Transphobia is a huge problem. Murder after murder, suicide after suicide, our trans friends and family are dying due to a tragic fear of what people don’t understand. The religiously fuelled orgy of ignorance, bigotry, and aggressive action continues to plague us. As we push for social equality, trans youth are suffering in the shadows, in the hallways, in our homes, and in our schools.
Now, it’s pretty easy to find the scriptural basis for things like homophobia, at least what’s perceived to be a scriptural basis, but the biblical foundations of transphobia are not so clear. Despite all the biblical analyses and supports one might use for justifying a bias against trans people, there are really only 2 passages – and they provide very weak support at best.
Psalm 139. This Psalm is all about how God knows each one of us infinitely more than we know ourselves. At verse 13, we read “For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb,” and at verse 16 “Your eyes saw my unformed body; all the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be.”
What Psalm 139 is saying, in a nutshell, is that God knows everything about each of us because we were lovingly created according to his will. The idea that a person’s assigned sex could be out of sync with their gender identity is completely unacceptable to somebody who holds fast to Psalm 139; for if God created us according to his perfect will, our sex couldn’t possibly be wrong. Of course, every sermon I’ve listened to about this equates sex with gender, and sexual orientation with gender identity. Given this failure to understand basic terms, it’s really no surprise that some people would use Psalm 139 to justify their condemnation of what they don’t care to understand.
Oddly enough, Psalm 139 could also be used to justify acceptance of trans people. If, as is taught, we cannot know the thoughts or motivations of God, how can we say whether or not he created them just the way they are? Is gender not a social construct? Are we not flawed due to original sin? Isn’t it possible that we have imposed false social norms that were not part of God’s original plan? Psalm 139 says that God knows everything about each one of us because he created us. It doesn’t say anything about initial intent. From a biblical perspective, it may very well be that the very existence of the trans label is entirely our fault; and contrary to what God intended. Genesis lays out a differentiation of sex in the Garden of Eden, but not of gender. It could be that gender fluidity was the original idea and we screwed it up.
Deuteronomy 22:5. “A woman must not wear men’s clothing, nor a man wear women’s clothing, for the Lord your God detests anyone who does this.”
So, Deuteronomy is generally believed to be Moses’ restatement of the law originally given to the Israelites by God, in Exodus and Leviticus – approximately 40 years prior. This is questionable of course, given the fact that the laws in Deuteronomy are better described as continuations rather than restatements. In any event, this condemnation of wearing the clothing culturally assigned to the opposite gender is ridiculous. An all-knowing deity who concerns himself with what clothing we wear is extremely petty indeed, and dare I say it, quite human. One would think that if somebody had the entire universe to take care of, what clothing we wear would be quite low on the list of priorities. I think it’s a pretty safe bet that Moses injected his own displeasure with ‘cross-dressing,’ and attributed it to God. If this verse is to be taken as a condemnation, along with Psalm 139, the scriptural basis for transphobia is extremely weak.
As with discrimination of any kind, it’s just not reasonable to believe a single word of the ‘justifications’ for it. Even if the Bible came right out and said “trans people are flawed, unnatural, immoral, and must be fixed,” it would still be wrong. There are over 2,000 religions in the world, and we have one chance to make a life. Any book that says we are to waste that life trying to condemn and ‘fix’ the diversity around us, isn’t worth the paper it’s printed on.
How about trying to understand? Ancient holy books were written before anybody knew much about anything. Instead of treating the Bible like a manual, how about we accept that much of it is no longer relevant, and work to come together? You can have your faith, but believing in the infallibility of the literal word of scripture renders you useless in a civilized society. The Bible isn’t entirely irrelevant, but condemnations of things we now know to be natural belong in the same category as every other biblical thing we no longer support (ie: slavery, not eating shellfish, avoiding mixed fabrics, stoning our children, etc). We need to accept that things change as we learn, and we need to embrace that knowledge. We need to embrace one another.
You may be upset over my choice of words and my insistence on de-legitimizing scripture, but that’s kind of the point. Scripture is being used to kill trans people. It’s being used to justify murder, and it’s being used to justify the abusive action driving trans people to suicide. Criticism is 100% reasonable here, and in my opinion I haven’t been critical enough. When the Qur’an is used to justify war and suicide bombings, people are all over it. When the Bible is used to justify violence and hatred toward minority people, we are supposed to say “oh, that person has problems, the Bible is a book of love.” And then, of course, we’re reminded that we have to “respect everyone’s beliefs.” Personally, I’m sick of this. I will not respect anything that doesn’t deserve respect, and I don’t particularly care if it’s your belief or not. If your belief is harming others, or causes you to dislike them without rational justification, it is worthy only of contempt.
Without scriptural support, without anything but your personal bias toward the unfamiliar, how do you feel about trans people? Believe me, answering that question can be one of the most fulfilling things you ever do. It gets to the core of how you view humanity, and that is a profoundly beautiful thing.