The becoming-girl of the Virgin Mary

Em McAvan

"How will this be," Mary asked the angel, "since I am a virgin?" (Luke 1:34)

"difference is monstrous" (Gilles Deleuze, Repetition and Difference, 37)

[1] To study religion with Gilles Deleuze is to already be involved in a contradiction of sorts. The dominant theological traditions of Christianity have been metaphysical enterprises grounded in a transcendent being (God), who guarantees all life and all meaning. This is the onto-theological argument, fairly succinctly formulated by Thomas Aquinas in Summa Theologica where he says that the name of God "signifies being itself." God "is who he is" (as the Christian gloss on Exodus goes), he is pure being itself. Indeed, Aquinas goes so far as to state that "God is pure act without any potentiality whatsoever" (quoted in Kearney The God Who May Be, 83). In contrast to the hegemonic Christian tradition, Deleuze formulates a critique of "the order of God" (Logic of Sense, 332), preferring immanence to transcendence and the radical unpredictability of becoming. He writes approvingly of Nietzsche's Antichrist, who is "characterized by the death of God, the destruction of the world, the dissolution of the person, the disintegration of bodies, and the shifting function of language which now expresses only intensities" (Logic of Sense, 334).

[2] It is difficult to recuperate Deleuze for a thoroughly orthodox project. However, Deleuze and Guattari's idea of the rhizome – which gives this journal its name – already makes clear the necessity of connecting his work with disparate, unlikely disciplines, transforming each in the process. Daniel W. Smith points out that Deleuze can be best understood as post-religious, since he "harbors neither the antagonism of the 'secular' who find the concept of God outmoded, nor the angst or mourning of those for whom the loss of God was crisis-provoking, nor the faith of those who would like to retrieve the concept in a new form" ("The Doctrine of Univocity," 167). Deleuze provides us neither with a master key for religion nor an outside from which to critique, instead he provides an occasion for transmutation, for becoming—the becoming-Deleuzian of religion and the becoming-religious of Deleuze. As we can see in work over the last decade in Mary Bryden's collection Deleuze and Religion, in feminist process theologian Catherine Keller's Face of the Deep: A Theology of Becoming, and in the work of deconstructionist John D. Caputo, the encounter between Deleuzian thought and religion can be a fruitful one. In this essay, I will connect Deleuze with religion in another way, connecting his work on becoming-girl and repetition with the archetypal figure of a girl, the Virgin Mary. I will argue that, paradoxically, Mary becomes a girl after the Event of the birth of Christ, and that this particular movement is repeated in the faithful/faithless folds of the Virgin's image found in various situations.


The Annunciation by Fra Angelico, Cortona Italy

The Annunciation by Fra Angelico, Cortona Italy. [Wikimedia Commons]

[3] In order to get towards a Virgin becoming-girl, we must first understand Deleuze's ontological project. Deleuze discusses the "theological body," arguing that:

the order of divine creation in fact depends on bodies, is suspended from them. In the order of God, in the order of existence, bodies give to minds (or impose on them) two properties: identity and immortality, personality and resurrectability, incommunicability and integrity" (Logic of Sense, 332).

The order of God divides and suspends the properties of bodies, creating hierarchies and separations. Indeed, this is an order created by the Word of God ("in the beginning was the word" John 1:1), the phallogocentric culture, as Luce Irigaray calls it. Queer theologian Marcella Althaus-Reid elaborates, suggesting that "Christian issues of humility and submission to God come from that premise: the ejaculatory movement of the Word of God requires an immobile receptacle, such as the Virgin Mary" (Indecent Theology, 48). For Deleuze, God's order traps bodies as molar, rather than molecular. Becoming, on the other hand, requires no transcendent God – the multiplicity of forces expresses itself.

