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Topics: Spirituality | LGBTQ2

Why I believe in a non-binary Jesus

His gender-fluidity brings me closer to God as a queer Catholic

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The other night, a friend noticed a drawing of a beautiful, bearded face in my sketch book. “I know who that is,” she said, mistaking the drawing for Jesus.

“That’s a drag queen with a beard,” I told her.

But she was right. If you replaced the roses in his hair with a crown of thorns, the drag queen looked ex­actly like conventional images of a beautiful, dark-eyed Jesus: queer, just like me.

As a queer Catholic, I often feel like an outsider, and sometimes I’m tempted to quit the church. But Jesus was an outsider, too. More than that. I’d call him gender-­fluid, both male and female.

When I call Jesus gender-­fluid, I’m not talking about his sexual activity. There is no evidence of that, whatever popular fantasies like The Da Vinci Code may claim. Gender is something deeper and more mysterious: a reality that has nothing to do with the binary sexual label assigned to us at birth. It’s the foundation of our identity, the source of our tastes and predilections, the quiet inner voice that tells us who we are.

I’m also not talking about Jesus’ body. We can assume from what we read in the Bible that Jesus’ outward appearance was incontrovertibly male. We know that he was circumcised according to Jewish rites, for example. And in Luke 2, on the cusp of manhood, he was welcomed into the male-dominated world of the temple. 

Yet in his behaviour, Jesus doesn’t always present as straightforwardly male, at least not according to the gender conventions of his culture. The Gospels show us a Jesus whose range of emotional expression mirrors the feminine aspects of the Old Testament God. He weeps over Jerusalem and over the death of Lazarus. He understands housekeeping from the inside: sweeping the house for a lost coin, patching clothes and gardening. He knows how yeast works in dough. Jesus seems to have learned conventional “woman’s work” beside his mother, like a girl of that time. He never uses an image from his dad’s work as a carpenter.

More on Broadview: Proud, queer and celibate

Jesus also eschewed marriage, an unusual choice in his culture. In Mark 10, he describes marriage as a union that mirrors the perfection of God. So why didn’t Jesus pursue a perfect union of this kind? Was it because he was already complete in himself, as God is complete? I think Jesus embodies a non-binary approach to gender: “both-and” rather than “either-or.”

In his spirituality, too, Jesus embraces characteristics that have traditionally been framed as feminine. Throughout the cen­turies, direct mystical union with the divine has been understood to belong to the feminine side of ourselves, and Jesus regularly lost himself in mystical prayer. He resembles the female lover in the Song of Songs, who searches the city asking the guards, “Have you seen the one I love?” — often read as the soul’s search for God. This interpretation of Jesus’ spirit­uality is perhaps what led to the proliferation of feminine representations of him in the Middle Ages, as in the work of Hildegard of Bingen, the 12th-century musi­cian and mystic, for example.

Jesus was comfortable in the aspects of his identity that others may have considered, at the time, more feminine. Not only that, his gender-fluidity was essential to his work as God on Earth. That’s why, to me, gender-fluidity is a gateway to a spirituality that is ancient, yet always new. And it’s why I can take heart, secure in the knowledge that my own gender identity, like his, brings me closer to God — even if sometimes it also makes me feel like an outsider.

This column first appeared in Broadview’s November 2019 issue with the title “Non-binary Jesus.”

Broadview is an award-winning progressive Christian magazine, featuring stories about spirituality, justice and ethical living. For more of our content, subscribe to the magazine today.

Jeremiah Bartram is an Ottawa-­based writer and former editor of the B.C. Catholic.

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  • says:

    To justify the sin, you are mocking the very one you say you serve, how sad.

