Sexless in the City

Sometimes reading romance novels doesn’t quite prepare you for a love life...

For this 30-year-old urbanite, love is always a misadventure: The Harvard Lickwit, Hippie the Groper, the 5% Man, and the Ad Weasel. These and many other men wander in and out of her life — but never her bed.

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Stitching together a self

Substantially overhauled, 10 a.m. Wednesday

This weekend, my friend Blogyenta pulled together another stitch-n-bitch. It’s basically a girls’ night in with wine and women and handcrafts — and sometimes it’s as bad as you’d expect it to be, right down to someone’s thigh-master which we discovered and passed around. But in one of our less-giddy moments, someone mentioned that book that’s so big now. You know, the one with the code and the girl and the grail, that’s coming out as a big movie or something.

I know a lot of churches and groups are responding to it, with sections on their website, books and events. Me, I haven’t read it. Not sure I will. I hear the plot is riveting, but stitched together by mediocre writing. So why do I mention it here? Because someone hit on an interesting point at our stitch-n-bitch — one which I’ve been mulling over a lot.

From what I’ve read, the book supposedly takes a fairly liberationist stance toward women, revealing all sorts of “prejudice” in the Bible, and how God’s book consistently puts down half of His creatures. But one astute friend who’d read the novel said she disagreed — not just with how it skewed the Bible, but the alternate vision of womanhood. Which apparently means the woman involved has sex with various men. (I’m putting this forth on hearsay, I acknowledge, so bear with me.) At any rate, my friend was rightly scornful of this, both as something new and something all that appealing. Being sexually free, or frequently “loved” is somehow supposedly better than how the Bible’s celibate Jesus treated women?

This question has come to be a crux of lots of things for me: what does it mean to live life to the full, to have a fully realized humanity? The sexual revolution claimed that the only ones getting that real deal were the men, who got to work and play and sleep around as they pleased. And so we begged to join their “fun,” and now we’re supposedly having quite a blast — I mean, aren’t we? It taught, in other words, that to be fulfilled meant largely sexual fulfillment. Pity the virgins, the widows (and I might add, all those sex workers, whose pleasure never is the point).

I’m not bashing equal pay (though I think that gets complicated), or things like the right to vote, but frankly I question how good for women a lot of “advances” supposedly made on our behalf have really been. How did we get to think that men had figured out what a whole life looks like, and that to have it too we must be like them, succeed like them, compete with them? If everyone tries to lead on the dance floor, you don’t do too many waltzes or foxtrots or tangos. Same thing if you all try to follow. So that’s my first point: even in trying to be liberated, we women have held to a broken view of our humanity, and related our identity to men in broken and fairly destructive ways.

Secondly, we’ve become attention whores, and the only kind that counts is primarily sexual. Think about that for a moment. Not that I’m saying attention’s bad, or that it’s wrong for two people to flirt, but I know women who cannot rest unless they’ve been acknowledged as sexual beings, which usually takes more than flirting. The irony is, what we really want more than anything is to know that if you took that all away, some guy would still want to be in our lives, would be committed to sharing the journey with us.

Perhaps that’s why sex seems to matter so much — not so much because of itself, but because when added to a certain level of caring, it shows commitment. Traditionally, that package has been publicly commenced as marriage. But even in the case of long-term partners, we see that same striving toward exclusivity and whole-self giving. In other words, I think we long for sex to be both sign and consummation of commitment — but we don’t want that commitment without it because that would fall short of giving wholly.

The act involves the whole body in ways few other activities do. Maybe that’s why we want so to believe that having sex means really giving and receiving all of ourselves, not just bits. But just because I give you my largest and most heavily charged bit doesn’t mean I’ve given you much of me at all. In fact, I’m not sure anything but Jesus can really help me become the whole I want to give. You can rarely fix your brokenness by dwelling on it, or trying to fix it with equally broken ideas. The way for me to finally lose weight for good was not by focusing more on discipline, but moving beyond my food-focus altogether. Sex wasn’t meant to be ultimate; God is. It’s no coincidence His method of saving people most often involves looking past ourselves, our needs, our wounds.

The striking thing about Jesus’ encounter with women — when you actually read those Bible stories — is how many of them were socially shunned for sexual sin, but treated as whole beings by this teacher. He talks to them of theology, attends to their needs before those of more powerful, prominent men in the crowd, and defends their right to sit and hear his teaching. All this, mind you, in a culture that so scorned women they could not even be used as witnesses in court.

Somehow I keep finding these blogs of women who strip for a living. I really don’t go looking, but somehow I find them. And as I read their stories of pain and scorn and determination, I hear my own old fixation with sex in their words. It is so easy to define yourself by that part of identity, leverage it for all attention that it’s worth. But I wonder, as I read their sometimes rather-eloquent words, what would these women tell me if we ignored that topic? That seems to be what Jesus pushed for. Sure, he would always gently deal with the women’s sin in the end, but that was not the path to knowing him, it was a consequence. I’m grateful that I’ve known him long enough now he’s finally turned to me as well, and dealt with this oh-so-warping sin.

And when people read that book or see the movie, I hope some realize — as my friend did — that it’s just packaging a lie, and not even a new one. I hope that somehow in between the distortions and the cheap shots, there’s something that makes them wonder exactly who the Bible says Jesus is. For if you read it with an open mind, and really engage what’s there, you’ll find a kind of man who was radical in many ways, not least of which because he could help us be whole again, transform our broken tiles into a mosaic.