The Gender Games @theBFUU 2/01/15
How many of you have seen or read, “The Hunger Games”? Quite a few of you have, I see. I haven’t read the book yet, and probably won’t go to see any of the movies. I get a large enough dose of violence just reading about world events. Watching violence on the big screen just freaks me out.
But from what I have learned from reading about it, the hunger games are very deadly.
So, unfortunately, are many of the gender games we play.
It is much more than just stunting the potential of more than half of our population. We do that when we limit the possibilities and career paths open to girls. We are still guiding them mostly toward the caregiving roles. We are also stunting the emotional growth and the career possibilities for our boys, trapping them in the stereotypes of what it means to be a man.
That is deadly enough because it means that we are killing people’s spirits by not allowing them to flourish into their own individuality, with their own unique gifts. It is a huge loss for the person and a huge loss for the world.
The rules of the gender games are enforced primarily by social pressure. If someone really breaks the rules, however, the penalty can be not only violence, but too often it is death.
When Malaya Yousafzai broke the rules in her native land of Pakistan by trying to get an education, an attempt was made on her life. That young girl’s courage and persistence should inspire us all.
How much would you risk to get an education? How much would you risk to be what your culture tells you is not only impossible but wrong?
Every year, on November 20th a day is set aside internationally to remember those who have been killed in the last year because of their gender identity. Transgender Remembrance Day reminds us that Pakistan is not the only country where the penalty for breaking gender rules is violence and death.
For many years, I have held either an evening service on that day, or addressed the issue during a Sunday Service. We missed it this year here at the fellowship; there were just too many other things going on at the same time.
Part of the format of a Transgender Day of Remembrance service is to read the list of names of those people who have been killed in the last year. It is always a partial list. It also includes only those who have been murdered, not those who took their own lives.
I want to lift up the story of one young person who died by suicide on December 28 of this year.
Leelah Alcorn was born Joshua Ryan Alcorn on November 15, 1997
Alcorn was raised in a conservative Christian household in Ohio. At age 14, she came out as trans to her parents, Carla and Doug Alcorn, who refused to accept her gender identity. When she was 16, they denied her request to undergo transition treatment, instead sending her to Christian conversion therapy with the intention of convincing her to reject her gender identity and accept her gender as assigned at birth. After she revealed her attraction toward males to her classmates, her parents removed her from school and revoked her access to social media. In her suicide note, Alcorn cited loneliness and alienation as key reasons for her decision to end her life and blamed her parents for causing these feelings. She committed suicide by walking out in front of oncoming traffic on the Interstate 71 highway.
Alcorn arranged for her suicide note to be posted online several hours after her death, and it soon attracted international attention across mainstream and social media. (info on Leelah Alcorn from wikipedia)
Dominic wrote an original song about Leelah, which he will sing during the offering.
Leelah was a victim of our static gender roles no less so that those who have been murdered by direct violence. She broke the rules by not living within the cultural norms of how women and men should be.
Those norms are maintained by violence, and people who appear to be transgender bare the brunt of that violence.
As horrible as these crimes are, it is important to understand that that they are not isolated aberrations. They are not simply crimes committed by warped individuals. They are part of the gender system. It is hard to call it a game because it is so deadly, but they are only the most obvious means of social control and punishment for when you break the gender rules.
You know this. How many of the men here have been called a sissy when you were young simply because you dared to shed a tear or two? How many of you were beaten up or called a faggot because you were lousy at sports?
Girls are called dykes if they are too assertive. If they are brave, they are told they have balls.
It is crazy. It is mean. It does damage to people’s souls and their sense of wholeness and worth.
It is where a lot of homophobia comes from I think. If gay people have all the rights, privileges, and responsibilities that heterosexuals do, then what will we threaten our children with if they want to do something that is out of the norm for their gender?
Telling a child that they “must be gay,” loses all of its negative punch if it is no big deal to be gay.
There may be some natural differences between the genders. Anne and I have three children. One of our sons is an accountant and the other is a chemist.
