In my sonnet “On Crucifixion by J. Kirk Richards,” I use the practice of cross-dressing as an analogue for Christ condescending from godhood to put on mortality: “When God cross-dresses in death,” I say, “does / the universe blush?” In her poem, “Our Lord Jesus in Drag,” Dayna also offers a cross-dressing God: “This guy,” she begins, “can walk on anything, / even six-inch stilettos.” A startling and allusive image, that: the man who walked on water slipping on stilettos and taking to the street. And the shock—some might call it scandal—doesn’t end there. In the poem’s first four stanzas, Dayna presents The Father’s Son transgressing gender norms, flashing “a sequined fish” “purse” and a “perfect” body clothed in a universe of a dress as he and his friends “hit the town, / paint it rainbow, / raise the dead, raise / hell,” stirring things up enough that unbelievers might take notice and, maybe, begin to think a little differently, a little more open-mindedly about deity.
While most Christians might think it embarrassing and/or blasphemous to consider Christ’s passion anything other than normative, I think this metaphor has merit and can teach us a thing or two about the nature of Christ’s being and sacrifice. For one thing, it suggests that the “business” of godhood—contrary to what some bureaucratically-embedded Mormons might think—isn’t all “dove grey / suit[s], cufflinks, [and] power tie[s].” Salvation isn’t about upholding bureaucratic standards of decorum, with all these standards imply about gender roles (glass ceiling/glass escalator kind of stuff), business attire (think behavior befitting your Sunday best), corporate ladder-climbing (raised through the ranks through hard work alone), and power-mongering (does that dominion come with a side of unrighteousness?). No, our salvation was set in motion by an act that transgressed—that stepped across—the boundaries of normative behavior as perpetuated through social hierarchies, systems of law and punishment, and traditional ways of being. And in the process, this act—or series of acts, really—rewrote the laws of social, religious, and spiritual engagement and bridged the gap between heaven and Earth, opening new ways of thinking about God and his place and progress in the eternal scheme of things.
In addition to its ultimately transgressive movement, Christ’s passion further mirrors the performative nature of cross-dressing—its self-conscious reiteration and subversion of social norms—in that, as I noted earlier, he condescended from godhood to put on mortality. He had seen his Father do this,* so the process is reiterated in the Son, who became, as all Subjects apparently must, subject to temptation, death, etc., conditions he fully intended to subvert with the life he lived and the life he gave.
Which leads to another way his passion mirrored the act of cross-dressing: as a man—though more than a man—he took upon himself through his acts of atonement our pains, sicknesses, infirmities, sins, and death—things foreign to his immortal being-in-the-world. By so reiterating our experiences and suffering in his vicarious descent through all things, he made space within himself and his kingdom for the many voices he encountered on the journey. In this way he learned to listen to and to identify, communicate, and commune with others on their own terms. Indeed, he can succor us in our needs because he’s deeply experienced and expressed those needs in his blood on the stage of his suffering. At its core, then, the atonement, like cross-dressing, is a discursive act. In fact, the atonement may well be the ultimate discursive act: a divine expression performed by the Word made flesh whose utterance continually calls into being the conditions uttered.