The Language of Sexuality

Depending on how I feel any given day, one of the benefits or banes of doctoral studies is learning a new language. One of my professors calls it part of my “socialization.” The implication is that we are growing up into “doctorhood,” so we’d best learn “doctorese.” The goal reminds me of the Wizard of Oz taking his unexplainable balloon trip to hobnob with the other wizards.

This past week the topic for my socialization was new language about human sexuality. I found myself in an unexpected but helpful “encounter group” for most of the class time. But there was also an interesting lecture on sexual “identity.” The guest lecturer was something of an evangelist for the latest science that defines who we are sexually. I haven’t sorted it all out yet, but I thought I’d let you in on the language, since it is bandied about all the time.

One can start with biological sex. When Solomon Schnapf was born Sunday, the doctors immediately took a look at his parts and announced his sex; they probably tagged him “baby boy Schnapf” and wrapped him in blue. Most of the time knowing one’s sex is easy,  but people do come out with a variation on parts.

Our gender is less obvious. Gender is how we feel, male or female. We all get socialized by our families and others to be men or women, but it is important to feel the part. Now that we have the science, wealth and politics to change, Chastity Bono can become Chaz.

Orientation is the morality hot-button territory these days. Regarding sexual orientation This used to be named preference. Most sexuality scientists insist that who-we-are-attracted-to is a built-in feature, not a choice. However, the Kinsey scale of hetero-homo orientation offers a lot of discussion about the science, since it appears that most of us are sexually attracted to most of us, at least a little. Christians who are solidly on the preference side of the definition often argue that God’s transforming power is greater, no matter how we come equipped. We insist that it is how we are oriented in relationship with God that is the heart of any other orientation problems, sexual or otherwise.

Then there is behavior. Biologically and psychologically, some things are hard-wired. But humans do what they decide to do and can be forced to behave in all sorts of ways. My teacher thought it might be a bit foolish not to act out one’s sexual orientation, and thought it was a Christian duty to help people be themselves. But people can and do act sexually in ways that go against their orientation and their morality all the time. They have seasons of behavior that come and go. They behave how they choose and they often behave according to definitions and roles people require of them.

I think some Christians get derailed in the discussion of sexuality because they are too hung up about orientation and get it confused with behavior. I think it is safe to say that God thinks everyone’s orientation is a mess. Everyone has sinned; everyone has experienced a broken relationship with God; everyone lives in an environment that is fallen; everyone needs a savior. We have orientation issues.

Obviously, not everyone sees it that way. Scientists and  philosophers from the beginning have tried to normalize a universe that does not include God, certainly one that does not include God-with-us leading us into fullness. They’ve tried to find ways to explain, justify and redirect our orientations. Scientists of sexuality (at least the few I have learned from) can be evangelists for respecting someone’s orientation as good, right, and theirs. If the scientists are Christians, then they can insist that “who you love” should be protected by the great Lover. Orientation meeting sanctioned behavior is their goal. I feel the love. But I don’t think our orientation issues get solved by making them normal.

Upon learning this language there were just a few howls, in our class full of Christians, from the biological side of the identity argument. A sex is a sex. But there was more grumbling from those who did not leap to the same morality as the presenters. An orientation is not a behavior. For one thing, singling out sexual “orientation” for their reasoning seems unfair. There are a lot of “orientations” that can land someone in prison if they are acted upon. For instance, society kills murderous psychopaths (at least in Texas) and has an elaborate system to protect children from pedophiles. This does not mean that homosexuals are the same as murderers; it means that society is passing judgment that might not warrant allegiance.

Even more irritating to some people, perhaps, was our lecturer quoting Sergeant Friday saying, “Just the facts, ma’am.” She claimed to be enumerating the facts; the implication was that the classmates who did not go along with her interpretation of them were wrong — and even more damning to Christians: unloving. But, in fact, the “facts” are a little squishy in the language of sexuality, and the interpretation of the facts is not that clear if one’s commitment to the assumptions of scientific rationalism is squishy.

My one conclusion to share today is this (really, this is all I have, the rest was meant to be open-ended): I don’t think God wants our orientations to define us. Making decisions based on the drives we feel or the feelings that have come to drive us often leads us to sin as much as it does to satisfaction. Our orientation is not God. Our so-called “orientations” in relationship with God, subject to the love and truth in Jesus, become aspects of our character that lead us to our renewed identity. Our sexuality is so deep in us that it might be the most difficult territory of all to explore. But all of us are exploring many territories and many layers of orientation that challenge us. We are all  deciding what to do about the facts of our lives. When people try to socialize us to submit to facts that don’t include God, his people, creation and revelation, the facts aren’t factual enough yet.

Companion posts:

“Identity” and What the Idea Is Doing to Sexuality

More Thoughts on Identity

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About Rod White

Pastor for Circle of Hope. Graduate of Fuller Seminary, PhD in MFT from Eastern University.
This entry was posted in Theological Help and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

6 Responses to The Language of Sexuality

  1. Pingback: Jesus — and five basic assumptions that inform dialogue on sexuality | Rod's Blog

  2. Pingback: “Identity” and What the Idea is Doing to Sexuality | Rod's Blog

  3. Pingback: More Thoughts on Identity | Rod's Blog

  4. Nate says:

    This reminds me of when you hear it said that people should love others for “who they are.” Or sometimes you might hear it said, “God loves me for who I am.” It sounds right, and yet there are so many things about me that are wrong that perhaps a more appropriate statement should be, “God loves me, despite who I am.”

    Not too long ago I was in a conversation about sexual orientation, and I was conjecturing as to the cause of people’s orientation (typical nature/nuture questions) and my friend said to me, “It doesn’t matter why you are who you are, or even whether it’s a preference or an orientation. The only question is, are you going to accept others for who they are.”

    He didn’t convince me. I’m still hung up on causes. I want to know why things happen. This doesn’t mean I want to be the judge of whether or not people with other sexual orientations should try to change that particular part of themselves. I have not experienced differentiation, so I can’t possibly know how it feels. But I am left disatisfied with the statement, “This is who I am, so accept me.”

    This is dangerous territory to disagree on. Our society applauds when we individualistically proclaim our identity. But Christian individualism involves discovering who we are when we follow God, and that identity is always different from the person we were born as.

    Not to say that any of us can call one person or another a “true Christian” based on sexuality. The authenticity of our faith is proven in it’s fruits.

  5. Joseph Rogers says:

    I still want to know if Mr.michele bachmann is right that we can pray away the Gay:)

  6. Deb says:

    Thanks for this illuminating window in your rich classroom discussions. I once heard a pastor – while being interviewed by a pastoral search committee who was trying to decide whether or not to hire him – state that he himself had “an adulterous heterosexual orientation,” though he remained faithful to his wife and did not ever indulge the behavioral impulses. I’ll leave you to wonder whether or not they voted to call him . . .

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