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(Cross-posted from Queering the Church)

In the beginning was a word, and the word was “queer”. But this was seen as offensive, so we changed it to “gay”.  Many women felt they were not clearly included, so the words became “gay and lesbian”. Some thought this was a tautology, so it was spelt out: “gay men and lesbians”, sometimes “lesbians and gay men”.  “What about us?” asked the bisexuals, so it became “lesbians, gay men and bisexuals”.  But some men didn’t like being called gay, they were just “men who have sex with “men” – MSM. Then we realised there were others who were excluded – but lesbian gay bisexual and transgendered was too much of a mouthful, so it became LGBT, later extended to LGBTQI – so adding “queer” (now including all other sexual minorities, or none) and “intersex”.

Yesterday, fellow gay Catholic blogger Michael Bayley and I had a short interchange in the comments thread to a post at Wild Reed.

Today,one of the first news reports I saw this morning on my personalised Google News page was a report of a lecture by Professor Mark Jordan on exactly this topic, together with a comment which pretty will sums up my feelings – but ever so much more eloquently.

(Before giving you Prof Jordan’s remarks, I should clarify may own stance when writing.  I don’t like any of the terms that are used, but my preference is “Queer”, with a very specific meaning - see "Why Queer?".  But I recognise that many people either dislike the term, or are not familiar with the modern usage.    So, in a spirit of inclusiveness, I try to use a range of the less offensive terms without discrimination – and with no attempt to be consistent).

Here follows extracts from the lecture (from Yale Daily News):

According to Harvard Divinity School professor Mark Jordan, the terms LGBT and queer are confusing and unnecessary.

“No one knows what queer means, and no one can know what queer means,” Jordan said in a lecture Tuesday. .....Critiquing homosexual labels, Jordan said Christians adopt these terms ...and use these words to create polarized arguments either attacking or embracing homosexuality.

In the lecture, Jordan argued that Christians should adopt a term that both includes homosexuals in their community and embodies Christian values based on biblical canon. But ..he said he could not describe what the term should be.


Jordan said a problem arises when Christianity “borrows” too many of the terms of sexual orientation from the scientific and political communities. Thus, he argued, because Christians do not have their own term to express sexual orientation, Christian organizations have not accepted homosexuals as readily as secular institutions.

“When we measure by other standards, we don’t measure progress for [Christians],” he said.

Jordan said in the lecture that the term LGBT is not a cohesive descriptor of sexuality, rather a laundry list of non-heterosexual “subdivisions.” To create a more precise term, Jordan said, churches should look to the Bible.

“What we need is the positive equivalent of the sodomite,” he said, referring to the residents of the Biblical city Sodom who engaged in homosexual and heterosexual acts depicted as perverse.

From the comment thread:

“What the Niebuhr lecturer from Harvard Divinity School, Mr. Mark Jordan, is tacitly acknowledging .... is that we have become the fractured faces of Picasso's paintings."

Nobody says "my heterosexual parents" or the man and woman who created me "heterosexually". Why should they say "She's queer" or "He's gay" Or "They're the people who perform lesbian acts in bed?"

Just as it is antiquated for a male to achieve manhood through the ritual of deflowering a woman, so too is it antiquated to attribute personhood to another on the basis of the twitches and impulses of one square foot of their body from navel to knee and whether or not they transform those twitches into sexual acts.

Has anyone ever considered how foolish all this sexuality nonsense is?

People are people. They make different choices. Sometimes they make declarations about those choices and discover decades later that those declarations weren't true to their ongoing interior monologues.

"In the beginning was the Word and the Word was made flesh" is being transformed by Mercantilia into "In the beginning was the flesh and the flesh was made Word (or Label)."

My, what fools these mortals be.”

More on Mark Jordan and his writing:


The Invention of Sodomy in Christian Theology
The Silence of Sodom
The Ethics of Sex
Blessing Same sex Unions

Queering the Church posts (which are based at least in part on the work of Prof Jordan):

The Homoerotic Catholic Church
Priesthood: Medieval Mythmaking
Secrets & Lies – and Uncovering the Truth
A Church for Saints and Sinners

Originally posted to gaycatholic on Thu Oct 29, 2009 at 07:12 AM PDT.

