Mary, Queer of Heaven

A message for the 3rd Sunday of Advent

Much has been written about Mary, Mother of God. Not unlike the often perverted legacy of her son, there have many attempts to whitewash, sanitize, and tame this dynamic and defiant prophetess into an Idyllic Submissive Woman, often used to chain women to oppressive gender roles instead of liberating us from them. I’m sure that Mary, the type of woman who authored a protest song with lyrics like “He has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly,” is horrified at the ways that her memory has been twisted to violently force women into gender norms.

Lord knows that Mary didn’t fulfill the gender norms and expectations of her day.

One could say that our dear theotokos was into gender bending.

“Our Lady” by Alma Lopez

The Annunciation narrative, the story of the angel Gabriel coming to Mary to inform her that she is carrying Jesus within her, takes the format of other classic call stories of prophets throughout scripture. Yet even though we know that God calls women and gender nonconforming people, most of the call stories recorded in our sacred texts feature male protagonists.

The story of the angel Gabriel’s visitation to Mary appears in scripture immediately after the story of the angel Gabriel’s visitation to Zechariah where the angel informs Zechariah that his elderly barren wife, Elizabeth, will give birth to a son. Zechariah was a man and a priest, identities that afforded him a much higher social status than Mary, a unwed peasant woman. But while Zechariah’s lack of faith causes Gabriel to render him mute, Mary speaks back to the angel and actively responds to God’s call, and then opens her mouth to sing of the great God who overthrows hierarchies. Mary transgresses gender boundaries when she takes on the role of a prophet, a role usually reserved for men, when she speaks back and speaks out.

Zechariah, on the other hand, is silent. Zechariah had access to the inner sanctuary of the temple, a place that, as a woman subject to restrictive gender expectations and purity codes, Mary was never allowed to go. But Mary herself became a temple for God when she housed Jesus in her body during pregnancy.

And Mary becomes pregnant without the help of any man, partnering only with God to create a family different from any other. As the prophet Sojourner Truth said, “Where did your Christ come from? Where did your Christ come from? From God and a woman! Man had nothing to do with Him.

Mary’s active “Yes,” to God, her prophetic voice, her intimate access to God, and her partnership in bringing forth life without any help from a man all bend the gender expectations for women both in Mary’s own time and in our own. Mary wasn’t the sweet, submissive caricature we are often plagued with. She stepped outside the boxes we’ve made for gender, much in the way that queer, trans, and nonbinary people step out their assigned boxes for gender every day. It is through Mary’s queerness that she is blessed.

If God can be alive and present in the womb of a gender-queering peasant girl, surely we can see God alive and present in the Queer among us as well.

With thanks to:

Marcella Alathaus-Reid for the title “Mary Queer of Heaven,” from her book Indecent Theology and Robert E. Goss for his Lucan commentary in The Queer Bible Commentary.