What Does the Bible Say About Transgenderism?
Session 9 of Homosexuality & Transgenderism: A Bible Study.
Icebreaker: In every culture, there are stereotypes of what it means to be a “real man” or a “real woman”. In the one you grew up in, what is the stereotype for “manliness”? For “womanliness”? Do you think many people live up to these stereotypes well? Why or why not?
Explain that right now you are going to quickly discuss one aspect of the GLBT community which is often overlooked – the transgender community – and what messages the Bible has for them.
Ask: Can anyone define transgenderism? How is that similar to or different from transsexualism? Cross-dressing? Being gender-queer?
Explain that most of these terms are associated with a medical condition called “gender dysphoria”. Gender dysphoria occurs most often when an individual’s body grows in the form of one gender and one’s brain develops to fit a body of another gender. In other words, one’s brain and body are somewhat mismatched.
Usually folks with gender dysphoria don’t fulfill their culture’s expectations of how someone with the body they were born with should live and act. That is why most folks with gender dysphoria are called “transgender”. Transgender is the state of one’s gender identity or gender expression not matching one’s assigned sex at birth.
You can understand transgender people best if you imagine how you would feel living all the time in a body that didn’t fit your brain. All of us don’t have to look in the mirror to know what gender we are. If we aren’t transgender we just know we are male or female. We feel it emotionally and know it mentally. Our bodies feel right for our brains.
Imagine, though, if you woke up tomorrow and you had the body of another gender. If you are currently male, you’d wake up and go to the bathroom, stand up to go urinate and, surprise, you would be missing important equipment. Women, you’d wake up with an odd floppy thing between your legs.
Ask: How would you think you’d feel?
Explain that it would be uncomfortable. Transgender people feel like that all the time. To deal with this discomfort, transgender people do a number of things to “correct” the birth defect they have.
Some transgender people only are slightly uncomfortable and live in a body that is slightly wrong for them most of the time but need to “take a holiday” from living as if they are the gender the body says they are (but their mind doesn’t). These folks will dress up in the clothes of someone whose body is the opposite gender of theirs and live out that role. This will give them a break from the stress of trying to be someone they are not day in and day out, giving them enough peace of mind to return to life as normal. These folks have been commonly called “cross-dressers” or at times “transvestites”.
Other transgender people are constantly uncomfortable in their own bodies, so much so that they need to have surgery to correct their physical appearance so that their brain and bodies match up. These individuals have been commonly called “transsexual” and may undergo sexual re-assignment surgery.
Finally, other transgender people are uncomfortable in living in the gender role of the body they were born with but don’t feel the need to have out-and-out surgery. Instead, they choose to live as if they are the gender of their brain/mind, using clothing and cosmetics to do so – or simply to not bend to society’s rules about gender. These folks have been commonly called “transgender” or “gender-queer”.
In addition to transgender people, there are intersex people whose variation in sex characteristics may include chromosomes, gonads or genitals that do not allow an individual to be distinctly identified as male or female.
The Bible and Transgender/Intersex People
Ask: Can you think of any biblical principles that might apply to the transgender experience?
Allow discussion and then explain that you are going to looking at some verses which apply to what transgender people experience.
Explain that there aren’t any scriptures that deal directly with the issue of transsexualism. But there are a few scriptures which deal with principles connected with the transgender experience. Also, how the bible deals with forms of transgenderism in biblical times can help us understand God’s perspective on transgender people.
Gender dysphoria, the primary cause of transgenderism, could be considered a birth defect (where a brain for one gender is in the body for another). The bible deals directly with the issue of birth defects.
Have someone read John 9:1-3.
Ask: What birth defect is discussed here?
Many people connect being transgender with sin. According to Jesus, are birth defects the result of anyone’s sins? Are they signs the person with the birth defect is sinful?
Based on why Jesus says this man is born blind, what reason could we conclude that people are born with birth defects like gender dysphoria and intersex conditions?
