rambling thoughts on identity, relationships, and fan fiction

warning: navel-gazing ahead!
For the past few weeks, I've been thinking a lot about how we, as a culture, conceptualize identity -- particularly sexuality as part of identity -- and how it relates to our real-life experiences in relationships: how our understandings of self shape the possibilities we see for relationships, how relationship experience shapes our notions of identity, and what stories we tell each other about how sexual identity and relationship inform one another.

These aren't new thoughts for me, but being engaged to Hanna -- planning our marriage, talking to other people about the cultural and personal meanings of marriage -- brings me back once again to the twin topics of identity and relationship. Being engaged -- actively defining our relationship to the outside world -- also prompts me to notice more keenly the stories we tell, as a culture, about sexual identity and relationships. In this instance, the way in which sexual identity and relationships are theorized in erotic fan fiction (which, many of you know, I read regularly and passionately).

There's a lot of fic out there in which character X discovers they are attracted to character Y who is of the gender they didn't think they had the hots for and ohmygod identity crisis ensues! This is a plot/relationship narrative that -- just like any other dramatic tension -- can be handled really well or handled really poorly. But I'm less interested in the deftness, in this instance, than I am in the assumption that experiencing desire for someone of an unexpected [insert identity characteristic here] stops the desiring character in their tracks because their feelings of attraction don't match up with their self-understanding.

On the one hand, I completely understand that sometimes, falling in love "against type" so to speak precipitates re-evaluation of who you thought you were or what it is you understand yourself to desire. I won't lie: falling in love with Hanna required (or at least prompted) me to think more seriously than I had before about how my sexuality worked. I've written about this in the past (see here, here, and here). Sexuality is one thing in the singular, another thing in the relational.

So, yeah, there was adjustment.

But here's the thing that I've been thinking about lately: my sexual identity in the abstract was most urgently important before Hanna and I were actually in a relationship. I worried about how to convince her with evidence that no, really, I thought she was hot. I worried about what might count as evidence of same-sex desires in the past (which, in turn, could be brought forth in support of a pattern into which Hanna-desires fit neatly, rather than being the exception to the rule). I worried about whether I was worrying too much about marshaling the evidence and therefore reading back into my personal history sexualized feelings that hadn't been there at the time ("did I like her, or like- like her?").

Basically, I worried a lot.

There was massive angst.

I wrote my own life into an angsty, identity-crisis fic to which, appropriately enough, there was ultimately a solution in the form of sexytimes.*

Here's the "on the other hand" thing, though. The moment -- and I'm talking the moment -- we touched in a way that undeniably conveyed to each other "I want to get in your pants as quickly as possible"?

Worry totally gone.

In that moment, I had absolutely all the evidence I needed that whatever-and-whoever-the-hell-else I might be interested? I was interested in Hanna.

End of story.

Well, okay, not totally end of story. 'Cause within that story I got to think a lot about what sex meant to me, and what I enjoyed, under what circumstances, the space between fantasy and real-world interaction, all of that. It's an ongoing conversation. And a really hot one.

(Have I mentioned intellectual stimulation is a turn-on for me?)

But the question of identity became kinda ... irrelevant. Actually, super-irrelevant. Because no matter what I chose to identify as, whatever I called myself, in whatever contexts I named myself, in practice I was Hanna-sexual. As in, sexually attracted to Hanna. All the other attractions I may or may not have moved into the realm of "theoretically interesting but not that practically relevant."

Because I could have said I was doorsexual and still when I put my hands on Hanna I would have wanted her.

And in my book, experiential evidence trumps theory every time.

So when I read these fics in which character X is enjoying sex with character Y -- and I mean seriously enjoying sex -- yet simultaneously freaking out because this isn't sex they should be enjoying? I think about the issues we've created for ourselves by imagining that sexuality and sexual identity is the quantifiable, identifiable, constant thing.

That we can, that we should, understand what we want prior to actually having it, prior to coming across it in the wild, this beautiful, breath-taking being in our path. Prior to knowing and being known, in that moment of intimacy, of home-coming (or, conversely, that moment of escape-from-the-body, of clarifying distance; sex is, after all, what we make and want of it).

What I'm saying is: Aren't we simply what we are?

And if we stumble into love, into desire, into oh god you feel amazing under my hands and please never stop touching me there does it really matter so frickin' much to our notion of the self whether or not the body, the person, in question is the same shape as the last body, the last person, who felt this way under, within, around us?

At what point in our history did the body of others become so central to the constitution of ourselves? Because that's how the think of sexual identity these days -- it's about the self, yes, but it's about the self in relation to the bodies that one finds desirable. It constitutes the self in some pretty fundamental ways but pre-emptively narrowing who we imagine ourselves capable of getting down and dirty with.

As I type this, my internal antagonists are arguing with the words on the page, pointing out how much all of this is colored by my subjective experience of fluid, person-centered sexual attractions, and my claustrophobic reaction to closing doors of possibility when there's no imminent need to do so. So obviously this is only my own particular reaction and all, but really ... why do we make it so difficult for ourselves?

Wouldn't it just be easier if instead of an existential crisis, falling in love with an unexpected person was more like, "Oh, you mean I like this too? That's cool."

*Someday, maybe I'll write it into an actual smutty fic. Hanna and I keep threatening to do this in turns, but so far neither of us has made the time to follow through and do it.


from the neighborhood: teazle LOVES cuddling edition

It's Wednesday, which I imagine means that many of you are ready for more gratuitous kitten pictures!

We've discovered that Teazle loves cuddling -- specifically on human chests. Perhaps it's the feel of our heartbeats and/or the sound of breathing?

As you can see this sometimes leads to things being a bit ... awkward. I've never felt quite so well-endowed as I do now that I know a two-pound kitten can perch on my boobs!

Then, of course, we aid and abet the cute by doing things like this (we're probably irresponsible kitty-mommies):
pocket cat!
But even when we're not being silly, Teazle manages to be silly for us. If only kitten-snoozing were an Olympic sport, she'd win all the medals in events such as ...

the full-length stretch ...
... and the cross-legged curl.
Stop by next Wednesday for more kittenish fun!


minimalist wedding plans, update time [wedding post the forth]

For those who are interested in the minutiae of getting married.

