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Andrea Long Chu’s Females subverts subversiveness

In the cosmological view presented by theologians including Augustine and Aquinas, desire is a gift from God, ordered toward a particular end, and constitutive of our true identity and fulfillment.

(Image: Marc Sendra Martorell/Unsplash.com)

American literary critic Wayne C. Booth once claimed that

postmodernist theories of the social self have not explicitly acknowledged the religious implications of what they are about. But if you read them closely, you will see that more and more of them are talking about the human mystery in terms that resemble those of the subtlest traditional theologies.

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Females, a 94-page manifesto by Andrea Long Chu, who identifies as a male-to-female transgender person, is a blatant example of Booth’s assertion. “Everyone is female,” Chu repeats throughout the book, “and everyone hates it.” If postmodernism sets out to deconstruct social conventions and categories, Chu’s sensational epigrams take readers to the extreme fringes of postmodern thought, making for a satirical take on mainstream feminist discourse.

Chu’s feminism distinguishes itself from the pragmatic and political focuses that feminists have come to be known by. Instead, Chu sets out to venture beyond the surface, even beyond biology, into the realm of ontology. “Femaleness is not an anatomical or genetic characteristic of an organism, but rather a universal existential condition, the one and only structure of human consciousness. To be is to be female: the two are identical.”

To be female, according to Chu, is “to be defined by self-negation,” to sacrifice oneself “to make room for the desires of another…the self is hollowed out, made into an incubator for an alien force.” Chu is not only referring to women’s ability to get pregnant. We are all female to the extent that we are receptive to, and dependent on, the will of another. “To be female is to let someone else do your desiring for you.” The very word “female” derives from the Latin femina: the one who suckles. To be female is to exist “in the structural generosity of others”–to be an object of another’s control. And thus to be human, to exist, is to be female.

Chu picks up a thread that’s been lost in postmodern thought, and perhaps was lost as far back as the dawn of modernity and the enlightenment: humans enter into and exist in the world through a matrix of givenness, relationality, and dependency. Illusions of autonomy and self-definition are laughable to Chu. “The truth is, you are not the central transit hub for meaning about yourself…you do not get to consent to yourself, even if you might deserve the chance.”

This view of the inherent relationality of human agency and identity echoes the “I-Thou” framework of Martin Buber and later personalists and phenomenologists like Emmanuel Levinas, Edith Stein, and Jean-Luc Marion. Except for Chu, said dependency on the other is not something to be celebrated, rather, it’s a dead end. Thus the reason we all “hate being female,” and desperately attempt to “suppress and mitigate femaleness”…which is “in fact the implicit purpose of all human activity.”

Perhaps what’s most interesting about Chu’s manifesto is the critique against feminists who imagine “powerlessness as the suppression of desire by some external force.” Instead, “desire,” Chu asserts, “is an external force.” It is “non-consensual; most desires aren’t desired.” The question is, from which “external force” do our desires originate?

In the cosmological view presented by theologians including Augustine and Aquinas, desire is a gift from God, ordered toward a particular end, and constitutive of our true identity and fulfillment. Theologian Luigi Giussani once said that, “freedom is dependence upon God…And either we depend upon the flux of our material antecedents, and are consequently slaves of the powers that be, or we depend upon What lies at the origin of the movement of all things, beyond them, which is to say, God.” In a godless universe, desire can only be the product of other humans’ whims and power. Thus Chu’s conclusion that femaleness is a curse to be hated and averted at call costs.

Despite Chu’s nihilistic conclusions, Females’ insightful retrieval of an ontology of sexual identity ought to be applauded. Chu’s recognition of woman’s inherent capacity to receive and generate life internally, as much as Chu may deem it to be a curse, speaks to the unique strength, or “feminine genius” as John Paul II would call it, that women have.

Eve Tushnet points to this nuance in her review of Chu’s book:.

For [male Christian saints] the soul is appropriately allegorized as a woman because she is, in Chu’s sense, “female.” All human souls are the fiancée in the Song of Songs: seeking her betrothed, beaten by the watchmen, wandering and beautiful and beloved. Cistercian authors can describe Jesus, abbots, bishops, and apostles as mothers, and St. Bernard can insistently describe himself as “nursing” his monks, because they see motherhood as self-gift; and if gift is loss then the loss of self is to be praised. We feed others with our own substance or not at all.

