Wednesday, 22 July 2009

Afterlife Genderswapping

More from Thomas's book, this time on the resurrection of the dead. Thomas notes 17th-century speculation on the state of the human body after the resurrection of the dead, that ‘there would be no cripples in heaven, no blind persons, no sufferers from chronic disease. Some even believed that women would be reborn as men, that black people would become white, and that everyone would be in their early thirties (Christ’s age at the time of his death). Many centuries of Christian commentary underpinned these expectations.’ Eamon Duffy, reviewing the book in the LRB [23rd July 2009], notes that though some of these views were part of a centuries-long mainstream Christian thought, others were the oddities of sects: ‘the quasi-Gnostic view that women would be raised as men had been explicitly denied by Augustine, [and] was incompatible with the cult of the Virgin Mary … [those] who held this curious belief in early modern England belonged to the Muggletonians, a tiny, eccentric and emphatically heterodox sect.’

But it’s a striking imaginative fiction, for all that. One day I’ll get around to writing a story set in this afterlife. So, for instance, what would it be like spending one’s life believing it? How would it inflect one’s perspective of desire? Would the heterosexual woman so reborn retain the orientation of their desire, thus filling heaven with queers? Or would God reach into their hearts and alter their desires—but if he could do that, swing the perspective of our sexual love from one gender to another, then wouldn’t it follow that sexual desire is itself moveable thing? One final possibility would be that men (of course I am talking about men) with this faith would, in their hearts, simply not believe that there is any such thing as a heterosexual woman. Like Proust, they would see women consenting to lie with men whilst dreaming of lying with women. But any of these options would carry with it the commendable—we might say—but surely un-seventeenth-century perspective on sexual orientation as something fluid, and the normalization of queerness.

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