Wednesday, January 21, 2009
Can you imagine? A gay Nativity scene
I got excited when I first heard that a gay and lesbian Nativity scene was planned for the 2008 “Pink Christmas” festival in Amsterdam. Live actors were supposed to play a pair of Marys and a pair of Josephs.
I let my imagination run free envisioning new variations on the familiar manger scene. Love makes a family -- including the Holy Family. Everyone should be able to see themselves in the Christmas story, including gay and lesbian people.
I postponed writing about the gay and lesbian Nativity until it was staged. Now I’m glad that I waited because the reality fell far short of what I expected.
My heart sank when I saw the photos and video of the gay Nativity with two men (NOT two Josephs). They were a stereotypical drag queen and leather daddy. A male entertainer named “Miss Wendy” Mills posed as Mary in a blonde wig and black, high-heeled boots. I have nothing against transvestites and leather folk, but these guys seemed like a parody of themselves, with no loving “family” connection to each other whatsoever. Apparently there was no lesbian version at all.
Naturally I found out about the gay manger scene from news reports on Christian conservatives trying to stop it. Queer Christians almost never make the news unless somebody is opposing us. Conservative Christians complained that the gay manger scene mocked Christianity, but I feel that it makes a mockery of GLBT life.
Frank van Dalen, head of the ProGay group that organized the festival, said that the queer Nativity was meant to encourage people to think about homosexuality and religion. It did have that effect on me. I had my own lesbian Christian spiritual awakening while I was waiting for the event.
While waiting for the event, I imagined that the Amsterdam GLBT community would enact Nativity scenes that showed loving lesbian and gay families like those that I have known. Scenes of a lesbian Madonna and her female partner with the baby Jesus have been created by artists such as Elisabeth Ohlson Wallin of Sweden and Becki Jayne Harrelson of Atlanta. But this was the first time that I’ve seen a gay Joseph and his male partner with the Christ child.
Why not? According to the Bible story, Joseph was an adoptive father anyway. The Virgin Mary had Jesus without having sex with a man -- much like lesbian mothers who use artificial insemination.
I had a personal breakthrough as I realized that my mind was still trapped in heterosexual assumptions about the cast of characters at Jesus’ birth. I remembered going to a huge exhibit of Nativity scenes when I was a young lesbian in seminary. They had statues of Mary and Joseph with the Christ child portrayed as every conceivable racial and ethnic identity. Not once did I consider that my own community was missing -- there was no lesbian version with Mary and another woman. Nor was there a gay version with Joseph and another man. Only now, some 20 years later, did it occur to me that LGBT families should be represented in the mix.
Inspired by the Amsterdam example, I suddenly realized how easy it would be to make my own lesbian or gay Nativity scene. All I would have to do was buy two standard Nativity scenes, and switch the figures around. It would be easy to put Mary with Mary and Joseph with Joseph -- like putting two brides or two grooms on top of a wedding cake! My partner and I toyed with the idea of getting two sets of Nativity lawn decorations and turning our yard into a queer Christmas display.
However, rearranging the Holy Family is not as easy as it might seem. In many cases Mary, Joseph and Jesus are wedded together in one inseparable, three-headed blob. What does that say about our attachment to idealized, sanctified heterosexuality?
During the recent after-Christmas sales, I ordered two Nativity sets with freestanding figures. Yes, I’m going to do it. You’ll see my reconfigured lesbian and gay Nativity scenes on this blog next Christmas.
Meanwhile, you may watch Amsterdam’s gay Nativity scene captured live on video.
Update Dec. 22, 2010: Gay and lesbian Nativity scenes are available now as Christmas cards at the Jesus in Love Store.