“Is it OK to be Christian and transgender?” and “What’s it like to be a transgender Christian?” are questions I get asked from time to time.
Just the other day, I got asked this question: “What is different about the reasons Christianity uses to condemn trans folks than GLB folks?” and so I wanted to share my response here:
Thank you for asking this question. It really annoys me when people talk about the “clobber passages” about LGBT people and then only talk about the ones that deal with being LGB.
There are different issues at play here.
First, I want to recommend the book Trans-gendered: Theology, Ministry, and Communities of Faith by Justin Tanis. His is the absolute BEST 101 book about trans* issues and the church. He covers what I’m about to outline in much more depth.
[Tweet “There are two major differences between Christian condemnation of GLB people and trans* folks”]
There are different “clobber passages”
(7 against GLB folks, 1 against trans* folks)
There is only one passage that seems to point to displeasure with transgender people, and it has to do with clothing.
Women must not wear men’s clothes, and men must not wear women’s clothes. Everyone who does such things is detestable to the Lord your God.Deutoronomy 22:5 (CEB)
This passage is found in the purity codes. One could make the argument that in these times the lines between “men’s” and “women’s” clothing is blurred to be pretty much meaningless. You could also make the argument that as a transgender man it would be against my nature to wear women’s clothing and so therefore I am abiding by the command.
You could also say that whatever gender you are, wearing clothing makes that clothing belong to your gender (hence a man who chooses to wear a skirt is wearing men’s clothing because he is a man). You can do a lot with this one passage.
There is a difference between identity and behaviour
Now this gets a little dicey: I don’t mean to say that GLB identity is simply about behaviour (because it’s not) but in the narrative of Christian anti-gay rhetoric that’s what it comes down to. You could technically be GLB and not sinful so long as you didn’t act, sexually, on your feelings (so the story goes). For trans* folks it’s not about sexual behaviour but about intrinsic gender identity.
This line does get blurred a bit when Christian folks deny the gender identity of a trans* person and then accuse them of same gender sexual behaviour. (For instance if I, as a transgender man, had a relationship with a woman a Christian might say that I am in a lesbian relationship.)
So that’s a basic overview of the condemning passage.
But really, is this conversation helpful?
If someone has an issue with trans* people, is my explanation of the ONE verse that seems to condemn transgender people really going to change their mind? I think not. Especially since we have been debating those seven clobber passages about GLB people for at least 30 years now and the debate is still just as heated.
Here’s what I think debating these passages does allow: It allows us to stay at a 101 level. It allows us to get caught in semantics and definitions of Greek and Hebrew words and allows us to continue to deny that we are talking about actual people with actual feelings and actual lives. It allows us to never move past this defensive posture of sin and apologetics. And so we prooftext and argue and accuse and waffle. We bring out people who can debate both sides. We try to build bridges between different communities. This isn’t a helpful conversation.
As Brian says, we queer folks don’t have time for cheap theology. And this sort of proof texting is cheap theology at it’s worst. If you want to know what these passages say, read Justin’s book and then let’s move on.
Instead here’s what I think is a helpful conversation:
As we read throughout Scripture there is a large number of affirming passages for trans* and gender non-conforming people. We find righteous women warriors, a wonderful passage in Isaiah about Eunuchs being given a name and a family, Jesus’ words of affirmation towards Eunuchs, the man carrying a jar of water in the Passion narrative, the Ethiopian Eunuch in Acts, and much more.
There is ample evidence that people who don’t conform to gender norms are not only accepted but celebrated throughout the Scriptures. (click to tweet that!)
There is also a lot of room to read trans* experiences into Scripture. You can see the work I’ve done with this by reading my trans* Passion narrative, available as individual articles here and as an expanded book and companion journal here.
Photo Credit: mon of the loin