The Need for Asexuality in Theological Discourse by Lachelle Schilling
Asexuality is an orientation that is misunderstood and marginalized. That is, if it is allowed a presence at all. I consider myself to be sensual, loving to receive and give pleasure, affectionate and romantic, and longing for a relationship that respects my bodily boundaries which happens, for me, to mean physical touch that does not include genital sex.
The recognition of asexuality into our theological and theoretical discussions can offer another way of understanding agency and the erotic in our lives. It can help us access the sacred narratives we long to have deeper connections with. In addition, when we allow a more holistic and generous understanding of asexuality as it is actually experienced by those who self-identify as such, it creates a livable space for us to exist, to imagine in midrash, perhaps, among the abstinence narratives which can be problematic in theological literature, our sacred presence.
Consider Mary, the “Virgin Mary” who was told she would have a child in a very queer way. This story is not usually understood in a way where God is meeting the needs and desires of a woman. The promise of labor is more of an unsolicited gift. But what if it could be imagined differently? What if, as we assume about her friend and mentor Elizabeth, she longed for a child, far before she received the message she would have one? What if, instead of understanding the holiness of Jesus as being the outcome of a virgin birth, unmarred by full humanity, we imagine that Jesus is holy because a woman’s sexual preferences were respected? My midrash dreams that Mary is an asexual woman, whom the Holy Spirit intercedes for, not for the non-sexual stasis of a sacred genealogy for a sinful world, but for Mary, whom I imagine wanted a child, but not through genital penetration with Joseph. She was not a virgin, someone who was “not yet.” She was complete, mature already. When she said “How can this be, since I do not know a man,” she does not speak in terms of the past (have not) or the future (have not yet), but the continuing present. If we think of Mary as asexual, we cannot enforce a lifelong celibacy, honor her sexual purity, or infringe on her innocence. She is not unerotic, but she is passionate and wanting. This is my midrash:
In the sixth month, the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a city of Galilee named Nazareth, to a young woman betrothed to a man named Joseph.
Mary was in the garden, lying under a tree, delighting in the cool evening breezes and the last breath of sun. Her flesh on the dirt sent stirs of tingling through her thighs and dark oceanic eyes. Her lips were still wet from the pomegranate seeds she had been licking the juices from. She was savoring the moments of solitude that she knew might be lost with her new upcoming roles of wife and . . . who knew what else. As the sun began to sink, Mary noticed a short, handsome woman coming toward her in the distance and waved her over, feeling a thrilling surge of energy between them.
“Greetings oh favored one, in your sensuality and depth of emotive wisdom, your mother-lover God is with you.” The messenger sat down on the grass to enjoy the earth’s vibrations and continued. “The Mother has heard your desires, and encourages you to bear a child so that he may help you and a community of other queer-loving beings help dismantle structures of oppression and privilege.”
Mary sat up. “But how will this be since I am asexual, preferring to be touched in so many ways, just not in ways that might bring a son?” she asked, confident her mother-lover would never ask her to go against her ways of loving.
And the angel answered her, “You will not need to be entered into by a man. Although many feel exceeding pleasure by this activity, I know you have a thousand other ways that are more enjoyable for you. The ruach, the womb, Sophia will create an intimate connection between you, a meeting of wombs, and your powers will overshadow each other, and therefore the child will be called holy.”
Mary closed her eyes and remembered her close friend Elizabeth and felt a need to be with her. Such news always brought need for a community. So Gabriel and Mary went to their good friend’s house.
There was indeed a meeting of the wombs and a stirring of passions that Elizabeth and Mary felt before they even saw each other. Elizabeth cupped Mary’s face in her hands and kissed her. They retired to the sanctity of the workshed, warm with recent activity, the place Elizabeth felt most at home and enjoyed a long conversation, Elizabeth mothering and Mary mothering, and Gabriel doing the same. They sang together, making up new words, the new language they would need to describe this miracle, the three women creating their own trinity to birth children and each other into the world.
LaChelle Schilling is a doctoral candidate in the Women’s Studies in Religion program at Claremont Graduate University. She is living in Oklahoma raising awareness about asexuality and writing her dissertation entitled Queering Asexuality: A Discourse of Desire and Intimacy.