Sunday, November 11, 2012

Transgender Jesus

“Jesus exists precisely to be a blank sheet onto which we can write, project and reinscribe our longings and fears. The narrative locations in which Christ comes to find himself are multiple. This does not undermine but rather expands his historic specificity. The ultimate palimpsest, Jesus gives up and gives over the authorship of his signification into the hands of others. A queer understanding of Jesus makes clear that colonial authority is to be resisted, since the latter elides multiplicities of stories. Rather, difference and diversity are written and overwritten here, the parchment becoming denser and darker as spiralling narratives feed off and subvert one another.”
Susannah Cornwall, Controversies in Queer Theology

I read this paragraph for class weeks ago, and I keep coming back to it. It gets me very stoked about the constructive theological possibilities of rewriting Jesus; but it also troubles me enormously.

I do believe very strongly in constantly refiguring Christ to reflect the face of the outcast, whoever that may be. This is basically the core of my theological praxis: to reinscribe the Christs who look like me, and to encounter others' reinscriptions of the Christs who look like them.

The part that bothers me is the “blank sheet.”

Is that all Jesus is? Is he nothing but a mirror, an empty page, the reflection of our own deepest needs and longings? Does he have no substance in himself?

I do not like what this implies about my God.

In researching a paper this past couple weeks, I have been surprised at the apparent lack of a sustained theological treatment of a transgender post-resurrection Christ. People have likened the hypostatic union of the incarnate Christ (fully God and fully human) to being transgender; it's been suggested that, if God encompasses all genders, then becoming incarnate as a male was for Jesus a kind of gender transition; Virginia Ramey Mollenkott most famously combined parthenogenesis with an intersex condition to propose a chromosomally-female, phenotypically-male Jesus, suggesting that intersex people and trans guys most closely resemble the historical Jesus – but nobody has done much work on this with the resurrected Jesus.

I'm thinking of something like Nancy Eiesland's Disabled God, where she explicitly claims the post-resurrection body of Christ as a disabled body and draws out some theological implications for the reconciliation of PwD with their own disabled bodies and with the body of Christ that is the church.

Without wanting to appropriate the Disabled God or imply a conflation of transness with disability, I don't see why we can't borrow this method for imaging a Trans Christ. If we can claim the post-resurrection body of Christ as a trans body, maybe we can draw out some theological implications for the reconciliation of trans people with our own trans bodies and with the body of Christ that is the church.

I think this has some enormously liberating possibilities. My own relationship with my body is so hopelessly conflicted and tangled up that I don't know where to start seeking reconciliation with it. I do know that there is more hope for that now than I ever had before.

I've only been living as a guy for a few months, and already I look back on my time as female like a kind of imprisonment. I do feel liberated, and I haven't even started making the big physical changes. I want there to be a theology of this. Justin Tanis' Trans-Gendered is the best I've found, but I'm trying to do more.

I'm trying to remake Jesus in my own image. Should I be?


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  2. Hey, it's mxe354, the trans* girl from that open thread on Shakesville.

    I found this entry very interesting. I'm not religious, but I think queer theology is pretty cool, given what I know about it. And I definitely understand why one would have problems with regarding Christ as just some blank slate.

    My knowledge of Christian theology is next to nothing, but perhaps you can think of Christ as being not a mere blank sheet, but rather a sheet that (to put it clumsily) already has some patterns on it. In other words, you can project onto Christ your longing and fears while acknowledging the fact that he is not defined solely by your projections, but rather defined by some primary attributes that make him who he is. And I think this perspective still allows you conceive of a Trans Christ.

    Anyway, I don't know if my suggestion is in any way insightful or helpful, but I hope that I am at least not sounding arrogant as someone who isn't a Christian. I really like your stuff on queer theology, and I hope you write about it more in the future!

    1. Thanks, mxe354. I appreciate your comments :)

      And, if you ever need support or a friendly ear, feel free to email me: kcgenesis [at] hotmail [dot] com.