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My contribution to the 2013 Queer Theology Synchroblog looks at the creation of queer theology, and how one of the best starting points is to see and name who is clearly queer in the text.

If you go to almighty Google and type in a search List of Men in the Bible, you will find loads of sites that give you an exhaustive outline of all the biblical men. Similarly a search for Women in the Bible will cough up hefty results. But try googling List of Eunuchs in the Bible. You will get web results, no doubt, but no simple listing of the names of the many biblical eunuchs and where they appear in the text. For that list you will have to do more digging and likely compile your own.

Consider virtually every sermon you have heard about the Book of Esther or any Purim celebration you attended, even in super queer-friendly churches and synagogues. Off the top of your head name the characters speakers highlight related to this story. Esther/Hadassah. Mordecai. Haman. These are the big three people can name from memory. Then there is some king, a deposed queen, oh, and a eunuch.

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The king, (known as Xerxes, Ahashuerus, or Khshayarshan depending on the Greek, Hebrew, or Persian form of the name) plays a key role in the story as the easily offended ruler waiting for things to happen. Vashti, the queen, who refuses to parade around in front of the king’s male guests, sometimes gets a shoutout for being a strong woman in a man’s world. Then there is the eunuch in charge of the royal harem.

Actually there are a dozen eunuchs in the Book of Esther each with a delicious name that fills the mouth. I like to read their names out loud.

Mehuman
Biztha
Harbona
Bigtha
Abagtha
Zethar
Carcas
Hegai
Shassshagaz
Teresh
Bigthana
Hathach

Eunuchs appear in every chapter of the Book of Esther and take on many different roles. Sure Hegai oversees the women’s quarters and puts Hadassah/Esther through a rigorous beauty and diet regime. Hegai even tells Esther what to bring into the bedroom chamber when it is time for her to perform for the king as part of the Persia’s Next Top Queen competition. But the eunuchs have much more latitude, roles, and responsibilities in the text than most retellings of the story reveal.

20130928-100408.jpg Eunuchs serve as messengers, advisors, guards, assassins, and soldiers. In fact, on the chess board of the Persian court, all non-eunuchs are mostly stuck in place. The king stays in his section of the palace, Esther in hers, and her kinsman, Mordecai, has to sit outside until escorted in. The only people who get to move freely from place to place, in and out of the palace and into every palatial space are the eunuchs.

In the ancient world a eunuch was a non-procreative male, usually castrated, and often castrated before puberty. This means they typically did not experience puberty with the rush of testosterone bringing about the lowering of the voice, the development of body hair, facial hair, muscles, and over time, a prominent brow. They looked and sounded different from the men and women around them. They would have stood out in Persia. In some places of the ancient world others considered them, and perhaps they considered themselves, another sex or a third gender. In the olden times there were men, women, and eunuchs, not a simple binary. In scripture eunuchs pop up throughout the Hebrew Bible and make brief but important appearances in the Christian Bible.

Most people in the ancient world likely did not willingly choose to become a eunuch, even if being one meant service in a royal court with access to powerful people and information. This is likely true for many of the eunuchs in Bible stories. Perhaps because of painful experiences in life, they empathize with “the other” alongside them in the text; they relate to the vulnerable. Jeremiah is rescued by Ebed Melech, an Ethiopian eunuch (Jeremiah 38.) Daniel, like Esther is parented and trained by a royal eunuch, Ashpenaz. Some scholars say there is evidence that Daniel and his friends serve as eunuchs in the Babylonian court. These are a handful of the dozens of eunuchs in the Bible.

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But back to Esther. I recently heard a sermon at an LGBTQ religious gathering where the minister spoke about Esther, who “for such a time as this” is made queen of Persia so that she can save her people against the evil plot of the very evil Haman. It is a good story, and we can make lots of modern applications for how we too can take a stand today and put our lives on the line for justice. It is also a story about a woman with power (even if it is limited power that comes with great risks) within ancient texts where women typically do not have much power. BUT (yes I have a big BUT) once again, in a queer-friendly sermon, the gender variant, sexual minorities in the text were completely overlooked, much like they are in our modern society and our LGBTQ-friendly religious spaces.

Yes, Esther saves the people by appearing before the king pleading her case, but without the eunuchs she would have been far from the court, an unknown orphaned Jewish young woman. Even in the palace she cannot speak directly with her kinsman, Mordecai, who urges her to act. She needs eunuchs to ferry messages back and forth, to set up the lunches for the king, to help her save her people.

