I've been asked by a few friends to compile a list of readings for gay Christians, or just the arguments that I've encountered in general. Additionally, as I've been compiling this list, I've noticed that my own position is informed by my own experience, my own reflection on readings that have nothing to do with this list, and my own willingness to question Christianity, empathizing with, possibly, the outsider (c.f. The Good Samaritan). So, before I dump a bunch of readings on you, I'd like to make a pointed reflection that gets to the heart of the matter.
There is a question, first off, of "problematization" of LGBTQ identities. That is, to turn one's identity into an object, to flatten one's life experience to a textual or logical surface; to put it up for grabs and subject it to debate. Maybe this move is helpful in a particular setting like a philosophy classroom, but I imagine that no one willingly enters a community where their identity will be put up for grabs, questioned, objectified, and scrutinized. So, according to one tweet that I read once (which I believe!), many "affirming" gays that grow up in the church and choose to remain Christian hold a seminary-level knowledge of the Bible and Christianity just to survive--or to resolve the problematization--(this is definitely true for me), where, maybe, the rest of the community can remain Christian without much reflection. Gays, here, as people-holding-desires (rather than, like the rest of ethics, as actions-which-people-perform) have been transformed into an object for trouble and must engage with the church in a deeply personal and academic way, or, alternatively, leave the church. It is the fact that gay (and LBTQ+) identity is made into a problem that has exhausted me: that the church has engaged in LGBTQ culture wars for over 50 years, with only a few denominations making a conclusive, public decision for explicit LBGTQ support. For the LGBTQ+ communities, the message that "you are a problem" is not a gospel full of hope but one of despair; one that's fruit leads to death.
At the risk of sounding extreme, it is well-documented that LGBTQ people face a higher risk of suicide than the general population. Additionally, if, as Durkheim proposes, suicide is a fact of the social margins, then the church, whenever it acts as if LGBTQ+ desiring is in some way "disordered," or second-best, or not-normal (however subtly and implicitly), enforces this marginalization, creating narratives of LGBTQ exclusion, and marginalization. While there may be exceptions to this statistic (not every LGBTQ religious person commits suicide), the fruit of this spirit is, often enough, literal death.
From this perspective, there are two options: either continue to turn the LGBTQ population into a problem, or turn the narratives, traditions, texts, and communities that we take for granted into content to be questioned. I lean more often towards the second option, with the hope that the "Christianity" that we've been handed can survive the scrutiny and criticism directed towards it, in order that it can unfold in new and life-giving ways. So, with that, here is a reading list.
For the articles, and some of the books, I've attached a link to a PDF. Some of the books you'll have to buy, or, if you ask me (and are interested!) I can scan excerpts (or the whole book if you want it badly enough). At the end, I'll give my recommendations, like an expedited list, and some further reflections.
EVANGELICAL ARGUMENTS (DEBATING THE TEXT):
-Homosexuality and the Bible: Two Views by Dan O. Via: Robert Gagnon (anti-gay) and Dan O. Via debate on the acceptance of homosexuality within the Christian tradition. Gagnon argues for a more “traditional” view, that the Bible condemns homosexuality. O. Via argues that we must be conscientious of how we read the Bible; although the Bible may condemn homosexuality, he suggests that an existentialist hermeneutic is a more honest and thoughtful way to approach a text that has material ramifications in individual’s lives. AKA, our experience always informs how we read a text (how else would we understand the reference of words, and which ones to value?), so we should use the experience of consensual, monogamous gay couples to bear on Christian tradition and its text. I think O Via’s argument is more self-conscious, well-thought-out, and ‘meta’ than Gagnon’s (who remains within a fundamentalist paradigm, ignorant of his own historical perspective bearing on the text); we should consciously humanize a text by reflecting on our own experience.
-Unclobber: Rethinking Our Misuse of the Bible on Homosexuality by Colby Martin: Colby Martin presents “pro-gay” arguments, contextualizing biblical “clobber” texts. He remains within the evangelical perspective. ALSO: I think he has videos on his website, if that’s easier.
-God and the Gay Christian by Matthew Vines: Like Colby Martin, Matthew Vines presents a case for a “pro-gay” evangelical perspective. Good book; he’s aware of historical context.
