When I was in high school I spent just hours upon hours trying to suss out gay subtext in novels, songs, poetry. I longed for that moment of recognition: the moment when you realize that someone else has put into words and images something you have felt but never understood. It was so frustrating when somebody would slur through a pronoun (is that, “Was a lover, and his last”?) or skitter away from a revealing turn of phrase. And it was so thrilling when somebody–usually Morrissey, bless his heart–suggested that there was a place for all my queer stories and emotions.
It’s often easier to tell the truth in art than in plain speech. In art you can suggest and shade, you can show every angle of a situation instead of just the one you want to champion; you can explore your own doubts and despair within an overall context of Christian faith; you can show the world’s beauty and broken edges instead of just arguing for them. You can admit a lot under cover of fiction, and you can speak in several tongues at once. You can expand the imagination.
So in this post I want to see which stories are out there that show the intersection (or collision) of same-sex sexual desire and Christian faith, in which neither the desires nor the Christian sexual ethic are demonized. Are there stories–plays, paintings, poems, songs–that show people like us?
I welcome your nominations! My own suggestions are below the cut, as well as some ideas about what I’m looking for and not looking for.
Brideshead Revisited is of course the misty shaggy mountain here. It’s short! It holds up to rereading! It’s not for everybody but let’s just get this out of the way: Brideshead, check it out. I think many of us will relate to the ways these characters feel constrained and humiliated by their inescapable faith; the way their faith is neither understood nor respected by those around them; their helplessness, and their patience in the face of repeated or ongoing personal defeat. Also, it’s frequently really funny.
Is it cheating to name Wilde’s Picture of Dorian Gray? Wilde is such a moralist (the moral is usually “Judge not, lest ye be judged”–but not this time!), and this is one of his forays into specifically sexual moralizing: Don’t be a hedonist, y’all. Wilde is so churchy in his ability to sate your senses while reminding you that all the incense and the music points beyond itself, flowing up into Heaven. Anyway this is a Wildean work with pretty strong hints of homoeroticism. If we’re accepting that memoir and essay can also be artistic forms, which I’m semi-okay with although I don’t want this post to focus on that, we can also add his self- and other-lacerating prison cri de coeur, De Profundis.
Beyond the Hills is a heartbreaking movie about two Romanian Orthodox women who grew up together in an orphanage. One entered a monastery when she became an adult; the other comes back to rescue her from religion and reignite their lesbian relationship. It doesn’t end well. My spoilerous review here. This is hardly an inspiring, uplifting gay Christian story–but it is a story that respects its central character’s love of God and her love of another woman.
Therese, the 1980s Alain Cavalier biopic of St Therese of Lisieux, includes a subplot in which another nun develops a crush on Therese. I haven’t watched this in years (though I’d like to revisit it–it’s a sublime film) but I recall it as being handled sensitively, though again, it does not end in reconciliation of desires. So far I guess none of these suggestions really do. Ah well, life is a mystery, everyone must stand alone etc etc.
So, what are your suggestions, people? Here is what I am not looking for: * Art in which a gay/queer/same-sex attracted person realizes it was just a phase or, like, “gets better.” (If they end up marrying someone of the opposite sex that’s fine, it happens to the best of us!, but I am not looking for The Triumphant March of Heterosexuality.)
* Art in which religion and/or the Christian sexual ethic are oppressors to be overcome. A lot of those “how I realized God loves gay marriage”-type narratives will still be of interest to many of SF’s readers, because they’ll draw on experiences a lot of us have had, but they’re not what this post is about. E.g. Choir Boy, or But I’m a Cheerleader!–well worth your time, but not what I’m looking for.
What I’m down for: * Art by somebody who eventually rejected SF’s understanding of Christian sexual ethics, but which is not about that rejection and which treats our position sensitively.
* Art that’s not explicit or completely blunt about its themes. I thought about saying, “If you’re not sure if there are gay people or Christians in this song, don’t suggest it,” but that’s untrue to the covert and coded way queer people have expressed ourselves–and it’s untrue to how art works. I know I’m opening the door to a lot of projecting one’s own desires or beliefs onto others but sure, go ahead, tell me about your Sufjan Stevens feelings. We’re all friends here.
* Art that you and I would fit into a tradition of “same-sex desire,” whether or not the creators would have understood that desire sexually. Again, I know this is tricky because I don’t want to suggest that all intense same-sex desire or longing is sexual. But I do want us to be able to talk about art from before the rise of gay identity language, and that means being open to ambiguity. Frederick Roden’s Same-Sex Desire in Victorian Religious Culture is a real treasure trove of this stuff, especially for fans of English poetry–he includes both women and men.
Okay, your turn. What else is out there?