Jesus has long been a figure representing wholesome celibacy in the Christian faith, but assuming he was a real person, the odds are that he had sexual desires like the rest of us. One way Jesus could have handled those urges is by participating in homosexual acts which were not too uncommon for men in the time and place that he lived. However, homosexuality in monotheistic faith has always been a point of contention, so this possibility is often overlooked. Until now.
What makes the case for a queer Jesus so interesting is the sexual climate he lived in. Ancient Greece is somewhat known for including homosexual acts, especially between men, as part of their culture. It wasn’t exactly the kind of all-encompassing queer culture we have today with marriage equality and whatnot. Instead, think Grindr personified. What made Ancient Greece so different was that there was no concept of sexuality at that time, but only of an active role (tops) and a passive role (bottoms). Not having a concept of sexuality excluded the possibility of romantic same-sex relationships but encouraged frequent, meaningless homosexual encounters (hookups). It was the custom that as long as men assumed the active role, they could preserve their masculinity and have sex with whoever they pleased. However, if a grown man assumed the passive role it was cause for great shame and embarrassment. This general attitude created a dynamic in Ancient Greece where wealthy men often had extramarital relations with male slaves, prostitutes (who were often free slaves), and most notably, boys ages 12 to 17. Not exactly the masc for masc fantasy that’s so common today, but you get the point.
Of course, anyone who knows anything about the life of Jesus knows that he wasn’t in Ancient Greece but in Ancient Rome. Ancient Greece is important, however, because it provided a template for how the Romans treated sexuality. In other words, the Grindr of Greek culture got an app store update and rebranded itself as Rome. This made two men having intercourse in Rome so common that when the act occasionally found its way into theater it required no explanation nor would it even be the source of controversy. I can see it now, Romos: The Musical. Jokes aside, one thing that culturally distinguished Rome was that Rome focused more on the dichotomy between citizens and noncitizens. So, while a typical homosexual encounter in Greece would involve something like a master and apprentice, Roman homosexuality almost exclusively involved a slave, non-citizen, or member of a marginalized group like the Jews. Yes, this means that if anything, Jesus was probably a bottom.
In addition to his status as a Jew in a Roman society, Jesus’ reputation would have given him an even greater likelihood of being accused of participating in homosexual acts. Around Jesus’ lifetime, there was a shift in the dominant culture of Rome to ostracize men that threatened the status quo. The types of men affected were typically kind and effeminate, and religiously or politically deviant. Once targeted, these men would be pointed out as those who prefer the passive role and the stigma attached to that label made their lives hell. Essentially, a form of ancient homophobia in which troublesome men would be rumored as bottoms and the world would consequently shun them. While there’s no evidence that indicates Jesus was particularly effeminate, he was surely kind, and both politically and religiously deviant enough to get crucified. Since he fit the profile so well, there is actually a strong likelihood that leading up to his death, Jesus garnered a dangerous reputation in Rome for being the type of man that would submit to playing the passive role. Furthermore, this reputation would have given his followers a strong reason to deny his sexuality in order to preserve his image– regardless of the truth of the matter. A solemn reminder that sometimes there’s no safer place than the closet.
At this point, it seems fair to ask just how likely it was that Jesus would take a partner of any gender. Biblically and historically there isn’t any evidence pointing strongly either way, and the prevailing two theories among Christians are a somewhat unfounded claim for his celibacy and an argument for his relationship with Mary Magdalene. However, I could just as easily write a gay fanfic about Jesus and John the Apostle that has the same level of merit, so reading into those claims would be ill-advised. All we really know is that it was extremely common for first-century rabbis to have multiple partners throughout their lives and eventually marry, and that Jesus surely faced social pressure to fit this norm. Even if he were to succumb to that pressure though, who’s to say whether that relationship would have been Jim and Pam from The Office or just a second beard for when the one on his face wasn’t enough.
Unfortunately, despite living in a society that was more accepting than many other ancient cultures, the odds are in favor of Jesus having never performed a homosexual act. There exists neither historical nor biblical evidence to suggest that Jesus was interested in anything sexual, homo or otherwise. Analyzing Roman culture just tells us more about the world Jesus lived in rather than participated in since even the historical Jesus surely lived a unique life. The same goes for analyzing the typical first-century Jewish man. That being said, the fact that there is little conclusive evidence he ever took a partner only strengthens the likelihood that if he did actually have sex that it was with a man. Anything he did with a woman would have been seen as much more substantial, and consequently recorded. However, it’s entirely possible that he could have had casual sex with a man and nobody even thought it important enough to mention, or better yet, they thought it important enough to hide.
There are a few further implications from this that I think are really important to note. First and foremost, I can say with certainty that Jesus knew about and interacted with queerness many times in the course of his life. Given his reputation, it seems the only plausible reaction Jesus would have had to interacting with queers was to be kind, accepting, and offer forgiveness. In fact, it’s likely that Jesus himself was labeled as a queer, and that label became an important part of his life and experience on earth. In today’s world where queerness and faith often find themselves at odds, it’s important to remind ourselves that moral figures like Jesus exist not to make us question ourselves or others, but to set an example of the type of unconditional kindness we should lead our lives with.