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Comment Preferences

  •  Fascinating insights (5+ / 0-)

    Thanks for that!

    I suppose the most profound truth is that sexual identity is more like a fingerprint than a label.

    If apes evolved from humans, why are there still humans?

    by Bobs Telecaster on Thu Oct 29, 2009 at 07:21:42 AM PDT

  •  Imagine Christians calling themselves (5+ / 0-)

    members of the COPMBPQE community!  (Catholic,Orthodox,Pentecostal,Methodist,Baptist,Presbyterian,Quaker,Episcopal)... then of course the Mennonites would have a cow for not being included!

    Would the jewish community refer to themselves as "Yids" or "Hebes"? Why "Queers", then?

    We can refer to Christians, Muslims, Jews, Hindus, Buddhists, etc. as "People of Faith".  So from here on out I will just refer to myself as a "person of love", and be done with it!

  •  Interesting (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    sberel, trashablanca, gaycatholic

    But this seems to rely on the fact that only Christians* classify people by their sexuality.  This is obviously not true.  Islam in particular labels gays and punishes them accordingly.

    "Gay" or "Queer" ties the ENTIRE spectrum together into a single group.  This makes a stronger feeling of minority power, because it is INCLUSIVE.  I particularly dislike GLBTQI because in it's very name it divides the gay community.  Gays have tried different terms, hell "gay" itself is a rebellion of being labeled Faggots and Sodomites.  Gay was seen has having fewer negative connotations.  Just because Christians have decided now that "gay is bad" (and teen culture started using 'gay' as a casual insult about 10 years ago)  doesn't mean that gay culture should abandon the word an look for Yet Another Non-Negative word...we had one.  It became negative.  Now, granted, GLBT is hard to use as an epitat -- "That's SOOO GLBT" doesn't work well in a locker room, but to get back to my original thesis, by its nature it divides the community.

    The problem with trying to develop new terms is that the old ones continue to be used, and confusion in and out of the community results.  For example look at the African American Community.  It has transitioned through "Negro", "Black", "Person of Color", and now to "African American", and though these words appear to be synonyms they are not.  In particular, "African American" denotes not skin color but a descendant of slaves, so while Barack Obama is "Black" or "Kenyan", he is not "African American".**  

    I think word that define groups should be inherently understandable... "gay" now means homosexual pretty clearly I think.  

    * Maybe "Christian Culture" is a better term here.

    ** I base this observation based on several rather virulent corrections from the AA community.

    Hey, you guys lost. It's supposed to taste like a s**t taco. -- Jon Stewart

    by lostboyjim on Thu Oct 29, 2009 at 07:38:57 AM PDT

    •  Gay, as an umbrella term, marginalizes... (0+ / 0-)

      [cis and trans] womyn, and transgender and transsexual folks [of all genders].

      transgender, transsexual, and intersex folks, again, because our situations make us queer in the eyes of heteropatriarchal society, and our conditions have noting to do with sexual orientation.

      Remember Duanna Johnson. Tortured by the Memphis PD for being black and trans. Killed by the Memphis PD for speaking up.

      by Marja E on Thu Oct 29, 2009 at 09:02:19 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

    •  LGBTQI (0+ / 0-)

      The problem I have with the alphabet soup approach is that as soon as you start trying to define by specifying inclusion, somebody will identify those who have not been explicitly named  - and neither LGBT nor LGBTQI exactly trips off the tongue.

      I wish we could settle for "gay", but it's no longer viable, and "queer " is just not universally understood in its modern sense.

  •  Interesting (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    sberel, trashablanca, gaycatholic

    I've been reading some books by Eugen Drewermann, a Roman Catholic Priest and psychologist who was excommunicated by Joseph Ratzinger (now Benedict XVI).  He has studied the tragic results of the Church's repression of sexuality - especially among the Catholic clergy.

