Gender variance in Christianity

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Gender variance in Christianity is about the views that Christian leaders and traditions have toward people who are gender variant. It is also about gender variant figures within the history of Christianity. Gender variance has always existed. Spirituality and religion, including Christianity, has often been part of how individuals and cultures have expressed or regulated that variance.

First, some definitions: "Gender variant" is shorthand for gender that doesn't conform to one's assigned gender in one's culture, and differs from that of the gender binary. Gender variance includes those who are transgender, gender non-conforming, and nonbinary, reflecting that historical figures used different words for these.

Views about gender variance in Christianity[edit | edit source]

Christians have tended to have difficult views of LGBT people. Christians have used certain religious views as motivation behind discrimination and hate crimes against LGBT people. Christian denominations and churches vary in their attitudes toward LGBT people. What views churches do express about LGBT people tend to focus mainly on sexual orientation (lesbian, gay, and bisexual people), and less on gender variance (gender nonconforming, transgender, and nonbinary people). Because this is the nonbinary wiki, this portion of the article will focus wherever possible on Christian views specifically addressing gender variance, rather than sexual orientation.

The six genders in classical Judaism are not typically known in Christian tradition, though they are important for scholars to take into account when studying Hebrew texts that are used in Christianity.

Saint Abban is not gender-variant, but is said to have changed a girl into a boy, and so can be considered informally a patron saint for transgender people.[1]

Gender variance in the Christian Bible[edit | edit source]

One thing all Christian denominations have in common is their basis on the Christian Bible. However, denominations differ in what their Bibles include, and how they interpret the meaning of the Bible. They also place more weight on different parts of the Bible. The Christian Bible is made of two collections of books: the first is the Old Testament, which is derived from a partial selection of the books of the Hebrew Bible, which had been written over the course of the 8th century BCE to 1st century BCE. The second collection is the New Testament, originally in Greek, which focuses on the life of Jesus Christ, written before 120 CE.[2]

The Christian Bible doesn't specifically mention transgender people, as such.[3] It also doesn't specifically mention nonbinary people, who are one kind of transgender people. Because of this, the Bible doesn't officially condemn transgender or nonbinary people. The absence of such people in the Bible doesn't mean that they were unknown during Biblical times. Classical Judaism itself acknowledged six genders/sexes in texts other than the Bible, and several neighboring cultures also acknowledged genders outside the binary. Similarly, the Bible also doesn't mention cats, even though they were domesticated in the right time and place to be known by the writers.

Some of the following Bible passages can be seen as relevant to transgender and nonbinary people.

Creation[edit | edit source]

The following passage refers to some genders/sexes with which humans were created:

"And God said, Let us make man in our image, after our likeness: and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth. So God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them." Genesis 1:26-27 (King James Version)

In context, the above passage is from the first Creation, in the first chapter of Genesis, in which God is called Elohim, and creates animals before humans (Genesis 1:20-26). This is different from the second chapter, a different Creation story, in which God is called Jehovah, and creates humans before animals (Genesis 2:18-19). Both chapters give a different sequence of events for the Creation, an intriguing conflict which all scholars of the Bible resolve differently. In this case, the Elohistic/Jehovistic conflict makes it challenging to understand exactly which humans are referred to in this passage. Here are several possible interpretations of who these particular humans are, and what that means for humans today:

  • Only one human is created in this passage, Adam, who is both male and female. His female part, Eve, has not yet been taken out of him. That happens later, in Genesis 2:21-22. Because of this order of events, Jewish and Christian teachings often interpret Adam as having been created as both male and female.[4] Adam was an example of a "Primal Androgyne," a motif which is common for many cultures' creation stories, making it more likely that Adam was one. Adam is thought to have started as an androgyne because Elohim-- which is a plural term-- says "Let us make humanity in our image ... that they may take charge..." so Adam is made in the image of a plural being, as the Creator is also a Primal Androgyne.[5] This interpretation of Adam as an androgyne can be seen as affirming that intersex, gender variant, and nonbinary people are all part of a natural condition created by God.
  • Two humans are created in this passage: Adam and Eve. Adam and Eve each represent a different gender/sex, but they do not represent all possible kinds of people that can be natural to humans as created by God. Humans have changed a great deal since the Creation. For example, modern humans no longer have the long lifespans described of many humans in Genesis. Adam and Eve were a man and a woman, but later people are different from them, and are not necessarily just men and women.
  • Many humans are created in this passage. These humans may or may not include Adam, because Elohim created much of the world in the first chapter of Genesis, before Jehovah created Adam in Genesis 2:7. (These other humans created before Adam are thought to be the origin of the women who later marry into Adam's family in Genesis 4:16-19.) In Genesis 1:27, "male and female" is shorthand for the diversity of the many kinds of humans created at this point, rather than a limitation placed upon what they were or could be.

