But Gender is not Real...
...said my friend. I immediately agreed, simultaneously acknowledging its reality within my own setting(s).
I find myself mulling over this exchange. I do not disagree that gender is a cultural construct, habitually created in quite diverse fashion across ethnic groups and biological expression(s). Yet in my Midwestern, ecclesial-centric workaday world(s), gender is excruciatingly real. Human beings injure other human beings with less power or social acceptance about gender all the time. Those nonconforming tend to do so quietly. So I said gender is quite real, if kept exquisitely unconscious. Does consciousness of it make it less real? I wonder…?
And what constitutes real? I named the reality of gender because humans were injuring other humans. Is that my criterion of reality, or simply my own limiting factor? How would my friend define real? I wonder. Humans co-create culture, but we also injure—even kill—one another seemingly to preserve what we have co-created for generations, having made it so real.
Theological education is rife with gender presumption, with a well-developed discourse about it that may or may not alter social realities. My current institutional setting does its best to disregard and unknow social advocacy ideologies, preferring its own brand of theological traditionalism and intellectually virtuous conservatism.
(Contextual caveats: Intellectually virtuous is the language of the land here, and I acknowledge its legitimacy in use. I find my colleagues to at least be listening and tolerant in our conservative environs, intellectual collegiality. My own principled pluralism doesn’t want to see them change to please me, even as I find the atmosphere stifling, the community ethos quite narrow. Academic freedom protects my voice as full professor, though I don’t offer my voice much (much to the frustration of other more progressive voices who want to change the institutional culture. Though he is a benevolent patriarch who doesn’t wish to be seen that way, the Dean does run the show, if implicitly, indirectly, through the women and men who accord him this power. I suppose my selective-speaking accords him that power as well, but he’s a friend whose heart I trust. I do see his actions stemming from deep woundings by theological progressives and his own family of origin. It’s complicated and I do “stick my oar in” when I feel Led to do so. But I have no need to piss in the wind of cultural transformation in this institution of theological education.)
Sometimes I think gender is so real for theological types because most are grieving losses they cannot begin to name. They/we double-down, circle the wagons to scream "realities," when we might better learn how to grieve the loss of cultural power/standing. Loss of children to big cities and secular lifestyles. Loss of confidence in what has always been sacred but now seems under constant threat.
Fear of the unknown, uncertainty, kindles the flame. Loss is the resulting conflagration without much watery relief…yet.
My heart aches—my own rage rises—for all those the church burns along the way.