerns, liberal feminists have failed to offer the olive branch of solidarity with men whom are also oppressed by patriarchy. As hooks accounts, “They were not eager to call attention to the fact that men do not share a common social status, […] that all men do not benefit equally from sexism.” [xv]

While the black man is in pain, this is not a rally cry or an excuse to enable black men to assert patriarchal dominance to appease their pain. Rather this is a realization that when the black man suffers, we all suffer. Ignoring, patronizing, or misrecognizing black male pain is also another tactic of patriarchy. Anti-sexist thinking in black men will not come from the ignorance to their pain, but rather that the acceptance their pain is one of the most human qualities they possess. John Bradshaw, in Bradshaw: On the Family, uses the term “soul-murder” to describe the deprivation of human feeling and shame. [xvi] However, in recognizing the genuine pain of the black man through mutual sensitivity and vulnerability, toxic masculinity perceptions of patriarchal thinking are undermined with love and concern for our black brother’s well-being.


Embracing Diversity

Embracing our differences is essential to forming a sense of comradery and solidarity, whether that’s through better understanding someone’s pain or resistance to anti-male tropes. Hooks suggests, “If females and males are taught to value mutuality, then partnership rather than the ethics of domination will be valued.” [xvii] We must learn to value each other, independent of gender. The feminist movement should stress the need to embrace our uniqueness, and not fear or hate what is different from ourselves. It is diversity that makes all life possible on the planet. Without embracing diversity, we risk the birth of new supremacist attitudes. Embracing diversity in the feminist movement means we heighten our consciousness to be aware of how those differences are not a hinderance, but necessity. Valuing one another as unique and essential individuals is a good start.

According to the text, hooks encourages both men and women to overcome sexist oppression as comrades in solidarity, not enemies. They are many ways in which we can improve, such as encouraging male participation, understanding masculinities, rejecting anti-male feminism, recognizing male pain, and embracing diversity. By working together in love and understanding we will be better positioned to overcome hate and oppression. 



Citations 

[i] bell hooks, “Feminism: From Margin to Center,” (South End Press, 2015), 68.

[ii] bell hooks, “Writing Beyond Race: Living Theory and Practice,” (Taylor & Francis, 2013), 12.

[iii] bell hooks, “Writing Beyond Race: Living Theory and Practice,” (Taylor & Francis, 2013), 30.

[iv] bell hooks, “Feminism: From Margin to Center” (South End Press, 2015), 68.

[v] HeForShe, s.v. “Our Mission,” accessed October 2, 2017, http://www.heforshe.org/en/our-mission. “The world is at a turning point. People everywhere understand and support the idea of gender equality. They know it’s not just a women’s issue, it’s a human rights issue. And when these powerful voices are heard, they will change the world. The time for that change is now. HeForShe is inviting people around the world to stand together to create a bold, visible force for gender equality. And it starts by taking action right now to create a gender equal world.”

[vi] bell hooks, “Writing Beyond Race: Living Theory and Practice,” (Taylor & Francis, 2013), 35.

[vii] bell hooks, “Ain’t I A Woman: Black Women and Feminism,” (South End Press, 2015), 180.

[viii] bell hooks, “Feminism: From Margin to Center,” (South End Press, 2015), 69. “Assertions like ‘all men are the enemy’ and ‘all men hate women’ lumped groups of men in one category, thereby suggesting that they share equally in all forms of male privilege. […] Anti-male sentiments have alienated many poor and working-class women, particularly non-white women, from feminist movement.”

[ix] bell hooks, “Feminism: From Margin to Center,” (South End Press, 2015), 153.

[x] bell hooks, “Feminism: From Margin to Center,” (South End Press, 2015), 154.

[xi] bell hooks, “Feminism: From Margin to Center,” (South End Press, 2015), 155.

[xii] bell hooks, “We Real Cool: Black Men and Masculinity,” (Taylor & Francis, 2004), 134.

[xiii] bell hooks, “We Real Cool: Black Men and Masculinity,” (Taylor & Francis, 2004), 135.

[xiv] bell hooks, “Feminism: From Margin to Center,” (South End Press, 2015), 69.

[xv] bell hooks, “Feminism: From Margin to Center,” (South End Press, 2015), 69.

[xvi] John Bradshaw, “Bradshaw: On the Family,” (Health Communications Inc., 1996), 2.

[xvii] bell hooks, “Writing Beyond Race: Living Theory and Practice,” (Taylor & Francis, 2013), 35.

