Mofo publishing’s latest anthology of literary erotica, Sacrilege, comes out August 17th. This week I’m sharing excerpts from both my stories in it.
“Annunciation” is a Marian devotion, a confession, a denunciation, and a love story about growing up queer in the Catholic Church.
The Nativity is the third Joyful Mystery.
My first crush was on the archangel Gabriel, who I thought was a woman.
I stared at the illustrations in my religion textbook, studying every nuance of the figure, taller than the kneeling Mary (or even when kneeling to Mary) but slender. Details of that long body were masked by a white gown that flowed to bare feet, draped the wrists of gesturing hands. The beardless, fine-featured face was framed by a cascade of golden hair. These details recurred in image after image. Already half-daydreaming, I skimmed text that spoke of “the angel,” and I knew girls named Gabrielle.
So to me, the Annunciation was always a matter of two women together in a bedroom.
Once I was older, I became aware of my error and confused by it, sheepish, in some unexpressed, inexpressible way defiant. When I heard “there is neither Greek nor Jew, servant nor free, woman nor man,” I felt I might be right after all. Later on, I saw Henry Ossawa Tanner’s 1898 painting The Annunciation, which shows the angel as a narrow shaft of golden light that Mary gazes at warily.
Yet it also encouraged me that the Bible passage wasn’t primarily about angels but human beings. I liked the idea of one day no longer having a gender, which I found complicated and burdensome. By that point, I had given up on getting to fall in love with someone who was not gendered male. Despite pushback from my rebellious classmates, who nearly drove our pastor out of homeroom when he came to answer our questions, it was made clear there were two roles only men could take: that of a priest, for all my class argued otherwise, and that of my (married, permanent) lover.
Much, much later I discovered a theory that the archangel Gabriel’s representation in early Byzantine art was based on court eunuchs’ hairless, delicate androgyny. Perhaps, then, angels are persons who have forsaken maleness, though moving from the one gender does not automatically make them female, as I well know.
For now, I do think of myself as a woman. One day, be it in the Kingdom of God or sooner, I reserve the right to change my mind.
Back when I remained certain that Gabriel was a woman, I found confirmation in this belief through one of the altar servers. She too wore a white robe covering her tall body, and her face was framed by coppery hair that looked golden in some lights. Her features were austere, her movements ungainly as she grew into her height. I watched her religiously every Wednesday morning when our parish school went to Mass. She was several grades ahead of me, and the only other times I glimpsed her were for a minute or so each afternoon, around three o’clock, when we gathered in the gym to wait for our buses to arrive.
While I watched for this girl and studied the illustrated Gabriels, something felt tight in my chest, a thin and pleasant constriction. Our sexual education textbooks and our teachers told us that in the confusion of growing up, sometimes these crushes happened. They were natural, a phase we would grow out of. I believed them.
One night—I was a freshman in college, still living at home—I turned in my narrow bed and fell into a dream. In it, you were dressed in a blue robe with a white scarf covering your hair, the costume of Mary from a Nativity pageant. Neither of us had been in a pageant since middle school, but in the dream you were twenty, I nineteen, as we were in life. You stood at the back of the stage, behind the purple velvet curtain, and you kissed Gabriel.
Gabriel was not a man; Gabriel was me. A white gown covered me to my tennis shoes, but the long sleeves fell back as my hands lifted to your waist and shoulder. The kiss was slow and long, silent and lit by a honey-colored light. Your arms tried to go around the angel but were brought up short by my wings. These wings were not made of cardboard and gold ribbon but of feathers and flesh. Your fingers stroked through the fine down, dug in to meet the membrane with all its air-current sensitivity, and when your caress reached through them, the wings flew out and flexed and beat as if to lift us from the floor.