Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Transgender Bible Heroes & Sheroes

I just read an article in Christianity Today which reports on "Evangelicals hope to respond with both moral authority and biblical compassion to gender identity disorder." Ugh.

Even LGBT-affirming folks like Jimmy Creech seem to question the Biblical support for the transgender experience. He starts off strong enough when they quote him saying,
Religion has been used in history to discriminate against various groups of people by justifying slavery, denying women the right to vote, and persecuting religious minorities," says Jimmy Creech, executive director of Faith in America. "Today it is being used to persecute lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgendered people.
But then he adds this zinger.
We have to recognize the Bible in terms of the history and culture in which it was written," Creech says. "Scripture doesn't address the issues of transgender experience.
The piece also quotes Warren Throckmorton, who had been a strong proponent of ex-gay therapy and still supports his own form of ex-gay treatment under a different name in which he tries to provide a way to people to get lined up with Biblical sexual ethics (ah, but whose?)
"Transgender impulses are strong, but they don't match up with the Christian sexual ethic," says Warren Throckmorton, associate professor of psychology at Grove City College in Pennsylvania. "Desires must be brought into alignment with biblical teachings, but it will be inconvenient and distressful."

"Even if science does determine differentiation in the brain at birth," Throckmorton says, "even if there are prenatal influences, we can't set aside teachings of the Bible because of research findings."
The piece goes on to talk about the LGBT civil rights issues and hate crime legislation. They also quote ex-gay leader Alan Chambers who conflates gender issues with sexual orientation. Something that lots of LGB folks have done for a long time.

But the writer never once counters Creech's or Throckmorton's assertions. Perhaps I read a different Bible, but once I put on some gender glasses and re-visited the scriptures with an eye to find those Bible folks who live outside of socially prescribed gender roles and presentations, I found a treasure trove of transgender Bible characters.

The article doesn't make a single reference to eunuchs, those gender others who play key roles in both the Hebrew and Christians scriptures. The whole story of Esther would fall apart if it were not for the surgically altered gender variant eunuchs. But beyond eunuchs, there are plenty of other individuals that good Biblical exegesis reveals as gender variant.

Ignorantly lots of folks think you need to have a surgery to be transgender. Nope, not true. Also, they fail to acknowledge that we do not always know who is trans among us or in the scriptures. Many of us live and work and worship alongside people who have transitioned, and we never know it. Some of these folks never had surgery. Today for female to male trans folks testosterone and chest binding works wonders.

Now if folks want to get a good education about the transgender experience in the scriptures, I encourage them to see my play Transfigurations—Transgressing Gender in the Bible. I will be in Memphis with it in less than two weeks. Here is the excellent poster designed by the amazing Christine Bakke (click on it for a larger view).

If you need some more info on transgender faith issues, visit Trans Faith Online. I just had coffee with Chris Paige, the creator of the site and strongly encourage you to spend time reading the many wonderful articles there. Chris rocks.

Have a listen to the Trans-Ponder podcast with Jayna and Mila. In episode 19 they had me on to talk about Trans Bible characters.

And why not pick up the Bible and find some transgender Bible characters for yourself. Ask, seek, knock. They're there!

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At 6:48 PM , Blogger Allyson Dylan Robinson said...

What a wonderful response, Peterson. Thank you for gathering your thoughts so quickly and presenting them so lovingly. I'm ashamed to admit it's going to take me some time to work through the negative emotions CT's article raised in me before I can offer my own perspective free of anger and hatred.

I'm so jealous that you got to have coffee with Chris, but I always smile inside when two of my friends get together!

At 7:49 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

I understand what you state about trans folk, but I suspect there is a difference of opinion regarding the surgery/"treatment" vs. not necessary.

That is, I've read some very heated comments/responses from, particularly MtF women who did go the surgery route who feel they are looked down upon by a few folks who advocate a more "open" idea about transitioning. So, I guess I'm confused by this issue. Am I just stirring up a tempest in a teapot?

I still want to see this show, however, my darling media-whore.

Love always,
Joe G.

At 8:27 PM , Blogger Michelle Galo said...

Oh, my goodness. I started listening to Trans-Ponder and I am hooked. I could listen to Jayna and Mila for hours; their stories and insights are beautiful and thought-provoking.

Speaking of thought-provoking (or maybe just provoking, could anyone listen to Mila and Jayna for fifteen minutes and then say, "Desires must be brought into alignment with biblical teachings, but it will be inconvenient and distressful"? Right... because transitioning is so convenient and asking your family and friends to accept your heartfelt identity is a walk in the park. Neither road is easy. Why not take the one leading to happiness and peace?

At 11:31 PM , Blogger Allyson Dylan Robinson said...

Following the blogs on this article today, I was a little shocked to find the same "disagreement" you mentioned, Joe, popping up all over the place.

What you've stumbled into is a little inter-necine feud in the trans world. Some people with transsexual pasts do not feel that they should be lumped together with non-op trans people (including the entire spectrum from recreational crossdressers to those who choose to transition socially but not surgically) under the umbrella term "transgender." In my experience, they tend to identify as their "felt" gender from birth, and describe themselves in pathological terms as former sufferers of Harry Benjamin Syndrome who had the condition corrected through surgery and endocrine therapy.