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Useful Fiction

(Artist: Maxime Le Conte des Floris)

Fictionalism is the philosophical notion that a statement could be fiction, considered fiction, treated as fiction, yet still serve a useful purpose. In Grover Maxwell’s The Ontological Status of Theoretical Entities, he tells the parable of the “crobes” to illustrate the tangible effects fictionalism has on reality.

In a time not too long ago, but before the invention of microscopes, there was a Pasteur-like scientist who was concerned with a rampant disease that was killing large portions of the population. The Pasteur-like scientist speculated that the mechanism for transmission of the disease were tiny bugs he called “crobes” that could not be seen by the human eye. The concept of viruses and bacteria were well beyond the scope of human knowledge at this point. However, the Pasteur-like scientist thought there was an obvious, observable mechanism of transmission, even though he also simultaneously postulated that these “crobes” were, in fact, unobservable to the naked eye. He postulated that most, if not all, infectious disease was transmitted by “crobes.” The Pasteur-like scientist created preventative measures and convinced others to adopt them, as well. He encouraged people to not be in close contact with the diseased person, and practice disinfecting contaminated articles through high temperatures or cleaning them with toxic preparations he called “disinfectants.” Within ten years of implementing these measures in the community, the death rate declined by 40 percent.

The interesting part of the parable is that the “crobes” were a fictionalism. Though the “crobes” didn’t actually exist, they served a useful purpose in preventative medicine. Philosophers and scientists of the day expressed anxiety over the contradiction of the Pasteur-like scientist’s “crobes.” Scientific realism is built upon the observations of the physical world, but the “crobes” were in fact unobservable. The “crobes” were not scientific, yet it cannot be denied that the fiction of the “crobes” yielded tangible results.

Philosophers that consider the “crobes” to be an instrument for organizing observable scientific inquiry, are called instrumentalists. When fictional instruments collide with reality it may be the case that a certain amount of time later, with better technology, we are able to see why certain fictions served a purpose. With major technological advancements in medicine, we have been able to better understand disease, viruses, infections, and bacteria. We haven’t found any “crobes,” but that doesn’t mean “crobes” weren’t an important instrument in public health and scientific discovery.

I have often wondered what kind of “crobes” are being used today in the scope of religion. Could religion, as currently practiced, be a useful fiction that leads to greater understanding? Could priesthood power, baptisms, and temple sealings, be instruments in the understanding and harnessing of the power of our human potential? Even if they are fiction, that doesn’t mean they can’t yield tangible results? Furthermore, if these fictional instruments yield tangible results, were they true all along? Could the effects of religious ritual on human bodies be observed, measured, understood, calculated, and controlled through a better understanding of science and the use of better technologies? If so, what is the best way to engage in fictionalism if it yields results? For example, by rejecting specific children from baptism, or excluding portions of the population from full priesthood participation, we are misusing the power of fictionalism and instrumentalism. There is tangible power in fictionalism, we should engage wisely.

The ultimate goal of Mormon theology is to become Creators ourselves, by progressing eternally with our sealed, loved ones in a community of celestial glory. What a beautiful piece of fictionalism. Sure, there are details, practices, and policies that depict less utopian versions of this trajectory, but there is plenty of room for a more inclusive and robust interpretation of scripture. Sure, there are less inspiring, passive, irresponsible, or superstitious ideas of how these events are to come to pass, but there are also others that take a more practical approach to religion, faith, and ritual.  Sure, the fictionalism of Mormon transcendence may seem like sci-fi fantasy, but what if we actually worked toward these ends with an immersive and robust participation of religion? What if we actually believed faith without works is dead enough to drop the death rate by 40 percent? Does it sound like fiction? It should. But the really crazy part is, I actually believe it.

*Published at Rational Faiths on Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Monday, October 2, 2017

Dear Elder Oaks

(Artist: Brooke Cagle)


Dear Elder Oaks,

You don’t know me. We’ve never met, but I’ve listened to you speak from the pulpit since I was a child. You’ll likely never read this, but I feel compelled to express myself anyway. You see, something sad happened a couple months ago.

I was in the car with my husband, Drew, when he reluctantly handed me a manila envelope. He had it in his possession for a few days and wrestled with whether or not to give it to me. He knew what was inside and I know his intentions to withhold the contents were coming from a place of love and paternalism. Even so, he eventually gave me the envelope.