Our daughter has been a special education teacher and she is now working for an educational non-profit. They all seem well suited as individuals for what they are doing, even though they have chosen careers that match the stereotypical gender roles in our culture.
Our children should be able to choose the lives they want for themselves, but we have to make sure that they are real choices, not just the results of the limitations imposed upon them because of their gender. We always told our kids that they could choose to be and do whatever they wanted. There was no guarantee of success, but ours was definitely a family that did not have specific gender roles that they felt compelled to follow.
Which is why the legalization and acceptance of same gender marriage really is a threat to traditional marriage. It isn’t a threat to heterosexual marriage at all, but it does directly challenge traditional gender roles. Guess what, though, all you straight couples who try and equalize the power dynamics within your relationships, you too are a threat to traditional marriage.
Congratulations! It is work well worth doing for your daughters and for your sons.
But let me go back to the issue of violence for a minute. The violence against people who are transgender is the most extreme example of punishment for breaking the gender rules. Anti-gay violence is another.
We also have sexual violence, usually used against women and girls, but sometimes against men as well. Some have referred to it as a culture of rape. Women and even young girls are sexualized to the extent that their bodies are seen as primarily objects of sexual desire. Fashion and popular culture play into it. Girls are cautioned not to go out at night unless they are in a large group or have a male escort. The risk of assault and rape is high, so it is understandable that parents offer this advice. The fear of rape limits the choices of women. It too is a form of social control based on violence or the threat of violence. The killings in Santa Barbara last year were only an extreme example of why women (#yesallwomen) too often live in fear.
Let me share some statistics:
Average number of rape cases reported in the US annually 89,000
Percent of women who experienced an attempted or completed rape 16%
Percent of men who experienced an attempted or completed rape 3%
Percent of victims raped by a friend or acquaintance 38%
Percent raped by a stranger 26%
And perhaps the scariest statistic of all:
Percent of rapes that are never reported to authorities 60%
That is a truly horrifying number. All the numbers are disturbing because violence is disturbing, but why are so few rapes reported?
If someone is robbed or their home is burglarized, it is almost always going to be reported to the police. People are not afraid of admitting that their wallet was stolen. They know that no one will say it was their own fault. No one will consider them “damaged goods.”
So we have the violence of rape, coupled with the social stigma that, in some circles at least, becomes attached to the victim. No wonder young women are afraid to go out alone at night. No wonder some boys learn that they don’t have to take no for an answer.
But some young women do go out at night. Some, like Malaya dare to learn what girls are not supposed to learn. Some young men learn that no means no and that the freely given love and respect of an equal is so much sweeter than anything they can demand or try to force.
The gender games don’t have to be so violent. We all really can be just who we are, respected and treasured. We need to recognize the courage of those who dare to live authentic lives. I am so proud of and grateful for the openly transgender people who are a part of this community.
They are heroes who refuse to play the gender game by someone else’s rules.
In my sermon blurb describing this service, I said there were theological issues about this topic.
You will discover, if you haven’t already, that I think there are always theological issues. Defining God as male is a problem. It is also not an accident that the religious institutions that refuse to ordain women are also the most homophobic and trans-phobic. If you need examples, think of the Southern Baptists, the Missouri Synod Lutherans, the LDS church and the Catholic Church. Think of all but the most liberal of the many Muslim groups. The rules of the gender game were written by these conservative faiths so unlike our own.
Our Universalist ancestors believed God loved everyone, no exceptions. Our Unitarian ancestors believed that every human being had the potential within them to be divine.
Holly Near wrote a song that has the words:
“Something changes in me when I witness someone’s courage. Something changes in me anytime there’s someone standing. For the right to be completely all the good things that we are
Do not forget the children, they are singers in the storm
And when their hearts are threatened, well a fire is bound to start. It wakes us up at midnight, we feel an ancient pain
And I do believe that loves directs the flame”
May we let love direct our own flames. May we let its bright light shine upon the gender games and help us know we can play by healthier and happier rules. Blessed Be