I have a half-baked post in the works about relationships, sexuality, and identity, that at some point (possibly Thursday, possibly not) I'll share with y'all. In the meantime, I have a blog post up at Harpyness sharing ten things I like about Hanna, and ways in which we get on well together ... and also the following updates on marriage/wedding plans.

1) Our rings have been commissioned, created, and delivered. We couldn't be happier with our artist, Tere Reyes, at Etsy so I'll give her another shout-out here (click through for beautiful ring photos).

2) We're really pleased with ourselves for coming up with a solution to the question of private wedding + desire for witnesses. We plan to write out our vows on (archivally-sound) paper and sign the document at our verbal exchange of vows, along with our in-person witnesses and the Justice of the Peace. Then we're going to circulate it by post among the friends and family members we would have asked to attend the wedding if travel time and money had been no object.

We're going to sign the document with a fountain pen Hanna inherited from her maternal grandmother, thus bringing in multi-generational family resonance, and we plan to purchase a special "signing pen" to send along with the document as it travels around the country.

3) We've decided that some sort of fancy dress is in order. Hanna's request was to splurge on gel manicures, so we're going to make a date to get that done the week of the wedding. Colors TBA but I'm threatening to arrange for rainbow nails, something like this:

seriously: all teh gay!
And when we go up to Maine this weekend, we're going to stop in Freeport to visit our favorite clothing store, Mexicali Blues, to see what sort of hippy-dippy dresses they might have that strike our fancy. Expect something in the blue-green-purple-brown color spectrum, since that's more or less what our current wardrobe is composed of.

4) Friend Diana has mocked up some lovely minimalist marriage announcement cards, which we're working with her to finalize before they go "to press" on her letterpress. Despite the fact we're not inviting people to the ceremony, it felt important to share our intentional commitment to one another in some way with the friends and family that make up our far-flung support network. Along with the documented exchange of vows, announcements will be an opportunity for our chosen kin to recognize our decision to move forward together.

5) We're working with the foster group Black Cat Rescue to create a special donation site for people who want to honor our marriage with a gift, but don't have a specific gift they're yearning to present to us. We considered a number of ways for handling the gift question, and this one felt like it most closely reflected the spirit in which we're building a family unit (kitties included!).

definitely part of the family
6)My parents are planning to visit for a long weekend in early October so that we can have a quiet, celebratory dinner with the six of us (Hanna, myself, and our parents) and have the parents sign our marriage document in person. We haven't decided where that dinner will take place, but likely somewhere on the coast of Maine (a good halfway point between Boston and where Hanna's parents live).

Finally, a blushing "Thank you!" to our friends Lyn and Larry who sent us an engagement gift in the form of a gift certificate for dining at Oleana, a fancy-schmancy restaurant here in Boston that we would never consider splurging on with our own dime. If only you lived close enough to join us for the evening! We'll be sure to take food!porn photographs when we do venture out for a night on the town.


first thoughts: david blankenhorn's evolving stance on marriage equality

Prominent anti-marriage-equality theorist David Blankenhorn (a key expert for the supporters of Prop 8 in California, author The Future of Marriage) has recently gone public with his decision to support same-sex marriage as a way to strengthen the institution of marriage overall. He writes in his statement at The New York Times that he hopes this decision to support the right of same-sex couples to marry will re-orient the discussion away from the morality of homosexuality per se and toward question of how society provides for dependent children, and how we can best stabilize existing love relationships. He writes, in part:
I had ... hoped that debating gay marriage might help to lead heterosexual America to a broader and more positive recommitment to marriage as an institution. But it hasn’t happened. With each passing year, we see higher and higher levels of unwed childbearing, nonmarital cohabitation and family fragmentation among heterosexuals. Perhaps some of this can be attributed to the reconceptualization of marriage as a private ordering that is so central to the idea of gay marriage. But either way, if fighting gay marriage was going to help marriage over all, I think we’d have seen some signs of it by now.

So my intention is to try something new. Instead of fighting gay marriage, I’d like to help build new coalitions bringing together gays who want to strengthen marriage with straight people who want to do the same. For example, once we accept gay marriage, might we also agree that marrying before having children is a vital cultural value that all of us should do more to embrace? Can we agree that, for all lovers who want their love to last, marriage is preferable to cohabitation? Can we discuss whether both gays and straight people should think twice before denying children born through artificial reproductive technology the right to know and be known by their biological parents?
There's a lot going on in this statement and I won't pretend my first response is comprehensive. But here are a few "first thoughts."

I've just finished reading Love the Sin: Sexual Regulation and the Limits of Religious Tolerance by Janet Jakobsen and Ann Pellegrini (review forthcoming), in which the authors argue that the notion of "tolerance" for homosexuality necessarily conceptualizes "the public" as heterosexuals who must "tolerate" the (foreign) presence of queer individuals and their queer activities. Within such a framework, the priorities and needs of heterosexual Americans are understood to take precedence over the priorities and needs of queers. It's that framework that strikes me first in Blankenhorn's statement: that he understands his opposition to marriage equality as an opportunity to "lead heterosexual America to a broader and more positive recommitment to marriage as an institution." He claims it was the "debate" over the meaning of marriage that he hoped would do this cultural work, but if it was mere discussion he hoped to spark then support for marriage equality would have served the purpose just as well.

Therefore, I would argue that in seeing activism around gay marriage as an opportunity for straight folks to "recommit" to marriage, Blankenhorn clearly shows his hand in favoring heterosexual couples as citizens and subjects while leaving queer folks out in the cold, with desires that serve the purpose of heterosexual discourse rather than simply being a call for equal freedom to practice our own sexual ethics and right to association within families of our consensual choosing.

As I wrote in a comment over at the blog Fannie's Room, I enter into the political struggle for marriage equality as a woman engaged to her partner, planning to marry in the fall in our home state of Massachusetts, where our family unit will be recognized by the state. I have symbolic, practical, and political reasons for choosing marriage with my fiancee. From that very personal perspective, I'm pleased that Blankenhorn will no longer stand in the way of my freedom to act on my convictions.

