Notes From The Balcony

Progressive Reflections on Post-Modern Living in a Multifaith Age

It’s Complicated!

Posted by John Montgomery on September 12, 2009

My youngest son teases me a lot because when it comes to how I choose to describe my relationships on my Facebook profile, I have chosen to write “It’s Complicated.”

Frankly, I’m not sure what the question is after in the first place – if it is about orientation, I am straight. If it is about whether I am presently seeking intimacy, I am probably more a monk nowadays than anything else. Dating – Getting re-married. I’ve been there – I’ve done that…and it is complicated.

I am somewhat amazed at how easy it is to find ourselves longing for simple, either/or answers to difficult issues. Most scripture discussions is the “blogosphere” include the familiar but silly statement that if a particular story found in the Bible is seen to be more a parable than a historical account, then the Bible is completely worthless. Really?

But of course, it is not simple, even though we all like to sing that song that says – East is East and West is West….

Yada, yada, yada. Sometimes direction depends on where one is standing.

Some of us have been following the sensationalist and despicable news around the recent world record setting performance of young South African runner, Caster Semenya. Despite the traditional expectation of confidentiality about matters of gender identity and testing until careful conclusions have been reached, talk show pundits and news outlets looking for lurid ways to attract even more lurid audiences have spread vicious rumors, twisted misinformation, and ugly lies, certainly exposing this young 18 year old competitor – standing in the best African tradition of sports excellence – to unearned ridicule and undeserved embarrassment.

Now the headlines in the last couple of days spout reports, not confirmed, and not authorized that suggests that there is some evidence (only obvious in tests) that what is at stake has to do with intersex realities.

Time will tell. Unfortunately, until time tells, Caster will find herself subject to unwanted public display. Even if the story is true, she will not be asked to relinquish her crown. There is no evidence of doping which might disqualify her.

The verification of sexual identity in sports is complicated. As many of you know, our family has been deeply involved in the sport of swimming. These are not new questions. In 1996, when the Olympics and Paralympics were held here in Atlanta, this question of guidelines to define sexuality came up about a certain swimmer. It is complicated.

Last week, writing in the New York Times, Alice Dreger who is professor of clinical medical humanities and bioethics in the Feinberg School of Medicine at Northwestern University addressed the complexity of the question by asking “Where is the rule book?”

She concludes her essay noting that [officials] “should — finally — come up with a clear set of rules for sex typing, one open to scientific review, one that will allow athletes like Semenya, in the privacy of their doctors’ offices, to find out, before publicly competing, whether they will be allowed to win in the crazy sport of sex. I bet that’s a sport no one ever told Semenya she would have to play.”

So if gender identity is so complicated, could the question of sexual orientation at least correlate one on one with gender – of course not, it is a completely different set of polarities. So it is very complicated.

Sadly what strikes me in these matters is the fact that many in our church still argue that east is east and west is west. When we do, we dishonor our GLBTQ friends, children and colleagues. We deny the God given talents of our GLBTQ friends, children and colleagues. We continue to deny our own homophobia confusing love with acting nice instead of seeking justice. We would rather refuse to celebrate the sanctity of their committed relationships than admit that sexuality is complicated.

I remain amazed that my GLBTQ friends, sons and daughters, and colleagues patiently affirm the reality of grace and continue to forgive our sin.

Would you join me in prayer for Caster, her family, the athletes on her team, her nation in these coming difficult days?

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Cross-posted at UMCommunities

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