I opened the envelope and pulled out the contents that were carefully enclosed by a family member from another state. The top page was a brief letter expressing their disapproval of my queerness and orthopraxy of Mormonism. They said they have “a better understanding of [my] viewpoints” after reading one of your Ensign articles on homosexuality. It baffled me how a person could think they understand me better by reading your words, as if you had some hidden insight into how I experience queerness and Mormonism. It hurt that they gave you authority over my experience. They can’t end a letter with “we have great love for you” and expect those words to have any significant meaning when an expression of their “great love” feels like a dagger to the chest. If that’s love, I don’t want it. I cannot believe that is what an expression of “great love” should feel like. I recalled the times I spent with them as a child, and wondered if this could really be happening.

I was crying by the time I finished reading the letter. I wanted nothing more than to run to the mountains to be alone. Anymore “expressions of love” would surely be the death of me. Unfortunately, the safety of solitude would have to wait.

Nothing prepared me for what came next. I removed the letter from the top on the stack and there was a printed copy of your October 1995 Ensign article, “Same-Gender Attraction.” I looked at my husband and broke down in uncontrollable sobs. This was not the first time I was sent a copy of your talk. Over a decade ago, my husband—and best friend—gave this talk to me with a note expressing the necessity for me to gain a testimony of the prophets’ counsel concerning matters of homosexuality. This talk kept finding its way back to me. I remembered when my husband asked me to read “Born that Way? A True Story of Overcoming Same-Sex Attraction,” which, sadly is still being sold at Deseret Book. I remembered the arguments we had over Prop 8, but mostly, I recalled the pain. It was clear, even a decade later, that the people I loved were still giving authority to your words—that somehow what you were saying about my experiences as a queer woman were more valid than my actual experience. Somehow it was unquestionably understood to them that your perceptions of God’s will were more valid than mine. It’s as if their belief in you somehow absolves them of accountability for their actions.

Thankfully, my husband feels differently now, which gives me hope that someday my other family members might feel differently in the future, but in that moment all I could feel was the overwhelming pain of having to legitimize my existence to my family for the last 15 years.

There was no distinction between the sadness, pain, grief, sorrow, and anger. The passions came rushing to the surface without consent. My face grew hot as I screamed my frustrations at my husband. I yelled, “I wish Elder Oaks would just die already, so he would stop spreading these false, hurtful messages!” I rationalized that “It is better that one man should perish than that a nation should dwindle and perish in unbelief.” Drew kindly gave me the space I needed to express myself. I’m not proud of what I said. Unfortunately, a patriarchal gerontocracy makes death a gateway to progress by way of structural deficiencies, which is a truly horrid thought.

Whether people want to recognize it or not, LDS policies on marriage have changed, including polygamy and interracial marriage. Lest we forget interracial marriage in the United States has only been fully legal since 1967. About a decade later in 1978, black men were ordained to the LDS priesthood, and black men and women were allowed to enter the temple. Until that point an interracial couple was denied the blessings of an eternal temple sealing. In the U.S., gay marriage became legal a little over two years ago. I wonder if it will take a decade for the LDS Church to adapt policies again? How many more people must die before we overcome these senseless oppressions?

While listening to your most recent talk, I can’t help but question if you know what you’re doing? Are you aware of the rifts you are provoking? Do you know the harm you are causing? I want to believe that you love the members of this Church, but I don’t hear or feel love from you. When you paint a picture of heaven, salvation, and exaltation that doesn’t include the people we love, your heaven starts to look like hell. Too many of my queer siblings have given credence to your depictions of heaven to the point where they feel like death is the only way out. I wish they would take upon them the empowerment of personal revelation. I wish they believed “we ought to obey God rather than men,” and realize that the men who lead this organization are, indeed, men. I wish they believed Joseph Smith when he said, “a prophet [is] a prophet only when he [is] acting as such.” I wish they could see the radical beauty of Mormon theology, eternal progression, and life beyond the oppressions of patriarchy.

Aren’t you tired of this yet? I am.

With all the horrors in the world—with all the pain, injustice, suffering, sin, and death, why do you still choose to give talks that unnecessarily divide families? We have members all over the world struggling with poverty, war, and disease, and you choose to speak about same-sex marriage? What a waste of time and resources.

Like I said, I don’t know you. You don’t know me. We’ve never met, and likely never will. However, if you do read this, I want you to know that I disagree with your interpretation of doctrine concerning eternal families and gender. I disagree with this distribution of resources. I disagree with the message you are attempting to justify in the name of God. Mormonism is bigger than you or me. Mormonism is more than its policies on marriage. Mormonism is the radical idea that the love and life of the body of Christ will lead us to godhood in an ongoing process of eternal progression. I believe in Mormonism, and I’m not going to sit by idly and let this issue separate me from my family and faith.