As others have said, it takes courage to publicly change your mind on a "culture war" issue, and he will lose a lot of conservative supporters -- and probably even friends -- over this change in belief. I've known several individuals, personally, who have made a similar long (and at times agonizing) spiritual and philosophical journey over the question of same-sex marriage, and the humility it takes to undertake such a re-visioning is worth a lot of kudos.

However (and this is a heavily underlined however), I am deeply ill-at-ease with the way in which Blankenhorn persists in privileging a heteronormative vision of marriage, whether enacted by two persons of the same sex or two persons who identify as male and female. "Can we agree that, for all lovers who want their love to last, marriage is preferable to cohabitation?" he asks.

Well, no, actually, we can't.

Because I don't want my own decision to marry my future wife to be politically construed as a statement against others' freedom to choose the type of relational arrangement that works for them and their partner(s). I will not agree that a married-couple headed household is the best environment for children to thrive within. As psychologist Carol Gilligan recently pointed out, research in this area suggests that three or more secure attachments with adult caregivers is the ideal situation for childhood development. Secure attachments are relationships in which children feel that they will be loved and cared for no matter what. They are not dependent on genetic relatedness or the sex/gender/sexuality of the caregivers in question.

In other words, extended family-and-friend networks, poly families, all of these things can support children as they grow into adulthood. Marriage is not a factor, except insofar as we -- on a societal level -- have decided to work against non-conforming families, and make their lives that much more difficult to sustain.

Blankenhorn's decision to support the inclusion of gay and lesbian couples in his overall  advocacy of marriage ultimately does little to re-frame our stuck-in-the-mud cultural and political discourse on sexual relationships, family ties, and commitments to care. Rather, it continues to privilege marriage (by which he means a life-long monogamous dyad, preferably with children) as an institution in which state and society should have a vested, controlling interest. And I am way of counting as a "supporter" someone who is willing to throw some queer families under the bus just so that others of us can exercise the freedom to marry -- but only when we "look normal" or we're getting married for the "right" reasons.


from the neighborhood: friday bonus kitten pics

As I put this post together, we're in what I hope is the tail-end of a three-day-long heat wave that saw temperatures in the high 90s, lows in the 70s, and high humidity here in Boston. Hanna and the cats are crashed on the living room floor in the air circulating thanks to our four household fans.

Our "isolation room" strategy only lasted about 36 hours, given the size of our apartment and the evidence that Gerry was mostly just pouty rather than openly hostile.

This was what their coexistence looked like as of twenty-four hours ago. They've been dancing in closer and closer circles ever since. When we got home from lunch with a friend this afternoon, they were actually nose-to-nose for a brief moment, before Teazle decided Gerry's tail was the ultimate toy and Gerry gave her a swat upside the head.

So we went back to sleeping at respectful distance -- at least from each other; as you can see Teazle likes being right near the humans. (Last night, this was me and the kitten. Although I was on my back and the kitten was draped very warm-and-fuzzily across my collarbone.)

And for those who haven't seen them, Teazle vs. Bottlecap:

And Teazle vs. Bookshelf:

Happy Friday everyone, and more videos to come next week!


'the act of marriage' live-blog: abortion bonus post (the end)

See also: introch 1ch 2-3ch 4-5, ch 6-7, ch 8-10, ch 11, ch 12, ch 13, ch 14.

As promised on Tuesday, here is the bonus post reproducing the section in The Act of Marriage which deals with abortion. It's notable, I think, that a Christian book on sexuality deals with abortion only in the final chapter, in a question-and-answer section, rather than having either a) a chapter devoted to the subject, or b) addressing abortion in the chapter on family planning. This may seem odd to present-day readers, who are used to abortion being one of the rallying cries of the "family values" coalition. But actually, abortion did not become a major political issue for non-Catholics until the late 70s. So the way abortion is handled in The Act of Marriage is a fascinating sliver of post-Roe, pre-Operation Rescue abortion ethics for evangelicals. I'm reproducing the text here in full, with my interleaved commentary.
ABORTION: Is it ever right for a Christian woman to have an abortion?
Note immediately how the question is framed: "a Christian woman." This phrasing pulls the question from the realm of law and politics and places it in the realm of personal, religious conscience. Since no one can be forced to be a Christian in the United States, and whatever the LaHayes say subsequently applies only to Christian women, there is no explicit coercion -- no forced birth, at least in the legal sense. Obviously, a woman could be pressured and forced on a much more intimate scale by religious community, doctor, and family -- but this is not being framed as a matter of law.
A crucial issue in today's society relates to the morality of abortion. Ever since the 1973 Supreme Court ruling granted a constitutional guarantee of privacy in such matters and left the decision to the individual woman during the first six months of her pregnancy, legalized abortions have increased at a catastrophic rate. Many opponents of abortion warned that if it were made legal, it would result in promiscuity, infidelity, venereal disease, and guilt. Who can deny the accuracy of their forecast?
On the other hand, we do start out at the gate talking about Roe v. Wade. And it's clear the LaHayes feel the decision led to general degradation. Notice what's not listed in the results of abortion? That's right: murder. They're talking about sexual misbehavior, not about baby-killing. In a lot of ways, these are still the root concerns of sexual conservatives -- they've just learned that "baby killing" is a much more effective rhetorical move. Basically, the concerns the LaHayes list here about abortion mirror the concerns they have about secular, humanistic, "un-Christian" sexual mores in general. No more, no less.
There are two kinds of abortions -- natural and induced. Although medical science cannot always tell why, some women abort their pregnancies naturally, which may be nature's way of dealing with birth defects or other prenatal complications. Induced abortions are medically simple if performed by a competent doctor in the early stages of pregnancy.  
The way miscarriage and abortion are grouped together here,  and the accurate observation that early-stage abortions are "medically simple" and can be performed safely by a trained physician, serve to reassure the reader, to normalize the idea of abortion. This is not a passage designed to frighten or shock.
There are two reasons for inducing an abortion: (1) when such action is necessary to save the life of the mother -- called "therapeutic abortion"; and (2) for the convenience of the mother because she is either unmarried or does not want the child. In such cases those making such a decision must bear the moral responsibility for their actions.
So they're creating two distinct categories here, and it looks as if category one ("therapeutic abortion") is deemed "necessary" and not at moral issue here -- and even the second category, abortion for "convenience" is not automatically decried.
Christians as a rule know that the Bible condemns murder; consequently, many use the sixth commandment as justification for condemning all forms of abortion. The problem is that the Bible is not clear as to when the fertilized egg becomes a person -- at the moment of conception, or when the embryo develops into a fully formed human being at three to six months. If one regards the fertilized egg as just "a living cell" that has potential to become a human, it is easier to approve of some form of abortion than if he believes that the soul enters at conception.
Throughout The Act of Marriage the LaHayes are careful to differentiate between moral parameters they find support for in the Bible (homosexuality; adultery) and those which they don't necessarily approve, but about which the Bible is silent (oral sex; birth control). They make no exception for abortion, suggesting that Biblical censure of abortion hinges on whether abortion equals murder -- and notice that they leave that question open-ended!
We faced this problem initially when a mother of four who thought she could not have any more children became pregnant. Because of a rare blood condition, her doctor advised, "If you do not get an abortion, the birth of this child will take your life." If we had relied only on the sixth commandment, our response would have resulted in murder either way -- the mother or the unformed child. After much prayer we counseled the couple to follow their doctor's recommendation.
The modern-day anti-choice movement rarely, if ever, places the pregnant woman's life at the center of the story in this way -- let alone articulate the notion that two lives may be at stake here: the pregnant woman as well as that (potential) life of an "unformed child." The abortion debate has sidelined women's lives in the interest of focusing on what happens inside the womb, as if it were somehow disembodied from the woman who must decide (or be forced) to carry the pregnancy to term inside herself.

