This is part five of a seven part series on
LGBTQ+ themes and the Bible.
The seven themes are:
- The Closet/Coming Out
- Queer/Alternative Family
- Transition & Transitioning
- Drag & Disguise
- Non-Procreative Sex Positive Stories
- Breaking Norms: Gender/Social/Class
Drag is most commonly the performance of gender, and it can be a pretty extreme presentation of gender. In Transfigurations–Transgressing Gender in the Bible, I get into hyper masculine Esau drag in order to tell the stories of gender non-conformists Joseph and his father, Jacob, Esau’s fraternal twin brother. I was inspired by the account in Genesis when Jacob himself dressed up in Esau drag replete with strap-on furry chest.
There are many examples of people in the Bible who take on another form. They do so for multiple reasons. Sometimes it is for their own protection. We can relate to that. How often have LGBTQ+ butched and femmed it up in order to pass? But there are other reasons people take on a disguise. In the case of Joseph and his brothers, he is in full Egyptian drag and conceals his true identity in order to teach his siblings a lesson.
The example at Wild Goose I gave of a story with drag and disguise is Tamar in Genesis chapter 38. Tamar is married to Jacob’s grandson, Judah’s son, Er. (A great name!) “But the Lord considered Er, Judah’s oldest son, to be wicked—so he put him to death.” As was the custom, Tamar could still have a child who would become the heir. “ So Judah instructed Onan, ‘You are to have sexual relations with your dead brother’s wife, performing the duty of a brother-in-law with her, and have offspring for your brother.'” Onan was naughty though.
“But Onan knew that the offspring wouldn’t be his own heir, so whenever he had sexual relations with his brother’s wife, he would spill his semen on the ground to avoid fathering offspring for his brother. The Lord considered what Onan was doing to be evil, so he put him to death, too.”
(Side Note: Early church fathers called masturbation the Sin of Onan, but if you read the text, Onanism is really a form of birth control Onan imposed on Tamar thus depriving her of her rights and leaves her a destitute childless widow. He refuses to provide her with an heir and instead turns her into his personal sex toy.)
Judah has another son, Shelah, who Judah promises to Tamar once he is a little older. Tamar figures it out pretty quickly she is gonna wait the rest of her life in her father’s house waiting for Shelah to show up. She decides to take matters into her own hands. Her dressing up is both drag and disguise.
Look!” somebody reported to Tamar, “Your father-in-law is going to Timnah to shear his sheep.” So she took off her mourning apparel, covered herself with a shawl, and concealed her outward appearance. Then she went out and sat at the entrance of Enaim, which is on the way to Timnah, because she knew that even though Shelah had grown up, she wasn’t being given to him as his wife.
When Judah saw her, he thought she was a prostitute, since she had concealed her face. So on the way, he turned aside, approached her, and said, “Come on! Let’s have some sex!” But he didn’t realize that he was talking to his own daughter-in-law.
“What will you give me,” she asked, “in order to have sex with me?”
She brokers the deal and does the deed, and as a security deposit she keeps Judah’s signet ring and staff. The next day when Judah’s servant comes to settle accounts with the sex worker and reclaim the ring and staff, she is no where to be found, and no one in the town knows who the servant was talking about it. A few months later Judah’s family is up in arms because Tamar is pregnant. Right before they burn her at the stake, she dramatically makes the big reveal:
While they were bringing her out, she sent this message to her father-in-law: “I am pregnant by the man to whom these things belong. Furthermore,” she added, “tell me to whom this signet ring, cord, and staff belongs.”
When Judah recognized them, he admitted, “She is more upright than I, because I never did give her my son Shelah.” And he never had sex with her again.
As if she wanted to have sex with him again.
Tamar has little agency to get the justice she deserves. Her disguise serves as an essential part of her plan.
The participants who attended the LGBTQ+ Friendly Bible Hour provide more examples of Drag and Disguise
- Adam & Eve dress up in fig leaves in a reverse striptease
- Abram’s has three visitors–God and two angels in human drag form. (Genesis 18)
- The writer of Hebrews reveals angels sometimes go around in disguise. Hebrews 13:2 “Do not forget to show hospitality to strangers, for by so doing some people have shown hospitality to angels without knowing it.”
- Rebecca dresses her son Jacob in Esau drag with hairy sheep’s cloth in order to steal Esau’s blessing (which was not a very nice way of using a disguise.)
- Jesus is in disguise both before and after resurrection.
What about you? What stories from the Bible do you want to add to the list of Transition/Transitioning stories. Leave you thoughts in the comments below.
Many thanks to Wild Goose and the folks who attended the workshop!
IF you want to hear more alternative readings to the Bible, check out the monthly podcast I co-host with Liam Hooper: The Bible Bash Podcast! available wherever you listen to podcasts.