The analysis of the act of eating may be considered similar to a grammatical analysis. A meal is as complex as a sentence or a paragraph: it is constituted by smaller individual elements, words, that are the essential ingredients which have on their own a peculiar provenance and that carry one or more tastes. These basic elements can be taken singularly, of course, but they are enhanced, and give much more sense, when they are mixed in a potentially unlimited number of ways--and each time they acquire a whole new meaning. In fact, setting up a meal is never just an answer to a physical necessity, but it serves very specific and different purposes of communication. Food conveys meanings, in much the same way as a text, and in the same manner it might thus be read and understood, once the language it speaks is known. Furthermore, the metaphor of a grammar analysis is also useful to recall the sense of rules, of a grid in which each element must find its place: in order for the whole system to work properly, each constituent must follow some accepted and renowned paradigms. Thus, the relationships among words, sentences or paragraphs are rigorous and dynamic at the same time.

- Stefania Ermidoro, Commensality and Ceremonial Meals in the Neo-Assyrian Period (pp. 13-14)

I love this comparison of meals to grammar, not just because I adore words and food, but because I think of everything as communication. Each element of the universe, humans included, is constantly moving as part of a web of relationships, perpetually turning into a new meaning.

My deepening understanding of language is (I think) what led me away from a belief in fixed gender roles and from my narrow view of what could constitute healthy sexual identity and praxis.

If I had time and energy, I could guide you through my long journey as a biblical exegete through the deep and murky waters of hermeneutics, historical criticism, linguistic analysis, and the many ways that interpreters have approached the Bible to understand its significance for contemporary life. But when it comes down to it, my changing view of language, of reality, is what changed my approach to gender and sexuality (and continues to change it). 

The categories I grew up with (very similar to the rigid binaries expressed by the CBMW in the Nashville Statement--let the record show that I was a big CBMW fan as a teen!) just didn't cohere with the complexity and plurality of experiences and perspectives I saw both in the text of Bible and the book of the world. When I say the CBMW isn't "biblical enough," what I mean by extension is that it isn't linguistic enough: it doesn't fit with the elasticity of language or even the Bible as a plurality of dynamic linguistic creations.

People as ingredients

People are sentences made up of the words of their experience, and together we make paragraphs and essays and books that are potentially endless. We are the ingredients of a meal that can be combined in many different ways to create endlessly delightful dishes that can be assembled in a variety of different ways to comprise a banquet.

It's typical for traditionalists of the CBMW variety to express a fear that society and culture (and likewise the church) will lose its structure or verge on moral collapse if people depart from what they see as God's design for human sexuality as expressed in the Bible. I see hermeneutical issues with this argument, but beyond these debates is a related problem: it does not cohere with the simple witness of language itself. 

As Ermidoro expresses above, language is both rigorous and dynamic. Its evolution and dynamism doesn't mean it lacks structure or order, but that the structures are provisional and flexible. In this sense, there is no end to what we can create through the combination of different ingredients (or, if there is an end, it's not within our purview).

To accept a spectrum of experience (whether in regard to sexuality, gender, or anything else) isn't a departure from order, but an acknowledgement that at various times and places, societies have put limits on the types of words/ingredients/people that could comprise their ordered social "meal" (for a variety of reasons), and that these limits are provisional boundaries, not ideals for all human societies of all times and places to emulate. In fact, in many cases the limitations are not only arbitrary, but oppressive, unjust, and rooted in hatred or fear of difference (an easy example is the ban on interracial marriage in the U.S. that persisted until 1967, and the false racialized narratives that still persist in American consciousness).

All cultures and societies create limits for a variety of different reasons. Limits are not inherently bad (in fact, they are necessary and implicit in any structure). And sometimes people purposefully impose limits on themselves or their communities in order to open up other opportunities. For example, some people may choose never to marry and/or be celibate because they want to devote themselves to other things (be it the church or a career or another cause). Or, if you have an extreme peanut allergy, you would probably want to avoid peanuts (but that doesn't mean peanuts are deadly to everyone).

These are limits that are helpful for some, and not for others. The problem comes when provisional structures become ossified and divorced from other components of the structure (which is in constant flux).

I would venture to say that the most consistent argument advanced by Christians in support of complementarianism as God's ideal (and against any sexual experience outside of marriage between one cisgender man and one cisgender woman) is that God has given us a recipe book for the human sexuality. This recipe is thought to be derived from the Bible and/or Church tradition, and is advanced as the perfect guide to get the chemistry just right to create the perfect culinary masterpiece!

