Thursday, October 25, 2007

Queering the Last Supper


Folsom Street Fair’s Leather Last Supper poster

A poster of Jesus and his disciples as “half-naked homosexual sadomasochists” sparked controversy recently at the Folsom Street Fair in San Francisco.

Under pressure from a media blitz orchestrated by Christian conservatives, Miller Brewing Co. asked to remove its logo from the poster (pictured above). U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi was among those defending the image.

I was all set to issue a major news release promoting this latest addition to the global boom in queer Christ art. Right-wing Christians don’t own the copyright on Jesus! It’s important to create new images of God based on the experiences of gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender (GLBT) people.

However, the image itself made me stop and think.

I certainly endorse freedom of speech and gay culture photographer Fred Alert’s right to make the Leather Last Supper. But the image raises questions that go far beyond whether it’s OK for Jesus to be gay. One purpose of art is to inspire dialogue, and the Leather Last Supper can be a springboard for discussion about what it means to be queer and spiritual. I hope to hear comments from others on the following two questions:

1) Is it good theology?

I like seeing the disciples as contemporary leather folk. Of course, it’s not historically accurate, but it is true to the spirit of Jesus’ ministry. He welcomed everyone. During his lifetime Jesus was often criticized for eating with prostitutes and other outcasts, and some of these “sinners” became his disciples. The Leather Last Supper stands in the tradition of communion as a heavenly “love feast” where all are welcome.

What bothers me most about the leather Last Supper is that, as the Concerned Women for America put it, “The bread and wine representing Christ’s broken body and lifegiving blood are replaced with sadomasochistic sex toys.” In my view, Jesus was God-made-flesh, a total affirmation of the human body, sexuality included. But sex toys seem like a step away from the body, like inserting an artificial device between the direct contact of flesh on flesh. In the sacrifice commemorated by the Last Supper, Christ offered his own body, not a mechanical substitute. Even many queer Christians are offended by images like this.

The leather community and the GLBT community are two distinct categories with significant overlap. A press release from the Folsom Street Fair says that the image was not intended to be “pro-religion” or “anti-religion, adding that “many of the people in the leather and fetish communities are spiritual and that this poster image is a way of expressing that side of the community’s interests and beliefs.”

2) Is it good art?

I see the need for a wealth of queer spiritual images, good and bad, as we try to develop new images and set standards for them. A few people have criticized me for not having high enough standards in my book Art That Dares: Gay Jesus, Woman Christ, and More. So be it. I do try to promote queer Christian images overall in my book, blog and website JesusInLove.org. There aren’t enough spiritual images that speak to GLBT people, and I want to encourage artists to create more of them.

However, I also support the development of our own standards rooted in our own experience. For example, Australian gay theologian Rollan McCleary does pioneering work on setting criteria for queer spiritual art. On his blog he explores questions such as: “Where and when might there be a case for protesting that a line has been crossed and that a given production might reasonably be considered ‘offensive’ to people or, rather more importantly, ‘blasphemous’ by nature?”

I see a difference between the Folsom Street Fair poster and the images in my book Art That Dares. The book does include a photo of a traditional-looking Jesus being adored by queer leather folk, which is part of the Ecce Homo series by Swedish photographer Elisabeth Ohlson Wallin. Like the Folsom Street Fair poster, Ohlson Wallin’s photos use queer models to recreate historic masterpieces of Christ’s life. She even did her own version of the Last Supper using drag queens as models (pictured below), but maintaining the traditional bread and wine.


Last Supper by Elisabeth Ohlson Wallin

The meaning of an image is shaped by the artist’s intent and the context in which it is shown. Ohlson Wallin got angry when some Christians said AIDS was God’s punishment, so she created her drag queen Last Supper for a gay pride art exhibit. In contrast, the Leather Last Supper is a poster used to sell a leather festival and its sponsors such as Miller beer. I question whether it is ever appropriate to use Christ’s image for secular sales.

Some defended the Folsom Street Fair poster by pointing out that there are many other Last Supper parodies, featuring figures from McDonald’s to the Simpsons, from Sesame Street to Star Wars. A quick look at these suggests that they were done as artistic statements, not as advertisements. To me this surprising jumble of images suggests that queers aren’t the only ones struggling to reconcile spirituality with contemporary life.

I thank the creators of the Leather Last Supper for providing a focus for discussion and an image of how Jesus welcomes everyone, even those on the margins.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Poland Gets Its First Coming-Out Book
















The new cover (right) is more “out” than the 1991 original


A Polish translation of my book Hide and Speak will be published as Poland
s first coming out guide for gay men and lesbians.

Hide and Speak: A Coming Out Guide is being translated into Polish for publication by Helion Press, a major commercial publisher in Poland. I signed the contract with Helion shortly before U.S. National Coming Out Day, Oct. 11.