I also want you to know I would like to reconcile these differences. My door is open to you, it’s a standing offer. You are welcome into my home to break bread. From one Mormon to another, atonement means that nothing is beyond reconciliation, and I believe in the power of atonement. Mormonism is more than its worst moments. Just as you are more than your worst moments, I am more than my worst moments. I still believe in forgiveness. Come, break bread with me. I’ll have a fresh loaf waiting.

Sincerely, a Queer Mormon Sister


*Published at Rational Faiths on Monday, October 2, 2017

Monday, September 25, 2017

Make Love Win

(Artist: Justin Roy)


Presentation at the Affirmation 2017 Annual International Conference on 23 Sept 2017 in Provo, UT. 
Watch the presentation here.


Hello everyone. I have been assigned the task of sharing my experience as a pansexual woman with you. This is somewhat of a challenge for me—I often have difficulty expressing my experiences and emotions. For me, it’s far easier to bury myself in my research and academia that confront the reality of my emotions, but those emotions usually surface sooner or later. As a result, I often have very vivid and imaginative dreams.

Recently, I had a beautiful dream that encapsulates my experience as a pansexual woman. I’d like to share that dream with you tonight.

. . .

I was preparing for a large social event that took place in at a mansion in the desert. I put on a beautiful gown that was so extravagant it seemed like a costume. I put on makeup so thick it seemed like paint. But I didn’t just put it on my face, I also put it on every part of my skin which was exposed. I brushed the paint on my skin with the skill and precision of a classically trained artist. There were some scars, bruises, and injuries, but nothing unmanageable. No imperfection was a match for my paintbrush. I finished the look with a decorative silver comb in my hair. By the time I was done, I was nothing short of a vision. My exterior was flawless. Of course, I was everything a refined woman should be.

I arrived at the mansion and walked through the over-sized doors that were so opulent they seemed oppressive. I could see my friends and family had already arrived, but strangely they were not wearing costumes. I saw people from my past and people from the present. It seemed as though the room was filled with every person I had ever loved, known, or met in my life. All, but one face was there.

I smiled and socialized with various people while friends and family complimented my ensemble. One friend commented, “You look so put together. How do you manage?” I continued smiling and deflected the compliment. I didn’t have an honest answer. They couldn’t see the volcano that raged inside—waiting to be released. They didn’t understand my exterior, my costume, was an illusion. It was a useful, powerful, and protective illusion. Yet, illusions only last so long.

The costume grew heavier as the evening went on. I wanted to remove the gown, but when I tried to take my costume off I was greeted with adverse reactions by people in the room. Some were disgusted, some were scared, some were annoyed, and some were hostile. My attempts to remove my costume, to engage in honest dialogue, were often mistaken for a sexual advance.

I wandered from guest to guest, looking for any sign of authenticity. I cautiously searched for opportunities to shed my costume, but when honesty conflicted with compassion, compassion won. Honesty only seemed to cause them discomfort.

The costume continued to weigh me down, and I found myself moving to the edges of the room, seeking solace.  I tried once more to remove my costume, but a well-meaning guest intervened and said, “I’m sure you already know this, but you can’t stay here without your costume. Don’t get me wrong. I want you to stay, but the costume is mandatory. Think of your children. If you can’t wear the costume for anyone else, surely you’re not so selfish that you wouldn’t wear it for them. Why make them suffer, because of your selfishness?” I nodded once again and agreed with the woman. I would do almost anything for my three children. I could live inside a costume for their well-being and safety.

The straps of my gown dug into my shoulders. The textured fabric and shimmering sequins rubbed my skin raw until I began to bleed. The costume wasn’t simply heavy, it was painful. I could barely stand. Is this what is meant to be a good mother, daughter, and friend? I knew these people. I knew their faces. I knew their voices. Why was this costume a qualifier for their love and friendship? With each rejection, I found myself closer and closer to the back of the large hall next to an exit.  I looked out the back exit and saw a large garden fountain in the center of a secluded courtyard.

I quietly slipped out the back and closed the doors behind me. It was sunset and it felt good to be alone. Night was coming, but I knew I couldn’t wait until the cover of night to remove my costume. I looked around to be sure there was no one was near me before slipping the shimmering gown off my body. The weight of the gown fell to the ground with an audible thud. It was no longer my burden. I quickly stepped into the fountain, and rinsed the makeup, paint, and blood off my body. Lastly, I removed the silver comb and let my hair down. I was me again.

