(Content note: anti-LGBTQ bigotry, frank discussion of sex. Links may be NSFW.)
Last time we hung out, I discussed why Christianity’s leaders are so concerned about women’s rights, especially the right to access abortion care and use contraception, which is an issue that has gone from a non-starter to one of the two biggest, most important fights in modern Christianity. Today I want to cover the other of those fights: LGBTQ rights, especially equal marriage, and how that fight fits in with the indoctrination of Christians into a very specific and narrow vision of masculinity. Though we’ll focus on equal marriage here, I see the same arguments coming into play regarding other aspects of this culture war.
First, though, I must share a funny anecdote. Not long ago I mentioned a Christian who tried many dozens of times to start up a lawyer routine at me; I compared him to a Roomba hitting a wall, remember? He was doing it to try to persuade those on the comment thread that equal marriage–meaning marriage between same-sex spouses–was a bad thing. Over and over again, he kept trying to get people started on his favorite fake Socratic questioning tactic by asking about…. anal sex.
I know, right? It was simply ridiculous–as if anal sex has a single thing to do with equal marriage rights. But he kept on going with it. He couldn’t let go of this opening gambit. I think he was aiming for a line of courtroom questioning about how he thought anal sex was physically harmful or something, but it backfired hilariously when not only did nobody indulge his antics but a frank discussion ensued about topics I don’t think he’d ever even considered before then and which only enraged him worse. I’m sure most folks reading my words have had similar encounters with Christian bigots.
When these zealots try to argue against equal marriage, almost always they center on gay men and anal sex.
There’s a reason why Christian bigots are obsessed with anal sex and specifically with gay men’s bedroom lives.
To get to that reason, let’s start with some facts about homosexuality.
Homosexual activity is well-known in the animal kingdom. Here is a short list of just some of the species of mammals, reptiles, amphibians, birds, and even insects and fish known to have homosexual sex. If you just wanted to see mammals, well, here’s an incomplete list of just the mammals–you’ll need to make sure your mouse’s scrolling wheel works well to see them all. Among our primate cousins, most of ’em do it as well; almost all bonobos are bisexual and have sexual relations with both sexes. Of course, if one denies the science behind evolutionary theory, one might be able to hand-wave away all these hundreds of species having all this totally unapproved sex, though that doesn’t quite explain why the Christian god apparently decided to make homosexuality endemic in the animal kingdom if he hated it so much.
So let’s just look at humans. But even there we discover that as long as humans have been recording history, they have been recording the existence of LGBTQ people. Homosexuality certainly isn’t new or some fresh indication of modern society’s immorality and decline. Despite what Christians stomping their little feet and holding their breath want people to think, at this point it seems quite clear that one’s sexual identity and orientation are not a choice at all but rather a facet of ourselves that is either genetically-determined or else influenced either in the womb or very shortly after birth. Indeed, if one simply asks LGBTQ people if they chose to be the way they are, one almost never runs into anybody who says that they ever made a choice about it–any more than those who are straight or cisgender generally describe themselves as having made a conscious choice to be so (BTW, “cisgender” means “identifying as the gender one was assigned at birth,” such a person who identifies as a woman whose body was assigned a female gender at birth).
Usually, that “choice” language only comes into play by Christians–who have, they think, a huge stake in the idea of sexual identity and orientation being a voluntary choice. If these things are choices that people consciously make, then society can start talking about whether or not these choices are moral or immoral and–even more importantly–if Christians should allow people to make those choices. By golly, if it can be controlled, then they want to control it!
It really wouldn’t be any of these sanctimonious busybodies’ goddamned business even if those things were a choice. That said, Christians’ objection to the idea of LGBTQ people having equal civil rights and protections becomes doubly grotesque and immoral if one happens to know that neither identity nor orientation is a choice and neither can be changed no matter how hard one tries, how moral or immoral one thinks these aspects are, how fervently one wishes to change them, or how sanctified and saved people think they are.
It’s hard to survey the major arguments Christians are making about equal marriage and avoid noticing a few common strains in their ignorance, fear, and hatred. Same-sex couples’ body parts don’t complement each other correctly, and naturally all straight couples have completely complementary body parts (except when they don’t). They can’t reproduce, and marriage has always been about reproduction (except that that’s totally untrue, and very few anti-gay bigots are willing to disallow straight couples who can’t or won’t reproduce from marrying; even if this idea was true, not all ancient ideas are worth preserving in the current day–like slavery, murdering rape victims, and committing genocide against entire societies for living on coveted land). Their kind of sex is unhealthy and we should totally outlaw anything unhealthy for people’s own good (why, just like we ban soda, guns, supersized fast-food meals, tattoos, and gas-guzzling trucks–but that’s assuming the kind of sex they mean is really that unhealthy; with precautions, anal sex is fine). Notice, however, that every one of these common complaints centers around men having anal sex. And every one of them implies that there’s some kind of a moral problem with men having anal sex. I bet most anti-gay bigots barely even know that other kinds of people even exist.