The distinction, as I understand it, lies in how one understands gender identity disorder. The majority view at this point is that GID is primarily a disorder of the mind, while the view of the person with a transsexual history views it as a disorder of the body. For the former, treatment *may* include surgery; for the latter, treatment *must* include surgery (or at least the intense desire for it). It may seem like splitting hairs, but it has resulted in some very intense fighting between the two groups. The CT article has moved this fight into a whole new battleground as bloggers rush to comment on CT's take. To many who understand the term transgender in a broad, inclusive sense, it seems like an attempt to legitimize one type of transgender experience (that of those who desire surgical transition) at the expense of all other types of experience.

Personally, I have problems with the entire framework in which the battle is taking place. It seems to me to be more about (gender) identity politics and, therefore, power, than it is about medicine or psychology. Peterson, you may have a different view...and since this is your blog...I'll shut up now. =)

At 1:00 AM , Blogger Peterson Toscano said...

Ally, no, no, please continue. I am the novice here. Of course I welcome the inclusive umbrella approach which actually covers us femmy gay guys too with our gender differences, but I'm liberally inclusive that way.

Michelle--right! Mila and Jayna are so addictive! I just want them to go on and on and I always feel a little sad when the podcast is over. I said it before, I especially love when they banter back and forth about nothing in particular.

Joe G (aka boredbeyondbelief)You love those cute little teapots brewing up tempests. And I need to remind you that it is politically incorrect to refer to me as a media whore. The proper term is Press Magnet.

At 7:21 AM , Anonymous Anonymous said...


Thank you for such a clear explanation of the situation. I had wondered if it were along those same lines as you described, but honestly I don't know all that much about trans issues.

OTH, if I got to see Peterson's latest show regarding these issues and stories I'd probably understand better (thank you for your kind answer, nonetheless). But, he's too busy being a media magnet and paying money to keep strip-tease pictures out of the public eye these days. Just noting, that's all...

Joe G.

At 12:22 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

When conservative Christians, particularly Evangelicals appeal to 'moral authority' and 'the Christian sexual ethic', it is important to understand that they are actually appealing to the patriarchical heterosexism that they think God has given his divine seal of approval. The focus and teaching of many Evangelical churches (with which I am very familiar) is completely slanted in favor of straight married people, particularly those with children. People who don't fit into this box might as well be invisible as their experiences are not acknowledged as part of reality as Evangelicals understand it. So it's not surprising that many of them ignore the obvious variations in the Bible, nor is it surprising that gays, lesbians and the transgendered (and others for that matter) find themselves being discriminated against by people of Evangelical belief. Their devotion to patriarchal heterosexism is very strong; so strong that I suspect that the response the article mentions, the appeal to 'biblical compassion' is really about making sure that Evangelicals are armed with the 'right' rhetoric, the 'appropriate' support groups and the 'biblically correct' agendas to make sure that the rest of us conform to their view of reality.

At 1:58 PM , Blogger Allyson Dylan Robinson said...

An incredibly adroit analysis, PW. I hope you don't mind that I quoted you at my blog today.

At 11:42 AM , Blogger Reverend Bitch Sir! said...

I saw your post on Straight, Not Narrow by Jim Johnson...this was indeed refreshing and well said.

I am glad to have discovered your blog.

I have several T folks as apart of my congregation and will forward your writing to them as well.

Keep up the good work!

God Bless,
Pastor Paul
aka RBS

At 3:13 PM , Blogger Peterson Toscano said...

Thanks Pastor Paul for visiting and everyone for such insightful comments. Hopefully people will come by and read what we have to say and grow in their understanding.

At 10:22 AM , Blogger Paige Schilt said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

At 5:41 PM , Blogger Unknown said...

I responded to this article in my blog as well:

And linked to you as well.

At 2:19 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

hi ally. you seem to have hit the nail pretty much right on the head. i have a lot of difficulty associating myself with the wider tg group. as peterson says, that includes femmy gay guys as well. as a person with hbs i don't see where we have any more in common then that we share a human experience that includes some pretty heavy discrimination. peterson's "femmy gay" profile is totally alien to me. i came out of the womb a girl and i was a girl until i became a woman. that i had a penis between my legs for 53 years had no impact on my true gender identity at all, only in the ways i was permitted by society to express it.

i have a problem with the "true believers" in hbs in that they do assert that one has to take a certain course of action in order to be hbs. i find that intellectually indefensible. one can have cancer and choose many methods of treament for it, or choose not to treat it at all. they still have cancer. i am hbs. i was born with that specific intersex condition. my brain was wired from birth as female, i've known i was a girl since i first learned there was a difference between boys and girls. i never bought into the "penis theory". however; my biology was typically male. that will never change, i was born it and i'll die it. now, the gid that came with the dysphoria associated with this incongruence has been corrected by therapy and surgery. i am "cured" of my gid, but since hbs is congential i don't see how i can ever be "cured " of it. it's my history no matter what happens in the future. perhaps there will come a time when medical science can completely fix the condition, but we are nowhere near that at this point.

At 3:21 PM , Blogger Allyson Dylan Robinson said...

Hi there, Anonymous! =)

I'm reading the revised and expanded edition of Virginia Ramey Mollenkott's book Omnigender, and it's giving me some terrific new perspective on these issues. I'd definitely recommend it to any Christian who has an interest in gender issues.


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