Shame on you is what some of us heard growing up, when we did something that our parent, grandparent, family elder, pastor, or teacher felt was inappropriate. This early programming of shame as social control helps to spread the continuation of patriarchy and gender conformity. ‘Patriarchy’ is a social system in which the father is the head of the family and men have authority over women and children. As a moral emotion like guilt, compassion, regret, and sympathy, shame helps a person to be aware they might potentially be endangering their personal values and placing them in a vulnerable position of emotional pain. A person will feel shame when they are about to compromise their value system or to sustain personal integrity and develop self-respect.[1]

Above are two types of shame: genuine and false. ‘Genuine shame is an individual’s emotional response to compromising personal values. You can find an example of ‘false shame’ in the first sentence of the previous paragraph; when other people place a ‘measure of value’ upon the action that the person committing the action does not agree with.[2] Compromising one’s values or integrity for acceptance can be emotionally damaging to the individual. The damage can run deep, from an individual’s developmental standpoint. Holding onto this damage does not allow for having a flourishing life.[3]

This essay is to enhance one’s participation in the “Flourishing beyond Shame” workshop. This workshop is primarily for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Queer (LGBTQ) people who are members of a faith or spiritual community. During the workshop, the participants will examine and discuss the influences of false shame upon gender, gender identity, and sexuality. Conservatives utilize ‘stigmatic guilt’ as a tool of oppression against LGBTQ people.[4] Stigmatic guilt’ is the shame that is created by the labels society has placed upon and repeatedly used for marginalized people. As an attempt to ‘normalize’ the behaviors of LGBTQ individuals, conservatives use false shame in an attempt to dictate rigid and strict gender roles and sexual identity.[5]Participants will have opportunities to reflect on their personal understandings of how stigma and shame can affect gender and sexuality and are a hindrance to living a flourishing life. According to the Oxford Dictionary, ‘flourish’ means to “grow or develop in a healthy or vigorous way, especially as the result of a particularly favorable environment.”[6]

There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free,
there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.[*]

The beginnings of the 21st century have seen a further movement by many away from the gender roles of the 1950s while some continue to embrace them. The stay-at-home mother and bread-winning father can be seen as are part of Gendered Theology that requires ‘preordained’ gender roles. Gendered Theology implies that God rejects men if they are not masculine or women if they are not feminine and maintain specific gender roles. To quote Bishop Yvette Flunder, “any theology that suggests that God receives some and rejects others is not reflective of the ministry of Jesus.”[7] The 1950s television shows Ozzie and Harriett, Leave it to Beaver and Father Knows Best illustrate representations of these gender roles in white, middle-class families. This subsection of the American population represents only a portion of a much larger diverse population found within our society today.

It is essential for Gendered Theology to embrace a divine design of gender roles for it to continue to exist with influence. Use of passages in Genesis is an attempt to reinforce gender roles with the presumed authority give from God. In most areas of many modern discussions, gender and gender roles are social constructs and not preordained.[8] The oppression of enforced gender roles for someone who falls outside the binary gender definitions can be stifling and not allow them to flourish.

Transgender and ‘gender-queer’ individuals defiantly question these roles by living their lives openly. ‘Gender-queer’ individuals are those who do not identify as male or female, but a possible third gender and prefer gender–neutral pronouns. This provides evidence for the notion that gender ‘performance’ is fluid and not fixed.[9] The existence of transgender men or women could be seen as an Earthly representation of the masculine and feminine aspects of God within one human. All humans have masculine and feminine characteristics within them. Striving for wholeness and connecting to both of these aspects can enable the individual to live a more flourishing life.

I am my beloved’s,
and his desire is for me.[†]

Who wants to be “normal”? Many people, both gay and straight, would raise their hands as an affirmative answer or “YES”. But what is normal? It was not until the late 1800s and early 1900s when sexologists developed the categories of homosexual and heterosexual. Due to cultural changes, these men felt a need to define and classify the sexual activities of humans.[10] Culture affects how we view sex and the ‘normalization’ of heterosexuality by these sexologists promotes a socially preferred performance of sexuality. Through the enlistment of institutions and governments, the heteronormative society seeks to control the sexual behaviors of all. The sexual phobias of the few affect the sexual freedom of the many.[11] ‘Heteronormativity’ is the cultural bias in favor of opposite-sex relationships of a sexual nature, and against same-sex relationships of a sexual nature.

