Where you go, I will go;
    where you lodge, I will lodge;
your people shall be my people
    and your God my God.
Where you die, I will die,
    and there will I be buried.

(Ruth 1:16b-17a)

This language is striking. These words are often used in weddings, for obvious reason; they speak of loving devotion that endures even beyond death. These words of love, spoken from Ruth to Naomi, in the Book of Ruth, have been used to bind countless couples of all gender combinations.

LGBTQ+ folks and our allies often claim Ruth and Naomi at a lesbian couple, but were they? Honestly, there’s no way to answer that question. In the context of their time, the very nature of romantic relationships was profoundly different than how we define relationships today. We probably shouldn’t simply overlay our contemporary understanding of sexual orientation onto these two women.

Many queer scholars will tell you that neither homosexuality nor heterosexuality existed until modernity. Therefore, Ruth and Naomi did not have the cultural context of lesbianism with which to label their love. We have no way of knowing if they gave each other that butterfly feeling, or if this was a different kind of love altogether.

However, before we abandon the possibility of them being queer icons, let’s keep in mind one of the things that Ruth and Naomi taught us—a concept that is vital to queer community—the importance of chosen family. They faced loss, grief, fear, and famine; when the world around them felt harsh and survival was uncertain, Ruth would not allow Naomi to send her away to safety. Her now famous words of devotion emerged from faithful adoration toward the one she chose as family. These words speak to a fear of loss that can only exist in a space of genuine love.

Personally, I am not concerned about whether Ruth and Naomi loved each other in a way that would be labeled “lesbian” in today’s cultural context. Lesbian or not, their love was very queer. Let’s remember that the queerness is not dependent on the presence of same-sex romantic attraction. Queer theory requires that we interrogate the ideas of sex, gender, family structures, power dynamics, and identities. Through this lens, we see that as Ruth clings to Naomi, and Naomi is transformed by her devotion, their queerness surpasses orientation.

As we celebrate Pride Month, let’s remember that queer icons are everywhere, especially in the pages of our sacred texts. These queer icons offer us empowerment that transcends cultures and generations. When we see people choosing to be family to one another, we are empowered by that love. When we witness adoration that is often misunderstood or misrepresented, we can experience validation from that adoration.

In our cultural context today, in this nation, we face so much uncertainty. Many of us fear that our marriages will be taken away, our adoptions could be overturned, our medical interventions, such as hormones and gender confirming surgeries might be outlawed, and pregnant people are being stripped of their right to choose. Let’s learn from the queer icons like Ruth and Naomi. As the world around us feels terrifying and harsh, let’s choose to cling to one another. Let’s claim each other as family. Let’s stand in solidarity with each other and with a united front, speak queerness to power. In a country that calls us to be ruthless, let’s choose instead to speak like Ruth and say to one another that your cause is my cause, your fight is my fight, your struggle is my struggle, and we are all each other’s people.

Rev. Jakob Hero-Shaw | Coordinator of the CLGS Transgender Roundtable

Rev. Jakob Hero-Shaw