Ecce Homo -
Ruminations on a Theology of My Queer Body
By Connell O'Donovan
One day in March 1977, as a fifteen year old Mormon boy confused by and fearful of my sexuality, I walked into my high school religion teacher's office in Clearfield, Utah and tried to explain to him the depth of what I then perceived as my sinfulness. Overwhelmed by guilt and confusion, there were no words with which I could speak my crimes. When words failed me, Brother Wood cautiously asked, "Do you think you might be homosexual?" Relieved and grateful that he had spoken what I could not, I only nodded in humiliation. And thus began my ten year journey through the belly of the beast; ten years of negotiating my way through the Mormon Church's torturous experimental programs for "reorienting" me into a heterosexual.
During those ten years, church leaders supplied me with many anti-Gay books and pamphlets published by the church; I personally attended many addresses given by high-ranking church leaders who spoke in no uncertain terms about the evilness of my "condition"; I spent years in humiliating weekly interviews with various church leaders in which I was required to give graphic details about my thoughts, dreams, actions, desires; in 1978 I was counselled by a church leader to go to Brigham Young University, to try vomitting aversion therapy (but somehow I had the sense to refuse this torturous "cure"); I went to a Mormon pyschologist for hypnotherapy in which he had me visualize myself split into Straight Rocky and Gay Rocky and then had "Jesus" come down through the ceiling to trample Gay Rocky to death; I frequently spent hour after hour in total fasting, prayer, and scripture reading, begging for answers, begging "God" (who is a white, heterosexual male in Mormon dogma) with every ounce of my being to validate my piety and faithfulness by "curing" me, changing me into a heterosexual; I frequented the secret rituals of the Salt Lake Mormon Temple - always feeling too unworthy to be in such a holy place but too afraid to be anywhere else; I developed and maintained a profoundly personal relationship with Jesus Christ; and later, having been ordered to do so by a high Mormon official, I married a woman in the Salt Lake Temple in order to experience "normal" sex. And through it all, I remained distinctly and completely Queer.
Several years after my painful departure from Mormonism, I finally realized two vital things about my relationship to religion. First, my feelings of profound, obsessive intimacy with Jesus Christ were clearly and overtly of a homoerotic nature. I had carefully masked my homosexuality by deflecting my love and desire for other men onto the suffering body of Christ. Jesus had become for me the Ultimate Lover - masculine but gentle, patient, godly, all-loving, and best of all absent, unavailable. In coming out (and thus finally accepting the physical realities of sex and bodies), my desperate intimacy with Christ ended. Second, I discovered that while I had been carefully taught that I was not worthy of any spirituality because of my Queerness, in reality I had a spiritual nature that was completely independent of (and perhaps even antithetical to?) religion. The sense of holiness that always overwhelmed me whenever I entered the Salt Lake Temple was not because of any intrinsic holiness that could be attributed to the edifice itself, but because I had made it holy. I now understand that the presence of my Queer body in the Mormon Temple had sanctified that place for me. As my Queer Quaker predecessor, Walt Whitman, wrote, "Divine I am, inside and out, and I make holy whatever I touch or am touch'd from". My spirituality and my (homo)sexuality became reconciliable (indeed, inextricably so) at last.
Because of my Queerness, I was profoundly wounded by my family, my religion, my government, my culture, my society. But I have chosen to feel that wounding as a site for rebirth and renewal. Those gaping wounds have become openings, entrances into the mystical Silence that (for me) is "God". And there, in that Silence I have found Voice. In that Silence I have found ways to articulate and speak my body - this body of a Gay, white, bourgeois, able-bodied North American male. In that Silence I have found ways to articulate my difference(s), my queerness(es). And there in that Silence I have found the beauty of other Queer men's bodies. In the past, I referred to these articulations as a "gaialogy". While theology is the study of "theos" (the male god), gaialogy is the study of Gaia, the Greek Earth Goddess. (Some, like Lesbian poet and cultural anthropologist Judy Grahn, have theorized that we Gay people are named after Gaia - a tempting theory but not likely.) For me, gaialogy emphasizes earth, connectedness, bodies, cycles of life and death, fluidity, the lack of opposites, chthonian tensions, and joy. Gaialogy celebrates what is.
It is upon the basis of my body and my sense of connectedness with earth and matter, that I have found so much of my healing. I recently spent two and a half years living in the desert of southeastern Utah. It was there that I first discovered that I even had a body. And it was there that I learned to love that body, for I would look at the ruddy sandstone canyon and know the beauty thereof. And then I would look at my body and see similar ruddy canyons there. At last I knew the beauty of my own canyons, my owns fins, cliffs, buttes, mesas, and alcoves. Right there, in and upon my body! It was an exciting time for me.
That was also the beginning of my return journey into subjectivity; subjectivity in that I am truly seeing that of God (the "I am") in everyone and (moving beyond the Friends' "Testimony of Equality") everything. This is a return journey because I remember as a child feeling no sense of being able to objectify people and things around me. I was carefully taught objectification later on. My Queer Self as a child came naturally with the ability to relate as subject with subject (not as subject to object).
Recently, during Quaker Meeting for Worship, I had a vision (which is odd, as I'm such a skeptic about such things) of the immanence of "God", in which we danced together naked in the center of the Silence of Meeting, swirling, twirling around each other ecstatically, holding hands, our eyes laughing in bliss. And this "God" with whom I danced was the Faggot-God. So beautiful, so male, and so very, very Gay! A couple of weeks later, I painted a large mural on my bedroom wall of this Faggot-God, dancing. Now I find myself cycling back toward a "theology" (in that this "God" is male), although more of a "homotheology", into which I incorporate "gaialogy" as well.
When I make love with another man, I dwell upon the mysteries of his sameness (rather than his otherness). With my lips, I brush the nape of his neck, and I find "God" there. Then I ruminate on the unblurred similarities and symmetries of our beautiful bodies; on the tension of muscle, bone, sinew; on the choreographies of our desire. I cry out from all my skin and hear my own voice echoing from the warmth of his body. And the vibrations of the echoes last for hours and days, filling me from my in to my out. I relish my concavity to his convexity and his concavity to my convexity. With the newest of tongues we begin to speak: that he and I are two whole and perfect subjects of desire - not subject and object, but subject and subject, without loss of identity, both of us still able to clearly speak our names. From the edge of my skin, I follow the geographies and topographies of his body and I see and know that his body is my body is his body. Subtle differences contained within Sameness. Through the grace that is Desire, I carefully trace my name upon his skin so that I can remember how to fable the ineffable; and to remind him until the very end that no longer is it that I want him, need him, or love him, but that...
I AM HIM.
© 1996, Connell O'Donovan
Please do not copy without my express, written permission.
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