The situation described in the following letters is entirely fictitious, including persons, names, crimes, sins, relationships, circumstances and all particulars. The kind of situation that is described, however, is all too common and my hope is that biblical principles applied to this fictitious scenario may be of some help to individuals tangled up in a real one.
So from your last letter, it appears that I need to follow up a bit more on what I meant by the “tokens” of masculinity. I trust that what I wrote was clear, as far as it went, but your questions—as they frequently do—went down to the root of the matter.
You asked how it was possible to inculcate such tokens of masculinity and femininity across a culture without “reinforcing stereotypes.” That is an outstanding question, and if you don’t mind, I would like my answer to be high and inside. It is not possible to do this without reinforcing stereotypes. But I want to go one step beyond that, and ask why we are so allergic to stereotypes. Why are we on the edge of revolt whenever someone generalizes about anything? Why do we stereotype stereotypers?
The initial answer someone might offer would be that stereotypes are a breeding ground for bigotry, racism, animosity, discrimination, and prejudice. Once we start allowing people to generalize to any extent about collective groups of people, even if the generalization is ostensibly complimentary, the door is then wide open to mistreating individuals simply on the basis of their membership in a group—regardless of individual talents and achievements. What begins with flattery often ends with battery.
So—the argument goes—if we allow people to say that blacks are disproportionately good at basketball, we have thereby opened the door to any and all negative stereotypes. Why not insist that everyone be treated on a case-by-case basis? Bringing it back to your situation, let us say someone were to mention in your hearing that homosexuals are limp-wristed and don’t know how to throw a ball, would you feel a sensation of pique or outrage rising up within you?
If not, you are pretty unusual. If so, the outrage would come from at least two places. The first place is that you know it would take you about ten minutes online to find open homosexuals who do know how to throw a ball, and who have done so with the great applause of cheering crowds. Not only so, but the person in question can throw a ball ten times better than the bigoted schlub who made the comment. “Take that.” You would therefore want to say that the generalization is false and stupid.
But before saying that a generalization is false, you have to acknowledge that it is a generalization. Let us substitute in another comment, where a person says in passing that men are taller than women. That is a generalization also, and it would take me less than ten minutes to find exceptions. There are plenty of tall women in the world, women taller than most men. We are looking at two bell curves, and the rightward long tail of the women’s curve shows numerous women who are taller than the fat part of the men’s bell curve. So a generalization is just that, a generalization. Nobody takes the axiom that triangles have three sides in order to try to make a bell curve out it. It won’t curve; triangles never curve.
Someone might object and say that the problem arises if someone makes a generalization that is disparaging. But that is not a biblical response either.
“One of the Cretans, a prophet of their own, said, “Cretans are always liars, evil beasts, lazy gluttons.” This testimony is true. Therefore rebuke them sharply, that they may be sound in the faith” (Titus 1:12–13, ESV).
Paul knows there are exceptions because he quotes one of them—a Cretan prophet who was apparently not a liar. Paul believed him at any rate. The assessment is disparaging, but the problem mentioned is also not a lost cause. This is why Paul tells Titus to rebuke them for their ethnically-grounded laziness, so that they will learn how not to be that way. Apparently in Christ Cretans can get their act together. But in order to get to that desired outcome, the ministerial duty of Titus is to grant the legitimacy of the stereotype. It existed for a good reason.
But the second reason that your gorge might rise at a stereotyping comment is that the comment stings. In other words, not to put too fine a point on it, do you know how to throw a ball? Even if the stereotype is generally unfair, is it unfair in your case?
At this point, a number of objections and retorts might start crowding into your mind, many of them filled with resentment. “Your father never taught you. He was too busy. Your mom laughed at you once when you tried to imitate your athletic cousin. You always preferred books to sports. Is that so wrong? You always despised the jocks at school, with their preening, with their adoring females, with their stupid letterman jackets.” If not all that, stuff like all that.
On top of it all, a theological objection rushes to the front, elbowing the other objections out of the way. “You don’t seriously mean to say that a man needs to know how to throw a ball in order to be right with God? What century are you from? For pity’s sake . . .”
But the answer to that is “of course not.” The issue has nothing to do with the ball itself, or with the throwing. Who cares? The actual issue is whatever it is in your heart that wants to resist and reject the idea—leading to my central question, which is why are you resisting it? You are testing yourself to find out whether the stereotype is profoundly true in your case—whether or not it is true in any other case.
I am just using this as an illustrative point, and have no idea if you can throw a ball. If you can, then use another stereotype of homosexuals that you do fit. If you can’t throw, then learn how to throw a ball. Take lessons if you have to. And because you don’t want to do anything to be seen by men, make sure to drive two towns over for your lessons. The issue—and I want to stress this—is that the central good that will be done for you spiritually will be happening in the car on the way over to the lessons.
And now I am pretty sure I have generated more questions.