The above are several different interpretations of who the humans are in this passage about their Creation, and what it means for human genders/sexes today. Some Christians have taken Genesis 1:27 as affirming the gender binary, but that is only one of many possible interpretations. Given that classical Judaism recognized six genders/sexes, it's very unlikely that the Hebrew text of Genesis 1:27 is meant to affirm that humans can only have two genders/sexes.

Biblical law about cross-dressing[edit | edit source]

There are seven Bible passages that have sometimes been thought of as condemning lesbian, gay, or bisexual people. However, out of the entire Bible, only one passage seems to specifically condemn cross-dressing. By extension, this is also the one and only passage in the entire Bible that seems to specifically condemn transgender people.[6] This is the passage, which is in one of the Hebrew books of law, Deuteronomy:

"The woman shall not wear that which pertaineth unto a man, neither shall a man put on a woman's garment: for all that do so are abomination unto the LORD thy God." - Deuteronomy 22:5 (King James Version)

In context, this is in a chapter about appropriate conduct for a household and family. Here is a breakdown of the meaning of the three parts of this passage:

  1. The first part of the passage forbids women to use a man's "item" (כְּלִי keli, meaning item, article, utensil, or artifact). Some English translations render keli as "clothing," but that isn't the closest to the original Hebrew. The "item" may refer to tools of work, war, and business that are only to be used by men, according to traditional Hebrew gender-based division of labor. (However, Hebrew women who took them up have not necessarily been condemned for doing so, as when Judith is celebrated for heroically taking up a sword in the Book of Judith.) Or it may be forbidding women to wear men's prayer shawls (tallit) and prayer amulets (tefillin). These artifacts are used in Judaic practice, but not in Christian practice, so this doesn't apply to Christians.
  2. The second part of the passage forbids men to wear women's clothing (שִׂמְלַ֣ת simlat, meaning clothing, garment, cloak, or mantle). This is thought to be meant to preserve Hebrew society's widespread gender segregation, out of fear of adultery.
  3. The third part of the passage says the act is an abomination (תּוֹעֵבָה toebah). This means the act is what is offensive, not the person.

Overall, this passage is thought to be about maintaining Hebrew custom of worship and dress, and preventing sexual promiscuity.

Here are some further views on what this passage means for cross-dressing, transgender, and/or nonbinary Christians:

Leviticus and Deuteronomy are both books of Judaic law, which condemn many things that are practiced by many observant Christian denominations. For example: eating shellfish (Leviticus 11:10-12), or pork (Lev 11:4-8), or touching pigskin (Lev 11:8, Deu 14:8); having sex during a menstrual period (Lev 18:19); mixing types of fabrics in clothing (Lev 19:19); planting different kinds of seeds in the same field (Lev 19:19); trimming your beard (Lev 19:27); working on the Sabbath (Lev 23:3); or selling land permanently (Lev 25:23). Christians do not typically observe Judaic law, and this is no mistake, because they are not required to do so. This is because Old Testament laws mean different things to Christians than they did to the ancient Hebrews. For the ancient Hebrews, the laws were largely about preserving the continuity of their own culture, which is not the same as any Christian culture. Christians believe one of the important things Christ did when he came was fulfill all those laws, so Christians are no longer bound by them (Matthew 5:17; Romans 7:1-7; Galatians 3:25). Christians don't need to keep these laws in order to earn their way to God. Christians keep the spirit of doing good to others, rather than following the letter of the law.

Transgender Christians who are concerned about the letter of the law can still abide by it while being both transgender and Christian. Fr. Shannon Kearns wrote about this passage,

"You could also make the argument that as a transgender man it would be against my nature to wear women’s clothing and so therefore I am abiding by the command.

"You could also say that whatever gender you are, wearing clothing makes that clothing belong to your gender (hence a man who chooses to wear a skirt is wearing men’s clothing because he is a man)." - Fr. Shannon Kearns, "Transgender and Christian"

Kearns makes the point that a person's gender identity is what determines their gender, so transgender and and gender-variant people are not in violation of this law. This is if one pretends that laws from Deuteronomy apply to Christians, which they never have.

