What should a Christian think about transgender people? (Like Rev. Cindi Knox, the UCC minister and transwoman pictured to the right) Why? What kind of Biblical support can one find for various positions, or which Bible stories might shed light on the lives of transgender people? Perhaps you're a minister and thinking about transgender people who might be in your congregation. Or maybe you're a parent whose child has come out to you as transgender and is trying to understand what your attitude should be. Or maybe you have a co-worker who is trans, or just saw some trans folk on TV, and got into conversations about it. Or maybe you're a trans person and your wondering if Christianity can be a support for you, or only an opponent of you. My assumption here is that you are in the early stages of trying to explore what Christianity can or should say about transgender folk. I'm a transgender person myself, and a former professor of philosophy of religion, and I actually think most Christian denominations should be extremely accepting and encouraging of trans people, and should support the transitions of people who want to transition. But I want to outline some of the main Christian arguments opposing transition and open acceptance of trans people too, and discuss where some denominations currently stand. My experience is that the theological issues around transgender identities are actually fairly different than in the case of Christian reflection on lesbian, gay, or bisexual identities, and there is a lot less serious discussion in most places. Last week I went to a talk on Biblical issues concerning LGBT folks, and none of the others there were at all familiar with how the T fit into their discussions, or what the relevant passages or issues might be when we turn to thinking about trans folks. So I'd like to provoke reflection and grappling with the issues. I'm focusing on Christianity and trans people, but some of what I say will be relevant for Jews or other kinds of non-binary people too. This is intended only as an introduction and overview, so I have some suggestions for where to look for further information at the end. Also I'm assuming you're familiar with the basics of what transgender people's lives are like, if not check out GLAAD's trans FAQ, or this Trans 101 written by trans folks. Both trans issues and obscure Biblical terms can be unfamiliar, so I'm putting a small glossary at the end and bolding each term I discuss there where it first appears.
Arguments in Favor of Transgender Identities
Arguments from Christian love in general, or inclusiveness, or valuing of diversity, etc.
Probably the most common arguments for Christian support of transgender people is to try to see it as an example of a broader principle about Christian love, or inclusiveness, or a general valuing of diversity. The Unity movement argues “all people are created with sacred worth” for example, while the UUA affirms “the inherent worth and dignity of all people,” and the United Methodist Church talks of the “sacred worth of all people.” It is common to point out that Jesus intentionally interacted with and defended a variety of types of social outcasts: tax collectors, prostitutes, Samaritans, poor fisherman, lepers, etc. Similarly one might point to a special Biblical injunction to help folks who need help, and transgender people certainly seem to need a fair bit of help at the moment by a variety of measures. For the Metropolitan Community Churches celebrating transgender identities is part of celebrating “God’s diverse creativity.” Quakers even see openness to the transgender experience as part of trusting in God's wisdom:
“We find that claiming our full sexuality becomes a joyful act of obedience and trust in our Creator's wisdom. When we trust the expression of our sexual identity in a loving and just relationship, our reliance on and commitment to God's revealed leadings is deepened. Doing so compels a sincere and continual search for God’s way in this most intimate and undefended area of our lives. The resulting varieties of relationship and gender identity, in their complex, responsible, rich and surprising range, are a continuing reminder that God's plan is beyond human understanding.”
Churches that practice open communion (including many Protestant denominations) often see this as an extension of a duty by the church to minister to all who are willing to be ministered to, even sinners or the deluded, and by extension it would seem that even if one disapproves of transgender individuals Christian duty requires supporting them in various ways. The Southern Baptist Convention, while opposing transgender identities in many ways, nonetheless claims “we love our transgender neighbors, seek their good always, welcome them into our congregations as they repent and believe in Christ, and spur them on to love and good deeds in the name of Christ.” There are lots of ways to get arguments like this to work, and even in traditions that that oppose transgender identities in some ways, they probably need to support them in others, in order to be consistent with their own understanding of Christ's message.
“Eunuchs” were a normal part of life in Biblical times, and were not opposed by Jews or Christians.
Why should we expect the Bible to say anything about transgender people at all? The very word “transgender” was coined until the 1970s, right? And sex reassignment surgeries and modern hormone replacement therapy were both first developed in the 20th century. Being transgender is a fairly recent thing right? Nope. Not in the least. Our current thinking about transgenderism, and our medical techniques for aiding in transition are both pretty recent, but people have been doing their best to live as genders other than one assigned to them at birth, in pretty much all cultures, for pretty much all of recorded history. Look at it this way, the word “homosexual” was coined in 1896, and our current ways of thinking about homosexuality are pretty recent, but there have been people that we today would be tempted to call homosexuals in every culture for millenia, but they were often talked about or categorized in other ways earlier. This is as true for queer gender identities as it is for queer sexualities, and both are certainly portrayed in the Bible if you're willing to see them.
The most common queer gender identity discussed in the Bible are called “saris” (pl. sarissim) in Hebrew and Aramaic, and “eunouchos” in Greek, and usually translated as “eunuch” in English. But “eunuch” in Hebrew, Aramaic, Greek, and Roman culture didn't mean quite what most people think eunuch means in English (more of my writing on this here). In particular it doesn't imply or require that the person be castrated. Castrated people are one of several kinds of eunuch in Latin and Greek, and in Hebrew and Aramaic you can be castrated without being a saris or be a saris without being castrated. Deut 23:1 uses a very different phrase to talk about castrated and gonadally crushed people. Eunouchos and saris are both broad categories that are designed to include lots of different kinds of people who are not-male or ex-male, without being exactly female either. Someone born intersex, or someone born male but who wanted to live publicly outside of the norms of masculinity, or someone who wished focus to their life on service to a king rather than on raising a family, or someone castrated, or someone aiming for a third gender life, would all code as eunuchs in the ancient world. A male who found themselves infertile, or impotent, or even just impotent with women, might be labeled a eunuch by others, and might either agree that they were, or deny and assert that they were male despite this. Eunuchs frequently wore female clothing, or feminine versions of masculine clothing. Some eunuchs were married. Sarissim, in particular, were strongly associated serving as official in palaces, and not having children. In Greco-Roman culture a male who preferred to sleep with men, but was willing and able to marry and sleep with women at least enough to father children was considered within the bounds of normalcy, but a male who was unwilling or unable even to marry or father children was considered a eunuch and not a male. It's possible that sarissim worked this way too, a number of scholars think that many people who would code as gay males today, would have coded and been talked about as eunuchs in ancient Israel. Romans and Greeks described eunuchs as “a third gender of human,” as “third sex” and as a “middle gender.”
Saris and eunouchos were also used to translate queer gender identities from other nearby cultures, of which there were many. Potiphar (Joseph's owner in Gen 39) was an Egyptian and therefore probably a “sekhet” (the third gender besides male and female in the ancient Egyptian understanding). but this is translated as saris into Hebrew. Modern scholarship is still struggling to make sense of a bunch of the non-standard gender identities among the Sumerians, Akkadians, Assyrians, and Babylonians such as “those who stand before the king,” and “the third category of people,” and the ur-sal, or the kur-ga-ra, sag-ur-sag, assinu, keleb, kulu'u, sinnisanu, etc. It looks like maybe these folks made rich distinctions between palace-servant-genderqueers, sacred-prostitute-genderqueers, men-who-live-as-women, men-women, effeminate homosexuals, and more. What is clear is that there were many possibilities for non-standard gender identities in Mesopotamia, but the only term we get in Hebrew to translate all this is saris (and ay'lonit, also the Aramaic may preserve some of the Assyrian distinctions. It has terms like m'hay-min, gwar-ni-sha-ya, and more, in addition to the forms of saris). The Phyrigians had the Galli, who continued and spread after Phyrigia's fall, and some of the third gender customs of the Galli probably influence more Hellenic understandings of Hermaphroditus, androgynes and eunuchs.
