By Common Consent, a Mormon Blog
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Your Monday Mid-day Theological Poll:
Why is gender eternal?
Please give us the eternal perspective below.
It was a blessing to my life when the Proclamation on the Family clarified that our gender is an eternal charateristic. As a teenager I suffered considerable angst that I had chosen to be a female. I thought life for females was considerably more difficult. Girls had to deal with makeup to look good, guys can be pale and look washed out but that’s okay; guys get to wear way comfortable shoes while females are expected to wear high heels and suffer (at least some of us) torture to wear them; bras; low-maintenance hairdos. Plus, I felt that males had an advantage knowing exactly the timeline for their life — mission, school, marriage, job. Not so clear for a female. When I was coming of age — late 60s, there were many conflicting messages about what a woman should do. I prayed and pondered and worried and felt impressed that I was always female, it was not a choice. That personal answer helped me to not worry and to find joy in being female. The Proclamation validated that personal inspiration. Knowing I have always been female has helped me find direction for my life and happiness in who I am.
As a gay man, I still have a hard time with this statement in the Proclamation. No one seems to be able to define “gender” without equating it with sexual orientation. What does it mean to be a man in the restored gospel when so many LDS men are neutralized by Church culture? They cannot be too masculine and they can’t be too submissive. Where is the proper definition? If we are not to use the world’s definition then where do we find our role models? (And please don’t tell me Christ because LDS culture has made Christ a super-feminized man – aka Deseret Book paintings).
I’m not stereotypically feminine. I often have trouble understanding my female friends, and my male friends make perfect sense to me. I react to situations in ways that are more typical of men than of women. (When I read the book Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus, I discovered that I must be a female Martian or something.) My interests are fairly evenly split between stereotypical male and female interests. That said, I feel female, whatever that means, and I am definitely attracted solely to men.
The rhetoric that gender is eternal has given me some confusion as a result. I have a few observations. My first thought is that perhaps the First Presidency used the word “gender” in the proclamation when they really meant “sex”. (i.e. that individuals have always been either biologically male or biologically female).
My other thought, and this may be a reach, has to do with the meaning of “eternal”. In D&C 19, there is a discussion that “eternal” is another name for God. Thus, “eternal life” is “God’s life”, or “life with God”. Perhaps gender being eternal works like this, too. Since God has a gender, we have a gender because we were created in His image. It matters little what our specific gender is, or how it manifests itself, and more that we simply have one. (I haven’t fully developed this thought.)
I also think that the word “sex” better describes the situation instead of “gender”. Perhaps that word could too easily be mis-used or mis-understood so the Brethren thought the word “gender” was a synonym.
Elder Packer told us men in the priesthood session of last conference to celebrate our masculinity but he did not define it very well.
yeah, just think how differently the proclamation would read if it said “sex is an essential characteristic of . . . eternal . . . purpose”
I heard a speaker at a fireside years ago say that he felt that as intelligences, we had no gender, but when we were created as spirit children, we then chose our gender because Heavenly Father would never force a gender upon us. That always made sense to me. Like Jones, I also sometimes feel that being female is the harder role on the earth, but unlike her, it brings me more peace to feel that with the greater understanding I had in the pre-existence, I made that choice because it was the best one for me.
Hey…wait a second.
I have no idea what is required in order to have spirit children, but it seems to me that, even if it does require two members of opposite sexes, that still does not mean that that fact would be the reason that sex is an eternal characteristic. There would still need to be some additional reason for it relating to identity. Otherwise, it would just push the question one step further along: why does it require two persons of opposite sexes to have children?
I’m going with neither. Being female is something that I experience now in that it has a biological reality that structures aspects of my life, but our understanding of gender as anything other than a pure reproductive function is sketchy enough that I don’t even know what it would mean to have “femaleness” be essential to my identity. If we can’t even define coherently what we mean by gender, then I think it is too early to start talking about it being eternally essential to self-understanding. And, spirits are supposed to be eternal and hence not procreated, right?
I always assumed that they misused the term gender in the Proclamation because it allowed them to avoid saying sex.
While it would be comforting to suppose that the First Presidency meant “sex” when they penned “gender” I am not convinced. There is a fundamental difference between the definition of gender, which is a SOCIALLY constructed concept of sex, and sex, which is purely biological. How could the First Presidency, who are speaking as God’s messenger’s, confuse a term as important as that?