I think it's also notable that the example above is of a woman who is already a parent. Often, in the anti-choice rhetoric of today, women-who-have-abortions and women-who-give-birth-and-parent are imagined as two separate populations; in this instance, they are found (as they most often are) in the same person.
Another case involved an innocent fourteen-year-old rape victim. The crime occurred while she was coming home from school, and investigation disclosed she had never seen the man before.
Ah perfect-victim-stranger-rape, how we miss hearing about you ... oh, wait.
We felt that she had been through enough trauma. Certainly a loving God would not require an innocent girl, victim of a man's bestial appetite, to drop out of school, endure nine months of pregnancy, and inaugurate motherhood before her fifteenth birthday. We found that her pastor's approval was very important for her mental and spiritual rehabilitation. To this day only about six people know of this tragedy, and now, some years later, she is a happy, well-adjusted wife and mother.
Again we see the melding of women-who-have-abortions and women-who-are-mothers. Yes, the approval of abortion as an option in this instance is predicated on the "stranger rapes innocent girl" trope, but these days many anti-choicers argue against exceptions for rape/incest and the life of the mother.
Still another case concerned a couple who had a retarded child and were expecting again. A chemical analysis indicated that their unborn child would also be malformed in some way. After much prayer and soul-searching, we advocated a therapeutic abortion. Admittedly, we may some day have to account to God for these decisions, but to our best understanding of the Bible and the peace we had in our hearts at the time, we have no regrets.
I find it fascinating that they hold up these decisions difficult, human decisions for which there may be no fully right answer. They may "some day have to account to God" for the way they counseled families to seek abortions, but they "have no regrets" about encouraging families to choose abortion, even when the life of the mother was not immediately at stake. Particularly in this last instance, their decision-making process included a much more comprehensive understanding of family well-being and caretaking capacity than is normally up for discussion in present-day anti-abortion circles.
Through these experiences we have developed the following opinion on the subject.
Once again, the distinction between Biblical truth and the LaHayes' (albeit pastorally-authoritative) ethics.
We oppose abortion for all personal or selfish reasons, but accept therapeutic abortion in those rare cases in which a Christian doctor, minister, and the girl's parents prayerfully agree that it is in the best interest of either the mother or the unborn child. If a girl or woman is immoral and becomes pregnant, she should bear the responsibility for her actions by giving birth to the child.
Slut shaming in all its glory!
If she is a minor, we recommend that a Christian couple who desires a child be found and the child be adopted immediately after birth; the man involved should pay all necessary expenses plus room and board for the girl during her pregnancy. We do not believe that a forced marriage is always a solution, for it depends on the two people's ages and whether one is an unbeliever. We have observed that unless the couple is mature enough to marry, they start out with so many strikes against them that marriage becomes a tragic mistake following an unfortunate sin. Better that they confess their sin in God, then responsibly do what is best for the unborn child (235-237).
They don't articulate it in so many words here, but I think it's telling that -- in the mid-1970s! -- they're still assuming that an underage teenager will be sent to an unwed mother's home for the duration of her pregnancy (why else the need for "room and board"?). And while this is obviously far from a liberal-progressive position on teen pregnancy, I appreciate the changing mores that allowed the LaHayes to encourage their readers not to pressure teens into shotgun marriages before the baby was born, in fact suggesting that "what is best for the unborn child" may, in fact, not be a childhood spent in an unhappy household.

So there you have it: fundamentalist, evangelical Christian abortion ethics, circa 1976. If only we could make our way back to even that narrow window of opportunity!


welcome teazle!

...because who doesn't need adorable kitten videos on a Wednesday?

Hanna and I have been talking, pretty much since we adopted Geraldine two years ago, about bringing a second cat-child into the household as a companion for Gerry -- particularly since we're both gone for significant periods of time during the work week. This past weekend, we decided to visit the adoption center at the MSPCA Angell Hospital in Jamaica Plain, and while we weren't actively seeking to adopt right now we went prepared to do so if the right match was made.

Well, it was. In the form of a two-month-old foundling whom we've named Teazle. It was clear within moments of Hanna picking Teazle up (and having the wee one fall asleep against her bosom) that this was love and we'd do everything possible to take her home.

"Everything possible" turned out to include a last-minute vet appointment for Geraldine on a Sunday morning (she needed her shots up-to-date) and coordination with a buddy who lives near the shelter to make sure we got to the adoption center the moment it opened that day and snatched the paperwork so that no-one else could claim the kitten we were already thinking of as "our" wee one.