-The Oxford Encyclopedia of Bible and Gender Studies: Same-Sex Relations: An extensive list of arguments surrounding same-sex relationships in the Hebrew Bible and New Testament, with references from scholars, acknowledging traditionalist and contemporary views of “Biblical” sexuality. A skip to the “modern debate and legacy” section gives a nice overview. LINK HERE
BEYOND 'TRADITIONAL' EVANGELICAL ARGUMENTS (STILL DEBATING THE TEXT):
Paul’s Masculinity: Jennifer Larson: Paul might be “gay,” or rejecting a Roman conception of ‘masculinity.’ Good summary of first-century Roman conceptions of gender, and how Paul plays into them—distancing our conceptions of gender (and implicitly, sexuality) from ancient ones. LINK HERE
-Seven Gay Texts: Robert Gnuse: Good summary of some of the arguments against “clobber verses.” Some are outdated, or whatever, but it’s a concise and good resource. Recommend for QUICK READING: LINK HERE
-David and Jonathan: by ME: David and Jonathan, from the Bible, had gay sex. David Tabb Stewart alluded to this passage, and I read it. Here’s an informal article. LINK HERE
-Paul, the Goddess Religions, and Queer Sects: Jeramy Townsley: Townsley argues against homosexual/lesbian condemnation in Romans 1:23-28; that the passage more meaningfully refers to idolatry. LINK HERE
-On the Beds of a Woman by Bruce Wells: Argues that Leviticus 18:22 and 20:13 prohibit male-male sex between men married to women. LINK HERE
Quick note: there was a master’s university dude who published a counterargument to this, which, although the author did not seem to know it, raised questions like “what counts as literary and historical context? How much does a context inform a text’s meaning? How do scholars date texts? Can two words in the same historical context mean different things?” etc. The counterargument dude did not really answer the questions that he implictly raised (instead, he just said that his statements were obviously true), so the next resource contains some direction on those things:
Ancient Sexual Laws: Text and Intertext of the Biblical Holiness Code and Hittite Law by David Tabb Stewart: A comprehensive look at Levitical laws; particularly interesting is the section on male-male incest. I enjoy the Methodologies section too, because it is an accessible and (relatively) concise introduction to how scholars might approach an ancient text. LINK HERE
-Queer Bible Commentary: Leviticus, David Tabb Stewart: A comprehensive view into the structure and meaning of Levitical passages. Particularly, section 8 (p.96) is interesting, where Stewart argues that male-male-incest is prohibited in Leviticus 18:22 and 20:13. His final section, "An Appeal to the Reader for a Queer Love," is really cool. LINK HERE
Queer Bible Commentary: Romans, Thomas Hanks: A close and broad reading of Paul's letter to the Romans, attentive to the rhetorical tactics and the unity of the text as a whole. Additionally, Romans quotes the Levitical male-male sexual prohibition (which David Tabb Stewart argues is incest; others argue as pedophilia). LINK HERE
Queer Bible Commentary: Corinthians, Holly E. Hearon: A reflection on the letters to the Corinthians, especially for the GLBTI community; particular thoughts on 'unity', along with an examination of the word 'porneia,' 'malakoi,' and 'arsenkoitai' as some form of Levitical incest, decadence, and prostitution. Also, understandings of gender, etc. LINK HERE
-God’s Beauty Parlor and Other Queer Spaces In and Around the Bible, Stephen D. Moore: A fun and provocative book that seeks to extend queer readings of the Bible, focusing on masculinity, homoeroticism, beauty and violence. At the very least, I’d recommend reading the introduction: LINK HERE
HERMENEUTIC ARGUMENTS (AKA: WHAT THE H*CK IS A TEXT, WHAT IS INTERPRETATION, AND HOW DO WE DO IT?). HERE, HOW DO WE INTERPRET A TEXT IN NEW, THOUGHTFUL, AND SPACIOUS WAYS?
