Have you ever considered how many of the best known Bible stories may, in one way or another, be queer or have queer aspects to them? One of the wonderful benefits for everyone of reading scripture afresh 'through LGBTI+ eyes' is certainly the new light that is thrown on so many passages we take for granted. As we bring the wide range of queer experiences to the text we ask different questions and find different things springing out. This is nothing new of course. The Bible has never been a closed book but has always been re-interpreted by every new generation, thereby encountering love and truth in new ways in scripture. It is only fundamentalists and entrenched conservatives who would freeze scriptural interpretation and imprison it in ideology and political self-interest. Take the story of Joseph in the book of Genesis for instance. Reinforced by the success of Tim Rice and Lloyd Webber's hugely successful Joseph and the Amazing Technicolour Dreamcoat, many of us are used to a particular set of 'standard' readings. Recent scholarship however opens up the possibility of other creative interpretations, not least fascinating gender variant possibilities...
Joseph(ine) and his/her princess dress?
The phrase for Joseph's coat which so upset his brothers in Hebrew is kethoneth passim. As such it is somewhat elusive in meaning. Whilst the highly influential King James Version of the Bible translated it 'coat of many colours' - on which Rice and Lloyd Webber built their musical - others, particularly Jewish scholars, would suggest it means something like 'coat with long sleeves', or 'ornamented tunic' or a silk or fine woolen robe (see further, for example Aryeh Kaplan in The Living Torah). What is certain however is that kethoneth passim is only found in one other place in the Hebrew Scriptures, at 2 Samuel 13.18, where, significantly, it is a royal garment of a princess, Tamar, daughter of David. - 'for this' (as the New Revised Standard Version translation puts it) 'is how the virgin daughters of the king were clothed in earlier times.'
What difference does it make if we view Joseph's garment as a princess dress? Was Joseph's rejection by his brothers then based on a gender expression which broke their acceptable bounds? Does this also explain Jacob's particular love for Joseph - the special care by a father ( a 'smooth man' in appearance) who himself had been accused of spending too much time in the (women's) camp? - and the way in which Joseph (like an ancient eunuch) was able to rise and be given special responsibility among the Egyptian leaders and their households? We can never know for sure, but it does give us more than pause for thought.
Telling scripture stories afresh with Queer voices
The 'Quirkily Queer Quaker' performance artist Peterson Toscano has been a leader in this breaking open of the Bible and his lively, informative and liberating work is well worth sharing further (see here for a brief trailer to his Transfigurations - Trangressing Gender in the Bible). Building on this, the Black/trans/queer poet and educator J Mase III has also written a powerful poem about the Joseph story. Speaking from a queer perspective, it tells it as Joseph-Jo-Josephine's tale, bringing alive the violence and rejection in trans experience and the power of redemption. As a Jo- Josephine myself, it is particularly personally moving. Entitled Josephine, it can be found performed by J Mase III in the YouTube clip below.
J Mase III is also an editor of a developing initiative called the #BlackTransPrayerBook. As he describes it:
The #BlackTransPrayerBook is an interfaith, multi-dimensional, artistic and theological work that collects the stories, poems, prayers, meditation, spells, and incantations of Black TGNC contributors. Often pushed out of Faith spaces and yet still deeply connected to a historical legacy of spiritual essentiality, Black TGNC People face unprecedented amounts of spiritual, physical, and psychological violence. The Black Trans Prayer Book is a tool of healing, and affirmation centered on uplifting Black TGNC people and celebrating our place within faith.
To support this valuable project financially, please go to The #BlackTransPrayerBook at gofundme
The Revd Dr Jo Inkpin: