In the mid-nineteenth century, European legislators invented a taxonomy of gender to identify various sexual disorders (Blank 2012: 15–21). In this way, legal scholars created the idea of orientation, and new words like heterosexual and homosexual came into use.
As Michael Hannon explains, “Heterosexuals, like typewriters and urinals (also, obviously, for gentlemen), were an invention of the 1860s.” And according to Hanne Blank, “It has, in point of actual fact, only been possible to be a heterosexual since 1869” (2012: xiv). It would take about 60 years until these theories made their way into North America.
The straight truth is: heterosexuality is an invention of European legal philosophy. It is neither good nor bad for this reason. And yet we seriously need to question the validity of such gendered-identities. Especially now, since gendered categories have made their way into popular social paradigms.
Despite the novelty of gender, many of us still laud heterosexuality as good in contrast to other gendered orientations. For example, many maintain that homosexually orientated persons ought to change to heterosexuality.
Such approval of gender essentialism should concern Christians. Our gender—a term which I suggest does not describe any ontological reality but rather a phenomenological experience—does not describe us. Humans are not essentially gendered creatures—which might be obvious due to the multiplication of gender identities.
Biological and sexual capacity essentially describe humans as male and female. In contrast, Gender imposes a social construct that creates identities on the basis of experience and sexual preference.
Citing Michel Faucoult, Blank explains, “As French philosopher Michel Foucault famously put it in his History of Sexuality, a particular sexual type became ‘a personage, a past, a case history, and a childhood, in addition to being a type of life, a life form, and a morphology. . . . It was consubstantial with him, less as a habitual sin than as a singular nature.’ This is the view upon which the existence of ‘heterosexual’ depends” (2012: 3).
For Christians, gender does not and must not consubstantially define a person. Gender identities like gay, straight, queer, bi-sexual and so on do not define a person’s essence. They may describe someone’s experience and sexual preference. But not who they really are.
Christianity has a bolder and a more ontologically real way to conceive of identity. In Christian theology, our primary identity is Christ. We are in him, and we call ourselves Christians. We are dead, the apostle maintains, and our lives are hidden with God in Christ.
This Christo-theological identity fulfills the realities that our physical birth, marriage, and family signify. We are born physically to understand our spiritual birth. We marry to point to the mystery of Christ’s marriage to the church. We have families because God is a Father.
Beyond this theological category, we can identify ourselves according to biological and therefore sexual capacity (Gen 3:20). To be male essentially relates to the capacity of fatherhood. To be a female essentially relates to the capacity of motherhood. Not everyone may enjoy the gifts of biological children. Yet spiritual parentage accomplishes and fulfills the purpose of biological families (e.g., Titus 2:3–5).
Further, ethnicity belongs to our identity since we belong to a tribe, tongue, or nation (Rev 7:9). God created humans to exemplify the diversity that is due his beauty. For example, our skin colours represent the multi-orbed glory of God’s splendour. It is, therefore, a travesty to claim that “we don’t see colour, just the person.” God created that person to have a particular arrangement of colour. And such diversity requires celebration, not ideological blindness.
Should We All Be Heterosexual?
So should we all be heterosexual? Not precisely. Christians should put to death corrupting and compromising theories about gender. And we should embrace God’s primary theological identity in which we find our rest in Christ alone who gives meaning to biological sex and ethnicity.
On this point, I heartily concur with Hannon: “More than that, I want to suggest that we should do our best to encourage the dissolution of orientation within our own subcultural spheres wherever possible.”
For in Christ, married, single, Canadian, Russian, and everyone in between finds true significance and meaning. In this sense, so-called heterosexuality does overlap in certain ways with Christian convictions. But it carries with it a weight of gender essentialism that we may not be able to bear unless we strengthen ourselves with virtue.
Gendered identities, whether gay, straight, heterosexual, or anything in between insufficiently describe our selves. They tell us that our identity is our sexual behaviour. But that falls into the mire of naturalism—that we are mere animals defined by our sex acts. We are not our behaviour. We are what Christ is by the Spirit. That is the grace of the Gospel.
In reality, what we call gender is really a description of certain actions. A heterosexual man is not good because of his sexual preference. He may fornicate. He is only good by the grace of union with Christ. Gender theory contributes nothing to virtue.
And such gender terms do little affirm biblical sexuality. As Hannon claims, hetero-normativity does nothing to specify and repudiate vice without merely giving the “yuck” factor to sexual acts that go beyond the norm.
We need to return to the old paths. We must see Christ as the archetype of humanity since he is the Image of God and the end of humanity since he is the eschatological man. In him, we find meaning. And we express this solidarity with Jesus’s humanity through our sexual capacity and ethnic identity.
Let us press on to biblical and Godward fidelity to the truth and put to rest the idea of gender essentialism. Let us put off the world and put on Christ as we seek to love, care for, and reconcile all men and women to Christ Jesus our Lord.