It was déjà vu all over again when this e-flyer arrived from Union Theological Seminary. It came on Good Friday, announcing a performance piece sponsored by Union’s The Institute for Art, Religion and Social Justice:
“Godfull: Shape Shifting God as Queer”
A pageant of sorts, Godfull: Shape Shifting God as Queer is billed as a “performative symposium” convened by artist Carlos Motta and minister Jared Gilbert. It promises “performative lectures” and performances by a group of academics, activists, artists and theologians to reconnoitre the intersections of queer politics, spirituality and social justice. Herewith, the press release, minus the schedule of events. Please read:
The regulation of sexual activity is the primary system for controlling bodies within religions and the societies they influence. Such regulations often authorize violence against bodies as well as the depravation and social stratification of gender and sexual identities. As lesbians and gays have gained unprecedented visibility and in some cases legislative recognition, American faiths have by and large opened their doors to those homosexuals who manage to comply with institutionalized systems of social respectability. These faiths are now unwittingly complicit in new forms of heteronormative oppression.
Queer sexuality, bodies and activism form the ground from which queer art, spirituality and political narratives nurture new visions of a just society. At the same time, queer communities remain in constant tension with these visions, always exploring the evolving and deviant backside of spiritual, political and social spaces.
Godfull: Shape Shifting God as Queer explores queerness as a constant force of disruption in theology and sexual politics. The participants speak of a “queerness” in theology that is particular and explicit of the queer body, a “queerness” that represents a constant pursuit of new social and spiritual revelations through deviant, subversive and indecent affirmations that will continue to challenge repressive notions of morality and respectability.
Heteronormative oppression. That is queer-speak for the steadily progressing belief that a just society is one in which there are no norms. Social justice becomes a smokescreen for the wrecking ball that swings closer and closer. The arts are on hand to serve as advance agent for new Utopian revelations. And doing theology—another curious usage—is the ordained way to bless the enterprise.
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I used to run a life drawing session out of my living room. A gaggle of us, all figurative painters, gathered every Tuesday evening to share a model. My role was to keep the kettle on and book the models. I dialed one name on my list—call him Tom. He was enrolled at Union Theological Seminary and, yes, he was available.
We chatted some—subway stop, hourly wage, duration of poses—long enough for Tom to confide, “I do costumes and feathers, too.” Ah, well, that’s good to know, Tom. Another time perhaps, but not this week. Thank you anyway.
Truth to tell, I am fond of costumes and feathers. But there was something off kilter about having them on offer by a candidate for the ministry. Besides, the implicit flamboyance signaled an exhibitionist bent. Odd as it seems, exhibitionists often make unsatisfying models. They bring a certain stageyness to the job that infects the pose, drains life from it. The architecture of the body—the subject under scrutiny in these sessions—is subordinated to a theatrical tableau, the kind of artifice implicit in the phrase “striking a pose.” But I digress.
At the time, I was a bit bewildered by a Union seminarian’s voluntary admission of camp accessories to the mundane business of disrobing for a roomful of working painters. In retrospect, I ought to have expected it.