As is typical any morning, I woke up a couple of hours before anyone else, and I started reading papers on the Web. This morning, on the Guardian, one of the major stories is about a new wave of crime in South Africa that is being called “Corrective Rape.” This abomination in terms is the belief that if a lesbian is gang-raped by men, the lesbian part of herself will be driven out, and she will emerge from the violence as a heterosexual.
I thought that I would devote an entire diary to this topic, but I found, this morning, that I just could not go there. Rape is epidemic: not only is rape a tactic of war in most of central Africa, I have read recently that rape is being used in Haiti to enforce social discipline, and now, in South Africa, to enforce heterosexual norms.
Not to mention the huge numbers of rapes that take place in the United States each and every day.
Instead, I went searching through things I’ve written before. I hoped to find something that would explain to me why, why, hatred of homosexuals and women continue to persist in this world. Why, for example, the fact that Obama is even considering not overturning the bigoted “Defense of Marriage” Act–a legal abomination if ever there was one.
So, what follows is my wrestling with what it is about homosexuality (and by that same logic–women’s bodies) that frightens fundamentalists so. (And I mean fundamentalists of the three major religions–all of whom have strictures on the female body and against homosexuality.)
This diary is not intended to offend anyone, and yet, I have a feeling it will. It’s not intended as a criticism of Christianity; it’s an attempt to understand why theocrats hate and fear homosexuality so much. If we lived in an Islamic country, I’d be making similar arguments, but the majority of the theocrats in this country are Christian. Therefore, I ask these questions of the relationship between Christ and those men.
The theocrats’ hatred of the body is a particular fascination of mine. It’s a topic that haunts me, and, as things get increasingly worse in the United States in terms of the attacks on privacy, and as I feel the water getting hotter and the frogs still not jumping out of the pot, I search for answers, for words, for a way to understand them, extend compassion to them, and change their minds. Yes. I want to be the queen of the universe and make these people see the light. I really want to release them from their fears, because I think they are a people driven by fear. Fear is the basis of addiction. And fundies act like addicts in ways that I’ve articulated before.
And so, I feel obliged to try to feel my way through the relationship between the erotic and the spiritual. The sacred and the profane. Here’s my thinking.
Attempting to find the connections between the sacred and the erotic seems a fool’s enterprise. Immediately, my own intellect begins to mock me, presenting images of lascivious priests, porn shop editions of the Kama Sutra, or jokes about the ResERECTION or the Second Coming.
But, when I can release myself from the shackles of my rational self, I can admit some things. I don’t know if god exists. But I do know that my understanding of the sacred, those moments when awe replaces fear, is linked to my understanding of the erotic-those moments when the distance between two bodies is breached by contact. The hum of flesh against flesh.
I recognize this aspect of myself, this desire, need, to find my connection to spiritual bliss in genital contact. After all, so many of the feelings used by mystics to describe their encounters with the divine have always sounded to my ear like descriptions of orgasm or its afterglow. When scholars make this argument, that religious ecstasy is sexual ecstasy sublimated, they are accused of reductionism. But what of persons such as me, who feel in ways that we are not always able to articulate, that sexual intimacy is as close as we’ll ever come to feeling the fire of the divine? Am I the only one who feels this way?
To speak about sex as if it is capable of elevating us is to risk being accused of not being spiritual enough, of living only on an earthly plain, of privileging the body over the soul. But why? There are few religions that celebrate the body as the gateway to the divine. Mostly, we are advised to subjugate the body to the spirit, to discipline it, to control it, to prevent it from carrying us into excess. And this has never made sense to me.
It has on an intellectual level. I understand the notion of dualities: sacred and profane, suffering and pleasure, good and evil, man and woman. As someone who has studied gender in historical context, I could riff for hours on the association of women with the body, men with spirit, and how both women and the body became the gateways through which evil, the Devil, sin found ways to enter the world.
I look at the scriptural justifications for the ways that Fundies behave in the world, and most frequently, they cite Leviticus, or other books from the Old Testament. Or they quote Paul, who was not Jesus. Or, as I read in an issue of Harper’s, they cite the kick-ass Jesus from Revelations. That kick-ass Jesus scares the bejesus out of me, but perhaps he is easier for certain men to relate to.
When I was in Florida a few months ago, I saw a plethora of bumper stickers that read “Real Men Love Jesus.” I’ve been thinking about that bumper sticker ever since. What it means. Real men don’t love the faggy Jesus; you know, the one who had feelings, who wept, who felt suffering on the cross, who urged us to love our neighbors as ourselves, who commanded us to love one another. Love one another. Not to throw stones, missiles, drop bombs. That Jesus may well qualify as a sensitive new-age guy, a metrosexual, a wimp. How can a real man love that Jesus? Loving that Jesus means loving that part of themselves, and well, real men don’t seem to do that.
I cannot speak for other women, but I can speak from my position as a heterosexual woman. When I have read many accounts of male experiences of interaction with the divine, the most frequent image is that of a piercing or penetration by the divine spirit. The metaphor is important for several reasons. I would argue that one of the reasons that there has been such an insistence on separating sex from the sacred is the fear that describing sex and the penetration of the soul homoeroticizes the relationship between men and their gods. I have never seen an instance where a male mystic refers to being engulfed by the divine.
In many hagiographies or confessions about the coming to the divine, there is a sort of negotiation that goes on. A negotiation in which the stubborn soul refuses the love of God, and then at some point, there is surrender.
The negotiations between men and women are similar. And what is the point of the negotiation? The point of the negotiation is surrender. What is it for a man to surrender to a woman? Is it to imagine what it is to be the glove, rather than the hand? To be the sheath. That is what vagina means, you know. Sheath. From the Latin. I find it fascinating that a part of the female body, the canal through which women bring forth new life, the first journey we experience as human beings-sliding through a fleshy tunnel into the light and cold-that the name for that conduit is not related to its function in birth, but rather, bears the name of a holder of a weapon. A scabbard-the covering in which you insert your sword.
Is this what men think of their penises as? Weapons? Swords? But a sheath is where you keep your knife to keep it safe, to keep it when you’re not using it for violence. It’s a place for it to rest until the next time it’s needed. When you place your sword inside its sheath, you’ve put down your weapon, you’ve disarmed yourself, you’ve made yourself vulnerable. You’ve surrendered.
In many of these hagiographies, men lay down the life of the sword for the life of the spirit. In many of the images of the warrior Christ, he bears the sword of justice. Perhaps I’m being oversensitive to phallic imagery, but I am speculating as to why the most fundamentalist of religious extremists hate and fear homosexuality so much.
What is the experience of spiritual surrender? In the accounts I’ve read, it’s the sense of penetration, of becoming whole, of feeling a divine presence move into your body. It’s not unlike the experience for women of heterosexual sex. I’m not a gay man. I don’t know if penetrative gay sex inspires the same feelings.
But I come back to the fear again. I come back to the fear of homosexuality. If your deity is male, and you want to be infused with his spirit, what is involved in that process? How can you maintain a distance between your experience of the sacred and more bodily experiences?