OK, but the point is that sarissim and eunuchs are frequently mentioned in the Bible, and are accepted, by and large, without comment or hostility or opposition. The Bible contains no condemnations of eunuchs, or pleas not to let your babies grow up to be eunuchs, or hints that being a eunuch is a punishment from God, or a rebellion against God's plan, or any of that. Many eunuchs may be excluded from the assembly of the Lord, in a passage we'll look at later, but Isaiah 56: 4-5 says “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.” Perhaps, this is Isaiah attempting to revise and update Deuteronomy, but it's also possible that eunuchs have a liminal role among the ancient Hebrews, excluded from the assembly but still considered valuable members of the community in other ways. The Bible has plenty of examples of eunuchs who are portrayed in a basically favorable light, Potiphar, Ashpenaz, Ebed-melech, an unnamed Ethiopian official who interacts with Phillip, etc.
Importantly, neither Jesus nor the disciples are recorded as ever attempting to heal a eunuch. Why not? Lepers are excluded from the assembly too, and one of Jesus' key early goals is healing many people, including lepers. (Mk 1:40-45, Matt 8:2-4, Lk 5:12-16). So why doesn't Jesus heal castrated eunuchs too, and restore them to the assembly? Well, one reason is a quote we'll look at in a second, but another possible reason is that Jesus simply doesn't see eunuchs as standing in need of healing, he doesn't see anything wrong, or unclean, or non-optimal about being a eunuch, especially if one has chosen that path. Neither do any eunuchs come up and ask him to heal them, even once he has become somewhat famous for his miraculous healings.
Most trans people in the US today don't think of themselves as eunuchs, they think of themselves as men or women. But some of us, including myself, are non-binary, or genderqueer, or some such, and metaphors of neither-male-nor-female, or third gender, or middle gender are appropriate for us. I'm perfectly happy to describe myself as a eunuch in the Biblical sense, if a fairly feminine one. Further, someone we would think of today as a trans woman who was stuck in the ancient world, wouldn't have had access to testosterone-blockers or estrogen or modern vaginoplasty. Crushing or removing the testicles and perhaps removing the penis as well, would eliminate the testosterone, and perhaps deal with one's genital based gender dysphoria if that was severe. In a real sense, it was the best one could do with the technology of the time. Many people who are trans women today, probably would have been eunuchs in Biblical times. But more importantly, looking hard at eunuchs shows how the Bible thinks about minority gender identities, and about transitioning away from the identity assigned at birth. The Bible may not be able to help with the key questions of just how effective our current technology is for making someone genuinely a man or a woman, but it at least clearly shows the attitude that there is nothing shameful, or unclean, or contrary to God's plan or goals, in moving away from the gender identity one is assigned at birth.
Jesus on the Three Kinds of Eunuchs
The key passage many trans people cite for understanding their own relation to scripture is at Matt 19:11-12
“But he [Jesus] said to them [the disciples] 'Not all men can receive this saying but only to those whom it is given. 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. He who has ears to hear let him hear.”
Might I have been born already transgender, so that I don't have the option to be cisgender, but only the option between being openly transgender trying my best to be happy, or repressively transgender trying to pretend I am cis? Yes. Jesus himself seems to have said that that is one possibility, “there are eunuchs who have been so from birth ...” If that is the case then my transitioning, might be a process of making manifest what is already part of me at birth. Or yours might be, or your kid's or co-worker's. But even more tantalizingly, Jesus says that some people make themselves eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom of heaven. In that case, my transition might be an appropriate response to my own membership in the kingdom of heaven, or my attempts to be an appropriate member of the kingdom of heaven. Becoming a eunuch, isn't just non-shameful, or OK, or permissible, it might be a positively good thing undertaken for all the right reasons and be actively pleasing to God. Or at least so says Jesus.
Now this passage has been spun lots of ways by various people. The context immediately before it is about Pharisees asking a question about marriage and divorce, and the disciples asking if one should avoid marriage altogether. So many (especially Catholics) read this as a discussion of the celibacy of the priesthood, and the process of becoming a “eunuch for the kingdom of God” (and often it is read next to Paul's commentary on marriage and unmarraige at 1 Cor 7). But even if that is one of the things going on in this passage, its no reason to think that Jesus isn't also commenting on the nature and social role of eunuchs. It's also hard to read this without thinking about broader Biblical ideas of homosexual behavior. Jesus is talking specifically to the disciples here, not the Pharisees or the children, and they have become a tight knit band of traveling unmarried men who surely would have at least aroused suspicion as potential homosexuals in their day and age. None of the disciples appear to have had kids, and only Peter is recorded as ever having married (and seems to already be a widower by the time he meets Jesus, and never remarried). But again, even if this is one of the undertones of this passage, it also seems to be about actual eunuchs, instead of just people who might be mistaken for eunuchs, and there isn't much evidence that any of the disciples publicly identified as a eunuch during their lives, although various Church fathers called them all eunuchs later on. There were certainly also early Christians that interpreted Jesus as a eunuch. Also notice that the rest of Matt 19 is about the good life and a youth being tempted to join Jesus' band but deciding not to, and to go back to his normal life and family instead. We can interpret this passage light of what comes immediately after as much as in light of what comes immediately before.
Jesus and the Jar Carrier
Another set of passages that discloses Jesus' attitudes towards trans or perhaps just gender non-conforming people, is the story of the water carrier immediately before the Last Supper story, at Matt 26:17-19, Mark 14:12-16 and Lk 22:7-13. I wrote about it earlier here. To understand the story you need a lot of cultural background. It is the Day of Unleavened Bread, the key day of Passover. That is the biggest Jewish holiday of the year, a time where everyone in Judaea is required to visit Jerusalem, and each family is to consecrate a lamb as sacrifice at the Temple and then eat it together that evening for a vast family supper. So the city is bursting with people already, and everyone who can, or cares about tradition is already with their families. But the disciples aren't with their families, they are with Jesus instead. And they ask whether they are going to celebrate the Passover together, and if so where and how (as they are late in the game at this point.). Jesus says to go a meet “a man carrying a jar of water” (well Matt is more ambiguous). How are they gonna find a man carrying a jar of water in Jerusalem? Aren't there gonna be hundred or thousands of men like that on a day where every household is preparing a feast? Well, no in fact, because in Jewish culture at the time, only women carry water jars. Men sometimes carry canteens or waterskins, especially when traveling, but the big water jars used for supplying a household with water from a well, that was extremely feminine work. Any man who is publicly carrying water jars, is either a) doing their best to live publicly as a woman, or b) lives in a household with no females and doesn't care at all how feminine it makes him look to do this public female chore. Since Matt, uses a weird construction to try to avoid giving a gender to this person (calling them “a certain one,” deina, the only time that phrase is used in the New Testament), I lean strongly to the first interpretation.
At any rate, the jar carrier takes the disciples to a house where they live with a “householder” who welcomes them and provides them an upper room to prepare the Passover in. OK, that was fast, lets let some things sink in. Why isn't this house already full of family? Maybe neither the jar carrier not the householder have any surviving family (except perhaps each other). Or maybe their family is estranged from them. At any rate, they haven't gone elsewhere to join family and family hasn't come to be with them for Passover. Further Jesus clearly knows the householder and expects him to welcome Jesus and his 12 disciples, for a huge holiday meal, even at the last minute. Further, Jesus expects the householder to have space for them. Jesus knows that the householder and jar carrier won't have family present. It is most likely because they are rejected by their families, that they have space to provide for Jesus and his disciples. Further, why doesn't Jesus take Passover with Mary and his siblings instead (or half-siblings or step-siblings depending on your understanding of such things)? Jesus is choosing to symbolically say that the disciples and the probably-trans jar carrier and the likely-queer householder are his real family in a way that Mary and her other kids/stepkids are not. And this is a theme that runs throughout the New Testament (including the Matt 19 bit we just looked at).