I’m delighted to introduce the power of coming out to Poland’s gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender (glbt) people. The ideas in my book are so new in Poland that the expression ‘coming out’ doesn't even have its equivalent in Polish yet. Helion Press tells me that there are only a few books in Polish about homosexuality, and all of them treat it as a disease or a problem.

The Polish edition will be published within the next 18 months by Helion, one of the largest publishers of business and computer books in Poland. Helion is expanding its business to include psychology titles.

Hide and Speak offers a powerful program of self-acceptance and appropriate disclosure.
for queer people -- and anyone else with a story to tell. Each chapter includes real-life examples and tested, highly effective exercises that I used in coming-out workshops nationwide. The book tells positive ways to come out to yourself, create a circle of supporters and deal with family, job and school.

Originally published in 1991, Hide and Speak was recently updated and released by AndroGyne Press, a new queer studies press based in Berkeley, CA.

Coming out has become easier in America, so the new cover is more “out there” than the older, more discreet version. But Hide and Speak is still much needed even in the U.S.

Hide and Speak has also been translated into Chinese. The Polish edition means that the book is available in three languages.

By writing Hide and Speak, I hope that readers will learn how to live proud, free and balanced, no matter what happens. May it happen in English, Polish, Chinese and many other languages!

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

See Kitt’s National Coming Out Day Video

My video is included in a patchwork of video responses compiled by the Human Rights Campaign for National Coming Out Day, Oct. 11. You can watch my personal coming-out story in the one-minute video by clicking the button in the middle of image above. Or visit HRC’s YouTube page to view it along with more than 30 other video responses. “I dared to come out, and suddenly the world seemed much bigger and full of beautiful colors,” I say in the video as I step out of a real closet wearing a quilt of rainbows. “Telling the truth transformed my life. I’m free!” One viewer at YouTube left this comment on my video: “Oh this is a beautiful video. I’m glad you have been living in this colored world for many years. I have been for 6 months by now, and I’ll never regret to have came out. You’re so inspiring, thank you for that.” My coming-out experience inspired me to write Hide and Speak: A Coming Out Guide. The book offers a powerful program of self-acceptance and appropriate disclosure for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender (GLBT) people -- and anyone else with a story to tell. Hide and Speak tells positive ways to come out to yourself, create a circle of supporters and deal with family, job and school. Each chapter includes real-life examples and tested, highly effective exercises that I used in coming-out workshops nationwide. My goal is that readers will learn how to live proud, free and balanced, no matter what happens. Hide and Speak is not just about homosexuality. The book is useful for all people who struggle with secrets and their consequences. Originally published in 1991, Hide and Speak was recently updated and released by AndroGyne Press, a new queer studies press based in Berkeley, CA. The joy of coming out is what inspired me to write Hide and Speak. May you be blessed today by truth, joy and freedom.

Thursday, October 04, 2007

What’s your vision?

JesusInLove.org is seeking your input on its new vision statement.

Your comments will guide the queer spirituality website in launching series of exciting new projects, including videos, image collections and daily meditations.

Please share your thoughts on the following draft statement:

***
Overview:
JesusInLove.org promotes progressive spiritual arts for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people and our allies. Open to all.

For home page:
JesusInLove.org is an online resource center for progressive spirituality with an emphasis on art and images. It was created by author Kittredge Cherry to foster spiritual growth and creative expression for queer people and our allies. Centered in Christ, we seek interfaith understanding and the freedom to imagine and experience God in new ways.

For “about” page:
Re-envisioning God is one of the most important spiritual tasks of our time. Jesus In Love is a network of people and websites that affirm gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender (GLBT) people and our allies by displaying and discussing progressive spiritual art and issues.

Jesus In Love has expanded to address all forms of progressive spirituality. We still honor Christ, but now we seek interfaith connections. We are still grounded in queer experience, but we actively welcome all people. We continue to promote books and writers, but we now give strong support to art, artists and art lovers of all kinds.

JesusInLove.org was founded by lesbian Christian author Kittredge Cherry in 2005 as the first website devoted to the gay Jesus and the queer Christ. She called it Jesus in Love because she was motivated by the life of Jesus—who was in love, in every sense of the term.

Our logo shows the face of Jesus inside a pink triangle, the symbol imposed on gay prisoners in Nazi concentration camps. Inside the pink triangle, Jesus joins in transforming queer suffering into power.

JesusInLove.org receives thousands of visitors per year. It cosponsored the first National Festival of Progressive Spiritual Art in 2007.

***

The statement will be revised based on comments received. So tell us what you think. Or respond to the following questions:

What would you add, delete or change from the JesusInLove.org vision?

What do you like about visiting JesusInLove.org?

Please post your comments here or email kitt@JesusInLove.org. Excerpts from your emails may be posted on the blog to facilitate discussion.

The Bible says, “Where there is no vision, the people perish.” Thank you for sharing your vision and bringing new life to the Web and the world.