Liberated from my bonds, I ran to my car and hopped in the driver’s seat. I sped down the empty freeway lined with endless desert. I looked in my rear-view mirror and saw the mansion shrink into the distance. All the windows were open—the wind blew across my nude body and whipped through my loose hair. Only alone, was I free. I exhaled in relief as I flew down the freeway. The isolation of the desert was protective and comforting, it’s fierce harshness meant safety. Anyone would be foolish to follow me into this wasteland.

There wasn’t another car in sight for miles, other than a semi-truck far off in the distance.

I dreaded wearing the costume again. No matter how beautiful it was, no matter how desirable others found it, there was no point of existing inside a costume. My authentic existence had been quarantined—sentenced to a lifetime of confinement.

The semi-truck driving toward me on the two-lane road was getting closer. It wouldn’t be long until our paths met on the narrow road. I thought to myself, “What is the point of existing if no one will ever know who I am? They can’t love me if they don’t know me, and what is life without love? Perhaps they are better off loving the memory of the costume they had grown so fond of. Surely my children would be better off with another mother—a normal mother.” I concluded there was no reason to exist.

The semi-truck speeding toward me was my easiest way to ensure that I’d never be imprisoned by the costume again. I looked ahead to my left gauging the proximity of the semi-truck, and set the cruise control. I forced the car door open as I sped down the freeway. I took off my seatbelt and prepared to jump. I was certain if I timed it just right, I wouldn’t feel a thing. I then looked to my right to see the sun setting over the desert one last time. I would miss the desert.

As I turned my gaze, as if by magic, I was no longer alone. Suddenly, sitting in the passenger seat was my best friend. I was certain I was alone until that moment, but to my shock there he was, casually leaning back, also completely naked. I wondered as to how he got into the passenger seat unnoticed. I couldn’t remember consciously allowing him in.

He looked at me and smiled. He was calm, peaceful, confident, and strangely unsurprised by the naked queer woman preparing to jump out of the speeding car. He said only one sentence to me, “You don’t have to wear a costume with me.”

I smiled with relief and nodded. I leaned back inside and closed the car door as the semi-truck charged passed.

. . .


I woke up from my dream startled, and wiped a tear from the corner of my eye. My heart was racing. The dream felt so real. I rolled over in bed and there was the man from my dream, my best friend sleeping beside me. The foolish man that followed me into the desert.


. . .


My dreams have a way of telling me my most inner most feelings and desires, and my dreams continually tell me we all need to be each other’s saviors. This is more than just a humanist view of a Judeo-Christian narrative.

I imagine that everyone in this room is on a unique path concerning their faith. I have no doubt we have people here who are among the most active members of the LDS Church and we have people here who are atheists with little interest in religion or biblical narratives.

When I say savior, I don’t mean that to be superstitious, mocking, or derogatory. I mean it literally. We need to be saviors to one another, right here, right now, just as the scriptures instruct. That is what it means to follow the example of Jesus and become members of the body of Christ. To quote Corinthians, “Now ye are the body of Christ and members in particular.” Christ is not Jesus, but rather Jesus exemplifies Christ. If we are to become saviors, if we call ourselves Christians, it is our duty to reconcile and overcome fear, ignorance, hate, hopelessness, and death. We must become Christ which means Christ is as queer as the members that compose its body.

As for me, I am still deeply inspired by my religion, even if it’s little more than a myth or pious fiction, and I don’t mean that pejoratively. The influence of myths, stories, dreams, theologies, and visions should not be underestimated and shouldn’t be considered necessarily fraudulent. Humans are storytellers. Life is a narrative and we are the authors. The story of Mormonism and Christianity is incomplete without queer voices, and make no mistake Mormons are a queer people. It is time to stop privileging views or theological interpretations that neglect the experiences of queer Mormons. We need your voice, otherwise, fear and ignorance wins, and I don’t know about you, but I’m interested in a narrative where love wins.

Be a savior. Be Christ. You are a queer Mormon. Make your story the one that lives. Together, I believe we can make love win. Thank you.

Tuesday, September 5, 2017

Bring Love to Life: a transhumanist love poem

(Artist: Agnes-Cecile)

Stripped to a state of honesty,
I told you my secrets and fears.
You showed me hope,
and told me I was worthy.
For some reason, I believed you.
You were my exorcism,
banishing villains from my head.
When you said my name
you summoned me to warmth.
Your gaze lingered 
as you pulled me into the rhythm of your step.
We met at that sacred space
where minds meet and hips quiver.