    The opposite of "good" is "good intention" - Kurt Tucholsky

    by DowneastDem on Thu Oct 29, 2009 at 07:39:35 AM PDT

  •  Self identification (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    sberel, trashablanca, lostboyjim

    The use of previously abusive words is an assertion of identity within a minority community. You should carefully observe when their usage moves into wider use and any subtle changes in the grammar.

    Thus it is perfectly acceptable for one black guy to address another as "nigga" but not currently to use it outside that community or perhaps then with the "er" ending so as not to indicate the modern usage.

    "Queer" on the other hand has mostly moved over to where it is acceptable for a breeder (note this has also moved from being a term of abuse) to use it. There is however a subtle but substantial difference between "he is a queer" in the old usage to "he is queer" - adjective OK, noun not.  

    "Israel was born out of Jewish terrorism." Sir Gerald Kaufman, British MP and son of Holocaust survivor.

    by Lib Dem FoP on Thu Oct 29, 2009 at 07:57:43 AM PDT

  •  Next you can analyze how many angels (0+ / 0-)

    can dance on the head of a pin.

    I will start when I take office. America is ready to get rid of the "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy. All that is required is leadership." - Obama

    by tiponeill on Thu Oct 29, 2009 at 08:04:01 AM PDT

  •  gc: now why are you reading the Yalie Daily? *g* (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    Whoever wrote the article was seriously in over
    his/her head, and the comment were yalie sophomoric
    fratboys at their best, for the most part.

    I had some serious admiration for Mark, but he
    should have brought coloring books for this crowd! <g>

    They yalie frats have no where to go now that Mory's
    is closed! <g>

    Stonewall was a RIOT!

    by ExStr8 on Thu Oct 29, 2009 at 10:18:06 AM PDT

    •  yale frat boys (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      Agreed, the comments showed they were not up to Jordan's scholarship, but I don't think they were actually in the audience. (On the other hand, those who were there also told reporters they couldn't follow the argument.)  

      But I wasn't reading the Yalie Daily - I only read a (garbled) report on a lecture by a thinker whom I admire. The sidebar on churches and homosexuality showed some pretty sloppy research, using a wildly outdated quote to represent the ECLA:  anybody just reading the news over the last few months should have known better, without needing any research.

      I probably should try to track down a full transcript, but I thought the story was thought- provoking just as it stood - and the discussion here has shown that some Kossaks agree.  

  •  Interesting post to come across (0+ / 0-)

    As a--mmmm, let's say, homo--in a relationship with someone who is not a US citizen, I have for years been active in trying to draw attention to the inequity of this issue.  I too have struggled/not felt universally comfortable with the various options available for all of the reasons you cite, and lately have settled on using just "Queer"--capitalized, of course.  Think about it--"Let my queer people go!"  vs.  "Let my Queer people go!".  

    I remember the emergence of Queer Nation, and how at the time the word did indeed leave me ambivalent and somewhat uncomfortable.  Now the idea of choosing a word which brings folks up against their own discomfort, and makes them examine how they might feel about any number of "alternative" ways of living/being that do not mirror the traditional nuclear family, has great appeal to me, and gives me a sense of identifying with other misunderstood or oppressed communities who also are overdue to be fully included in the greater community.  Queer is the gay couple down the street.  Queer is the single mom with a community of close adults helping raise her children.  Queer is spiritual yet non-denominational.  Queer is the mixed race family in a mostly racially homogeneous community.  Queer can be a bridge to build bridges between disparate, marginalized communities.  Plus, I like it's apparent relationship to the German word "quer", as my partner is German, and as I mentioned above we are struggling to gain the right to be together in the US on the merits of our 16 year relationship, along with many other bi-national Queer couples.  "Quer" can mean "diagonal", "slant", "across", and "quer denken" means to think outside the box.  Which is what Americans must do, coming up against and reflecting upon the things which make them uncomfortable, why, and then being willing to do something Queer, and think outside the box! Equality for all!  What a concept!

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