Queer Religiosities

An Introduction to Queer and Transgender Studies in Religion

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Melissa M. Wilcox
  • Lanham, MD: 
    Rowman & Littlefield
    , February
     2020.
     252 pages.
     $32.00.
     Paperback.
    ISBN
    9781442275676.
     For other formats: Link to Publisher's Website.

Review

“Religion is one of the queerest things about being human” (109).

Melissa M. Wilcox’s Queer Religiosities: An Introduction to Queer and Transgender Studies in Religion truly is an introduction. Their introductory chapter covers the backgrounds for the central topics in this book: religious studies, gender and sexuality studies, and queer and transgender studies in religion. In doing so, Wilcox critically discusses the history, important scholars, and the key terms for each field. Most importantly, they illustrate that terms like LGBTQ+, gay, queer, and transgender are set in the Global North and Global West and do not necessarily reflect the terms and conceptions in all cultures and societies. Consequently, Wilcox often uses local expressions and/or the descriptive terms same-sex attracted and gender variant.

After finishing the book, readers will not have a broad knowledge about the views of specific religious traditions on the lives of same-sex attracted and gender-variant people. Instead, in an intersectional manner, the author deals with overarching, interconnected topics: stories, conversations, practices, identities, communities, and politics and power. And this approach is refreshing. Wilcox does not try to all-encompassingly cover specific religious traditions—that, for one, would be impossible and, second, they would have had to choose certain traditions while omitting others (1–3). Instead, they show differences and similarities in various religious traditions and focus on singular instances drawn from societies across the world. These instances might represent the opinions of most practitioners of a tradition or show that even practitioners from traditions with an unambiguous dogma can have divergent views.

In “Stories,” Wilcox tells us all kinds of stories—not solely what the sacred stories of a few selected religious traditions say about same-sex attracted and gender-variant people, but also (auto-)biographical stories, academic stories, old stories which are told from a new perspective. Connected to these stories are “Conversations.” In this chapter, Wilcox shows that conversations on same-sex attracted and gender-variant people in religious traditions often happened (and still do) about people who are same-sex attracted and gender variant and between people who are not—particularly within religious traditions, but also in academia and officially (e.g., governments and science). This chapter further addresses conversations between same-sex attracted and gender-variant people and the slowly evolving conversations across these invisible boundaries.

Stories and conversations are both part of religious “Practices”—with other practices such as rituals that might come to mind first. In this chapter, Wilcox looks at the practices same-sex attracted and gender-variant people adopt to live their beliefs. They show how people, through their practices, find a place in their traditions and how they claim, rework, and invent practices for themselves—and consistent with their “Identities.” Subsequently, the author discusses how identity is diversely defined in various communities, where Global North/Global West definitions of LGBTQ+ identities overlap with and differ from local concepts, and how politics and power are almost always involved.

In “Communities,” Wilcox introduces the difference between chosen and traditional communities and how same-sex attracted and gender-variant people navigate these communities. They focus on communities for people who do not fit the societal norms of sexuality and gender, including virtual communities. The last chapter, “Politics and Power,” first introduces critical, psychoanalytic, and poststructuralist theories, also considering queer and trans studies, before it delves into the entanglement of religion, politics, and power.

Apart from the use of a couple of definitions for LGBTQ+ terms that most social media activists would define or phrase differently (namely: bisexuality, which most activists define as an attraction to more than one gender although etymologically, of course, it does describe an attraction to two genders, 22; and gender confirming surgery instead of sex reassignment surgery, 128), there is nothing to criticize. The entire book is conversational and almost interactive: Wilcox continuously engages the readers and asks us thought-provoking questions. Each chapter ends with study questions, questions for further thought, and recommendations for further readings. At the end of the book, an annotated filmography offers further material to study or teach queer and transgender studies. All of this shows that Wilcox’s introduction clearly targets the classroom and undergraduate students. But the book is thought-provoking for advanced students and scholars as well. They certainly reach their goal “to leave readers not with all of their questions answered but with all of their answers questioned” (x). And this is a good thing.

About the Reviewer(s): 

Cora Gaebel is a postdoctoral researcher affiliated with the Department of Social and Cultural Anthropology at the University of Cologne.

Date of Review: 
October 8, 2021
About the Author(s)/Editor(s)/Translator(s): 

Melissa M. Wilcox is Professor and Holstein Family and Community Chair of Religious Studies at the University of California, Riverside. She is the author or editor of several books and journal issues, and numerous articles, on gender, sexuality, and religion. Her books include Coming Out in Christianity: Religion, Identity, and Community; Sexuality and the World’s Religions; Queer Women and Religious Individualism; Religion in Today’s World: Global Issues, Sociological Perspectives; and Queer Nuns: Religion, Activism, and Serious Parody.

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