Monday, August 30, 2010

Queering our Masculinity

Why go on so about the spirituality of queer men in this blog, if Spirit is what binds us all, ultimately erasing distinctions between male and female, rich and poor, gay and straight, white and racialized, able and disabled, young and old?

For me, it’s a rhetorical question. I have no hesitation about my answer: only by entering more deeply into what’s particular about our experience will we come to know better our place in a world that’s not just about us. Among feminism’s most important insights over the last forty years has been the insistence that truth is relative to the experience of the one who knows and speaks it, and most especially to his or her gender/sexuality. French psychoanalytic feminism in particular charted the ways that patriarchy distorts and discounts women’s ways of knowing, speaking, and being in the world. Writers like Luce Irigaray and Helene Cixous put the finger on (and gave the finger to) patriarchy for claiming that only men’s modes of thought and language count, and for discounting women’s views and expressions as secondary and derivative.

I feel passionate about feminism, but let me be clear: not only out of guilt, but more importantly out of a solidarity born of shared interest. If patriarchy puts men on top–and of course it’s done that for millennia in unjust and violent ways-- the price we pay is the fullness of our selves, our souls and bodies. Patriarchy doesn’t exult the lived experience of men. Instead, it asks us to renounce our frail, embodied, contingent existence, and to pretend that there’s something inherently universal and standard about masculine ways of being, acting, speaking, and knowing. The French feminists called this distorted, abstract understanding of male identity “phallocentrism.”

The problem is, if we carry the phallus around long enough, we lose track of our dicks. The phallus, patriarchy tells us, is perfect, unchanging, universal, and all-powerful. Not so that strange, changeable, capricious organ between our legs. Not so the whole range of pleasures we’re capable of feeling with our bodies that have nothing to do with an obsession with “normal” male sexuality. Not so the multiple ways that those varied pleasures can impact our souls and shape our understanding of who we are and who we’re capable of becoming through the call of the Divine.

When Jesus queers a normative understanding of marriage in Matthew 19:10-12, he caps off what he has to say with an outrageous parting shot worthy of the provocative queen he often is: “There are those who have made themselves eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom of heaven. Hear it if you can. [SNAP]” Saying no to patriarchy in order to say yes to the fullness of our experience may look nelly, but only to those who are still under patriarchy’s spell. Saying no to patriarchy means saying no to a power structure that serves no one well. Saying no to patriarchy, we smash an idol that we’ve been in thrall to for far, far too long. And we gain the whole world outside the closet door.

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