Procreation, and Natural Non-procreation.

Clifford Longley’s Tablet column on Archbishop Nichols’ thoughts on the need to “explore” afresh issues of sexuality and homosexuality is to be heartily welcomed. However, as we consider the lessons (if any) from the “broad book of nature”, it is really important that we consider the broad book as found in empirical evidence, not the narrow book of theological imaginations. In his own reflection, Longley repeats the claim that “alone of mammals, humans engage in sexual intercourse irrespective of whether the female is fertile or not?”. This claim, that other mammals only engage in sexual intercourse when the female is fertile, is often made. It is however, entirely without foundation. This assertion is beloved of moralists, but it is as false as the other often made claim that homosexual activity is unique to humans.

Bruce Bagemihl, in Biological Exuberance, provides details of many hundreds of animal species, from all branches of the animal kingdom, which are recorded in the scientific literature as demonstrating some form of homosexual activity. For many of these, he also describes examples of non-procreative heterosexual intercourse.

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Marriage, Procreation, and “The Broad Book of Nature”.

At the British Catholic publication “The Tablet”, there is an important column by Clifford Longley, reflecting on Archbishop Vincent Nichols’ recent BBC radio interview, and in particular on some of his remarks about homosexuality. The full article is behind a paywall, so I am unable to supply a link. I would urge you though, if you can to try to arrange sight of the original. Bill Lindsey at Bilgrimage has already written at length about some of the implications of this. I want to pick up on some other aspects.

This is the only part of Longley’s column that quotes the Archbishop directly:

“When it comes to understanding what human sexuality is for, there is a lot that we have to explore.. Because I think what is at one level in the broad perspective clear, is that there is an intrinsic link between procreation and human sexuality. Now how do we start from that principle, not lose it, and have an open, ongoing conversation with those who say, well, that’s not my experience? How do we bring together some principles that if you like are written into the broad book of nature, and individual experiences? That’s the area that we have to be sensitive and open to, and genuinely wanting to explore.”


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Saint Apollinaria, Cross-Dressing Monk and Saint

According to the LGBT Catholic Handbook, this week sees the feast day of St.  Apollinaria /Dorotheos of Egypt (5th, 6th January). She is said to have been one of a group of transvestite saints – women who took on men’s clothing  in order to live as monks.

For the specific story of Apollinaria, we turn to the Orthodox church, who take these female monks rather more serioulsy than the western church.  From the Orthodox website, “God is Wonderful in His Saints”

She was a maiden of high rank, the daughter of a magistrate named Anthimus in the city of Rome. Filled with love for Christ, she prevailed on her parents to allow her to travel on pilgrimage to the Holy Land. In Jerusalem she dismissed most of her attendants, gave her jewels, fine clothes and money to the poor, and went on to Egypt accompanied only by two trusted servants. Near Alexandria she slipped away from them and fled to a forest, where she lived in ascesis for many years. She then made her way to Sketis, the famous desert monastic colony, and presented herself as a eunuch named Dorotheos. In this guise she was accepted as a monk.

Anthimus, having lost his elder daughter, was visited with another grief: his younger daughter was afflicted by a demon. He sent this daughter to Sketis, asking the holy fathers there to aid her by their prayers. They put her under the care of “Dorotheos”, who after days of constant prayer effected the complete cure of her (unknowing) sister. When the girl got back home it was discovered that she was pregnant, and Anthimus angrily ordered that the monk who had cared for her be sent to him. He was astonished to find that “Dorotheos” was his own daughter Apollinaria, whom he had abandoned hope of seeing again. After some days the holy woman returned to Sketis, still keeping her identity secret from her fellow-monks. Only at her death was her true story discovered.

The Handbook lists some scholarly references in support, while a look at some orthodox websites corroborates the story and confirms her feast on 5th January.  The Advent Catholic Encyclopedia. however,  dismisses the tale as ‘hagiographic fiction.’

Apollinaria’s story and motives are remote from our time, and ‘transvestite’ is not to be confused with ‘transgendered’. (UPDATE: After I first described this group of women as “transvestite”, I was taken to task by a reader, who pointed out that these days, “cross-dressing” is more appropriate terminology). Still, whatever the full historic truth of Apollinaria/ Dorotheos specifically, it seems to me this is a useful story to hold on to as a reminder of the important place of the transgendered, and differently gendered,  in our midst.

Many of us will remember how difficult and challenging was the process of recognising, and then confronting, our identities as lesbian or gay, particularly in the context of a hostile church. However difficult and challenging we may have found the process of honestly confronting  our sexual identities,  consider how much more challenging must  be the process of confronting and negotiating honestly a full gender identity crisis.

Let us acknowledge the courage of those who have done it, and pray for those who are preparing to do so.

