I have recollections of cross-dressing from age five. Virtually every reference was derogatory so it seemed best to hide the truth. I attempted to submerge my feelings and drive them out of my life but those efforts failed and the secret became unbearably heavy. In quiet desperation I set out to understand the truth. Instead of two-headed perverts, I found that the world of cross-dressers was populated with mostly very ordinary people. Eventually I was able to understand cross-dressing and balance it with the other aspects of my life. While working out the issues, my wife and I realized that it would be valuable to share what we had learned. In my cross-dressing community speaking debut, I described my journey to become a complete person. As I spoke, the memories of the pain I had endured from repeated rejection became tangible. I had seen the impact on countless others – lost relationships, escapes into drugs and alcohol, ruined lives of quiet desperation. There is legitimate fear that we will lose our wives, our children, our jobs; everything of importance, if anyone learns our secret. I decided that I would never forget the pain and suffering of others, and that I would try to tell everyone. That marked the beginning of an activist career that has assisted many cross-dressers and their families to effectively address this issue. Those educational efforts have eliminated much unnecessary pain and anguish. Telling becomes more traumatic for those seeking a personal relationship with God. We are extremely hesitant to confide in our clergy for fear of being branded as a sinner, excluded from the church and separated from God. So most of us say nothing and continue to hide the truth thus re-enforcing the guilt, shame and pain. The primary desire of most Christians who cross-dress is simply to be accepted as ordinary church members. I have attempted discussions with hundreds of religious leaders and have been dismayed by the overwhelmingly negative reactions. A large segment of Christianity has adopted Deuteronomy 22:5 to condemn cross-dressing.
“The woman shall not wear that which pertaineth unto a man, neither shall a man put on a woman’s garment: for all that do so are abominations unto the Lord thy God.”
It is the only Biblical passage addressing the subject. Many Christians use a literal interpretation to automatically brand all male cross-dressers as special sinners in desperate need of repentance. Mention the word cross-dresser, and their condemnation gushes out. If the cross-dresser fails to repent immediately, he is characterized as being in open rebellion against God. The prohibition is vigorously applied to men but, if it is wrong for a man to wear a dress, then it is equally wrong for a woman to wear pants or a suit and tie. Women routinely wear “male” clothing to church. No one calls them an abomination. Curiously, the Biblical prohibition is first directed towards women and secondarily towards men. Rather an odd sequence unless the true meaning of the verse has greater application to women than to men. How can we justify this dual standard? If I said, he lost his shirt; he was born with a silver spoon in his mouth; or he is in hot water, no reasonable person would conclude that those statements meant what they say. Yet that is exactly the approach taken by these Christians. How can we take ancient statements literally? According to the conventional wisdom of Biblical times, the earth was flat and the sun revolved around it. Neither medical science, nor any other field of scientific inquiry, existed. Israelites were forbidden to draw pictures, carve statues or make graven images. Semitic languages are filled with idiomatic expressions that are virtually incomprehensible to the untrained Western mind. They used allegories to portray spiritual ideas. Simple peasants easily understood the parables but never took them literally. Without an intimate understanding of the culture and customs of those times and their impact on life and language, it is impossible to obtain an accurate interpretation. How can we ignore the context? Two other verses from the chapter are related to clothing:
- Verse 11, “Don’t wear clothing woven from two kinds of thread: for instance, wool and linen together.”
- Verse 12 says that, “You must sew tassels on the four corners of your cloaks.”
Consider the impact that these additional verses would have if followed literally:
- Verse 22, “If a man be found lying with a woman married to an husband, then they shall both of them die, both the man that lie with the woman and the woman: so shalt thou put away evil from Israel.”
- Verses 28 and 29, “If a man finds a damsel that is a virgin, which is not betrothed, and lay hold on her, and lie with her, and they be found; Then the man that lay with her shall give unto the damsel’s father fifty shekels of silver and she shall be his wife; because he has humbled her, he may not put her away all his days.”
From Genesis through Deuteronomy there are 5,851 verses, some of which are extraordinarily harsh. How do we decide which ones to follow?
- Make outcasts of those with infections – Lev. 13:45-46
- Stone anyone who curses – Lev. 24:11-14
- Stone stubborn & rebellious children – Deut. 21:18-21
- Cursed by God for making a carved or molded image – Deut. 27:15
- Cursed by God for not confirming ALL the words of the law – Deut. 27: 26
I researched 30 commentaries and discovered a surprising diversity of opinion. The basic interpretations with the number of responses in parentheses are:
- Pagan religious connotation (12)
- Deviant sexual practices or moral issues (9)
- Maintain proper distinction between the sexes (8)
- Part of a collection of laws with a common theme (5)
- Definitely not about simple cross-dressing (5)
- Magical connection related to disguise or deceit (4)
- Related to armor or wartime attire (3)
- No comment (3)
- Hard line literal interpretation to be applied to all cross-dressing (2)
- Doesn’t apply because we aren’t under the law (1)
Over half used qualifiers such as likely, may/might, possible/probable, seems, some or suggests/suppose. One-third offered multiple possible explanations (hence 52 interpretations from 30 sources). Only a handful spoke with assumed certainty. How can anyone be certain which interpretation is correct? The evidence indicates that a blanket condemnation of cross-dressers is unwarranted. If mainstream Christians, both clergy and lay, set aside their preconceptions and become informed enough, they could discover how to treat cross-dressers as God intended.
Richard Molling is a married heterosexual cross-dresser who began seeking community at age 40 under the name Rachel Miller, which is the pen name he used to publish The Bliss of Becoming One! Integrating ‘Feminine’ Feelings into the Male Psyche Mainstreaming the Gender Community in 1996. An accomplished speaker, Molling has worked for four decades to increase understanding and acceptance of LGBT people.