Five years ago, I would not have thought I would be celebrating Pride month. Having spent my life trying to ignore the person I am, I had gotten good at defending LGBTQ exclusion from the Church.
My non-acceptance of myself wasn’t about the select passages in the Bible that are commonly interpreted as speaking about homosexuality or transgender identities.
Rather, my struggle came down to the story of Creation and the purpose of God’s design in the formation of humanity. I believed that the gendering of humans in a binary was God’s creative design to establish God’s purpose for human relationships in the form of heterosexual marriage.
Transition is the process, or a period, of changing from one state or condition to another. Before my physicality ever began to change, my transition started with my thoughts and positions of understanding evolving. This caused me to recognize the inconsistencies in my own hermeneutics, especially in reference to the way gender non-conforming people fit into the Creation.
When I let the Creation story speak for itself, I was finally able to see my identity as a trans woman, and the identities of every person similar to me: We’re expressions of God’s creativity and fully embraced in the Creation story.
Male and female are not exclusionary categories
One problem with my binary understanding of gender in Genesis 1 is the fact that it didn’t leave room for intersex individuals. I assumed that gender variance in the form of intersex was a result of the Fall and the corruption of the natural world. However, this understanding was incredibly harmful and dehumanizing, as well as theologically unfounded.
By enforcing a fixed binary on gender, I was not reading the creation of humanity consistently with the rest of the passage. In fact, the creation of humanity as male and female was the only set of categories that I interpreted to be fixed and exclusive.
Every day of the Creation account in Genesis 1 contains some sort of division into categories. However, things outside of those categories are not meant to be understood as existing outside of God’s creative order. Every single division is meant to be understood as a generalization. (Gor more on this, see Transforming: The Bible & the Lives of Transgender Christians by Austen Hartke).
- Day One: The creation of day and night does not exclude dawn and dusk.
- Day Two: The separation of waters does not exclude fog or mist.
- Day Three: The separation of land and water and the growth of vegetation on the land does not exclude marshes, mud, algae or seaweed.
- Day Four: The placement of the sun, moon and stars does not exclude black holes or comets.
- Day Five: The development of creatures living in the water and flying in the sky does not exclude frogs or mosquitoes.
- Day Six: The development of “cattle, creeping things, and beasts of the earth” does not exclude penguins or animals categorized as “beasts of the earth” that would later be understood as “cattle,” such as bison or emus.
Unfortunately though, when I would read of the creation of humans on the sixth day, I would uncritically hold to the idea that the gendering of humanity as male and female had to be understood as two distinct, fixed categories. This was problematic, since I did not interpret the rest of the passage in the same way.
If the categories are not exclusive or fixed elsewhere, then why would I understand the gender categories to be different?
Understanding the Creation account in this light allowed me to see that gender was never supposed to be understood as a binary. It not only allows for inclusion of intersex people into the created order, but it also affirms their existence as part of God’s plan for humanity.
In the same way, seeing the gender categories as non-exclusive allowed me to accept people who have a gender identity outside the confines of their genitals. If the Genesis story never intended the categories to be understood as closed, then I should not force that understanding on the Bible.
The image of God on humanity
The categories of Genesis 1 weren’t the only issue that I had to work through. Like most people — and for the sake of theology this would include the Pope (as head of the Roman Catholic Church) — I believed that the image of God was reflected in the gendering of humanity.
Thus, identifying outside one’s assigned gender at birth was an act against the image of God, and consequently gender identity, embedded in all individuals. The problem with this idea is that it is a misunderstanding of the theology expressed in the Creation story.
In Genesis 1, the Hebrew word for “man,” as in English, is singular. This is because the word can also be used for “mankind” or “humanity.” In this case, the most accurate translation would be, “Let us make humanity in our image.”
This is significant in that it means the image of God, as understood in Genesis 1, is not something that is bestowed on each individual person, but rather corporately on humanity as a whole. Thus, whatever humanity is comprised of, it is made in the image of God.
When I combined that with the idea that the gendering of humanity is not meant to be understood as a binary, I was blown away by the implications.
Intersex, trans and gender non-conforming people are not only accepted into the created order, they are part of that which is encompassed in the humanity upon which God bestowed God’s image. In fact, because they are part of humanity as a whole, the image of God would not be fully reflected without their inclusion.
This left one area that I still needed to process. I had believed that one of the main reasons for the gendering of humanity was to enable us to fulfill the blessing to “be fruitful and multiply.” However true the foundation of that belief may be, it did not mean that I had to understand the blessing in such simplistic terms.
For example, Genesis 1:28 is not the first time that God gives Creation the blessing to be fruitful and multiply. Similar to the blessing given to humans, the first blessing is also given to creatures in two distinct categories: Sea creatures, and animals that occupy the sky.
Interestingly, even though I thought the compatibility between male and female was required for the blessing, I did not hold that rule for the fulfillment of the blessing given to animals in the sea and sky, which revealed an inconsistency in my interpretation.
Likewise, I was also ignoring the fact that the blessing is not given to individuals, but rather to humanity as a whole, similar to the image of God. Thus, it is not the responsibility of every single individual to take part in procreation in order to fulfill the blessing.
This idea is picked up in the New Testament when Jesus and Paul both uphold those who remain single. People who do not procreate are not any less a part of humanity or of the image of God.
In the same way, it is not necessary for every person to take part in heterosexual, cisgender relationships for the sake of upholding the blessing in Genesis 1. Being fruitful, multiplying, and having dominion over the earth is a call to all humanity to take part in the blessing together. It is a corporate call that requires humanity, in all its forms, to join together in God’s blessing.
Acknowledging the image of God on humanity
When I was able to see the way that the Creation acknowledged and held room for those who do not fit the gender binary, I was able to see the way that God’s creativity is able to be expressed in the varieties in humanity.
God’s image is placed on all that is expressed in humanity — not fixed to gender binaries.
Trans, intersex, and all gender non-conforming people are loved and affirmed by God because they are expressions of God’s creativity in the Creation itself.
This is the source of my pride as a trans woman! I am the expression of a creative God!
Writer, theologian and ordained minister Kalie May (she/her) is the Director of Digital Outreach for the Center for Prophetic Imagination. Her LGBTQ+ activism is centered on bringing awareness of the legalized discrimination queer and trans students face at religious universities.