WATER thanks Professor Patrick Cheng of Episcopal Divinity School for a wonderful hour on “What Does Queerness Have to Do with Feminism?” We learned a great deal and are indebted to Patrick for modeling how men do feminist work.
Following are highlights of the conversation, as well as data from Patrick to facilitate further study. These materials, along with the audio recording of the conversation, form a nice package for introducing a challenging new subject.
Patrick began by outlining the patriarchal privilege that accrues to male-bodied persons. Just as Tertullian asked what Athens has to do with Jerusalem, he asked what feminist theology has to do with queer theology. He pronounced them mutually enriching.
He went on to ask what queerness has to do with Christianity, answering that Christianity is a queer faith tradition based in “radical love.”
Given his own experience as a gay Asian American man, Patrick talked about the fluidity of queer identity, the alliance with third-wave feminists as well as trans people, and the kind of homelessness, the sense of displacement he feels given the racism of a predominantly white LGBTQ movement. He drew parallels in the work of contemporary feminist and queer scholars who are dealing with diversity and pluralism as well as questioning gender binaries.
He offered three reasons to use the word “queer”:
1—As a collective, umbrella word that is short hand for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Intersex, Queer, Questioning, Allied, Two-Spirit
2—As a way to reclaim a word used previously to be hurtful
3—As a way to underscore the contribution of Queer theory a la Foucault, Butler, Sedgwick etc. to challenge binaries
Professor Cheng reasoned that Christianity is a queer faith tradition that collapses binaries. In his new book, Radical Love, he describes the Word made flesh as an example of how the binaries humanity and divinity collapse.
Discussion ensued. Sin was called the reification of binaries. Sin is the closet. Cheng called Jesus friend/lover so celibacy is not a given. Likewise, when looking at Christology he cited feminists including Carter Heyward and Nancy Wilson who describe a queer Jesus whose wholeness included the erotic. Erotophobia is another form of sin.
Conversation about the concrete implications of this theology followed. On marriage equality, for example, Patrick endorsed the struggle to achieve relational, legal equality AND efforts to challenge the relational status quo of couples. Another implication was on the very naming of the divine, a theological task.
Patrick Cheng added these resources (with WATER’s annotation!):
1. Link to the Radical Love: An Introduction to Queer Theology page on Amazon.com:
This is his new book, available from Seabury Books, 2011.
2. Description of Patrick’s Fourth Annual Boswell Lecture at the Pacific School of Religion in Berkeley, CA on April 28th, as well as the interdisciplinary colloquium on LGBT Asian theologies on April 29th:
The Center for Lesbian and Gay Studies in Religion and Ministry (CLGS) is a go-to place for resources in the field. A recording of Patrick’s lecture and the colloquium will be posted on the CLGS website, www.clgs.org.
3. Links to Patrick’s website with for recent online and print publications, including "Rethinking Sin and Grace for LGBT People Today":
4. Patrick Cheng’s Facebook page:
5. Serene Jones' discussion of “strategic essentialism” can be found on pp. 42-48 in her book Feminist Theory and Christian Theology: Cartographies of Grace, Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2000.
This is one of the references Patrick made in the discussion on strategies.
Once again, we thank Patrick Cheng for his generous sharing in the teleconference and wish him well on this important work.