A Queer Exercise: Gender Roles, Stereotypes, and Expectations Reversed

One helpful thought experiment that raises consciousness around issues of gender and conformity is to have men and women switch places. This humorous exercise really highlights some of the narrow, constricting boxes that are placed on us based on the gender that we are assigned by society. Without this humorous switch, we might not even realize what social world we are swimming in.

For most people, differentiated gender roles provide a familiar and comfortable organizing structure for our social world.  I love these gender roles, and I do not want to abolish them. However, what I do want to do is critique coercive gender roles that are enforced on others with punishment. That does not respect the authenticity, integrity, or agency of fellow children of God. People should be free to be themselves. For some people “being themselves” will conform to normative gender roles, and that’s okay. For others, “being themselves” will not conform to normative gender roles, and that’s okay, too. This diversity  should not be punished by force, social disapproval, or exclusion.

Four Children’s Songs that are Uplifting for Queer Latter-day Saints

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Sometimes children’s songs can provide the simplest, most profound comfort to LGBTQ people. They break things down into readily digestible concepts that are very accessible. They resonate deeply into our souls. I’d like to highlight a queer application of four LDS Children’s songs to introduce the lyrics of each one. Listen to them when you feel down and discouraged.  The LDS Church already has amazing resources for the comfort, vindication, and support of queer people.  We are not alone, we are not wrong, and we are not afraid!

  • “I Am a Child of God” emphasizes and confirms that ALL of us are truly princes and princesses of a King. Because we are literally children of our Heavenly Parents, we are members of their species and can grow to become like them. Thus, all LGBT people all have infinite worth and infinite potential, and deserve to be treated as such. We should treat others and ourselves with the respect that we would ultimately treat God. The concept of potential exaltation for everyone infuses our existence with unlimited dignity, honor, and respect.
  • “I’ll Walk With You” is exactly what queer Latter-day Saints need to hear from the community that loves them. Queer people don’t walk or talk as most people do. As a result, some people laugh at us and walk away from relationships with us. By contrast, “I’ll Walk With You” celebrates the minority, by walking and talking with us and not letting us suffer alone.  That is how our allies show their love for us.
  • “Every Star is Different” celebrates the diversity of the human family. We don’t all need to be alike. (The sky would be boring if every star were the same.) Rather, we need to be ourselves, and shine as brightly as we can as our true selves, queer and all! “You’re the only person / Who ever can be you.” You don’t need to pretend to be another star. You need to be you!
  • “Little Purple Pansies” speaks of certain small flowers being part of a beautiful diverse garden, but at the same time also being marginalized in the corner, appearing small and insignificant.  In a culture and a world where the needs, concerns, and feelings of straight people are prioritized over the lives of queer people, we are literally shoved to the corner.  Straight people’s lives are centered, and ours are ignored.  However, we can spice up the garden and adorn it with our presence anyway, and fill out the garden.  That’s how we gladden the garden, and that’s why the garden needs us.  “Growing in one corner of the garden old; / We are very tiny but must try, try, try / Just one spot to gladden, you and I.”  Without the little purple pansies in the corner, our garden would be very boring indeed.  God loves a diverse garden, and our diversity brings joy to others no matter what the circumstances.

I Am a Child of God

1. I am a child of God,
And he has sent me here,
Has given me an earthly home
With parents kind and dear.

Chorus
Lead me, guide me, walk beside me,
Help me find the way.
Teach me all that I must do
To live with him someday.

2. I am a child of God,
And so my needs are great;
Help me to understand his words
Before it grows too late.

3. I am a child of God.
Rich blessings are in store;
If I but learn to do his will,
I’ll live with him once more.

4. I am a child of God.
His promises are sure;
Celestial glory shall be mine
If I can but endure.

I’ll Walk With You

If you don’t walk as most people do,
Some people walk away from you,
But I won’t! I won’t!
If you don’t talk as most people do,
Some people talk and laugh at you,
But I won’t! I won’t!
I’ll walk with you. I’ll talk with you.
That’s how I’ll show my love for you.
Jesus walked away from none.
He gave his love to ev’ryone.
So I will! I will!
Jesus blessed all he could see,
Then turned and said, “Come, follow me.”
And I will! I will!
I will! I will!
I’ll walk with you. I’ll talk with you.
That’s how I’ll show my love for you.

