Wednesday, March 11, 2015

What is sexual difference? Part III

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In seeking to define sexual difference and to understand its significance, we have discussed the Trinity and the metaphysics of form and matter.  Though in many senses “invisible,” we can now begin to see how the logic of love and gift are made visible in the human body.

Our call to love, our being as gift, and our invitation to fruitfulness are reflected and made visible through our bodies, which are either masculine or feminine.  In his apostolic letter, Mulieris dignitatem St. John Paul II explains that our masculinity and femininity are not incidental to our being created in God’s image and likeness.  He writes, “To say that man is created in the image and likeness of God means that man is called to exist ‘for’ others, to become a gift” (#7).

Together, masculinity and femininity reveal that who the human person is involves giving and receiving, and therefore, love.  To be in the image and likeness of God involves our capacity for intellect and will, but also our call to love.

Gender, therefore, is not a social construct.  It is not arbitrary.  Neither is it following the sheer dictates of biology.  Rather, sexual difference is a visible sign of what is invisible.

Although there is not gender in God, there is something about love and fruitfulness in God, that when embodied, takes the form of gender/sexual difference.  We began these reflections by looking at God as eternal Gift, eternal relationship of love, eternal fruitfulness.  From God’s love, generosity and fruitfulness, in His creation, through metaphysics and becoming visible in our bodies, we see a glimmer of who He is. 

Image by kristin_a is licensed under C.C. by SA 2.0
Our culture, however, has begun to look at the body as a blank canvas with no inherent meaning.  Whatever meaning I choose in my “freedom” to give to my body (or lack of meaning) I may assign to it.  One concrete demonstration of this logic is the severing of sex and gender – sex as whatever reproductive organs I happen to have and gender as a social construct by which certain stereotypes have been linked with particular reproductive organs.  In defiance of these “stereotypes,” gender becomes something I choose, not something I am given.  Therefore, gender is seen as arbitrary and meaningless.  (Its only meaning is that which I choose to give it.) 

But the body is not some “dumb matter,” a meaningless collection of cells and DNA.  Rather, the body is a gift whose origin is Love.  Because the body was created by God who is Love, every fiber, cell and strand of DNA is inscribed with love, and therefore with an inherent meaning.  The way the body is expressed in a masculine or feminine form profoundly manifests the call to love.

1)      My male or female body is a beautiful reminder that I was created.  I am not God.  I am a child of God.  I did not create myself.  I come from another.  My life is such a radical gift that there are some things I did not choose for myself -- my gender, my birthday, my name, my family, etc.  Since there is another way of being that is different from me (male or female), I also realize that I cannot encompass the whole of reality.

2) My male or female body is a beautiful reminder that I am called to love.  In seeing that there is another with whom I have unity (the same gift of humanity) and difference (masculinity or femininity), I see that it is possible for me to give and to receive from another.  I am called to live "for" another.  I am then able to see that love is possible, that love is good and that love is the meaning of life.

3) My male or female body is a beautiful reminder that I am called to love fruitfully.  When I realize that I did not create myself, that I come from God, and when I realize that I can love another with whom I share a unity (humanity) and a difference (male or female), I can see that my love can be fruitful.  It can grow and be more.  It doesn't have to collapse in upon itself.  It can open me up to new experiences, new wonder, new gratitude as I watch love unfolded as something I am given and not as something I create, dominate or master.

In short, my sexual identity, which I discover in my body, is a constant reminder of who I am as a human person -- a gift from God, called to give in love, fruitfully.  So, embracing this gift of our masculinity and femininity, which is revealed in and through our bodies is key to understanding who God created us to be and what He is calling us to (ultimately, eternal communion with Him in heaven).

In our desperation to promote equality, we have reduced equality to sameness.  And by rendering the body and gender as devoid of meaning, we are ironically uprooting the very foundation of the absolute dignity of both men and women.  Our bodies reveal that we did not create ourselves.  Our masculinity and femininity make us aware that we come from another and are created for another.  Our life is a gift. 

If our engendered bodies reveal that we are created and that we are gift, then it is precisely this truth – that we were loved into existence by God who is Love – that gives us the dignity that we are desperately trying to enshrine.  If we want to receive this gift, appreciate our dignity, and look at others as people to love and not as objects to use, then it starts with receiving our masculinity and femininity and realizing that love indeed requires gender (sexual difference).  And that gender reminds us of our unique call to love. 

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