[4] Deleuze brackets off any attempt to ground immanence elsewhere (in consciousness or objects); rather, he argues that absolute immanence is in itself. Immanence is a plane of pure flux, which emerges from virtuality into actuality, breaking back down in a constant process of repetition. Virtuality is to be understood here not as illusory or unreal (the kind of common sense virtual that grounds, say, Jean Baudrillard's understanding of simulation) but rather as the ground of possibility itself. This process between virtuality and actuality is what he paradoxically understands as the transcendent to be, a pre-conscious, impersonal play. As Claire Colebrook puts it nicely, "the virtual is the univocal plane of past, present and future; the totality of all that is, was and will be. It is therefore an open totality or whole, never fully given or completed [which can] then be actualised in specific forms" (Understanding Deleuze, 1).

[5] The plane of immanence, as Deleuze calls it, is the ground of perpetual becoming which precedes all. As Colebrook summarizes, "rather than think a world that has change within it (so that change would be immanent to some unchanging ground), Deleuze puts forward a theory of immanent becoming; becoming is not the becoming of some being. There is becoming, from which we perceive relatively stable points of being" (52). In other words, becoming is a constant process of movement and mobility, out of which we problematically construct identities, ideas, sexes, and so on. It is in this sense that Deleuze and Guattari can argue that anyone can (and perhaps should) become-girl, that "girls do not belong to an age group, sex, order or kingdom: they slip in everywhere; between orders, acts, ages, sexes; they produce n molecular sexes on the line of flight in relation to the dualism machines they cross right through" (A Thousand Plateaus, 305).

[6] Feminists have often been suspicious of Deleuze's creation of the terms "becoming-woman" and "becoming-girl," fearing it as an appropriation of femaleness by men. As Elizabeth Grosz put it in Volatile Bodies:

Men, as privileged adult and male subjects, must, then, invoke a becoming-woman, a becoming-child, and even a becoming-animal as ways of bringing into play the multiplicity of forces hitherto suppressed under the great dominations. But what this means for women remains disturbingly unclear. (177)

The reticence of writers like Grosz and Rosi Braidotti (Nomadic Subjects) to Deleuze's use of "woman" and "girl" is understandable given the history of appropriation of women's voices by men under the "great dominations" of patriarchy. Ian Buchanan, for instance, in his otherwise laudable book Deleuzism points to the value of the becoming-woman metaphor and its role in the Deleuzian pantheon of becoming-minotarian as "scandalous," that "it provokes" (113). Grosz is I think right to be skeptical when she questions – for whom might this particular becoming be scandalous? However, she nevertheless misunderstands the nature of Deleuze's ontological systematizing, instead seeing "men" and "women" as molar rather than molecular positions from which "becoming" occurs. [i] This misunderstands the nature of Deleuze's project, since, as Claire Colebrook explains, "the problem, Deleuze insists, is that becoming has always been thought of as the becoming of some prior agent, subject or substance" (Colebrook 33).

[7] Yet we need not assume as, Grosz does, that "boy" and "girl" pre-exist their becoming. Deleuze and Guattari insist in A Thousand Plateaus that:

molecular politics proceeds via the girl and the child [...] The girl and the child to not become; it is becoming itself that is a child or a girl. The child does not become an adult any more than the girl becomes a woman; the girl is the becoming-woman of each sex, just as the child is the becoming young of every age. (306)

Hanjo Berresem rightly points out that this theorization means that "the girl is, in fact, the plane of immanence" ("n-1 sexes," paragraph 32). Yet, "girl," as it figures in Deleuze's work, by himself and with Guattari, awkwardly vacillates between girl-as-metaphor-for-virtuality, and girls-as-determined actualities.

