August 26, 2014

(No) Thanks for the Complement

One of the problems with the theory of gender complementarity is that it tends to reduce the human to the visually physical. Heterosexuality is held to be normative on the basis of gross anatomy — the fact that male and female bodies exist is taken uncritically to mean that they not only can join, but only can join. This biological determinism ignores that much (if not most) of sexuality is mental and emotional — and that these aspects of the human being are also just as much physical (in the brain and nervous system, in particular as acted upon by the endocrine system) as the gross anatomy of the external sexual characteristics. The “dishonorable members” cannot say to the brain, “I have no need of you.” Every member shares in the wholeness of the body.

The essence of sexuality, as in so much else about what it means to be human, lies in the inside, not the outside: it is content, not form alone, that constitutes the human person.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG


Jeffrey Shy said...

Thanks for this, Fr. Haller. I was recently unfortunate enough to hear a discussion about this between a celibate "Gay" Roman Catholic and a priest of unknown orientation on a radio program. The fact that there might be many such "complementary" pairings involving human genitalia and bodily orifices, male or female, was lost on them. They seem to forget that there are many things in the world other than human genitalia that are concave or convex. They discussed it all, however, in "hushed" tones of "awe." I was a bit ill. Such natural law arguments only make sense if one is ignorant of biology and/or wearing blinders to all be what one chooses to see.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...

Thanks, Dr. Shy. I get particularly suspicious when people wax rhapsodic about something. To me it seems perfectly plain that human sexual dimorphism is a part of our mammalian and animal heritage via evolution.

Speaking of which, I wish those who want actually to read from nature's book (and I do think it can teach it a thing or two) would realize, in keeping with my note above, that the mere existence of two sexes and their functioning together in procreation does not in fact explain, or explain away, the reality of people who have a same-sex orientation: and that orientation is a part of them as much as a heterosexual orientation is of those so oriented. It is no more a "defect" than perfect pitch.

Nor is it necessarily a fault or failing: some evolutionary scientists have explained the persistence of same-sexuality in human cultures as an "avuncular" adaptation in which gay and lesbian persons contribute to the raising of their siblings' offspring -- in much the same way as grandmothers, and for much the same reason (people outlive their fertile years, or never have years in which they reproduce, precisely so as to be able to help with the upbringing of children for whom a single couple is not enough. It taketh a village, as they say... not just to raise a child but to confect a culture).

Br Richard Edward Helmer BSG said...

You make it so clear how "gender complementarity" can so easily lead to the objectification (especially of women) and sexual violence that are an insidious feature of patriarchal societies. Thanks for this. Yet another reason we must all resist the temptation to reduce people to their "functional parts" in both our theologizing and our ethical reasoning.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...

Thanks, Richard Edward. Another irony for me in all of this lies in the fact that many who exalt the "gender essentialist" model on the basis of anatomy -- denying the "reality" of transgender people and sexual orientation -- often critique those who speak of a "gay identity" as if they were the ones advancing an essentialist model! They want to insist on a world view, long since outdated, that sexuality is simply a matter of behavior; this is sometimes allied, as you suggest, with rigid notions of what "behaviors" are appropriate to the sexes.

In the long run, it is one of the last bastions of pre-critical, pre-scientific thinking. The ultimate irony, of course, being that it is also actually out of keeping with traditional church teaching on what it is that constitutes "the humanum."

Lionel Deimel said...

Those who are fond of the dichotomy of male and female also fail to account for genetics. There are more than two combinations of chromosomes that determine sex. How do the gender complementarity people account for intersex persons? Apparently not at all; they are non-persons. Alas, reality is complicated.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...

So true, Lionel. The reality is that sex, sexuality and gender are all partly biological, partly pschological/emotional, and partly cultural, and reducing it all to biological "sex" is neither necessary nor a fully accurate reflection of reality -- wherein, I dare say, God's actual intent lies! As I said above, if we want to learn from nature, we need to see what nature says -- and the same goes for culture, which is part of what makes us human.