Again allow this to roll around in your mind. Jesus knows a person who seems like a man to some writers, but is acting publicly as a woman, and Jesus relies on this person and treats them as if they were close family along with the disciples. The jar carrier and householder go from preparing a holiday feast for two, to helping the disciples prepare a holiday feast for fifteen in the course of a day. Imagine that it is Thanksgiving, and you and your partner are not welcome at your family's house, nor are they willing to come to yours, perhaps because of your unusual lifestyle. And then, shortly before the key meal, a student of a teacher your partner knows shows up and says hey can thirteen of us celebrate the holiday with you this evening? Speaking as a non-binary housewife, I would absolutely freak. But they say sure, and open their home in an epic feat of hospitality. And instead of a meal for two in an empty house, you are now part of a huge meal of “chosen family.” And indeed, this meal becomes so famous that millenia later it is remembered and ritually re-enacted by people all over the world.
When we think about the proper Christian attitude towards trans people today, we need to realize that in all likelihood a trans person and their partner made the last supper possible by hosting it, and celebrating it along with Jesus and the disciples. And Jesus isn't recorded as complaining a bit about it. Most paintings of the Last Supper may not include the jar carrier or householder, but they were probably there.
Other Trans and Gender Non-Conforming Characters in the Bible
The jar carrier of the New Testament is certainly my main Biblical role model, but there are other Biblical characters that you can interpret as being transgender to various extents.
The next most obvious example is Joseph the son of Jacob, from Genesis 37-45. The Bible says that Jacob loved Joseph more than any of his other sons, and when he was 17 years old made him a “long robe with sleeves” or “coat of many colors” which he apparently habitually wore. The thing is the Hebrew here is kethoneth passim, and the other place the OT uses that phrase is at 2 Sam 13:18, to describe princess Tamar's clothing, and 2 Sam further specifies “for thus were the virgin daughters of the king clad of old.” Joseph is literally habitually dressing as a princess at age 17. And his father loves him all the same. This is how the Bible teaches us to deal with children who are dressing in gender coded ways that we might not be comfortable with. Love them anyway. But Joseph's brothers don't, and they wind up faking his death and selling him into slavery. Where he is bought by a saris named Potiphar, and trained in the ways of being a palace official style saris, and famously rebuffs the sexual advances of Potiphar's wife. Indeed, Joseph goes on to eventually be a palace official par excellence, running all of Egypt for Pharaoh. The text doesn't call him a saris, but it certainly describes him as one, although he does also marry and have kids. Joseph grows into eventually being a fairly conventional male patriarch, but he clearly dabbles in gender bending early on and likely under Potiphar's training, and while working for Pharoah as well.
Or consider the case of Daniel. Daniel and his 3 companions are captured by the Babylonians, and then trained for three years to be palace officials, by Ashpenez the king's chief eunuch. Now some scholars argue for a erotic relationship between Daniel and Ashpenez, and latter between Daniel and King Darius. A lot of translations obscure this but Dan 1:9 does mention both loving-kindness (khased) and tender loves (rakhamin) in the Hebrew. Dan 14:2 (which is in the Catholic Bible and some older Jewish Bibles, etc. but Dan 13 and 14 are usually left out of Protestant Bibles) specifies that “Daniel was the king's favorite and was held in higher esteem than any of the other lovers of the King.” (the Aramaic here is rahme, and the Greek is symbiotes). But whether or not Daniel is sleeping with the chief eunuch or later the King, he and his companions are being trained as sarissim, and are magicians and enchanters, and after being tested and judged, become those who “stood before the king.” But in Mesopotamia culture, that is a set phrase for those who “have no male or female organ” who Enki (one of the creator gods) has appointed to be magicians working for the King. Daniel is thrust into the role and cultural expectations of a Babylonian eunuch, and he clearly rejects some aspects of it (the food, the religion, etc.), but accepts other aspects of it. Unlike, Joseph who seems to grow out of the role of saris in time, Daniel never does, and never marries or has children, and indeed may well shack up with the King. Similarly Nehemiah is described as a "cup-bearer" to King Artaxerxes I, and seems to act like a saris. He appears before the queen without issue at Neh 2:6, and the Septuagint translation explicitly describes him as a eunouchos (rather than a cup-bearer), even though our copies of the Hebrew text do not specify him as a saris.
The Bible doesn't explicitly call Joseph, Daniel, or Nehemiah saris, but there are several other sympathetic characters that it does call saris or eunouchos: Potiphar, who bought and trained Joseph (Gen 1:39) Ashpenaz, Daniel's wise teacher (Daniel 1:1-21), Ebed-melech, who rescues Jeremiah (Jeremiah 38:7-10), an unnamed Ethiopian official who interacts with Phillip (Acts 8 26-39), etc.
You can even make the case that Adam, Jesus, or perhaps even Eve or God are transgender. Androgynos is a borrow word from Greek into Hebrew, and is used mostly for Rabbinical arguments about God being both male and female, and Adam being both male and female prior to Eves's splitting off from Adam. Adam seems to be both male and female prior to Eve's fission, but is solely male afterwards. That would make Adam a trans man. It's hard to say to what extent Eve was present already as Adam prior to be being fashioned by God into a distinct being, but it at least strikes me as possible that Eve too, was both male and female while present as a part of Adam prior to being fashioned into a distinctly female being by God. That would probably make her not just a woman, but also a trans woman. At least, if we imagine these bits to be more than just metaphors or allegories. How this works in the case of God and Jesus is not clear, and is sensitive to details of one's account of the Trinity and the incarnation. But there is some pressure to think of God as both male and female prior to Jesus' incarnation. After all both males and females are created in God's image. If the 2nd person of God participates in both the creation of humanity and the incarnation as Jesus, then it sure seems like it has to undergo a gender transition from both male and female, to solely male, at some point, either shortly after the creation of humans, or during the process of incarnation as Jesus. Unless perhaps Jesus was a eunuch instead as some early Christians thought. In the process of becoming human, Jesus has likely also become male. Jesus too, looks like a trans man in this interpretation, and indeed is often compared to Adam. And for the vast majority of Christians, he is still part of the Trinity, and thus God as a whole now has a strictly male persona, as well as the Parent and the Holy Spirit who are more multivalent.
What about Trans Masculine Identities?
On the surface the Bible doesn't seem to say much about transmasculine identities. And this makes some sense, there aren't a lot of pre-modern strategies for aiding masculinizing transitions beyond social transition. Hippocrates describes the Amazons as cutting off or burning off a breast, but the art doesn't depict them this way, nor are there any descriptions from physicians of actually performing mastectomies prior to the 6th century CE. Further the cultures of Biblical times were pretty darn patriarchal, and probably would have seen transmasculine folks as a threat. Nonetheless the Mishnas (a layer of Judaic Rabbinical commentary from shortly after the time of Jesus) divide people into 6 distinct gender identities, males, females, saris, ay'lonit, timtum, and androgynos. Ay'lonit were people who were identified as female at birth, but developed male characteristics at puberty and were not fertile. No ay'lonit are mentioned as such in the Bible, but it may already have been a category of rabbinical reflection in Jesus' time.