-What Does New Haven Have to Do With Lubbock? by Kenneth Cukrowski: Raises fun hermeneutics questions in a short way. Outlines both New and Old Testament regulations, asking the reader to decide which rule is “permanent” and which one is “cultural.” It is written for other professors of religion, so it might read differently than one addressed to Christian practioners or theologians engaged in a debate. The Appendix is the “important” part, where we might ask how, exactly, we decide which Christian rules to follow and which ones to ignore. LINK HERE
-Hermeneutics and the Human Sciences by Paul Ricoeur: Ricoeur digs phenomenology. Some of his essays are helpful for shaking apart our understanding of what a text is, questioning the readings that we take for granted. A *bit* more abstract than anything else, really, but, to quote my professor: “Paul Ricoeur made a big impact on me.” Especially chapters 4,5,7. LINK HERE
-LBGT-Queer Hermeneutics and the Hebrew Bible by David Tabb Stewart: One of my professors made waves in queer Bible interpretation; here is his summary of the status of queer hermeneutics. A VERY GOOD RESOURCE!!! LINK HERE
-Biblical Narrative: Joel Rosenburg: A summary of narrative approaches to the Hebrew Bible. LINK HERE
-The Art of Biblical Narrative: Robert Alter: Argues for close reading, emphasizing the narrative components of a Bible normally construed as “historical.” LINK HERE
-The “Sacred” Text and the Community: Paul Ricoeur: What is a ‘sacred’ text; proclamation vs manifestation; contrasting to a critical edit (aka ‘historical’ approach to a sacred text). LINK HERE
-Subjectivity and Belief by Kathy Rudy: Rudy's experience being 'outed' at Duke university in the 90s, where she was forced to switch from a religion department faculty position to a position in women's studies. Reflects on subaltern studies and the Black church to encounter a fragmented faith; to let people come and go to and from the faith freely. LINK HERE
-Antimarriage: Paul Fletcher: Christian sex is fascist; a simulacra-like performance of desire, analogous to IKEA. Quotes Georges Bataille (only for a bit, tho; put your cool shades on, for this is, in fact, a very cool essay, although weird). Slightly dense, but a good sense of the academic direction of queer theology. My copy is heavily underlined. LINK HERE
-Faith Beyond Resentment: James Alison: Great gay Catholic reflections; he’s a good-ole Girardian, too. I think the term “the violence of the closet” comes from him. Somewhere, either in this book or the next, he talks about how the (Catholic) closet and risky hookup culture are intertwined (that as long as sex is extremely prohibited in Christianity, gays will find other, unhealthy and risky outlets for a sex not-discussed by the church: his argument has a flavor of realism to it); a useful reflection. (BUY THE BOOK)
-Undergoing God: James Alison: More James Alison, reflections on being Catholic and gay. BUY THE BOOK
-In the Shelter: Padraig O Tuama: Another gay “Catholic” dude. I’m a big fan; he makes thoughtful theological reflections, while also giving a glimpse into the gay-Catholic religious life. (He went through conversion therapy, but left because his therapist “used language badly.” What a badass.) His reflections on the body are some of my favorites, and this book has been a hit for both gay and straight people (He's just a cool guy; I want to be his friend). (BUY THE BOOK).
-Queerly a Good Friday: Jeanette Mei Gim Lee: Biracial lesbian, self-identified queer creates a reading of Simon (who carried Jesus’ cross) based on her own experience. LINK HERE
-Christ and Culture by Richard Niebuhr: Offers five different perspectives for the relation of "Christ" to "Culture," enacting a critical reflection on what "Christ" means, and what "culture" means, and how the Christian might be related to both of them. A bunch of people say that it's a "classic" reading; and it nuances the Christian ethical dialogue beyond mere acceptance or rejection of culture. BOOK PDF LINK HERE
-Excerpt from Jedidiah Jenkins To Shake the Sleeping Self: White gay guy reflecting on growing up in a conservative Christian household during a bike trip. LINK HERE
-Close to the Knives, David Wojnarowicz: an artist’s memoir as he faces the AIDS crisis. Wojnarowicz encounters sex, drugs, an apathetic government, and voices a rage against a world that has no place for him.
Although the book is laden with despair, and Wojnarowicz is skeptical of words that give courage and false hope, he admits, “What cheers me is seeing these friends as fighters who have fallen to their knees but who are up again and returning to fighting condition before my eyes. I am glad I am alive to witness these things; giving words to this life of sensations is a relief.” Like many pieces from the AIDS crisis, the book traces both the experience of despair and resilience from gay men in America.
LINK HERE. I’d skip to the chapter “Living Close to the Knives,” but I like the whole book.