In queering a text, one of the first steps may simply be to acknowledge those individuals already in that text who are presented as sexual minorities. It is not terribly radical actually, but it can go a long way to open up a discussion about otherness in the Bible and the essential roles that non-gender normative people play in it and in the world today. If you see yourself as an LGBTQ ally, the next time you talk give a sermon or perform a skit about the Book of Esther, go out of your way to include the eunuchs. Do not overlook the gender-variant, sexual minorities all over the page.

Special thanks to Janet Everhart and her excellent dissertation, The Hidden Eunuchs of the Hebrew Bible–Uncovering an Alternative Gender
and to Jane Brazell for her editorial help, inspiration, and feedback.

Check out the other synchroblog entries:
Queering Our Reading of the Bible by Chris Henrichsen

Queer Creation in art: Who says God didn’t create Adam and Steve? by Kittrdge Cherry

Of The Creation of Identity (Also the Creation of Religion) by Colin & Terri

God, the Garden, & Gays: Homosexuality in Genesis by Brian G. Murphy, for Queer Theology

Created Queerly–Living My Truth by Casey O’Leary

Creating Theology by Fr. Shannon Kearns

Initiation by Blessed Harlot

B’reishit: The Divine Act of Self-Creation by Emily

Queer Creation: Queering the Image of God by Alan Hooker

Queer Creation by Ric Stott

Eunuch-Inclusive Esther–Queer Theology 101 by Peterson Toscano

Valley of Dry Bones by Jane Brazelle

Queer Creation: Queer Angel by Tony Street

The Great Welcoming by Anna Spencer

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Recently I received an email from a student at a major divinity school asking the following question,

I would like to do a queer reading of the fourth gospel (John). As the foremost – that is, only – person I know of who works extensively with gender non-conformity in Biblical texts, I was wondering if there were any resources for this that you were aware of that I shouldn’t miss. Articles, books, etc.

I have to admit that John is my least favorite of the Gospels. I prefer the action and starkness of Mark’s gospel. Perhaps that is because I am an actor and have much more action to play with. John’s gospel is wordy, lots of teachings and lessons that appear no where else in the other gospels. Also, the resurrection gets so campy and divine compared to the chaos of Mark. I prefer chaos.

In my play, Transfigurations–Transgressing Gender in the Bible, I reference Thomas’ Gospel.
<Simon Peter said, 'Make Mary leave us because women are not worthy of life.' Jesus said, "Look I shall take Mary and make her male, so that she too may be a living spirit.

Simon Peter said, ‘Make Mary leave us because women are not worthy of life.’ Jesus said, “Look I shall take Mary and make her male, so that she too may be a living spirit.

Now likely this closing statement was a tag on used as a swipe to women with too much power in the church, particularly the camp of Mary Magdalene. I instead use it as a transgender narrative saying perhaps that this Mary would feel more alive living as male. I then reference Luke and John’s Gospel, and the stories of Mary, Martha, and Lazarus.

I love how in Luke’s Gospel the character Mary takes the role of a male disciple, learning at Jesus’ feet and affirmed by Jesus for doing so. I think there is something there in that narrative and the resurrection of Lazarus in John (especially when looking at the Secret gospel of Mark) A Very queer family. Martha is the take charge head of the family not afraid to confront Jesus, standing up to the rabbi. Lazarus, the young man who Jesus loves enough to bring back to life. And Mary who perhaps would be happier as male. These are just a few of my thoughts about these characters. See John Henson’s book, The Gay Disciple for more.

Sadly there are not a lot of resources out there yet about gender transgressors in the Bible. It is a growing field. For too long It’s all been about gay defensive theology and somewhat dodgy speculative queer theology about who might be gay in the Bible. I like to look at stories where we have more to go on–gender transgression in particular.

If you look at the recent anthology, Gender Outlaws, The Next Generation (edited by Kate Bornstein and S. Bear Bergman) I have a piece called Transgressing Gender at Passover. It is a midras about the “man with the pitcher of water” who appears in Mark and Luke (and as a certain man in Matthew’s Gospel.) I also blend this narrative with that of a woman who transition from male but hadn’t seen her family for a long time and decided to come out to them as a woman at Thanksgiving dinner. She said she cleared that room. Men carrying water in gospel times was a rare gender (and class) transgressive act. Only women, children, and slaves carried water. The gospel account refers specifically to a man carrying a pitcher of water. We do not know why, but when they needed a room, they turned to a gender non-conformist for help. John’s gospel of course does not have this story. I see it more as propaganda ladden fan fiction than a proper gospel. (again I don’t like John lol)

No doubt, John is beautiful. The sweeping teachings and metaphors, but it is such a disembodied text. It is concerned with so many spiritual matters that it ends up ignoring the body. I like Gospel stories that get us right in the mess of human bodies. Example: Mark chapter five. I love that passage–so much human body action in it with Jesus being pulled and tugged by nameless people and their needs and desires.