Nonetheless, this Biblical law has long been used by Christians to condemn those who cross-dress, and as a foundation for writing various national laws against cross-dressing. In the most famous example of this, historical court records show that the Inquisitors of the Catholic Church cited Deuteronomy 22:5 in the only actual specific charge for which the Church burned 19-year-old Saint Joan of Arc alive at the stake in 1431.[7]

Galatians 3:28[edit | edit source]

A verse in the book of Galatians, from 50 CE, says that Christianity doesn't recognize the division of male and female, and seems to deny the gender binary system:

"There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus." - Galatians 3:28 (New International Version)

In context, this passage is Saint Paul addressing the Galatians (Gauls), a Celtic people in the Roman empire, who Paul had converted to Christianity. The Galatians had been having difficulty knowing how to practice Christianity. They thought they had to observe Jewish taboos and traditions. They thought they had to treat people better or worse and allow them access to different parts of religious practice depending on whether they had been born as Jews or gentiles, slaves or free, or men or women.

In Galatians 3:28, Paul explains to them that they must value equality rather than ritual. This passage means that by becoming Christians, they are no longer divided between insider/other (Jews and gentiles/Greeks), nor oppressed/oppressor (slaves and free), because all these categories will wholly disappear in the resurrection. All are equally saved, dignified, and entitled to the same privileges, without favoritism about their birth. Paul even goes so far as to mention the gender binary system as just one more division of insider/other and oppressor/oppressed. The gender binary is mentioned here as something that is harmful, un-Christian, and is being abolished in Christ.

This passage is relevant to nonbinary people, because they identify outside of the gender binary. It's also relevant to all LGBT people, who are treated differently due to how they all relate differently to the gender binary than most, whether by crossing it (in the case of binary transgender people) or loving on the same side of it (in the case of lesbian, gay, and bisexual people).

Kate Bornstein in 2010.

One nonbinary author, Kate Bornstein (b. 1948), reflected on this particular Biblical passage, and what it signifies for marginalized youth who find themselves victimized by bigoted religious movements:

"You can't just dismiss an entire movement or religion simply because part of it is a little batty when it comes to people like you. Part of you is a little batty when it comes to someone else. Yes, it can be more than a little intimidating to find yourself and people like you being railed against in some religious text. If some harmless joy of yours is forbidden or sneered at in some scripture, you can safely assume that the scripture wasn't written for people like you, and you are under no obligation to subscribe to it. Instead, go find yourself some scripture that you do agree with, and quote it for your own purposes. Look at the quote in this illustration [which is Galatians 3:28]. The Bible says there's no such thing as male or female. I love that. You can find something like that for yourself.

"Do-it-yourself scripture finding: Study scripture and write down all the quotes that support who and what you are in the world, and what you believe in. Use them to make zines, stickers, and posters to your heart's delight."

- Kate Bornstein, Hello, Cruel World, P. 213-214.[8]

In the above, Bornstein found the Galatians passage as an example of a part of the Bible that felt affirming to them as a nonbinary individual, even in context with the awareness that other parts of the Bible had been used against LGBT people such as themself.


Eunuchs in the Bible[edit | edit source]

Biblical passages about eunuchs are relevant to nonbinary people, because some nonbinary people have a physical transition that resembles that of a eunuch. In the Bible, "eunuch" can mean many different kinds of people, not just a man who was castrated. Some scholars believe that in many ancient cultures, "eunuch" was often an umbrella term for people who were intersex, sterile, gay, a "third gender", or otherwise queer. Because of this, any ancient writings about eunuchs can be relevant to LGBT people.

The Bible never condemns anyone for being a eunuch, nor says that becoming a eunuch is a sin, even though being a eunuch made a person subject to Jewish ritual purity laws distinct from those of other men and women (see in the commentary about Isaiah 56:3-5 below).

Jesus speaks of eunuchs[edit | edit source]

In the book of Matthew, Jesus Christ himself gives a list of definitions of different kinds of eunuchs:

"For there are some eunuchs, which were so born from their mother's womb: and there are some eunuchs, which were made eunuchs of men: and there be eunuchs, which have made themselves eunuchs for the kingdom of heaven's sake. He that is able to receive it, let him receive it." - Matthew 19:12 (King James Version)

In context, Jesus had just been speaking to the Pharisee sect, who were asking him trick questions about marriage. After this conversation, Jesus's disciples asked Jesus if it might be better not to marry, in order to avoid trouble. Jesus answered with the above, giving a few reasons why people stay celibate, don't marry, and/or don't have children. In Matt 19:12, it's clear that "eunuch" (εὐνοῦχοι eunouchoi) can mean these things, too.

