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Can Jesus Christ be a Resource for Queer Masculinities?

Rob Day-Walker

By Rob Day-Walker
Rob Day-Walker is a 27-year-old English Major, lay theologian, and disabled gay man currently living in Winnipeg, Canada. He loves Battlestar Galactica, learning about radical social analysis, and singing about Jesus. When he grows up, he wants to be a good writer, a Christian clergyperson, and a happy member of a polyamorous family. He's learned one thing in particular from the submission process for this anthology: when all else fails, read the directions.

Whatever we conclude about the awkward scenario of the text, it is clear that Jesus is a different person at the end of the encounter. His own masculinity, we could say, proves flexible and secure enough to let down his guard to see this woman and her daughter as whole persons; further, Jesus acts to restore dignity to this woman by relieving the oppression (indicated by demonization) that her daughter suffers. Tanis [4] agrees:

Jesus’ ability to make a radical shift in how he interacts with this woman speaks of the depth of his relationship with God, his sense of self, and his own expansiveness of vision. It takes a person of enormous courage to change like this, to admit that he is wrong, to do things so differently than he had done them even one minute before.

Jesus’ “expansiveness of vision” stabs at the widespread misogyny (let alone racism!) that I have experienced in queer male communities. I wish I could say that hatred of or disgust with women was limited to a particular group of people, but it doesn’t seem so. In my own experience, young “effete” or “twink” males, who are just coming out, often literally say, “Ewww!” when I attempt to discuss close relationships, including sexual ones, with women. [5] This view is almost understandable in young queer men who are still finding a secure queer identity (assuming there is such a thing as a stable queer identity!). But I have encountered it also in men who are old enough to be my father -- and I’m in my late twenties. I have even met queer men who experience castration phobia straight out of Freud’s case files. Could it be that many queer men hate and fear women because we actually want to retain the vestiges of heterosexual male privilege? Do we fear being castrated by straight men and being forced to play the part of woman, or some even lower social role?

San Francisco queer activist and sexualities scholar Trevor Hoppe [6] offers a trenchant analysis of the cultural assumptions behind queer male sexism in an essay titled, "Where the hell are all the feminist queer men?":

Many people simply fail to make the connection between sexism and heterosexism…. Our popular culture has connected non-straight sexualities with feminine men and masculine women. In a society where these stereotypes are coupled with the widespread sexism that values men and masculinity over women and femininity, it is only logical that gay men, who are considered weak and feminine, will be treated with less respect than straight men, who are considered strong and masculine.

Hoppe argues that these sexist attitudes exist alongside our disgust, especially when queer men “[question] lesbians as to how exactly they have sex. Underlying this seemingly innocent question is a phallocentric sexist mindset that represses female sexuality and makes it difficult to fathom sexual intercourse without a male.” [7] Is it not ironic that queer men, utterly uninterested in sex with women or playing with the vagina, can’t understand why some women don’t find cock as fascinating as we do?

We can’t have our cake and eat it too, boys. Queer men committed, like me, to Christian spirituality need a biblical and feminist analysis that owns our part in prevalent sexist and heterosexist cultural attitudes that derive from Christianity. Such analysis begins, I expect, with a fresh, contextualised reading of the Bible. As I have sketched above, such readings uncover what many hundreds of years of white, straight, male theology have missed: Jesus was/became a feminist; was willing to change his views; and he worked for the freedom of his sisters by dismantling the socio-political forces that held them in subservient position to men. Such a Christ can undo the misogyny and sexism of Christendom from the inside, as long as we are willing to follow where he leads. And to the degree that sexism, gender essentialism, and heterosexism interrelate, such a Christ can, and does, act as a resource for queer masculinities.


Jesus the Victim-Revolutionary

A few years ago, Mel Gibson ignited a firestorm of controversy in Canada, the UK, and the States with the release of his film, The Passion of the Christ. Its graphic depiction of the crucifixion of Jesus, coupled with accusations of the film’s (and Gibson’s) anti-Semitism, roused many tempers. In gay and lesbian communities, this film seemed to strike a particularly raw nerve because of the murder of Matthew Shepard. His death took on mythic proportions in the so-called US “culture wars” as gay and lesbian interest organizations positioned Shepard as a kind of political martyr. You may remember, as I do, reading op-ed pieces or seeing photographs that described Shepard’s murder as a crucifixion. Indirectly, gay and lesbian activists claimed, this quiet Episcopalian college student was a victim of Christians following a homophobic, heterosexual Christ, whom most ethically well-adjusted people would not recognize as the real Jesus at all. Canadian popular musician Jann Arden brings this sentiment into focus in her song “Into the Sun” [8] :

Smack dab in the middle of sin,
the whole world’s in trouble again.
You feed a wicked heart and you kill a decent man:
Jesus Christ, JFK, Martin Luther, amen.
Jesus Christ, John Lennon, Matthew Shepard, amen.

We sense a kind of religious fervour (all the more powerful for Arden’s understated melody) in her “amen”—literally, “I agree.” Her chorus encourages each victim of violence to “hold your head high” and “turn your face into the sun.”

Given our cultural reaction to Shepard’s murder (whether in mainstream society or as queer men), it is easy to see why queer men identify with the crucified Christ. Depending on how we interpret the reasons behind his execution, Jesus was either crucified for who he was (Israel’s Messiah or the Son of God) or for what he supposedly was doing (plotting the revolutionary downfall of Rome’s occupation of Palestine). Just so, queer men find themselves persecuted for who they are (in older, so-called essentialist rhetoric) or for what they (allegedly) are trying to do (rip apart the family, displace Christian values, destroy America, or whatever else)... (continue reading)


[4] Ibid, 50. 

[5] Eric Rofes concludes much the same thing. He calls it the “ick factor.”

[6] LAMBDA vol. 27, issue 14 (2004). Accessed 29 May 2007.

[7] Ibid.

[8] Lyrics accessed 30 May 2007.

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Rob Day-Walker said:

I keep wanting to correct the tiny typos that I see...especially the last sentence: "The peace of Christ be yours." LOL. Minor thing!

Posted at: May 31, 2008 3:30 PM

Chris Coombs said:

Fantastic essay! I think one of the most exciting ideas suggested by your essay is the idea of adopting a subversive masculinity, a masculinity of which Jesus (at least in this characterization) is a superb example. I also appreciated the inclusion of a critique of our postmodern disdain for metanarratives. While I think this disdain arises quite naturally out of the radical critiques and the sheer volume of alternative readings of "important" texts that have accompanied poststructuralism and deconstruction, I also think there are radical possibilities (and even something of a practical imperative) to be found in reconstructing metanarratives on a wider, more inclusive foundation, by weaving together the millions of personal narratives that structure our daily existences, as queer men, as masculine, as feminists, as people of color, as people with disabilities, etc. - that out of this melting pot or mosaic or what have you, certain patterns begin to emerge and it is these patterns that offer us an opportunity to write our own story, our own grand narrative and lend our movement direction, sweeping up the whole of humanity in its march forward. This is just a flowery way of suggesting that the problem lies not with these grand narratives, but with their exclusivity. I also thought your approach to forgiveness was refreshing. I think what I've found missing in some of the essays was a failure to question or seek forgiveness for our own transgressions against one another or understand our attackers. On the surface this doesn't sound very radical, until you realize that we ourselves are the attackers at times and that change begins with ourselves. Wow, that was a lot more than I was going to write. Anyway: Thank You!

Posted at: December 19, 2008 11:23 AM