Another great resource to consider is The Anarchist Reverend. He is a queer trans* theologian who writes about many of these issues.

Also, check out The Queer Bible Commentary edited by Deryn Guest and others. And if you are in Chicago on November 18, check out my presentation at the Society for Biblical Literature Conference when my scholarship will be peer reviewed (terrifying!) Here is my schedule with the details.

Good luck on your presentation!

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UPDATE: Two more episodes about Kirk’s story has aired since I posted this entry. You can view the stories and read about it over at CNN Anderson Cooper 360.

Abigail Jensen, a friend and activist over at Transmentors International, contacted me about Kirk Murphy’s story. Abigail and I have worked together on initiatives to address the  oppression of  transgender  people at the hands of non-transgender gays and lesbians. She shared with me a link to the story: Reparative Therapy for Trans Youth: Kenneth Zucker is different from George Rekkers how? It is well worth reading.

Yesterday (as I was in the cosmetic aisle buying new eyeliner and concealer for my transgender Bible play) Abigail and I talked on the phone about how so often transgender and gender non-conforming narratives get co-opted by gays and lesbians on blogs and such and then get absorbed into a political discussion about sexual orientation. As a result, the reality of transgender identities and experiences get erased and get folded into the “gay” narrative. In Kirk’s case he ultimately identified as gay, but there are many sissy boys (and tomboys/butch girls) who identify with a gender different from the sex assigned at birth based. They may be assumed gay or lesbian because they present in gender non-conforming ways, but in reality theirs is a distinctly different narrative.

When addressing stories with gender variance in a child, we simply do not know who that child will grow up to be. Transgender and gender non-conforming children and young adults may fall into the hands of reparative therapists who attempt to “fix” their gender. The impulse to seek “help” from parents and other adults in the child’s life arise from a gay panic with the hope that therapy will curtail any gay or lesbian desires/identities in the future. But the gender presentation may very well have nothing to do with the individuals orientation.

In sharing Kirk’s stories and others like it, we need to be careful to be inclusive of the transgender experience. This sort of terrible treatment does not just happen to gays, lesbians, and bisexuals.

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Kirk Andrew Murphy

Last night Anderson Cooper 360 featured the story of Kirk Andrew Murphy, who as a young boy exhibited gender non-conforming behavior. Kirk did not act like the other boys, and after seeing a therapist on TV, his parents turned for help to  who they thought were experts. Seeking a cure they ended up subjecting their child to cruel and dangerous treatments at the hands of George Rekers and other anti-gay/lesbian/bisexual/transgender practitioners.

Kaytee Murphy (Kirk’s mom) took Kirk to UCLA, where he was treated largely by George A. Rekers, a doctoral student at the time.

In Rekers’ study documenting his experimental therapy (PDF), he writes about a boy he calls “Kraig.” Another UCLA gender researcher confirmed that “Kraig” was a pseudonym for Kirk.

The study, later published in an academic journal, concludes that after therapy, “Kraig’s” feminine behavior was gone and he became “indistinguishable from any other boy.”

“Kraig, I think, certainly was Rekers’ poster boy for what Rekers was espousing for young children,” said Jim Burroway, a writer and researcher who has studied Rekers’ work.

And of course the treatments did not “work” in the ways that Reker’s reported. Kirk did not change, he simply suppressed whole parts of himself. Like many ex-gay survivors he went underground. He took on masculine roles, and according to his sister, avoided love and possible partnership. He ended up moving far away from the US to India where we ultimately took his life at age 38.

This is a tragic tale about the dangers of  people who offer help while dishing out colossal harm. People like Alan Chambers of Exodus International. People who run local “ex-gay” ministries. Ministers and Christian therapists who counsel lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender people in their congregations that “change is possible.” People who insist that heterosexuality and gender conformity are God’s best and the only healthy way to live. People who target girls and boys who do not behave according to society rules regarding gender and desire. People who offer false promises of a happy fulfilling life if one embarks on a straight and very narrow self-abusive path.

I once forced myself down that very path.

While a few claim they are happy and healthy living ex-gay, seeking an alternative to a lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender identities, the vast majority of us who went down this path say we experienced a world of woe as a result. I spent 17 years chasing the promised change in hopes of being a masculine, heterosexual man of God. Oh I changed, but not how I had dreamed. I grew depressed, isolated, self-destructive, and confused. I have met thousands who have had similar experiences. We have begun to gather, to connect and to share our stories. You can read about some of our experiences at Beyond Ex-Gay.

