Last week the Oscar-winning actress Ellen Page was trending in all news and social media channels. At the Human Right Campaigns– conference “Time to thrive” she came out as a lesbian. The youtube video was seen by over 4.000.000 viewers after just one week.
I don’t want to write about the impact her public statement concerning her sexuality and come out had. It is significant and I could write a whole post only about that, but doing so, I would overlook the other important references Page gives about sex, gender and sexuality. I want to pick out three other parts out of her speech which I related to three topics:
- aesthetic canon and ideal of beauty
- gender, stereotypes and other categories
- love and acceptance
I would like to link these three topics with insights out of a book, I read this week: God, Sex and Gender: An Introduction by Adrian Thatcher.
In his book, Thatcher examines sex, gender and sexuality in a theological perspective. He portrays the changes in scientific scholarship around sexuality and gender over the past fifty years and touches topics like: sexual difference; sexual equality; gender and power; the nature of desire; the future of marriage in Christian sexual ethics; homosexuality and same-sex unions; the problems of sexual minorities; contraception in a time of HIV/AIDS and the separation of sexual experience from marriage.
aesthetic canon and ideal of beauty
„It’s weird because here I am, an actress, representing at least in some sense an industry that places crushing standards on all of us—and not just young people, everyone. Standards of beauty, of a good life, of success; standards that I hate to admit have affected me. You have ideas planted in your head—thoughts you never had before—that tell you how you have to act, how you have to dress, and who you have to be. And I’ve been trying to push back to be authentic and follow my heart, but it can be hard. But that’s why I’m here, in this room. All of you, all of us, can do so much more together than any one person can do alone. And I hope that that thought bolsters you as much as it does me.“
Question: Where in our churches do we spread ideals of beauty which set people under pressure? Where can be participate in a Christian anthropology in our daily praxis that doesn’t define our value by our beauty (or what society things, the aesthetic canon is)?
gender, stereotypes and other categories
„But the other day, a website ran an article with a picture of me wearing sweatpants on the way to the gym. And the writer asked, “Why does this petite beauty insist on dressing like a massive man?” Because I like to be comfortable. There are pervasive stereotypes about masculinity and femininity that define how we’re all supposed to act, dress, and speak, and they serve no one. Anyone who defies these so-called “norms” becomes worthy of comment and scrutiny, and the LGBT community knows this all too well. Yet there is courage all around us.“
What do the sweatpants, Ellen Page wears on her way to gym say about her gender. Why do they seem to contradict her femininity?
Sometimes, gender doesn’t seem to clear, as we predict it is. We really seem to have a trouble with gender, sometimes. Judith Butler introduced this expression 1990 in her book “Gender Trouble”, in which she states, that gender is not something essential, natural or innate, but something that is performed – for example by the high heels and lipstick we wear. The sweatpants in this example contradict common expectations and create gender trouble.
Butler states, that our gender is something we “do”, it is performed. Our expectations and gender stereotypes or deeply rooted in our culture. Some are even already visible in biblical texts like. Thatcher quotes 1Tim 2:8-15 and shows these gender codes and norms.
How gendered are we in our churches? Where would a contextualization of the biblical texts and a examination of our present cultural norms useful to be a loving community, where there is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus (Gal 3:28)?
Love and acceptance
„If we took just five minutes to recognize each other’s beauty instead of attacking each other for our differences—that’s not hard, it’s really an easier and better way to live. And ultimately, it saves lives. Then again, it can be the hardest thing—because loving other people starts with loving ourselves and accepting ourselves. And I know many of you have struggled with this, and I dry upon your strength and your support in ways that you will never know.“
A way of “recognizing each other’s beauty”, as Page calls it, is to really notice and appreciate the other person. This can be a truly intimate endeavor. Proved for example by the fact that in the Hebrew language there is only one verb for “to have sexual intercourse” and “to recognize a person” (lada’at). It is more intimate, then we think, if we honestly look at each other and recognize each other, in the sense of appreciating and accepting each other. Appreciating and accepting is in this logic different from tolerance (which is only a rational choice and no consequence of a intimate recognition).
Or as Johann Wolfgang von Goethe once put it: “Tolerance should really only be a passing attitude: it should lead to appreciation. To tolerate is to offend.”
To me it is interesting, that in the field of gender and sexuality, we, as Christians, are still often very cowardly and not able to speak out. And if we speak out in this field, we often do it in dogmatic norms, which are excluding and stigmatizing and not loving at all. Is it really necessary, that we, as Christians, need a Canadian Actress to teach us the gospel? I guess, yes.
“And I’m inspired to be in this room because every single one of you is here for the same reason: you’re here because you’ve adopted, as a core motivation, the simple fact that this world would e a whole lot better if we just made an effort to be less horrible to one another.”
Where in our churches, do we invest in fostering healthy communities, which are used to recognize and accept each others differences and reflect Christ’s love?