Dictates and mandates
were fed with fear,
but there is no fear in love.
No shame in communion.
When they called love hubris,
apathy replaced righteousness,
complacency replaced humility.
Thoughtless obedience
made the saint the sinner
and the sinner the saint.
I’m not the prodigal daughter,
because there was no sin in my rebellion—
just a lover looking for God,
and I found you.

I feel you in my veins,
ripping through my sutures.
The hurt feels strangely familiar.
Please, drink my thoughts,
don't make me talk.
Open our seams,
and let us share this dream.
I don’t want eternity,
unless I can have eternity with you.
Tell me we can—
Tell me we will—
Tell me we must—
Bring love to life.

Thursday, August 24, 2017

Queer, Mormon, and Transhuman: Part III

(Artist: Kwangho Shin)

Two of the most attractive aspects of Transhumanism to me are morphological freedom and cognitive liberty. Morphological freedom refers to the civil rights each person has—to maintain or modify their own body according to their autonomy by the use or refusal of medical technologies. Cognitive liberty is the freedom to have control over their own cognition and consciousness.  I think of this pairing as freedom of body and mind. These concepts have a profound impact on how we view and adapt our bodies.

While topics related to transhumanism, religion, gender, and human sexuality tend to be controversial, there is a case to be made that if you are a Transhumanist, even a Mormon Transhumanist, you should be supportive of the LGBTQ community.


Morphological Freedom

One aspect of morphological freedom is how we perceive and interact with gender identities, performances, and sexual orientations. While many debates have been had over binary notions of gender and sexuality, mainly cisnormativity and monosexuality, I want to challenge these ideas further by illuminating the complexities of plural genders and sexual orientation, including fluidity. Gender and sexuality are not static or binary. All is in flux, even if personal labels don’t fluctuate.

Some may advocate for a postgender society composed of homogenization, but that hardly seems like a product of evolution, when evolution generally favors increased diversification. Gender, when deconstructed of its binary notions, is as unique as each individual. I’m in favor of a future that understands, embraces, and celebrates the uniqueness and diversity of gender. Postgenderism should be about diversity, not homogeny or conformity. I’ve touched on the diversity of gender in Queer, Mormon, and Transhuman: Part I, and Queer, Mormon, and Transhuman: Part II.  

Not only is Transhumanism compatible with queer sexualities and diverse gender identities, it also favors embracing diversity. The eighth point of the Transhumanist Declaration states, “We favour allowing individuals wide personal choice over how they enable their lives” including “human modification and enhancement technologies.”

This indicates that diversity of morphological freedom, to the extent that it’s not oppressive, is valued among transhumanists. Technologies are already changing how we present our bodies, whether that’s minor cosmetic enhancements, practical reconstructions, or gender confirmation surgery.

More dramatic changes, like gender confirmation surgery, are challenging notions of morphological freedom. Does morphological freedom include freedom over gender identity and expression? Nick Bostrom, one of the authors of the Transhumanist Declaration, commented in his essay In Defense of Posthuman Dignity, “One example of how contemporary technology can change important aspects of someone’s identity is sex reassignment [gender confirmation surgery]. The experiences of transsexuals [trans and non-binary identities] show that Western culture still has work to do in becoming more accepting of diversity. This is a task that we can begin to tackle today by fostering a climate of tolerance and acceptance toward those who are different from ourselves. Painting alarmist pictures of the threat from the future technologically modified people, or hurling preemptive condemnations of their necessarily debased nature, is not the best way to go about it.” He continues, “Our role in this process need not be that of passive bystanders. We can work to create more inclusive social structures that accord appropriate moral recognition and legal rights to all who need them, be they male or female, black or white, flesh or silicon.”

The third point of the Mormon Transhumanist Affirmation states, “We seek the spiritual and physical exaltation of individuals and their anatomies, as well as communities and their environments, according to their wills, desires, and laws, to the extent they are not oppressive.”

One oppressive form of morphology is non-consensual esthetic changes to the intersex population. Intersex infants are often hormonally and surgically altered to conform to socially accepted “norms” to perpetuate the gender binary. These non-consensual, “normalizing,” esthetical interventions have little to no evidence that treatment offers medical benefits other than perpetuation of social gender constructs. The Council of Europe became the first institution to state that intersex people have the right to not undergo sex affirmation interventions. Other governments are following suit by suspending non-consensual medical interventions.

