Posts Tagged ‘MtM’

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Trans* Theology: On Trans* Individuals, Inclusion, and Christianity

3 January, 2013

One of the most vexing questions for trans* and cis Christians is how God views trans* individuals. Both inclusionists and fundamentalists turn to the Bible for support, however, the passages that support inclusion are rarely addressed in sermons or in the media. Below you will find the passages that argue for inclusion and the interpretations that support inclusion not just by trans* individuals or local churches but also by entire denominations.

Key Verses:

So God created humanity in God’s own image, in the image of God, God created humanity; male and female God created them. — Genesis 1:27

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. — Galatians 3:28

Let not the eunuch say, ‘Behold, I am a dry tree.’ For thus says YAHWEH: ‘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 which shall not be cut off.’ — Isaiah 56:3-5

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 is able to receive this, let him receive it. — Matthew 19:21

Then Philip opened his mouth, and beginning with this scripture [Isaiah 56:3-5] he told him the good news of Jesus. And as they went along the road they came to some water, and the eunuch said, ‘See, here is water! What is to prevent my being baptized?’ And he commanded the chariot to stop, and they both went down into the water, Philip and the eunuch, and he baptized him. — Acts 8:35-38

A Note on Language:

When the various books of the Bible were written across the cultural and temporal timespan they cover, there was not a word for transsexual or transgender. The word eunuch, however, included three categories, only one of which was what we understand as a modern day eunuch. The other categories included under this umbrella-term were men who chose celibacy and birth-assigned males who dressed and lived as women (in other words, trans* individuals).

A Note on Formatting:

Anything directly quoted will appear in italics and any commentary from me will be in plain-face.

Site Reference 1 (Presbyterian, Reformed):

http://www.whosoever.org/v2Issue2/starchild.html

This Biblical commentary on Isaiah 56:4, Matthew 19:21, and Acts 8:35-38 (along with other passages) specifically addresses the idea of trans* individuals in a context of Christianity and explains why the Presbyterian, Reformed church feels their inclusion by the Church is part of God’s plan.

Important Passages:

 

  1. We see this new inclusion and celebration in the unfolding of Salvation History in Acts. Before the marvelous stories of the enfolding of the Samaritans and of the Gentiles into the Church we have the wonderful little story of the Ethiopian Eunuch. It is interesting that when he meets Philip, the Eunuch, most likely a Jew who probably knew that Deuteronomy excluded him from the covenant, was reading the prophet Isaiah, which envisions the inclusion of eunuchs. Unlike Peter, who needed a vision from heaven to cross the boundary of including Gentiles, Philip needed no prodding to know that the Spirit was calling him to include eunuchs in the Kingdom of God. Philip proclaims the Good News, the eunuch believes and is received into the family of faith immediately by Baptism. Thus the first boundary that was broken down in our Baptism in Christ was not one of religious differences or race, but one of unusual gender conditions.

 

  1. Sin, of course, does enter the story and it wrecks havoc with this mutual enjoyment. But the story of our redemption is a story of returning us to our original blessings. The goal of the Christian life is not for us to feel alienated from our True Selves, from one another, from all creation, and from God, but instead to be restored to a state of connection and the original sense of “rightness”. Transsexuals, in seeing that the relationship between their persons and their bodies is incongruent and in seeking to create a congruency where one didn’t exist before, are in a real sense fulfilling the mandate of Genesis is [sic – *in] a way that people without Gender Issues are not capable of doing. Transssexuals are people who are able to continue the task of creation and to take up the task of subduing the earth to make it fruitful within their own bodies. In a real sense, then, Transsexuals have a direct and powerful connection to the creation as creatures made in the image of God, for this connection is within their own beings!

