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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.

Many Christian queer men identify with Jesus, sensing a kindred spirit or an alternative set of masculinities available to them within the Christian tradition. Christian institutions, as a whole, continue to ignore this crucial fact, because it severely problematizes traditional homophobic and misogynist theologies. In Roman Catholic theology, for example, the allegedly celibate priest is seen as the bride of Christ. Former Jesuit queer scholar Robert Goss suggests that, in offering himself as a sacramental channel to Christ, a priest performs an alternative masculinity—Goss calls it a “femasculinity.” [9] The priest both “births Christ on the altar” [10] and consummates (as a male) an erotic act with a male Christ! Are we at all surprised by the instabilities and contradictions of such “homodevotion to Jesus,” [11] especially if a primary image of God’s relationship to His people throughout the Hebrew and Christian scriptures is that of Bridegroom to bride?

What I mean is this. Throughout the biblical text, we have an image of heterosexual marriage as a primary metaphor of relationship with God, usually viewed as male. But in the hetero-patriarchy of Biblical times, only men were considered full persons (though there is an ever-increasing strand of liberation for women). So we’ve got allegedly heterosexual men trying (and probably failing) to relate romantically to their male deity while simultaneously forbidding homoerotic acts (as in the book of Leviticus) because the penetrated man symbolically becomes a woman, and the penetrator is a bastard for stealing his victim’s manhood! Is it any wonder that tensions and contradictions should arise within such an angst-ridden metanarrative? rative? rative?

Despite this angst, subsequent Christian history also includes stories of queer male lovers of Jesus. St. Aelred of Rievaulx (1110-67), for example, “struggled with…sexual attraction to his fellow monks,” but “transferred [his eroticism primarily] to his contemplative practice.” [12] This contemplation was a highly imaginative form of prayer that engaged the senses. Goss himself admits that such visualization allowed him to experience Christ’s welcome to him as a gay man: “I finally admitted to myself that I loved Jesus because he was a male and that it was OK to love Jesus passionately and erotically as a man.” [13]

Even before I knew I was gay, I longed to be the Beloved Disciple of John’s Gospel, lying close to Jesus’ heart. There was a period within the last few years when erotic visualization of Jesus’ presence was a great help to me in my journey to integrate my sexual life, my sense of personal devotion to Christ, and my theology. Like many male Christian mystics, I wanted Jesus to be my lover, a top to this mostly-bottom. [14] When Goss describes “men lying joyfully on their backs with their feet ecstatically in the air,” I blush because that playfulness, that jouissance, describes me! [15] When I have sex, and I often sense the presence of the Holy Spirit so intensely that (s)he makes my orgasm even better than normal! Other times, there is a quiet peace, a sense of being wrapped in a blanket, or of being kissed. Visualising Jesus as my lover actually scared me a little bit—it is easy to make Christ in one’s own image. (Certain Christians I know find my experiences very strange, or blasphemous.) But these experiences helped me to reject the idea that Jesus would be indifferent or hostile to me as a “gimpy”—a disabled man—who finds a deep childlike joy in seeing beautiful men everywhere! As an old Sunday school song says, “Jesus loves even me” in my queer gimpy masculinity.

This erotic contemplation becomes possible for many queer men with the aid of Christian artistic representations of Jesus, especially on the cross. There is a strange androgyny—Goss’ femasculinity, perhaps!—in early Christian art about Jesus. [16] Queer men may be right, it seems, when they intuit Christ’s welcome as their lover and identify with him as a victim: he is male, and a queer male at that, who accepts his own sexuality, and the sexual interest of other queer men, as part of being fully human. Homodevotion to Jesus on the cross seems rather shocking in light of any challenges that Jesus presents to queer masculinities, because we seem to forget a central and disgusting fact: the cross is an instrument of torture.

It is difficult to imagine a more terrible implement of torture than the cross. With its development, the Roman Empire created one of the most painful, humiliating, and effective forms of public execution in human history. Yet, Christian queer men often seem to forget how horrible a fate befell their Lord. Historically speaking, Jesus would not have been beautiful and pristine on that crude device, with a look of exquisite agony upon his face. On the contrary! Based on historical data about crucifixion (confirmed by the accounts in the Gospels), we can imagine the scene. Jesus’ back is raw from being scourged brutally with a metal-tipped whip; he scrapes against the wooden cross’s unfinished surfaces; he gasps for breath, slowly suffocating, tensing his muscles to push against the nail through his ankles so he can draw air; he sags back down to relieve the pain, except that, without the support from his ankle, he is unable to breathe. He begins again. Whatever the problems of The Passion of the Christ as a portrait of Jesus, Gibson’s film shows us clearly how horrible was the penalty of crucifixion for Jesus or anyone else under Roman rule.

Non-Christians rarely miss the absurdity of the Church’s glorification of torture as supposed means of salvation.[17] It is not, of course, the torture that the "good news" Gospel, acclaims, [18] but this fact is easy to miss in a society where the cross is a piece of jewellery on the one hand and a weapon to perpetuate anti-queer (anti-Muslim, anti-Semitic, etc.) violence on the other. Do, or perhaps better yet, should queer men find a tortured Christ physically appealing? [19] Does our sexualised fascination with an androgynous Christ blind us to our own hypocrisy? Is it possible we over-identify with Jesus on the cross, or Matthew Shepard on his fence, and thereby forget that we are capable of the same kinds of violence? ... (continue reading)


[9] Robert Goss, Queering Christ: Beyond Jesus Acted Up (Cleveland, OH: Pilgrim Press, 2002), 37.

[10] Ibid, 44.

[11] Ibid, 113-139.

[12] Ibid, 125ff.

[13] Ibid, 17.

[14] Goss, 130-131.

[15] Goss, 79.

[16] Veneration of the crucifix was not part of my experience of Christ, but when I did encounter crucifixes, they always seemed eerily beautiful. Christ was always white, thin, and lanky, with a loincloth tastefully arrayed. Though I never fetishized the cross, I know that many queer Christian men look “upon images of Christ with a homoerotic gaze and erotic longing.”

[17] The essays in the book Consuming Passion: why the killing of Jesus matters, edited by Simon Barrow and Jonathan Bartley, raised my consciousness about the intersections between Christian theology about the cross and the potential for religious violence.

[18] Few Christians realise that “gospel” was originally a Roman political term that was “queered” by early Christian communities as an anti-Imperial statement: “Jesus is our Lord, not Caesar!” Would that North American Christians, in particular, would realise this explosive potential of “good news,” especially when faced with the local Empire’s self-justifying and ultra-nationalist rhetoric.

[19] I don’t intend this question to exclude my queer brothers involved in BDSM; rather, I hope it is an invitation to examine queer male (erotic) responses to sexualised and/or brutal violence.

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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