She was spayed yesterday morning and I went to pick her up yesterday afternoon. You would not know from this video that she'd been under anesthesia and/or had abdominal surgery a few hours before!

Geraldine is not impressed with us right now, but to be fair she's suffered the indignity of a visit to the vet, ear drops for an infection, and now a small-n-squeaky addition to the household -- all in the short span of forty-eight hours! So we're trying to give her lots of love and normalcy and introduce them slowly.

And, like with Black Cat Rescue (the folks we worked with to adopt Geraldine), we were super impressed with the MSPCA as both a hospital and a shelter, and will gladly give a shout-out for their services and facility for anyone in the Boston area looking to adopt and/or seek care for their non-human family members and/or need a place to surrender foundlings, etc. They had tons of volunteers, everything was clean and animal-friendly, and all the animals were alert and getting lots of positive attention.


'the act of marriage' live-blog: ch 14 (questions answered, from a-to-zed)

See also: introch 1ch 2-3ch 4-5, ch 6-7, ch 8-10, ch 11, ch 12, ch 13.

Can you believe we've reached the end? After this week's installment, you should know everything you need to know about sexual intimacy in Christian marriage, and I should be fully equipped to be an Adequate Lady Spouse to my Future Wife.

The final chapter of The Act of Marriage is an FAQ chapter, "Practical Answers to Common Questions," from Abortion to Temperament with lots in between. I'm actually going to reproduce the response on abortion in full Thursday, in a separate post, because I think it's a fascinating window into evangelical Christian abortion ethics circa 1976. I think it will contain some surprises for those used to late-twentieth-century anti-choice plan-B-is-murder hardliners. Don't worry! There's still plenty of slut-shaming. But there's no discussion of whether or not abortion should be legally accessible, and the pregnant woman herself doesn't disappear from view as is often the case in current-day discussions of whether a fertilized egg has rights independent of the person in whose womb it might grow to term.

But first! For a whirlwind tour of Christian sexual ethics, from A-to-Zed (I get 0-10 points based on my level of agreement with the LaHaye's stance):

Abortion. "Is it ever right for a Christian woman to have an abortion?" Yes, sometimes. As long as she's not seeking an abortion for the wrong reasons. (More on this later.) [4]

Adultery. Assumed to be morally wrong* but something which a) is probably the wife's fault on some level for not meeting her husband's needs, and b) something for which the wife must forgive her husband, provided he "repents" and cuts off all contact with the lover. And yes, the husband is the presumed guilty party. [5]

Birth Control. As discussed in previous posts, birth control is considered morally sound to limit family size, as long as couples do not outright reject parenting. Couples are counseled to be intentional about how many children they can care for, and how many pregnancies the mother can healthfully sustain. [8]

Communication. Communication around sexual matters is deemed essential in marriage, though readers are counseled not to speak of any previous relationships ("some perverted") with their spouse. [8]

Counseling. Counseling is advised, as long as it is obtained from a minister or Christian therapist. [5]

Dating. Young people can date, but should seek out Christian partners, and refrain from sexual activity except with their "life's partner" for their body is a temple of God. Oral stimulation may or may not count as "sex" but is "much too intimate for unmarried people" (245). [2]

Ejaculation. Delay, delay, delay, and make sure your wife comes first! [0]

Fantasy. Fantasizing about anything other than your spouse in a sexual context is lust and therefore sinful. Don't do it. Avoid "suggestive" material and pray. "Bring your mind into obedience with Christ (2 Cor. 10:5) and cast down all evil imaginations" (248). [0]

Foreplay. Desirable, especially among women. "Haste makes waste ... certainly applies to lovemaking" (249) and the clit and the breasts definitely deserve some attention. [5]

Fornication. See "Adultery."

Free Love. Damages spiritual and physical health, is too impersonal, creates "unfair and unnecessary comparisons" (250), causes feelings of guilt, isn't free, and is, in fact, WRONG. "God's standards are not flexible" (251). Living together prior to marriage decreases marital satisfaction. At the same time, parents are urged not to cut ties with children who are living in sin. [1]

Frequency. "Whatever rate of frequency brings joy and fulfillment to the two of you is 'average'for you" (253). [10]

Frigidity. Is a psychological condition caused in daughters by cold, distant fathers. Can be overcome with God's help. [1]

Genitalia. A range in size and appearance of genitalia is normal, clitoral stimulation is central to women's satisfaction, Christian women shouldn't bother to get breast implants ("you need to accept yourself as God made you") and if you have trouble reaching orgasm after hysterectomy it's a psychological not physical problem.** [5]

Homosexuality. Is a sexual perversion. Childhood exploration of one's own genitals is normal, and should not be punished.*** We don't know what causes homosexuality, but likely a combination of factors - though not single-parent families. Conversion to Christianity is the only power to redeem a person from homosexual sin. [0]

Impotence. See chapter ten.

Love. "No Christian should endure marriage without it ... [and] every wife has the right to expect to be loved to orgasm" (267-68). [8]

Marriage Adjustment. "Slam the divorce door, which is not a live option for Christians" (268).^ [0]

Masturbation. "Is it wrong for a Christian to masturbate?" No acceptable (see "Fantisizing"), even following divorce or widowing, or if your spouse fails to satisfy during intercourse. [0]

Menstruation. It's not sinful or unhealthy to have sex during menstruation, but a husband should follow his wife's lead. [10].

Oral Sex. The Bible is "completely silent" on the subject, but "we suggest it should be limited to foreplay" (276) and never be demanded of a partner who dislikes it. [5]

Orgasm. Simultaneous orgasm is likely to occur, even for couples with "excellent" love-making skills only sixty to seventy percent of the time, women will need manual manipulation of the clit to come, and there is nothing wrong with women who desire (and enjoy) sex and orgasm. [5]

Orgasmic Failure. See chapters 8-10.