At Matt 5:22, Jesus says “But I tell you that anyone who is angry with a brother or sister will be subject to judgment. Again, anyone who says to a brother or sister, 'Raca,' is answerable to the court. And anyone who says, 'You fool!' (moros) will be in danger of the fire of hell.” (Jesus himself, by the way, uses moros as an insult to Pharisees at Matt 23:17). The issue here is what exactly 'raca' means. It appears to be an Aramaic slang word, we don't otherwise have any record of it. One theory is that it related to emptiness or idiocy (related to the Aramaic reka). But another theory is that based on Semitic cognates is that it was an insult for effeminate males, like English terms fairy, faggot or nelly. If so, then another thing that Jesus says about transgender people is not to use accusations of effeminacy as an insult.
Also, Jesus expresses approval for seriously altering one's body at Mark 9:43-47. "If your hand causes you to sin, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life maimed than with two hands to go into hell, where the fire never goes out. And if your foot causes you to sin, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life crippled than to have two feet and be thrown into hell. And if your eye causes you to sin, pluck it out. It is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye than to have two eyes and be thrown into hell." Often this passage is taken in non-literal ways, but at the very least it does support the idea that serious surgical alteration of one's body does seem to be off the table in Jesus' mind. I've seen people argue for tolerance towards transgender folk based on Gal 3:28 too.
Arguments Against Transgender Identities and Rebuttals
Some Bible passages that might bear directly on trans issues, especially crossdressing
In addition to Jesus' discussion of the three kinds of eunuchs, and the Bible's many other discussions of and portrayals of saris, eunuchs, and gender-non-conforming folks there are a few other Bible passages that might bear directly on trans issues.
Deut: 23:1 “One whose testicles are crushed or whose male member is cut off shall not enter the assembly of the lord”
Deut: 22:5 “A woman shall not wear anything that pertains to a man, nor shall a man put on a woman's garment for whoever does these things is an abomination to the Lord your God.”
I Cor 11: 4-15 “Any man who prays or prophesies with his head covered dishonors his head, but any woman who prays or prophesies with her head uncovered dishonors her head – it is the same as if she were shaven. For if a woman will not cover her head then she should cut off her hair; but if it is disgraceful for a woman to be shorn or shaven let her cover her head. For a man ought not to cover his head for he is the image and glory of God; but a woman is the glory of man. (For man was not made from woman, but woman from man. Neither was man created for woman, but woman for man.) That is why a woman ought to have a cover on her head, because of the angels. (Nevertheless in the Lord the woman is not independent of man, nor is man of women, so man is now born of woman. And all things are from God.) Judge for yourselves is it proper for a woman to pray to God with her head uncovered? Does not nature itself teach you that for a man to wear his hair long is degrading to him, but if a woman has long hair it is her pride? For her hair is given to her for a covering. If anyone is disposed to be contentious, we recognize no other practice, nor do the Churches of God.”
So someone might interpret the first passage to say that post-op trans women should be excluded from modern religious assemblies. And the second and third passage certainly make it look like cross-dressing or even just cross-hairstyles or headwear practices are inappropriate, or even abominations.
For rebuttal lets take these one at a time. First it's not entirely clear what the modern equivalent of the assemblies of the Lord is supposed to be, especially not for Christians, it's certainly not just the church or the community of believers. For example, the very next requirement Deut 23:2, forbids bastards and their descendants unto the 10th generation from the assemblies of the Lord. I'm not comfortable discussing whether I fall under Deut 23:1 or not, but I've done enough genealogy work to say that I have plenty of ancestors within 10 generations that might well be bastards for all I know. And probably so do you. And almost everyone else you know. The Deuteronomical definitions of the “assemblies of the Lord” are just not a particularly helpful concept for modern Christians.
The Deuteronomical prohibition on cross-dressing has more bite though. Here God is issuing commands, and considers breaking them not to be just any old violation, but an abomination, something which is repulsive or unclean or ritually repugnant even apart from its legal aspects. But there are two things for Christians to think about with this passage. The first is our general understanding of the relationship between Old Testament laws and the freedom in Christ to be guided by love rather than just by the law. Most Christians don't follow all the prohibitions of Deut 22, for instance, the forbidding of wearing clothes made from mixed fabrics (Deut 22:11), or the requirement to build parapets on the roofs of all houses (Deut 22:8). I don't mean to be glib, and different Christians have different ways of thinking about and making sense of this, certainly Paul says plenty about the relation between the old law and the freedom of Christ, and gets interpreted in lots of different ways. But every Christian needs to come to their own conclusions about the relation between freedom in Christ under love, and obligation to the laws of the Old Testament. Whatever leeway the guidance of love in Christ gives us in the case of mixed fabrics, use that same leeway to guide your attitude towards crossdressers, or people that seem like crossdressers to you. What was the function of the law when it was issued? Why do crossdressers do what they do? How can you show love towards them? How does love bid you to be in proper relation with them?
Second notice that there can easily be an element of question-begging if we are not careful. Deuteronomy 22:5 can support the transgender experience as easily as it can oppose it. If you assume that I am a man wearing the clothes of a woman, then I look like I am violating Deut 22:5, and am an abomination under the law (whether I am under the freedom of love or not). But I claim that I am not really a man. If I'm right then I'm NOT violating Deuteronomy 22:5. Indeed, consider the case of a trans woman. If she really is a woman, rather than a man, as she believes and claims, then trying to pressure her to wear male clothes nonetheless is trying to pressure her to be an abomination under the law. Also notice that Deut 22:5 is clear it applies to adult women and men, not to all males or females; kids experimenting is separate issue. If your gender identity fits the gender category you were assigned to then you may simply not be familiar with the creeping wrongness of gender dysphoria. It is a feeling of unpleasant mismatch, of ickness related to pain and sadness and disgust, that can vary in intensity, but that seems to come from feeling the mismatch between how we see ourselves and how we are or feel we are forced to behave. Clothes strongly associated with the “wrong” gender are a classic trigger for gender dysphoria. When a trans woman is forced to wear male clothing, by say a school or workplace, it makes her feel wrong, self-disgusted, unclean, detestable - the old Hebrew idea of “abomination” is a decent description of how it feels. So in the case of a trans woman, we have a puzzle. If they “really are” a man, then it is abominable-under-the-law for them to wear women's clothing, but if they are really a woman, then it is abominable-under-the-law for them to wear men's clothing. Deuteronomy 22:5 doesn't stand against (some kinds of) transgender identity, unless you've already decided that those transgender identities are wrong before interpreting Deuteronomy 22:5 and simply want to use it as a clobber verse to emphasize the wrongness you've already decided on for other reasons. Similar arguments can be made for trans-men, and even gender fluid folk. Indeed, perhaps a way of understanding (narrowly defined) transgender identities, especially folks who struggle with gender dysphoria, is that we experience ourselves as abominations prior to transition, and are trying to find ways to stop being abominations. If you try to pressure a trans person into dressing as you want them to, rather than as they want to, you are risking violating this commandment at least as much as they are. But Deuteronomy 22:5 would stand against drag queens and other cross-dressers who don't identify with their clothing presentation, so in those cases, we are back to worrying about the relations between law and freedom.