[8] The above passage suggests girlhood as metaphor, but earlier in the chapter, Deleuze and Guattari have been quite obviously discussing determined, existing boys and girls—"the girl is the first victim [of the molar order], but she must also serve as an example and a trap [for the boy]" (305). For the girl, as Rosi Braidotti explains in Metamorphoses, her "body is 'stolen' from her, as the whole of her sexuality is coerced into the phallogocentric regime [...] The little girl's 'stolen body', according to Deleuze, marks her exclusion from symbolic representation. It is the 'capture' of her body by the Oedipalizing vampire of phallogocentrism" (45). The "theological order," then, solidifies the girl's body as a body-with-organs, trapping it into the Oedipal regime. Yet Braidotti's other theoretical commitment to Luce Irigaray leads her to unwittingly reify the Oedipal into the very "pre-history" of flesh, by suggesting that sexual difference emerges from "a genetic data-bank that pre-dates entry into linguistic representation (46) always-already marked by heterosexuality—a mommy-daddy-me that precedes all.

[9] Braidotti's strategic essentialism suggests that the flesh of the girl (indeed all flesh) is always marked by the heterosexual binary imaginary. For Deleuze, on the other hand, the girl lives on the fragile space of the surface, yet to find her own body-with-organs. He writes approvingly of Alice in Wonderland author Lewis Carroll, who "awaits the child, in a manner conforming to his language of intercorporeal sense: he waits at the point and at the moment in which the child has left the depths of the maternal body but has yet to discover the depth of her own body" (The Logic of Sense, 105) – the girls' world of Lewis Carroll's novels is "a play of sense and non-sense, a chaos-cosmos" (ix). Girls are neither entirely rational nor irrational, eluding the theological order of rationality that fixes identities into being not becoming, molar not molecular.

The Event and Becoming-Girl

17-18th century Russian icon of Madonna with prayer,

17-18th century Russian icon of Madonna with prayer, Kondopoga. [Wikimedia Commons]

[10] Deleuze argues in The Logic of Sense that "the event is not what occurs (an accident), it is rather inside what occurs, the purely expressed" (170). The American philosopher of religion John D. Caputo argues that this Event swells within names, for while ...the name is a kind of provisional formulation of an event, a relatively stable if evolving structure, [...] the event is ever restless, on the move, seeking new forms to assume, seeking to get expressed in still unexpressed ways" (The Weakness of God, 46). Where Deleuze critiques the molar nature of the theological body, we can locate other forms of mobility, becoming and immanence in the Christian canon. Arguably, Christ's birth is in Deleuzian terms an Event, perhaps the Event, a unique unforeseeable occurrence of God becoming man.[ii] This Event is one that, oddly enough, may also be seen as an originary moment (repeated endlessly) of girlhood in Western culture, one that forms motherhood as neither the negation nor completion of the girl-without-organs but rather tangential to it ("the child does not become an adult any more than the girl becomes a woman" A Thousand Plateaus, 306). Paradoxically, it is arguable that the Virgin Mary becomes a girl after the birth of Jesus.

[11] Deleuze says that "to the extent that events are actualized within us, they wait for us and invite us in. They signal us" (Logic of Sense, 169). The Event of Christ's birth begins with the incident in the Gospels best known as The Annunciation. In Luke, the encounter with alterity arrives for Mary, with an angel telling her: "The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God" (Luke 1:35 NIV). In reply, Mary gives her assent to the angel – "I am the Lord's servant," Mary answered. "May it be to me as you have said" (Luke 1:38). As unconditional in her response to alterity as Kierkegaard's Abraham in Fear and Trembling, Mary "makes herself worthy" of the Christ-Event. As Deleuze puts it, "with every event, there is indeed the present moment of actualization, the moment in which the event is embodied in a state of affairs, an individual, or a person, the moment we designate by saying 'here, the moment has come" (Logic of Sense, 172). While male theologians have usually glossed Mary's reply as her obedience to God, an exemplar for all womenkind to be submissive, it is just as easy to read it as a Deleuzian affirmation of the Event, the moment which has come.

