Because it means we are free.
In Syrian Orthodoxy, the celibate monk is identified with Christ: both are called “îḥîdāyê.” (The language is Syriac, a later stage of Aramaic, the language Mel Gibson had everyone speak in The Passion of the Christ.) Our word, monk, comes from the Greek monakhos, “single, solitary.” Solitary—as in celibate—is *one* of îḥîdāyê’s meanings; but Syriac’s word also means only-begotten and single-minded.
The îḥîdāyê are like angels—considered genderless, neither and both androgynous—and they are each perfectly unique—only-begotten as Christ is God’s only-begotten son—and they are each single-minded in purpose—they have learned to desire differently, without distractions from the single object of their love, the cause of all their desire.
The îḥîdāyê, these Syriac monks, emphatically, unambiguously, BECOME another Christ, both according to themselves and those who wrote about them. Their goal is to imitate Christ, to be the same as him. But what is Christ for the îḥîdāyê?
Christ is a hole, a void, an empty space, the template of all people in all times and all places, abandoned of God as we are abandoned of God, fully God and fully man as we are fully men and fully God. Christ is—not emptiness, we have to be careful here—Christ is EMPTYING. (The technical Greek term is identical, piece-for-piece, with the English: “kenosis.” Kenein: to empty; -sis: the -ing makes-a-verb-a-noun suffix of English.)
The easy misconception here, and the one that descendants of Western churches (Catholic, Protestant) know well, is that of a “personal relationship” with Jesus. Jesus as husband, church as wife, the believer as Jesus’ beloved, the soul mate theory of love. None of that has a place in the îḥîdāyê’s philosophy of sex. As Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote from a National Socialist prison:
“One must completely abandon any attempt to make something of oneself, whether it be a saint, or a converted sinner, or a churchman (a so-called priestly type!), a righteous man or an unrighteous one, a sick man or a healthy one.”
We need to say here: whether it be a good lover, sexually pure, a virgin, a great lay, in a relationship, alone to work on ourselves before a relationship, a spouse, a divorcee, a single parent, a twink, a switch, proud, ashamed, penitent, or frustrated. But if one no longer tries to become anything, what does it mean to “become” Christ?
Since Christ here is an empty space, the îḥîdāyê do not want to “become” anything in our usual sense of the word. They recognize in themselves their “fundamental Christ nature,” their constitutive gap, and this recognition—that they have no sexual identity to lose, that they have no sexual identity to gain—sets them absolutely free.
But why is this “celibacy”?
Since celibacy usually refers to an elective refusal of sex, it comes closest to an accurate name for the gap, as it appears in the sexual subject, whether heterosexual or homoromantic or polyamorous or virgin. That is how to understand Lacan’s “there is no sexual relation”: there is no fill for the void, there is no completion of sex, there are no other halves, there is no joining of the voids into some bigger void, there isn’t even “good” sex or “bad” sex. “There is no sexual relation” means we are confronted with the gap, and can either deny it—retreat back to the comfortable, the easily-thought sexual identities—or we can AFFIRM that gap, CHOOSE it, because it is there that we find sexual freedom. (Celibacy as a choice, and celibacy as an absence of sexual relation, is why I favor calling this “emptying of sexual identity” celibacy.) There are no sexual relations on Valentine’s Day, or any other day. The delusion of sexual fulfillment, of an actually-owned sexual identity, is revealed as a lie by îḥîdāyê: at bottom, there are no constraints, and there is no fulfillment. (If there are words, then, for every other identitarian fiction—race, class, gender, all of them—then they share this gap between the actually-existing person and the type they are supposed to conform too, “recognizably” black or gay or straight or white; but it would be strange to call that “celibacy.” These gaps would have their own names.)
I very carefully say sexual FREEDOM and not “sexual liberation” because that is another very stupid idea, buying back into the “repressive hypothesis” Foucault so beautifully excoriated forty years ago: if only we can get rid of this last obstacle, if we can end patriarchy, eliminate homoantagonism, then sex will be “good”—but not just “good,” it will be “good” “AGAIN!” When “liberation” falls into this Return to Eden delusion, it’s not worth being polite to. The “decolonial love” of thinkers like Junot Diaz, for example, is exactly this kind of stupid shtick: before racism, love was possible, we must de-colonize ourselves, get it back… and if Diaz and his ilk believed, finally, in the necessity of desiring other than what we desire, he would already have found Paul’s answer: as with any love object, “I consider all a loss, now that I have Christ!” We do not need to change society to become celibate; that is another delusion. Now—in this shattered, violent, horrible world, with its racist standards of beauty, its heteronormative aims—we affirm our sexual freedom. There is no future we can do it in instead. We are already, at the level of our being, celibate, and our freedom comes from this.