As for the 1 Cor 11 passage, well this one has puzzled interpreters for a long time. The Greek syntax is pretty snarled, and different translators have different senses of where Paul is being rhetorical or not, what are asides or quotes or not, and the reference to angels seems to come out of nowhere. Some interpretations of this look pretty misogynistic to me, and others focus on the extent to which Paul is advocating different roles for women and men, which I'll talk about more later. But you could also read this as mandating certain presentation styles for men and women, men are to be uncovered on their heads and have short hair, and women are to have covered heads and have long hair. Now I've seen plenty of men wear hats, and women go to church without head coverings. Samson had long hair and the Bible doesn't insult him for it, as indeed do most Nazirites. And I'm not about to try to shame a lady whose hair has been shorn or has fallen out for medical reasons. The Old Testament includes several prohibitions against cutting men's hair, so I don't see how Paul could possibly expect Christians to believe that nature itself teaches than long hair is degrading for men. Paul is writing letters to particular churches in particular times and places. It can be tricky to know what he intends as advice just them in their particular situation, and what he intends as universal advice to all Christians in every time and place. Perhaps in Corinth at the time, it was considered shameful for women to be in public with uncovered heads, and shameful for men to wear hats, and Paul worried that the message of Christianity would be obscured behind the socially inappropriate behavior. But in America many women appear in public without head coverings and no shame attaches, and men wear hats in many contexts. It's kinda hard for me to see why a Christian would want to interpret this passage as meaning that all men should have short hair and all women should have long hair. Certainly if you do, far more than just trans people are going to run afoul of this in our culture. But even if you do interpret in this way the worries about question-begging from the Deuteronomy case still apply, trans women should have long hair if they are women and short hair if they are men, under that interpretation.
Transition Risks Opposing God's Personal Plan for You
Another very common Christian argument against transgender identities doesn't really rely on particular Bible passages, as much as a particular view of how God's plans work. Some folks hold that God makes general plans for the world, having goals and some knowledge of future states, but leaving much open for individual choices. Other hold that God as a particular plan for each individual person, (often also that his foreseeing sees all details), a position often called particular providence. That debate is too complex for us here, see this overview if you want more. But if you take the personal providence line, then it can look deeply problematic to strive against the plan God has for you. If God wishes you to be a baker, and you instead become a tailor, well that's a problem, even if there is nothing inherently wrong with being a tailor. Similarly, if God plans for you to live your life as a man, and you instead live your life as a woman, that would be a severe falling away from, or active and serious rebellion against God's plan. This is pretty much the Eastern Orthodox line about what is wrong with transgender identity, and I've heard many other kinds of Christians voice the same concern.
The problem here is how we know God's particular plans for us. We know God's general plans, goals, rules, etc. via revelation, (however you think the details of that work). Maybe that can work for us at the particular level too sometimes. Perhaps someone has been given the gift of prophecy and has made a prophesy about what God wants for us in particular. Or maybe the holy spirit whispers within us what God wants of us, or perhaps in prayer we find guidance as to the directions God urges us to take in our lives. But, of course, it is easy to confuse real prophesies and false prophesies. It's often hard to separate the whispers of temptation from the whispers of the Holy Spirit. And the guidance provided in prayer can often be mysterious, ambiguous or otherwise hard to interpret. Even if it is possible, it surely isn't easy to know what God's personal plan for us is in most cases.
Some people simply assume that if God wanted us to live as a male, he would have made us obviously male at birth, or vice versa. And if so, any transition is rebellion against God's plan. But there isn't really any good reason to think that God displays his will in such an obvious way via birth. Maybe God wants us to be born appearing to be one gender or sex and to transition to another later in life. There are many possible reasons for this. Maybe our transgender state is intended as a trial for us. Maybe it is intended as a test for other people. Will our parents be able to respond to us as lovingly as they should? Will society find ways to ensure justice for difficult cases like trans folks? Maybe trans folks are intended to teach something, or to provide some particular insight or perspective for the spiritual communities, or for broader society. Certainly our access to both male and female experiences at different parts of our lives, gives us a unique perspective, that sometimes seems helpful to others. Maybe trans folk are simply one more part of the vast diversity that God has planned for humanity.
When someone chooses to transition away from the gender they were assigned at birth, it is hard to know if they are rebelling against God, or embracing a difficult path God has set for them, or maybe just offered them. But they definitely are rebelling against their parents, and many aspects of society. Neither God nor the angels typically come down at the birth of a child, and say “I want this one to be a girl.” But the doctors and parents, do say “this child is a girl,” and they write a birth certificate which the state certifies, which makes a judgment on this issue. When we decide to transition we are saying “you made a mistake” and “I do not think that I am as you judged me to be.” And we certainly are thwarting some of our parent's hopes and plans for what our life is going to be like. I suspect this is often the real source of this worry. But parents are human and can be mistaken, especially about the future which is always hard to know. Especially when their loving desires for us conflict with our own desires for ourselves.
Trying to determine whether or not you are trans and if you are choosing, whether, when and how, to transition needs to be done with seriousness. If you're a Christian, certainly you should seek God's guidance and assistance through prayer, and any other tools your style of Christianity uses (prophesy, the advice of religious experts, the strengthening of sacraments, etc.). If at the end of the day you don't think that God wants you, in particular, to transition, then you should probably try hard not to. But it is question-begging to assume that God never wants anyone to transition, and it's simplistic to assume that God announces his plans for us via our body at birth.
God assigns you as male or female based upon your apparent birth sex
Some Christians oppose transgender identities because they believe that in all (or almost all) cases, whatever your apparent sex at birth is, that is the identity that God wants for you. That is to say, they believe that everyone should remain as they are assigned at birth, that transgender identity is impossible, or simply misunderstanding God's plan for humanity, or is a feeling of mismatch that should not be given in to. The Southern Baptist Convention decided in 2014, for example “That we affirm God’s good design that gender identity should be determined by biological sex and not by one’s self-perception.” That's part of the Seventh Day Adventist line, too, and parts of the Roman Catholic Church have talked this way too. Here we are trading begging the question, for bald assertion. OK, if you think gender identity should be determined by biological sex at birth rather than self perception, then why?
One Baptist answer is that self-perception can be wrong, and can be a symptom of humanity's state of having fallen away from perfection. Well, OK, but so can one's body at birth. Some people are born blind, or with other health problems. That doesn't mean that God doesn't want us to use our compassion, and minds, and technology to help them as we can. Males are born uncircumcised, and yet, God commanded circumcision in some cases, and allowed it in others. There is nothing wrong, in general, with being circumcised or uncircumcised, (although there may be advantages or disadvantages in particular cases), but we cannot read what God wants for us simply off how we are born.
Is there any Biblical support for the assertion that biological sex at birth, not self-perception should determine one's gender identity? The Seventh Day Adventists argue “In fact, in Scripture, our gender identity is, to a significant extent, determined by our birth sex with God being the author of gender identity (Gen 1:27; 5:1, 2; Mark 10:6; Ps 139:13, 14).” Ok let's look at those. Gen 1:27 “So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.” Nope nothing about birth sex, or what makes people male of female other than God's creation of humanity to have this distinction. It doesn't even say that God is the author of our individual particular gender identities, only that God is the author of gender identity in general. That's totally compatible with one's gender being different from their apparent gender at birth. Gen 5:1-2 “This is the book of the generations of Adam. When God created man he made him in the likeness of God. Male and female he created them, and he blessed them and named them Man (Adam) when he created them.” Ditto. Mark 10:6 Jesus just quotes Gen 1:27 and Gen 5:2. Ps 139 13-14 “For thou didst form my inward parts, thou didst knit me together in my mother's womb. I praise thee for thou art fearful and wonderful. Wonderful in thy works, for thou knowst me right well.” OK, God formed our inward parts and knew us even in our mother's womb, that doesn't mean that our apparent sex at birth has anything in particular to do with our gender. None of these Bible passages seem to support the claims they are being used to try to support. Indeed, Jesus says some people are born eunuchs, some are made eunuchs, and some make themselves eunuchs for the sake of the Kingdom of God. That seems to pretty directly contradict these claims to me, showing that gender identity can be different from birth sex, even in praiseworthy ways. But aren't I just begging the question or asserting in the oppose direction, assuming that someone's gender in God's eyes can be different than their apparent gender at birth? Close. I think, our best scientific guesses, and the personal experiences of many trans people, and Jesus's sayings, and such guidance as God gives us via prayer and love, all suggest that at least some important aspects of our gender identity can be altered after birth sometimes, and that we should pray and seek the guidance of the Holy Spirit, and such to make our own personal best guesses about whether our own personal gender identity might be different than our apparent gender at birth.