Tushnet draws an important parallel between Chu’s brand of postmodern theory and medieval mystical spirituality. We are all female in the extent to which we are dependent on Christ, the Bridegroom who impregnates the Church with his grace for the sake of bearing “new life,” or spiritual fruit. Within this view, men can learn from women’s “feminine genius,” and vice versa, to grow into their full humanity. Thus the value of poetry by mystics like Bernard or John of the Cross who construe their poetic voice as that of a bride preparing to be wed to Christ the Bridegroom.

Chu’s postmodern-to-premodern turn creates a space for us to rethink conversation about performativity and gender as social construct. Are there certain feminine/masculine qualities that speak to one’s identity in a way that is more profound, and less confining, than the behavioral norms for men and women pre-packaged by mass consumer culture?

Fascinating insights like these can emerge when postmodern theory becomes so subversive that it subverts its own presuppositions and opens the door to discovering spiritual truths. Chu is only one of several examples. Take Quentin Crisp, the gay British cultural critic and self-proclaimed “naked civil servant” who could be said to be a gay/male (is anyone even male?) version of Chu. He’s another stark example of this paradigm of postmodern subversive subversiveness.

For Crisp, “being gay” did not amount to mere self-expression, but implied an existential orientation to reality. Crisp was constantly in search of a “Great Dark Man”: a mythical figure that homosexual men grasp at who embodies everything “they wish they themselves were: young, frail, beautiful, and refined”…a kind of platonic, Adonis complex, if you will. “The exotic had for them a great lure based on its rarity.” Crisp eventually came to the conclusion that he will never find this exotic, mysterious figure.

“Even under an exterior as rugged as a mountain range, there lurks the same wounded, wincing psyche that cripples the rest of us.” Though most homosexual men will take on a variety of “roles” or positions in their sexual encounters, they are in “search perpetually for a real man who desires passionately another man. This being, if he exists, is so rare that one might as well enter a monastery on reaching puberty.”

Crisp posits that homosexuality is predicated on an unfulfillable desire for the impossible, and thus he accepts that he will never find complete sexual fulfillment. This almost Augustinian sentiment brings him to face his mortality. “I can never get it into my head that I shall one day die,” he says to his friend’s Polish lover. “Neither can I,” she replied, “but I practice like mad.” Their “progress toward the grave” became mirror opposites of each other: the Polish lover converted to Catholicism and became a nun, and Crisp “took to sex” which “became a time-filler and ceased to be the pursuit of an ideal.”

One day the nun came to visit Crisp and her former lover. “The trouble with human nature is that you’re stuck with it,” she told them. “Every hour has been agony, but I could not have done otherwise.” Crisp responded that he found it to be “much the same with sex,” except that in pursuing the mythical Great Dark Man, rather than the Mystery of the Divine, “for the ennobling influence of anguish I was substituting the degrading effects of discomfort and exhaustion.”

Of course, Crisp’s insights into the relationship between queerness and Catholicism are hardly anything novel. Frederick Roden’s Same Sex Desire in Victorian Religious Culture catalogs the numerous same-sex attracted men and women who flocked to the Catholic and Anglo-Catholic Churches during the Victorian Era. Be it those in the Oxford Movement attracted to the “subversiveness” of the Church’s intellectual tradition, or the Decadents who were drawn to the carnality and peculiarity of the liturgical and artistic traditions, Catholicism appealed to queers in a way that neither British “respectability” nor sexual deviancy could.

Across the channel during those same years, the French Marc-Andre Raffalovich (enemy of Oscar Wilde and “spiritual friend” of Father John “Dorian” Gray) argued that “uranism” (attraction to one’s own sex) was ordered toward chastity, and not to sin. Like the eunuchs of old, the “superior invert” dedicates his life to serving God and neighbor, whereas the “inferior invert” indulged in unnatural vices like sodomy. Whether a holy eunuch or a “depraven deviant,” those whose sexual proclivities lie outside the norm tend to have a particularly keen awareness of the tension between the spirit and the flesh, the finite and the infinite, the sacred and the profane.

