The Fourteen Bible Passages that (Don’t Really) Address Transgender Identity

IMG_1924

Jeremiah Traeger

Transgender rights are now a large part of public discussion, which is good for a group that until recently has been invisible at best and completely demonized at worst. Since acknowledging that trans people are human and deserve to be treated as such would be progress for mankind in general, it’s conservative Christianity’s job to oppose it. This is done under the banner of “family values”, “tradition”, being against “sexual immorality”, and all the other meaningless dogwhistle phrases that they love so much.

 

It’s not difficult to find a pastor railing against transgender people, calling it immoral and against the Christian god’s plan. There are more transphobic religious leaders than you can shake a stick at. While they wave their Bible in the air, and cite scripture as the reason to oppose the existence of transgender people, there’s not really much that The Bible has to say about them positively or negatively. When I went to OpenBible.info, they listed 24 verses that (supposedly) address the phenomenon of transgender identity. A few on this list are duplicates, and some don’t really address gender whatsoever. When I took these out, what remained were 14 passages that address gender in a problematic way, indicate misconceptions about what gender is, or just flat-out don’t say anything relevant about the issue. While these verses don’t really make the case that transgender identity is “immoral” or “anti-Christian”, it doesn’t stop religious people from trying to use them to halt human progress. They are able to use these verses based on misconceptions and lies about what transgender identity means or what gender is When you actually are informed about these issues and concepts, you’ll find that these verses aren’t able to justify their hatred at all. For this reason, I’ve decided to expose these verses and explore why the Bible doesn’t actually have anything to say about transgender people or their identity, much less that it is a source of immorality.

 

Deuteronomy 22:5

“A woman shall not wear a man’s garment, nor shall a man put on a woman’s cloak, for whoever does these things is an abomination to the Lord your God.”

 

There are a couple things to unpack here. The most relevant thing for this post, though, is that it doesn’t say anything about trans people. A transgender person is the gender they identify with, period. Just because someone was previously thought of and referred to as a man does not mean that they are (or even were) a man. Conservative Christians probably think that this verse says something about trans people because so many of them think that a trans woman is literally a man in a dress. In actuality, a trans woman doesn’t violate this rule, because she is not a man putting on a women’s cloak, she is a woman putting on a woman’s cloak.

 

Of course, then you have to deal with the problem of knowing what a “woman’s cloak” is. For the purposes of this verse I’ll be charitable and extend its meaning to “women’s clothing”. Clothes just don’t have genders. The social etiquette that we’ve set up of pants being for men and dresses being for women is arbitrary. There’s no good reason that dresses are “women’s clothing”. Furthermore, it’s hard to compare between the clothing that we have in Western cultures today and whatever people were wearing in the Iron Age Middle East. The rule proposed here is ill-defined.

 

The only case in which it really makes sense to call an article of clothing a woman’s garment is if it’s an article of clothing that happens to be owned by a woman. British comedian Eddie Izzard is famous for cross-dressing onstage, yet when asked why he wears women’s clothes he responds by saying, “They’re not women’s clothes. They’re my clothes. I bought them.” If a woman owns an article of clothing then it follows that that article of clothing is a woman’s garment. So when a trans woman owns a dress, it is in fact a woman’s dress. If I bought the dress off her it would then be a man’s dress, since I am a man and I own it. I guess this rule might be pretty good if it meant, “you shouldn’t be wearing other people’s clothes, because they’re not yours!”  But even if that were the case, it wouldn’t have anything to say about transgender people specifically.

 

Genesis 1:27

So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.

Genesis 5:2

Male and female he created them, and he blessed them and named them Man when they were created.

Matthew 19:4-6

He answered, “Have you not read that he who created them from the beginning made them male and female, and said, ‘Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’? So they are no longer two but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate.”

Mark 10:4-9

They said, “Moses allowed a man to write a certificate of divorce and to send her away.” And Jesus said to them, “Because of your hardness of heart he wrote you this commandment. But from the beginning of creation, ‘God made them male and female.’ ‘Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.’ So they are no longer two but one flesh.

 

These might be the most common rebuttal verses to the existence of transgender people. Again, there’s a lot to unpack.

 

For the verses found in Genesis, this is clearly a reference to the creation of Adam and Eve. “Them” is not mankind, it is very clearly two specific people. The Matthew and Mark passages also mentions this creation, but it’s also specifically within the context of a man and a wife, and even more specifically within the context of divorce. A follower asked Jesus specifically whether a man should leave his wife. None of these have anything to do with transgender people specifically. The Gospel verses do certainly enforce a harmful patriarchal idea with some strongly implied gender roles, but that would be true whether or not the man or the wife are transgender. Whether it’s Adam and Eve or a divorcing couple, being trans is a non-factor for all participants.

