ChickenBones: A Journal
for Literary & Artistic African-American Themes
Da Vinci’s gay male homoerotic subtext pries open the door to the alluring quality
about the Catholic Church that gay men find both rabidly homophobic and ravenously homoerotic.
Church’s Code Keeps Jesus on the “Down low”
By Irene Monroe
For many of us who have always cast a suspicious eye on why biblical scholars, theologians, and ministers do not have a clue as to who the historical Jesus was, Dan Brown’s bestseller and now blockbuster movie, The Da Vinci Code, sheds an illuminating light onto the hysteria that maintains the mystery.
And the mystery is that there has always been an open secret about Jesus’ sexuality that not only attacks the pillars of Christianity, but also profoundly plays into the oppression that women as well as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer people face today in both church and society.
And that open secret about Jesus’ sexuality – suggesting that he was gay or married, not that the two are mutually exclusive if Jesus was on the “down low” – point to the cultural war issues we are wrestling with today, namely the institution of marriage, women in the church, and gay clergy.
With suppressed information deriving from Gnostic gospels and apocryphal texts finally emerging from out of the closet, ecclesiastical authorities wrestle to keep the millennia-long lid on tight about the historical Jesus.
However, the debate about Jesus’ sexuality takes him from his mother’s womb to his tomb. The Christian depiction of Jesus as that of a life-long virgin who had no sexual desire and who never engaged in sexual intercourse raises anyone’s suspicion, because by today’s sexual standards, Jesus’ homosocial environment of 12 men suggests, according to the law of averages, that at least one out of the bunch was gay.
And given the nature of compulsory heterosexuality playing in Jewish marital laws during Jesus’ time, Jesus might have been forced to be on the “down low.”
Encrypted in Da Vinci’s 1498 painting “The Last Supper” is a spiritual and sensual narrative about both the sacred feminine and homoeroticism found in religious life.
And while many Christian fundamentalists and evangelicals find Da Vinci’s sensuous painting blasphemous, Da Vinci’s gay male homoerotic subtext pries open the door to the alluring quality about the Catholic Church that gay men find both rabidly homophobic and ravenously homoerotic.
When asked in 2002 during the Catholic Church sex scandal why so many gay men are attracted to religious life and the priesthood, Mark D. Jordan, professor in the religion department at Emory University and author of The Silence of Sodom: Homosexuality in Modern Catholicism, told The Boston Globe:
Homoeroticism is written into the Catholic imagination and its institutions. Many gay believers feel a strong calling to the priesthood or religious life. The call doesn’t seem to deny same-sex desires; it seems instead to complete them. It is a call to act out your manhood against social expectations, outside heterosexual marriage and in the company of other unmarried men.
They are promised an exchange of their “disordered” identity as outsiders for a respected and powerful identity as an insider. They want to remain in the beautiful, sexually ambiguous space of liturgy. They are drawn to public celebration of suffering that redeems [and] they want to live in as gay a world as the Catholic Church offers.
And let’s not forget the theological significance and homoerotic overtones in ritual kissing that was a vital part of worship during the early centuries of the Christian Church, as passing the peace with a hug and/or handshake is a vital part of worship in today’s Christian churches.
Kissing on the lips was a way of binding a community together and it always followed the communal prayer, the Eucharist, or rites of baptism and ordination. Kissing on the lips was seen as transferring a portion of one’s spirit to another, sharing in the collective blessing of the Holy Spirit, and it was only permitted among those of the same gender.
While homophobia in today’s Christian churches is antithetical to the early Church, so too is the denigration of the sacred feminine.
It is unlikely, given Jewish marital customs, that Jesus was not married, and he probably was assigned a wife long before he became an itinerant preacher and met male and female disciples on the road.
Jesus is rumored to have sired a child. And Jesus’ baby’s mother, Mary Magdalene, was a woman of ill repute, according to biblical gospels. However, who Jesus had sex with while away from home, if not his wife, is the hysteria that prohibits us from ever knowing the historical Jesus.
Whether Jesus had sex with males and/or females, he tapped into the forbidden zone – his sacred feminine. The sacred feminine is not only the life force tied to women’s ability to produce new life, but is also the power of the erotic that African-American lesbian poet Audre Lorde depicted as “a source within each of us that lies in a deeply female and spiritual plane, firmly rooted in the power of our unexpressed or unrecognized feeling.”
Our sexualities are the expressions of who we are with and in our bodies. They are a language and a means to communicate our spiritual need for intimate communion – both human and divine. They are our self-understanding through which we experience the world.
However, the hysteria that surrounds Jesus’ sexuality forces us all to see the walls of partition erected in our society, in our churches, and in our families that prohibit us from living freely in our bodies and force some of us on the “down low.”
And these walls not only contribute to the false socialization of who we are as male and female, but these walls also contribute to the false spiritualization of who we are as the body of Christ.
posted 22 June 2006
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Edited by Miriam DeCosta-Willis
Blacks in Hispanic Literature is a collection of fourteen essays by scholars and creative writers from Africa and the Americas. Called one of two significant critical works on Afro-Hispanic literature to appear in the late 1970s, it includes the pioneering studies of Carter G. Woodson and Valaurez B. Spratlin, published in the 1930s, as well as the essays of scholars whose interpretations were shaped by the Black aesthetic. The early essays, primarily of the Black-as-subject in Spanish medieval and Golden Age literature, provide an historical context for understanding 20th-century creative works by African-descended, Hispanophone writers, such as Cuban Nicolás Guillén and Ecuadorean poet, novelist, and scholar Adalberto Ortiz, whose essay analyzes the significance of Negritude in Latin America. This collaborative text set the tone for later conferences in which writers and scholars worked together to promote, disseminate, and critique the literature of Spanish-speaking people of African descent. . . . Cited by a literary critic in 2004 as “the seminal study in the field of Afro-Hispanic Literature . . . on which most scholars in the field ‘cut their teeth’.”
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By Melissa V. Harris-Perry
According to the author, this society has historically exerted considerable pressure on black females to fit into one of a handful of stereotypes, primarily, the Mammy, the Matriarch or the Jezebel. The selfless Mammys behavior is marked by a slavish devotion to white folks domestic concerns, often at the expense of those of her own familys needs. By contrast, the relatively-hedonistic Jezebel is a sexually-insatiable temptress. And the Matriarch is generally thought of as an emasculating figure who denigrates black men, ala the characters Sapphire and Aunt Esther on the television shows Amos and Andy and Sanford and Son, respectively.
Professor Perry points out how the propagation of these harmful myths have served the mainstream culture well. For instance, the Mammy suggests that it is almost second nature for black females to feel a maternal instinct towards Caucasian babies.
As for the source of the Jezebel, black women had no control over their own bodies during slavery given that they were being auctioned off and bred to maximize profits. Nonetheless, it was in the interest of plantation owners to propagate the lie that sisters were sluts inclined to mate indiscriminately.
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From The World and Africa, 1965
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update 26 December 2011