Apparently, some who have read my last article have interpreted it as me saying that it’s okay for men to be effeminate. This interpretation is kind of proving my point about the secular categories and framework of thinking within the church. And it illustrates that we do not view humans as having soul/body composite identities. This is concerning.
So no, that isn’t what my article was saying, nor is it a logical conclusion after reading my article.
Maybe some readers are upset because they actually do understand the article’s conclusion that “effeminate men” isn’t even a proper category, and they emphatically disagree. I understand there is a lot of tension and fear in the church right now over sexuality issues. And I land on the same side morally as some of my concerned readers, even as I am trying to point out philosophical differences that I believe are more in line with a biblical and theological anthropology and eschatology. Rather than react in fear of the serious challenges to the church’s stance on sexuality and turn to the fairly new language of our culture, there are some basic, classic principles that can help guide us. “Effeminate” is employed in two ways in our culture and I do not like either. (And no, the King James Version of 1 Cor. 6:9 is not a proof text here, as it is about actual homosexual act of sodomy).
The first way—the one that concerns me the most—is an insult to men who do not fit into what our culture holds as ideal masculinity. Little boys are teased for being too sensitive. Their daddies grow over-concerned because they don’t like the so-called manly stuff like sports and hunting. Some of these boys grow up thinking maybe they aren’t masculine enough. They struggle with gender security. Some, as a result, struggle with gender identity. I will not give credence to this category of effeminate men because it is an offence to manhood.
The second way—the one that I believe is concerning my readers asking this question—is used in the gay community (and this is the big fear of those daddies above). This usage turns from an insult to an identity as some same-sex attracted men take on feminine stereotypes of our culture in their mannerisms, interests, and sometimes the way they dress. Reader, please understand, I am not saying this is no big deal. I am saying that this is an artificial identity. And we need to be communicating this well. No matter how much a man wants to pretend, he cannot truly be feminine. And this behavior grossly misunderstands the essence of the female and the concept of woman. I will not give credence to a category of effeminate men because it is an offense to womanhood.
As Pope John Paul II put it, “Women and men are the illustration of a biological, individual, personal, and spiritual complementarity. Femininity is the unique and specific characteristic of woman, as masculinity is of man” (Navarro-Valls, “To Promote Woman’s Equal Dignity,” 1.1). So, as I said in my last article, I don’t have to act a specific way to be a woman, as a woman my actions are feminine. It’s that kind of language that leads to the concept of the effeminate man. My framework builds an argument against the reality of such a concept. When we use cultural stereotypes as essential elements of femininity and masculinity, we are reducing our brothers and sisters and missing out on God’s creative design of human beings as unique, unrepeatable people. Sister Prudence Allen suggests that men and women are not opposites sexes, but neighboring sexes. This doesn’t diminish the distinctions between men and women, but rather sees the holistic beauty of God’s design and opens the doors for men and women to serve one another by giving of themselves as complete whole people in synergetic and dynamic fellowship.
Switching Gears To Talk About Gender
With that, I want to drop it down a gear and talk about how we use the word gender. I highly recommend Sister Prudence Allen’s three volumes on The Concept of Woman. One can really benefit even from reading the Introduction in Volume III. I’d like to share something from the beginning of her Introduction where she discusses the meaning of gender. Unlike the animals, we are, for the most part, differentiated by our contributions to generation. I say “for the most part” because due to the fall there are a small percentage of intersex people born. Although Aristotle taught some grave errors regarding the male and female distinction in generation, Allen points out that he was right in arguing that “’male’ signified one who generated in another, and ‘female,’ one who generated in itself.” She sorts through the confusion that we have in the usage of the word gender as it has drastically changed in meaning in the 20th century.
Very early in Western history the concept of gender identity was found hidden in its root, gen. The meaning of the root gen in its verb form is to produce or beget; in its noun form it refers to offspring or kin. This meaning is explicitly integrated into early Jewish history. A clear example, dated variously between 1400 BC and 900 BC, is found in Gen. 5:1, which begins: “This is the book of the generations of Adam”; it continues through verse 32, marking off different periods of history in recording the generations from Adam, Seth, Enosh, Kenan, through to Noah and his sons. The root gen from the beginning of Judaism establishes the significance of history of a people living in continuity generation after generation. It incorporates the act of sexual intercourse, of a male and a female, of a man and a woman who become father and mother through their synergetic union. Thus, we can say, the concept of sex is inherently included within the concept of the root of generation, or gen. (6)
She cites further examples from Aristotle, and then the beginning of Matthew, where “in 1:1-16 that Latin word genuit, with the root gen (meaning ‘to beget, to generate, to father’), is repeated thirty-nine times.”
The Oxford Dictionary of English Etymology records the continuation of the roots of these theological and philosophical concepts in the development of the English language. It includes the following rich, expanding language-family related to the root gen: “gender,” “genealogy,” “generate,” “generous” (nobly born), “genesis,” “genetic,” “gene,” “genial” (nuptial, productive, joyous), “genital” (external generative organs), “genitive” (grammatical possessor or source), “genius” (innate capacity, person possessing prevalent disposition of spirit), “genocide,” “gens,” “gentleman,” “gentlewoman,” genuine,” and “-geny” (mode of production). From this evidence alone, it would appear that the radical separation of the concept of the word “sex” from the concept of the word “gender” suggested by some twentieth century authors is artificial indeed. (7)
There’s much I am skipping over, but what I am getting at here is that this framework is incapable of switching to a gear where effeminate men are sanctioned. Rather, it is only in a fractional (so-called) complementarity, where men and women “are described as contributing fractional portions to a relation that together add up to one single person” and where the language of separation between matter and form, body and soul/psyche, thrives that we see the artificial identity of the effeminate man. When we realize and uphold the integral complementarity between men and women, where we are “each considered as a whole person and together…synergetically create something or someone more,” our corresponding dignity will not be destroyed by sinful domination nor our significant distinctions disoriented by lust (Allen, 8 & 471). As Allen concludes, “This ontological complementarity of women and men has not only a philosophical foundation but also a theological foundation that begins on earth and continues through life and death to the resurrection of the body into eternity” (483).
*Originally published on June 23, 2019.