I remember the first time I learned about transgender people. I was 14 and Thomas Beatie had appeared on the Oprah Winfrey show as the “pregnant man.” I remember being confused at the time, thinking that science had created a way for men to give birth, much like male seahorses do. I was with my mom and her sister, and I distinctly recall my aunt scoffing at the idea while my mom being noticeably uncomfortable. But I was fascinated, enthralled at the idea that someone could be a man despite their assigned sex at birth. That someone could transition into a gender that they identified with. I believe this began my interest in gender as a whole.
As a Christian, I have tried to remain aware and educated about the LGBTQ+ community and finding ways to be an ally to them. I believe that the queer community has an equal part in Christianity (as well as all other religions) as with people of from different ethnic backgrounds, languages, socioeconomic status, etc. I think of Revelation 7:9 in this respect, that the people of God includes all kinds of people, and I believe that GLB and trans* individuals are a part of that group. But what about sin in regards to the LGBTQ+? I think that the topic is too complex to merely deny LGBTQ+ people salvation based on cherry-picked passages. What I’m more concerned about with this post is trans* people and Christianity: What is their role, and how can the Church include them into the Body?
Let’s start with something basic: What is gender? Separate it from genitalia, and sexuality, and merely think of gender itself. What is it? For a simplified answer, one could say that it is the state of being male or female, masculine or feminine. Now, our immediate response is most likely to jump ahead to gender roles, and how men and women function in society. But let’s not get their yet. What is masculine? What is feminine? How do you define it? Gender is an identity, first and foremost. It is how one perceives themself internally, which then can impact how one presents themself externally. There’s no perfect way to define gender, merely because it’s an abstract concept. And on top of that, one’s gender expression differs from person to person. Ann Coulter’s femininity may differ from Margaret Atwood’s femininity – and that’s okay.
During the past century or so, our gender roles have began to morph and shift in our society. Women can work full-time, while men assume the role of a homemaker. And yet each role is equally valid, and no shame is inherent with going against traditional gender roles (well, not blatantly at least). The Church seems to be adapting to this idea of changing gender roles, relatively. The denomination of my college – The Assemblies of God – ordains both men and women equally. Both sexes are allotted to have leadership within the Church and maintain their own ministries.
But what about transgender individuals? Transgender awareness has increased greatly during my generation. And I believe that trans* people are becoming more visible in society as well. But, I have yet to meet any trans* Christians, and this troubles me. The Bible doesn’t discuss in detail about gender. Deuteronomy 22:5 merely discusses that men and women shouldn’t wear the opposite gender’s clothing. Yet later in the chapter, a whole passage is dedicated to virginity and marriage/sexual regulations. Even the favored Romans 1 doesn’t discuss gender in its “unnatural relations.” And then things get messy when we consider creation in general. Could God have allowed for multiple genders within creation? Is the gender binary all that humanity is limited to?
What we must remember while reading the Bible is that it was written in a completely different culture than ours. In the Old Testament, we have the story of Israel with its cultural background being the ancient Near East. In the New Testament, we have Greco-Roman culture being pervasive while 1st century Jews and Christians struggle the balance between their monotheistic religion and their surrounding polytheistic culture. If anything, the Bible is more concerned with sexual acts of deviancy (such as prostitution, cheating on one’s spouse, etc.) than it is with gender norms.
So what does the Bible say about being transgender, or identifying with something that you were not assigned at birth as? This is where I would like to explore. I cannot say that I have an answer to this question at this point, but I would like to find out. To be honest, I find the Bible silent on trans* issues, mainly because there are no real cases of trans* people in the Bible (that I can think of). Certainly there are cases for gender norms being broken (such as women in leadership positions in the OT and NT), but gender identity isn’t really discussed.
This post is serving as sort of a jumping off point for research for my capstone paper for my undergrad degree. I will research about gender identity and the Church, and how a dialogue can be started about this topic. I hope to find actual answers to what the Bible says about gender identity, and how the Church can practically engage the Trans community in ways that are not centered on condemnation nor trying to “fix” individuals. God is not for the privileged, the heterosexuals, or the cisgendered. God is for all of humanity.
As I continue to work on this project, I will post sections of my paper on this blog. Stay tuned!