[12] For Mary, Christ's birth is a kind of traversing from the ontic to the ontological, wherein she goes from a virgin (a determinated, given person) to The Virgin, who floats from determination to virtuality and back again. In traversing the ontological and becoming the Virgin Mary, Mary evacuates the actuality of an embodied girl in the first century CE and becomes a decontextualized symbol. As Althaus-Reid points out, "the Virgin in Latin America is not a case of speech acts but of visions" (53). The Virgin reappears throughout time and space, in various guises, in new cultural contexts and purposes. This movement is decidedly Deleuzian; for example, in A Thousand Plateaus, Deleuze and Guattari argue that for the girl, "she is defined by a relation of movement and rest, speed and slowness" (305). Indeed, we can see in Mary that "it is not the girl who becomes a woman; it is becoming-woman that produces the universal girl" (305).

[13] In other words, Christ's birth ontologizes Mary's virginity into the doctrine of her perpetual divinity from Iraneus in the 4th Century onwards. Mary's virginity survives even the birth of Christ's siblings, which is fairly plainly referenced in Matthew 13:

Coming to his hometown, he began teaching the people in their synagogue, and they were amazed. "Where did this man get this wisdom and these miraculous powers?" they asked. "Isn't this the carpenter's son? Isn't his mother's name Mary, and aren't his brothers James, Joseph, Simon and Judas? Aren't all his sisters with us? Where then did this man get all these things?" (54-56)

The earth-shattering significance of Christ's birth overwrites mere factual events, which are subordinated to the truth Event of her perpetual Virginity. Yet it is this very traversal that, far from trapping Mary into a Platonic Eternal form, frees the Virgin into virtuality, a perpetual re-becoming, the thousand faces of the Virgin Mary, as George Tavard once put it.

[14] Indeed, the very formulation of the doctrine of Mary's perpetual Virginity suggests her mobility, since textual proof for the perpetual virginity of Mary does not appear in the canonical New Testament Gospels. Matthew 1 recounts the story this way:

This is how the birth of Jesus Christ came about: His mother Mary was pledged to be married to Joseph, but before they came together, she was found to be with child through the Holy Spirit. Because Joseph her husband was a righteous man and did not want to expose her to public disgrace, he had in mind to divorce her quietly (18-19, NIV).

Indeed, as late as the fourth century CE, Christian writers were reading the Gospels against the doctrine of perpetual virginity. "Arguing that marriage, sex, and children were the gift of God, both Helvidius and Jovinian opposed the ascendent view of Mary's perpetual virginity because its accompanying rhetoric degraded those gifts" (Johnson, Truly Our Sister, 28). In the end, it was Helvidius and Jovinian's bitter opponents Ambrose and Jerome who held the day. Elizabeth Johnson suggests that the doctrine of perpetual virginity allowed male Christian theologians to trap women into a double bind, between Eve's fallen beginnings and Mary's immaculate "perfection." As for Johnson, we should not allow the doctrine of perpetual virginity to define Mary for us or limit the forms that her repetition takes, since as Deleuze and Guattari put it, "the girl is certainly not defined by virginity" (305).

[15] Yet if virginity is not precisely the point of the Gospels, what should we take from the image of the Virgin? The writer of Matthew rightly begins by showing us how Mary's pregnancy by the Holy Spirit was itself scandalous. After all, at the news of Mary's pregnancy, Joseph "had in mind to divorce her quietly" (19, NIV). The very Event which is commonly read as a sign of her fidelity to the divine signals the rather less divine possibility of her infidelity to her fiance Joseph. Feminist theologian Elizabeth Johnson makes clear Mary's vulnerability by quoting a moving Appalachian Christmas card:

Imagine yourself young, inexperienced, pregnant and poor. You are forced to leave home. On your journey you give birth, but because you have no money you do not receive adequate care or comfort. Right up to the time of delivery you have experienced unjust accusation about your pregnancy, near abandonment by your young husband, and the cruelties of discrimination from society. Now a refugee, you give birth in an unkempt place, a lean-to where animals move about freely. Your name is Ana, Debbie of West Virginia, Michelle of Brooklyn, Mary of Nazareth (Truly Out Sister, 15).

Though Christian theology has often described Mary as being blessed by God "alone of all her sex," Johnson argues that Mary's vulnerability is shared by countless women in similarly scandalous positions with regard to the patriarchy. A poor Judean woman, part of a colonized people, there can be few things more disreputable.