They’re not academics and that distinction isn’t commonly used outside of academia. So that would be a good explanation.
Neither reason is correct. Gender/sex (I don’t care which you use; in this case, by either I mean to differentiate between the various distinguishing dodads in the nether reigions) is eternal because it’s so frightfully expensive to have to completely replace one’s wardrobe. God is nothing if not thrifty. (Remember, they used pre-existing matter to create the earth. That’s like the DI version of creation.)
I would say that gender/sex is eternal because it just is. Why is matter eternal?
I always find comfort in the idea that while gender may be eternal, there is no indication in the POF that there are only TWO genders that are eternal. Or that a biological female means you have to be gendered female (or a biological male has to be gendered male).
I don’t think gender is solely a social construct, but I also think our understanding is fairly limited at this point.
#10–Foucault would say that sex and sexuality are social constructs as well.
Three hundred years ago, people were as likely to speak of “sexual congress” as of “sexual intercourse,” and “intercourse” without a modifying adjective was used to describe commerce or the relations between governments.
Just think how much more fun it would be talk about the United States Congress if usage had taken a different turn sometime in the last two centuries and “congress” was the word that carried the sexual connotations and “intercourse” still referred to business or international political relations.
That all means that I don’t have an opinion on the question posed in the original post. And I’m biting my tongue about a certain town in Lancaster County.
The only way I can see for fairness and balance…is if we switch genders in the hereafter.
“I would say that gender/sex is eternal because it just is.”
Me, too. ~
Mark B.–Lancaster Co. has all sorts of good town names. There’s the one you’re referring to and Virginville, Bird in Hand, Blue Ball….
So if the proclamation is correct, how do Mormons explain androgen insensitivity syndrome (see sideblog)? Is it god correcting a chromosomal error, by making a person female even thought she has XY chromosomes; i.e. the body is wrong for the spirit, so a correction needs to be made?
Or maybe gender/sex isn’t really eternal and that should have been one of the poll options. But then that would make the PoF incorrect. How would Mormons handle that?
I think that the average, non-bloggernacle involved Mormon is more inclined to believe that divine intervention fixed the spirit/body mismatch than to believe the FP/Qo12 would be wrong.
Thanks, fair coz, for expanding our collective horizons yet again!
I’ve heard the theory that they didn’t want to use the word, “sex.” I still think, however, that their use of “gender” in the Proclamation goes back to earlier statements about homosexuality, where men of their generation referred to it as “gender confusion.” It appears to me that these men literally think that a gay man is “confused” about whether he is male or female, or that a gay man really “wants” to be female, neither of which is a true statement.
I’m not convinced that gender is eternal… The existence and trials of transgendered people certainly makes it clear that it’s not as black and white as we’re led to believe in the church.
But maybe my view is colored by my lack of enthusiasm about having childbearing as my divine eternal role. I love my kids (all two of them), but I’m not much of a nurturer.
Jim Morrison has your answer for you.
Into this house we’re born
Into this world we’re thrown
Like a dog without a bone
An actor out on loan
Riders on the storm … ~
Mark B. — I live to serve.
Really though, you can’t visit a town called Blue Ball and not tell someone about it. Try it. You can’t.
How is it that we should humbly confess to one and all that gender completely eludes our post-enlightenment understanding whilst at the same time claiming to know more about it than God Himself does?
Who exactly made that claim? If you are going to show up and troll, at least have the decency to use specifics.
Listen pal. I’ve been trolling for five long years around here. I’ve earned my honorary degree in advanced trolling studies.
As to my comment — it makes more sense of one accepts the notion that Mormons generally believe that God speaks his mind to living oracles.
Latter-day Guy, your comment no. 12 (“God is nothing if not thrifty. (Remember, they used pre-existing matter to create the earth. That’s like the DI version of creation.)”) is the funniest thing I’ve read in ages.
Still laughing . . . thanks for that.
wow nice question. Much better than previous ones. I have no clue why gender is how it is, and I doubt any human being born on this planet does either.
And just to add a bit more…does anyone actually wonder why we exist in the first place? Forget gender! What is existence?
Let’s start by accepting that we do, in fact, exist — or that something is happening, however inexplicable. And then move on to King Benjamin’s counsel to believe in God and then to believe that He knows more than we do.