- “The Evidence of Experience,” Joan W. Scott. Experience is always contested: is experience evidence of a particular identity? Or does experience (as the foundation of knowledge) merely reproduce ideological systems, never contesting them? Scott challenges the idea that experience is unmediated and transparent, or that is autonomous from language. LINK HERE
(I think a good pair for this might be Charles H. Long’s “Silence and Signification,” for he suggests what we might do with a language never fully transparent.)
-Judith Butler—In Theory: Ellen T. Armour & Susan M. St. Ville: A very good summary of Judith Butler’s theory found (at least) in Gender Trouble. LINK HERE
-The History of Sexuality Vol. 1; Michel Foucault: Not only is this a mature work of Foucault’s thought; it is also a way of questioning the 'historical' stability of our constructions of sexuality. What Foucault calls “Power” not only delimits sexuality repressively, but also determines which forms of sexuality are permitted—sexuality is both positively and negatively discursively constructed. Even my conservative Christian professor thought that Foucault, here, brought up good points. (BUY THE BOOK: IT'S SHORT)
-Archeology of Knowledge; Michel Foucault: Dense. Something close to Foucault’s approach (not exactly a method) to discourse and history. Foucault’s scholarship has made waves in post-structuralist thought, feminist, and queer movements, so, he is, in fact, important. (BUY THE BOOK)
-Gender Trouble, Judith Butler: Paves the way to question the subject of feminism, opening up third wave feminism to broader trans-inclusivity. Although, her solution is that gender should be parodied, for it is a discourse that cannot be escaped: gender should be proliferated and revealed as contingent, rather than absolute. (BUY THE BOOK).
-Queer Religiosities Introduction; Melissa M. Wilcox: Intersectional analysis and an overview of both Religious Studies and Queer/Transgender Studies. I think it’s a bit condescending and dumbed-down, shallow; but it is a good introduction. Good reading list at the end, too. LINK HERE
Between Men; Eve Sedgwick: Male Homosocial Desire. Read the intro and first chapter, and you’ll be fine. Describing the continuum between male homosociality and male homosexuality; differentiated (unlike lesbianism, apparently) by male homophobia. LINK HERE
ALTERNATIVE RELIGIOUS PERSPECTIVES (YOU DON’T KNOW ONE RELIGION/CATEGORY OF KNOWLEDGE UNTIL YOU KNOW AT LEAST TWO; COMPARATIVE AND SELF-REFLECTIVE):
-A Gay Orthodox Rabbi: Steve Greenberg: Hasidic Jewish male comes out as gay. Short and cool. LINK HERE
-Excerpt from The Soul of the Stranger: Reading God and Torah from a Transgender Perspective: Addressing Gen. 1 & 3, questioning the gender binary in Torah. LINK HERE
-Looking for Allah; Andrew K.T. Yip with Amna Khalid: Case study of LGBTQI Muslims in Britain and North America. Good anthropological account, rooted in lived-experience. I find a lot of it comparable to Christian experience. LINK HERE
-Trans* Atlantic Religion: Spirit Possession and Gender Ideology in Cuban Santería: “this article argues that Santería offers a genderqueer way of understanding the relationship between gods and humans.” LINK HERE (ADD LINK, BLAKE!!)
-La Conciencia de la Mestiza: towards a new consciousness; Gloria Anzaldua: Reflections on a Mestiza identity that exists ‘on the border.’ Or, between cultures. Mestiza affinity with ‘queer.’ LINK HERE (ADD LINK, BLAKE)
GAY BOOKS (BOOKS FOR INSIGHT INTO GAY EXPERIENCE, YKNOW):
-James Baldwin, Giovanni’s Room: Gay Fiction, great book; Ocean Vuong once talked about how it is difficult for some straight critics to find hope or goodness in this book; queer and BIPOC critics, however, are much more aware of a narrative that is not so “bleak.” (BUY THE BOOK)
-Velvet Rage, Alan Downs: I’m pretty sure I’ve talked about this on gay dates a lot. It’s one of those books that some say all gay men should read, about how to deal with self-validation and stuff, by a therapist. Many of my gay friends talk about this one. (BUY THE BOOK)
-Brokeback Mountain; Annie Proulx: I love this movie. The book is great too. The short story that inspired the “gay cowboy movie,” although some critics said, “it’s not even gay” (despite the (SPOILER!!) gay sex!). Maybe it’s ripe ground to question what type of construction “gay” even is. BUY THE BOOK (or watch the movie)
-Song of Achilles; Madeline Miller: Patroclus and Achilles’ story, but rendered gay (as if they weren’t gay already!!). BUY THE BOOK
-A Little Life; Hanya Yanagihara: According to goodreads reviews, “the most depressing book [Emily has] ever read.” Or, Michael Flick put it on his “worst” shelf. Or, Estelle says, “melodramatic, pretentious, dumb, overwritten, repetitive, laughable, cringe-inducing, self-indulgent, unbelievable, stereotypical, voyeuristic, [and] contrived. Thank you, Estelle.