I am so grateful to Jim Burroway for his in depth, thorough, and thoughtful research and reporting about Kirk and his experiences.  I have consistently been impressed with Jim’s attention to detail and his compassion that runs deep and in many directions (read his report about parents who seek a cure for their queer children.) I feel grateful that Kirk’s brother and sister found in Jim someone willing to get to the bottom of the story. I am also grateful to Anderson Cooper and his producers for properly covering this story–highlighting the harm and not falling into the trap that they somehow have to “show all sides.”

If you went through “change” treatments or on your own attempted to change or suppress your gender identity, gender presentation, or orientation, and you see the harm that has come from it, please get help. As Kate Bornstein repeats over and over–Stay Alive. To me this means not merely surviving, but finding how to reclaim our lives, to embrace lief as we undo the damage of these soul crushing experiences.

One resource that may help is Dr. Jallen Rix’s excellent book Ex-Gay No Way–Survival and Recovery from Religious Abuse.  For my part I used comedy and storytelling to expose the horror of my own experience. Also, visit us at Beyond Ex-Gay where you will discover narratives, many articles, artwork (including our survivor collages created by Christine Bakke) and more.

Ex-gay survivor John Holm

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Actually FEMALE-bodied Stars w/ Cellulite

After I serve up special audio essay (Henry Kissinger had a Boob Job!) Zack Ford and I discuss BODIES. How do we talk about bodies? What is intersexuality? What are some challenges transgender people face? Can a man have an abortion? We lay it all out on the table and just talk about all our hesitations and yet curiosities with bodies, mixed with some recent news.  Take a listen, and then tell us your hangups and joys when it comes to bodies!

The Queer and Queerer Podcast Episode 47!

Listen to this week’s episode:

(Please click here to listen on iPad/iPhone or download.)

Here’s some more information about what we talked about this week:

» Peterson Toscano’s A Musing: Henry Kissinger had a Boob Job!

» Intersex Society of North America

» Abortion not a women’s issue? Feministing: Behind the backlash: what’s so scary about deconstructing the gender binary?

» Malaysia’s got an anti-gay camp for boys, but it’s illegal.

» Texas considers banning trans marriage. But in Texas, different kinds of trans marriages are legal because of Littleton v. Prange.

» PBS’s In The Life highlights transgender Injustice at Every Turn.

Subscribe to Queer and Queerer in iTunes!

The feed has the 25 most recent episodes; the rest are archived on this page.

If you use a different podcatcher, the Queer and Queerer raw feed can be found here.The feed has the 25 most recent episodes; the rest are archived on this page.
Like us on Facebook for instant updates, new episodes, and discussion!
Follow Zack (@ZackFord) and Peterson (@p2son) on Twitter.
Even though the podcast is hosted on Zack’s blog, please make sure you Like me on Facebook as well!
Our theme music is “Appalachia” by Machelli. Download his album, “Opus,” on iTunes.

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David Weekley knew he was male in spite of his female body. Over 35 years ago he underwent a physical transition from female to male then pursued a vocation as a Methodist minister. Through all those years only a select few people knew about his transition and past. His children were unaware (he and his wife adopted) as were his congregation and church leadership. But then he determined he needed to tell his story–first to loved ones, then the bishop, and finally his congregation. His book, In from the Wilderness, opens with the moment of David’s (and his wife Deborah’s) public announcement to their congregation in Portland, OR, and then pulls back to reveal David’s odyssey from childhood until that day and beyond with the consequences that followed.

Reading the book I continually felt the urgency to share history–our history–the transgender, bisexual, queer, lesbian, gay queer collective and individual histories. We are a people with a past, and reading of David’s hero’s journey to pursue authenticity for himself as man and member of the clergy,  immersed me into the history of the 1970’s in the US and the singular steps by transsexuals males at that time. Added to the mix David shares about the complications of romance and marriage as a trans man and a clergy man. His is also an autobiography of  faith and his steadfast pursuit to be the man he felt called to be. He chose to remain silent for many years regarding his own experiences (a necessary step in order to retain his position during a time when LGBT folks were not fully welcomed or affirm,) yet he grew into a strong advocate for LGBTQ inclusion within the United Methodist Church.

David & Deborah Weekley

Mixing narrative with sermons, David tells his story and the story of a religious institution chronically struggling over the “gay issue” which by extension affected many other types of queer folk. David helps explore some of these challenges providing outsiders a rare glimpse into the workings of church politics.

But the strength of the book is David’s story and the process he and his family took in coming out to the congregation capturing that bold, audacious moment when he did it. In the LGBTQ movement we benefit from our elders and their stories. David Weekley’s personal account pulls back the curtain on a special time in history that many have not heard much about–female to male transsexual narratives in the 1970’s.