[16] So, though it is absent from the canonical Gospels, proof for Mary's perpetual Virginity can be found in the Gnostic Gospel of James (also known as the Protoevangelium or the Infancy Gospel of James) and in the Koran.[iii] The Protoevangelium of James features a scene in which Mary's vagina is inspected by the female disciple Salome who declares her to be a virgin, and thereafter she remains "ever virgin," still yet to discover the depths of her own body. It is Mary's indecipherability, her lack of a body-with-organs, that makes her become-girl. The Gospel also adds an inventive back story in which Jesus' brothers and sisters turn out to be half brothers and sisters from Joseph's first marriage. In doing so, the narrative seeks to contain the potentially scandalous nature of the Immaculate Conception in the early part of the Common Era, as well as the already emerging contradictions between New Testament canon and the perpetual virginity doctrine. It is easy to see why the later Gospel of James would seek to dispel the scandal by offering unequivocal proof of Mary's perpetual virginity, an idea taken up by the second century writer Origen.

[17] Thus lurking around the ancient writings is the repressed fear that Mary is a kind of monstrous figure. As theologian Marcella Althaus-Reid puts it, "one can easily argue that the Virgin Mary is the strangest thing in Christianity" (71). Recently, Slajov Žižek and John Milbank have re-drawn our attention to that wonderful phrase of Hegel's, "the monstrosity of Christ." For Hegel, Christ is a monster because he is a meeting point of two otherwise radically impossible positions—God and man. Mary, too, is an equally monstrous figure in drawing together two impossible positions—girl (defined in the Christian tradition as virgin) and mother. Deleuze's early book Nietzsche and Philosophy sparked some of the ideas we can now recognize as postmodernism, by arguing that Hegel's dialectical thinking remains decidedly incomplete, for what if we cannot resolve the two opposites into a synthesis?

[18] In The Logic of Sense Deleuze develops this further in "Eleventh Series of Nonsense," discussing Carroll's nonsensical phrase "for the Snark was a Boojum, you see." He says that

since it belongs simultaneously to both series, it has two sides. But the sides are never balanced, joined together or paired off, because the paradoxical element is always in disequilibrium to itself [...] at once excess and lack, empty square and supernumerary object, a place without an occupant and an occupant with a place, "floating signifier" and floating signified, esoteric word and exoteric thing, white word and black object. This is why it is constantly designated in two ways: the "snark was a boojum, you see" (78)

This kind of two-sided paradox is similarly designated in the Christian tradition by the name "Mary," a sign whose elements remain in constant tension with each other. For the virgin was a mother, you see. In Deleuzian terms, the Virgin mother is becoming-minoritarian, for there are few cultural positions more minoritarian, more contradictory and implausible, than that of a virgin mother, and it is this scandalous nature which masculinist Christian theology has despite its best efforts failed to suppress. The Virgin is untimely, reappearing across time periods, continents, cultures, contexts.

Repeating Becoming-Girl: Four Folds

One of many versions of a Zapatista Virgin, Mexico.

[19] Yet, if we can locate a molecular movement in the monstrous compound of this virgin mother, the image of the Virgin has often been rigid and molar, which has proved profoundly problematic for many feminists. As Elizabeth Johnson points out, the "strong emphasis on Mary's obedience, virginity, and primary importance as a mother shaped a religious symbol that satisfied the needs of a monastic or ecclesiastical male psyche more adequately than it served women's spiritual or social capabilities" (Truly Our Sister, 7). Mary becomes the perfect sinless woman, the completion and negation of the trajectory of Eve. As Deborah F. Sawyer points out, "According to Catholic tradition, Mary felt no pain when she gave birth to the Christ child. She is free of original sin and therefore liberated from the punishment of Eve" ("Re-reading Mary and Eve," 308).