Every Star is Different

1. Ev’ry star is diff’rent,
And so is ev’ry child.
Some are bright and happy,
And some are meek and mild.
Ev’ry one is needed
For just what he can do.
You’re the only person
Who ever can be you.

A shining star, shining brightly,
Not so very far, shining brightly;
Be a shining star. Shine so brightly;
Shine right where you are, brightly!

2. I can shine for others
And let them feel my love,
Follow the commandments
That come from God above.
I can help another
To learn to choose the right.
Having faith and courage
Will let my star shine bright.

Little Purple Pansies

1. Little purple pansies, touched with yellow gold,
Growing in one corner of the garden old;
We are very tiny but must try, try, try
Just one spot to gladden, you and I.

2. In whatever corner we may chance to grow,
Whether cold or warm the wind may ever blow,
Dark the day or sunny, we must try, try, try
Just one spot to gladden, you and I.

Shakespeare and the Bible

Imagine that I took various lines from different Shakespeare plays and ordered them in a new way.  We could take “Romeo, Romeo, Wherefore art thou Romeo?” from Romeo and Juliet. We can take “To be or not to be, that is the question?” from Hamlet.  If we put them together, we could get something like, “Wherefore art thou Romeo? That is the question.”

The trick is that you will easily get something that sounds like Shakespeare.  It has all those Shakespearean words, rhythms, and characters.  It is something that would fool people who don’t know the plots into thinking that it was real Shakespeare.  But, to those of us who know the stories, we realize that my new play is nonsense.  (This is the same point Irenaeus makes in  Adversus Haereses I, 9, 4, concerning a re-working of lines of Homer strung together but has a completely different narrative!)

The same thing is true of the Bible.  The Bible contains very few lists of things to do or lists of things to believe.  The Bible mostly contains narratives — stories that form us and inspire us.

I think one foundation of understanding the Bible is continuous reading of entire texts.  Like reading the whole Gospel of John, from beginning to end, or reading Paul’s letters all in one sitting.  After all, when I write you an email, I expect you to start at the beginning and read it until the end.  I hope that you will follow the flow of my reasoning and thought, as I make one comprehensive case.  I don’t want you to take a paragraph from one email, and a paragraph from another, and put them together to make an argument that I never tried to make.

Unfortunately, not all people who use the Bible do that.  Some people do to the Bible what I did to poor Shakespeare earlier!  They get something that sounds like Christianity, something that fools a lot of people, but is unrecognizable to people who know the story of the Bible.  The Bible narrates a trajectory of inclusion: An ever expanding circle of life, love, and light.  An ever widening realm of peace, justice, and hope.

People who try to use the Bible against LGBTQ people like making a list of 6 or 7 special verses, and consider this new “Bible” the end of the conversation.  When parents throw their offspring out of the house for being gay, they often quote some of these verses.  People who do this don’t look at the larger narratives of scripture, and so they come away with an imposter version of Christianity.  It looks and sounds like Christianity, but it is fake as my forged Shakespeare play.

Let us return to a vibrant, living, restored Christianity.

The Parable of the Prodigal Son with the “Queer” Father

When we read the Parable of the Prodigal Son, many of us who are Christians, and thus repentant sinners, automatically and immediately identify with the character of the Prodigal Son. We put ourselves in his humble position — depending on the mercy and grace of God, our Heavenly Father. However, that is not the only way to read the parable.  Because the Bible was written from many perspectives, so also should it be read from many perspectives! When we look at the parable of the prodigal son, we see that family is torn apart by crisis. One member of the family rejecting the other instigated this crisis. The son essentially disowned his father, and dissolved the family relationship.  We must take a Christ-like approach to this issue.  Very frequently queer–identified individuals are in the position of the father of the prodigal son: we must forgive and move past that which has hurt us.  We must not retaliate.

Most Christians today read the New Testament from a position of comfort and privilege. After Constantine legalized Christianity in the fourth century, we have forgotten that, in its earliest stages, Christianity was very offensive to the “family values” of the surrounding society, and there was a great deal of social stigma attached to being a Christian.

Christian communities often blurred the well-defined social roles that their surrounding culture expected of them. Strangers called each other “brother” and “sister.” Jews and Greeks, slaves and free, rich and poor, male and female became one in Christ, and they all treated one another with a surprising degree of mutuality and reciprocality.

They also did not offer the customary sacrifices to the gods.  They refused to acknowledge Caesar as the supreme power in the world, giving that honor instead to a defeated, executed convict.  In the Roman world, the Christians were a despised, disgusting group.  Just as Jerry Falwell blamed Hurricane Katrina on “the gays,” Nero blamed the Great Fire of Rome on “the Christians.”

The New Testament developed as a collection of documents written by a misunderstood, distrusted minority as they struggled to see how they could fit into their broader society. They filled it with messages of consolation, expectation, and liberation, as they encouraged one another to remain united in the face of oppression.

This is why I have no doubt that the Bible is the most important resource to help my people learn to thrive and survive in a world that wishes we were not here.  The Christians included this saying of Jesus in their book:  ”They will hand you over to be persecuted and will kill you. You will be hated by all the nations because of my name.” (Matt. 24:9)

Take a close look at the suffering above.  Jesus, as you can plainly see here, was the victim of a brutal and unjust hate crime perpetrated by oppressive Roman forces to terrorize the Jewish people.  As with hate crimes today, Rome used public crucifixions to intimidate an entire class of people by the example of individual victims.  Not only beaten, tortured, and executed, Jesus was also mocked, bullied, and derided (Matt 20:19; 27:29, 31; Luke 18:32; 23:11, 36).  Afterwards, one of the Roman soldiers responsible for crucifying him realized, too late, that he had wrongly slaughtered an innocent man (Matt 27:54, Mark 15:39).

My own people (LGBTQ) face the threat of unjust execution in Uganda.  We experience taunting, mocking, and deriding each day in American schools.  We are thrown out of families, careers, and churches throughout the world.  As a result, we frequently must gaze upon our closest neighbors, and plead as Christ did from the cross, “Father forgive them, for they know not what they do” (Luke 23:34).  They think they are doing the right thing–God’s will, even–yet they are just as much victims of homophobia as we have been.  This is much like the Prodigal Son has sinned.

It is my people who are among the closest to the cross in many contexts, because we too are the victims of hate crimes.  My people have some of the most precious voices within the Church–voices which more and more Christians are hearing in our generation.

Yes, I am gay, and I am proud to be a Christian because Jesus knew the violence of a hate crime.  “But may I never boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world.” (Gal 6:14)  We must have the same attitude that Jesus did when he said of himself the following:  “Jesus said to them, “Have you never read in the scriptures: ‘The stone the builders rejected has become the cornerstone. This is from the Lord, and it is marvelous in our eyes’?”  (Matthew 21:42)

We, as queer people, face rejection.  For so long, queer people have been seen as the “Prodigal Son” in need of repentance and return.  However, we have done nothing wrong.  We are not the ones dissolving the other, by rejecting the family.  It is the other way around.  We are frequently in the position of being hurt, misunderstood, or abandoned by those closest to us.  We are in the position of the father of the Prodigal Son.  We must also act like it, and forgive.

Decades from now, when gay rights are as non-controversial as rights for women and people of color, many people within the Church will realize what horrible thing they have done by excluding us, who are equally created in the image of God.  When that happens, we won’t even need to mention their sin against us.  We will just be so happy that they are back!

Commitment Card, Martin Luther King, Jr., 1963

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[Here is the text of the Commitment Card, outlining the principles of the nonviolent approach.]

I hereby pledge myself—my person and body—to the nonviolent movement. Therefore I will keep the following ten commandments:

1. Meditate daily on the teachings and life of Jesus.
2. Remember always that the non—violent movement seeks justice and reconciliation — not victory.
3. Walk and talk in the manner of love, for God is love.
4. Pray daily to be used by God in order that all men might be free.
5. Sacrifice personal wishes in order that all men might be free.
6. Observe with both friend and foe the ordinary rules of courtesy.
7. Seek to perform regular service for others and for the world.
8. Refrain from the violence of fist, tongue, or heart.
9. Strive to be in good spiritual and bodily health.
10. Follow the directions of the movement and of the captain on a demonstration.