Petting. "Petting is just a sophisticated term describing illicit foreplay by the unmarried and it is dangerous" (280)^^ [0]

Positions. "Any place that is mutually agreeable and does not betray your privacy is acceptable" (281). [10]

Privacy. Put a lock on your door, teach your children to respect parental privacy, and avoid having them see you naked. [8]

Romance. Even pastors on a tight budget should not feel guilty about planning and saving for an "overnight honeymoon" on occasion with their wife. "If your first objective is to seek the kingdom of God, there is nothing wrong with your third or fourth objective being a decent salary to live on" (282).^^^ [5]

September Sex. Couples can enjoy sexual intimacy throughout their lives. [10]

Sex Drive. It isn't wrong for a woman to have a higher sex drive than her male partner. [10]

Sex During Pregnancy. Is not contra-indicated. [10]

Stimulation. Vibrators are dangerous as they might "establishing an appetite for a level of stimulation their partner could not provide naturally" (287).  [0]

Television. Is a distraction and a "thief of love." [2]

Temperament. In which we suddenly learn about the sex drives of Sanguines, Cholerics and Melancholics. [??]

IN SUM: Adequate Lady-Spouse Metric

Chapter 14: 137/290 possible points = -153

Chapter 13: -190
Chapter 12: -29.5
Chapter 11: -35
Chapters 8-10: 0 (n/a)
Chapters 6-7: -62
Chapters 4-5: +30
Chapters 2-3: -33
Chapter 1: -50

Cumulative ALSM Score: -522.5
--> Basically? I'd totally suck at being a fundie Christian wife. It's a good thing that's not what Hanna's looking for!

*An assumption I also share, since I take "adultery" to mean a situation where one person cheats on the rules of the primary relationship by having sex with a third (or more) parties without the consent of their spouse. NOT COOL.

**I didn't bother to look up how much the LaHayes could have known about hormonal issues related to hysterectomies, so they may or may not be responsible for the mis-information here. But aside from the physical recovery from abdominal surgery, and lingering scar tissue, hysterectomies alter your hormones and can alter one's ability to experience orgasm, and/or how you experience arousal.

***This may seem like a strange observation to place here in the Q&A, but there are still people today who argue that masturbation equals homosexuality because it's sexual intimacy with a body the same sex as your own er, exactly the same as your own, er, is your own.

^Like with abortion, it's note-worthy to me that the LaHayes are arguing for Christians to abide by a separate morality from non-Christians, rather than framing any sort of political agenda concerning divorce law. Rather than argue people shouldn't be allowed to divorce, they simply counsel Christians it's "not an option" to people of faith.

^^This might tie with "children fulfill the psychic design of your mind" as Best Phrase Of The Book.

^^^Leaving one with the question, of course, what should the second objective be?


me --> writing elsewhere: summertime living edition

view from my pillow, sunday afternoon
It's time for the semi-regular round-up of posts written elsewhere. As a reminder, I'm now linking all blog posts, regardless of host site, at my public twitter account: @feministlib. So for those who use Twitter, it'll get you day-of updates from here and elsewhere. I realize Twitter isn't to everyone's taste, though, so I'll keep providing these link lists intermittently for those who care.

Over at the corner of your eye I reviewed:
We're also still posting three fan fic recs per week over at everything is gay and nothing hurts, for those who need a regular injection of slashy goodness.

And at The Pursuit of Harpyness:

And as I already highlighted, I participated in The Last Name Project back in May, writing about the way Hanna and I chose to combine our middle names in marriage. In July, I'll be contributing further wedding-themed posts to the "queer salon" In Our Words, which has already cross-posted my outline of our minimalist wedding plans.

I continue to feel that the feminist librarian is my true Internet home -- and I thank you all for stopping by to visit me here! I'm glad you find it an hospitable space.


marriage, family, friendship, oh my [wedding post the third]

Geraldine likes to aide my blogging
I keep feeling prompted to write marriage-related posts after reading other peoples' thoughts on the topic. Last time it was finances, and now it's notions of home, space, and sharing with folks who aren't part of the family, per se. Kate Fridkis @ Eat the Damn Cake, has a great post up about the shocked reactions she got when a friend moved in with her and her husband for a month between leases:
My friend from college needed a place to stay for about a month, in between apartments. Automatically, I said she should stay with us. There’s enough space, so it felt weird not to offer. I mentioned it to Bear. “Of course,” he said. Which was what I expected. I thought it would be weird if he said no.

My friend moved in.

And then everyone else was like, “Oh my god! Are you okay with that?! What about Bear? It’s his home! He must be so upset! Are you guys okay?”

Everyone said that at the same time. They hadn’t even met my friend. Or they had, and they liked her, but they couldn’t believe that this was happening. That I’d allowed this whole other person to move into my home, while I was in it. With my husband. All of us. Together.

“No, no,” I kept saying. “It’s totally fine! It’s nice! She’s really nice!”

“But what about your space?” they kept saying back. “And what about…you know…You need alone time with Bear.”

Space is interesting. I need it. I like it. I like to share it, too. (Also, our bedroom has a door. It can be closed.)
Kate goes on to observe that:
Until my friend moved in for a month, I actually didn’t realize how much I like being around other people. Not just hanging out and talking nonstop, but just being with someone else. Someone who isn’t Bear (I already knew I liked this with Bear, but I thought that was because he was my partner). Glancing up occasionally from whatever you’re doing to share something funny or make a comment about how annoying this guy who keeps emailing everyone on his mailing list to announce his latest accomplishment is. So annoying.

“Oh my god, that is ridiculous!” she says. And you both go back to doing your own thing.

She wasn’t always around, of course. She was at work during the day most of the time. She was gone many evenings, too. But when she was around it was fun to have someone else there.
I've written before about my penchant for slightly-chaotic, sprawling households. It probably has something (a lot!) to do with the sort of home I grew up in, the sort of home that feels familiar. I was the eldest of three kids, we were all home-educated for extensive periods of time, and while we definitely had a single-family home and a sense of family boundaries, there were always kids running around, or people passing through, adult friends over for dinner, and on occasion people who needed a place to stay for a bit. We lived close to the center of town (two blocks from City Hall and the public library, six blocks from the college where my dad worked) and from a fairly young age we had run of the neighborhood on foot and by bike, in and out of friends' houses, drifting back to check in with home-base and then spinning away again.