[20] In Deleuzian terms, much of the history of the Virgin Mary has been of resemblance, not repetition. Deleuze equates resemblance with generality (Difference and Repetition, 1), with an economy of exchange. Repetition, on the other hand, "concerns non-exchangeable and non-substitutable singularities," by which he means not the Hegelian form of singularity-as-generality or even the Kierkegaardian form of singularity of a single person used by Levinasian and Derridean post-structuralists, but rather something more akin to the singularity of physics—a particular event at a particular time and place and only that. Unlike the economic exchange that marks resemblance, true repetition is the domain of "theft and gift" (Difference and Repetition, 1). Repetition is therefore in some sense illegitimate, it obeys not the law of patrilineal inheritance but rather appears where it will. Remember: the becoming-girl "slips through" orders.

[21] So, just as the monstrous compound of the Virgin Mary escapes through the cracks of the theological order of God that Deleuze describes, so too some versions of the Virgin Mary are true repetitions rather than reproductions. For Deleuze, "the most exact, the most strict repetition has as its correlate the maximum of difference" (Difference and Repetition, xx). The repetition must repeat the radicality of the initial gesture, must cut through a similar set of cultural co-ordinates rather than necessarily repeat the form itself. For Deleuze, true repetition is a renewal, a different actuality that has emerged from virtuality. It is in this sense that Caputo is right when he argues that, "all of us, from Deleuze to evangelical bible-thumpers, want to be born again" ("Spectral Hermeneutics," 51).

[22] Yet, there is some room for the repetition of a given determination in Deleuze's model of a bifurcated difference-in-itself, which is simultaneously the "undifferentiated abyss [of] black nothingness" (36) and a calm "white nothingness" of disconnected, fragmented determinations. If we take a given form like the Virgin, it is easy enough to imagine that fragmented singularity in that white nothingness, only to be repeated in another determined actuality verging either towards the infinitely small or infinitely large differences between finite determinations. And so, Rosi Braidotti suggests that "even the most traditional image, that of mother and child, can be repossessed by strategic repetitions and revisitations, for Irigaray, and by becoming de-stratified and de-territorialized, for Deleuze" (Metamorphoses, 24). So, how does one de-territorialize the image of the Virgin Mary?

[23] As I have argued, the event that is the Virgin Mary was scandalous for a number of reasons. Repeating Mary means repeating the scandalous nature of that event, but also means slipping through the order created in part by the Virgin Mary. Deleuze says, "we should not be surprised that difference should appear accursed, that it should be error, sin or the figure of evil for which there must be expiation" (Difference and Repetition, 37). Let us look at four repetitions of the Virgin, four folds as Deleuze calls them in his book The Fold: Leibniz and the Baroque. The Baroque as Deleuze describes it, "folds endlessly. It does not invent things: there are all kinds of folds coming in from the East, Roman, Romanesque, Gothic, Classical folds. Yet the Baroque trait twists and turns its folds, pushing them to infinity, fold over fold, one upon the other" (3). Let us Baroquely fold the image of Mary over, twisting and turning, slipping repetitions of the Virgin through the cracks in orders. These folds, repetitions, will inevitably appear as monstrous or sinful from a certain angle, from the dominant "theological order" of the situations from which they emerge. Though these repetitions can occur anywhere, I will follow queer liberation theologian Marcella Althaus-Reid in tracking four folds of the girl-Virgin in South America.