 

The only thing it really seems to imply about transgender people is that it doesn’t indicate that nonbinary people exist. Of course, any conservative Christian on the street likely has no clue that there are nonbinary/genderqueer/genderfluid/etc. people in the first place, so they probably wouldn’t be informed enough to even make this argument. Even if the verses mention that the Christian god created male and female people, that doesn’t mean that the god only created males and females. There’s a lot of things that exist that The Bible doesn’t mention: Neptune, the electromagnetic spectrum, mitochondria, etc., but just because the Bible doesn’t mention them doesn’t mean that they don’t exist.

 

I’m going to get charitable as fuck here, so hold on to your tushy. Let’s assume that these verses actually do mean that the creator only made male and female. That still wouldn’t exclude binary trans people. Trans women and trans men already fall under the category of “male and female”. So in actuality, these verses say nothing. Until the new “Anti-SJW Version” of the Bible comes out and specifically states that the Christian god made Adam and Eve cisgender, there’s no reason to think the Bible says anything about transgender people in these verses.

 

Romans 1:24-32

Therefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the dishonoring of their bodies among themselves, because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever! Amen. For this reason God gave them up to dishonorable passions. For their women exchanged natural relations for those that are contrary to nature; and the men likewise gave up natural relations with women and were consumed with passion for one another, men committing shameless acts with men and receiving in themselves the due penalty for their error. And since they did not see fit to acknowledge God, God gave them up to a debased mind to do what ought not to be done.

Leviticus 18:22

You shall not lie with a male as with a woman; it is an abomination.

1 Corinthians 6:9-20

Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God. “All things are lawful for me,” but not all things are helpful. “All things are lawful for me,” but I will not be enslaved by anything. “Food is meant for the stomach and the stomach for food”—and God will destroy both one and the other. The body is not meant for sexual immorality, but for the Lord, and the Lord for the body.

 

I mentioned earlier that some of the verses from OpenBible that I ignored didn’t address gender. These verses don’t really have anything to do with gender either so I could also choose to ignore them, but they address sexuality which is often tied to traditional gender roles. That’s why it’s worth addressing in this post.

 

Sexuality and gender are not the same thing. Heteronormative society and the Bible try and enforce the idea that the two are inextricably linked. Men fall in love with women, and women fall in love with men. That’s just the way things are.

 

Of course, we know that that’s not true. Gay, lesbian, bisexual, pansexual, and otherwise queer people exist, of course. But that’s not out of a desire of trying to be another gender or pretend to be something they’re not. It’s merely out of an attraction to someone of a particular sex or gender that’s outside of an arbitrary societal norm that enforces heterosexuality. I’ve talked to Christians that were very confused about this. “If gay men aren’t trying to be a girl, then why do they act effeminate? Why do they talk all high-pitched? Why do they all like to dance and wear bright colors?” Of course, I have to explain to them that this is just a stereotype. You’ll definitely find a lot of gay men who fit the stereotype, but you’ll also find plenty who do not. There’s a reason that both bears and lipstick lesbians are important terms, since there are entire subcultures of people who have a non-straight sexuality, yet align with the stereotype for their gender.

 

It may also confuse people that “Transgender” is often lumped into the same category as Gay, Lesbian, or Straight. After all, why lump together dissimilar things? I’d argue that, for one thing, the confusion described in the previous two paragraphs causes people to treat trans people effectively the same as queer people. Ultimately, both groups eschew traditional gender roles, which is apparently scary as fuck for most people. This is a perspective I’ve learned from my dear friends Callie and Ari, who are both queer and trans. There are certainly more reasons explaining why the “T” is included in LGBTQ, since trans inclusivity is likely to bolster numbers politically for both movements. That being said, while both trans and queer people face many of the same flavors of bigotry, they are distinct identities that involve different life experiences, and it’s important to keep that in mind.

 

Deuteronomy 23:1

“No one whose testicles are crushed or whose male organ is cut off shall enter the assembly of the Lord.

Matthew 19:12

For there are eunuchs who have been so from birth, and there are eunuchs who have been made eunuchs by men, and there are eunuchs who have made themselves eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom of heaven. Let the one who is able to receive this receive it.”

Isaiah 56:4-5

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

 

This may be the closest thing that the Bible gets to actually addressing behaviors that some transgender people tend to go through, but it’s highly misleading and inaccurate to say that it actually addresses transgender people. For various reasons, trans people often don’t get any reassignment surgery. In fact, apparently a majority don’t, such that trans advocates have put a lot of effort into emphasizing that surgery is far from the most important part of being transgender. The best that you could say about how well these verses address transgender people is that it addresses a behavior that some of them go through that the general population largely doesn’t. It hardly encompasses the entire transgender identity, which is just a state of having a gender identity that doesn’t conform with the sex assigned at birth.

 

The other point is that eunuchs existed largely to protect harems of powerful men, since they would be least likely to act sexually upon these women. There appears to be some debate on what the original Hebrew word indicated, but it appears that the word that the Bible uses indicates castration for the purposes of a career rather than identity. The Bible doesn’t really even indicate transgender people specifically.