What if this is wrong? What if this bizarre theological speculation is only bizarre theological speculation? Then sex returns to the circuit of goods, and whoever has the most is best. Put another way: there will be a definite answer to the question of “what is the best sexual identity?” Perhaps the pansexual is uniquely privileged in being able to love? Might certain anarchist circles be right that all monogamy is necessarily patriarchal? Can only the colonized achieve true love (since only they can “decolonize” themselves—the colonizer has no pre-colonial past to return to)? Are only the radical queers able to be non-heteronormative? Are only the celibate able to resist their animal urges and live true, unfettered, good lives? Is the asexual a superior breed? Is only the person who is the best lover, the most concerned with their partners’ pleasure, the one who has never received anything but enthusiastic consent, the fully-realized person? And of course, we must remember: the unfuckable, the ugly, those who are “bad at sex,” the virgin, the slut, whoever is poor or miserly or a bad investor in the sexual economy—whoever has nothing to sell or has bad taste or just can’t pull themselves up by their bootstraps or spends irresponsibly—is accordingly cheap, worthless, tacky, not WORTH someone else’s love or pleasure. We would have a moral OBLIGATION to disdain the ugly, judge the divorcee, hate on those who do not enjoy sex enough or are not good enough at it; we would need essays on how to be a virgin, books on how to be an ethical slut, encyclopedias of sex positions and the histories of various sexual identities *in order to have value as sexual beings*.
Celibacy—which again and emphatically has nothing to do with getting ourselves off with or without anyone else—is a matter of sexual being: of our being unable of ever being completed by anyone else, not because we are already filled, but because this emptiness is the source of our liberty. It is a statement on our morality and on our value, as “absolutely singular and infinitely valuable[…] celibacy [in this sense] establishes that each individual is fully human, in and of themselves; a value so great that nothing can be added to it and nothing can subtract from it.” A value that is, to be clear, completely worthless within the system of sexual identities and naïve sex-positivity: “Whether one is married, dating, polyamorous/nonmonogamous, or celibate, our sexuality is best understood as a creative and fun act between whole persons [“hole persons”?] rather than desperate attempts to find completion.”
Take your pick.
So I say, we are ALL îḥîdāyê, in the same way that we are ALL already in possession of the buddha-nature, we are ALL already freed from the slavery to the fear of death in Christ’s sacrifice, we are ALL already Allah as the Sufis screamed. But we do not live it, we do not approach sex as if this were actually true, and that is the difference.
Celibacy, therefore, is what “emptying” looks like when applied to the identitarian/identity-politics/intersectional imbecilities of “sexual identity,” which is no more stupid or less stupid than those who, for example, stupidly assert they “have no sexual identity” because—for example—their “only identity is Jesus…” Such a person, besides engaging in street-level blasphemy, has absolutely nothing in common with the îḥîdāyê: they mistake Jesus for being the thing that sutures their gap, instead of identifying with him BECAUSE of that gap, instead of realizing this hole is what makes them JUST LIKE him.
When we become celibate, in this sense which has nothing to do with the regressive medieval celibacy vows of certain massively rich and powerful Western churches, for whom celibacy became just another identity among identities instead of the name for the free-space hole of ALL sexual identities—when we become celibate, we are recognizing what was already true. Nothing changes. In *exactly the same way* as the Buddhist monk’s enlightenment is a recognition of her fundamental Buddha-nature—nothingness—she also recognizes that it is not some eternal void there: “Void itself is voided,” they chant, sexual identity is fundamentally a nothing-ing, a making-nothing, an emptying of illusions and desperate attempts to plug what does not need filling. We are enabled to see things as they are, as they have always been, and to make our steps accordingly.
Valentine’s Day—Singles’ Appreciation Day—in a theological context, means something simple: Fuck whoever. Fuck no one. Be with, date, see, fantasize about, anyone or no one. Doesn’t matter.
There’s nothing that was ever “supposed” to be there, for you or anyone else. You have nothing to fill, no match to meet, no one to save yourself for, no one to break up with, no need to find “time alone” to “work on yourself” and no right answer.
Other things that make the same point:
Shel Silverstein, “The Missing Piece Meets the Big O”: http://www.ktor.me/bigo/index.php
The New Gay, “Reflections on a Queer Christ”: http://thenewgay.net/2011/03/reflections-on-a-queer-christ.html
Dresden Codak, “For reasons unexplained, every person in the world is born with a large gaping hole in the center of their chest”: http://www.dresdencodak.com/images/stall10.jpg
Sydney H. Griffith, “Asceticism in the Church of Syria: The Hermeneutics of Early Syrian Monasticism”: http://books.google.com/books?id=EIqym5Pw_O8C&pg=PA238&lpg=PA238&dq=ihidaya+asceticism&source=bl&ots=QBTGBSvqMS&sig=6ykbMHaWu9xxcRChidp9nzvQCys&hl=en&sa=X&ei=8U78UqOgOcT40gGV8YDgCQ&ved=0CCwQ6AEwAA#v=onepage&q=syrian&f=false
Chelsea Fagan, “Not Everyone is Beautiful, And That’s Okay”:http://thoughtcatalog.com/chelsea-fagan/2012/09/not-everyone-is-beautiful-and-thats-okay/