Confusion Over Gender by Some Religious Leaders

Cross posted and updated from Pam’s House Blend.

Autumn Sandeen writes here at Pam’s House Blend about the TransAction Day in US schools and the uninformed responses by folks like Randy Thomas at Exodus International, an ex-gay organization.

Randy writes,

We have to be completely vigilant about what our children are being taught in schools. Parents need to pay attention and raise concerns with their school districts as well as teach their children healthy, biblical role-modeling of their gender.

Gender is not a social construct. It’s a biological fact. We have men and women and that’s been the case since the beginning of Creation.

Apparently Randy doesn’t know his Bible very well, that or he needs to adjust the lenses he uses. In both the Hebrew and the Christian scriptures we see examples of many gender variant individuals who proved to be the most important people in the most important stories. Some of these were even surgically-altered, gender-variant people.

The whole book of Esther would fall apart without the role of the eunuchs. These are male-bodied people who were castrated before puberty. The result?  They would have often presented out of the gender binary all together–they looked and sounded differently from most of the men and the women around them. As a result, they filled roles not inhabited by other male bodied people.

One of the first converts to Christianity was a black male-bodied gender variant treasurer from Africa–the Ethiopian Eunuch found in the Book of Acts.

Even beyond the many eunuchs in the Bible and even Jesus’ positive reference to eunuchs in Matthew 19, we can discover many other Bible characters who transgress and transcend gender.

Transgressing Gender in the Bible

Transgressing Gender in the Bible

I found so many gender variant Bible characters in fact, that I wrote a whole play about them.  Transfigurations–Transgressing Gender in the Bible, has helped adjust the lenses of some folks stuck with the inaccurate gender-normative settings.

I attended a workshop with Peterson in which he announced that he was doing a show on the transgender people in the Bible. “You all know who those are, don’t you?” I thought to myself, “Hey, I’m a biblical scholar, and I don’t know any transgender folks in the Bible!” Now I know! I applaud Peterson for bringing to the fore in this play a new way of looking at the Bible! I had to look at my own sexual stereotypes and how I bring them to biblical interpretation!

-Michael Willett Newheart, Ph.D., Professor of New Testament Language and Literature, Howard University School of Divinity

Like Dr. Newheart and Randy Thomas and others I too overlooked and discounted the possibility of gender variant people in the Bible.  We get programmed to look at the world in a certain way that gets reinforced daily, institutionalized, spiritualized and made into doctrine.

A big part of my ex-gay treatment had to do with gender and driving out the feminine aspects of my presentation, interests and roles that I took. These were based on the stereotypes in the white Evangelical church of what a man was supposed to act and dress and sit and play and interact. It was part of the straight jacket they gave me to wrap around myself.

But in looking for gender role models, I love the thought of Hegai the eunuch in the Esther story. Not male, not female, someone in the middle or all together different. He had a high voice, a softer less muscular body than the other male bodied people in the court. He didn’t have the facial hair or body hair that most men would have had. He got to hang out in the women’s quarters. He even served as a health and beauty consultant and even suggested what Esther should take into the King’s private chamber for her big audition to be queen. Read it for yourself, it is all there in the Book of Esther.

Biblically and biologically speaking we see much evidence for gender variance and a gender spectrum in humans. No two men are alike. No two women are alike. Gender expression is complex, varied and beautiful much like all of the natural world around us.

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UPDATE: read a sensational blog entry of a woman who had a long and amazing journey to become herself. Blessings, Contrasts and Christianity by Zoe Brain.

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