I agree with Bostrom, we need to “create more inclusive social structures” which includes accepting diverse and fluid genders, and a person’s right to accept or refuse individual morphology. Under the Transhumanist Declaration and Mormon Transhumanist Affirmation, the adaptation of a person’s gender identity, performance, and physiology is a part of respecting morphological autonomy.


Cognitive Liberty

Deconstruction of the gender binary is also important as it relates to sexual orientation. When gender is seen as something more diverse than simply being binary and more fluid than being stagnant, issues related to heterosexuality and homosexuality tend to become less relevant.

For example, if two people are in a relationship and one or both partners is capable of changing their gender identity, performance, or physiology, the sexual orientation of the couple cannot be defined as heterosexual, homosexual, or even bisexual. Gender identity highlights the core issue of sexual orientation and its fluidity.

If my husband were to change his gender identity and physiology to socially ascribed femaleness, would our marriage now be immoral? No. I can see no reason why his gender identity is the determining factor of whether our marriage is moral or immoral. In fact, to suggest otherwise is oppress to his right to morphological freedom, my right to love him, and continue our marriage independent of his gender identity. Whether I agree or disagree with his physical changes, we should recognize the value of commitment, or in this case, marriage. Promises and commitments made between loving, committed persons should not be carelessly thought as immoral on account of morphological and/or cognitive changes. Some changes may be difficult to process. Our partner(s) change in ways we prefer and don’t prefer. But commitment is also one small aspect of cognitive liberty—to love radically, thoughtfully, freely, and consensually—which includes staying committed during times of change.

It is immoral to limit the consensual love of humanity by gender. It is both sexist and oppressive.  I can find no reason why love should be suppressed on account of gender. That’s not to say that everyone needs to identify as pansexual. Quite the contrary, we all have preferences and desires that should be respected, including monosexual labels. However, morphological freedom illustrates that sexual orientation and gender identity is also a matter cognitive liberty. We should be free to love beyond gendered borders. As stated above, transhumanists “favour allowing individuals wide personal choice over how they enable their lives.” I think this includes the freedom to be with the informed, consenting adult(s) they love.

Again, the third point of the Mormon Transhumanist Affirmation states, “We seek the spiritual and physical exaltation of individuals and their anatomies, as well as communities and their environments, according to their wills, desires, and laws, to the extent they are not oppressive.”

People tend to focus on oppression as a means of justifying morality. One group may claim that one is oppressing the other, but in reality, a homosexual marriage and relationship is no more inherently oppressive than a heterosexual marriage. Just as a plural marriage is no more inherently oppressive that a monogamous marriage. Oppression is a state of unjust treatment and control, in this case, to thwart a person’s cognitive liberty to love and enter into a relationship(s) with the person(s) they love. Oppression, in this case, is pressing one person’s values onto another without accepting diversity of values as a viable option. Diversity of thought and love is at the root of cognitive liberty.


Alleviation of Grave Suffering

The fifth point of the Transhumanist Declaration states, “Reduction of existential risks, and development of means for the preservation of life and health, the alleviation of grave suffering, and the improvement of human foresight and wisdom should be pursued as urgent priorities, and heavily funded.” I’d like to focus briefly on the “preservation of life and health, the alleviation of grave suffering.”

The LGBTQ community as a whole has higher levels of suicide attempts and self-harm than the non-queer population, also confirmed by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Of all gender identities, the transgender community has the highest levels of suicide attempts with over 40 percent of the transgender community attempting suicide. That rate is nearly nine times higher than the cisgender population in America. Transgender mental health issues are likely caused by stigmatization, shame, distress, social rejection, isolation, trauma, and discrimination. Deprivation of “self” can also lead to a sense of meaninglessness.

Of all sexual orientations, the bisexual population experiences the highest rates of depression, anxiety, and suicidal thoughts. Bisexual females exhibit the highest suicide scores. The Pew Research Center also shows that bisexuals are also significantly less likely to disclose their sexual orientation than monosexuals. Much of this is due to victimization, peer judgments, and family rejection. Bisexual individuals also reported higher rates of mental illness and substance abuse.

The queer community is in a state of “grave suffering.” As Transhumanists, it is part of our declaration to work toward the “preservation of life and health, and the alleviation of grave suffering.” It sufficeth to say, the health and well-being of the queer community falls under the fifth point of the Transhumanist Declaration. Not only does the declaration state these are important matters, but also “should be pursued as urgent priorities, and heavily funded.”

