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gay jesus
50s or pomo?

 Book Review Book Reviews Archive  
August 2007 Email this to a friend
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Queering Christ
By Michael Bronski

Naked: The Life and Pornography of Michael Lucas
by Corey Taylor
Kensington Books
How to order Art That Dares: Gay Jesus, Woman Christ, and More
Edited by Kittredge Cherry
Androgyne Press
How to order

Queer depictions of Jesus Christ are a battleground. Remember the public protests in 1989 over Andres Serrano's photo "Piss Christ"? The 1998 furor over Terrence McNally's play Corpus Christi? You can likely add to the list of right-wing targets Kittredge Cherry's Art That Dares-- a collection of paintings, drawings, images of sculpture, and photographs by 11 artists who depict Jesus Christ as queer and/or a woman.

Traditionalists and art-history ignoramuses may whine, but there's a long tradition of presenting Jesus as sexualized, androgyne, or homoerotic. A Baedecker to this formerly unconscious terrain is Leo Steinberg's classic The Sexuality of Christ in Renaissance Art and in Modern Oblivion (first published by the University of Chicago in 1983 and revised in 1996). Steinberg queried Western art's overtly phallocentric focus of portrayals of Christ-- from his infant nudity, to his circumcision, even to his erections-- in sacred paintings in the Middle Ages and Renaissance. You can see it for yourself by perusing many 15th- and 16th-century portraits of Jesus with the Apostle John (especially at the Last Supper) that show them to be intimates.

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oday's battles are clearly over the question "Who owns Jesus?" and Cherry's book responds with a resounding "We all do!"-- especially queers and women.

The art here crosses a wide range styles and intents. Jill Ansell is a surrealist, and her contribution of a female Christ has a childlike quality of unearthliness that both charms and disconcerts. F. Douglas Blanchard presents a powerful painting of a contemporary gay Christ being arrested by police, spat upon by right-wing fanatics, and tortured by apparent Marines. His last image-- a resurrected Jesus embraced by a gorgeous winged god-- crosses postmodern sensibility with the charm of a sincere 1950s holy card. Elizabeth Ohlson Wallin's photographs-- a sermon on the mount with Jesus surrounded by leathermen-- are effective, if a bit literal. But her pieta of Christ as a young man dying of AIDS held by a maternal figure is simply powerful.

The work here sometimes veers to the frankly ho-moerotic-- Becki Jayne Harrelson's "Judas kiss," for example, or William Hart McNichols's "St. Francis 'neath the bitter tree," which shows the saint embracing a Christ with KS lesions.

From Mexico to Korea, Christianity's far-flung success over the millennia has followed in part from its willingness to incorporate local saints and deities. This volume's queer-eyed reworking of Christly iconography shows the power of re-imagining the traditionally sacred in light of the seemingly profane. At minimum, Art That Dares demonstrates how representation can change how we think about the world and ideas.

Straight and steady

Corey Taylor's Naked: The Life and Pornography of Michael Lucas is a curious book. A complete biography of the noted porn actor, producer, and director, Taylor succeeds in telling us everything anyone ever wanted to know about Lucas and his world, as derived from interviews with Lucas himself and colleagues. Taylor has a good, strong style and conveys information in a straightforward manner.

The model for this book-- as well as other porn-star bios (such as Roger Edmonson's 1998 Boy in the Sand: Casey Donovan, All-American Sex Star and the 2000 Clone: The Life and Legacy of Al Parker, Gay Superstar)-- was Charles Isherwood's 1996 Wonder Bread and Ecstasy: The Life and Death of Joey Stefano. The Isherwood book, for all its flaws, succeeds because Stefano had a wonderful life for a bio: sex, drugs, an early death, sex, more drugs, and porn movies. This crash-and-burn quality is absent in Naked, indeed, Michael Lucas is such a survivor he hardly has any serious problems.

Taylor has a surprising penchant for referencing the oddest sources in detailing Lucas's porn career: among them, Boswell's Life of Johnson, Judith Butler's Antigone's Claim: Kinship Between Life and Death, Ann-elise Orleck's The Soviet Jewish Americans. It's not your usual bibliography for a book on a pornmeister, but Taylor uses his citations well. While Naked feels more like an extended press release than a full-fledged biography, it will satisfy anyone who wants to know all about Michael Lucas and his career.

Author Profile:  Michael Bronski

Michael Bronski missed the Stonewall riots because he was uptown at a movie. He still goes to the movies to balance 40 years of activism and is now a professor at Dartmouth College.
Email: mabronski@aol.com

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