But the New Yorker calls it subversively brilliant. 4.4/5, 4.3/5, etc. It might be worth a read, despite the accusations of “being too sad.” Is it for sadbois? Definitely. Antoni from Queer Eye wears a shirt with a reference to this book on it.
-Heartstopper: Bingeable and Cute
-Portrait of a Lady on Fire: a fun question to ask when you’re watching is “when do you know that they’re gay.”
-Boy Erased: Boy who grew up in a conservative Christian household comes out as gay. Father is a pastor (jeepers!); mother loves him anyways. Very helpful for (at least) my parents to understand a conservative Christian gay experience.
-Flee: Refugee/Gay documentary
-When We Rise: Docudrama following the LGBTQ civil rights movements.
TRANS STUDIES: (I have not put nearly enough effort into this field yet. SO, I will update this periodically).
Journal: Transgender Studies Quarterly: LINK HERE
Transgender History; Susan Stryker: Book with the history of the trans* movement in the West, along with a list of terminology that is important. It is a great overview, although it is dry at some points.
Trans Torah: Some trans passages in the TORAH. LINK HERE
-Frameline Voices—Pay it No Mind: The Life and Times of Marsha P. Johnson: Gay activists reflect on transvestite activist Marsha P. Johnson. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Bo0nYv9QIj4
-Extermination of the Joyas: Gendercide in Spanish California; Deborah A. Miranda: Account of “third gender” genocide from Spanish Colonization. LINK HERE
Sometimes, uncritically, the intro books to LBGTQ stuff find “causes” for alternative sexualities, genders, etc. For example, the Transgender History book mentions that transgenderism might be a result of exposure to chemicals commonly found in pesticides. The author does not seem to have the sensitivity to criticism here: not only is causality difficult to determine, especially in a case like this, but causality also determines that (in this case) transgenderism is contingent on pesticides. A detracting commentator might ask, “well, shouldn’t we try to eliminate transgenderism by controlling pesticides?,” as if transgenderism is, itself, a disorder. So, given the problematic nature of causes, it might be best to ignore questions of etiology (no one asks, in turn, where cis-genderism comes from).
Broader LGBTQ experiences
More trans stuff
Bigger focus on LBT; most content I’ve got is clinically anthropological, focusing on religious communities
BLAKE’S SUGGESTED READINGS FOR QUICK STUFF:
-What Does New Haven Have to Do With Lubbock?: Raises fun hermeneutics questions in a short way.
- The Oxford Encyclopedia of Bible and Gender Studies: Same-Sex Relations: covers the bases pretty well.
-LGBT-Queer Hermeneutics and the Hebrew Bible by David Tabb Stewart. Comprehensive and accessible.
-The introduction to God’s Beauty Parlor, because it is good.
-Watch Heartstopper, it’s cute.
Clearly, this is not an exhaustive nor conclusive list of LGBTQ+ Christian or religious content. And, for many, the questions raised by the LBGTQ+ "issue" in the church somehow threaten the integrity of Christianity, so that we must, at last, ask, "what does it really mean to be Christian?" I cannot give a definitive answer to this, but I do know that many queer folks are less concerned with being labelled as a Christian and more interested in pursuing a spiritual life. And so, one of my suggestions is to read the Bible critically and closely, and also holding a willingness to include the outsider (implicitly broadening our conceptions of 'what it means to be Christian'), like the action found in the Parable of the Good Samaritan. Here, my recommendation is the book "Into the Silent Land" by Martin Laird. Or, it is just that people would seriously engage a contemplative or prayer life, and see what happens.