Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Of Bodies and Bathrooms

On Friday, when I heard about the Obama administration's directive about transgender students and bathrooms and locker rooms, I felt a bit of despair.  I knew that we'd be hearing lots of ugliness, and some of it would come from Christians.

I must admit that the part about locker rooms gives me pause.  When I was in high school, I didn't want to be in the locker room with my fellow females.  And in fact, even as an adult, I'd prefer not to have anyone in the bathroom with me, regardless of gender--but it's not because I'm worried about attacks or anyone seeing anything private.  I am a bit of a medievalist--I tend to think of myself as a soul trapped in a body, even as I realize the cruddy theology that shapes that kind of thinking.
I also don't want a gender-free bathroom.  If we're being honest, I'd prefer that we have single-use, gendered bathrooms.  But I also realize that I'm being unrealistic when it comes to the design of public buildings and the space that single-use, gendered bathrooms would take.

I've read lots of great articles, especially one in The Washington Post about why public bathrooms bring out all of our various guilt and shame responses.  I am not the only person who wants to disguise the fact that I have a body which has fluids which must be dealt with--in fact, it's a common response.  And add the germ factors and the general messiness that can come with a public restroom.

I keep waiting to see a really great article from a theological perspective that advocates that we use this issue to talk more generally about our physicality, about our relationships to our bodies, about the ways we think that God feels about bodies.  I'd like to explore this medieval idea that I have, that my body is somehow less than my intellect, than my creative self, than my soul.

I'm also interested in our human tendency to divide everything and everyone into strictly binary categories, which we see in our various transgender debates.  I have always seen gender and sexual identity as more of a spectrum, rather than an either/or.  I have a BA in Sociology, so I will also say that I think that where one lives on these spectrums is deeply affected by our society.  I will also admit that recent advances in various scientific fields make me think that our biology has as deep an effect on our gendered lives.

How would our lives be different if we saw gender as a spectrum?  How would our societies be different if we thought less rigidly about gender?

The issue of gender, especially transgender issues, may come to be seen as one that's as important as the Civil Rights struggles of the 50's and 60's.  But I also wonder if future generations will wonder why we were so insistent that bodies look a certain way--so insistent that people spent money on surgery to make all sorts of changes. 

I've heard transgendered people who say, "You just can't understand what it's like to feel like you have a body that doesn't fit, how it feels when your outside doesn't match your inside."

I'm a woman in the U.S. culture, a woman who's not living a life painted in frilly pastels, a woman who's larger than my culture would tell me I should be.  I think I have a glimmer of what it's like to inhabit a body that isn't what I feel it should be (I'd be happy to be 30 pounds lighter) or what my society tells me it should be.

Middle age has given me yet a different view.  In this age when so many of my friends are stricken with bodies that are no longer healthy, I've found a new gratitude for mine.  I no longer spend much energy on how my body would be better if ______________ (so many ways to fill in that blank!).  Now I'm grateful to be free of disastrous disease, to be able to breathe freely, to be able to bend and stretch and make it through the day with energy and enthusiasm most days.  If I weigh more than I wish I weighed, well at least that flesh is healthy.

I do wonder, too, about the transgender people who finally get the surgery.  Are they happy or are they surprised by elements they hadn't considered?

And then my thoughts loop back around to God.  I have a vision of God saying, "You already have a perfect body.  Why cut into it?"

But I also know of all the ways that surgery can be a factor in healing. 

I could go on and on like this, my thinking looping around and back around, all morning.  Clearly I'm not the person to write the theology of the body, in this modern age when we don't have to be as constrained by our bodies of birth as we once were. 

But I'm ready to read that book!

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