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A Scarlet Ibis Couple’s Spacious, Designer Nest.

As a psychology student at Tulane University, I took a couple of independent study courses observing animal behaviour at Audubon Zoo, near campus.  One semester, I studied the mating behaviour of the scarlet ibis, a wading bird common in marshes and estuaries.  Like other species of birds, the ibis is seasonally monogamous.  For weeks, I watched seven pairs go through the process of nest-building, courting and mating.  Right on schedule, all but one pair stopped sexual and nest-building behaviour within days of each other and settled in for the incubation period.  My interest was piqued by the behaviour of one particular pair that kept building their nest, as well as mating.


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Come Out, For Christmas?

I’m not the only one arguing for the repeal of the Catholic Church’s own version of DADT.  At the Washington Post, Anthony Stevens-Arroyo makes the same point, adding an argument that I ignored. In days gone by, he says, a Catholic family gathering for Christmas might have quarrelled over a young family member’s improper relationship:

But if families back then anguished over whether or not a ne’er do well nephew was invited to dinner because his relationship to his “girl-friend” was considered scandalous, the debate would have ended if the name of his partner was “Charles” and not “Charlene.”

I’m fascinated by the qualifier of “days gone by” for family disapproval of (presumably) unmarried heterosexual relationships. Is this a tacit admission by Arroyo that modern Catholic families accept the unmarried sexual relationships of their near and dear – as long as they are of the opposite-sex variety?  For divorced relatives embarking in new relationships or second marriages, he makes it explicit:

Many Catholics accept divorced and remarried relatives at a Catholic Christmas celebration, because “…at least they are happy again.”

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“Gay advocates win victory at U.N.” – Salon

“Gay people are a minority group in need of special protection from unjustified killings,” revised resolution says

BY ASSOCIATED PRESS:

U.N. member states have restored a reference to sexual orientation that was dropped amid much controversy last month from a resolution opposing the unjustified killing of minority groups.

The removal of the reference, done at the committee level last month, alarmed human rights advocates who said gay people are among minority groups that need special protection from extrajudicial and other unjustified killings.

The assembly on Tuesday voted 93 in favor of the United States’ proposal to restore the previous language, with 55 countries against and 27 abstaining. The assembly then approved the amended resolution 122 in favor, with 0 votes against, and 59 abstentions.

*******

Thanks, US, for making the proposal.

US Military Catches Up With Rest of World, Enters 21st Century.

Perhaps the most telling aspect of this is the final margin – 65 to 31 – and the eight Republican senators who voted for repeal.

The evidence has been growing for months, and this is the most conspicuous result so far: some Republican politicians are realising that homophobia is no longer a sure vote-winner, and may be willing to come down on the side of justice/or common sense.

Bill Browning at Bilerico:

Legislation was passed in Congress not in spite of including pro-gay portions; it was passed specifically in support of our civil rights. This item will be the tipping point that vastly accelerates our community.

This has huge implications for the prospects for advances on gay marriage/civil unions next year, notably in New York and Colorado.

Obama to sign law ending military gay ban

The Associated Press – ?8 minutes ago?

WASHINGTON (AP) — In a historic vote for gay rights, the Senate agreed on Saturday to do away with the military’s 17-year ban on openly gay troops and sent 

Six Republicans push ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ over the top

Politico (blog) – Shira Toeplitz – ?24 minutes ago?

Scott Brown and Lisa Murkowski are among the Republicans who voted to end debate. | AP Photos Close By SHIRA TOEPLITZ | 12/18/10 2:24 PM EST Updated: 

Senate votes to repeal ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’

Washington Post – Ed O’Keefe – ?35 minutes ago?

After the House voted to repeal the policy in mid-December 2010, the Senate took on the issue in an unusual Saturday session. By Ed O’Keefe The Senate voted 

U.S. Senate acts to end military ban on gays

Reuters – ?36 minutes ago?

WASHINGTON Dec 18 (Reuters) – A majority of the US Senate on Saturday voted to repeal the ban against gays serving openly in the US military. 

Senate Votes To End Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell

Huffington Post – ?47 minutes ago?

WASHINGTON — The Senate voted 65-31 on Saturday to end Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, defeating a 17-year policy of banning gay and lesbian service members from 

Senate repeals ban on gays openly serving in military

CNN International – Ted Barrett – ?48 minutes ago?

By the CNN Wire Staff Washington (CNN) — The military’s prohibition of openly gay people serving within its ranks is one step closer to ending, 

Senate votes to repeal ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’

Los Angeles Times – Lisa MascaroMichael Muskal – ?52 minutes ago?

The 65-31 vote means gays and lesbians will be able to serve openly in the military without punishment after President Obama signs the bill. Sen. Related articles