 

  1. If God calls us to be farmers, shop-keepers, house-wives, lawyers, craftsmen, pastors, laborers, or whatever, God expects us to find fulfillment in that calling. If something stands in the way of that inner fulfillment and satisfaction, it stands in the way of our ability to serve God and God’s world well in our calling. A sense of Vocation would drive us to remove whatever barriers make it difficult for us to fulfill our calling. If Gender Dysphoria keeps one from being who they truly are and fitting into the reality around them, then it keeps them from serving God to the best of their ability. Vocation then demands that the individual do whatever they can to change this Gender Dysphoria. We now know that the body’s gender can be changed to fit the mind’s gender, but the opposite cannot be done. [emphasis added]

 

  1. So these two Reformed doctrines, Creation and Vocation, not only support people with unusual gender conditions having a freedom within the Church to change their outward gender, but in a sense they teach us that such folk are actually engaged in a sacred and holy task when they undertake such a difficult passage. Rather than attempt to see this passage as something shameful and guilty, we must see it as children of God taking seriously God’s creation of them as creatures who are made in the image of God being therefore co-creators with God and see it as children of God taking seriously God’s calling of them to ruthlessly remove any hindrances to their being whom God desires them to be so they may serve God to their fullest.


Site Reference 2 (Transsexual Road Map > Spirtuality):

http://www.tsroadmap.com/mental/spirit.html

Written by trans women for trans women, this section of the Road Map explains how trans* individuals have an accepted place within Christianity.

Important Passages:

 

  1. See the section Passages from Scripture for a commentary on Deuteronomy 22:5. Read it in its entirety as it is too logical, contextual, and supportable to paraphrase.

 

  1. Isaiah 56:4-5

In contradiction to the rules against eunuchs in Deuteronomy stands this passage from Isaiah:

“For thus says the Lord: to the eunuchs who keep my sabbaths [sic], who choose the things that please me and hold fast to my covenant, I will give, in my house and within my walls, a monument better than sons and daughters, I will give them an everlasting name that shall not be cut off.”

“Shall not be cut off??” Who says the Bible doesn’t have much humor! That’s a pretty bad pun! This passage is especially useful for transsexuals, since it appears in the Old Testament along with the Deuteronomy passage.

 

  1. Matthew 19:12

This passage has Jesus speaking directly about eunuchs:

For there are some eunuchs, who were so born from their mother’s womb: and there are some eunuchs, who were made eunuchs by men: and there are eunuchs who have made themselves eunuchs for the Kingdom of Heaven’s sake. He that is able to receive it, let him receive it.

Many interpretations of this passage have arisen. Some believe it is a discussion of voluntary celibacy, but the fact that Christ mentions people born that way indicates to me a birth condition. Some have also interpreted this to mean gays, which doesn’t seem out of the question. However, I think the most literal interpretation would include intersexed (born that way) and transsexual persons (made that way). Regardless of interpretation, the main point is that anyone able to receive the Kingdom of Heaven may do so.

 

  1. Mark 9:43-47

[For those who feel the “body augmenting” of transsexuals goes against the idea of your body as “God’s temple” (I Corinthians 5:19).]

This passage has Jesus speaking directly about altering one’s body:

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.

Many interpretations of this passage have arisen as well. While it is rarely taken as a literal exhortation, it does seem to say that your bodily form does not matter, and that altering it will not exclude you from entering heaven.


Site Reference 3 (Episcopal):

http://www.believeoutloud.com/latest/episcopal-church-transfigured

This site is a recounting of the Episcopal church’s choice to allow trans* individuals to participate in church life and to also allow their ordination.

 

Important Passages:

  1. [T]he House of Deputies—one of the two Houses in The Episcopal Church’s bicameral system of governance – passed resolutions D019 and D002. D019 garuntees trans* individuals access to the life and governance of the church – so, for instance, it clarifies that transgender people can be Eucharistic ministers, vestry members, retreat attendees or leaders, etc and D002 allows trans* individuals to serve as ordained leaders in the church.
  1. A Deputy from Alabama (yes, that’s right, Ala-Bible-belt-bama) quoted Isaiah 56:4-5 and said: These were a people that formerly had not been allowed access to the assembly.  They had been a people cut off—unwelcome because of what we might refer to as their gender identity and expression—but now they were welcomed.  We must name what God has named.


