Andrew Ramer’s superbly crafted new book of re-imagined Jewish scripture, Queering the Text, continues an ancient spiritual tradition of re-presenting traditional scriptural text while adding clarification and interpolating commentary.
Although the title might give an impression of the work as a tedious conflation of unintelligible queer theory and archaic Hebraic esoterica, in its exegesis of Hebraic scripture (the terms “Old Testament” or “Bible” in this context actually are not Jewish but Christian designations), Queering the Text adroitly succeeds in invigorating this subject.
In addition to injecting a gay sensibility that speaks to all queers — not only gay men and lesbians but also the often overlooked bisexual and transgender reader — the author displays an engaging range of literary styles, such as poetic, didactic, expository, and epistolary, that keep the material fresh and interesting.
The first section of Queering the Text, “The Genizah of Dreams,” reimagines passages from the midrashic texts (aka “Hebrew Bible” aka “Old Testament”) and presents 22 (one for each letter of the Hebrew alphabet) midrashim, or investigations, into them.
The middle and longest section, “Al-Andalus: Tales of an Imaginary Spain,” inspired by homoerotic poems written in medieval Spain, is also the most ardent. In this section I was particularly moved by the tale in which two older men, a doctor and a rabbi, reminisce romantically as they celebrate their twenty years together:
They both laugh, over their cups of wine, thinking back on how it was, and how it is, and how it will be, now that both of them are old. Neither one says, “Who will die first?” Each one hopes it will be the other, to spare him the pain of being left behind. And each one prays the prayer of long-time lovers, that they will fall asleep in each other’s arms and die together, on a warm night when the sky is strewn with stars to help them find their way back home.
The concluding section of the book, “Avodah: Divine Service,” provides a more contemporary setting for the author’s reworking of ancient Jewish stories, such as in the delightful story, “Shacharit: Light in the Tree”:
A UPS man brought the carton right to their door. Inside the carton was a small square blue footlocker, and inside the footlocker, in a Styrofoam shell, sat a squat round metal thermos. Vapor rose up from it as Sara and Rachel unscrewed the top, from the liquid nitrogen the vials of sperm were hanging in, which came from a donor clinic in New York City that only worked with Jewish men.
As a once-potential Jewish sperm donor, I cannot help but smile at how this narrative skillfully melds the ancient wisdom with today’s queer sensibility.
Andrew Ramer has long been at the forefront of queer spirituality writing, starting with his classic work, Two Flutes Playing. He remains one of our Gay Spirit Vision elders, and his voice and insight have matured considerably in the two decades since that visionary work.
In his foreword, Jay Michaelson qualifies his assessment of the work: “knowing Andrew as I do, perhaps the word is “visionary.” Although I do not know the author personally, I will not hesitate to state that I believe Queering the Text is an inspired, illuminating, and joyous (occasionally even sexy) piece of visionary writing that deserves to take an honored place in the Queer Spirit Writing canon.
Reviewed by Ron Suresha