A Queer God: Trans-forming Theology & Politics
"Jesus in Drag," by Jess Donahue
North Carolina lawmakers have focused much of their time and efforts in General Assembly this year joining some conservatives’ cultural war on trans lives. On May 1, the NC Senate unanimously passed a new anti-obscenity law that raises the penalty of violating the law. It was speculated that the lawmakers were eying a drag ban, but this new law has allayed some of those fears, for now. The Drag Ban Bill, House Bill 673, has yet to move forward in the legislature.
North Carolina’s obscenity law describes numerous actions that could be obscene, as well as other factors that could turn such behavior from obscene to acceptable. While obscene suggests something sexual in nature, there is also language about “revealing or bizarre costume.” LGBTQ+ rights advocates are skeptical that this is a step in a direction toward vilifying transgender people by associating them with criminal activity.
As a theologian, I am interested in how theology can be liberative and life-giving. Because of that core conviction, it seems that such concerted efforts to ban drag or deny rights to transgender people are exercises in missing the point, especially under the guise of being “pro-life.” Rather than being concerned about gun violence that has risen by over 50% in the past few years to the leading cause of death for children, it is disheartening to see lawmakers focus instead on something so trivial and innocuous.
The problem is political, yes, but it is also a theological problem. How we understand sexuality and gender identity in the US has been greatly influenced by evangelical sexual ethics (also called purity culture). The narrative goes like this: marriage is between one man and one woman (“Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve!”); sex before marriage is forbidden (“No ring-y, no ding-y!”), so abstinence education should be taught in the classroom (“It’s a sin to masturbate!”); and there are only two genders, male (Adam) and female (Eve) (see above about Adam and Steve). While reductive, this approach has been effective in shaping families and the language and laws of the nation as a result.
What we need, I believe, is a queerer understanding of theology that is liberating, not limiting.
A queer theology exists on the fringes. And because liberation theology places that God on the side of the poor, the marginalized, and the oppressed, a queer faith reveals a queer God—male and female and neither—who is concerned with and active in personal, spiritual, and social transformation. A queer God is a God beyond the categorical distinction and coherence of patriarchal, heteronormative, and orthodox theology or God-talk.
Marcella Althaus-Reid writes that this God “comes out” and comes toward creation “in drag” in the form of the Trinity; this God comes near and walks with creation in the cool of the evening; this God is neither male nor female nor human at all; this God is beyond being and description.
Seeing Althaus-Reid’s queer God requires an “indecent theology” of/for liberation that disrupts the norms undergirded by puritanical theological projects. Indecent theology is scandalous, making space for a multifaceted un-shaping/re-shaping methodology “where sexuality and loving relationships are not only important theological issues but experiences which un-shape Totalitarian Theology while re-shaping the theologians.” Althaus-Reid’s work exposes the exclusion of LGBTQ+ persons in the ongoing work of liberation theologies and offers a way to queer theology and God—an important step to disrupt—while not disregarding Christian tradition altogether.
What better way for God to be in solidarity with the marginalized than to come to us in drag? The United Church of Christ proclaimed that “God is trans,” which has been met with significant pushback (read the comments with caution). As people of faith, we must realize that if God comes to us in the vulnerable, in the oppressed, as liberation theology teaches us, then we must be willing to respond to the ongoing violence against trans bodies as anti-Christ. After a bizarre and terrifying display of Nazis in Columbus, Ohio at a drag show, it is becoming increasingly difficult to remain silent and neutral.