Site Reference 4 (A Sermon for Transgender Day of Remembrance):

http://www.camposiris.com/a-sermon-for-transgender-day-of-remembrance/

I’ll leave you with this quote from a sermon delivered by Shay, a trans man who is also a pastor. It is taken from the the sermon he gave on his seminary’s first TDoR service during which he addressed Isaiah 56:3-5. I think this sums it all up:

 

Some scholars have said that the eunuch is the closest biblical example we have to modern transpeople [sic]. Whatever the case, eunuchs were outcasts from society. They were denied a place in the holy assembly. They were looked down upon and despised. And yet here God is saying that they will be given a name that is better than sons and daughters. Friends, this is good news to transgender and gender non-conforming people. We know what it means to have names chosen for us that don’t fit, or to be called names that are hurtful. We also know what it means to choose names for ourselves that represent all of who we are. And we honor one another by using those chosen names even when others refuse to.

But to have an everlasting name; one that will not be cut off; this is hope for those of us who feel like outcasts. This monument is hope to those who have been killed and to those who worry they will be forgotten. This passage brings me great comfort: to know that I am a beloved son of God and that God gives me an everlasting name, even if my family rejects me, even if the church doesn’t want me, there is a place for me in God’s eyes. This isn’t just some cheap hope. I don’t offer it as a placebo, to say that we should stop fighting for our place at the table, our place in society and the church. Instead I offer it as a raft in the ocean for when the fight gets too hard. I offer it in response to the fearful hallelujah. I offer it because it’s the best I have to offer. We are beloved children of the Universe and no one can take that away from us. We are beloved children. We are beloved.

 

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Gender as Personality; Gender as Cultural Perception

19 June, 2012

I have been wondering for a little while (read: thirty plus years) what gender is, how one becomes gendered,whether gender is a social construct or an aspect of physiology, and how someone who is transgressively gendered can move through and interact with a traditionally (perhaps coercively) gendered world?

Part of the difficulty in addressing these questions and with talking about gender is a lack of common language. I think those who are traditionally gendered do not spend much time contemplating their genderedness. Like having two excellent eyes or ten flexing fingers, being traditionally gendered is taken for granted. When you are not traditionally gendered, however, you spend every moment of every day thinking about gender, not just your gender, but everyone’s.

“I wish I could stop thinking about my gender.”
—TotallyAmelia via Tumblr

I am able to remember a time in my life where I was not concerned with this thing called gender, I was four. The idea of gender had not been introduced to me yet. I simply knew my personality and that was all I needed to know. Honestly, I think that is all any of us needs to know. This raises another batch of questions for me. Why do we not interact with others based on their personalities? We do we feel the need to know a person’s gender? How are we determining their gender? Why do we try so hard to determine the gender of androgynous people or, worse, disbelieve those whose identified gender does not match what we perceive it as?

I have come to see gender not as a letter on a driver’s license or even a word on a birth certificate but as a multifaceted spectrum that incorporates physiological and cultural components. The arguments that it is merely a biological classification or that it is strictly a set of cultural norms fail to capture the complexity of the concept. Let’s be honest, if it were as simple as what parts you are born with or which conventions you follow, would I and so many others like me have spent so much of our lives obsessing over our gender, where it came from, and why it doesn’t seem to align with what society expects?

I think a life or a time looks simple when you leave out the details.”
Ursula K. Le Guin,
The Birthday of the World and Other Stories

Gender is a way of thinking about one’s own personality and the personalities of those one interacts with and it satisfies the cultural need to classify those personalities into tidy little packages. It is a philosophy designed to bring order to our world, but like all philosophies it mutates into rigid dogma in the hands of those attempting to maintain power and those who are afraid of anything outside of their individual experience.

Gender as individual personality is, perhaps, the easiest concept for a transgressively gendered person to understand and the hardest for traditionally gendered people to understand. When your personality runs fairly close to what society expects of you in your role as woman, man, girl, or boy, it does not occur to you that the personality you have is expresses your gender, that it is a method of categorising you with like personalities. Instead, the traditionally gendered see gender categories as being the domain of biology, in particular genitals and secondary sex characteristics. But gender is far more complex than that. When I was four and in kindergarten I got a damaging lesson in personality as gender.