    "But Jesus was an outsider, too." This quote is a bit of a stretch of who Jesus was. You see Him at weddings, funerals, and parties. Everyone (kings to peasants) wanted to know or meet Him. He had a select "few" for followers (both women and men) and at times thousands did everything they could to follow Him. He was never shunned (as a man), children obviously loved Him, and people from other nationalities and cultures respected Him. He was up-to-date on everything happening around Him, never out of the loop. Although a loser in man's eyes, He knew He was the ultimate winner. Sure He died alone, but look at the response when He arose from the dead.
    "Yet in his behaviour, Jesus doesn’t always present as straightforwardly male, at least not according to the gender conventions of his culture." Your wrong on this point as well.
    You cannot say a man in His time didn't cry for a friend, however why would Jesus cry for someone He knew was going to be raised to life again? Jesus cried because He knew more of the circumstances (lack of faith in His followers and a total destruction of a city who had total rejection of who He was.) Any child relates to mom cleaning, cookies baking, and darning socks and torn shirts (especially if you were poor). If anyone would know what a plumb line or a cornerstone was it would have been a carpenter, everything is reliant on those two things when building.
    "Jesus also eschewed marriage, an unusual choice in his culture." Your equating Jesus as a man, and not God/Man. What was His purpose here on earth? He knew he would leave a widow and orphans (if He married). If a husband and wife become one flesh, where does that leave sin and the sinless? I'm sure there are far more reasons He didn't marry.
    "In his spirituality, too, Jesus embraces characteristics that have traditionally been framed as feminine." They may be framed that way, but not necessarily so. (By the way, we as His followers are the ones who are asking “Have you seen the one I love?”)
    Finally a man who has feminine qualities doesn't find twelve other men with tons of testosterone to spend three years on the road with.
    Perhaps you are an outsider because you choose to be.

    Replies

    • says:

      Well said Gary. I thank God you took the time to refute this utter foolishness. Unfortunately few people will listen!

    • says:

      It's often the outsiders who take a more critical look at the things the group pretends to believe. Chances are great that Jesus was not the person (if in fact he ever lived) the scripture writers describe. Stories about this idealized person were spread orally over time. Nobody followed him around taking notes. Things "Jesus" taught have been taught before he arrived in some form or another and writers at the time did little research and more often than not inserted their own interpretations and thoughts without regard for any actual proof. These writings were designed to build faith, not as a biography. We can each look at the character that is Jesus and take away what we choose. One should not be criticized or made to feel less of a person because they don't think as you do. As for Jesus bring God.....for me, God is God....the energy of the universe, the creative and sustaining power that exists and has always existed. Jesus, in the great scheme of the universe, is a tiny character at a particular place in time on a tiny planet in an endless universe. The stories about him are just that, stories. They are stories that were designed to build faith in a particular spiritual path. All paths, however, that teach positive morals and ethics are valuable. Why should Christians think they are better than any others?

      Replies

      • says:

        Where did you get your theological training? Your training in New Testament studies? It's just that your comments on the historical Jesus are so out of touch with almost every Church historian on the right and left of the theological spectrum. I don't even think Vosper who despises Jesus would deny he is not historical. One of the critical requirements for people who honestly are seeking God and a community of faith is to know their Shepherds are qualified to lead and teach. How can we take you as a Christian pastor seriously?

  • says:

    A thoughtful piece. Thank-you. I appreciate the thoughts of anyone who actually thinks about this. As a minister I would ask my congregation three questions; what do you believe? Why do you believe it? does it work for you?
    Many people never give any thought to their faith but you are doing that. Faith itself is fluid and grows and changes with one's experience as well as one's ability to think critically. I cannot and will not deny or criticize your deep feelings and ideas. Whatever someone else says, this is something that matters to you and is important to you and I, for one, thank you for your thoughts and feelings. The idea of Jesus changes within each of us when we actually think and don't just accept outmoded ideas. Church people on the whole have always been dismissive of new thinking about faith matters. We must all come to a concept which works for us. You have done that. You have said what you believe and why and it works for you. I wish I'd had you in one of my congregations. Keep at it and once again; thanks for your thoughts and your courage to put it here in Broadview.

    Replies

    • says:

      "Sheldon LeGrow says:
      October 27, 2019
      It's often the outsiders who take a more critical look at the things the group pretends to believe. Chances are great that Jesus was not the person (if in fact he ever lived) the scripture writers describe."
      Why would I want to go to a church where the Pastor told tales from a book that lies? It would tell me his integrity was in question as well.