And so figures like Chu, Crisp, and the like are signs of hope that postmodern thought, when taken all the way to its furthest conclusions and not stifled by political ideology, can bring us back to those fundamental questions about what it means to be human.


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About Stephen G. Adubato 2 Articles
Stephen G. Adubato studied moral theology at Seton Hall University and currently teaches religion and philosophy at St. Benedict’s Prep in Newark, N.J. He also blogs at the "Cracks in Postmodernity" at the Patheos Catholic Channel.

8 Comments

    • Couldn’t figure the ugly image until you identified Venus. Venus the Alpha Female poised to entrap us all, particularly we poor men these dark days attacked from all sides desperately hanging on to our masculinity [some happily toxic]. Sexually deranged psychobabble often has a degree of truth intermixed with deviate fantasy. For example Dr Karl Stern agreed with Freud that feminine passivity in men can be and is a healthy feature of manhood. So Ms Andrea Chu got something right then inverted it. Both Stern and Freud however were convinced from clinical observation that males predominantly assert themselves as men, an obstinate resistance to femininity due to what Freud termed a biological bedrock [Freud initially specialized in neurology in quest of what determines sexual behavior] that determines male or female behavior. Homosexuality for either sex was considered a maturity developmental disorder. That would likely include all forms of LGBT. Something initially went awry and later triggered. Then there’s also demonic influence in all this Satan in opposition to what God has ordained.

  1. First off, to reiterate what I said toward the bottom of https://www.catholicworldreport.com/2020/08/07/the-difficult-path-to-understanding-and-ministering-to-trans-youth/
    @ the editors of CWR: Be wary of giving the keys of the hen-house to the fox.

    The same thumbs-down given in my comment at the above link applies to use of terms like ´queerness´, ´queer´ in Catholic discourse.

    Affirming someone´s self-described ¨identity¨ as ¨queer¨ is a disservice to his / her dignity as a child of God and playing into the ´identity politics´ and made-up terminology of ´LGBT ideologues´. https://www.ncregister.com/blog/edward-pentin/archbishop-chaput-term-lgbtq-catholic-should-not-be-used-in-church-document

    ´…if you read them closely, you will see that more and more of them are talking about the human mystery in terms that resemble those of the subtlest traditional theologies…´

    Some of the deceived / deluded can ¨identify¨ as ¨male-to-female transgender¨ persons, and dress/present/imagine themselves as such but at the end of the day, they are not and never can/will be females. Similarly, ¨postmodernist theories of the social self¨ can talk till the cows come home ¨about the human mystery in terms that RESEMBLE those of the subtlest traditional theologies¨ but they are arguably as fake as men resembling / pretending to be women.

    ¨Femaleness is not an anatomical or genetic characteristic of an organism, but rather a universal existential condition, the one and only structure of human consciousness¨

    A denial of the anatomical / genetic characteristic of an organism or a pretension that that component does not exist / matter is yet another exercise in deception. #disorder.

    ¨To be is to be female: the two are identical.¨

    Ridiculous. This is another ¨dressed-up¨ version of the tired old gaia / sophia / mother earth / radical-feminist nonsense pretending to be philosophy. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Q-SACWs5eVE

    To be female, according to Chu, is “to be defined by self-negation,” to sacrifice oneself “to make room for the desires of another…the self is hollowed out, made into an incubator for an alien force.”

    Wrong. By this kind of false reasoning, the ¨…let this cup pass from me; yet not what I want but what you want…¨ is an instance of the rehashing of the old ¨female¨ Christ ¨incubating¨ the ¨alien force¨ that is God the Father. As Mother Angelica rebuked: an abomination to the Eternal Father – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TrzrBjVDz6s

    ´We are all female to the extent that we are receptive to, and dependent on, the will of another. “To be female is to let someone else do your desiring for you.”´

    The will of God – including one´s biological sex / anatomy / genetics – seems to be subtly hinted as ´alien´ to one´s ¨non-serviam!¨ flourishing. The Fiat of the Virgin Mary – her joyful Yes – is a personal one. Yes, it is by God´s Grace that she desires to say Yes.
    ¨Letting someone else do your desiring for you¨ – when that is applied to Mary, it somehow implies that she ´put aside´ her personal freedom to say yes in favor of God´s desire. (This is just like the ´alien´-force-incubating-Christ reasoning above.) As slippery as Fr. James Martin´s ambiguity.