The commonly held belief for many in American society is that each person they meet is heterosexual until proven otherwise. Those who present something other than “normal” can become the recipients of ‘stigmatic guilt’ for not being “normal.” For many sexual minorities, shame and fear of rejection by society has been part of their lives for many decades, which increased due to society’s response to AIDS.[12] Originally called the ‘Gay Disease,’ Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) led the dominant society to consider all promiscuous homosexual activity to be suspect and should cease immediately. ‘Dominant society’ refers to majority of a culture that defines the established language, religion, behavior, values, rituals, and social customs. The dominant society exclaims that the LGBTQ community must seek monogamy and ‘respectable’ behavior to receive any level of acceptance.[13]

This enforcement of hetero-normative values upon sexual minorities has caused extensive damage to the emotional and spiritual health of the LGBTQ community. Early in the AIDS epidemic, some medical professionals within the LGBTQ community supported the hetero-normative approach of monogamy and assimilation.[14] ‘Assimilation’ is the social process of absorbing one cultural group into harmony with another. This assimilation meant that overt behavior that distinguishes an individual as part of a sexual or gender minority would need to cease immediately. Conservative religious institutions insist that casual sex with various partners is inherently wrong and there could be social and moral penalties if not stopped. They are suggesting a sanitized image of gay life—monogamous, just like heterosexuals.[15]

For some, assimilation provides an enjoyable and flourishing life for them. If their truth and core values support this desire through conforming to the dominant society’s standard, they most assuredly would feel genuine shame living any other way. However, many sexual minorities do not believe that assimilation is a solution for them. The notion that they must model ‘respectable’ sexual behavior for acceptance by society is an oppressive idea.[16] Being free of false shame is essential for a flourishing sex life. In believing that God wishes all humans to be joyous and flourishing, sexuality is essential to the wholeness of the individual. If humans were to abstain from being sexual, some would consider this to be less alive and not flourishing.[17]

Similar to gender identity, there is a belief that sexuality identity can also be fluid. Having a certain level of acceptance of this notion can be an advantage regarding one’s own feelings of internalized homophobia, transphobia or a disdain toward those whose gender is different from one’s own.[18] A gay man who has always indentified as ‘gay’ might become unsure of himself and feel some shame if he realizes that he has begun to have an attraction to certain kinds of women. Is this genuine shame or false shame? Is there shame because as a ‘gay man,’ he believes he should not be attracted to women or is it something more? Avoiding the idea of categorizing one’s sexual and/or gender identities can remove limitations and allow for a more flourishing life.[19]

I ask that when I am present I need not show boldness by daring to
oppose those who think we are acting according to human standards.[‡]

 

Some Christian communities attempt to have members of the LGBTQ community believe they are sinful and unloved by God for their ‘lifestyle’ choices. Liberation of the marginalized happens through a community of openness and inclusion, as was the way of the ministry of Jesus. A ‘radically inclusive’ community can be like a beacon of hope for those living on the edges of society, it is a place for them to come and find acceptance and love.[20] It is here where the marginalized can find self-acceptance and an understanding that sexual identity and gender performance shame is false shame, nothing more. As part of a marginalized community, it is our responsibility to liberate ourselves from the oppressive dominance of religion and bring liberation to others as well.[21]

When we come to realize that our internalized self-hatred and shame comes from sources outside of our own beliefs and values, self-love and self-acceptance begins to grow within us. It is in these places that we can begin to know that our ‘unique’ sexuality and gender performance have a place at the table, just as the marginalized did during Jesus’ time. Jesus was out amongst those whom society had discarded. Through this ministry of radical inclusivity, members of the LGBTQ community can know they should always feel God’s welcoming and loving embrace.

