“Why should I feel punished by my gender identity?”
It is a simple question, one that I’ve asked myself a lot over the last few years. I ask it because I’m often reminded why so many other Christians question my trans identity. A year ago I spoke to a guy from my church about Christian Mysticism because he expressed an interest in it. In the midst of this conversation someone else came to the table and asked about the subject of LGBT. Some things were said that I found a little irritating so I told them both that I was transgender, explaining what that meant for me. One thing led to another and I ended up stating my belief that God had deliberately made me transgender. The response was as follows:
“No, I will have to disagree with you there. God would not punish you like that.”
I posed a counter question as he got up from the table: “Why would it have to be a punishment?” No one ever has a good answer to that question, often they end up merely highlighting their own misunderstandings or prejudice.
Anyway, he sort of left the table and I continued the discussion with the girl who had brought up that subject in the first place. I told her there were transgender characters in the Bible and pointed to the eunuchs, particularly Hathach in the book of Esther. Eunuchs were the original transgender community back in the Old Testament days. They were males who had been castrated at a young age and never developed common secondary sex characteristics during adolescence. They were very feminine in appearance and demeanor and were not considered men or women as they were something outside of both. Because of their unique status, they were given special border crossing privileges, meaning they could walk in the respective worlds of both men and women in a culture that required each to live segregated lives most of the time.
It is important to note, at this point, that without the eunuch Hathach, the urgent messages between Esther and Mordecai could not have been sent or received, and without these all the Jews in that land would have been massacred by Haman and his allies. God could have chosen any method for saving His people in that story, but He chose to do it through a eunuch. This should mean something to us, after all, God does nothing without purpose.
In Matthew 19:12 Jesus tells his disciples, “For there are some who are born eunuchs from their mother’s womb[.]” Now, given the nature of the passage above it, this could, I suppose be argued to mean “chastity”. Yet I feel compelled to note that there is no scripture in the whole of the Bible which describes eunuchs as “chaste”. In fact we are never told whether or not they had a sexuality at all, or what that sexuality might have been. These were not “Holy Men” by any means, these were simply a group of servants existing outside the gender binary.
Now, I suppose Jesus could be talking about chastity to some degree, especially when he mentions that “some will choose to be eunuchs for the sake of Heaven”. Obviously one does not choose to be transgender, not even for the sake of being holy. But this contains elements for an entirely separate article, to be written another day, so we will have to let it go for now.
As for the matter at hand, since I have come to know myself and God better, I have never felt like my gender incongruity is a punishment. It presents me with lots of challenges, but I like challenges. Always have. I’ve had many a discussion with my Christian brothers and sisters over this issue with varying results. I’m thankful for the ones who support me, but there are just as many who still dispute me on the subject. I suppose I can understand their position, after all a person whose gender is incongruent with their sex seems like a sadistic thing for a loving God to inflict on one of His children. So they try to reassure us by telling us that God didn’t mix up our gender, we did. They try to tell us how much happier we’d be if we could just accept the bodies that God gave us.
But to this argument I can only point out that it is never God who makes us feel bad about our genders, it is other people, often within our own faith communities. God never tells us that identifying with a gender opposite to the one we were assigned is wrong, people tell us those things. They think they are helping to spread the true love of God when in fact they are projecting their own human biases. They fool themselves into thinking their understanding of God is perfect, that they can predict His will for the rest of us. But God does not bear them out here.
God made me transgender, not as a punishment, as a gift. Every gender is a gift from God, be it boy, girl, or genderqueer. The gift may not always be easy to understand, like, for instance, if a boy is given a female body or if a girl is given a male body. The gift often can feel like a punishment in these situations, especially for those of us who have trouble finding acceptance within our families or faith communities. It can make us feel angry at God for “screwing up,” and if we truly believe that God makes no mistakes this can frustrate us even further. It can make us feel a lot like Jim Carey’s character in Bruce Almighty: “God is a mean kid with a magnifying glass and I’m the ant!”
Why would God make people whose genders could not be defined by their bodies? This question is frequently asked by transpeople and cisgender people within the Christian community. Each side generally comes to different conclusions, creating division between the groups, even creating bitterness in many cases. The real question here seems to be “How does God view gender?”
First of all, we must ask about God’s own gender. Does anyone remember God’s response when Moses asked Him who He was? It was simply “I Am”. When Moses sought further clarification, God specified “I AM THAT I AM.” (Exodus 3:14) What a frustrating answer! The Heavenly Father didn’t give Moses a neat, packaged, gender-encoding name. Simply, “I AM.” A very gender neutral name if I ever heard one.
