Friday, November 25, 2011

Closets (Esther 4:13-14)

         When Mordecai heard Esther’s reply, he wrote back the following response: “Don’t fool yourself into thinking that, just because you are in the imperial palace, you will be the only Jewish person to escape. If you insist on remaining silent at this time, vindication and liberation will come to our people through another source, but both you and your family will surely die. Who’s to say? – you may have come into your royal court for just this moment.”                                Esther 4:13-14

Closets have their own peculiar dynamics. Closets are constructed by cultural attitudes and societal expectations, yet only those who live in closets are aware of them. The positive of the closet is that it keeps us safe in hostile company.

Many queers tend to add their voice to that of Mordecai’s, decrying the closet as a psychological straight jacket and a poor excuse for holistic living. Also like Mordecai we have come to understand the fragile safety the closet provides. Great energy often goes into maintaining a closet. Yet, all can be undone by a single insightful guess of underlying reality.

Society still tends to favor the closet. Conservative western culture, following the Victorian Era, sees the closet as the best solution to the queer conundrum. The easy answer is out-of-sight, out-of-mind. Therefore we don’t ask and we don’t tell – we reside in the closet.

Those mourning the loss of the closet and pinning for a more restricted time are represented in this story by Esther’s husband Ahasuerus, king of Persia. He enjoys the privileges which come with being at the top of a rigid hierarchy. Victorian society, which constructed the modern closet, was structured to privilege the white heterosexual male. It was a time when women knew their place, servants were second-class, and queers were criminals against natural law.

Esther represents those who do not enjoy the safety of privilege and status. Born a Jew (although hiding this fact of parentage), she became a Persian queen after the former queen refused the king and quickly became an ex. In the intervening story a foe of Jewish people hatches a plan for their genocide. The king, isolated from this struggle for dignity, sanctions the plan. Esther has a crisis: does she come out of the closet and reveal all? Does she stay in and hope that her social location can save her from the troubles of her people?

Polite protocol proves tricky for us. Like Esther we are not quite sure when to speak up and act out. This decision is always situational and no one rule applies across the board.

The concluding words of Mordecai catch my attention: “Who’s to say? – you may have come into your royal court for just this moment.” Mordecai reminds us of the hard and difficult task of discernment between whether the closet is a place of safety or degradation. Esther’s story reminds us that there is no easy answer.


  1. I just discovered your wonderful blog while researching Esther for my piece about her today at the Jesus in Love Blog on LGBT spirituality and the arts. Thanks for shining a queer light on Esther’s story! It really applies to today’s closeted LGBT people.

    I added your blog to my blog roll and included a link to this post in my reflection today. You can see it here:

    Esther and Vashti: Biblical queens inspire LGBT writers

  2. Thank you for your kind words and for your wonderful blog I enjoyed both the provocative articles and art.

  3. Your talks are often eloquent, as is this one. But Esther was known as a comic book, and those are fictional queens. So is most of Scripture.

    1. One of the keys to understanding scripture is not to confuse metaphorical insight and historical fact. For instance there is a rather famous picture of Abraham Lincoln breaking the chains of a black slave. Metaphorically this is a brilliant representation of one aspect of the US Civil War. However, it is a totally false historical fact as Lincoln himself broke no literal chains off of any slaves.Esther need not be a historical personage for me to learn insights from the story. In my opinion all of religious language in metaphorical and to treat it as literal is a huge mistake.