Transgender people and faith

Faith is a source of strength, hope, and fellowship for many transgender people. At the same time, many transgender people have been hurt in the name of faith. This part is to help transgender people who want to be a part of their faith. You can find a home in many faiths, probably even the one you grew up knowing.


Judeo-Christianity and trans people

When the Hebrew Scriptures were written, Jewish people fought with nearby people from a different faith, known as pagans. They wrote rules to exclude pagans. Some people say those rules also apply to trans people.

In the United States, some evangelical Christian faiths are opposed to transgender people. They often quote Bible verses as proof. When someone quotes a Bible passage out of context, try to put it back in historical context.

Deuteronomy 22:5

  • A woman shall not wear anything that pertains to a man, nor shall a man put on a woman’s garment; for whoever does these things is an abomination to the LORD your God.

This appears in a long list of rules. Those rules are about keeping Hebrews and pagans apart. The Hebrews hated that pagans believed in more than one god. That’s why these are the first four of the Ten Commandments:

  1. Worship no gods before the Lord
  2. Don’t make and worship idols (statues of gods)
  3. Don’t take the Lord’s name in vain
  4. Observe the Lord’s day

Several pagan faiths had priests who would crossdress as part of the faith. That’s why Hebrew priests made rules about cross-dressing.

Look at other rules in Deuteronomy:

  • Don’t plant crops with vines.
  • Don’t hitch oxen and donkeys together.
  • Don’t wear cloth combined of wool and linen.
  • Sew tassels on four corners of clothes.
  • If a man marries a girl, but later doesn’t want her and claims she wasn’t a virgin, her parents are to bring blood stained wedding sheet to the leaders, who are to beat him and make him give 500 silver pieces to the father, and he can’t divorce her. If the husband’s claims are true, she’s to be stoned to death at the entrance to her father’s house.
  • Men who have sex with others’ fiancees are to be killed along with the fiancee. However, if it happens in the country, you should just kill the man, since no one could have heard the woman cry out.
  • Raping single girls requires payment of 50 silver pieces to her father and marriage with no divorce.
  • No sex with any of father’s wives.

Being forced to marry your rapist, polygamy, stoning people to death.

Hebrews wanted to keep everything apart, even their food. Jews can’t mix dairy and meat. They don’t eat pork because pigs have cloven hooves but don’t chew a cud, thus are not neatly categorized. Only water creatures with fins and scales may be eaten– no shrimp or frogs, etc. Think of other common phrases from the Bible: separate the sheep from the goats, or the wheat from the chaff…


Eunuchs

Eunuchs are people assigned males at birth who have later been castrated. Eunuchs generally lived as men after castration. This custom appeared throughout Asia and peaked during the Byzantine Empire. The practice was used for servants in royal households and to a lesser extent, in harems. Many ancient religious rituals involved genital modification, including the Hebrew practice of circumcision.

The first chapter of Daniel shows that he and the Chaldean king’s chief eunuch were close. Some have gone as far as to say Daniel himself was a eunuch, but that’s not clear. An even more tendentious stretch is that Daniel was gay. Another eunuch, Ebedmelech, saved Jeremiah after he’d been put in a well by his enemies (Jeremiah 38:7).

Eunuchs get a bad rap early on in Scripture, but in later Jewish and Christian writings, they are allowed to join those groups in worship.

Deuteronomy 23.1

Immediately following the above miscellaneous rules in Deuteronomy, there’s specific mention of eunuchs.

  • He whose testicles are crushed or whose male member is cut off shall not enter the assembly of the LORD.

Also out of the club are pagan temple prostitutes and Israel’s political enemies, among others. This chapter also tells how to deal with wet dreams and how to bury your excrement while camping. Again, put it back into context…

Remember, circumcision = genital modification

The rule probably applied to those who modified their genitals as part of pagan ritual. Like 22.5, it is about transgender practices by non-Hebrews. Of course, the Hebrew version of genital modification was OK, and some say this is because circumcision didn’t usually interfere with reproduction. Anything that negates reproduction interferes with the system by which wealth is passed on– a big no-no.

And let’s not forget castrati

Further, remember that eunuchs known as castrati were highly respected singers in European cathedrals. Their full-throated soprano voices were considered an appropriate and inspirational form of praise to God.