God as assigning gender roles for males and females
Some Christians believe that God created males and females to be equals with parallel duties and roles, and some Christians believe that God intended males and females to have very different duties and roles from each other. We saw, an example, at 1 Cor 11, above with that translator interpreting it that males glorify God whereas females glorify males. Some read 1 Cor 14 as bidding women to keep silence in church, for example. We could go on. This topic gets big quick and there are plenty of Biblical passages relevant to each side, and indeed you get into interpretative issues rapidly too. And I'm not gonna convince anyone on this bit here. (But here and here are an overview if you want to dive in more). In one sense, the answer here doesn't matter to the issue of transgender identity. You can believe that males and females are intended by God to have very different roles in society and family and God's plans, and still think that some people who are assigned to one gender at birth should nonetheless socially transition and occupy the roles associated with another gender in adulthood. Trans identity is compatible with very traditionalist views on gender roles, or with more egalitarian views. But as a practical matter, the more of a power differential there is between the roles of women and men, the more tempting it is to see transition as a strategy for social climbing (or sinking) rather than as a strategy for being more comfortable with oneself, or seeking the kingdom of heaven, or ameliorating gender dysphoria, or you know, not killing oneself. This is a sane worry, but I don't really think it pans out. At least in our society the stigma against trans people is still strong enough and the social costs of transitioning are stark enough,that no one seeks transition for mere social gain (although transmen often report various social gains as welcome side-effects). Similarly, transgender identities have often been associated with modernizing or egalitarian views of gender roles, and modern gender theory and transfeminism and such are popular among trans people. But they don't have to be; you can make trans identities work even with very traditionalist views on gender. The Catholic Church (at least at the official hierarchical level) has been somewhat neutral on transgender identities, but has been strongly resisting of postmodern gender theory. Kate Bornstein puts it this way "there is no small reason why Pope Benedict and Pope Francis have basically outlawed postmodern gender theory. A lot of people think the Pope is against transgender – he’s not. He’s against postmodern gender theory specifically because it would break down the natural order of men and women. And he’s right! That’s exactly what it’s doing." Much as trans identities are distinct from LGB identities, but have often allied with them, trans identities are also distinct and independent of most gender theories, but have often allied with theories of gender that some Christians might want to oppose for other reasons.
Transition as Sexual Sin
Another worry Christians sometimes have is that transgender identity is really motivated at least in part by desire to sin sexually. Especially if you think that same-sex sexual activity is sinful, as many Christians do, then transgender identity might look like it is lumped in with that. Transgender folks have been lumped socially and politically under the LGBT umbrella, after all. Further, it might look like transitioning is a strategy for engaging in same-sex sexual activity. If one appears male, and has erotic attraction to others males, maybe one can evade the prohibition against same-sex sexual activity, by seeking sex-reassignment surgery to become female enough to have sex with men without violating God's goals. The Seventh-Day Adventists argue that sex-change surgery is sometimes, “motivated by a sophisticated desire for homosexual activity. … Should individuals seek to use sex-change surgery as a way of circumventing biblical principles addressing human sexuality and the proper way to satisfy such desires, they would be acting against God’s revealed will.” Well, first off all there is certainly a lively debate among Christians as to whether loving homosexual activity is sinful or not. But suppose for the sake of argument that it is. That still wouldn't answer the question of whether sex between a trans woman and a cis man, say, is sinful. Does that count as a case of “a man laying with a male as with a woman”? Is it a case of “arsenokoites”? Neither of these is clear. If the trans woman genuinely is a woman, then it sure doesn't seem to me like a case of a man laying with a male. The exact meaning of arsenokoites is pretty unclear; maybe that is still possible for even a trans woman, but maybe not, and it doesn't seem to me that every sex act between a trans woman (especially a post-op one) and a cis man is going to be an instance of arsenokoites. That is to say, a trans woman having sex with a man, or a trans man having sex with a woman might not be circumventing Biblical principles, but complying with them.
Reproduction and Transition
This is an old Jewish argument against becoming a eunuch. We might interpret God's command to Adam and Eve to go forth an multiply, as a positive permanent commandment, incumbent on people still. Or perhaps one of the commandments or prophecies concerning genealogy gives Jews or others some special duty to reproduce. If so, then forms of medical transition that harm one's ability to procreate, (more an issue for transfeminine folks than transmasculine folks) might be seen as a violation of this duty, especially if one has not already procreated. Similarly, in Christian traditions that oppose birth control, some forms of medical transition might look, among other things, like a form of birth control. Now this is going to get tricky fast. There are lots of reasons to think that for non-Jews the duty to reproduce and multiply looks more like a collective duty than something that falls on each person individually. Surely some people are infertile, or do not wish to marry, or marry but are not called to be parents, etc. Surely medical treatments that incidentally harm fertility can be morally justified in some cases. Certainly, some trans people find ways to store frozen sperm samples prior to transitioning medically in ways that will harm their fertility, (although the Catholic Church, for instance, teaches against that too). You could make sane arguments from a Christian perspective against some forms or cases of transition based on the duty to procreate, or the other prohibitions on birth control you believe in, but there will be plenty of potential lines of response too.
God as Creating Male and Female only
Another argument some Christians run is not against trans people in general but only against non-binary trans folks. The idea here is that God intends there to be only 2 gender identities, male and female and anything outside of that is rebellion against God's plans. Gen 1:27, Gen 5:1-2 and Mark 10:6 may not say anything about birth sex, but they do say the God created humans "male and female." OK, plausible enough on its face, but there are many possibilities here. For one thing the rest of the Bible is rife with discussions of saris and eunouchos. Maybe the "and" in "male and female" is intended to be inclusive rather than exhaustive (as often happens in English). Or maybe male and female (and perhaps both) were the only gender identities at the very beginning, but others developed and were acceptable to God later on. Certainly there is the classic problem with how to get the stories in Gen 1 and Gen 2 to line up, and Gen 2 makes it look like Adam was both male and female at one point, then was split into two parts call the man and the woman, so the God created them male and female bit, could literally just be referring to the first two humans. (Also Gen 2 uses 'ish and 'ishshah talk instead of the zachar and nekeivah talk of Gen 1 and 5, for whatever that is worth). It is certainly possible to interpret God as only making males and females and thinking of saris and eunuchs as a special case of one or the other or both, but that is simply not the only way to interpret the Bible, even in these passages.
It's possible to interpret Jesus as using an anti-trans slur at one point. At Matt 11:7-8 Jesus says to the crowds visiting John “What did you go out into the wilderness to behold? A reed shaken by the wind? Why then did you go out? To see a man clothed in soft raiment? Behold those who are clothed in soft raiment are in the King's houses.” The Greek for "soft" here is malakos, and means soft, or fine, or effeminate, and is often used as a insult term against overly-effeminate men in Greek. And Jesus is directing is specifically at those in the king's houses, that is sarissim. Now, I don't really think Jesus is trying to insult sarissim here, I think he is just contrasting the rough and masculine ways of John in the wilderness, with the soft and effeminate ways of sarissim in a palace. But it could be taken as a slam, and probably the word malakos is used as such in other places. Indeed, Paul uses it at 1 Corinthians 6:9 right before arsenokoites, and it sure looks like Paul is using it as an insult term there. This may be one of the few negative things said about sarissim/eunouchos in the Bible actually.