  1. The first kind of eunuch listed in Matt 19:12, "eunuchs, born so from their mother's womb," means someone who doesn't have children due to being intersex, sterile, gay, or otherwise queer, or who simply prefers by nature to be single.
  2. The second kind of eunuch, "made eunuchs by men," seems to suggest someone who has been castrated, potentially including those who voluntarily chose to be castrated.
  3. The third kind of eunuch, "eunuchs who have made themselves eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom of heaven," may refer to people who choose to be celibate for religious reasons. It may also refer to the Essenes, a sect of the Jews who chose not to marry or have children, but only to adopt.
  4. At the end of the passage, which in versions such as the James Murdock New Testament rendered as "He that can be contented let him be contented," Jesus indicates that all these kinds of eunuchs are all just as acceptable as marriage, not better or worse. Jesus doesn't condemn any of these. Jesus tells his disciples that just as marrying and having children isn't for everyone, being single isn't the best solution for everyone, either, so "do what is right for you."

The early Christian ascetic, Origen of Alexandria (c. 184 - c. 253 CE), is popularly believed to have become a eunuch "for the sake of the kingdom of heaven," as his response to Matthew 19:12. The later Christian historian, Eusebius (c. 260 - c. 340), claims that Origen secretly went to a physician and paid him to surgically castrate him. Afterward, Eusebius says, Origen privately told Demetrius, the bishop of Alexandria, about the castration and that Demetrius initially praised him for his devotion to God on account of it. However, none of Origen's surviving writings say that he was a eunuch. Origen's surviving writings even argue that Matthew 19:12 shouldn't be taken as a reason for literal castration.[9] It is fairly safe to conclude that Origen was probably neither a eunuch nor gender-variant.

Photos of two followers of the White Dove movement. Left: One with the "Greater Seal" (genital nullification), circa 1875. Right: One who had a mastectomy, photographed between 1815 and 1944.

Other Christians have believed that in this passage, Jesus did recommend being a eunuch for spiritual reasons. One such Christian sect originated in Russia in the 1760s.[10] Followers of this movement called themselves White Doves (белые голуби), though outsiders called them Skoptsy (скопцы "castrate"). The White Doves included those who were assigned female at birth as well as male, and a minority of them practiced voluntary castration (depending on the individual, including emasculation, orchiectomy, and sometimes genital nullification), as well as mastectomy. They did this without anesthetic.[11] They believed Original Sin had come into the world by the first coitus between Adam and Eve. They believed that human genitals were the mark of Original Sin: that after the expulsion from the Garden of Eden, Adam and Eve had the halves of the forbidden fruit grafted onto their bodies, forming testicles and breasts. They believed that Jesus had been a castrate, and that his example had been followed by the apostles and the early Christian saints. This was because they believed the removal of the sexual organs restored a follower to the pristine state before the Original Sin. In the White Dove interpretation of the passage Matthew 19:12, especially together with Matthew 18:8–9: (reading in part, "if thy hand ... offend thee, cut them off"), they believed these body modifications were important for rejecting sin.[12] The White Doves endured centuries of social ridicule and governmental persecution. Despite suffering this, and even though they had no children, record of their presence continues throughout the 19th and 20th centuries, even to 1999.[13][14][15] Available English-language sources don't describe whether the White Doves are gender-variant or transgender. However, the fact that hundreds of them voluntarily chose castration and mastectomy suggests that at least some of them may have sought this solution due to gender dysphoria. Their spiritual beliefs describing such extreme alienation from their sexual characteristics may also suggest some degree of gender dysphoria.

