Frye on the Homosexual Jesus

Jesus and the Beloved Disciple

It’s Gay Pride Week, which makes it an especially good time to bring bailing buckets to the leaky boat of fear and intolerance.

Frye many times uses the term “homosexual” to describe the Jesus of the gospels, which makes sense archetypally because he is the second Adam who must redeem our fallen sexuality, including the always problematical subordination of women. He therefore consorts with men and has a “beloved disciple.” This is part of the “Eros Regained” aspect of salvation, the return to innocence of our sexuality (that is, sexuality without shame rather than suffused with it), the pinnacle of which is the restoration of the female. Frye in Notes 52:

Eros Regained starts with the homosexual refined Jesus lying on the bosom of a male beloved disciple, trying to get away from his mother but still so hung up sexually that he insisted his father was not his father and that his mother was a virgin, rescuing a bride symbolically but saying “don’t touch me” as his last words to a woman. This is the first phase of [Robert] Graves’ sequel: the mother-son one, where the son has to be “pure” to stay away from the Oedipal situation . . . I think the refined pure youthful Christ who’s been such a pain in the ass to later ages goes with the perversion of his teachings into a Mother Church. If I’m right about the Virgin as (this also seems to be Jung’s view) the glorified creature, or Man as the fourth person in the Trinity (except that it’s Woman), the Catholic cult of the Virgin is really a kind of narcissism.

What this ultimately means is that the restoration of Eros completes the resurrection of love where even the sexes become interchangeable, and, as with the Angels in Milton’s Paradise Lost, sex itself becomes interpenetration where “obstacle” they “find none / Of membrane, joint or limb” (8: 625-6). Moreover, if Christ is the bridegroom and the Church his bride, then all of humanity is female at the moment of salvation.

So maybe we can throw in transvestism as also doing God’s work.

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11 thoughts on “Frye on the Homosexual Jesus

  1. Joe Adamson

    Gay Pride week is always a time to celebrate, especially in the wake of New York’s new law on gay marriage. One can only hope it has a domino effect.

    However, isn’t Frye’s depiction of a homosexual Jesus here that of a neurotic or “hung up” young man who has not come to terms with his sexuality, who has not yet matured psychologically, this being, until more recently, the standard psychoanalytic understanding of homosexuality? In other words–this particular Jesus in The Gospels is going through a homosexual “phase” and needs to grow up, and this image of a pure and youthful Jesus, as Frye says, goes with the perversion of his teachings into a Mother Church. He is a Mama’s boy who is afraid of sex–ie, heterosexual sex. So can it really be construed as an affirmation of homosexuality or of Jesus’s homosexuality?

    Or am I misreading Frye here?

    1. Michael Happy Post author

      I took the homosexual not as a neurotic phase to be outgrown but an aspect of the typology of revealed divinity. The neurotic — an unresolved Oedipal anxiety represented by Catholicism’s Marian cult — is what gets formulated and perpetuated by “Mother Church.” It belongs to the institution, not the man.

      Adam was androgynous (a term Frye also applies to the second Adam, Jesus), meaning that both male and female are implicit in “him.” (As Frye likes to point out, “Adam” is derived from “adama,” or earth, a feminine noun.) Once there is a distinction between male and female, the relation between them is sexual but still innocent. After the fall, sex is suffused with shame and the female is subordinated. Redemption, therefore, is reversing that process and resurrecting a liberated sexual state. Because the female is subordinate in the fallen world, the “homosexual” can be a contingent expression of Adam’s primal androgyny. However, once the female has been apocalyptically restored as a “glorified creature,” “the fourth of the Trinity,” none of this matters anymore. Sex, in its apocalyptic state, becomes an expression of the divine — which accounts for the omnisexuality of Milton’s angels in Paradise Lost. Male, female, they’re interchangeable, two aspects of the same thing. God is all in all. And if he is no respecter of persons, he has no restrictions on gender.

  2. Joe Adamson

    Frye says that Eros Regained “starts with” this image of a refined youthful Jesus, and so this is a lesser “phase” of redeemed sexual love, or “aspect,” if you like. It is, for one thing, essentially anti-sexual: it is based on a fear of and shame and disgust about sexuality as something impure. When eros is fully regained, this aspect is subsumed into something more fully genuine. Frye does not say that this aspect has been perverted by the Catholic Church; he says that “it goes with” the perversion of Jesus’ teachings by the Catholic Church. There is a comedic narrative here and thus this image is one that has to be surpassed, like the Oedipal phase, as you point out.

