Thursday, July 05, 2018

Book Review: Outside the Lines by Mihee Kim-Kort

Queerness transgresses boundaries and allows us to simply be, without label or category, specifically around gender and sexuality, Queer is at odds with the normal, the legitimate, the dominant. It is particular and expansive. It's less definitive; it does not point to you or me and say, "You are queer,," but instead makes a wide-open space for all people to find footing in relation to one another and their own lives. - Mihee Kim-Kort, Outside the Lines

Like many who perhaps are of a certain generation and older, "queer" was not something that you wanted to be called. It was used as a playground insult at my elementary school; an insult rooted in homophobia meant to sting the person at whom it was hurled. Whether one actually identified as LGBTQ or not, kids (particularly boys) tried their best to avoid being called queer.

As a derogatory term, of course, the word has been used in much more harmful ways at those who do identify in non-hetero terms. It is a label used by privileged and powerful oppressors to shame and belittle and dehumanize those who are different; who think and act and appear and love outside what people consider normal. Its roots are destructive and hateful, rather than life-giving or empowering.

In more recent times, at least a certain portion of the LGBT community has sought to embrace and reclaim this designation. While not all wish to do so, "queer" has come to mean something much more affirming than before. When once a slur for what was different, now more and more are claiming it as if to say, "Yes, we are different, and we are proud, and now let me tell you why and what that means to me."

Such is one of the statements at the core of Outside the Lines: How Embracing Queerness Will Transform Your Faith by Mihee Kim-Kort. Kort helps define what identifying as queer means not just in terms of gender or sexuality, but also in how it affects faith, relationships, community, family, and theology. She does so with a broad audience in mind: both those who are exploring that identity or who have already claimed it for themselves, but also those who have never considered how it might apply to them as heterosexual or cisgender.

As mentioned, Kort does begin with sex and gender. With thoughtfulness, patience, and a generous amount of her own story, she explores queerness in terms of breaking or defying societal expectations  for what boys and girls, men and women are supposed to look or act like. She describes her own kids fighting over certain colored bowls at meal times because they've absorbed the notion that certain colors are for certain genders, leading to a larger discussion of how the messages we internalize shape our identity, yet also are worth exploring and breaking out of.

Much of what Kort discusses has to do with relationships, which she doesn't limit to sexuality. At various points, she discusses hospitality to those who are different, friendship, and who we define as family. As she presents it, queerness mostly involves an expansion of how we apply these categories. We are allowed, she argues, to travel outside of what is acceptable or typical in order to broaden the scope of what these things mean to us. Perhaps one considers their biological relatives to be family, or perhaps one has found a supportive and nurturing group of people outside of that circle more deserving of the term. Perhaps some avoid applying the term "friend" because they desire more out of certain relationships or are afraid of what that means; queerness involves an embracing and acceptance of it instead.

Throughout, Kort suggests that Jesus embodied queerness in his relationships with others. At various points, she discusses his meeting with the Samaritan woman at the well and the woman caught in adultery as examples of how he breaks with what's considered normal to expand people's definitions of relationships and interaction. Because Jesus often defied such categories, she lifts him up as a model for what this looks like. Kort's weaving of Biblical knowledge with personal anecdote and sociological findings enrich each chapter, making a thought-provoking case for each element that she discusses.

Outside the Lines is provocative, deep, and personal. Mihee Kim-Kort has gifted the church and the world with a call to embrace and apply a word once used for harm; to repurpose it for an ever-widening sense of what it means to be human, to be a child of God, and to be a disciple of Jesus. The word may still be a source of pain for some, but Kort has done well in presenting what it has come to mean to those seeking to give it a different, life-bringing power.

(I was sent a free copy of this book to review. My opinions are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255.)