Ministry or Repentance?

I believe that I have a ministry calling to help cross-dressers integrate into mainstream Christianity. The general view of the church is that there is no ministry but rather a need to repent of my cross-dressing and pledge to cease the sinful practice. My prayer is that after reading this article you will conclude that such a ministry is necessary.

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 came flooding back. I had seen the impact on countless others – lost relationships, escapes into drugs and alcohol, ruined lives of quiet desperation. The ridicule and rejection expressed by society is so strong that the most consistent advice I have received was to never tell anyone! There is an incredible fear that we will lose our wives, our children, our jobs, everything of importance if anyone learns our secret. That fear becomes even stronger for those who wish to have a personal relationship with God. We are extremely hesitant to bring the question to our minister 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 causing still more guilt, shame and pain.

Does that pain matter? Some religious leaders say it is a good thing because we need to hear the hard message of sin and the need for repentance. They explain that they are speaking out of love. But what if they are wrong and the simple act of cross-dressing isn’t an abomination after all?

There is only one specific reference to cross-dressing in the Bible — Deuteronomy 22:5. If you examine a series of commentaries you will find that there are many different interpretations of the text. There are also several other important factors to be considered in determining how to apply that verse to today’s world. Given the lack of clarity on this matter, I have come to believe that it is wrong to automatically brand a cross-dresser as a sinner in need of repentance. Instead we need to look at the specific circumstances of individual person before making any kind of judgment. If the church took that approach we would be able to deal with real problems in a constructive way. Significant dialog must replace the rush to judgment.

I have circulated several versions of my argument to thousands of religious leaders and have been dismayed by their reaction. The overwhelming majority have not responded in any way. If my argument is correct, many of God’s kids are being prevented from enjoying an intimate relationship with God. By not saying or doing anything isn’t a minister tacitly approving of the verbal and physical attacks being made on these people? Is that form of apathy towards our neighbor’s plight appropriate for a Christian leader?

The standard response is to simply brand me with a big red “S” as a rebellious sinner in need of repentance. None of them has ever directly answered the points of my argument. The notes were so angry and hurtful that many nights I was in tears. My wife couldn’t understand how Christians could speak of love and say such destructive things. A sample of responses is available at 54 Responses and most are variations of a few recurring themes:

*Takes the verse in a totally literal sense. Make no effort to understand the context, implied meaning or any other factors. This is what it says – Period!

*Shifts the argument to vaguer more subjective issues such as God is not the author of confusion or God desires to maintain the distinctions between the sexes.

*Demands submission to their authority as a spiritual leader whose interpretation must take precedence over mine by virtue of their training and position.

The following article is the by-product of years of searching and questioning. I hope that you can hear its message with your heart because that is how it is intended. There is real pain and suffering and separation from God that must be repaired. I simply ask that you set aside any preconceptions you might have while you prayerfully consider the contents.

Cross-Dressing & The Bible

The strongest Biblical argument against cross-dressing is Deuteronomy 22:5, “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 abomination unto the Lord thy God.” It is the only verse to directly address the question. Taken in an absolutely literal sense it is used to label a cross-dresser as a sinner in need of repentance. If the cross-dresser fails to repent he is characterized as being in a state of rebellion against God.

Did you ever consider the implications of such a strictly literal interpretation? Virtually everyone applies the prohibition vigorously to men but if it is wrong for a man to wear a dress, then logically isn’t it equally wrong for a woman to wear pants? Women routinely wear “male” clothing to church and no one calls them an abomination. Curiously the prohibition is first levied towards women and then secondarily towards men. Rather an odd sequence unless the true meaning of the verse has more application to women than to men. How can we justify this dual standard?

It should also be noted that Jesus and His disciples wore what amounts to floor length dresses. Why was it okay to wear a “dress” then but wrong to do so today? The earliest appearance of today’s trousers was in Persia for the females in the king’s harem. These garments had no fronts or backs and looked like a cowboy’s chaps. Even by today’s standards we’d call them exceptionally suggestive. Why was it okay for women to wear “pants” then and even now when they are considered men’s clothing?

If I were to say, “He lost his shirt, He was born with a silver spoon in his mouth or He is in hot water,” would any reasonable person take the position that those statements mean exactly what they say? To truly understand, don’t we have to take into account the culture, language and prevalent customs of the times? Doesn’t achieving true understanding become even more difficult with the passage of significant periods of time? How can we ignore those changes and take ancient statements absolutely literally when we wouldn’t do that for words spoken yesterday?

There is a deep chasm between life in Biblical times and today’s world. The Israelites were forbidden to draw pictures, carve statues or make graven images. They used parables and allegories to portray and explain spiritual ideas which even simple folk easily understood but never took literally. The Semitic languages are filled with idiomatic expressions that are virtually incomprehensible to the untrained Western mind. Without an intimate understanding of the customs of those times and their subtle impact on life and language, it is difficult to obtain an accurate interpretation. Can we safely ignore all these details and simply say, “That’s what it says?”

If we insist on a literal interpretation of Verse 5, then aren’t we also obligated to apply the same literal interpretation to other verses as well? Two other verses in the same chapter are curiously related to clothing. Verse 11, “Don’t wear clothing woven from two kinds of thread: for instance, wool and linen together.” Why isn’t there a great disturbance about wearing shirts and blouses made of polyester and cotton? Verse 12 says that, “You must sew tassels on the four corners of your cloaks.” Wearing tassels today is more likely to be associated with a strip show than to be following God’s word. Why doesn’t anyone mention these verses?

Verse 22 has interesting ramifications, “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.” If we brand a cross-dresser as an abomination aren’t we similarly required to put adulterers to death?

Finally, Verses 28 and 29 state, “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.” Are we to force every man who has seduced a virgin to pay a dowry, marry her and prohibit a divorce for his lifetime?

We have discussed six verses from one chapter and I don’t know anyone who consistently follows the literal interpretation of all of them. From Genesis through Deuteronomy there are 5,851 verses and some make even these situations appear mundane. Are we to take them all literally as well? If we don’t take them all literally, how do we decide which ones to follow and which ones to ignore? Who gets to decide?

Since I am not a Biblical scholar I turned to existing Bible commentaries to obtain a better understanding of this verse. Here is a summary of the interpretations of 30 Commentaries with the number of each response shown in parentheses:

  • 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)

A handful spoke with absolute certainty but about one-third offered multiple possible explanations hence 52 interpretations from thirty sources. Over half used qualifiers such as likely, may/might, possible/probable, seems, some or suggests/suppose. With such a diversity of opinion, how can anyone insist that their view is the correct one and impose it on others without allowing any questioning? Which view is correct?

Based on the preceding argument, I believe that a blanket condemnation of cross-dressers is unwarranted. I believe that the church must begin to look at the specifics of each case and respond to the needs of the individual person. I believe that mainstream Christian ministers need to take positive steps to bring cross-dressers into the fold of the church. I believe that my ministry is to encourage those steps to be taken. What do you think?