Thursday, January 31, 2013

Christian Privilege in Queer Space

I am a Pagan.  That makes me non-Christian.  I am also queer, many flavors of queer, from the pansexuality to the transsexualism to the non-monogamy to the kink to the politics.  This won't be that shocking if you're a Jack Warlock fanperson who has held on to my every word since the beginning, but for those that haven't, it's true.

One thing I've noticed as a non-Christian who is also queer:  Queer Christians really seem to think that Christianity is something relevant to my life.  It must be, considering every conference I go to on queer issues has at least one--but usually several--workshops dealing with Christianity, the Bible, Christian ministers and churches, and so forth.  These seek to "prove" that the Bible and Jesus aren't really anti-gay and that gay people still make good Christians.

On the surface this makes a lot of sense because the Bible is very commonly brought up in discourse surrounding things like same-sex marriage.  There are a lot of problems with it too, though, which is what I'm going to talk about here.
  1. The only thing truly unique about Christianity is that it is more common in some countries.

    The sheer amount of airtime this subject is given relegates other religions to the fringes and reinforces the belief that there is something uniquely special about Christianity.  This is an easy thought pattern for a Christian to get into because we're taught from a young age to view other religions as relics to be learned about through "fiction goggles."  We are trained to view the Bible and its derivatives as "religious texts," whereas the literature of other faiths--including religions that are still commonly practiced today, like Hinduism and Buddhism--have "myths."  The story of Noah building an ark big enough to house multiples of every land-dwelling animal in the world is a "religious text," whereas the Epic of Gilgamesh, with a similar story, is a "mythological text."  So the tendency is to view Christians and other Bible-believing faiths as having legitimate religious devotion whereas the rest of us couldn't possibly really believe that.

    When Christianity and other Bible-derivative faiths are the only faiths being talked about, it reinforces this training.  The only thing "unique" about Christianity is that it's common.
  2. The use of the Bible to justify discrimination is wrong, yet we encourage its use by insisting on using it.

    The main justification I see for the overplay of Bible and Christianity-based programming in queer circles is that we need to know what the Bible really says to defend us against people who use it to discriminate against us.

    There are two big problems with that.  The first is that our translations are largely just as useless as theirs, and the second is that we encourage them to continue using religious bigotry to support laws when we do this.

    On that first point, I personally believe that the Bible does say that homosexuality is a sin.  When I read and hear justifications for why the Bible doesn't say that, what I see is people warping what they read in order to get an interpretation that doesn't condemn them.

    The thing is, though, that what the Bible says should have fuck-all to do with our legal system or our human dignity.  People who point to the Bible to justify the illegality of same-sex marriage are relying on the supposed universality of this document to tamper with our legal system... and when we argue with them rather than flat out refuse to acknowledge it, we encourage them.
  3. The Bible isn't a universally relevant document.

    I just mentioned this in passing, but it's a huge deal.  Christians on average feel that there is something culturally universal about their spiritual experiences, that even a non-Christians should be able to find moral and spiritual healing and inspiration in it.  This, of course, leaks into queer circles, but it's a pervasive thing.

    I can't emphasize enough that this isn't true.  I'd argue that most of that book is entirely unrelated to my life... the dietary rules are irrelevant, Jesus's birth and sacrifice are irrelevant (he wasn't the only God to sacrifice himself!), and there are so many things in there that I object to on moral grounds--slavery and subjugation of women, for example--that calling this a morally universal document is not only inaccurate, I am personally offended by the statement.

    Even the Ten Commandments, which people like to promote as basic moral values, are Abrahamic-specific.  The first four are specifically related to belief in and worship of Yahweh, the fifth has been used plenty of times to justify keeping ties with abusive family members, and the seventh is sketchy when you are a polyamorous marriagefree individual.  Ten is pretty obnoxious as a poor person.  So there are basically three that I agree with.  30% doesn't pass an exam... these are not universal teachings and shouldn't be treated as such, not in queer spaces or elsewhere.

    But what about in-religion issues?  Stuff like gays in the clergy?  Those aren't legal issues.  It makes two big assumptions, though:  That other religions don't have queer issues, and that entrance into mainstream Christian denominations is a universal queer struggle.
  4. Queer religious struggles are not limited to Christianity.

    As a Pagan, I recognize that there are some huge issues going on in the Pagan world.  We have women's mysteries traditions that block transgender women, often using absolutely disgusting and bigoted language in doing so, and often in very public displays.  We have people arguing about gender duality in Wicca and related religions and whether or not one can worship the Gods as queer.  There are reconstructionist traditions like Kemetic Reconstructionism and Norse Paganism that argue about whether or not their texts or cultural practices discourage homosexuality.  And that's just Paganism... even the atheist and agnostic community struggles with homophobia and transphobia!

    Are these big enough concerns for a wider community discussion?  Maybe, maybe not... the point is that Christianity is being singled out for representation, but it isn't the only religion in which queer people are marginalized.
  5. We forget that there are alternatives to mainstream Christianity, and in fact Christianity altogether.

    This will probably be my most controversial point, but I'm going to make this case anyway... so much of this discourse is based on anxiety over Christian teachings, but there are many, many other religions out there that either do not have hang-ups about homosexuality or who do not treat their texts as literal truths.

    We don't bring this up because it's interpreted as proselytizing... and perhaps it is, in a way.  I do not necessarily believe everyone should share my religion, but I do believe that non-Christian religions and more radical Christian denominations should be given better representation to provide more options for queer people who do experience anxiety from Biblical teachings.  We should be promoting the exploration of faith beyond the Bible rather than strengthening its position on that privileged pedestal!
Although there will always be queer people who want to be Christians for whatever reason, this isn't an excuse to promote the institution of Christian privilege in queer spaces by constantly bringing up the Bible and what we think it "really" says.