A transsexual theology
What does the Bible tell us about transsexuality? The six passages about homosexuality and the one passage about cross dressing that are included in the Bible are irrelevant here; transsexuality is a different condition than either of these.
One might come to this issue with the perspective that where the Scriptures are silent we are to make our decisions based on evidence and reason. Therefore, we would turn to psychological research, which indicates that Gender Dysphoria is an actual condition, probably inherent, and that the best treatment is a chemical and surgical sex change.
But the fact is that the Bible does address transsexuality through the idea of the eunuch. Jesus not only taught that eunuchs are included in the Kingdom of God, but asserts that eunuchs fulfill a special role that others cannot. Jesus also expands the concept of eunuch beyond just those made by men to those who are born of indeterminate gender and to those who choose it for themselves.
The first group of eunuchs Jesus speaks about expands the idea from Genesis that God created human beings as male or female. Here we have Jesus saying that God also created individuals who are born as eunuchs and do not fit into the two categories of male or female. This is confirmed by modern science, which tells us that not everyone is born male or female. Indeterminate or mixed genital/gonadal gender is much more common than most people are aware, probably near 1 percent of all births.
The last type of eunuch Jesus speaks about is not the same as those made by men – or those who have been physically castrated. These are people who conceivably are still physically male, but by their life choices do not live as men but as eunuchs. This is usually interpreted to mean celibacy. However, this saying of Jesus is an unclear one and he might have meant something quite different than celibacy. If this third category of eunuch did mean something different, Jesus’ teaching should cause us to have an open mind toward people with a different gender choice than what is considered normal. Jesus’ teaching here about eunuchs should move us from simple inclusion of those with unusual gender conditions to celebration of these special folk, which is explained in more detail below.
But first, a bit more on eunuchs. There are a few concepts in the Scripture which indirectly address the idea of people of unusual gender conditions and how we are to relate to them within the church. This is the idea of eunuchs. What we have here are not people who are transitioning from one sex to the other, but people who no longer are true members of their original sex. Eunuchs have been a part of society in many cultures since the beginning of recorded civilization. In many times and places people who have been transgender have used the category of the eunuch as a way for them to transition as much as they could within their society. So it is not a far stretch to see a comparison between eunuchs and transsexuals.
Israel was surrounded by cultures that utilized eunuchs, especially as slaves and for pagan religious purposes. One of the boundaries placed on Israel to shape its self-definition as a separate people was an exclusion of eunuchs from the covenant worship. This was probably connected to the importance of both maleness and family and procreation in ancient Israel. But this exclusion is envisioned by the prophet in Isaiah 56 as something that will pass away when the new reign of YAHWEH arrives. In the new realm the covenant people will not be limited to just those who are clearly male or female, but will also include those who fall in between. The issue for these people of unusual gender condition is not what their gender is, but whether they keep YAHWEH's Sabbath, choose the things that please YAHWEH, and abide by the covenant. In other words, these expectations are the same as those that apply to persons of clear male or female gender.
We see a 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, and the Eunuch 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.
When the Apostle Paul describes how our being one in Christ through our Baptism breaks down the normal human boundaries that we see as barriers, he is very explicit in including gender as one of these now irrelevant conditions. Of course Paul is not saying we as individuals are no longer male or female, just as he is not saying we as individuals are no longer Jew or Greek. Paul clearly felt that this new freedom in Christ meant that a Jew could now live as a Greek, abandoning the dietary and calendared restrictions that separated them.
It is consistent with the rest of Paul’s ministry to see this passage as teaching that men and women need not be limited by the gender roles assigned to them. Paul includes women in leadership and conceivably would extend nurturing roles to men. It is not a far stretch from this concept to see that in Christ those who are of unusual gender condition have the freedom to live in the gender opposite from the one assigned to them at birth if they find it necessary for the development of their true selves.
Developing True Self
But this leaves us with a much more profound and deeper question. Is it even appropriate for those who are in Christ to seek the development of their true selves? Is the concept of self actualization consistent with the Gospel? Didn’t Jesus say, “He who seeks to save his life will lose it and he who loses his life for my sake will find it?” Doesn’t that mean that our goal should not be finding a life of happiness, fulfillment and self realization but having a life of service, sacrifice and self denial?
