A conversation with Julia Maxwell / Photo by Divine Ikpe

Queer Christianity

Julia Maxwell is a full time Nanny and part-time housekeeper/pet sitter with 5 years of psychology, social work and religious studies schooling under their belt. They are known amongst friends as an insightful, curious and caring person who you can talk to about virtually anything. When I first met them, they were introduced to me as a queer non-binary Christian. I have to admit that I was pretty shocked upon hearing Christian mixed in with those other words. Due to how Christianity is portrayed in the media, it feels completely antithetical to queerness on face value. But for Julia, that is not the case. In fact, as their ties to Christianity grew, as did their relationship with their queerness. 

Quotes have been edited for clarity. 

 

How do you define queerness for yourself?

It’s like a feeling, an experience. I knew something felt different within me in juxtaposition with the way I was socialized and the way I grew up, and I didn’t have a name for it. As I learned more about how other queer people felt growing up and likewise learning more queer vocabulary, I realized I had been experiencing the same thing. It feels like a formless energy, something really malleable and flexible. The queerness within me feels like it’s searching for a capital-T Truth, searching for the way to be the most connected to love, myself, nature, everything that is alive. 

 

How would you describe your relationship with God or the universe?

I grew up going to a Christian church, but then my parents split. I would spend a week with my mom and a week with my dad. When I was with my mom, we would go to church and when I was with my dad, we wouldn’t. So  my identity became really split and I didn’t know what I believed because I was just trying to keep the peace in both households and fulfill my sense of belonging in both spaces. So then my relationship with God, due to the church my mom went to, was God knows what I’m doing, God is like Santa Claus: “He sees me when I sleep, he knows when I’m awake.” All I had desired from church was a sense of community, that’s why I liked going, but there was a lot of shame-mongering. 

When I got to college, I found a campus ministry that just talked a lot about the story of Jesus and it was a message of love, which I had never heard before and that helped me understand that I had been harboring a lot of self-hatred, self-rejection and a lot of shame. That moment of my freshman year in 2018 changed my relationship with God, Love, Souce, Light and coincided with me starting therapy and helped to heal my relationship with myself. Over and over again, the message from the universe was that there is an unlimited amount of forgiveness, with a tinge of seriousness that was like, now is the time to do this work. As my relationship with God has deepened, my ability to feel empowered has deepened, and that has directly correlated to my understanding of my identity and my queerness. I didn’t come out to myself until 2019, So I didn’t even know this about myself for a long time.

 

What about Christianity resonates with you?

The Jesus story, how his life was prophesied. I often look for prophets around me, try to think about what that would look like in 2023. And the concept of “being in and not of,” being in the world but not of the world, that’s something I think about a lot. Also his rejection and opposition to religious leaders and acceptance of his unjust death. How to participate and be here but still invest in the invisible world. Something I’ve been thinking about a lot recently is a sermon that Jesus gave where he essentially said, don’t smile and shake people’s hands if you have beef with them, figure that out before coming to temple.That really resonates with me because life is complicated and strange, and the digital world makes it even more complicated and more layered. Finally, the magic and mystery of a resurrection and ascension. I mean’ religions across the board long before Jesus was said to be here, on earth, have wisdom on the cycle of life: birth, life, death. Rebirth, life, death.  Rebirth, life, death. So I just love how it’s played out in the Jesus Story.

 

How does queerness coincide with religion for you? How does it clash, if at all? 

The obvious answer on how it clashes is that the Christian culture in the United States is very anti-queer. It’s almost like people are caught in this shame hole (the very cycle Jesus was trying to get people out of) that is turned into a business around this country. That affects my own life, too. The college ministry I had mentioned previously, that was the catalyst to my understanding of myself and God, holds anti-queer policies in their staffing. There’s a spectrum on what types of anti-queerness you hold as a Christian, they’re different sides to it: you fully are against queerness and think it’s a sin, then there’s the side that this ministry was on where, you don’t think queerness is a sin, but you think queer sex is a sin. They hired a cis bisexual woman and they said yeah, if she’s dating a man that’s fine, but she can’t date a woman. And there’s not even a discussion on gender there. A lot of queer-affirming churches are still stuck in a binary with segregated men’s and women’s Bible study. There’s this big obsession I’ve noticed with gender, it’s all around, but it’s still surprising to see it play out in spaces that feel so special otherwise. I’ve read a lot of queer theology and learned a verse in one of Paul’s letters, he says because of Christ, there is no man nor woman. I remember sharing that verse with my step dad when I was kind of coming out to my parents and tried to look it up and fact check me about it and it’s like, the Bible, if read in a certain lens, can say anything you want it to say, really. Which is good and bad. 

 

Do you want to speak on the concept of dualism and gender?

Yes! So as this whole relationship has deepened and grown, there’s so much acceptance of contradictions. Julia before therapy was like, “I feel happy and now I feel sad, something’s wrong that I feel these feelings at the same time. That can’t be right, I have to feel one or the other.” Julia post-therapy is like, “I feel happy, now I feel sad, I can feel both at the same time.” It’s so simple. I remember my dad telling me, “Julia, the world doesn’t have to be so black and white.” Because I used to be very caught up in right and wrong, a very anxious type-A rule follower. That’s why I ended up in a place like Georgia Tech, they breed people like that. But anyways, as I start to understand that there’s a lot of chaos in the design, there’s some purposeful chaos. There’s a balance between these things, it doesn’t have to be one or the other. It’s yes-and usually. That’s what Jesus was trying to point out, you’ve been taught this or that, but there’s a third way. He was preaching to a society that’s not much different from ours, the neoliberal steriles makes our current society appear less brutal and more accepting when it’s actually not, a wolf in sheep’s clothing as they say. I was holding on so much to that black and white thinking to understand myself until I heard that non-dualistic teaching, that third way. It resonated with the spirit in me a lot, which felt like a separate entity to me than the rational brain that was running the show. Given the body dysmorphia I felt as a child too, connecting that to this helped me make sense of it like, okay I’m gender non-binary. 

When I let go of that idea of binary in the world around me, it only made sense to let go of that in myself, too. It’s like, the more I came into my queerness, the more the universe cheered me on.