Fold One: Mary, Mother of God, Mother of the Poor

[24] The Virgin Mary has become popular among the liberation theologians of South America. [iv] Instead of the whitewashed Anglo-English image of the Protestant Mary, Mary has been re-imagined as a poor South American peasant woman of mestiza origin. Mary, Mother of the Poor looks after those poor South Americans against the Catholic order through which the Virgen's image is usually deployed. The Mexican American theologian Virgil Elizondo in Guadalupe argues that Our Lady of Guadalupe emerges partly as a form of resistance from conquered indigenous people to the all-male Catholic God, and as a reworking of the Indian virgin mother Tonantzin. He argues that the hope of Christianity and the Americas lies in the "anthropological reversal" (Guadalupe, 107) of the Virgin's becoming-mestiza. Though La Virgen has at times become molar and oppressive (especially of Latina and Chicana women), it is nevertheless telling that Cesar Chavez used the image of Our Lady of Guadalupe to organize for the rights of migrant farm workers in California (Johnson, Truly Our Sister, 5). The Zapatistas, too, represent La Virgen as a guerrilla fighter, wearing a swaddled baby and carrying a rifle (Controversies in Feminist Theology 78). Our Lady of Guadalupe intensifies the scandal of the unwed mother with the scandal of the resistant indigenous subject of colonialism, a theft of the religion of the conqueror turned against itself.

Fold Two: Santa-Librada, the Virgin-Christ

A Santa Librada of Paraguay image

A Santa Librada of Paraguay image [Wikimedia Commons]

[25] In becoming-girl, the Virgin connects rhizomatically with other images, even those in the same Christian tradition. Althaus-Reid explains:

"the Santerias of Buenos Aires display statues and stamps of a young woman who looks like the Virgin Mary, yet she is crucified and her body hangs from the cross, reminding us of Jesus. She is called Santa Librada, and her worship is very popular among the poor urban people of Buenos Aires" (Indecent Theology, 79)

The Santa Librada as Althaus-Reid describes her is sometimes full-figured, and sometimes represented as androgynous. Unlike Mary, she wears a red shawl, and in some traditions, too, she is an unofficial patron saint of sex workers (God's Lunatics, 376). In others, as Althaus-Reid notes, she is the saint of thieves and bandits, those driven to theft by circumstances beyond their control (Indecent Theology, 81).

[26] The Santa Librada poses the scandal of those on the margins of society—the sexual woman, the androgynous person, the thief—taking the place of the very place of Christ. In her sacrifice, the Santa Librada becomes at once, Mary and Christ. Like Christa, the female Christ, the Santa Librada poses the question of the substitutability of Jesus. Can believers imagine that the redemptive power of Christ lies in both sexes, that sacrifice is just as valuable and devastating when given by women? Is sacrifice still important when given by those deemed without much societal value? Or does the Santa Librada point towards a critique of the order of masculinity? That is, has Mary herself been sacrificed through her misogynistic use by the Church and its male theologians?

Fold Three: Mary, the Drag Queen

[27] Althaus-Reid points out that "in Brazil, there is a transvestite Christian community which has adopted the Virgin Mary as a divine Drag Queen. Such a community breaks through the biography of the Virgin who now speaks sexually through her Drag Queen appearance" (Indecent Theology, 79). The Drag Queen Mary slips through the orders of homophobia and desexualization of the Virgin, producing an icon whose meanings problematize those reproductions of the Virgin that equate Mary with her biological origins, maternity or chaste heterosexual marriage to Joseph. Drag, as Marjorie Garber famously described it, denaturalizes sex and gender, "putting in question the 'naturalness' of gender roles through the discourse of clothing and body parts" (151). In other words, drag disrupts the cultural division of gendered clothing as properly belonging to one sex and not another. To imagine the Virgin Mary as a drag queen is to imagine a Virgin without womanhood, without motherhood, without heterosexuality—a scandal indeed.

Fold Four: The Colonialist Mary

Guadalupe's Sanctuary, Bogota, Columbia

Guadalupe's Sanctuary, Bogota, Columbia. [Wikimedia Commons]

[28] Deleuze's theory of repetition also raises the possibility of a calamitous repetition. As Gebara and Bingemar quote from a description of a Marionological "miracle" in favour of Spanish colonialists who were surrounded in battle with a native tribe at Sunturhuari in Peru:

There appeared in the air Our Lady with the Child Jesus in her arms, with magnificent radiance and beauty, and she stood before them. The infidels, gazing at that wonder, were amazed. They felt a dust like sand falling into their eyes and did not know where they were. They had to turn around and go home before the Spaniards could come out and do battle with them (Mary: Mother of God, Mother of the Poor, 130) [v]

