Gay Jesus themes are discussed in two new books: “It Was Too Soon Before…” by Dirk Vanden and “Gay Jesus” by Steve Gillman.
Each author takes a dramatically different approach to the same subject. Vanden’s book is the autobiography of a gay pioneer, including his mystical/psychedelic visions of a gay Jesus. Gillman’s book is a set of 10 anti-authoritarian essays, with the title essay pointing out that a gay Jesus would reveal people’s prejudice.
Vanden is also a talented artist who did two paintings based on his gay Jesus vision, “Take Away the Cross” and “Ecce Homo (Behold the Homosexual),” also known as “Jumping Jesus.” Both appear in his new book as well as in our previous post “Gay Artist Does Inspiring Jesus Art.”
In his autobiography Vanden tells how he fell in love with Jesus, “meek and mild, loving and forgiving,” while growing up gay in a sexually repressive Mormon family. When he turned out to be irreversibly homosexual, he felt abandoned by Jesus for many years. Vanden’s journey includes California’s thriving gay counterculture of the 1960s, the AIDS death of his longtime partner, retirement into obscurity and a “rebirth” as his books have been rediscovered by modern gay literary scholars.
During an acid trip at a gay bathhouse in San Francisco in 1970, Vanden had a life-changing experience of seeing Jesus incarnated in every Gay man, including the author himself. This gay Jesus vision changed Vanden’s life and gave him a new sense of purpose. He also described the vision in fictionalized form in his 2010 novel “All of Me.” (See our previous post Gay Jesus vision appears in new mystery novel.)
In one of the final chapters Vanden expands on the vision by writing a creative, sex-positive gay gospel. The Bible does not record what Jesus did during his teen and young adult years, so Vanden fills in the gap, using clues from the Bible, the gnostic gospels and his own life as reference.
Vanden imagines the friendship between Jesus and Abdul, the son of a traveling merchant from Persia who sold rugs for the houses built by Jesus and his father. Abdul seduces the teenage Jesus. In a reversal of the usual story, Vanden’s Jesus hitches a ride on Abdul’s caravan to follow his guiding star to meet the wise man Melchior. They make love and Melchior inducts him into spiritual mysteries. Over the next 10 years Joshua lives with and learns from three wise men before he returns to Galilee to start his public ministry.
“It Was Too Soon Before…” is nicely put together designed with two sections of photos, a list of wise aphorisms at the end, and a well designed cover with some of Vanden’s art. He painted the pastoral nude cover image for “It Was Too Soon Before…” as an ad for the bathhouse where his gay Jesus vision occurred, and it hung in the lounge there for many years.
Published by the widely respected Lethe Press, the book features an introduction by Toby Johnson, award-winning gay spirituality author. Johnson was mentored by comparative religion scholar Joseph Campbell. He uses mythology to put Vanden into the heroic framework of the quest for the Holy Grail.
As Johnson writes, “Vanden’s life story shows how Gay men necessarily transform their religious upbringing to create a kind of personal new vision of their own, based in personal experience and deep intuition, that fulfills their zeal to be good and contributing persons, offers them a life of adventure and discovery and, most importantly, that makes sense in the modern, scientific, post-mythological world.”
Some readers may find it a bit jarring to move from Johnson’s epic introduction to Vanden’s sometimes crude vocabulary. For example, the f-word appears as early as the table of contents. Others may relish reading a spiritual message and wrapped in earthy language.
Still he does raise important questions in the book: “Why couldn’t Jesus be homosexual, and why should his sexual orientation have any bearing on the message in his teachings? Unless a person believes--or at least subconsciously feels--that there is something wrong with a man being attracted to others of the same gender, how could that person reject a gay Jesus?”
Born in Michigan in 1964, Gillman is an author and entrepreneur who writes about politics, travel, economics, backpacking, inventions, and ideas in general. He self-published “Gay Jesus” in e-book form only. Gillman doesn’t claim to be an authority on any subject--not even anti-authoritarianism. After a quick take on the gay Jesus, he moves on to cover a variety of topic ranging from glorification of the Bible to government intrusions on individual freedoms through the military, taxes, and jury duty.
This post is part of the Queer Christ series series by Kittredge Cherry at the Jesus in Love Blog. The series gathers together visions of the queer Christ as presented by artists, writers, theologians and others.