But the proof is in the pudding. 

the pudding

And as we've learned through the witness of those who can't be squeezed into the cisgender heterosexual category, there is a lot more diversity of "ingredients" than the dominant culture wants to acknowledge and accept. To argue that 1 cisgender man + 1 cisgender woman is the only proper way to make a marriage, you have to argue either that 1) other ways of combining ingredients is bad or 2) that the ingredients are actually bad.  

If we're going to talk about "bad ingredients," we'd have to debate what constitutes "bad." Remember that so much culinary delight and nourishment has come from rotten stuff. Is it moldy milk or is it cheese? Sour cream anyone? I don't enjoy soured milk on my cereal, but it's great for baking a chocolate cake or making pancakes! Beer? Wine? And isn't honey made of bee spit (or something like that)? 

I'm not even sure we need to apply the analogy to humans since it's plain as day to anyone who actually has a friendship with any LGBTQIA person that there's nothing inherently bad about them anymore than there is anything inherently bad about a heterosexual cisgender woman like me. We all commit relational transgressions, and are in need of growth and maturity and working through our issues, but that's different from saying someone's a bad apple. That's the kind of thinking that gives rise to eugenics and gay conversion therapy.

So to argue for "traditional marriage" as the only morally acceptable option, you'd have to go back to the combination argument: that what we've got through Church tradition is the right ratios for human sexuality.

Now of course in baking and cooking, the chemistry is important, but as I've noted above, it's a relational (and often experimental) process. We make provisional judgments (for better and for worse) all the time about what makes a good combo ("Julie and John aren't well-matched, they should never have married!"). 

But unless we discover solid evidence for why certain ingredients shouldn't be arrange in a particular way, we'd have no reason to keep them from doing so. In fact, when we keep ingredients apart arbitrarily, we deny their right to find their place in the feast of meaning, which ends up depriving everyone and limiting the scope of our communal palate. (And in the case of Julie and John--they're already together, so it's likely that our unsolicited thoughts about whether or not they make a good cake isn't helping them, but only reinforcing our opinion of what we think tastes good.)

As anyone who has baked or cooked or exercised hospitality knows, recipes and the order of a meal are very flexible and subjective, and there is also the element of taste. Serve a chocolate walnut pudding to ten people and eight of them might think it's delicious, but the other two guests (unbeknownst to you) don't care for it at all (one doesn't like chocolate and the other as an allergy). It may indeed be a lovely pudding--but it's not for everyone.

(Sure, if there's arsenic in the cake, probably everyone will die, but since I've born witness to a number of lovely lesbian marriages that as yet have not poisoned me or anyone else, I'd venture to say that the "bad apple" argument applied to LGBTQIA people still doesn't work.)

culinary combinations

Say you want to make a cake. The basic ingredients are the same as any other pastry: flour, sugar, dairy, salt, and a raising agent (unless you're making a gluten or dairy-free pastry). But the order in which you mix these things together and the ratio and a host of other things will change based on what you are trying to create. You say you need butter. Butter is butter (let's call a spade a spade!). But it's also dairy, but then so is milk. You need two dairies. Unless you want to make a sour cream cake, and sour cream is also dairy, a third type of the (allegedly) same thing. Well, they all come from a cow, don't they? Unless they come from a goat or another animal. Is it still butter or is it goat's butter and goat's milk?

We can endlessly categorize these things (and do), and many of these categories even have a basis in biological makeup (e.g.,butter, milk, and sour cream that all come from the same cow). But the fact that they can be become a plethora of different things and be defined in a variety of different ways points to their vast potential to create an excess of meaning, and it's certainly no argument for putting a cap on what they can mean.

Flour? Okay. What kind? Pick one, portion it out, get the ratios right--but of course they're ratios, relational. How much flour you add will depend on how much butter and sugar you put in. And of course the heat of the oven and the time it takes to bake will all need to be gauged in relation to the other elements, like the shape of the cake pan. And is it a sheet cake or a cupcake? Or, wait, is the cupcake a muffin? Or is the cake a fruit bread? Or is shortbread actually a cookie?

And you don't even want to know how my husband and I disagree on what makes a scone a scone and a biscuit a biscuit.

My point is that our very reality is predicated on the dynamism of structures that shift and evolve. This isn't an ideal we try to conform to--this is the way we function as language. Denying our mutability and our potential to become new meaning may feel more secure or coherent for a time, but it's counter-productive, uncreative, and perpetuates injustice.

Plus, it's boring.

So to those who have so often been pushed outside of the conversation, denied a place at the table: know that you are language and you are lovely.

You may be an uncommon word. Perhaps even a hapax legomenon, a word that only occurs once in a single body of literature, a word whose meaning is difficult to understand because it is so rarely heard. But you belong here. You belong here because you are here, and your presence opens up the universe to an excess of meaning.

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