I've also seen at least one person argue that Gal 3:28 cuts against transgender identities. It says "There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus." Now usually this is taken as a statement of equality and cooperation intended to overcome false hierarchical divisions. But you could take it to the extreme that a true Christian should not consider themselves male or female, but beyond gender in a way that would make a transgender identity seem pointless and petty and worldly. I think that's probably not fair to the many cisgender Christians who do see themselves as males and females despite also being in the body of Christ.
Current Positions of Various US Christian Denominations
(heavily, but not exclusively relying on the HRC page “Faith Positions”) – Roughly ordered from more strongly opposing to more supportive.
Southern Baptists Convention - Officially staunchly opposes transgender identities, and transitioning, and any form of normalizing or encouraging or political support for either. Here is a copy of the full text of the Southern Baptist Conventions Resolution “On Transgender Identity”
Seventh Day Adventists - The church’s Biblical Research Institute released a statement in 2014 (here) stating that “Those born with ambiguous genitalia may well benefit from corrective surgical treatment.” However, the committee reached a different conclusion for those “whose anatomical gender identity is clearly male or female but who identify with the opposite gender of their biological sex.” The committee noted that “in Scripture, our gender identity is, to a significant extent, determined by our birth sex with God being the author of gender identity,” and added their belief that sex-change surgery is sometimes, “motivated by a sophisticated desire for homosexual activity.” In conclusion, the committee stated that “Should individuals seek to use sex-change surgery as a way of circumventing biblical principles addressing human sexuality and the proper way to satisfy such desires, they would be acting against God’s revealed will.”
Eastern Orthodox Churches - There appears to be no formal policy regarding transgender issues for the leading Eastern Orthodox churches in the United States. While transgender issues do not yet have formal treatment by a council of bishops, gender reassignment is condemned as an affront to God's design for each individual. Numerous clergy members have repeatedly confirmed this in sermons and publications.
Oriental Orthodox Churches - The Oriental Orthodox Churches do not appear to address transgender issues specifically, but do closely follow scriptural teachings regarding God’s creation of man and woman with the implication that gender is biologically determined.
Roman Catholic Church - There is no official policy regarding transgender individuals in the Catechism of the Catholic Church, though doctrinal teachings clearly equate birth anatomy with gender. The Vatican’s Extraordinary Synod, convened in October 2014, debated several issues related to LGBT inclusion but did not address questions regarding transgender church members. However, the experience of transgender Catholics varies depending on their communities, (Tia Pesando, a transgender woman, recently made news when she was accepted to a Carmelite Sisters’ novitiate in Canada.) In September 2015, the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, responsible for enforcing Catholic doctrine, did not permit a transgender man in Spain to serve as a godfather effectively barring transgender Catholics from serving as a baptismal sponsors.
Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints - The church has not publicly confronted the issue of transgender Mormons. However, a transgender Mormon who has sex reassignment surgery will almost certainly be subject to ecclesiastical discipline.
Pentecostals – Mostly haven't said much about transgender people yet, but have strong consensus condemning homosexuality, and are likely to oppose transgender identities if they comment on them at all.
Presbyterian Church in America - Does not have an official stance on transgender issues, but considers all homosexual practice to be sins, and has an affiliated program called Harvest USA designed to help homosexuals leave the gay lifestyle, and it includes “gender distortions” on its list of “sexual sins” and specifies that “All sexual sin grieves God and is offensive to His Holiness.”
Catholic Denominations besides Roman Catholics – tend to be all over the board on sexuality and gender issues. I know of none which have much specific to say about transgender issues, but several are open and affirming congregations for non-heterosexuals. The American Catholic Church further states that it is “committed to providing the Sacrament of Matrimony to all couples who seriously seek it, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identification.”
African Methodist Episcopal Church, Church of God in Christ, Church of the Nazarene, National Baptist Convention and several others – To date these denominations have remained silent on transgender issues.
Presbyterian Church USA – is strongly divided within itself on how to deal with LGBT issues. In 1996, Erin Swenson became the first transgender minister to serve in the Presbyterian Church (USA) when members voted to continue her ministry following her transition from male to female. While the church has no official policy regarding transgender inclusion, organizations such as More Light Presbyterians are specific in advocating for transgender congregants.
Evangelical Lutheran Church of America – has supported female ordination, and the full inclusion of LGB church members, the ordination of LGB folk, etc. but has said very little about transgender people in specific. It occasionally lists them in longer lists, or mentions gender identity, but has said little about gender identity issues in specific.
United Methodist Church - Transgender ministers have served United Methodist Churches. There is no policy excluding them from ordination. An attempt to deny ordination to transgender persons failed at the General Conference in 2008. The church’s Book of Discipline bans discrimination at the congregational level, and recognizes the “sacred worth” of all persons. This policy is reflected in the church’s support of full inclusion for LGBT persons in the armed services and employment. However, church doctrine also states that homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teachings and bans financial support of all LGBT-based groups. A call for reform on these issues is being heard from local churches and districts, and is likely to be addressed at the General Conference in 2016.
Alliance of Baptists - “As Christians and as Baptists, we particularly lament the denigration of our gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender sisters and brothers in this debate by those who claim to speak for God.”
Unity – the Unity movement is overall pretty pro-diversity, but it's big 1995 statement on diversity mentions sexual orientation, but not gender identity. In 2011, Unity launched an LGBT Resource Center to provide spiritual resources geared to the gay/lesbian/bisexual/transgender community. The resource center includes articles, podcasts, prayer support and a list of Unity churches and centers around the country. Site resources are provided by teachers, authors and contributors both inside and outside the Unity movement.
Episcopal Church - Canon law includes “gender identity or expression” in its list of persons who are assured full access to the ministry of the church. The law further specifies that administrative forms must include options for both preferred and legal names, and for gender identity and pronoun preference. In an intentional move toward diversity, it adds, “As transgender people and their families increasingly come out within or find their way to congregations, their specific naming in our Canons . . . will encourage congregations to deepen their understanding and widen their welcome.”
Christian Church Disciples of Christ - At the General Assembly in 2013, the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) voted to affirm and welcome LGBT people in all aspects of church life, including leadership. While the resolution does not dictate policy for individual congregations, the denomination actively encourages congregations interested in becoming more inclusive. (The GLAD Alliance provides in-depth practical support through a wide variety of resources.) In 2015, the church spoke out against Indiana’s Religious Freedom Restoration Act, which allows discrimination against LGBT consumers.
Religious Society of Friends (Quakers) – strongly supportive of transgender members, and some of there theology about why is worth quoting at length, From the Friends General Committee
“Our experience has been that spiritual gifts are not distributed with regard to sexual orientation or gender identity.
“Our experience has been that our Gatherings and Central Committee work have been immeasurably enriched over the years by the full participation and Spirit-guided leadership of gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender and queer Friends. We will never go back to silencing those voices or suppressing those gifts. Our experience confirms that we are all equal before God, as God made us, and we feel blessed to be engaged in the work of Friends General Conference together.”
And from the Friends Service Committee
“We believe that sexuality is governed by the same New Testament ethic that guides every other conduct choice for faithful Christians. Responsibility, mutuality, love, justice, non violence, non domination, and non exploitation characterize what Jesus called the “Kingdom of God.” How will sexual expression of love be judged? “By their fruits you shall know them” (Mt. 7:20). Does this relationship create an environment of love and justice? Does it further the creation of loving and sustaining community? Loving relationships stand on the Friends testimony of equality. As people of faith, we celebrate all loving relationships and decry those relationships based on the exploitation of the young, poor and powerless of whatever gender, orientation or age.