God blesses eunuchs[edit | edit source]

In the book of Isaiah, which was uttered by the prophet Isaiah (or his followers) around 681 BC, God specifically blesses eunuchs:

"Don't let foreigners who commit themselves to the LORD say 'The LORD will never let me be a part of His people.' And don't let the eunuchs say, 'I'm a dried-up tree with no children and no future.' For this is what the LORD says: I will bless those eunuchs who keep My Sabbath days holy and who choose to do what pleases Me and commit their lives to Me. I will give them-- within the walls of My house-- a memorial and a name far greater than sons and daughters could give. For the name I give them is an everlasting one. It will never disappear!'" - Isaiah 56:3-5 (New Living Translation)

In context, the above passage was part of God granting blessings for all nations. He goes on to say that foreigners are welcome and blessed, and grants a special blessing to eunuchs. Even though eunuchs were barred from entering the Hebrew congregation and priesthood for ritual purity reasons (Deuteronomy 23:1, Leviticus 21:20), which may give the impression that eunuchs are outcasts, God explains that He still values eunuchs, and they will have a spiritual legacy. There is no condemnation of the eunuch in this.

Baptism of the eunuch[edit | edit source]

The Baptism of the Eunuch, depicting Acts 38. Painting by Rembrandt van Rijn, 1626 CE.

In the book of Acts, which was written by Luke between AD 63 and 70, Philip baptizes a eunuch:

"As for Philip, an angel of the Lord said to him, 'Go south down the desert road that runs from Jerusalem to Gaza.' So he [Philip] started out, and he met the treasurer of Ethiopia, a eunuch of great authority under the Kandake, the queen of Ethiopia. The eunuch had gone to Jerusalem to worship and he was now returning. Seated in his carriage, he was reading aloud from the book of the prophet Isaiah. The Holy Spirit said to Philip, 'Go over and walk along beside the carriage.' [...] The passage of Scripture he had been reading was this: 'He was led like a sheep to the slaughter. And as a lamb is silent before the shearers, he did not open his mouth. He was humiliated and received no justice. Who can speak of his descendants? For his life was taken from the earth.' The eunuch asked Philip, 'Tell me, was the prophet talking about himself or someone else?' So beginning with this same Scripture, Philip told him the Good News about Jesus. As they rode along, they came to some water, and the eunuch said, 'Look! There's some water! Why can't I be baptized?' He ordered the carriage to stop, and they went down into the water, and Philip baptized him." - Acts 8:26-29, 32-38 (New Living Translation)

In the story partly excerpted above, divine messages lead Philip to a chance meeting with an official, a spiritual seeker who enthusiastically converts. In Greek, "eunuch" can also mean one who holds an important office, such as lord chamberlain, because many people in court were required to be, or who started in humbler statuses looking after noblewomen. While there is room to question whether the treasurer was literally a eunuch, it seems likely that he was, because Luke tells us that the treasurer was reading a passage about the Messiah having no descendants (Isaiah 53:7-8, Greek version). Some scholars also think it's possible that the treasurer was a eunuch in the sense of being gay or otherwise queer, so that he would have no descendants.

Without regard to the limitations placed on eunuchs in Judaic law which bars them from entering the congregation and priesthood for ritual purity reasons (Deuteronomy 23:1 and Leviticus 21:20), Philip baptizes the eunuch, as an expression not only of Christianity releasing Judaic taboos and laws, but also of Christianity welcoming all who wish to join it, even those who would be barred from full participation in other religions. Nothing in this story suggests that the treasurer is treated as less for being a eunuch, nor is he asked to stop being a eunuch in order to convert to Christianity.

Christ had released Christians from the letter of Judaic law (Matthew 5:17; Romans 7:1-7; Galatians 3:25), and Christ also released Christians from considering some people to be ritually unclean. Peter had had a vision three times in which God told him to eat non-kosher meats (Acts 11-17), which Peter had interpreted to mean God telling him not to call any person common or unclean (Acts 10:28), so Peter had started to baptize gentiles (Acts 10:45-48).

This Bible story about a eunuch is relevant to Christian nonbinary people, in that it shows that people who have a gender/sex outside of the binary are welcome in Christianity just as they are. Having an unusual gender/sex is not a sin, and is not something that they need to give up in order to be Christian.

Gender variant figures in Christianity[edit | edit source]

In addition to the above list of gender variant figures held in common between Christianity and Judaism, some figures are distinct to Christianity, or are distinctly seen as gender variant in Christianity.

God in Christianity[edit | edit source]

In this stained glass window in Catholic parish church St. Patricius (Eitorf), the hand of God guides the Holy Ghost in its descent to Earth.