“But surely,” we say, “God must have a gender.” Why? Why must God have a gender? Is it really so important?
I’m sure we’ve all heard the arguments. “It says that God is our heavenly father, certainly God is a man.” To quote an old Carman song I once heard, “[It] also say[s] he’ll protect us with his feathers and his wings, but that don’t mean God’s a great big Chicken!” And as for the argument that God must be a woman, there is certainly plenty of feminine language used in the description of God in the Bible, such as the Hebrew word for Spirit which was often feminine in nature. Or the passage in Isaiah that shows God comparing Himself to a woman in labor, which calls to mind images of our Lord single handedly “giving birth” to everything that exists if we choose to see it in that context. In fact, from scriptural evidence alone I’d say both camps of gendering God are fairly evenly matched.
The dangers of assigning a definitive gender to God, as the Mystics have pointed out throughout history, is that we deny God’s flexibility by pinning Him down with our own human biases. There is certainly no harm in viewing God as a woman if that is how you need to understand Him, so long as you continue focusing on your personal relationship with the Almighty, as well as the Savior He sent to us. Likewise, if you need to see God as a man that is equally acceptable, so long as you keep in mind what’s important. God comes to us in whatever form is needed, regardless of what our crises may be. But God also comes on His own terms, and how He chooses to appear to another is not determined by how you, a single individual, need Him to be. God has no limitations, even if we do. Gender niceties are a purely human concern, God Himself has no need of them.
Yes, God made us in His image. God also gave us gender diversity, so what does that tell you? God loves diversity more than a great deal His people seem to. (I’m afraid you’ll have to excuse my continued usage of masculine pronouns throughout this piece, it’s an old habit I’ve never been able to break.)
“But it says God made them Male and Female, Man and Woman”. You are absolutely right, but not once has God ever said that all women are born female or that all men are born male. I have yet to find any scripture that says otherwise, nor has God ever led me to this conclusion by grace.
Does this mean then, that God condones seeking sex reassignment surgery for transsexuals? Well, first let me give you a personal example I’ve been blessed to observe. It involves a transwoman whose video blogs I’ve followed for around five years now.
E.G. has been on a journey that’s led her to many people and places since it began, including her wife Morgan and their current home in California. She’s been video blogging about her daily life, as well as her journey, since 2006. More recently she managed to find a job through which she is able to help other transgender men and women, and earlier this year she discovered that the costs of her final surgery could be covered by her company’s benefits policy. This was very significant for E.G. because after saving up everything she could for the last few years, she only had half the amount she needed. Her goal would still have been at least 2 years away. But she suddenly found herself graced with employers that were able and willing to help her reach her goal sooner. Needless to say she was excited.
But that wasn’t the end. She called the doctor who would perform her surgery to set up a time. She was put on a waiting list and would have received the surgery around August of this year or later. But then she got an unexpected call: there had been a recent cancellation and she could have her surgery months earlier than she had expected. In May of this year, E.G. received the final surgery for her physical transition.
Let’s review the facts: E.G. had only half of the financial total she needed for the surgery, her employers found a way to cover the rest of her expenses through company policy. She was already guaranteed to have the surgery and still be able to get by, but suddenly she found herself able to have the surgery months ahead of the original schedule. What should have taken E.G. another two years to accomplish was done for her in just one month.
Could some element of coincidence have been involved? Perhaps, but I fully believe that God saw fit to bless this woman in an amazing way. She already had support and resources, but He sought to give her even more.
E.G.’s current theological beliefs are unknown to me, as she doesn’t talk much about religion in her video blogs, but I know she used to have some small connection to God when she was younger. Regardless of where she stands on God now, it is clear to me that God is still passionate about her and loves her no matter how incongruous her gender seems with the one she was assigned by others at birth. I say this because any time I watch one of her videos I can feel God’s love for her, it is a love I feel for her myself. She is a very beautiful person, both in body and spirit. And that is what matters most about who she is.