    I only mean to question this image as one that affirms homosexuality as a fully genuine form of sexual expression. I am not saying that Frye’s reading implies that this is his view of homosexuality, as elsewhere in his writings he expresses very different views. The point is that this particular image of the homosexual is consistent with the Freudian psychoanalytic understanding of homosexuality as a neurotic phase that should be outgrown. So perhaps it is not the best example to use as a way of celebrating Gay Pride week.

    Perchance ’tis but a quibble . . .

    1. Michael Happy Post author

      As you say, Joe, it may be quibbling at this point. But I stand by the particulars of my reading. As you point out, Eros Regained “starts with” the “homosexual” Jesus who may have the appearance of a classic Oedipal case study — a neurosis I still think Frye attributes to the church. But this kind of fallen perspective is what we’re always trying to get past, and I believe that Frye throws down the appropriate markers here. He says elsewhere of the reborn Job that to an outside observer he may still look like a filthy beggar covered in boils. It’s what Job knows rather than what we see that matters.

    1. Michael Happy Post author

      Well played, Jim. You have a better handle on the metaphor. If the leaky boat is fear and resentment, then why not let it go under? But presumably the problem is the leaks? And if we can address them (with the, uh, “bailing buckets”) then there’s still, you know, a boat, which we can sail to the shores of, um, tolerance, where we will eat the sweet fruit of, say, fraternity?

      Or something like that.

  3. Jonathan Allan

    Reading through this discussion, I wonder if there is not another level to this discussion: Christ’s virginity. In a certain regard, I wonder if there is not a complication to attend to here about virginity and sexuality — how important is a performance (proof of sexuality) in determining Christ’s sexuality? In absence of any indications, I wonder if it is not better to treat Christ as virginal so as to not enter into the either/or of sexuality. Virginity does not render him asexual, but rather a sexuality to come.

  4. Michael Happy Post author

    That sounds right, Jonathan. I think that may be why Frye uses both “homosexual” and “androgynous” to describe Jesus: like the first Adam, the second Adam’s sexuality is implicit, contained, and potential as a fully realizable act of creation. As with the more typically represented virginal heroines of romance, it is a power that must be reserved until the time is right. If the “homosexual” phase is part of a typology of revealed divinity, virginity is perhaps still necessary because the “right” time would be apocalyptic, and Jesus at this point is still involved in his ministry. I think this is why Frye regularly returned to Raphael and Adam’s exchange in Paradise Lost about sex among the angels: like much else that is said during Raphael’s tutorial on the human history that has not yet occurred, the intent is to provide an apocalyptic perspective on a now-fallen world with a sort of telescoped typology, like the one provided also in Paradise Regained.

    On the other side of this is the analogy of finding a jewel in the mud. Our condition is fallen, but the possibility of discerning divinity in the muck of our lives can still occur if we can push shame aside, as in (citing Frye’s example again) Yeats’s Crazy Jane’s observation, “love has pitched his mansion in the place of excrement.” If apocalypse relates to the perceiver and not to the perceived, then this sort of thing can be recognized at any time: comedy and romance are especially good at this because the archetype of the myth of deliverance is foregrounded. The social implications, meanwhile, even in a fallen world, are that once we are personally enlightened, we might start to live (citing Frye’s example yet again) “as if” it were so. “Virginity” expresses the state before our sexuality is liberated from shame and fear. All civil rights movements are analogously an effort to move from one state to the other. The recent legalizing of gay marriage in New York, for example, fully expresses that: marriage is also a sacrament and, as fundamentalists like to remind us, it was Adam and Eve and not Adam and Steve. But they forget that at one point it was not even Adam and Eve, it was just Adam, the type whose antitype is the “androgynous,” “homosexual” Jesus. And, as always, there’s Milton’s angels, who make love wherever they touch: a fully realized being isn’t either/or, it’s both/and. If God is all in all, then the human-divine is every bit as inclusive.

  5. Nicholas W. Graham

    I’ve always liked Blake on sex:

    “Embraces are cominglings from head to foot
    and not a pompous high priest entering by
    a Secret Place”

    [JERUSALEM, plate 69]


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