We must abandon the internalized labels (fag, pervert, dyke, etc…) we use to hate ourselves.[22] Embracing of positive reinforcements that we are the beloved of God and worthy of love will allow us to have flourishing lives. Within these flourishing lives, we will shamelessly be able to seek God’s love through our intimate connections with others. Those who desire it can joyfully seek good sex, which can help us to connect to the divinity within each of us, to experience the love God has for us first hand.[23] This is possible when shame does not restrain us.

Endnotes


[*] Galatians 3:28 NRSV (New Revised Standard Version)

[†] Song of Songs 7.10 NRSV (New Revised Standard Version)

[‡] 2 Corinthians 10.2 NRSV (New Revised Standard Version) Gk according to the flesh


[1] Jennifer C. Manion, “Girls Blush, Sometimes: Gender, Moral Agency, and the Problem of Shame,” Hypatia 18, no. 3 (Autumn, 2003): 26-27.

[2] Ibid., 27

[3] Patrick Moore, Beyond Shame: Reclaiming the Abandoned History of Radical Gay Sexuality (Boston: Beacon Press, 2004), 49.

[4] “Removal of Stigmatic Guilt,” Archives of the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence Toronto, Ontario Chapter, http://sistersopitoronto.ca/2011/stigmatic-guilt/ (accessed June 2, 2011).

[5] Carol Queen and Lawrence Schimel, PoMoSexuals: Challenging Assumptions About Gender and Sexuality (San Francisco: Cleis Press, 1997), 67.

[6] “flourish,” Oxford Dictionary, http://oxforddictionaries.com/definition/flourish?region=us (accessed July 28, 2011).

[7] Yvette A. Flunder, Where the Edge Gathers: Building a Community of Radical Inclusion (Cleveland, Ohio: Pilgrim Press, 2005), 7.

[8] Joretta L. Marshall, PhD, “Gender Identity, Sexual Orientation, and Pastoral Formation,” American Journal of Pastoral Counseling (The Haworth Pastoral Press, an imprint of The Haworth Press, Inc.) Vol. 8, no. 3/4 (2006): 117.

[9] Joshua Gamson and Dawne Moon, “The Sociology of Sexualities: Queer and Beyond,” Annual Review of Sociology 30 (2004): 49-51, http://www.jstor.org/stable/29737684 (accessed May 2, 2011).

[10] Michael Warner, The Trouble with Normal: Sex, Politics, and the Ethics of Queer Life (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1999), 10.

[11] Ibid., 16.

[12] David M. Halperin and Valerie Traub, eds., Gay Shame, Pap/DVD ed. (Chicago: University Of Chicago Press, 2010), 238.

[13] Kathy Rudy, Sex and the Church: Gender, Homosexuality, and the Transformation of Christian Ethics, 2nd Edition (Boston: Beacon Press, 1998), 79.

[14] David M. Halperin and Valerie Traub, eds., Gay Shame, Pap/DVD ed. (Chicago: University Of Chicago Press, 2010), 235.

[15] Patrick Moore, Beyond Shame: Reclaiming the Abandoned History of Radical Gay Sexuality (Boston: Beacon Press, 2004), 186.

[16] Michael Warner, The Trouble with Normal: Sex, Politics, and the Ethics of Queer Life (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1999), 31.

[17] Ibid., 16.

[18] Carol Queen and Lawrence Schimel, PoMoSexuals: Challenging Assumptions About Gender and Sexuality (San Francisco: Cleis Press, 1997), 66.

[19] Ibid., 175.

[20] Yvette A. Flunder, Where the Edge Gathers: Building a Community of Radical Inclusion (Cleveland, Ohio: Pilgrim Press, 2005), 2.

[21] Ibid., 117.

[22] David M. Halperin and Valerie Traub, eds., Gay Shame, Pap/DVD ed. (Chicago: University Of Chicago Press, 2010), 224.

[23] Patrick Moore, Beyond Shame: Reclaiming the Abandoned History of Radical Gay Sexuality (Boston: Beacon Press, 2004), xix.