Individual Christian sects can interpret the God of Abraham in different ways. God is often thought of as a male patriarch. However, there is also a long history of seeing God as partly or entirely other than female or male, or as both. Jehovah's wife and/or female aspect is Shekinah.[5]

Some Christian sects have called God by the title Father-Mother. For example, one Christian sect, Christian Science, has referred to Father-Mother God by Mary Baker Eddy since she established that sect in 1879. "Father-Mother God" is also the epithet used in a children's bedtime prayer in Christian Science, as written by Eddy.[16]

The Holy Ghost[edit | edit source]

Many Christian sects believe in God as a trinity, having three parts: God, Jesus Christ, and the Holy Ghost. The Holy Ghost is an abstract entity depicted as a dove that flew down to be born as Jesus, and it is said to be neither male nor female. In other words, one aspect of God, the Holy Ghost, is outside of the gender binary, and is nonbinary.

Prince performing at Coachella 2008.

That the Holy Ghost is outside the gender binary is well-known in Christian popular culture today. For example, the song "I Would Die 4 U" by the musician Prince (1958 - 2016) has these lyrics:

"I'm not a woman

I'm not a man

I am something that you'll never understand [...]

I'm your messiah [...]

I'm not a human

I am a dove" - Prince, "I Would Die 4 U," The Revolution

In the above, the lyrics first seem to be a love song from the perspective of a person outside the gender binary, and might be assumed to refer to Prince's own androgynous expression. However, as the song goes on, the lyrics become clear that they written from the perspective of the Holy Ghost, and perhaps the trinity of God in general. In the song, the Holy Ghost (and/or other parts of the trinity) explains what it is and isn't, in the context of expressing both its ineffability and the sincerity of its love for humanity, for which it would give its life. This pop song shows that seeing the Holy Ghost as a nonbinary entity is not an obscure interpretation favored in only some sects, but is familiar to modern Christians.

Angels in Christianity[edit | edit source]

Three Archangels and Tobias, painting from 1467 by Francesco Di Giovanni Botticini, of a scene from the deuterocanonical, apochryphal Book of Tobit. From left: Michael, Raphael, Tobias, and Gabriel.

Angels are traditionally described with masculine language, and their names are more often given to masculine people. However, Christianity has traditionally held that all angels are neither male nor female. The reasoning for this is because God created all the angels, so they don't need to reproduce. They are spiritual beings, without the limits of physical bodies. God created Angels as perfectly whole combinations of masculine and feminine characteristics.[17][18] Another reason for thinking of angels as genderless is a quotation from Jesus, which has sometimes been taken as mentioning the gender of angels:

"For in the resurrection they neither marry, nor are given in marriage, but are as the angels of God in heaven." - Matthew 22:30 (King James Version)

In context, this was part of Jesus's explanation to a crowd of people about what will happen to men and women in the resurrection. This passage says that angels don't marry, which is generally agreed to imply that angels don't reproduce. Traditionally, Christianity has taken this passage as further implying that all spiritual beings are genderless, even angels and resurrected humans. One reason why Christians have thought resurrected humans might be androgynous is because then they would have returned to being complete, a combination of masculine and feminine characteristics, as the Primal Androgyne, Adam, was originally created male and female in God's image (in Genesis 1:27), before Adam was split.[19][5]

Although it is possible that this passage was intended to imply something about becoming genderless or androgynous, Bible commentaries such as the Expositor's Greek Testament point out that this passage doesn't specifically imply that resurrected humans will become genderless or androgynous.[20]

Christian denominations that officially hold the view that all angels are nonbinary include the Catholic church.[17]

Gender nonconforming Christian saints[edit | edit source]

Equestrian statue of Jeanne d'Arc by Paul Dubois (Reims). 1896.

Several Christian saints were gender-variant. Several were people who were assigned female at birth and lived as men, which made it possible for them to do things that their societies saw as only for men to do, such as being priests or warriors. As with many gender variant historical figures, it's open to interpretation whether they were passing as men for practicality, or if they were transgender men, or something else. Even though the book of Deuteronomy condemned cross-dressing, and medieval Christianity penalized that act, the Church nonetheless canonized as many as twenty-five saints who are known to have cross-dressed or been gender-variant.[21] A list of some gender-variant saints, in alphabetical order:

