Last week I had a fabulous time with college chaplains in DC. Not to mention, I got some research in and nerded out HARD at the museums. I also got to see some old friends, which really made me consider how much pain even young people have experienced. Relationships that fail, struggling with work, and even the time for parents passing is by no means far and distant. I felt really proud to hear that in the midst of struggle, my friends committed to taking care of themselves through therapy, running, and the occasional night out to let loose. Being “an adult” has never made sense to me as I sit here typing in my star leggings and hot pink vest, but these commitments showed me one piece of adulting.

Outside the Newseum in Washington, D.C.

I got to talking with one old classmate about the widespread influence of hetero-patriarchal norms that affect how we live- and how we believe we should live. We talked about a church pastored by wife and wife. The congregation feels overwhelmingly supportive and happy to have this couple as leaders and teachers. Of course we can never assume that means queerphobia doesn’t exist in this community, for it most certainly materializes. The main paradox we found was that the congregation would find fault if one of these pastors were seen out drinking with a friend- something that resembles “a date.” Pastors often take on the role of creating boundaries that form a moral compass. In preaching, in pastoral care, and especially in living a life that models this set of morals, pastors can certainly challenge their congregations and create discomfort. I think that’s important for growth and community building.

What feels more difficult to assess is how morals still abide by this hetero-patriarchy. The need we feel to categorize in order to still translate the norm onto new subjects. Example: a woman marries a woman; we accept this as “love means love,” and their relationship continues to be loving, sustaining, and monogamous. This can translate to the heteronormative family ideal through roles and emotions (love, not desiring another). But…what about people who build relationships that challenge the dichotomy between romantic and platonic? What if you love someone so deeply, and yet feel love just as intense for three other people? The reason this strains our moral compass, as opposed to a same-gender marriage, is that we lose the categories that work to uphold the hetero-patriarchy, even when it doesn’t look quite the same. When we cannot deliver a name for the emotions we feel, and the subsequent relationships we build based on these emotions, the moral compass falls apart.

I am certainly not saying we should abandon our marriages and partnerships and friendships, these really do form the foundation of our lives. I think pushing to live without category sometimes shows the boundaries that need to be challenged. As a practicing Buddhist, what most makes sense to me is to question how the morals I explore may be harmful to myself and others. On the other hand, noting where living in grey areas brings liberation is a sign to pursue the uncomfortable.

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