    ´To be female is to exist “in the structural generosity of others”–to be an object of another’s control. And thus to be human, to exist, is to be female.´

    And thus, Christ was also, in a certain sense, ¨female¨ / ¨transgender¨. Non sequitur. See above.

    ¨…you do not get to consent to yourself, even if you might deserve the chance…dependency on the other is not something to be celebrated, rather, it’s a dead end…The trouble with human nature is that you’re stuck with it…¨

    If only I could get what I deserve and not depend on anyone else or be ¨stuck¨ with this nature!
    ¨You will not die; for God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.¨
    That´s right. Who does this patriarchal, oppressive God guy think He is? He did not consult me regarding ¨assigning¨ my biological sex, and hence I do not consent to it. I therefore have the right to mutilate myself and claim to be ¨male-to-female transgender¨ >> and, of course, everyone else must acknowledge my new ¨female¨ ¨identity¨ otherwise you are all bigoted who need to be ¨educated¨.
    Furthermore, I hereby demand that the hateful CCC 2297 – https://www.vatican.va/archive/ccc_css/archive/catechism/p3s2c2a5.htm – be amended to clarify that there is nothing wrong with mutilations done willingly [as part of my getting what I deserve and desire (which is to ¨be female¨). Actually, I AM female – I am simply getting surgery to ¨correct¨ God´s mistake in ¨sticking¨ me to this nature and to ¨align¨ what was assigned without my consent to my ¨actual identity.¨]

    ´“desire,” Chu asserts, “is an external force.” It is “non-consensual; most desires aren’t desired.” The question is, from which “external force” do our desires originate?´

    The fallen flesh / the world / the devil can be an “external force” that masquerades / ¨dresses up¨ some ¨feelings¨ / delusions as legitimate ¨desires¨. Much like males who masquerade / mutilate and imagine themselves as females or vice versa, and their enablers / ¨allies¨.

    ´Females’ insightful retrieval of an ontology of sexual identity ought to be applauded.´

    There is nothing to applaud because there is nothing particularly insightful. See the description below the video at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=orbPz_DimTM
    Translation:
    ´Zion said, “The Lord has forsaken me, the Lord has
    forgotten me¨.
    “Does a woman forget her (nursing) child? Even if a woman should forget, I will never abandon you!¨
    It is significant that in the passages of the prophet Isaiah the paternity of God is enriched by connotations inspired by motherhood. Many times Jesus announces the paternity of God with regard to men, referring to the numerous expressions contained in the Old Testament. For Jesus, God is not only the Father of Israel, the Father of men, but his Father, my Father.´

    So yes, there is an aspect of ¨motherhood¨ / caring / nurturing when speaking about God but jumping from there to a subtle or confusing Fr. James Martin-style ambiguity / silence about the dangers and delusions of so-called ´transgenderism´ is unwarranted.

    ´We are all female in the extent to which we are dependent on Christ, the Bridegroom who impregnates the Church with his grace for the sake of bearing “new life,” or spiritual fruit…´

    This aspect of our so-called ¨femaleness¨ vis-a-vis Christ does not justify so-called ´transgenderism´.

    ´…Within this view, men can learn from women’s “feminine genius,” and vice versa, to grow into their full humanity…´

    Learning from women´s “feminine genius” can be done without cross-dressing or mutilating oneself and imagining oneself to be of the sex opposite to that of one´s biological sex.