While I've lived on my own for extensive periods of time, and really enjoyed the solitude for what it was, to me creating a home and establishing a family, cues memories of a more communal space, of having people around to chat with when you want to emerge from solitude, of shared meals dished up for whomever came to the table, of people who were interested in what you'd created that day -- and whose own daily creations you looked forward to hearing about.

Which isn't to say I don't also treasure privacy and alone-time (or couple-time). Hanna and I are in complete agreement that -- regardless of what sort of housing situation we end up in over time -- we want space(s) that are ours with doors to close between us and the rest of the world. I just don't associate extended family households with the violation of privacy and/or incompatible with independent adulthood, the way many people in our country do. My childhood home was a space where togetherness was balanced with respect -- modeled and, at first, enforced, by parents -- for personal privacy and space, as well as negotiated sharing. We had to ask to borrow each others' stuff; parents knocked on closed doors to gain permission to enter.

So on some level, while Hanna and I have exactly zero plans to move in with our relations on either side of the family, being part of a multi-generational community/neighborhood, and part of a household or cooperative housing situation that extends beyond the (still clearly defined) boundaries of coupledom is part of what family and home means to me.

When we had our friends Diana and Collin to stay for four days at the beginning of June it was slightly crowded in our apartment, but we all thought we wish we could live closer and wouldn't weekly potlucks be nice and why can't we all just hang out more often?

We began to miss them from the moment they left for the airport.

I think, for myself, our decision not to parent has contributed to my desire to be deliberate in creating more fluid conceptions of family and home-space. I have the urge to surround our two-person family with single friends, coupled friends, parenting friends, elders and peers, godchildren and companion beasties. Knowing I won't be establishing an immediate family unit with younger generations folded within it makes me think about how to open up couple-life so that Hanna and I are not hermetically-sealed to all intruders, even as we want very clearly to say: we two shall cleave together from this day forward.

(Though perhaps if we were embarking upon the adventure of parenting wee ones we'd have an equally strong desire to build a support network of adults with whom our kids could form additional secure relationships.)

I thought I was going to have more conclusive thoughts at the end of this post than I do. I find, after typing all of the above, that all I can say thus far is that I know I want, eventually, that more boisterous household/community/neighborhood within which Hanna and I can exist as an indisputable, quasi-private pair.

If I'm still blogging when we find it, I'll let you know how we arrived there!


from the neighborhood: cats are busybodies

This past weekend, I happened to have the camera out and the cat was being photogenic.

Geraldine loves the open windows of our apartment
although sometimes she prefers watching us to watching the street
and sometimes more than watch (needless to say Gerry won)
although sometimes her tail got in the way
and obviously no responsible cat would let her humans go without a
cat-shaped paperweight for long!
hope y'a'll are well


'the act of marriage' live-blog: ch. 13 (time-out for evangelism)

See also: introch 1ch 2-3ch 4-5, ch 6-7, ch 8-10, ch 11, ch 12.

Welcome back! Now for the chapter you've all been waiting for ... the obligatory time-out for evangelism! Some of you may have been assuming that since the entire thrust of The Act of Marriage narrative is that a) the readers of the book are overwhelmingly Christians and b) being Christian means you're gonna have awesome God-boosted sexytimes, that the text needs no explicit shout-out to repent and be saved. After all, you'd be preaching to the choir, and for anyone who doesn't already know the words to the hymn you've got the best sales pitch ever: BETTER ORGASMS.

Oh, but you would be so wrong. Because Christians can never be saved enough. This was a major theme of the fundamentalist evangelicalism I encountered during my thesis research: individuals who had repented and been "saved" face continual pressure to recommit to Christ out of fear that their born-again experience was somehow less-than (think Jesus Camp). Putting the fear of God into those already in the fold is part-and-parcel of any proselytizing among fundamentalist evangelicals. And given that Tim LaHaye is, first and foremost, a minister, means that this remains a key aspect of his modus operandi:
Unless [the] God-shaped vacuum [in every person] is filled by a personal relationship with God, man is condemned throughout his lifetime to an endless treadmill of activity in an attempt to fill it (219).
This chapter is full of infographics arguing that people without Christ in their lives will be full of guilt, fear, purposelessness, emptiness, confusion, and misery.* In contrast:
When Christ controls one's life, that person seeks to do those things and think those thoughts that please the Lord, who in turn will grant that person an abundance of the joy, love, and peace which guarantees the happiness every human being desires ... When [Christ] directs a person's nature, that person's clean thought patterns will produce good feelings and in turn turn engender the physical responses that everyone wants (230). 
As Hanna points out, this makes Jesus sound like the worst micro-managing boss ever. It also makes Jesus sound like a drug you might find in the stash of your buddy who sells pot out of his back garden.

Which, I suppose, if praying is what does it for you -- why not?**

There's a couple of things going on here I want to comment on, before we move onto the final, Q & A chapter next week (the final chapter! can you believe we've made it through the whole book?!).

I think it's really intriguing -- and particularly evident in this chapter, since this is the chapter that's basically selling Christ as an awesome trip -- that the LaHayes feel the need to sell Christianity as the path to the good life and that the "good life" doesn't just mean the absence of hellfire and brimstone (the afterlife is, actually, noteably absent throughout The Act). The argument to being/becoming Christian isn't "if you don't accept God you will BURN IN HELL," though I'm sure most of their target audience received that message loud and clear in other places. No, the message in The Act is be/become Christian and you will have "good feelings" and "the physical responses that everyone wants" (read: ORGASM).

Jesus: A Really Good Fuck. Maybe the brides of Christ were onto something?

No only will Jesus/God give you a really good time in bed, but he'll also give you and your partner together a super-awesome roll in the hay, which makes Jesus/God sound like something between a sex therapist and a congenial fuck buddy:
When Sara accepted Christ as her Lord and Savior in my office that day, she cancelled their divorce proceedings and went home to become a loving, submissive, gracious wife ... within ten weeks [her husband] Sam also came to the saving knowledge of Christ, and they have enjoyed a compatible relationship for many years (232).
This sells Christ not as "Lord and Savior" in the Biblical sense -- though obviously that is the ultimate end goal, saving souls -- but rather as a means to an end: a "compatible relationship" between husband and wife (and perhaps every-other-Thursday also the Son of God?). Such a pitch effectively twines together a prosperity gospel ethos with a reconfiguration of sexuality as something with positive spiritual possibility, even outside of the context of procreation. And both of these themes became absolutely central to late-twentieth-century American evangelical culture. Sexual conservatives, to this day, will argue (either in psuedo-scientific or blatantly theological terms) that Christians who remain chaste until marriage and lead a Christ-centered sexual life thereafter will experience the best most satisfying sex there is.

