Joseph and His Fabulous Queer Technicolour Dreamcoat.

Sometimes, stories and images are so familiar to us, that we completely fail to see their significance. The story of Joseph and his coat is familiar to us all from childhood Bible stories – and even more familiar as Lloyd-Webber’s Joseph and His Amazing Technicolour Dreamcoat. Ignore the main story for now, and just focus on that coat of many colours.
In the modern world, colour is everywhere, so much so that we hardy notice it unless it is used particularly well, or until it is unexpectedly absent. It was not always so. In the Biblical world, clothing was mostly drab: dyes of all kinds were costly , brightly coloured cloth of any kind was an expensive luxury. It is not surprising that Joseph’s brothers would have been jealous of the special favour shown by their father, and wished to sell him into slavery.

But there could be more to the story than first appears: this was not just a coloured coat, but a very specific type – a coat of many colours, in stripes. Just such a coat was typically worn by a specific group of people – a distinctly queer group.
Consider this extract from “Coming Out Spiritually“, in which he draws on Conner, ” Blossom of Bone“:
These were the qedeshim, who served as priests to the Canaanite goddess Athirat. They were responsible for the upkeep of her temples, and also engaged in ritual temple prostitution, engaging in sex with the devotees of the goddess to achieve enhanced states of consciousness. (It is possible that several of the biblical texts of terror that are used to condemn sex between men were in fact referring specifically to these temple prostitutes – and so were directed at idolatry, rather than at homoerotic activity itself).
Connor notes an interesting connection between the multicolour garments of the qedishim and Joseph’s “coat of many colours”, which, at least based on Andrew Lloyd Webber’s portrayal, was “fabulous”. Although Connor’s mission is not to “out” Joseph, he presents other clues which make one wonder, such as the fact that Potiphar, the man who bought Joseph from his brothers and brought him to Egypt as his servant, was actually a eunuch priest of a pagan goddess.  Furthermore, the interpretation of dreams was one of the qualities for which the qedishim were known; and indeed, biblical writings reflect that prophetic dreams were commonplace with Joseph.
This needs some fact-checking: most obviously, Potiphar did not buy Joseph directly from his brothers, but from a band of Ishmaelites who were the original purchasers. It is certainly true though that male temple prostitution was commonplace in the Mediterranean world, including in the land of  Canaan, and that in cultures all around the world, men who were attracted to men or to female gender roles were often regarded as possessing special spiritual gifts – including the prophetic interpretation of dreams.
Books:

Related Posts

David the Prophet and Jonathan, His Lover (Queer Saints and Martyrs)
Daniel in the Lion’s Den (Queer Saints and Martyrs)
Ruth and Naomi (Queer Saints and Martyrs)

Apollinaria/Dorotheos 5/01

According to the LGBT Catholic Handbook, this week sees the feast day of St.  Apollinaria /Dorotheos of Egypt (5th, 6th January). She is said to have been one of a group of transvestite saints – women who took on men’s clothing  in order to live as monks.
For the specific story of Apollinaria, we turn to the Orthodox church, who take these female monks rather more serioulsy than the western church.

This is from the Orthodox website, “God is Wonderful in His Saints”

She was a maiden of high rank, the daughter of a magistrate named Anthimus in the city of Rome. Filled with love for Christ, she prevailed on her parents to allow her to travel on pilgrimage to the Holy Land. In Jerusalem she dismissed most of her attendants, gave her jewels, fine clothes and money to the poor, and went on to Egypt accompanied only by two trusted servants. Near Alexandria she slipped away from them and fled to a forest, where she lived in ascesis for many years. She then made her way to Sketis, the famous desert monastic colony, and presented herself as a eunuch named Dorotheos. In this guise she was accepted as a monk.
Anthimus, having lost his elder daughter, was visited with another grief: his younger daughter was afflicted by a demon. He sent this daughter to Sketis, asking the holy fathers there to aid her by their prayers. They put her under the care of “Dorotheos”, who after days of constant prayer effected the complete cure of her (unknowing) sister. When the girl got back home it was discovered that she was pregnant, and Anthimus angrily ordered that the monk who had cared for her be sent to him. He was astonished to find that “Dorotheos” was his own daughter Apollinaria, whom he had abandoned hope of seeing again. After some days the holy woman returned to Sketis, still keeping her identity secret from her fellow-monks. Only at her death was her true story discovered.

The Handbook lists some scholarly references in support, while a look at some orthodox websites corroborates the story and confirms her feast on 5th January.  The Advent Catholic Encyclopedia. however,  dismisses the tale as ‘hagiographic fiction.’

Apollinaria’s story and motives are remote from our time, and ‘transvestite’ is not to be confused with ‘transgendered’. (UPDATE: After I first described this group of women as “transvestite”, I was taken to task by a reader, who pointed out that these days, “cross-dressing” is more appropriate terminology). Still, whatever the full historic truth of Apollinaria/ Dorotheos specifically, it seems to me this is a useful story to hold on to as a reminder of the important place of the transgendered, and differently gendered,  in our midst.
Many of us will remember how difficult and challenging was the process of recognising, and then confronting, our identities as lesbian or gay, particularly in the context of a hostile church. However difficult and challenging we may have found the process of honestly confronting  our sexual identities,  consider how much more challenging must  be the process of confronting and negotiating honestly a full gender identity crisis.

Let us acknowledge the courage of those who have done it, and pray for those who are preparing to do so.

Related articles

 

Anson, J., “”, Viator 5 (1974), 1-32

Bennasser, Khalifa Abubakr, Gender and Sanctity in Early Byzantine Monasticism: A Study of the Phenomenon of Female Ascetics in Male Monastic Habit with a Translation of the Life of St. Matrona, [Rutgers Ph.D Dissertation 1984; UMI 8424085]

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