Drag queens and the bobbittizing of God

Spiritual Reflections

God needs to be bobbittized. No doubt about it.

In 1993 Lorena Bobbitt cut her husband’s penis off with a knife while he was asleep in bed. At the trial, Lorena testified John Bobbitt raped her and physically battered her on multiple occasions prior to the evening of the severing of his tallywacker, that they lacked financial stability and that he stole and spent her earnings. Lorena was found not guilty due to insanity causing an irresistible impulse to sexually wound her husband. The couple soon would get divorced. John’s penis was able to be reattached and he later would appear in two adult films.

To be bobbittized is to have your gigglestick, your ding dong, your schlong, your wiener, cut off (and not reattached). To say God needs to be bobbittized is to communicate God should not be conceived solely as a male with male genitals.

Although the church’s book, the Bible, does refer to God as a male, it also has instances of God referred to as a female, including Jesus describing God as a woman sweeping a house to find a lost coin. But I’m less interested in what we can learn from Bible verses that support the bobbittizing of God and more interested in what drag queens teach us about the necessity of bobbittizing God.

Before his retirement, Philip Culbertson, an Episcopal priest, was a drag queen, who taught Practical Theology at the University of Auckland School of Theology. Culbertson argues God needs to be bobbittized, not so much to make room for languaging God as mother, but because God is beyond gender. Society, particularly patriarchial society, tries to impose a dualistic concept of gender, but God’s incredibly diverse creation refuses such reduction.

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Culbertson further emphasizes that genitals are not gender, while describing what it was like to be Ophelia, the drag queen.

In 2001 and 2002, I spent a small, but significant, part of my time performing at night in drag, mostly in Auckland gay clubs. . . .Here, I want to concentrate on what I learned through such a unique — and frankly, self-surprising — experience that has offered me some new ways to think about God and gender.

The very first time I appeared in make-up and a wig, in my late 50s, I discovered a theretofore-unknown “self” that was quite alive and feisty in me. Ophelia, as she became known, just emerged, suddenly, “growed like Topsy full-blown.” She was like Joan Rivers, at least before Joan had too many facelifts. She was the epitome of what is called in New Zealand “cheeky” — possessing a kind of playful rudeness, taking the piss out of both herself and others. She liked the way her legs looked in nylons; she loved to admire her fire-engine-red artificial fingernails. She dashed out to get both ears pierced so she could drip in diamonds. She began to design clothes to perform in and hired a dressmaker. As Carole-Anne Tyler remarked in her powerful study of drag culture, “If boys will be girls, they had better be ladies.” Or perhaps I should cite, transgressively, de Beauvoir, “One is not born a woman, but becomes one.”

Even after all the years I’d spent on a shrink’s couch, I never knew she was there. For two years, by day, I was a respected left-wing theology professor, and by night Ophelia was such a popular performance artist in the Auckland bar scene that in the 2001 “Golden Stilettos” awards, she was named first runner-up in the “Best Up-and-Coming New Drag Queen” category. Ophelia was not me, or at least, not any “me” that I had known in the previous five decades. Yet, she was there, hiding in some space of exclusion inside of me, and once invited, she easily popped out to play. I had spent years getting comfortable with a variety of masculinities that I knew how to perform, to echo Robert Connell, but until the arrival of Ophelia, was unaware that I knew how to perform at least one kind of femininity — however hilariously rude. Only afterwards did I grasp, on a deep level, Butler’s claim that genitals (sex) do not determine gender. (Philip Culbertson, “Bobbittizing God, On the Importance of the Divine Genitals Remaining Unmangeable,” “The Bible and Critical Theory, Volume 5, Number 1, 2009, Monash University EPress, 3-4.

This is why I love drag queens so much.  Yes, they provide laughter and entertainment for people who have experienced heartbreaking, life-crippling rejection by family, friends, co-workers and a large segment of the population. Just as important, though, they exhibit and demonstrate the fluidity of gender and do not allow any honest, willing-to-learn person to accept binary, dualistic portrayals of creation.

I’ll be honest. When I arrived at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in 1976, I was a homophobic heterosexual. By 1977, my concrete mind had been cracked due to the courage of two gay men who were out of the closet. I was so impressed with their Christian faith I had to conclude one’s sexual orientation was not a sin, but a great gift from God.

Around 2000, as pastor of Wedgewood Church, I received an email from a transgender person wanting to know if she would be welcome at the church. My initial thought was, “Oh shit, what have I gotten the church into? What have I gotten myself into?” I soon had transgender friends who were best friends, and I learned transgender people are not perverts but are some of the most courageous, incredible people who walk the earth.

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Later I read Marcella Althaus-Reid’s books, “Indecent Theology” and “Queer God,” in which she describes God as a drag queen. So I thought — “I’ve become friends with, and learned about, gay men, lesbians, intersex, bi-sexual, transgender, bi-gender and asexual incredible people; I need to become close friends with some drag queens for the sake of friendship, so I can learn from them and have fun with them, but also so I can learn about God. If God is a drag queen, then getting to know drag queens must be a priority.”

I have already had the privilege of getting to know a few drag queens, but in 2017 I want to get to know even more. At Wedgewood  Church I would like to have a monthly worship segment featuring a drag queen. The drag queen and I would do a skit/question-and-answer time together. It will be fun, not stuffy. Who better to teach the Christians, Muslims, Buddhists, atheists and agnostics we have at Wedgewood Church than a drag queen?

I also want to have an annual drag queen contest at Wedgewood Church. It wouldn’t just be your average drag queen contest, though. It would be a drag queens contest by a church to celebrate all drag queen do for the world, to say thank you to drag queen and to proclaim to all the world that God has no gender and that genitals do not determine gender.

Who knows? Maybe other things could happen too, like using Wedgewood Church’s stage and fellowship hall for a training center for people interested in starting their drag queen careers. You’ve got to start somewhere. Wouldn’t it be great if drag queens got their start in a church?

Let me know of your interest: Rev. Dr. Chris Ayers, 704-604-0556, christophermarkayers@gmail.com. Wedgewood Church is at the corner of Tyvola and Wedgewood, not far from South Park Mall, 4800 Wedgewood Dr., Charlotte, NC 28210.

info: Rev. Dr. Chris Ayers is senior clergy at Wedgewood Church.

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