Anal sex sure scares the hell out of Christian bigots, doesn’t it? It’s almost as if they don’t know how common it is outside of the acronym’s walls.
Straight couples certainly enjoy anal sex; according to the Kinsey Institute, about a quarter of men and women who identify as straight have had it at some point, and they suspect about 10% of straight couples have had it at least once in the last year. I’ve personally known straight men and women both who couldn’t really get the most out of their sex lives without regular doses of anal sex; some can’t orgasm at all without it. I’ve known fine young upstanding Christian women who doled it out sparingly as a reward to their fine young upstanding Christian boyfriends and husbands, for that matter, and I’d be hard-pressed to imagine a Christian man avoiding straight-sex anal porn (I once read the memoirs of a porn-shop clerk who noticed that the Sunday crowds of after-church men tended to go for shemale titles–which means men with penises who look very much like women). Studies have also shown that those dumb abstinence pledges that teens take, swearing not to have sex until a proper marriage to a properly opposite-sex partner, nuh-uh-ever, may actually encourage those teens to have anal sex to preserve a young woman’s technical (vaginal) virginity in the ultimate of all loopholes (NSFW video).
But you’d never know that straight couples enjoy anal sex from how these bigots talk about it.
Not only do straight couples enjoy anal sex, but enough lesbian couples enjoy it too that instruction manuals exist aplenty for it. So anal sex certainly isn’t the monopoly of gay male couples. Even if it were, not even all gay men have anal sex.
So anal sex is not unnatural. It’s not weird, new, unique to humans, unique to men, or unique to LGBTQ people in general.
But Christian bigots keep a laserlike focus on it, and for what they think is a good reason:
Anal sex is something Christian bigots associate with men who aren’t behaving the way they think men should behave, and unfortunately they are led by narcissists who think that if they don’t like or approve of something, then nobody else should get to do or enjoy that thing.
Remember from that “Male Shame” piece how that psychologist, Dr. Darrel Ray, was talking about how men get indoctrinated to hate and fear that which is feminine and to consider feminine attributes and behavior the lowest thing a man can possibly do? Remember how we’ve been talking about how men get trained to define themselves as not-women and to look down on any man who tries to do things they consider to be womanly?
Well, in anal sex, someone has to give, and someone has to receive.
Receiving is passive. It’s womanly. Giving is active. It’s masculine.
Anal sex involves an active penis penetrating a receiving orifice.
There’s another form of sex that involves an active penis penetrating a receiving orifice: vaginal intercourse.
In other words, in these Christians’ fevered, hypermasculinized imaginations, anal sex is like two men behaving as if they were a man and a woman.
One of them is behaving as a woman.
And that is unacceptable to these bigots. That cuts right to the heart of their entire conceptualization of maleness and femaleness. Combine this bizarre perception with a dose of Christian narcissism, and you get people trying to have a say in the private sex lives of total strangers.
A man can’t be the passive receptor of a penis. That’s just totally unacceptable. He has to be active in sex, all the time, in every single way, because that is how men are supposed to be. That’s how these Christians’ leaders think of sex, and so obviously that is how everybody should think of sex, always and forever. And by the wildest of wild coincidences, that’s how their god thinks of sex too. Convenient, isn’t it?
That’s why they seem so damned confused by same-sex relationships of any kind. I’ve had lesbian friends who talk about how often they get asked “which one of you is the man?” I’m sure that gay men have gotten the same question, like which one of them will be wearing a dress for their wedding. Bigoted Christians cannot even conceive of a same-sex couple that doesn’t conform to their own rigid ideas of gender roles. Of course, many opposite-sex couples don’t conform to those rigid gender roles either–but Christians can ignore them as aberrations; those couples don’t stand out quite so much as a same-sex couple does. Same-sex couples are still a little unusual because of their newness. Straight folks are not quite used to seeing them yet. So Christians notice them more, and I really think nothing enrages them more or reminds them more of their growing irrelevance than how these couples are going about their business like they aren’t even ashamed of themselves, like they don’t even care how Christian busybodies feel about their relationships.
Because that’s what these couples really represent, in a lot of ways: the end of Christian relevance. Their existence means a wholesale rejection of Christian so-called “values” about gender identity, gender roles, sexual orientation, and a raft of assumptions about how men and women ought to function and relate to each other. Every same-sex couple heading to their County Clerk office is a raised middle finger to these Christians, or so they imagine it; really, these couples couldn’t care less how Christians feel about their upcoming nuptials, as well it should be, but such Christians really want everybody to care how they feel. Some of them are already adjusting–however grudgingly–to the new normal, while a great many others are still fighting it tooth and nail.
