A Longing for Gender*

Recently, I was having a conversation with a friend about the pace and intensity of life in DC, especially for parents who are trying to balance high-powered careers and raise children. That discussion isn't new, but my friend and I both realized we've recently met women who seem to wish they could be men. The general sense is that men are somehow freer from the deeper levels of the heart-wrenching choices about career, family and life in an urban context. And the common response to that reality is to push for life to be split more evenly on both the home front and the career front. And yet this can lead to a strange place where the goal almost seems to be gender interchangeability...a place where parents bring the same things to the table, and gender is almost a moot point. 

Ironically, though, the morning before my friend shared this story, I’d journaled

With the exception of George [my housemate’s husband] who could not be interchanged with a woman in [my housemate’s] bed, there is virtually nothing in my daily life that gives visual, differentiating meaning to the sexes, nothing where male and female are not interchangeable.  Sometimes I long for such concepts to be embodied in structures or external symbols of some kind.  Like I long to see gender in some way, to find symbols that can carry some message of differentiation, lifting the burden from my body alone.  Even public bathrooms would do.

            Do such words resonate with you at all?  Does anyone else feel some kind of ineffable longing to see the beauty of gender? 

            I know that there has been much devaluing of women by men (I’ve experienced it), and I get that giving a big heave-ho to male dominance by jettisoning differentiation is our cultural solution.  And admittedly, part of my longing for some external, broader social signifier—i.e. a longing to somehow be part of a larger, more corporate, male/female dance—might come because I’m not dancing with any one male in my own life.  Could be.  I have to own that.

            Still, I think the longing to see some good and life-giving gender distinction fleshed out around me—some world beyond myself where male and female are not totally interchangeable—is a good longing.  I remember when my brother and his wife got married in the Maronite church (essentially Lebanese Catholic).  The Maronites have a ceremony crowning the groom and bride as king and queen, reflecting the “mystical wedding that eternally unifies Jesus and the Church,” even as the couple will be king and queen of their own family, “the domestic church.”  For a flash in that wedding, I glimpsed something more than an exchange of human love—I saw the beauty of a seemingly divine diversity in unity, even as I saw something of a glimmer of the eternal beauty of Christ and his church. 

            I’m still your basic 21st. century, urban Protestant Evangelical woman, living in a world where gender is melting down.  None of that is changing anytime soon.  I don’t have a simple solution; I can’t envision “bring the sexes back” buttons or a  “Maronite Marriages for All” campaign.  But today, I shall begin with simply owning out loud that which I know I have glimpsed as good.  And once again, I’m praying my longings. 

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*A friend rightly pointed out that in fact "gender" is a "disembodied notion of recent invention" and that I should have used the word "sex" or "sexedness."  He's right, but as you can imagine, I felt a little hesitant to retitle my blog, "Longing for Sex."