During my days in the closet as a practicing Catholic, I relied on LGBTQ+ movies, television shows, and books to understand why I felt the way I did. Out of all the LGBTQ+ stories I have consumed, only one has influenced me in ways I didn’t expect.
Killing Eve accompanied me during a time when I was trying to accept my own queerness. And as a lay women working in the Catholic Church I started to question, “What would it be like to navigate my career unburdend by the shame I felt for being queer? What if it didn’t conflict with my Catholic identity?” Killing Eve follows Eve Polastri, a British MI5 agent who sniffs out the trail of Villanelle, an assassin known for her fashionable apparel and psychopathic tendencies. The two women begin a game of chase, becoming obsessed with each other while we become obsessed with them. As they navigate the world of espionage, the sexualities of these two queer woman never becomes a focus of the story’s conflict.
As I witnessed queer Catholics condemned for their sexuality, fired from their jobs, and rejected by their communities, I was frightened of the same fate, but those worries drove me to look for ways to face these situations. I don’t know if I would have had enough courage to do so if I wasn’t inspired by queer stories, real or fictional. With Killing Eve, I was empowered by the women’s fearlessness and tenacity because they embodied those qualities without feeling hindered by their sexuality. To my surprise, the show’s queerness, and the move not to explicitly name it, helped me name mine. I learned that I could live as both queer and Catholic because they are identities that make up my whole and authentic self.
Now as an openly queer theologian, I am watching Killing Eve in its final season. Since the show already influenced my sexuality, I was not expecting it to speak to my spirituality—but it did. What I received in the final season’s first two episodes affirmed my developing theology as an LGBTQ+ Catholic. *Warning: some spoilers ahead*
Episode 1, titled “Just Dunk Me,” is about Villanelle’s urgency to get baptized. She no longer desires to be a killer but does not know how to stop. Jesus appears to Villanelle in a gaudy outfit, gold knee-high boots, makeup, and a tacky halo. We quickly recognize that this “apparition” looks like Villanelle dressed as Jesus. Upon seeing him, Villanelle asks, “What happens now?” Jesus nonchalantly replies, “Easy. I lead you to salvation.”
He makes another appearance as Villanelle goes on a church camp outing. The priest’s daughter leads Villanelle out to a clearing in the woods to “save her.” The daughter says to her, “There is something all coiled-up in you and it’s stopping you from being who you want to be. There’s only one way to uncoil it.” She begins to spin in a circle and scream to the sky. She encourages Villanelle to try it and let go.
Jesus comes up to Villanelle at this moment and she extends her hand out inviting him to spin with her. He enthusiastically joins in and we watch the two, hand in hand, spinning in circles and screaming. This scene hit something within me. First, it has a “coming out” undertone. How many of us had to “uncoil” the shame we felt for our sexuality? Second, through a queer theological interpretation, seeing Jesus portrayed in this eccentric way was extremely affirming for me. Villanelle even questions the way he looks. He answers, “Everyone experiences me differently. I appear to some as an angel. To some as a voice in the clouds. To some as a burning bush. But for you, I’m you in drag. Does that make sense?”
Yes it does: Drag King Jesus! As I deepen and broaden my understanding of God, I have envisioned a God who challenges the gender binary. I have theologized with fellow students on how Jesus is queer. I have learned from feminist theologians who invite us to move beyond the masculine language and symbols of God. Now, I get to watch my favorite television series explore religious imagery that mirrors my exploration of Catholic theology.
These two episodes spoke to me of the queer Catholic experience. For those of us who grew up in deeply religious households, we were trained to believe that queerness is unnatural, disordered, wrong. All of it tangles shame inside of us. How liberating it is to imagine Jesus yelling to the skies alongside us as we break free and begin to live our whole selves.
I am confident that I am not the only queer Catholic who craves to see a gender-bending Jesus. And I am sure many queer persons exploring their spirituality understand the gift it is to feel validated by the Divine. So this post is my letter of gratitude to all who worked on this show. I did not imagine I would ever theologically resonate with Killing Eve after it already influenced my journey to come out. It makes the goodbye to the show even more bittersweet.
—Elise Dubravec (she/her), New Ways Ministry, March 25, 2022