Last year for Fr. Shannon Kearn’s Queer Theology synchroblog I wrote about the image of God in Genesis and the potential to reimagine the dominant interpretation of the creation story otherwise (and some material from that has reappeared here in edited form). To queer creation is to reimagine from a perspective that’s not invested in upholding heavily binarized categories: man-woman, human-animal, creator-created, and so on.
There can be no doubt that the narratives of Genesis 1-3 (creation, the Garden of Eden, Adam and Eve) have been weaponized and used against LGBTQ folk in order to delegitimize their existence, to name them as “unnatural” or “contrary to creation”. Transgender people, for example, are told that God created “man and woman”, and that to “tamper” with one’s “biological sex” is sinful and disordered; and those who are nonheterosexual often hear that clichéd refrain: “Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve.” For many Christians then, Genesis 1-3 is about the goodness of the cisgender and heterosexual monogamously married couple and how such a model has its origin in God.
Creation and Transgender People
Theologies of creation, at least in Christian circles, often revolve around ideas of complementarity and binaries; one even told me that “God’s creative work is making of binaries”. When I read the text from my own transqueer perspective however this isn’t what I see at all.
In Controversies in Body Theology (2008, p. 96), Martín Hugo Córdova Quero argues that churches incorporate the patriarchal insistence on the sharp division between male and female bodies into their interpretive practice; in other words, churches presuppose the division and consequently see it in the biblical text. Others may counter that the way in which I am about to read the text does exactly the same thing, and in a sense, they are right. The difference however is that queer readings aim to deconstruct and challenge dominant ones based in hetero-patriarchal logic so that we can see the possibilities of the text, its potential otherwiseness.
In his article Quero quotes a sermon from Barb Greve, a Unitarian Universalist, who writes:
Society’s need to define, dichotomize, and limit gender sacrifices the real life experience of people like me. Rather than trust us to identify our own gender, society tries to force us into one of two options: man or woman […] Is it so hard to imagine that there are more than these 2 fixed points […]?
The way that I have come to read the Genesis 1 creation story from my experiences as a queer person may be summed up with word teemingness. Reading the text I notice a very crucial division between what the authors consider nonliving (heaven, earth, sun, moon, light, darkness, land, sea) and living (vegetation, plants, fruit trees, insects, beasts). The difference relates to teemingness.
The nonliving objects are divided (arguably sharply) into dichotomized pairs: heaven/earth, sun/moon, light/dark, land/sea. The living plants and creatures, however, are always presented as teeming over the earth after their kind (Genesis 1:11-12, 20-21, 24-25). Given the variance displayed among the animal and plant kingdoms, it seems strange to suggest that God’s creative activity would only cover two sets of human beings. Why can’t humanity teem as well, in all its different kinds?
There are also ways to challenge the apparent sharpness of the dichotomies as well, which would bring into question whether humanity can even be so neatly divided into male and female persons (male and female understood here as innate biological categories). Margaret Moers Wenig in Torah Queeries (2009, p. 16) understands the phrase “male and female” as a “merism”: a figure of speech in which “a whole is alluded to by some of its parts”. She furthers:
When the Biblical text says, “There was evening, there was morning, the first day,” it means, of course, that there was evening, there was dawn, there was morning, there was noon time, there was afternoon, there was dusk in the first day. “Evening and morning” are used to encompass all the times of day, all the qualities of light that would be found over the course of one day. So, too, in the case of Genesis 1.27b, the whole diverse panoply of genders […] is encompassed by only two words, “male” and “female”.
What we should also bear in mind when reading the text is God’s own plurality. Not only do living beings teem over the face of the earth, but God is spoken of in the plural as well. In Genesis 1.26-27, God says, ‘Let us…’. Creation is not mono. It is not one. God here is speaking to others like hirself.
It is interesting that the divine plurality is only invoked by the author in reference to the creation of humanity; plants produce other plants, sea creatures produce other sea creatures, land animals produce other land animals, so when God says ‘Let us make humans in our image’, what is happening? God is creating other divinities, other creators who are like God.
The Hebrew word for “image” is tselem and in the Bible it is used in a material sense; it is bodied. We are told for example that Adam begets a son “in his own image” and likeness. The author of the text strongly implies contiguity of human bodies and God’s body/ies. Our picture of creation is no longer simply that of a deity who segregates everything into neat black and white categories; the distinction between God and Human is also no longer simple to cut.
What does this have to do with queer people, though? If divinity and creativity is polybodied, if “male and female” reveals a spectrum, if the polyvalency of the image of God dethrones the ideal Mono-Human (the cisgender, straight heterosexually married one), then (y)our queer body/ies is a revelation of God, and partakes of the it-is-goodness of Genesis 1.
Cissexist and heterosexist readings of Genesis 1 are turned on their head because there is no predefined body to which we must conform. There is no mandate to be fixedly male or female, or for everyone to pair off heterosexually. Humanity has filled the earth and continues to do so. Creaturely life swarms over it.
Our bodies belong in creation and are worthy of all honour and respect that is accorded to God. The fact that you are in some sense deity-filled also means that you are a creator and the identities we forge with our bodies as creators are, above all, good.