Jack, who has said otherwise?
I wish Jack were right when it comes to some of you not existing. I don’t want to name names.
Scott. There, I said it.
Ray, this guy, for one.
I don’t mean to say that I wish Scott had never been born. Just that we’d all be better off if he stopped existing.
I’m not alone in this? Can I get a witness?
I don’t think you’re being very nice. That hurts. Deeply.
Nice link, Scott. Maybe I will support a stay of execution.
Without an authoritative position on the beginningless self-existence of spirit-intelligences, i.e. prior to “spirit birth”, there is no sound basis for an answer either way.
Your own sideblog cites an article on the wondrous strangeness of sex and gender (aka They didn’t mention this in the Proclamation). Does anyone even read the links on the sideblog?
There are more things in heaven and earth, John C., than are dreamt of in your Mid-day Theological Poll.
Just a question:
In the Darwinian world, sex is necessary for the mixing of genes and chromosomes. This mixing tends to bring complementary traits for greater survival together. This is really important as we can see sex in almost every species from bacteria to mammals.
What does sex do in the eternities? Do we have spiritual chromosomes which have to be mixed? And would it not be redundant to have 20 or 30 billion children with the mix of just 43 chromosomes? Where is the diversity? Is diversity a big thing in heavenly survival of the fittest?
Or, maybe, in heaven gender does not make a difference since there are no such thing as spirit chromosomes to mix and gender exists only like beards or brea$t$, just as attractants for heavenly pleasure? That any gender will do as long as there is a target and complementary gender?
Or maybe there is no “sex” in heaven, only gender?
Dan Weston–I just saw that link about an hour ago–frequent readers know that the sideblog is the _true_ source of quality content here at BCC. I have a niece who has that same genetic condition. In her case, however, there are also other developmental difficulties that compound the issue a bit more than the cases in that article.
(If you scan back through past MMTPs, you’ll find that the two choices are almost never sufficient for more than a catalyst for debate.)
#41 – I love the Sideblog. It is my favorite part.
I do not agree that gender is eternal. Just my personal view.
I have a hard time with the idea that gender is eternal, too. But maybe it comes from the unnecessarily restricted definition of femaleness in our culture. Though attracted only to guys, so that I feel completely female sexually (wait, this isn’t fMh, is it okay to say that here?), I just feel like the role given to females in our society doesn’t fit me well. From the time I was a small child, my best friends were guys, and I liked doing the things the guys did like building go-carts and riding them, climbing trees, building forts, playing outside, damming the creek, etc. The girls in my neighborhood tended to play a lot with dolls, something that bored me terrifically, and play “house”, which also was mostly boring unless we pretended the Indians were attacking or there was a terrible house fire or something to make it somewhat interesting. I don’t know why I felt this way, I just did. I liked getting dirty and felt restricted when forced to wear clothes that I had to keep clean. Dresses are impossible because you can’t crawl in them, if, for instance, you got a big cardboard box, opened two ends, and wanted to crawl around inside playing “tank” (turning the cardboard into the tank treads).
When I read stories, like Zorba the Greek, or Lord of the Rings, or name just about any story in our literature, and I identified with the male characters, because they were the ones having adventures, not sitting home sewing flags for the real heroes to unfurl at strategic moments in their battles. I mean, come on!
The Greek goddess I identified with most closely was Artemis. I mean who else has a good part? She rocked.
Basically, sitting around looking beautiful and doing nothing except possibly inspiring some valiant guy to achieve great things to impress you is dead boring. Incidentally, spending hours a day to look beautiful before you will step outside your boudoir is no fit way to occupy one’s mind. It’s vain, silly, frivolous, and again, dumb dead ditchwater dull.
So, what I think, is that the essence of femininity isn’t at all like it’s pictured in our history and civilization. I think we’re missing the essence of what it means to be female entirely. Probably Heavenly Mother is staying away from us right now because we would mistake her for our narrow, parochial, restricted and oppressive view of what it means to be a woman. When we get a fuller view, when we open up our eyes and hearts to the enormity and power of what womanhood is, then maybe she’ll speak to us. For now, we’re simply beneath her notice.
So I didn’t choose either of the selections in the poll. Both are wrong. Gender might be essential. I feel this revelation may well be true, though I can’t feel it now. But so far we have no clue what it really means to be female. That’s my belief.
