Despite the articles claiming “Gen-Z Is the Queerest Generation Ever,” further research shows we’ve always been here. Queer history has been a rapidly growing area of study for the last 50-years, helping us reexamine texts through a non-cisheteronormative lens. Now, queer history is generally accessible on many platforms, like social media. Accounts like @ericcervini show us the queer undertones of ancient stories dating back to Mesopotamia, and accounts like @lgbt_history display the presence of queer activism and rebellion throughout American history (even before Stonewall).
However, it’s still difficult to unearth queer history within the Chrisitan church. Analyzing history through a queer lens rarely reveals clear answers because homosexuality was never granted special attention in the church except when punished. It’s hard to be certain of anyone’s queerness unless they were excommunicated, exiled, or executed for it (like Isaiah of Rhodes and Alexander of Diospolis in the sixth century). As important as it is to acknowledge the abuses of LGBTQ+ people in the church, it’s exhausting and discouraging to only read tragedies. That’s why I’ve chosen to focus this article on more silent and surprising stories: because it’s crucial that we highlight in our study of history those who challenged the status quo.
Since LGBTQ+ people existed before the foundation of the church and continue to exist now, it’s reasonable to assume that queer people also existed in the church. Diverse people have lived in all parts of history, and regardless of different cultural understandings of sexuality, there is plentiful evidence of people that we would now consider queer Christians serving in the church.
One man who truly challenged the status quo was Baudri of Bourgueil, bishop of Dol in the eleventh century. Baudri wrote beautiful poems on love and friendship, often blurring the line between the two. In an essay by Gerald Bond describing Baudri’s career and writings, it’s evident that Baudri was outspoken on the issues of his day and often controversial in his relaxed acceptance of secular culture.(1) His many letters on erotic love were directed toward both men and women, but most notably to one man named Walter.
Baudri never dismissed his desires; rather, he viewed them as an essential part of the human’s experience of God. Further, he wrote in one of his letters to Walter, “God is readier than man to grant indulgence.” Despite the clearly erotic undertones of his poetry, Christian scholars still debate whether or not he was queer, or if he was simply partaking in the highly-popularized cultural conversation on godly friendship.(2) But who’s to say he wasn’t doing both?
Another person that inspires much curiosity and uncertainty is Julie D’Aubigny, later known by her married name Madame de Maupin. Though she popped up in my research on queer figures in the church, she could hardly be considered a church-figure (and you’ll see why). However, her story is too fantastic to ignore. Little is known for certain about her because her reputation relies heavily on rumors, leaving us to wonder: what kind of life did she lead to cause so much gossip?
Julie was born to a noble swordsman and grew up learning to fence. She was known for cross-dressing and dueling with men, and was quite talented at it. After joining the opera, rumors surrounding her sexuality indicate that she slept with many fellow performers, both men and women. Julie then fell in love with a woman, whose parents reacted by forcing their daughter into a convent. Julie followed her lover, however, and joined the same nunnery. Legend says when their time to escape arrived, they placed the recently deceased body of a head nun into her lover’s bed, then burned down the nunnery so it appeared that Julie’s lover died in the fire. They were caught and charged for their crime, but the High Court of Aix refused to convict Julie on account of her gender, embarrassed that women (more than that, lesbians) could commit such a crime. The story of Julie D’Aubigny’s short 37-year life continues in this fantastical vein, leaving historians with many unanswered questions.
It’s clear from these examples that history depends heavily on interpretation, so it’s difficult to trace queer figures and know for certain their thoughts, desires, and actions. Nothing shows this more clearly than John Boswell’s work, Same-Sex Unions in Pre-Modern Europe. Boswell argues that the old Catholic adelphopoiesis ceremony resembles that of a marriage, and it was considered something like a “brother-making” custom between two people of the same sex (typically male). He does not argue that such ceremonies are gay marriages, rather, he suggests there may have been more room in the early Catholic church for same-sex intimacy than previously assumed. Predictably, his book received a large wave of criticism and the Catholic church stated that adelphopoiesis is only a church-recognized friendship union.
This firm pushback is consistent with Pope Francis’ 2020 statement that gay people are “children of God” and deserve church-recognized protections, but without changing their doctrine. Many queer advocates thought this wasn’t enough while many traditional Catholics thought it was too much, and perhaps interpreting the function of the adelphopoiesis ceremony falls under a similar category.
Evidently, the historical taboo on queerness obscures a true understanding of many Christians, which leaves us wondering at the past. But even more evidently, we can still receive encouragement from the dozens of stories throughout church history of queer Christians at work for the Lord. Thanks to many hardworking queer theologians from the 20th-century to today, we now know that we’ve always existed outside and inside the church. To honor some of those theologians who helped illuminate our place in God’s kingdom, the next blog post will dive into their stories so we can better understand their impact on our lives. Though we don’t know much about those who came before us, we can be certain that we’re not alone in the broad scope of history and we will not be forgotten in the future.
1. Bond, Gerald A. “‘Iocus Amoris’: The Poetry of Baudri of Bourgueil and the Formation of the Ovidian Subculture.” Traditio, vol. 42, 1986, pp. 143–193. JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/27831184. Accessed 1 June 2021.
2. Boswell, John. Same-Sex Unions in Pre-Modern Europe. Vintage Books, 1995.
Vines, Matthew. God and the Gay Christian: the Biblical Case in Support of Same-Sex Relationships. Convergent Books, 2015.