Althaus-Reid details countless similar "miracles" on the South American continent entangling the Virgin with colonialist violence from the 16th century to the present, pointing out that both the Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet and the Argentinian fascist regime of the 70s were dedicated to Marian devotion (Indecent Theology, 57-60). Feminist and liberation theologians have noted the ways in which Marian devotion can be used as a tool of power over women, as a means of producing female submission and assent to violence. The scandal here is in the indecent association of the Virgin with the bloodshed of colonization, in the calamitous colonizing of mind and body of subject peoples. If the Virgin can be a line of flight from a given circumstance, she can also oppress, also inspire and legitimize violence and destruction.


A sixth century Persian miniature of Maryam (Mary)
and Isa (Jesus)

A sixth century Persian miniature of Maryam (Mary) and Isa (Jesus). [Wikimedia Commons]

[29] None of these actualities exhaust the virtual potentiality of the Virgin, who lives on the plane of immanence. We can easily imagine further anti-colonialist, anti-racist, anti-sexist, anti-homophobic, anti-globalization, anti-neo-imperialism Virgins slipped through orders of power as often as they produced. Indeed, given the popularity of Mary (Maryam) amongst Muslims, Christian belief or practice is hardly necessary for new determinations to emerge. Lines of flight may emerge out from the impossible virgin to the impossible mother, from other characteristics like race and class that have melded into the image of the Virgin.

[30] A recent safe sex calendar in Spain elicited a significant amount of controversy by using transsexual women as models of the Virgin—the profane opposite of the molar Mary embodied as a transsexual Virgin Mary. [vi] If the Virgin Mary as an image draws together contradictory, potentially monstrous ideas about sexuality and motherhood, then perhaps a trans Virgin suggests the impossibility of such a figure of reproductivity. Perhaps a trans Virgin also suggests that our culture profoundly erases the possibility of trans motherhood, which due to the absence of a uterus in trans women is as culturally implausible as a virgin birth—ignoring the many modalities of trans motherhood up to and including the ability to breastfeed. The becoming-girl of the Virgin produces infinite possibility, posing infinite questions about image, power, materiality, the sacred, and our ability to elude or be trapped by these formations.

Works Cited

Althaus-Reid, Marcella. Indecent Theology: Theological Perversions in Sex, Gender and Politics. London: Routledge, 2000.

Althaus-Reid, Marcella, and Lisa Isherwood. Controversies in Feminist Theology. London: SCM, 2007.

Berresem, Hanjo. "N-1 Sexes." Rhizomes 11/12 (2006): n.pag.

Braidotti, Rosi. Metamorphoses: Towards a Materialist Theory of Becoming. Cambridge, MA: Polity, 2002.

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[i] Grosz's emphasis on the molar leads her to the dubious position that transsexual women exist to "live out [their] fantasy of femininity" (207)—a suggestion that may come as a surprise to androgynous, butch and genderqueer transsexual women. Ironically, Grosz's uncorroborated conjecture displays the kind of critical appropriation and silencing she herself feared at the hands of Deleuze and his male followers.

[ii] It is this unique occurrence, after all, that causes Hegel to consider Christianity the highest form of religion.

[iii] Mary is known as Maryam in the Muslim tradition. In "Maryam" (Sura 19), the Qur'an details the Annunciation, Mary's virginity, and Jesus' birth. The sura refutes the Christian doctrine that Jesus is the son of God, instead positioning him as a "Servant of God" (19:30).

[iv] I take the term Mother of God, Mother of the Poor from liberation theologian anthropologists Ivone Gebara and Maria Clara Bingemer's book of the same name.

[v] The original quote is from R.V Ugarte's Historia del culto a María en Iberoamérica vol 1, 3rd edition (Madrid 1956), p.27. Though not detailed, the translation presumably comes from Gebara and Berryman's translator Philip Berryman.

[vi] The calendar can be viewed here (some nude images): «»