Reading ‘Covering: The Hidden Assault on Our Civil Rights,’ by Kenji Yoshino
The Conformist, Review by ANN ALTHOUSE @ the NYTimes site, and remembering back to some forum discussions…. a certain question keeps coming up in my mind,” Are we really sexually oriented in our essence…our innermost core of being?”. Because the implications in much of our culture tell us we are.
But are we?
The discussions that first raised this question for me were those in which Christians, who were also gay by self-definition, mostly seemed to identify with the gay designation…more than the Christian. So the noun part of their identity was “gay” or homosexual, and the modifying adjective was “Christian”. This observation was made over the course of many conversations… and oftentimes it is one that can be made in other types of instances, i.e. Gay Conservative means only that there is an overlay of Conservative political views on a person who essentially identifies themselves as “Gay”.
Is this in line with a person’s reality, though? Is a person sexually oriented in their core? Is the woman, or feminine component of ‘me’ my most essential part? Or is it rather a filter by which I understand and approach my world? One admittedly intrinsic to my physical makeup, but perhaps non-essential to the core of my personality.
We know these things, our sex, our race, etc. have huge influence, but are they the core of ourselves as humans? Can we strip these things off, in the abstract sense, and say that we are essentially on equal ground as humans, in other words?
I personally believe we can view things elementally in that way, but not if we hold our perceptions of ourselves primarilly in the box created by our perceived attributes.
If we are more blackskinned than ‘human’, more Japanese than ‘human’, more gay than ‘human’, more woman than ‘human’… can you see what I am saying? Why do we find it so difficult to see the essence of our human-ness in the midst of the detailing of our attributes?
And then I also wonder whether it is a view influenced by our age or perhaps by our materialist emphasis which unduly weights sexual identification. Is this something that a youthful culture- in the height of its reproductive phase of life going to assume, more than an aging population? And if this sexual identification fades…can it really be said to encompass as much of our identity as we have presumed?
And is this at the root of why we often go through crisis, which seem all out of proportion the more we elevate the importance of youth, in the loss of beauty and/or physical strength?
How Important Is Our Sex?
Or other physical attributes for that matter? And why do we have such conflicts over such things as our racial and cultural identities, as defined by physical attributes? Because we can’t have it both ways. We know these things, our sex, our race, etc. have huge influence, but are they the core of ourselves as humans? Can we strip these things off, in the abstract sense, and say that we are essentially on equal ground as humans, in other words?
I personally believe we can do that, but not if we hold our perceptions of ourselves primarilly in the box created by our perceived attributes.
If we are more blackskinned than ‘human’, more Japanese than ‘human’, more gay than ‘human’, more woman than ‘human’… can you see what I am saying? Why do we find it so difficult to see the essence of our human-ness in the midst of the detailing of our attributes? Why do we see the trees all so well in their specificity and miss out so greatly on our perception of the forest?
I’m thinking it is all in the perspective of the view. We need something large enough to provide the overview; and if we refuse that, we have no means by which to gauge what is the greater and what is merely the factor component of the greater.
Being Christian it, of course, is easy for me to see how the concept of the Creator God solves this for us… but it is possible that there are other ways to accomplish such a view. Not that I know of any, I’m just holding open the question as being a credible possibility. But we need something greater than ourselves, nonetheless. Otherwise our subjectivity bogs us down in the details.. and this has led to problems to how we get along and how we form our government and legal systems.
Should Sexual Identity Influence Our Laws?
Ann Althouse summarizes Kenji Yoshino’s thoughts in this way:
Yoshino offers his personal search for authenticity as an encouragement for everyone to think deeply about the ways in which all of us have covered our true selves. And he presents his story and weaves in the legal cases in such an engaging way that we really do feel newly inspired.
If this is an “assault on our civil rights,” as the subtitle has it, we might expect to hear how the courts can save us, but readers who get their hopes up will be disappointed…..
….Yoshino recognizes that the problems he has described lie mostly in the realm of personal relationships and, more important, the individual’s own inhibitions. What could the legal solution to covering be?….
Yoshino is bold enough not to engage in the covering demands made of the law professor. Though he speaks vaguely of shifting the legal discourse from equality to liberty, he holds out little hope for new remedies. ….The real work of civil rights takes place outside of the law, he tells us, in individual conversations about the reasons for demanding assimilation to some imagined standard of behavior, and the burdens felt by those who are asked to cover their authentic selves.
When I look at this, the problem seems to me that we have come to a place where we -instead of legislating the freedom to be oneself as an individual- have become confused with the mandate to full expression of that self. This is going to always result in problems. Many that are easy to illustrate.
