And they said, “Come out”

And they said,
“Why am I so favored,
that the bearer of my Lord
should come out to me?”

Zechariax was filled
with Holy Breath
and broke out in song:
“Bless the God of our ancestorx,
because they have come out
to redeem their people.”

And the Baptixer tried to stop Jesux,
and they said,
“I need to be baptized by you,
yet you come out to me?”

And they said,
“Come out,
follow me,
and I’ll show you
how to fish for people.”

And they said,
“Everyone whom God gives to me
will come out to me;
I won’t send away anyone
who comes out to me.”

And they said,
“Don’t even begin to think
that I have come out
to do away with
the Law and the Prophets.
I haven’t come out
to do away with them
but to fulfill them.”

And they said,
“Come out to me,
all you who are struggling
under heavy loads,
for I will give you rest.”

On the last and most important day of the festival,
Jesux stood up and shouted,
“All who are thirsty should
come out to me!”

And they said,
“the Human One didn’t come out
to be served but rather to serve
and to give their life
to liberate many people.”

Then Jesux called out to them and said,
“Allow children to come out to me.
Don’t stop them,
because God’s love belongs
to people like these children.”

And they said,
“Lord, if it’s you,
order me to come out
to you on the water.”

And they said,
“Do you think that I have come out
to bring peace to the earth?
I tell you,
I have come out instead
to bring division.”

Having said this,
Jesux called out with a loud voice,
“Lazarux, come out!”
And they
came out.

When they came out
to the place called the Skull,
they crucified Jesux there
along with two otherx—
one to their right,
and one to their left.

And they said,
remember me
when you come out
in Paradise.”

Jesux said to them,
“Come out,
have brunch.”
None of the disciples
could bring themselves to ask,
“Who are you?”
For they knew
it was the Lord.

There are many other things
that Jesux did—
if they were written down,
I think no closet could contain
all the books
that would still be
coming out.

Grammatical gender is thought to have originated in ancient Greece, as Protagoras attempted to divide nouns into classes based on their form. As Simon explains, “This form determines the way the word will behave grammatically as regards the agreement of adjectives, articles and pronouns. Grammatical gender is a formal property and has nothing to do with meaning.”[1]Nearly all languages have grammatical gender: Greek and Latin have two (masculine and feminine) and German has three (masculine, feminine, and neuter); some African languages have as many as ninety. A problem arises in English, however, as the language has evolved without grammatical gender. Instead, modern English frequently uses naturalgender, where a word’s gender is based in meaning rather than form. It is important to remember that grammatical gender did exist in the English language until at least the tenth century; linguistic scholars disagree on how long this morphology may have taken, and some argue it continues today. For example, consider the debate regarding words such as actor/actressand waiter/waitress; also consider that cities and ships are often referred to as “she.”

When the Bible was first translated into English in 1382, and in many versions since, we begin to see a conflation of grammatical and natural gender. Collective nouns were translated into the masculine forms, such as ἄνθρωποι (a group of people which categorically includes at least one male) becoming “man” or “men,” rather than “human” or “humanity.” Another obvious example is ό θεός, a masculine nominative singular noun in koine Greek, essentially necessitating “He” as the pronoun for God in English. Hebrew and Greek texts also use a masculine demonstrative pronoun, such as בראשית ברא אלהים translated as “upon beginning, God [he-]created.” However, gendered verb conjugations use grammatical and not natural gender; the same verb form could be used for “she created” and “it created.”

This also presents an additional challenge in Biblical Hebrew, known as the vav-consecutive. This occurs when a proper noun is given in one instance, but then subsequent clauses omit the demonstrative pronoun and simply use the third-person singular verb conjugation. For example, ויאמר is literally “and he said,” and this exact construction is found ten times in the first chapter of Genesis. While the reader can deduce God is the subject of each phrase, there is also an implied repetition of the unspecified masculine pronoun. A similar grammatical pattern, such as καὶ ἔλεγεν (also “and he said”), is found in the Second Testament.

As we have seen, there are unintended consequences of this gender conflation from both linguistic and sociological perspectives. Intentionally or unintentionally, the Christian tradition has since used this amalgamation of grammatical and natural gender to reinforce a patriarchal, androcentric, heteronormative existence. As feminist theologian Deborah Sawyer argues, “When contemporary gender theory is applied … within biblical literature, it becomes evident that both masculinity and femininity have been [destabilized] within the patriarchal framework, and not with the intention to undermine this world-view, but rather to reinforce it.”[2]Beyond the obvious abuses of scripture which permeate much of American culture (such as the objectification of women and the sexual oppression of LGBTQ folks), these grammatical consequences are just as pervasive in similar ways.

The poem above, “And they said, ‘Come out,’” is a creative response to these problems. In it, two chief creative liberties are taken. First, responding to intentionally oppressive language, passages are selected and reinterpreted through a queer lens. To stifle oppressive language toward people who identify as LGBTQ, coded language around coming out, a common colloquialism for publicly identifying one’s orientation, is used. Additionally, there are idiomatic phrases which may evoke a sense of familiarity in some queer readers, such as one character breaking out in song or Jesus inviting followers to have brunch. The purpose of this initial step of reinterpretation is to challenge how some scriptural texts have traditionally been interpreted.

A second creative adjustment responds to unintentionally oppressive language found in the gospels, predominantly by exploring how grammatical gender has unintended consequences when translated as natural gender. In the poem, nouns which imply gender (such as kingdom) are replaced with non-gendered nouns, and all hints of gendered pronouns are removed. Masculine or feminine singular pronouns have been replaced with the singular use of they,which is an increasingly common pronoun used in the English-speaking queer community. This is not to be confused with a plural use of they; rather, the singular use queers the pronoun in an intentional way; this may be a challenge to some readers, but this use is unapologetic. Other adjustments are taken from queer Latin American culture, where gendered suffixes are often replaced with ‘x’ [for example, a latino(male) or latina(female) may prefer to be referred to as latinx]. Within the poem this occurs in the names of familiar characters such as Jesus and Lazarus (becoming Jesuxand Lazarux), while some other less obvious but important changes are ancestorxand otherx.

The poem which follows presents a God who truly welcomes all people to themself. Its purpose is to expand the reader’s understanding of gender. In it, you are encouraged to imagine how otherxmight also be made in the image of God, and how you might accept them as fearfully and wonderfully made. The poem may be subversive and uncomfortable to some; however, it is an invitation for all people to come out.

[1]Sherry Simon, Gender in Translation: Cultural Identity and the Politics of Transmission (New York, NY: Routledge, 2003), 16.

[2]Deborah Sawyer, God, Gender and the Bible(New York, NY: Routledge, 2002), 13.

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