However…

Isaiah 56:4-5

In contradiction to the rules against eunuchs in Deuteronomy stands this passage from Isaiah:

  • “For thus says the Lord: to the eunuchs who keep my sabbaths, who choose the things that please me and hold fast to my covenant, I will give, in my house and within my walls, a monument better than sons and daughters, I will give them an everlasting name that shall not be cut off.”

“Shall not be cut off??” Who says the Bible doesn’t have much humor! That’s a pretty bad pun! This passage is especially useful for transsexuals, since it appears in the Old Testament along with the Deuteronomy passage.

Acts 8:26-39

This is the story of the evangelist Philip (not the apostle), who meets a devout Ethiopian eunuch. Philip offers to interpret a passage the eunuch was reading at the time. The passage was Isaiah 53:7-8, often interpreted as a prophecy of Christ’s coming. Philip takes this chance to tell the eunuch about Jesus Christ, and the eunuch asks to be baptized. This eunuch is traditionally held to be the person who brought Christianity to northern Africa.

The point of this is that even eunuchs can be baptized as Christians or join in God’s worship, in contradiction with Deuteronomy 23:1 and in keeping with Isaiah 56:4-5. In fact, eunuchs have been doing the work of the church since the time of Christ.

Matthew 19:12

This passage has Jesus speaking directly about eunuchs:

  • For there are some eunuchs, who were so born from their mother’s womb: and there are some eunuchs, who were made eunuchs by men: and there are eunuchs who have made themselves eunuchs for the Kingdom of Heaven’s sake. He that is able to receive it, let him receive it.

Many interpretations of this passage have arisen. Some believe it is a discussion of voluntary celibacy, but the fact that Christ mentions people born that way indicates to me a birth condition. Some have also interpreted this to mean gays, which doesn’t seem out of the question. However, I think the most literal interpretation would include intersexed (born that way) and transsexual persons (made that way). Regardless of interpretation, the main point is that anyone able to receive the Kingdom of Heaven may do so.

Mark 9:43-47

This passage has Jesus speaking directly about altering one’s body:

  • If your hand causes you to sin, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life maimed than with two hands to go into hell, where the fire never goes out. And if your foot causes you to sin, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life crippled than to have two feet and be thrown into hell. And if your eye causes you to sin, pluck it out. It is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye than to have two eyes and be thrown into hell.

Many interpretations of this passage have arisen as well. While it is rarely taken as a literal exhortation, it does seem to say that your bodily form does not matter, and that altering it will not exclude you from entering heaven.


Your body is a temple

I Corinthians 5:19

The “your body is God’s temple” argument is used for everything from suicide to poor eating habits.

  • If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy him. For God’s temple is holy, and you yourselves are his temple.

For transsexuals, this argument often manifests itself as, “If God had wanted you to be a woman, he would have made you that way.” This argument is easily countered by asking if this applies to any sort of medical intervention, from wearing corrective lenses, to taking aspirin, to other surgeries.


God and discrimination

1 Samuel 16:7

In this passage, the lowly shepherd David is anointed king of Israel. Samuel assumes the LORD will choose one of David’s many handsome brothers, but the LORD says to Samuel:

  • …I do not judge as man judges. Man looks at the outward appearance, but I look at the heart.

Acts 10:34

This appears in the story of the first Gentile converted to Christianity.

  • Peter began to speak: “I now realize that it is true that God treats everyone on the same basis. Whoever fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him…

The original context was race, but a broader interpretation seems valid.

Galatians 3:28

Another catch-all comeback! If someone starts spouting Scripture to justify hating transsexuals, lay this one on them:

  • …there is neither male nor female, for we are all one in Christ Jesus.

John 3:16

Of course, nothing beats a passage that’s really familiar…

  • For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosover believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.

Sounds like that covers pretty much any believer, huh? Thanks to that rainbow wig guy who popularized the verse, even if a lot of sports fans don’t know what he was referring to.

If someone throws a Scripture passage at you, and you want my thoughts regarding a comeback, send me a note and I’ll dissect the passage in question.


Progressive religious denominations

A lot of transsexual people have been able to find comfort and support within progressive ministries. 

  • Unitarian
  • Episcopalian
  • Friends (Quakers)
  • Unity
  • United Centers for Spiritual Living
  • Some larger mainstream Christian sects

Native American beliefs

Again, I recommend Leslie Feinberg’s Transgender Warriors for an excellent overview of transgenderism in Native American cultures, as well as transgender prevalence in world history.

In many of these cultures, those who dressed as the opposite sex were not only tolerated, but highly respected. In some, they were considered spiritual leaders.