  • Saint Anastasia was assigned female at birth, and lived as a man.[21]
  • Saint Apollinaris (also called Saint Appollinaria). A monk who was assigned female at birth, and lived as a man.[22][21]
  • Saint Athanasia (also called Saint Alexandria) was assigned female at birth, and lived as a man.[21]
  • Saint Eugene (also called Eugenia) was a priest who was assigned female at birth, and lived as a man.[21]
  • Saint Euphrosyne was assigned female at birth, and lived as a man.[21]
  • Saint Galla was a woman with a full beard.[21]
  • Saint Joan of Arc (Jeanne D'Arc, or Jehanne) (c. 1412 - 1431) led an army of French peasants against the English during the Hundred Years War. Although she exclusively chose to wear masculine dress and hairstyle, this was not a disguise, and she made no secret that she was assigned female at birth. She told her ally, Prince Charles, that God had commanded her to dress in this way. Charles stood by her side, until after her victory, she was captured by the Burgundians, who called her homasse ("man-woman"). The French nobility betrayed her by offering no ransom for her, so she was sold to the English. Henry VI, the King of England, referred to Deuteronomy 22:5 as a reason for the Inquisitors of the Church to condemn her. Initially the Inquisitors tried her for witchcraft, but dropped that charge due to lack of evidence, and condemned her for cross-dressing instead. Her judges claimed they gave her the choice to either give up cross-dressing, to face a sentence of life in prison on bread and water, or to be executed if she again wore men's clothing. She chose men's clothing of her free will. The court records show that cross-dressing, based on Deuteronomy 22:5, was the actual charge for which she was burned alive at the stake. In hir history book, Transgender Warriors, the genderqueer activist Leslie Feinberg (1949 - 2014) argues that the historical evidence shows that this saint was not just a warrior woman who took up armor for practicality, but was genuinely transgender, and the court documents about her refer to local peasants' beliefs that her gender variance was sacred in and of itself, which was part of why the Catholic Church saw her as so threatening to its power.[7] Joan was popularly accepted as a saint for centuries, until finally being canonized in 1920. Saint Joan is patron of France, martyrs, captives, prisoners, soldiers, military personnel, and people ridiculed for their piety.
  • Saint Joseph (Hildegund) was assigned female at birth, and lived as a man.[21]
  • Saint Margarita was assigned female at birth, and lived as a man.[21]
  • Saint Marinus (also called Maria, Marina, or Marius) was a priest who was assigned female at birth, and lived as a man. German scholar Herman Usener (1834 - 1905) pointed out that since Marina was also a name of Aphrodite, so this saint may have represented survival of the pre-Christian tradition of religious cross-dressing in honor of the goddess Aphrodite of Cyprus.[21]
  • Saint Matrona was assigned female at birth, and lived as a man.[21]
  • Saint Paula was a woman with a full beard.[21]
  • Saint Papula was assigned female at birth, and lived as a man.[21]
  • Saint Pelagia was assigned female at birth, and lived as a man. Later, the scholar Herman Usener pointed out that Pelagia was also a name of Aphrodite, which is significant for the aforementioned reasons.[21]
  • Saint Theodora was assigned female at birth, and lived as a man.[21]
Saint Wilgefortis is often shown as with one shoe off, and a fiddler. Legend says a silver shoe miraculously fell from her statue to help this poor pilgrim.
  • Saint Wilgefortis (also called Saint Uncumber, Saint Librata, or other names) was a woman with a full beard.[21] She's thought not to be a historical figure, but a folklore figure. She had prayed to make herself unappealing to a pagan Portuguese king who wanted to marry her, and her prayer was answered by the miraculous growth of her beard. In retaliation, the pagan crucified her. Saint Wilgefortis is the patron of women who wish to be freed from abusive husbands.

Leslie Feinberg reflects on the reasons why so many saints on the female-to-male transgender spectrum in particular were canonized, even though the medieval Church specifically condemned female-to-male crossdressing in its contemporary laws:

"I think the Church fathers may have canonized a constellation of female-to-male trans saints because they [the Church fathers] were forced to compete with the old religion still popularly embraced by the peasants. [...] I believe the clerics tried to co-opt popular images of transgender, but with a twist-- these female-to-male saints were remarkably pious. Trans images that drew the devotion of peasants to the religion of the owning class would have been valuable in recruitment.

"Several of these saints paid dearly for their renunciation of their birth sex, and all of them had to keep their change of sex secret. In cooperative societies, transgender, transsexual, and intersexual people lived openly, with honor. But in a class-divided society like medieval Western Europe, the Church's legends of the female-to-male saints introduced the concept of 'passing'-- being forced to hide a trans identity.

"There are no known Christian male-to-female saints. Throughout the Middle Ages, this expression was only officially permitted during carnivals and festivals, when the laws of the land were temporarily lifted. Otherwise, male-to-female transgender and cross-dressing were stigmatized by the Church as witchcraft."

