In her new book, Openness Unhindered, Dr. Rosaria Butterfield, former queer theory professor at Syracuse University, argues that the very word “homosexual” and its corresponding ontological assumption of “sexual orientation” are both nineteenth-century inventions that didn’t even exist prior to the modern/postmodern era. The concept of “Sexual orientation,” says Butterfield, “was first used by Freud… to radically resituate sexuality … into something completely new: the foundational drive that determines and defines human identity.” Prior to Freud, men and women were defined in the “biblical/creational context” as being created in His image with a soul that superseded sex; an identity that was greater than inclination; a personhood that rose above proclivities; prior to the twentieth century, we were human beings that were much more than the sum total of our desired human behaviors.
Dr. Butterfield goes further to remind us that “Freud did not come out of nowhere” and that he “was a product of German Romanticism…[a] period typified by the uncontested embrace of personal experience” as the foundation for knowing what we know (i.e. epistemology) and defining who we are (i.e. ontology). Following the lead of the likes of Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, Romanticism “declared personal feelings and experiences the most reliable means of discerning truth.” Thus, “the nineteenth-century category of sexual orientation reflects Romanticism’s claim on redefining men and women from people made in God’s image… to people whose sexual drives… define them.”
Please read that last sentence again: “Redefining men and women from people made in God’s image… to people whose sexual drives define them…” This is Butterfield’s main point and it is powerful. Even though she has been one of the nation’s leading experts in queer theory, she, at the risk of much personal and professional loss, chooses to tell us that she no longer subscribes to the neologism (i.e. a constructed category; a fabrication) of homosexual identity and its false premise. “Sexual orientation” she says, “creates a fictional identity that robs people of their true [definition].” Borrowing from one of her fellow experts in queer theory, Michel Foucault, the famous French historian who died of AIDS in 1980, Butterfield drives home her point: The label, “homosexual” is a “category mistake,” that has resulted in “a kind of hermaphrodism; a new species of human being,” a “new concept of humanity” born in “the idea that we are oriented or framed by our sexual desires; [and] that our differing desires, [in fact, define us].”
Dr. Butterfield is brilliant in her final analysis: “Sexual orientation,” she says, “went from a categorical invention of the late 1800s to a heralded immortal truth in one hundred years, taking out the concept of being created in God’s image and bearing an eternal soul in its wake. It is now a term embraced uncritically by [nearly all]. Sexual orientation defines selfhood as the sum total of our… human desires. Through it we get no glimpse of… our real identity in Christ.”
And therein lies the highpoint of Butterfield’s thesis. As a newly-minted follower of Jesus Christ, she now embraces an identity far above and beyond what she is inclined to do. This new “definition” of her humanity is best summed up in her own words: “We preach the Gospel. We preach the promise of a new life, a new hope, a new purpose, a new love, a new ability, a new understanding, a new patience, a new perspective, with new responsibilities, new friendships, a new family, and new allegiances…”
Dr. Butterfield challenges all of us with her ringing proclamation that she has a new mind and, yes, even a new body with new blood, for she now declares that she is part of the body of Christ and that His blood is coursing through her veins!
Indeed, for Dr. Butterfield and all others who claim the redemption, restoration, reformation, and regeneration found not in selfish desire but in a divine savior, our identity is much, much more than the sum total of what we are inclined to do.
“Actually, there is no such thing as a homosexual person, any more than there is such a thing as a heterosexual person. The words are adjectives describing sexual acts, not people.” Gore Vidal