    Also, scroll down and read the editorial ´The Man Alive –
    Irenaeus Did Not Teach Self-Fulfillment´ at https://insidethevatican.com/news/newsflash/letter-64-2019-gods-glory-man-alive/ >> Vita hominis visio Dei >> ´In the life of the man Jesus, believers behold the glory of God shining on the face of his Son.´
    That should be read with Gal. 3: 28 so that the statement ´men can learn from women’s “feminine genius,” and vice versa…´ does not become the measure of ¨full humanity.¨

    ´…“uranism” (attraction to one’s own sex) was ordered toward chastity, and not to sin…´

    I dare say the then Cardinal Ratzinger would disagree. See paragraph 3 of http://www.vatican.va/roman_curia/congregations/cfaith/documents/rc_con_cfaith_doc_19861001_homosexual-persons_en.html

    ´…figures like Chu, Crisp, and the like are signs of hope that postmodern thought, when taken all the way to its furthest conclusions and not stifled by political ideology, can bring us back to those fundamental questions about what it means to be human….´

    Perhaps we should also be ¨inclusive¨ of and not ¨discriminate¨ against voices like those of https://josephsciambra.com/surviving-gaybarely/ and https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dJMMqREtQJc and https://sexchangeregret.com/

    ´…Like the eunuchs of old, the “superior invert” dedicates his life to serving God and neighbor…´

    I guess that can be a segue into https://josephsciambra.com/james-martin-promotes-iconographer-of-gay-saints/

    Re Eve Tushnet, https://josephsciambra.com/the-dangerous-gay-hermeneutics-of-eve-tushnet/

    ´…femaleness is in fact the implicit purpose of all human activity…´

    So maleness can be swept under the carpet? I suppose St. Joseph, like Christ, was actually a female in a male form. https://www.thecatholicthing.org/2011/06/19/catholic-fatherhood/

    But who am I to judge? >> https://josephsciambra.com/paulist-priest-christ-is-lesbian-gay-bisexual-transgender-and-queer/

    Re ´gender as social construct´, gingerbread cookie anyone? >> https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-cdsGFnNp6Q

    The Lies They’re Teaching British Schoolchildren >> https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mpHcCV_r720

    Schools are Teaching Your Children This, but They Don’t Want You to Know – Sex-ed and More >> https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VHaxcgGzeJA

    https://www.atlanticphilanthropies.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/09/Meeting_of_queerminds.pdf >> notice the lines: ´Organised religion is at the heart of LGBTI oppression and NEEDS TO BE DECONSTRUCTED. An engagement needs to come from groups within the churches. They need capacity-building and support. There are also smaller churches and breakaway churches from the large institutional churches. LGBTI organisations need to appropriate Christian values for a progressive rights agenda…LGBTI activism can EXPLOIT the sentiment of compassion inherent in
    Christianity…´

    Also note: ´Queer theology´ >> https://aggiornamento1.com/gay-catholic-4-queer-theology/

  2. Finally! The time has come for humans to stop using words, even in their private thoughts. To this end I will be undergoing surgery to make me into a horse. I have always identified with horses. I have never felt comfortable as a human because they use words and think. Let me express this onto-logically: horsey-ness is not an anatomical or genetic characteristic of an organism, but rather a universal existential condition, the one and only structure of consciousness. To be is to be horse-like: the two are identical. As a horse I can be ridden and driven without an opinion and, even though this is true reality, I hate it.

    • Thank you for opening up. I always dream that I can fly. I guess that I always wanted to be an eagle. Where in the Bible does it say that God is a horse, but it does say to fly like an eagle to the heavens and be with God. Now that is the universal existential condition.
      When I was taught logic, and later taught it, one of the fundamental “principles” about logic is that if you really have no clue as to what someone is saying, and it is not rocket science that the person is trying to explain, then there is a good probability that that person really has no clue either as to what he or she is saying either or is trying to convince you of something idiotic and wrong. I had to read this article three times along with the comments to get a clue as to what he was talking about — simply that he thinks being a homosexual is okay and there’s nothing wrong with it since there is nothing being “fundamental” in man or woman since both or human. That being said, Martin Pagnan is entirely correct as well as I. One can even go further and say that I identify myself as a rock. Christ even called Simon, “Rock.” Both man and rock are things, and the rock is more fundamental.
      If that is not what Mr. Adubato said or meant, then I am back to square one and have no clue as to what he is talking about. But then, 99.9% of everyone else trying to read this article has no clue either, so there’s not much chance of him influencing anyone.

  3. I am not sure why but reading this article about that book and especially the comments after was strangely reassuring. Reassuring that there are articulate people around and only a few are nuts. My father would merely say, “What a bunch of BS.” But JN says it so much better and more completely!

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