While applicable to the “gay” self, why not look at the “feminine” self? A full expression of the feminine for some, ( and this will always be a subjective interpretation of what form the expression takes), might be to fully exploit the sexual expression of the feminine. We usually term that dressing and acting “sexy”. But is there a mandate for every business environment to encourage or even tolerate that? Is it necessary for every one else to approve and welcome that? I don’t think so, personally. Most people wouldn’t think so… but sometimes the thing verbalized as “authentic self” is what I would really question. Is every personal choice, and the expression of that choice… “authentic self” ?
“The real work of civil rights takes place outside of the law”
It depends. It depends on what we mean by civil rights. I think the precise term has become something of a catchall. I would agree with the statement if what we really mean is that we want to work against unfair discrimination in the society. That is done within our personal venues and flourishes best there. That is where cornrowed hairstyles become accepted as simply a style that looks good and is publically acceptable for a work environment. But real issues of civil rights? Those are legislated. Real issues are predicated within the Constitution and are the fences that protect our rights as individuals while protecting our cohesion as a nation. And I think we need an understanding of what makes our essence as humanity to discern the important civil issues properly.
Our races and our sexual identity will factor in, but who we are as humans will always be the over-riding factor… and I think that is what we have been losing sight of.
Roles Or Rules?
When we say we “are”‘ something… is it simply a role we take on or is it the rule of what our nature dictates? This is another form of nature vs. nurture discussion, and it will have lots of “both” and ” it depends” type of answers. Yet, doesn’t this also then mean that our ideas of destiny and determined purpose are only as influenced by our sexual identity as we let it be? If we function in a specific role that might well mean we alter our methods within that parameter, but not necessarily arrive at pre-determined outcomes. Outcomes can be derived from more than one methodology.
In race, that would tend to give more creedance to those who are criticizing “victimology” mindsets. The conviction that one is a victim is more detrimental than any set of sociological perceptions of skin color, then, in other words. And roles can transform in the combinations of character and circumstance. We create roles, and they define us only as we accomodate to them.
As a woman, my humanity is expressed through many of the roles which derive from that, but am I confined to that? Only if those are the choices I make with my time, resources, and direction in life. We are naturally fitted for success depending on what we have to work with, but apart from that is the fact that our humanity has potential for expressing a whole spectrum.
If we think about it this is manifested in many things in life- we are always compensating for something that isn’t “perfect”.
So I look at how limiting the views people have of themselves when they choose to define themselves by their “sex” as a form of self-limitation.
Christian Identity Vs Sexual Identity
If we are self limiting, by definition, that is contrary to our Christian potential. We are determining our destiny, measuring ourselves by ourselves…do we have more, are we less than someone else? … in a way we are operating by that victim mentality that is so often appropriated by various groups as a method of manipulating in favor of their own agenda. In this conversation this strikes me as a human thing we do. Human in the faulty sense of it. We see ourselves as victims and complain against God…”Why have You made me thus?” Instead of seeing our potential as He has defined it…. quite apart from our physical attributes of Jew, Greek, Male, Female…or whatever.
So as Christians, should we rail that we as women are not priests? are we not all priests in the spiritual sense ? …giving worship and service unto God? And if so, why do we complain that it isn’t in the thus and the so that we would like it to be? Why is it not enough to serve God? In the whatever role?
If as Christians, we are of this race or that…. what is the defining line? There is none. Those who worship are to worship in Spirit and Truth. There is no flesh and no color in that definition. One Spirit and One Truth. Color has no meaning in this plane. It is a vehicle of expression only, as it comes through our mouths, our lives into the physical world, but in its living expression it combines into a whole.
And our sexual lives? Again… who are we? Are we only our appendages, or our hormonal fluctuations? Where is the new mind in all this? I think we are making choices…not between this man or woman, but between what we lust for, and God. Because we primarily define ourselves by the lesser part of ourselves, rather than the greater overview of what it means to be a human.
Lesser because we are always fighting against it. Isn’t that what feminism is all about, in its most elemental sense? Feminism is the defiance of being defined by sexual identity alone. It is, at its best, a cry for the recognition of human essence. As are all real movements that struggle towards freedom. Even if they go awry, that ought to be acknowledged.
So what is the Christian answer to so many of the competing groups in our society? The feminists, the gay rights, the liberals, the neo-cons…. any one you care to name? Our answer is one of a true definition of freedom. A new definition of power and a true view of what it means to be… truly human.
Truly, the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.