Regardless if you are religious or not, transgender/transsexual or or not, David Weekley’s book is well worth reading–a slice of history validated and a life celebrated.

In from the Wilderness–Sherman: She-r-man, 125 pages, Wipf and Stock Publishers. Forward by Virginia Ramey Mollencott. Regularly $18.00 available on-line for $14.40

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This week, Zack and Peterson welcome to the show Carl Siciliano, founder and executive director of The Ali Forney Center in New York City, which provides shelter for LGBT homeless youth. Since its founding nearly ten years ago, The Ali Forney Center has been on the forefront of addressing the epidemic of homelessness that impacts young LGBT people at absurdly disproportionate rates. Still, in 2011, the center only can offer 57 of the 200 beds available nationwide for the thousands of LGBT youth living on the streets and fights for the funds to provide even that. Carl shares with us the history of the center and the uphill battle to save our community’s young people.

Carl Sicilano

The Queer and Queerer Podcast!

Listen to this week’s episode:

(Please click here to listen on iPad/iPhone or download.)

Here’s some more information about what we talked about this week:

» This week’s erotic poem: Sublimation Point by Jason Schneiderman.

» Donate to The Ali Forney Center.

» Sign the Change.org petition to protect LGBT homeless youth in NY.

» Read Carl Siciliano’s open letter to Governor Andrew Cuomo.

» Read more stories from LGBT homeless youth in California (PDF).

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Dr. Jallen Rix, co-facilitator of Beyond Ex-Gay,  an online resource for people who suffered harm as a result of trying to change and suppress their sexual orientation or gender difference, spent a lot of time listening to former ex-gays. He shares scores of stories in his book Ex-Gay No Way! Survival and Recovery from Religious Abuse.  He recently compiled short but powerful messages from those of us who endured anti-gay therapies and ministries. He writes:

It seems that the Ex-Gay Movement continues to be oblivious to the harm they are causing. Here’s just a few tweets that came in since Friday morning. They reveal some of the harm ex-gay survivors have faced and have had to overcome. Each tweet was tagged #exgaysurvivor

Broken by ex-gay survivor Jason T. Ingram

Whenever I make a mistake, I still fight the voice in my head that tells me it’s because I’m evil and possessed by a demon –  @cylestnichole

After my gay-related exorcism, the only thing that went away was my love for myself –  @vcervantes

My family was deeply wounded by Exodus International staff –  @p2son

Has barely begun to scratch the surface of the ways they have been harmed by their ex-gay past… it is all too painful... –  @never_again4

In ex-gay ministry, I was told if I wasn’t changing to str8t then I wasn’t trying hard enough –  @gaysexpert

The twisted Emotionally Dependent Relationship teaching is an invasive species that digs into the brain. Awful –  @MJaneB65

The thing is, the silent or implied messages were often more insidious than the direct and explicit ones. – @JarredH

I became depressed and suicidal after ex gay therapy. – @jeraskew1

Never would I have considered that there was a problem with the system. I was made to believe I WAS the problem –  @gaysexpert

Being told not to form Emotionally Dependent Relationships kept me in fear of love. http://t.co/97hetHL –  @MJaneB65

It was awful because so often ex-gay leaders blamed ME for not trying hard enough or trusting Jesus –  @p2son

The only time I’ve ever felt separated from God was during my ex-gay experience – @cylestnichole

I was told that if I was gay, God would utterly reject me –  @gaysexpert

God is not the author of confusion, but of love. My time in reparative therapy produced nothing but confusion and hate –  @never_again4

They told me that I had gay demons. Then that abuse made me gay. Then my parents failed. #exgay ministers misled me -@p2son

They told me my “boy” was too much and my “girl” was not enough. I became nothing. @MJaneB65

college sent me to ex-gay therapy & all I got was a hospital bill after trying to kill myself bc they told me I was sick&sinful –  @never_again4

After 10 years of reparative therapy I was hospitalized because I was suicidal –  @MJaneB65

Actual Suicide note: “God would rather have me die now than to live with another gay thought.” –  @gaysexpert

‘Love Won Out’ came to my college. After that, I attempted suicide 3 times within one year. I never told any of my friends –  @cylestnichole

My counselors didn’t believe I existed. And, like Tinkerbell, poison and disbelief almost killed me. I do believe in fairies! –  @connoley

 

Art by Ex-Gay Survivor, Christine Bakke

Do you have experiences of ex-gay harm? Tweet yours by using the hash tag: #exgaysurvivor

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