“We find that claiming our full sexuality becomes a joyful act of obedience and trust in our Creator's wisdom. When we trust the expression of our sexual identity in a loving and just relationship, our reliance on and commitment to God's revealed leadings is deepened. Doing so compels a sincere and continual search for God’s way in this most intimate and undefended area of our lives. The resulting varieties of relationship and gender identity, in their complex, responsible, rich and surprising range, are a continuing reminder that God's plan is beyond human understanding."
United Churches of Christ - The UCC is fully welcoming and affirming of transgender persons. Resolutions of the General Synod passed in 2003 invite all members to, “learn about the realities of transgender experience and expression, including the gifts and callings and needs of transgender people.” Transgender and intersexual people are welcome as clergy and in lay leadership roles.
Unitarian Universalist Association – Has long supported LGBT inclusion, and ordained transgender ministers since 1988. In 2007, the General Assembly passed a resolution affirming the inclusion of transgender individuals in its commitment to “the inherent worth and dignity of every human being.” It urged “the expression of this affirmation through employment practices, educational efforts, congregational life, and public witness.” Ongoing efforts include an annual Transgender Day of Remembrance, with educational support materials, and a sexual health curriculum that gives equal weight to the transgender experience.
Metropolitan Community Churches – were founded in 1968 specifically as a place for LGBT Christians who felt unwelcome in other denominations. LGBT issues have long been the central focus of the denomination, although it also wishes to stand in solidarity with other marginalized and oppressed people. “ MCC churches offer a picture of Christianity and religion which celebrates God’s diverse creativity . . . As MCC’s message of love and inclusion in God’s creation brought our churches into a variety of countries and cultures, our particular devotion to human rights and justice extended our gospel message to issues of human sexuality, gender identity, race, poverty, and more.” It sees ministering to transgender and gender-non-conforming people as an area “of special need” and has a Transgender Ministry program.
For Further Research or Reading
More Trans Theology Resources
The website of the Transfaith Institute, a non-profit for trans folk of various faiths, working on faith and spirituality
TransTheology.org's extensive site
TransTorah - a Jewish trans site, also useful for OT research
Tsroadmap's page on theology – another decent overview, older, and with a great set of links to trans/religion web-resources that used to exist but are gone now …
Interfaith Work Group's long curated list of LGBT faith links.
Reclaiming Theylogy - An archive for non-binary religious studies, with articles like “Jesus was a transgender sorcerer” or “Introducing Biblical Theylogy: A Survey of Trans Affirming Biblical Evidence” Theylogy, is their term to be parallel to theology or thealogy, for focusing specifically on trans or non-binary imaginations of the Divine.
The news story (on using ritual for transition) where I got the image of Rev. Cindi Knox, the UCC transwoman minister whose picture I had at the beginning of the article.
A Few Books
Hermaphrodeities: The Transgender Spirituality Workbook. Kaldera, Raven. Hubbardston, MA: Asphodel Press, 2009.
Trans-gendered: Theology, Ministry, and Communities of Faith. Justin Tanis
The Queer God. Althaus-Reid, Marcella. New York, NY: Routledge, 2003.
A Smattering of Scholarly Articles
Hester, J. David (2005). "Eunuchs and the Postgender Jesus: Matthew 19:12 and Transgressive Sexualities" (PDF). Journal for the Study of the New Testament 28 (1): 13–40. doi:10.1177/0142064X05057772. Retrieved 2 April 2011.
Murphy-O'Connor, Jerome (1976). "The Non-Pauline Character of 1 Corinthians 11:2-16?". Journal of Biblical Literature 95 (4): 615–21. doi:10.2307/3265576.JSTOR 3265576.
BeDuhn, Jason David (1999). "'Because of the Angels': Unveiling Paul's Anthropology in 1 Corinthians 11". Journal of Biblical Literature 118 (2): 295–320.doi:10.2307/3268008. JSTOR 3268008.
Padgett, Alan G. (1994). "The Significance of 'Anti in 1 Corinthians 11:15" (PDF). Tyndale Bulletin 45 (1): 181–7.
Jervis, L. Ann (1993). ""But I Want You to Know . . .": Paul's Midrashic Intertextual Response to the Corinthian Worshipers (1 Cor 11:2-16)". Journal of Biblical Literature 112(2): 231–46. doi:10.2307/3267225. JSTOR 3267225.
Mount, Christopher (2005). "1 Corinthians 11:3-16: Spirit Possession and Authority in a Non-Pauline Interpolation". Journal of Biblical Literature 124 (2): 313–40.doi:10.2307/30041015. JSTOR 30041015.
(I also wrote a longer, more detailed, but somewhat tongue-in-cheek glossary, here)
Androgynos – A Greek word borrowed into Hebrew to mean someone who was fully both male and female, usually only God and Adam prior to Eve's being split off from Adam are thought to count.
Cisgender – (often shortened cis), a cisgender person is someone whose current gender identity matches the identity they were socially assigned at birth
Eunouchos – a Greek category of gender identity that different Greek speakers defined in different ways. People who are born with ambiguous genitalia, or who have had their testes or penis removed almost always count, but other cases often do too, such as people with intact masculine genitals but breasts and impotence, or just impotence, or just impotence with females, or infertility, or who resolve to live unmarried, etc.
Gender Identity – The gender one is as opposed to merely how one presents themselves or appears. Trans folk typically think is is based on one's self-understanding. Conservative Christians often think it is based on one's apparent biology at birth.
Intersex – A modern term for people who have a medical condition leading to some mixture of male and female biological traits. Often now called disorders of sexual development.
Non-binary – (often affectionately “enby”) a trans or intersex person who now identifies as neither male nor female. They might think of themselves as in between the two, or as both, or as off the spectrum between male and female, or as fluctuation over time from one to the other, etc.
Saris – (pl sarissim) A Hebrew and Aramaic category of gender identity for people who are identified as male at birth, but later develop female characteristics and/or lack a testes or penis or both. Sarissim are strongly enough associated with being a court official in that the term is often translated into English as “court official” “official” “officer” “chamberlain” etc. instead of being translated as eunuch. It is also used to translate a number of other gender identities from cultures surrounding the ancient Hebrews, such as the Egyptian or Mesopotamian queer gender identities. Several scholars argue that Hebrew and Aramaic homosexuals were routinely considered sarissim rather than men.
Timtum – category of gender identity in early Jewish thought, for someone whose gender is currently unknown.
Trans woman – a trans person who was assigned male at birth, but now identifies as a female. “Transfeminine” is a slightly broader phrase including transwomen, but also feminizing non-binary folks (like me) and others.
Trans man – a trans person who was assigned female at birth, but now identifies as a man. Transmasculine is intended as a slightly broader phrase.
Transgender – often shortened to “trans,” has a narrow and a broad meaning. In the narrow meaning a transgender person is someone whose current gender identity does not match the gender they were assigned at birth (such as a transwoman, transman, genderqueer, or gender fluid person). More broadly, (especially when shortened to trans) it is sometimes used as an umbrella term for a wide variety of transgressive or non-standard gender identities, including all of the above, but usually also drag queens, cross-dressers, and other gender-non-conforming people. Transgender people might have any sexual orientation, and might socially transition or not, and might seek medical transition of various styles such as hormonal or surgical, or may not. Many, probably most transgender people have suffered at some point from gender dysphoria, but not all.
Transition – A process whereby one seeks to alter the gender they are socially perceived as and treated as and act as. Often medical techniques such as hormone replacement therapy or surgery on the face, breasts, or genitals, etc. will be part of this process, often called medical transition. Other times it isn't. Some trans folk never transition, but continue to present as their assigned gender publicly despite no longer identifying with it personally. Transition is a process, and often takes years, and involves shifting one's wardrobe and habits, updating records, often coming out repeatedly to many people, trying to change the habits of others around you, etc.