This, I think, is the truth of how God sees us. In the Garden, the Lord said “Let us make them in our image and our likeness” (Genesis 1:26). But it is our spirits that retain the image of God, not our bodies. Certainly our bodies are important to God, and He would not wish any harm to come to them, but when He looks at us, His children, He does not see us as the sums of our bodies, He sees us for the beauty of our souls. It is that, after all, which returns to Him when our bodies enter the grave. It is very true that God gives us our genders, but these genders, contrary to popular belief, are assigned to our spirits, not our bodies. Everything we are, we are in spirit, that is how God made us. A corpse, though for a while retaining the appearance of our loved ones, no longer contains the essence of the person who once inhabited it. Our bodies literally are dust and clay. But we are far more, we are Children of the Spirit.
Small matter for God then if we decide our body doesn’t make us what others insist we must be. If the scriptures are to be believed, God knew you before you were an embryo and poured your essence into you with purpose and deliberation. His gift to you was the gendered life you would lead, no matter what you’ve discovered that gender to be. Those of you who call yourselves genderqueer or gender neutral? God made you too, and loves you as you are. Your spirit is just as beautiful as He intended it to be. God’s not in the business of punishing us with gender.
Unfortunately, there are still those among us, whether transgender or cisgender, who believe the lie that has been perpetuated for far too long. They insist that God wants us to conform our genders to the neat little packages culture has created for us. They point to scriptures denouncing the mutilation of the body, or of wearing the garments associated with one’s assigned gender, or of refusing to conform to the ways of the world. They honestly believe that if we would adhere to these commandments we would be much happier and much more beautiful in God’s sight. These arguments can too often be compelling for transfolk who feel a conflict between their gender and their religion; even more compelling can be the promise of inclusion if they conform to the group standards. Who wouldn’t want to be surrounded by people who loved and supported them? Especially after facing so much rejection and confusion.
Yet those who would insist that God wants us to conform our genders to enter His Kingdom overlook God’s own assurance of His unconditional love. They also misrepresent the commandment regarding “nonconformity” to the ways of this world. Conformity implies a choice, and those of us who truly are transgender have never chosen to be so, we just are. And while it is true that we can choose to conform to the spirit of our Lord, in the strictest sense our genders have already been conformed to God’s spirit, in fact they have been since birth. All that truly remains, perhaps the only thing our conservative opposition is right about, is to conform our wills to God. However, contrary to what they might say, denying our genders will not lead us to this path but rather to one of self destruction, as I’m certain so many of us can already attest.
Thus, even our well meaning conservative brothers and sisters in Christ can do the Devil’s work for him without knowing it. That, after all, is where all lies come from. Lies are his greatest weapon, and lies about gender help him lay claim to those of us who don’t fit in with the cultural norm. He wants us to suffer, to destroy ourselves so that we may enter his kingdom instead of our Lord’s. And that we must always fight with the strength we get from Jesus, a strength he offers freely to any who ask for it.
Another thing our conservative opposition overlooks is something that every Christian I’ve ever known has said over and over: “We are all brides of Christ”. Think about it, and there are loads of scriptural passages that support this. Christ is often described, not only as a shepherd and a warrior, but also as a bridegroom who seeks to “woo” us into a relationship with him. Think about that again. If we take this language literally, which I will for the sake of analogy, Christ treats us all as his women. Does this mean everyone alive is really a woman? Probably not, though we should also consider that it is a scientific fact we all begin as female in the womb. I am merely attempting to shed a little perspective on the subject. It’s not just the female bodied who are considered “brides for Christ”, it’s all of us. Male, female, even intersex. God seeks a deep personal relationship with all of us through Christ, and unlike our well-meaning opposition, He doesn’t have an agenda. Love is His only goal, love with no strings attached. God takes us as we are and begins the journey from there.
God wants each of us to be happy with who we are so that we can keep our eyes on Him. God gave each of us our unique genders for a purpose and only He, not anyone else, can tell you what that purpose is. Westboro Baptist doesn’t have those answers for you, The Vatican doesn’t have those answers for you, even I don’t have those answers for you. The answers to all your questions are in the One who made you. Ask Him. Ask him over and over if you have to. Sometimes we must practice asking the questions before we can start hearing the answers. Sometimes the answer is that we are not asking the right questions, but the answer will always draw us away from misery, not toward it.
I would like to close with a song by one of my favorite groups, Simple Plan: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=I26HwY8CG50 The song is called “Take My Hand” and I’ve often felt it to be a love song from God.
Seek God in all things, especially matters that distress you. God will never shame you, never torture you, never punish you. You are His child, and His beautifully gendered bride. Come to him with your questions, He’s waiting to hear from you.