Water­col­or by Maritess Sul­cer, edited

I have no inter­est in wom­an­hood. In any par­tic­u­lar dress. In any par­tic­u­lar tasks. In any par­tic­u­lar voice. I don’t want to be a man either. I want a new form.”

You could be a bird with me.”

Naamah laughs. Would I be hap­py, do you think?”

Where it starts: Gen­e­sis is a queer space.

The text of Gen­e­sis itself is not often queer, but if you approach Gen­e­sis as a writer obsessed with world-build­ing, the rules laid out by Gen­e­sis cre­ate a queer space.

The rules: peo­ple live for cen­turies, mar­riages last for cen­turies; God speaks, God takes dif­fer­ent forms (a night spir­it, a riv­er spir­it, a burn­ing bush, three men speak­ing togeth­er); angels exist, angels speak, there are fall­en angels who can impreg­nate women, there are the chil­dren of fall­en angels (the Nephilim, the giants). What isn’t pos­si­ble in an envi­ron­ment like this?

Look­ing at the mar­riages them­selves, most of the men have their wives, plus con­cu­bines or hand­maid­ens (read: slaves). They’re not kind towards women or inter­est­ed in con­sent, but these are the kinds of mar­riages depict­ed over and over again. In terms of our con­tem­po­rary under­stand­ing of a typ­i­cal” and moral” mar­riage, these are wild­ly unusu­al relationships.

So when I was writ­ing Naamah—my retelling of the sto­ry of Noah’s ark from her per­spec­tive — know­ing all of this about Gen­e­sis and under­stand­ing the world that Naamah lived in, I knew that pre­sent­ing her in a con­tem­po­rary mar­riage with Noah would be dis­hon­est, to the point of fool­ish­ness. And, hon­est­ly, it would be unin­ter­est­ing to me. We have enough depic­tions of stan­dard” mar­riages and how they are stretched and stressed.

I knew that pre­sent­ing her in a con­tem­po­rary mar­riage with Noah would be dis­hon­est, to the point of foolishness.

In writ­ing Naamah, here was a chance to engage with a woman who lived and par­tic­i­pat­ed in a part­ner­ship for cen­turies, who raised three sons into their adult­hood, who had to resign her­self to God’s word, who had to tend to enough of life on Earth such that she might begin it again; all after watch­ing the world she knew be utter­ly destroyed, so much so that there was no sign of it ever again.

Expe­ri­enc­ing some­thing like the rains and the flood, and then par­tic­i­pat­ing in the cre­ation of a world, one that’s in fact a near exact recre­ation of one’s old and beloved world — I imag­ine that would shake Naamah’s under­stand­ing of every­thing; from her life, to her mar­riage, her self­hood, her gen­der, her rela­tion­ship to her own abil­i­ties to cre­ate, her val­ue, her worth, her wicked­ness and her good­ness, and indeed the whole idea of wicked­ness and goodness.

And a per­son struck down like that, to noth­ing, and asked to rebuild, that’s the essence of being queer for me. Because my under­stand­ing of myself was not pre­sent­ed any­where, I had to break apart the under­stand­ings of peo­ple that were pre­sent­ed to me, take them apart, find what fit, and build an iden­ti­ty out of those pieces, and build a com­mu­ni­ty out of the peo­ple who had done likewise.

And a per­son struck down like that, to noth­ing, and asked to rebuild, that’s the essence of being queer for me.

So yes, I told a queer sto­ry when I told Naamah’s sto­ry, but it was the only sto­ry that made sense for her. It was dri­ven by her char­ac­ter, her world, and the sto­ry, as it has been told for mil­len­nia. I’d ques­tion any bib­li­cal retelling that was not queer.

I per­haps made the specifics as queer as I could. Naamah sleeps with a wid­ow for years before the flood. She sleeps with her daugh­ter-in-law on the deck of the ark. She sleeps with an angel who has tak­en the form of a woman and now lives in the flood­wa­ters. She kiss­es God. In her dream­scape, she befriends a cock­a­too who is end­less­ly curi­ous about human pre­con­cep­tions of gen­der. She ques­tions her­self, and she ques­tions the world, and she ques­tions God’s intent and His exe­cu­tion of His plans. She is every­thing I want in a person.

What I would add: it is dif­fi­cult to sit down each day and write a nov­el if it does not feel impor­tant to write it. Reclaim­ing Naamah’s sto­ry, final­ly giv­ing her a voice, being true to her world and her life, let­ting her be the queer ques­tion­ing per­son that I’m sure she would have been — all of it — felt, not just impor­tant, but urgent. And I felt that it was an hon­or to write it. And I’m grate­ful to every­one who’s read her story.

Sarah Blake is the recip­i­ent of a Lit­er­a­ture Fel­low­ship from the Nation­al Endow­ment for the Arts. Her writ­ing has appeared in The Keny­on Review, The Three­pen­ny Review, Slice, and else­where. She has won the 2019 Nation­al Jew­ish Book Award for Debut Fiction.