Over on Facebook I have been hearing about a wave of ugliness coming from people reacting to Caitlyn Jenner. A lot of the derision is from some Christian folks. While I am not terribly surprised by this–I had been an Evangelical Fundamentalist anti-LGBTQ Christian myself for many years, even as I tried to suppress my rabid gayness–I am amazed at how ignorant people can be about the scripture they profess to follow.
For instance. Do you know about the the first baptism in the fledgling church as recorded in Acts chapter 8? The writer of Acts went out of the way to point out that this first baptism was of a Black, African, surgically-altered, gender-variant, wealthy, literate, civil servant who is a person of faith. To the poorer, illiterate, non-eunuch early church folks, this Ethiopian Eunuch is the ultimate outsider. Yet this is the first baptism.
Of course a eunuch did not usually get to choose to be a eunuch. This identity was forced on them against their will often when they were quite young. What stands out though is not only that they are part of so many Bible stories (and there are many eunuch stories in the Bible) but these sexual and gender minorities are essential to the Bible stories in which they appear. For Christians trying to wrap their heads around gender issues, especially when someone doesn’t fit neatly into traditional boxes, eunuch stories might be a way to open up to new ideas.
People react to difference and change in lots of ways. Some people are shocked when they see someone embrace a different identity. And I totally understand some of the pushback when it comes to Caitlyn Jenner. There are the Kardashians of course and the industry they created promoting themselves along with the parallel cultural pastime that sprung up where people in the media, social media, and over brunch roundly mock the Kardashians. It is a dysfunctional relationship that it seems no one really wants to quit.
So with the Kardashian reality TV machine there are people crowing, “But Bruce Jenner coming out as a woman is just a publicity stunt.” Well duh, she has a show she is promoting. There is publicity of course. We are talking about Hollywood, TV, and Vanity Fair here. Yes this is a well-orchestrated media sustained media event. But it is not a just a stunt to come out as a woman after decades of being known as one of America’s greatest male athletes. Anyone who listens to Jenner for two minutes can hear her sincerity. She has found her voice at last after years of shifting around in the shadows of reality TV.
I completely understand the important critique leveled by some trans people about Jenner’s public coming out, rightly pointing out that most females who transition from male do not have the power, prestige, privilege, and money that Caitlyn has to aid in transition and acceptance in society. This is an essential and healthy argument led by people with transgender experiences. The criticism that I find questionable and inappropriate is by people who are not transgender and who use religion to justify being mean and thoughtless with their words.
Before Christians start jumping on a predictable and tiresome bandwagon of no, No, NO–Caitlyn Jenner is wrong (or worse), I suggest they take a look at one of the Bible’s most celebrated heroes. Dig into the story, look at the original language, and discover Joseph in the book of Genesis. There is more to this story than you may know. Like with most of us today, Joseph has a gender story. You will find that this version of the story of Joseph is completely supported by the Bible. To those who have ears to hear, let them hear.