According to the CDC, suicide prevention of the queer community is heavily influenced by parental, family, and community support and acceptance. One study showed that family acceptance of gender identity leads to lower levels of anxiety and depression. Groups, such as the Family Acceptance Project (FAP), are seeking constructive ways to improve the health and well-being of the queer community.

Morphological freedom and cognitive liberty are not simply desires, they are necessary in the pursuit of happiness. In this context, a person who struggles with severe, chronic gender dysphoria has no hope of alleviation or happiness without the consent of the existing community. A homosexual woman may perceive life as meaningless without the hope of being with the woman who loves her. A monogamous person may feel trapped in a monogamous marriage not because they don’t love their current spouse, but because they have more love to give, yet society disallows the expression of that love. Without our compassion, we have condemned these individuals to a life of oppression and possible misery—a lifetime of gender dysphoria, repression, or social condemnation. If there is any value in life, love must be the highest value. To thwart love is to enable death.

Humans are communal, no matter how highly we value our individuality. We are at each other’s mercy. However, prosociality is not simply a matter of conforming to the majority, but also accepting the legitimacy of the minority. Prosociality cannot occur without freedom of diversity, because we have different values, desires, and experiences. However, there isn’t much point to freedom if there is no hope of happiness, or the potential of happiness. Morphological freedom and cognitive liberty are necessary for individuals to pursue different approaches to happiness and meaning.


Mormon Transhumanists

Some readers may be concerned the LDS Church has placed restriction on LGBTQ participation, including their offspring. While I, too, am concerned and saddened by various LDS policies, I still maintain there is nothing inherently anti-queer about Mormon theology, which is different than LDS policy.

The first point of the Mormon Transhumanist Affirmation states, “We are disciples of the Gospel of Jesus Christ” when we “fully immerse our bodies and minds in the role of Christ, to become compassionate creators as exemplified and invited by Jesus.” As members of the body of Christ, it is our responsibility to heal, console, and comfort those in need. As illustrated above, the LGBTQ community is in need. We should be “compassionate creators” in finding thoughtful solutions to diverse desires.

Illustrated in the sixth point of the Mormon Transhumanist Affirmation, “We practice our discipleship when we offer friendship, that all may be many in one; when we receive truth, let it come from whence it may; and when we send relief, consolation and healing, that raises each other together.” Raising each other up includes admittance of all genders as worthy participants in religious rituals, not just cisgender identities. Raising each other includes temple sealings of all loving, committed marriages whether they be heterosexual, homosexual, or plural. Raising each other up does not include rejecting LBGTQ and polygamous marriages from temple blessings. I understand that some would see these relationships as “sin,” but interracial marriages were once disallowed, reject, illegal, and considered “sin”—until they weren’t. If all you can offer is love and friendship, do it. Love is one form of “relief and consolation” that is not in LDS dispute.


Conclusion

The third point of the Transhumanist Declaration states, “We recognize that humanity faces serious risks, especially from the misuse of new technologies. There are possible realistic scenarios that lead to the loss of most, or even all, of what we hold valuable. Some of these scenarios are drastic, others are subtle. Although all progress is change, not all change is progress.

I agree “not all change is progress.” The question is, what is it we hold valuable? What makes us human? Patriarchy? Monogamy? Heteronormativity? Binary divisions? Diversity? Plurality? Homogeny? Change? Evolution? The answers will be as diverse as each person. This means humanity will ceaselessly debate what we hold as valuable, and though I am only one voice in the matter, I will voice my values.

The sixth point of the Transhumanist Declaration states “respecting autonomy and individual rights, and showing solidarity with and concern for the interests and dignity of all people around the globe.” To me, this includes respecting the right to love and engage committed relationship(s) with a consenting adult(s) independent of their gender identity or physiology. I don’t see how one could ascribe to the Transhumanist Declaration or the principles of morphological freedom and cognitive liberty without the acceptance of the queer community. It is possible to support these communities, yet still live differently.

Morphological freedom and cognitive liberty includes far more than matters related to gender and sexuality. I would like to see humanity evolve beyond current trends of discrimination by defending human and posthuman dignity in creating more inclusive and humane ethics. There are far more complex problems on the horizon than gender identities and sexual orientations. We must move forward with radical love at the core of our motives, desires, and ethics.



*This post is a personal commentary of my own desires and objectives, and I am speaking as an individual and not as a spokesperson for the many non-profits and advocacy groups that I lead and/or affiliate with.