Maybe they do? Who am I to judge. But I've been disqualified from that particular club since age eleven, when I met my friend J's offer (made in the backyard tree house, if I remember aright)  to help me "accept Christ into your heart" with a blank stare, so.

And then there's the whole premarital lesbian (albeit monogamous) slut thing. I'm pretty sure I get demerits for that.

IN SUM: Adequate Lady-Spouse Metric

-50 --> not accepting Christ into my heart at age eleven (or at any age thereafter)
-50 --> believing the spiritual vacuum can be filled with other-than-Christ shaped religion
-20 --> engaging in premarital
-20 --> lesbian sexytimes
-20 --> and not regretting it
-30 --> and not turning to drugs and/or alcohol as a result

Chapter 13: -190 points

Chapter 12: -29.5
Chapter 11: -35
Chapters 8-10: 0 (n/a)
Chapters 6-7: -62
Chapters 4-5: +30
Chapters 2-3: -33
Chapter 1: -50

Cumulative ALSM Score: -369.5

*Before you ask no, there is no data to back this up -- it's simply assumed to be self-evident FACT.

**Hanna also pointed out, because she's smart like that (I'm not really just marrying her for the lovely ass), that spiritual/religious/metaphysical life is an important part of meaning-making for most people -- even if it's important because you've consciously chosen not to prioritize it. I don't think the LaHayes are terribly mis-guided to encourage people to consider their spiritual centering ... I only think they're wrong to argue that only Jesus and/or the evangelical Christian god will suffice.


from the neighborhood: fun with friends, bonus cat photo!

Yesterday, Diana sent us this photograph of Geraldine on Diana's carry-on suitcase. Gerry did reconnaissance as soon as Diana and Collin arrived, decided that was going to be her bed of choice for the weekend, and spent 90% of her time there while we were home (the other 10% was begging for tuna, per usual). The cat-shaped dent in the suitcase top suggested she spent 100% of her time napping there when we were out on the town.
photo by Diana Wakimoto (June 2012)
Hope everyone has a brilliant weekend, and see you next week for more fun with The Act of Marriage, actual wedding thoughts and plans, and more.


from the neighborhood: fun with friends, part 2

After Friday, it rained almost continuously the whole weekend Diana and Collin were here. On Monday, before they left for the airport, we took refuge at the Boston Public Library (between Pavement Coffeehouse and Berkeley Perk Cafe).

center courtyard in the rain, from the 3rd floor gallery
The main branch of the BPL regularly hosts exhibitions, and when we were there they had -- among other offerings -- a wonderful print exhibition called reThink INK: 25 Years at Mixit Print Studio. Here are some of the photographs I took while we wandered around:

an installation featuring bees
one for the ghoulish sensibilities
I love the gender ambiguity of these figures
and these panels featuring labyrinths
 There were a lot of prints incorporating maps, architectural elements, and text. We also noticed a theme of arctic exploration. The photograph below is of an interactive piece featuring the upturned hull of a boat to which visitors are invited to tie slips of paper articulating wishes and dreams (our favorite: "I dream of Cthulhu" and also "I want a pig." There were also a wonderfully wide variety of languages represented.

ship of wishes and dreams
in the third floor gallery, there were lots of birds
including these haunting owls
If you're in the Boston area and are interested in print-making, I encourage you to check it out! The exhibition runs through 31 July 2012 at the Copley Square (main) branch of the Boston Public Library.


from the neighborhood: fun with friends, part 1

We had a lovely weekend with friends Diana and Collin, and were very sorry to see them go yesterday afternoon (if only someone would invent reliable teleportation!). It was, in fact, a lovely weekend despite nearly continuous rain and a trip to the emergency room on Saturday (to verify a strained muscle was, in fact, strained and not something worse -- it isn't, whew). We had lots of coffee and tea and good food, good conversation, and vacation-type movies (Fast Five, and the Doctor Who Christmas special!). I'm letting myself take the rest of the week off from blogging-blogging, but here are a few photographs from our Boston perambulations.

sailboats on Jamaica Pond
Our one nice day (weather-wise) was Friday, and Diana, Collin, and I took a long walk up to Jamaica Plain and had lunch at Centre Street Cafe while Hanna was in Newport, RI, for a meeting.

judgy cat is judgy
All things considered, Geraldine was accepting of the two interlopers -- it helped that Auntie Diana brought her favorite dried fish flakes all the way from California! She was very distressed keeping track of four people instead of just two for four whole days and crashed last night (she didn't even get me up to feed her at 3am!)

I spy with my little eye ... 
On Sunday, we took the bus over to Harvard Square to meet up with friends Minerva and Nancy for lunch, and between coffee at Crema Cafe and meeting up with the rest of the gang, we hung out in the Harvard Co-op (where else to spend a rainy morning but in a book shop?!). I was so excited to see Swallows and Amazons on the Staff Recommends shelf -- someone raised their kid right!

Steampunk sighting FTW!
... And my favorite sighting of the day goes to this man from Cambridge Historical Tours, who was waiting for a tour group at the Harvard Square T stop and checking his smartphone. He was totally rocking the coat, hat, and goggles.

On Thursday, I'll post some pictures from our visit to the Boston Public Library's current exhibition on print-making! Hope y'all are having a good week thus far.


friends in town - on vacation until 6/11

Our good friend Diana is coming into town today with her paramour, so I'm giving myself permission not to keep up with blog posts and whatnot over the weekend and into next week. Look for a resumption of activities the week of June 11 (can you believe we're already heading toward mid June??). In the meantime, I give you pictures of flowers!

flowering tree on the Charles River esplanade
a gift from Minerva (photograph by Hanna)
Have a lovely first week of June, and see you back here in ten days.