It was a week or so into the first quarter of kindergarten and the children were just getting used to each other. Small groups of friends were forming and my instructor must have decided that not all of those groups were appropriately holding up the gender classification system. ‘Today,’ she said (or said something very much like,) ‘we are going to be in groups according to if we are boys or girls.’ We were all fine with this; after all weren’t we already with those like us? ‘Girls on this side and boys on that side.’ I had not really thought about whether I was a girl or a boy, but I knew I liked what the kids on the girls’ side liked and I played with them. The kids on the boys’ side were different from me. They played different games, they were louder, they were rougher (more aggressive), and I did not understand them or why they acted the way they did. Based on the logic of personality and perception I clearly belonged on the girls’ side and moved to join them.

‘Where are you going?’ the teacher asked me. I’m a girl, I told her. And she smiled at me. It was a smile that I would grow too familiar with. It lacked warmth or humour; it was reserved and hid her true emotions, a lot of disapproval and a little disgust. It was a frightening smile that told me not to question anything she said next, not to ever say what I had said again, and, more than anything else, that smile told me to never, ever reveal who I was (what I was) to anyone, ever. ‘No,’ she said. ‘You are boy and belong with the boys. Go to the boy side.’ I did not know what would happen if I didn’t do as she said, and that smile told me I did not want to find out. I shut my moth, crammed my personality into a deep dark corner, and joined the boys. I stayed there for thirty years.

And for thirty years I questioned my personality, I questioned how I was gendered and why my feminine personality did not align with what society classified me as. It never occurred to me to reverse the question, why did society believe I was male in spite of my evidence to the contrary? Everyone from school, to parents, to the mainstream media, to erotic fiction and porn confirmed that body trumped personality, so, clearly, I was broken mentally. I was a freak. And I knew I was freak because my personality was female.

“She gives me that look. And I know I’ll have to pretend to be a little boy from then on.”
Kate Bornstein,
Hidden: A Gender

Far easier for traditionally gendered people to understand is how other people’s personalities reflect their gender. Their personalities allow us to place individuals in the proper gender categories: girl, boy, straight woman, straight man, gay man, lesbian. Determining someone else’s gender category is more difficult than determining our own. For ourselves we ask one question: do I have a penis? If I have a penis then I am a member of the dominate gender, man. If I do not have a penis (because this is a phallocentric culture where a person cannot even use the word vagina in mainstream politics without drawing harsh rebuke), then I am not a man, but a member of the subordinate gender, woman. But with others the odds of our seeing their genitals to determine their gender are quite slim, so we find other ways. Of primary importance are secondary sex characteristics, such as facial hair, voice, and breasts. Of almost equal importance are behavioural cues, or personality. The way a person moves, speaks, and takes up space. What a person enjoys doing, the type of career they pursued, how they pursued it, the kinds of people they hang around. All of these are aspects of personality. As a society we default everyone to a male gender and then change that perception based on how the person’s looks and personality align with it.

According to research done by Kessler and McKenna it takes four female cues to outweigh one male cue. That’s how phallocentric our culture is and why women get sirred far more often than men get ma’amed.

Because our society cannot abide ambiguity we have created this nifty little classification system called gender to tell us who is what and, once we know what they are, how much of our respect they deserve. That is the ultimate purpose of the gender classification system. It is more than just the need for tidy little categories. It is what those categories help us determine, the thing we are most desperate to know, who is above who on the hierarchy. This is why transsexuals and other transgressively gendered people are such a threat to the gender classification system. They are jumping gender categories and changing the amount of power and respect they are entitled to, thus exposing the ridiculousness of the system. My personality is little altered from when I was socially male to my being socially female, but I receive less respect, my opinions are devalued, and I make less money (despite doing the same job). Conversely, I know some female to male transsexuals who have stepped not just into a different socially perceived gender but also more respect, more opportunities, and higher wages. Their personalities have not changed either. Our actual genders have remained consistent, but our perceived genders have changed and we suffer the penalties or reap the benefits according to our new position. Personality as gender exposes cultural perception as gender for the misogynistic system it is.