A queer Christ figure is the main character in the world’s best known lesbian novel, “The Well of Loneliness” by Radclyffe Hall. She was born on Aug. 12, 1880 in Bournemouth, England. Her book was banned for obscenity in England in 1928, not just because it portrayed lesbian love, but also for using religious arguments to support “inverts” — a 1920’s term for LGBTQ people.
Hall, a devoutly Catholic British lesbian, was herself pictured being nailed to the cross in a satirical cartoon from the era. Hall is widely recognized as a pioneering lesbian (or perhaps transgender) author. But her Christian side is often downplayed because of the conflict between Christianity and homosexuality — what was then called “congenital sexual inversion.” Hall lived with those contradictions and tried to reconcile them in her books.
“The Well of Loneliness” ends with a desperate prayer that has been echoed by countless LGBTQ people and still rings true now. The prayer is uttered by the novel’s protagonist, Stephen Gordon. She was born on Christmas Eve and named after the first Christian martyr. As a girl she had a dream “that in some queer way she was Jesus.” Like Hall, Stephen grows up to become a masculine woman who wears men’s clothes, has romantic relationships with women, and identifies as an “invert.”
At the climax of the novel Stephen has a vision of being thronged by millions of inverts from throughout time: living, dead and unborn. They beg her to speak with God for them, and then they possess her. She speaks for queer people from the past, present and future as she gives passionate voice to their collective prayer: “God,” she gasped, “We believe; we have told You we believe…We have not denied You, then rise up and defend us. Acknowledge us, oh God, before the whole world. Give us also the right to our existence!”