Time for another installment of “Ask the Anarchist Reverend”! As always, feel free to email, tweet, or leave a comment to ask your own question.
What is different about the reasons Christianity uses to condemn trans folks than GLB folks?
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.
There are two major differences between Christian condemnation of GLB people and trans* folks (even though, honestly, the whole community is often lumped together and these distinctions aren’t made).
* There are the 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. Deutoronomy 22:5: 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. (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. One 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. One 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 also the 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. One could technically be GLB and not sinful so long as one didn’t act, sexually, on their 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 my friend Brian says we queer folks don’t have time for cheap theology. And this 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.
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.
Check out Peterson Toscano’s “Transfigurations” to see even more gender rebels throughout Scripture.
(ps: my mini-rant in the middle of this post is not aimed at the person who asked this question, instead it is aimed at all of the folks who keep this conversation in the 101 realm and refuse to allow it to move from there. It is all of the speakers who continue to travel around debating “clobber passages” from any stage that will have them. It is the people who refuse to do their own research and who want queer folks to explain it to them “just one more time” (for thirty years). It’s time to move on.)