Well said Tatiana, and don’t believe any guy that tells you he understands what it is to be male.
I still don’t have a clue what you are going on about.
1. The poll went up before the link, so unless you think me some sort of prophet with powers to see into the future, you are too harsh dude.
2. I know about that condition anyway, but we have a strict policy of inadequate answers provided in the poll so that people can whine about it in the comments. Its a little tradition that we call “hatin’ on John’s polls.”
I, for one, am glad you exist, because it is through you that I met your wife. She’s pretty cool.
In ancient times, sex was considered an important part of power. The Egyptian god Osiris obtained his power and kept his throne because of his sister/wife Isis. The ancient Hebrew Gods, El and Yahweh, also received power by their consort. This consort, Asherah or Sofia, was the source of both wisdom and fertility, both great powers in the ancient world.
In the Bible, the concept makes man and woman as one flesh. Much like the sperm and egg must connect to create life, man and woman connect to make a whole life.
Then again, the Christian Gnostics believed that woman must also become a man. So, take your pick of ancient beliefs….
I am all about sitting around being really, really, really, ridiculously good looking. This is the totally what it means to be male.
Pfffffft. See above.
That almost restored my self-esteem after Steve so cruelly battered it. But then I realized that you’re just using me to get at my wife, and now I think it’s going to be an ice cream day.
Problem #2: We have at least three semi-authoritative senses of the term “eternal” in the Church:
1. Beginningless everlasting
2. Endless everlasting
3. Of divine origin
That is not to mention the classic sense:
So it is a question of: (1) It never changed and can’t be. (2) It is contingent/created and changing/losing it is virtually impossible (3) It is created and changing/losing it would be awkward
Quite frankly I have a hard time equating what is important in this life with what is important in the next. In the next life there is no economy. There is no starvation. No death. There is time for everything.
We do not have to worry about all those things which are so important here. Like reproduction, being loved and wanted, being supported in old age or as children.
Do we think our thought processes are going to be the same? Is our limbic system, our reptilian complex, still intact even though they seem to be so counter productive to heavenly existence? What is a spirit libido any way?
You would think that all of our paradigms change in ways unimaginable for us. So, too, sex and gender will be unimaginable to us.
Any way…. I have a small back channel to general authorities. I have heard, on trustworthy report, that one of them had a vision of Heavenly Mother. He said that she was the most powerful of all.
Is that any surprise, BobW? I guess I always just assumed that to be the case (or at least that They are both beings of infinite power–not sure how one could be “most powerful” in such a scenario). And I doubt it’s Her job to sit around looking beautiful
I think one of the best parts of heaven will be the removal of gender-based antagonism and/or self-loathing, where men and women can become the ideal of what men and women should be, and appreciate themselves and others as such.
not to say that anyone here is antagonistic or self-loathing, but our culture wants us to be. If you don’t believe me, you need to watch more TV.
I’ll put in a vote for doesn’t matter and is unknowable. Perhaps we will look back at the PotF in 80 years and think it as antiquated as previous statements on race, evolution, the evils of monogamy, etc. So I choose not to stress about it in the interim.
Gender is defined (in M-W, #2a) as “sex,” period. Just one word. It has other definitions, but “sex” is the first non-linguistic meaning. So I always thought it was pretty obvious that in a document intended for the masses, church leaders weren’t delving into esoteric concepts like social gender nearly as much as they were discretely avoiding the word “sex.”
My view is that gender is eternal, but that the eternities will likely render it irrelevant.
I think the sex we are here is part of the test. If we like it, we can keep it for eternity. If not, we can change. Gender as a concept can be eternal without our own specific gender in mortality being so.
I doubt gender is eternal, so didn’t answer the survey. A survey that asks if readers think gender is eternal would be interesting.
I don’t believe that this is a simple black and white issue. I believe that gender might be eternal, but that leaves me with questions about people born with both sets of genitals, or with genitals that don’t match their chromosomes.
While gender might be eternal, I absolutely do not believe that our current cultural understanding of gender characteristics, apparel, etc. are eternal. I also don’t believe that this statement has anything to do with which gender people are attracted to.
Basically, about the only thing that this statement seems to imply is that people shouldn’t have surgeries to change their genders.
October 3, 2014 By RJH 20 Comments
The Living Christ
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