 

There’s really not much more to say about that, but I do find it interesting that the first verse seems to be in direct conflict with the second two passages. It’s not exclusively contradictory, but it does seem strange that the god in question would ban eunuchs from entering places of worship on Earth, while at the same time having an apparently esteemed place in Heaven. Maybe I should give points to the Bible for specifically pointing out people who have been “eunuchs from birth”, since at least Heaven is apparently intersex inclusive.

 

1 Corinthians 11:14-15

Does not nature itself teach you that if a man wears long hair it is a disgrace for him, but if a woman has long hair, it is her glory? For her hair is given to her for a covering.

 

This one is wrong basically for the same reasons as the clothing-based verses previously mentioned. Instead of basically rehashing that, I elect to provide this image as a rebuttal instead:

jesus picture

[Image: Jesus, including his silken, luscious flowing locks]

Matthew 6:25

“Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing?

 

This is the point when it’s apparent that you really have to grasp at straws to find anything in the Bible remotely related to transgender issues. Clearly, the only relevant part of the verse is where it states that people should not be anxious about their body. This would be a nice sentiment if anxiety were a controllable mental illness, but it isn’t. If I could control what I was anxious about, I wouldn’t be anxious about anything. Yet I definitely am anxious about aspects of my life, so while I am not transgender I already disobey this verse, along with anyone else who has some sort of anxiety disorder.

 

That being said, in a sense this verse addresses trans issues far better than the “eunuch” verses already discussed due to the high rate of mental health issues that trans people experience. 55% of trans people experience social anxiety, 50% experience depression, and a large part of the transgender experience is the phenomenon of gender dysphoria. While “being anxious about your body” is too simplified a description for these terms, if you tilt your head and squint a little bit you could assume that the Bible is referring to these mental health issues. If the Bible is in fact addressing them, that hardly makes it better by telling people not to do these. These issues are largely out of people’s control outside of seeking treatment, so if someone has a disorder or condition along these lines, then they are disobeying Jesus through no fault of their own! It’s almost as if people are often designed to be born sinners by a creator that will send them to Hell through no fault of their own. Huh.

 

I would be remiss if I didn’t mention that the reason that these health problems in transgender people are so prevalent is not because transgender people are inherently crazy. There is a narrative that trans people are going through life anxious, depressed, constantly upset, or otherwise out of their minds which should be discouraged. Trans people are capable of living wonderful, happy lives. It’s not the actual identity that causes the mental health problems, it’s the stigma. So just like we shouldn’t think of trans people as people who have had surgery on their intimate parts, we should also make sure that we don’t think of them as inherently mentally ill people either.

 

Galatians 3:28

There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.

 

Unlike the other ones, this is a verse that is touted by progressives as an example of the Bible actually supporting transgender people. If you’re going to focus on the one part of the verse that merely states that “there is no male and female”, then you could come to the conclusion that the Bible has come to the modern understanding that gender is a social construct. That would be awesome if it were true, but I don’t think that’s a good conclusion.

 

Read within the context of the verse, you also see other examples of things that apparently don’t exist. Galatians 3:28 also states that there is no slavery or freedom, and there is no Jew or Greek (since Jew is contrasted with Greek, I will assume that this verse is referring to cultural or ethnic Judaism, instead of the religious group). Like gender, these are also constructs. There is nothing in someone’s inherent nature that makes someone a slave, it is the fact that another human has imposed upon their autonomy. There is no inherent difference between someone from Greece or Israel, but people separated by distance cause both groups to develop different ideas, traditions, and values. Like gender, all these things may not exist as a result of someone’s biology, but they undoubtably have an effect on how we live our lives as a result of how humans treat each other.

 

The Bible is wrong about a great many things about reality, but again I will be charitable and assume that the writers of Galatians weren’t so foolish as to deny that people hold other people has property. After all, slavery certainly existed as an institution when Galatians was written, and slavery is discussed and endorsed in other parts of the Bible. Similar things can be said about the existence of other cultures. At best, this verse seems to imply that these differences don’t matter to Jesus, especially taking into account, “you are all one in Jesus Christ.” This is a decent sentiment.

 

Unfortunately, I don’t find this verse that reassuring, especially considering the emphasis on traditional gender roles you can find all over the rest of the Bible. For a book that doesn’t consider there to be much of a difference between male and female, there sure is a lot of misogyny in it. Women certainly are treated as dirtier than men from very early on. Women are certainly taught to be silent and subservient to men. Wives are taught to submit to their husbands. This hardly scratches the surface. There certainly are a lot of rules involved that go to great lengths to distinguish male and female and treat them differently. For this reason, even if this verse could in some sense support de-emphasizing gender differences, that support rings hollow within the context of the rest of the book.

Advertisements

Tagged: , , , , ,

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: