Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Transvestite Jesus appears in photo project

Transvestite Jesus by Bill Burch, 2009

A transvestite Jesus and a female Jesus appear in a new series of alternative Christ photos by Colorado artist Bill Burch.

The images explore, expand and maybe even explode the gender of Jesus. They are part of an ambitious project to create a collage of 100 alternative Jesus images arranged to form a traditional Jesus portrait.

“When viewed from a distance the piece will appear to be a large (very large!) portrait of a traditional Jesus, but when viewed close up it will become the many alternative faces of Christ crucified,” Burch explains.

The model for “Transvestite Jesus” (pictured above) is not a transvestite in real life. Instead Burch found a friend who could represent a traditional Jesus, and challenged him to portray an atypical version. “I coaxed him into the bra and panties for five minutes to shoot these images, then he was back in his paint stained blue jeans and t-shirt,” Burch recalls.

The concept for “Fur Coat Jesus” (pictured below) came from the 62-year-old model herself. “She wanted to portray a feminist Jesus and picked the items of her costume accordingly,” Burch says. He describes the model as a pragmatic feminist who “enjoys stirring the pot, challenging our male dominated Biblical-oriented society.”

“Fur Coat Jesus” is disturbing on many levels because not everyone thinks of high heels and fur as feminist. Perhaps this photo makes a statement that high-heeled shoes are part of the “cross” of oppression born by women… and the animals sacrificed for women’s fashions.

So far Burch has shot Black Jesus, Skinhead Jesus, Fur Coat Jesus and Transvestite Jesus, in color and black and white. The color images, collectively titled “I and my father are one,” show Jesus looking into the light. In the black and white images, Jesus turns away from the light. Their collective title is “Why hast thou forsaken me?”

Alternative images of Christ are the subject of my book “Art That Dares: Gay Jesus, Woman Christ, and More.” These radically new Christ figures embody and empower people who are left out when Jesus is shown as a straight man. They can free the minds of everyone who sees them. I appreciate Bill Burch for inviting viewers question their assumptions about Jesus and connect with Christ in new ways.

Fur Coat Jesus by Bill Burch, 2009


Eric said...

What disturbing pictures! But, then again, in my lexicon disturbing in this context is a good thing. Disturbing images cause one to reflect on one's own preconceptions and if of a sufficiently open mind perhaps even grow through that reflection.

The concept envisioned by Burch, a collage of numerous photos of alternative views of Jesus, all (or nearly all) non-traditional, forming a single traditional image is really quite interesting, in that it forms a sort of metaphor for what growth in our knowledge of Jesus should be. Rather than running or hiding from non-traditional, disturbing theological understandings of jesus, it seems to me that the journey we are all on should be one of embracing the non-traditional and the disturbing, and melding those into a larger more diverse understanding.

Yes, I am disturbed by a tranny crucified Jesus, and perhaps moreso by a fur and high heel wearing female crucified Jesus. And I bask in that feeling!

Kittredge Cherry said...

Thanks, Eric. I couldn’t have said it better myself.

I’ve been reflecting on the transvestite Jesus in light of an upcoming post about Saints Sergius and Bacchus, a gay couple of Roman soldiers who were martyred when their secret devotion to Christ was uncovered in the fourth century. Part of the torture they faced was an unsuccessful attempt to humiliate them by dressing them in women’s clothes and parading them around town.

Early accounts say that they responded by saying that they were simply being dressed to become brides of Christ -- or that they told their captors that women’s dress never stopped women from worshipping Christ, so it wouldn’t stop them, either.

In Jesus’ case, he was dressed up in the fancy robe of a king to mock him before he was crucified, but it might just as well have been women’s clothing.

Trudie said...

The way the Spirit works never ceases to fascinate me. On my way home from Centering Prayer this evening, having not yet logged on to the Blog to see today's posts, I was wondering if you would indeed feature the most "traditional" of Gay saints, Sergius and Bacchus, and sure enough, I see you are planning to do so. And I have no doubt at all that the Spirit is likewise leading us to a fuller and deeper understanding that the more rejected a particular person or concept is by "the Establishment", the more in tune it really is with the reality of what God is trying to accomplish.

Hell's Teeth said...

I LOVE these pictures! They remind me of the direction of Marcella Althaus-Reid's book "Queer God", which I have reviewed on my blog. The only point I have a bit of a problem with is the explanation that the model was not actually a transvestite. Why is this necessary? Why is it important? Is it kind of "It's all OK, he was only acting. He isn't really...?
see my review on

Kittredge Cherry said...

Thanks for your comments. Yes, Trudie, I will be covering both “traditional” and innovative saints of special interest to GLBT people and our allies. I also want to write an overview about “what is a saint?” This will be a long-term project, so watch for various saints in the coming months. Sergius and Bacchus feast day is Oct. 7, so they will be posted then.

Hell’s Teeth, I’m glad you love these pictures. Well, it wasn’t really necessary for me to tell anything about the models. Actually, the art speaks for itself.

As you may know, I majored in journalism and was a newspaper reporter before turning to ministry, and I still have an instinct to find out and tell as much info as possible. I asked the artist about the models because several other artists doing GLBT Christian art made a big point of telling me that their models were GLBT people in real life, and therefore their work had a documentary quality. Both Elisabeth Ohlson Wallin and Becki Jayne Harrelson told me this.

I certainly didn’t mean, “It's all OK, he was only acting.” But perhaps the image does have a different meaning depending on the context. Was it a real transvestite crucified by society for his desire to wear women’s clothes? Or was it a “straight” man who was dressed in women’s clothes as a form of torture preceding crucifixion? Either way, this is a statement against homophobia and sexism. Based on the photos from Abu Ghraib prison, this form of torture continues in our time.