When Neil talked about how the Southern Baptists have now demonstrated beyond a shadow of doubt that they have chosen LGBTQ rights as their hill to die on, he wasn’t exaggerating at all, and it’s not just the SBC that’s gone this route. This fight means everything to a big swathe of Christians, and I think they know what the stakes are here. Equal marriage challenges quite a few fundagelical ideas about not only gender roles but also about that hierarchy–that “umbrella”–that Christians imagine works best for not only families, but society itself. If men throw off their traditional male roles as “the penetrator during sex” and “the husbands of women,” then who even knows what terrible things might happen as a result! Why, their evil, nasty, punitive, terrorist of a tantrum-throwing godling might just decide to hit the Earth with a meteor to genocide the whole thing if one country on this planet gives equal rights to everybody!
In a very real sense, just as the most toxic groups of Christians embrace the genocide of the Canaanites and consider atrocities like it as being ultimately moral, even considering the Israelites the real victims in that genocide, what with the emotional trauma of them being divinely-ordered to murder and enslave all those innocent women and children whose only sins were living in the wrong spot and worshiping the wrong gods, in the same way they seem perfectly willing to victimize, malign, lie about, mistreat, and even kill LGBTQ people to perpetuate their own dominance–and then to consider themselves the real victims here, what with being forced to encounter openly-living LGBTQ people everywhere and having to put up with them existing in some state other than naked terror and humiliation. It’s a shocking lack of self-awareness and empathy, as well as a truly savage and barbaric level of cruelty, and I think the rest of us are just getting tired of this sanctimonious pity party. I used to be totally shocked when I saw Christians praying for their god to just wipe away all the gains LGBTQ people have made and Put It All Back The Way It Was. Now I know it’s a sign of their fading dominance, and like to see them implicitly admitting that they’re losing the culture war they themselves started.
Definitely many people are still adjusting to these cultural shifts; I’m one of them–a straight woman in my 40s, one who grew up in an age where being LGBTQ was really stigmatized. But I recognize that I’m just not used to seeing people outside that gender/orientation binary. Because I value consent, autonomy, self-determination, and personal freedom, I feel supportive, kind, enthusiastic, and happy for everybody in a consenting relationship or doing what they need to do to be happy. And I want to get used to these new ways of expressing love, sexuality, and identity.
I want every single consenting person alive to feel the exact same freedom to go about in public, dress themselves and identify themselves the way they feel best fits themselves, and to hold hands, kiss, flirt, love, cry with, hug, fight, fuck, marry, and every goddamned thing else in the world with their beloved partners that I feel with my opposite-sex husband.
It just astonishes me that so many Christians–the ambassadors of the Prince of Peace and God of Love–have decided that the way to demonstrate their “love” is to abuse, victimize, marginalize, and mistreat so many people. Or at least it would astonish me, if I didn’t know better, at least. On the plus side, this fight is hurting them. Many people both in and out of the religion think that as a group, Christians are hateful and judgmental as well as anti-gay (I guess that that mammoth pile of “love the sinner, hate the sin” horseshit just doesn’t sell as well as it used to). Even their own people–especially their own young people–are aware that the fight against equal marriage isn’t so much a fight for Christian values as it is for Christian primacy.
And fewer and fewer Christians are willing to sacrifice other people’s lives and happiness just to keep their religious dominance intact. This second hill, too, will fail–and faster than the first, I think. And so despite their best efforts, those traditional gender roles will change. And with those changes will come a host of other changes that they don’t want and don’t like. If gender roles stop being writ in stone, then women will opt out too–and maybe even men will. And once the hierarchy has stumbled that far, it might just tumble all the way to the ground.
That’s why I don’t think that Christian bigots hate and fear LGBTQ people themselves, as the terms “transphobia” and “homophobia” might imply. When I was a fundamentalist, I sure didn’t hate or fear anybody. What they hate and fear–and what I hated and feared–are the changes that will inevitably happen in society if LGBTQ people become truly equal.
And to be fair: that’s a valid fear to have, if one’s entire worldview is based around inequality and control. That’s why we focused on equal marriage here–because if there were some better way than fighting equal marriage whereby Christian bigots could communicate their utter horror about and fear of lost dominance and changed gender roles, they’d be doing that instead and that’s what this post would be about. They’re focusing on equal marriage because they sense that the right to marry is one of the linchpins of progress.
We’re going to talk one last time about this subject, about the last hidden and sinister underbelly of these gender roles. I invite you to come stay up with me on Wednesday night.