One concern…

I have a very uneasy feeling whenever non-Native American people appropriate elements of these cultures as their own. This has become popular in a few different trends like the New Age and Men’s Movements. Since our culture was responsible for the genocide of many Native American cultures, we must be very careful not to plunder their sacred history in a self-serving way.

I feel that picking and choosing pieces of a culture, and taking ideas and concepts we like out of context can be considered extremely disrespectful to that culture, as bad as picking through a sacred burial mound for things we like or want. It’s one thing to proudly claim Native American transgenderism as part of our history (which I do), but to claim we ourselves have these spiritual powers without a full knowledge of those cultures could be construed as insensitive and arrogant.

If you feel that Native American beliefs best describe your own spirit, that’s great! I would just caution anyone who feels this way to try to maintain a spirit of respect for these cultures.


thought to ponder

Sometimes I see people state that transsexuals have a spiritual gift. Like all matters of faith, this can be really good and really bad. This belief can be empowering and validating, but I always have concerns when people make claims of spiritual superiority or privilege.

I follow no faith and do not consider myself to be either blessed or cursed with transsexuality. I do not believe in any higher power, and to be lumped in with transsexuals who do is inaccurate and stereotypical. I do not think I have two spirits, or one for that matter. I try to follow a moral code loosely based on my religious upbringing, and I understand and respect how important religion is for many people.

So, if you feel your transsexualism is a spiritual gift, I hope you’ll consider saying “I feel I have a gift” rather than “Transsexuals feel we have a gift.”


Thoughts from readers

As people send me interesting comments, I’ll add them. Emphasis is mine.

A trans reader writes:

The whole process of self discovery has led me to question my faith more than once. Why would God do this to anyone? Why God…? is of course the eternal question. The answer of faith is that God has done nothing “to” us only for us. Our roads and journeys are unique and we work out our lives or not depending upon our faith. Our salvation and the answers to our struggles for meaning lie not in the words of the past, but in the lives of the saints to be, in our tomorrows, our dreams and our reconciliation of dreams to life.

An agnostic reader writes:

If I were ‘normal’, I would not know love as I now do. I would not be who I am, or where I am. These are recurring things to keep in mind; each tiny step, each stage along the way, changes everything, and each can be tainted by one’s own thoughts of themselves, and the perception others have of them. As such, whether this is a gift from god, a challenge presented, or […] some DNA with no spiritual involvement whatsoever… it doesn’t matter. I cherish it regardless. I have grown more due to this, and to be more accepting of myself for who I am, and have learned ways to change myself for when I am not appreciative of certain traits.


Outstanding spiritual resources

I’d like to add a comment here: over the years I have had to remove several links from this section that were written by deeply conflicted people. Some later “detransitioned” or disavowed their past identity as transgender/transsexual. In fact, some of these deeply conflicted people later go on to work to rid their religion of choice of other transsexual/transgender members. I mention this as a warning– some people are unable to reconcile their gender feelings with their religion, and end up choosing one or the other. In some cases, their religion is the winner, and the transgender women who have been brought into their confidence are the losers. Be careful, especially when dealing with people who seem especially preoccupied with religion. They may be working through far more serious issues than gender identity.

If you have found a link or a community of belief you’d like me to add, just send me a note!

Trans-focused resources

TransFaith (transfaith.info)

  • Old site: transfaithonline.org

Transcendent Christ Transgender Christians (transchristians.org)

  • Comprehensive, detailed analysis of transgenderism from a Christian perspective.

Christian Gays (trans.christiangays.com)

  • Mary Pearson maintains the trans section.

Sue Long (suelong.tripod.com)

  • Section on Judaism

Maetreum of Cybele, Magna Mater (gallae.com)

LGBT-focused sources

Institute for Welcoming Resources (welcomingresources.org)

  • A project of the National LGBTQ Task Force.

Whosoever (whosoever.org)

  • Online magazine for LGBT Christians. The title is from John 3:16 (see above).

Rev. Bruce Lowe (godmademegay.com)

Queer Resources Directory (qrd.org).

Paul Halsall (sourcebooks.fordham.edu/pwh)

  • academic info on LGBT and Catholicism (mostly gay).

Progressive denominations

American Friends Service Committee (afsc.org)

  • Also known as Quakers.

United Church of Christ (ucc.org)

Unitarian Universalist Association (uua.org)

Unity (unity.org)