Work with what you’ve got

by Andrea Elizabeth

I have heard transgendered people say that they are being true to themselves by surgically and hormonally changing their bodies. My first opinion about this is that we are not our sexual orientation. Transgendered people will probably say that they didn’t so much do it because of who they are attracted to, because they probably don’t have any qualms about appearing hetero or homo sexual, but it seems that sexual relationships are usually involved in their sense of identity. Indeed in even homosexual relationships, each person seems to assume a masculine or feminine identity. There doesn’t seem to be a gender neutral (SNL’s Pat appears more masculine to me). If we are not our orientation, which does seem to be tied to our sense of our own gender, then does it follow that we are not our gender either? I don’t mean to prioritize gender so much, but a story about a transgendered person did make me start thinking about identity.

When the Bible says that there is no longer male or female, Jew nor Greek, I am lead to believe that gender is not the source of identity. Growing up with a Protestant, Christ only, view of Christianity, Christ has been the sole example of humanity, so one sort of has to ignore they are female when focusing on that. There are of course many gender distinctions in the Bible such as who can teach whom and so forth, but that can be somewhat separated from one’s spiritual aspirations. It is hard to come to terms with the Orthodox perspective of increased veneration of female Saints, but I’ll say even they are Christlike.

This is all to say that from the Christian (an identity that applies both to male and female) perspective, our gender is not who we are. With that I’ll not dispose of St. Maximus’ distinctions, but the distinctions are not as obvious as we may think. Male Saints can be praised for having certain female characteristics, perhaps gentleness, and vice versa. There are many hymns that praise female Saints for “manfully bearing …” too. Therefore I think that what men and women can properly do is pretty fluid.

Then we come to traditions. There are many cultural and Christian traditions that relegate what a man and woman can properly do as men and women. In the ’60’s these traditions where criticized and the social penalties for not conforming to them where thrown out the window. More recently, I think there has been a more tolerant view of traditional “options”. They have become a matter of aesthetic choice. A person is to be true to themselves, and some people may have a more fundamentalist makeup. I’ve even wondered if this is true. At bottom, I think everyone should choose to be traditionally Christian, but maybe that’s because I score very high in judging in that personality test. Good grief. I actually don’t feel all that traditional. I don’t like feeling boxed in. I love and respect the Orthodox traditions, but I’m a bit lenient sometimes.

Some people’s identity seems very linked to their occupation. I was watching a female classical xylophone player the other day, and was amazed at her precision, quickness, and attention to musical dynamics. To focus so much energy into becoming that proficient means that you have to totally believe in music. Your whole life has to become about music. While it was most impressive, I wonder if music is worth that much belief in it and its importance. Of all the disciplines, I probably would say that music is at the top of that list. I think it’s God’s language, but it’s not His only one. Jesus is called the Word, but did he sing the world into existence? I wonder. I think atoms are probably harmonically held together.

Men and women can harmonize together. Last night we heard the male Stretensky Monastery Choir perform in Dallas. It was beautiful and wonderful and transporting, but towards the end in the folk music section the conductor turned around and lead the Russians, who were many, in the audience in singing the chorus to a particular song, which they all knew. I think it was my favorite part of the whole concert. I was hungry for the higher, lighter registers, as much as I loved the lower ones up to that point. It’s nice to hear them in their individual settings, but I like variety.

In an old blog, in my profile I wrote, “I am what I like”. While what I like is important to my sense of self, asceticism is doing without things we like. Perhaps the ascetic likes asceticism more! But we don’t empty ourselves to be empty. We want to like Christ more.