This is offered up to transsexuals so often by the Church when they reveal who they really are. They are told that they are being selfish, that they are focusing an immense amount of energy on their own needs without a Christ-like concern for those in their lives who have depended on them being the gender they thought they were. Rather than changing their sex so they can be right with themselves, they should accept the burden of being uncomfortable in their gender so they can fulfill the roles that have been placed upon them. They have a duty.
Of course this kind of theology has been used as a weapon not just with transsexuals. It has been wielded against art, drama, music, literature, sports, parlor games, and any other form of recreation. It has told gays and lesbians it is their duty to attempt to be heterosexual. It has told individuals called into ministry that it is their duty to be celibate and forsake any romance, love, sex, or family. It has told young people without a call to missions and who love their community and have deep roots in it that it is their duty to live as exiles in foreign lands.
This theological paradigm would in the end remove all variety and richness from the human existence. Everything that makes our lives enjoyable would be stripped away in the name of duty. Simply because something is pleasurable or fulfilling it becomes suspect. In the end the only legitimate way to live would be the most austere form of monasticism.
A practical response to this objection would be to say, “I will accept that it is wrong to seek the development of my true self and a life of fulfillment and happiness when you accept that the things you do for pleasure and recreation are also wrong and you give them up. But as long as you watch Monday Night Football, as long as you play golf on Saturdays, as long as you eat more than the simplest diet, as long as you listen to music or have art in your home or read fiction for pleasure, as long as you seek to fill your own life with joy and satisfaction, then I will ignore you when you tell me that it is wrong for me to have a goal to have a happy, fulfilling, life.”
A more theological response is to return to two important historic Presbyterian tenants. The first is the Reformed Doctrine of Vocation and the second is the Reformed Doctrine of Creation. Together these teach us that God gifts us to ministries by making them fulfilling and that God created the world good and to be enjoyed. These give the lie to the idea that Christians only must suffer for the Kingdom. Christians are to delight in their lives and callings, and the creation that God has given them.
Restored to Rightness
Suffering may be an important part of living out our Christian life, but it is not the beginning of our faith nor is it the end. Our faith begins with the affirmation that God created us good. Before any concern with the problems of sin and the problems of needing to be redeemed from sin, there is the reality that God created us as creatures whom God desired to bless.
In the Genesis story, God tells the human creatures to be fruitful and to multiply. God give them stewardship of the earth – this is a connection with all creation and a role in the ongoing creation of the creation. Thus before sin enters the story we have a picture of men and women enjoying who they are, enjoying one another, enjoying their connection to creation, and enjoying their spiritual connection to God.
Sin, of course, does enter the story and it wreaks 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 in a way that people without gender issues are not capable of doing. Transsexuals 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!
The Calling of God
A very important part of Reformed Theology is the idea of Vocation, or the calling of God. Most Christians recognize that God calls some to exercise the Ministry of the Word within the life of the Church. The genius of the Reformed doctrine is the idea that God calls all believers to various ministries both within and without the Church. No calling is “higher” than another. Some of these ministries are what those who do not hold the Reformed doctrine of Vocation would call secular occupations. But to those of us who hold the Reformed view, someone engaging in an “secular” occupation of a doctor, or a farmer, or craftsman is serving God and God’s world as much as someone who is engaged in the pastorate.
Furthermore, this doctrine teaches that God calls us by gifting us in a certain area. Thus God doesn’t call someone to be an artist without gifting that person with artistic talent. There are two very valuable ways to tell where someone is gifted; one is that when they exercise their ability others will recognize they have the ability. The other is that when the person engages in the activity they are gifted in, they will experience joy, satisfaction and an ongoing desire to continue to engage in that activity.
Thus, the Reformed doctrine of Vocation teaches that in our life calling we will not primarily find sacrifice but fulfillment. Of course there might be sacrifice in order to achieve the goals we set for ourselves. But the fundamental idea of Vocation is that when God calls us to a ministry God also places within us the desire to be in that ministry. When the desire is not met, we will experience extreme distress, as when Paul said that he would die if he could not preach. When the desire is met, we will experience a deep sense of satisfaction.
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.
Difficult PassageIn conclusion, 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 guilt-inducing, we must see it as children of God taking seriously God’s calling to ruthlessly remove any hindrances to their being whom God desires them to be so they may serve God to their fullest.