Explain that according to Jesus, birth defects like congenital blindness are not necessary the result of anyone’s sin. To connect someone’s blindness, paralysis, or gender dysphoria with sin is to miss the point. These are natural conditions common to our imperfect world.
But, that said, receiving these birth defects is no accident. Jesus makes it clear there is a reason some people are born with a particular birth defect and not others: Because their having that birth defect allows God to do things in their life to touch others that they would not otherwise be able to do.
Ask: In what ways can God use someone with a birth defect to glorify God in ways God can’t use someone without one? In what ways can someone with gender dysphoria or intersexism be used by God that someone without them can’t?
The bible’s treatment of cross-dressing sheds very little light on cross-dressing among transgender individuals.
Have someone read Deuteronomy 22:5.
Ask: What does this verse say? In what ways might it apply to transgender people?
Explain that many people will quote this verse as a condemnation of transgender people, many of whom are cross-dressers, and some of whom even go so far as to undergo sex reassignment surgery, so that their bodies and brains can match.
Yet this biblical verse does not really address the type of cross-dressing associated with transgender people. Likewise this verse does not condemn cross-dressing as a sin.
First, what type of cross-dressing is being condemned?
The earliest commentators on this passage connect it with women putting on the armor of a soldier and taking up the weapons of a soldier to go to war. They say the reference is to a woman abandoning the role of wife and mother to become a soldier, something that went against the very shape of ancient Israelite family.
Ask: Is this what most transgender people are doing when they cross-dress?
Most modern commentators, however, point out that in biblical times, a common idolatrous practice was that of temple prostitution. This was discussed when we discussed Leviticus’ condemnation of certain forms of same-sex activity.
Ask: What did we learn about temple prostitution?
Explain that in certain fertility cults, male prostitutes would dress as women as a part of the ritual sex designed to worship false gods. It was a means of enticing the gods to send rain.
Ask: Do most transgender people cross-dress in order to engage in prostitution as an act of worship to fertility gods?
Ask: If these two reasons are not why transgender people cross-dress, is it fair to apply this verse to condemn them?
Finally, remind them that the word “abomination” or “thing that God despises” is to’ebah, a word which does not mean sin but “ritual imperfection” or “pagan practice”. Remind them that we learned when discussing homosexuality that this word is not describing a sin but rather a practice which was either something that made people unable to sacrifice at the temple because it made them ritually imperfect or something that was a form of worship of idols. The ritual laws dealt with symbolism, not actual morality. Since Jesus was our sacrifice once and for all time, Christians no longer worry about ritual purity laws. Additionally, since transgender cross-dressing does not have to do with idolatrous worship, it is not condemned on either count.
The bible’s treatment of eunuchs may shed additional light on how God views transgender individuals.
Explain that although there are no direct references to modern transsexuals in the bible, there is a class of individuals who are truly transgender, in the sense of not fitting neatly into the categories of “male” and “female”, who do appear in the bible: Eunuchs. Looking at their treatment in scripture may help us to understand how God views transgender people.
Ask: Do any of you know what a eunuch was?
Explain that a eunuch was a man who had his sexual organs removed. Eunuchs did this for various reasons – for religious reasons, in order to move freely between male and female worlds without causing suspicion of sexual misconduct, because they were slaves who were forced to so that they did not pose a threat to their male owners. Whatever the case, eunuchs had a societal role that could be called transgender, in the sense that they were living a life where they could relate equally to males and females while not truly being counted as either.
Let’s look at the various ways eunuchs are treated in scripture.
Have someone read Deuteronomy 23:1.
Ask: What does this verse say about how eunuchs were treated in Old Testament times?
Explain that eunuchs were not allowed to come to the temple and offer sacrifices to God. In this way, they were excluded from full participation in ancient Israelite religion.
Ask: Why might that have been?
