Reader Annie writes:
There’s been a lot of comments here I’ve wanted to respond to but have lacked time. The woman who reached her “peak trans” moment, the young Unitarian man who loves Creation (and his church), but often finds himself startled by the boxed-in centrist liberal thinking of his congregation. I’m not sure where to leave this comment, but here seems best.
I’ve been both of these people. A young Unitarian in love with nature, a young feminist highly engaged with the language of the sexual revolution and gender identity. Now I am a Catholic who rejects gender identity theory utterly, and holds to the sacramental understanding of Creation through the Church.
I too had a “2 + 2 = 4” moment and could not go back. It was about ten years ago, when I was a lurker on a website called Shakesville. I watched the implosion of that radical feminist (but very comfortably neoliberal when it came to foreign policy) website. It became notorious for devolving into a near cult, culminating in a famous post which caused thousands of readers to quit reading. The site continues to exist but with a fraction of its former participation.
Watching it turn in upon itself was illuminating; I reached my moment before the general collapse while reading the discussions of transgenderism. I was shocked by the persecution of anyone who asked questions, but became truly worried when I saw the same rhetorical tactics used at Shakesville spiral out into other forums and then pop culture. It was like watching a mob: no remorse, no mercy, shouting down rather than discussion.
Many, probably most, of the people using these tactics were deeply wounded. But while their tactics worked well in the short-term, they could not help but drive others more suspicious of emotional hostage-taking away. They undermined their own mission through their rejection of the person they were speaking to. As someone wrote back then, when Shakesville switched from being social justice advocates to social justice warriors, something was lost. It became all about being in opposition, not about building coalitions or mutual understanding.
Those experiences hit me harder than most because I was not fleeing from “the patriarchy,” but had been brought up in a Wiccan/UU household, taught to worship the goddess. Very early on I became deeply uncomfortable with the implications of our beliefs. Everything seemed to revolve around power. My identity was submerged into an archetype of womanhood; I was not “me” but a manifestation of the goddess on the journey from “maiden” to “matron” to “crone.”
And I felt all this stirring in the gender identity talk: we weren’t souls. I didn’t have choices. I was a vehicles for instincts, desires, and power. It had been drilled into me that “the Catholic Church hates women,” and as a child I looked upon statues of Mary with fear. Men hated women, we were taught, and not only did they hate us but they feared us because we were smarter and better and capable of giving birth. And then in one stroke I wasn’t even a woman anymore. “Woman” didn’t exist, it was just a ghost in the machine. And if I had questions about this I was the evil bigot conservative I’d been raised to hate.
I can’t say how many Unitarian sermons I’ve sat through that proclaimed universal love in one breath and in the next went on to say “except for those evil vicious conservatives who can burn in the hell we don’t believe in hahaha!” The switch between the positions was that immediate. My head would spin.
After such a long fear of Mary I began to look at her anew. It was a slow journey, but here was a woman whose free will manifested itself in perfect love and obedience. I had been uncomfortable with how my individuality took a backseat to fulfilling a female archetype of power. All females blurred together into a grinding Medusa of virginity, sex, motherhood, and crone, all manifesting the “fundamentally feminine” nature of reality. But with Mary the blurriness stopped. Clarity appeared. As others have said, how gloriously different are all the Saints. By belonging to God, Mary freed me from the prison of desires I was told were all I could ever be, and released me to put myself down and give my mind and soul and heart to God.
To the young Unitarian man: I didn’t leave behind my love of Creation when I became a Catholic. Who has loved or understood nature more than J.R.R. Tolkien? In his vision there was more than paganism: there was redemption beyond the bounds of the world. There’s much to love in paganism. I hold to the beauty of creation, but I believe we are to move past Owen Barfield’s original participation into final participation. By loving and worshipping Christ we will most truly love nature. We will love her, as Chesterton said, as a sister. But not as a god. For all gods who are not the true God become hungry.
Tell me, readers: have you ever had 2+2=4 moment? What led up to it? What was the result?