Explain that some might take this to mean they were viewed as immoral. That is not why. Many people were excluded from temple worship. Anyone who had touched a dead body, for instance, could not sacrifice at the temple for a certain length of time. Anyone with a physical disability couldn’t. The reason? The same reason someone could not offer an animal with a spot, blemish, or disability to God as a sacrifice at the temple – it was a visible reminder that God was perfect and we must only offer to God our very best.
This, however, is the only “negative” treatment of the eunuch’s transgender condition in scripture. Let us look at what else scripture has to say about eunuchs.
Have someone read Isaiah 56:3-8.
Ask: What do these verses say about the transgender eunuchs?
Explain that these verses recognize that God ultimately looks not on outward appearance – whether we are physically “perfect” or not – but whether we offer God the best we that we have. It promises that God will accept (transgender) eunuchs as God’s own people, if they will trust and serve God with all they have. It even says that there would be a time when they would be able to be fully accepted into the worship of God, something that the Old Testament did not allow.
Ask: In what ways do you think God would have us apply these words to other types of transgender people?
Have someone read Matthew 19:12.
Ask: What does Jesus recognize about transgender eunuchs here?
Explain that Jesus recognizes here that, far from being a sin, being a transgender person such as a eunuch can actually be a way of living out God’s kingdom or plan for this world. Jesus is even ahead of some people of our time by recognizing that some are born this way – whether through being intersex or because of an inborn discomfort with their own bodies.
Ask: In what ways can choosing to openly live a transgender life, whether through sex reassignment surgery or living outside normal gender conventions, be an expression of God’s Realm?
Have someone read Acts 8: 26-39.
Ask: What happens in this story? How does the Christian evangelist here treat the transgender Ethiopian person? In what way does this connect with Isaiah and Jesus’ words?
Explain that this story is a fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecy. The Old Testament ceremony that brought someone to the place they could fully worship God was circumcision – a surgery on the foreskin – which transgender eunuchs could not have because of their damaged genitals, and which barred women. The Christian ceremony that initiates you fully into the worship of God is described here, however: Baptism.
Ask: Can people be limited from baptism due to their sexual organs?
Explain that no, baptism is open for everyone.
The fact that Phillip baptizes the transgender eunuch shows that God accepts the Ethiopian even though he does not fit into the neat categories of male or female. It shows that God accepts that person simply because of that eunuch’s faith. It shows, too, that transgender people are accepted by God regardless of what their physical bodies look like, regardless of whether they have surgery to change their sexual organs or not, regardless of whether they live in a mode that fits neatly into the categories of “male” and “female”.
In fact this transgender person is sent back to their own land as a missionary of God’s love revealed in Jesus, a forerunner of the work God is planning to do.
Ask: What lessons do you learn from the Ethiopian eunuch that apply to the transgender experience of yourself or those you know?
If time permits, have folks read over examples of “gender-queer saints” from church history. Point out that these individuals were set apart as models of faith for future generations in part because of their living outside their assigned gender role. Ask what lessons we can learn from their lives that apply to the transgender experience.
How God Views Our Genders
Have someone read 1 Samuel 16:7.
Ask: What does this verse say? What does it show us about how God views us? How does it apply to our sense of our own gender? Our expression of it?
Explain that this verse shows us why God is so quick to accept transgender people such as eunuchs. God knows that what makes us who we are is not our outward appearance (the very thing that society uses to assign us our gender roles) but our heart, who we are on the inside. That suggests that God’s view of what your gender is – of who you are – is based on who you are on the inside.
Have someone read Galatians 3:26-28 and someone else read Romans 10:11-12.
Ask: What do these verses tell us about how our gender or its expression connects with our relationship with God?
Explain that these verses show us that God accepts anyone who calls on Jesus in faith, trusting Him as Savior and Lord. It shows us this is regardless of any external thing – your class, your appearance, your gender, or your gender identity/expression. You don’t need to worry about what people tell you when they say God does not accept transgender people. God accepts all people, regardless of their being transgender, male, or female.
Close in prayer.