- Leslie Feinberg, Transgender Warriors, page 70.[23]

Feinberg posits that the medieval Church conceded to acknowledge the validity and spirituality of only a selection of transgender saints that the Church thought were politically useful to its goals of recruiting people into a feudal class system. It chose to canonize very pious saints who were on the female-to-male spectrum, but generally erased those whose spirituality was associated with the male-to-female spectrum.

See also[edit | edit source]

External links[edit | edit source]

References[edit | edit source]

  1. Conner, Sparks, and Sparks. Cassell's Encyclopedia of queer myth, symbol, and spirit, covering gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender lore. 1997. P. 39.
  2. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bible
  3. "Transgender." Hope Remains. http://hoperemainsonline.com/Transgender
  4. Norman Solomon, The Talmud: A selection, p. 271.
  5. 5.0 5.1 5.2 Charles Kassel. "Androgynous man in myth and tradition." The Open Court, vol. 18. Chicago: The Open Court Publishing Co., 1904. Page 525-530. Accessed May 2, 2019 via Google Books. https://books.google.com/books?id=VYtGAQAAMAAJ&pg=PA525#v=
  6. Shannon Kearns, "Transgender and Christian?" Queer Theology. Retrieved April 30, 2019. https://www.queertheology.com/transgender-christian
  7. 7.0 7.1 Leslie Feinberg, Transgender Warriors: Making history from Joan of Arc to RuPaul. Beacon: Boston, Massachusetts. 1996. P. 31-37.
  8. Kate Bornstein, Hello, Cruel World: 101 alternatives to suicide for teens, freaks, and other outlaws. Seven Stories: New York, 2006. P. 213-214.
  9. John Anthony McGuckin. The Westminster Handbook to Origen. Louisville, Kentucky: Westminster John Knox Press. 2004. P. 6. ISBN 978-0-664-22472-1
  10. Селиванов, Кондратий Энциклопедический словарь Брокгауза и Ефрона (1890—1907).
  11. Karl R. H. Frick. Licht und Finsternis. Gnostisch-theosophische und freimaurerisch-okkulte Geheimgesellschaften bis zur Wende des 20. Jahrhunderts, vol. 2; Marix Verlag, Wiesbaden 2005; ISBN 3-86539-044-7
  12. Chisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). "Skoptsi". Encyclopædia Britannica (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press.
  13. Александр Кампов, Секты и сектантская идеология в России.
  14. Lane, Christel (1978). Christian Religion in the Soviet Union: a Sociological Study (Google Books). Albany, N.Y.: SUNY Press. pp. 94–95. ISBN 0-87395-327-4. Retrieved 2007-12-19.
  15. Кон. ГАЙВОРОНСКИЙ, Скопский хутор "СМ", Riga, 22 August 1999.
  16. "Father-Mother God." BibleTexts.com Retrieved May 10, 2019. http://bibletexts.com/terms/father-mother-god.htm
  17. 17.0 17.1 Catholic Answers staff, "Can angels be male or female?" Catholic Answers. August 4, 2011. Accessed May 2, 2019. https://www.catholic.com/qa/can-angels-be-male-or-female
  18. Evelyn Dorothy Oliver, "Angels A to Z." Page 156. Accessed via Google Books: https://books.google.com/books?id=56B7fmmlt6QC&lpg=PA156&dq=angels%20male%20female&pg=PA156#v=onepage&q=male%20female&f=false
  19. Content warning for description of physical and sexual violence in recent history. Rev. Dave Barnhart. "Angels of indeterminate gender in Genesis 19." Reconciling Ministries Network. March 10, 2015. Retrieved May 2, 2019. https://rmnetwork.org/genesis19/
  20. https://www.biblehub.com/commentaries/matthew/22-30.htm
  21. 21.00 21.01 21.02 21.03 21.04 21.05 21.06 21.07 21.08 21.09 21.10 21.11 21.12 21.13 21.14 21.15 Leslie Feinberg, Transgender Warriors: Making history from Joan of Arc to RuPaul. Beacon: Boston, Massachusetts. 1996. P. 68-69.
  22. Conner, Sparks, and Sparks. Cassell's Encyclopedia of queer myth, symbol, and spirit, covering gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender lore. 1997. P. 65.
  23. Leslie Feinberg, Transgender Warriors: Making history from Joan of Arc to RuPaul. Beacon: Boston, Massachusetts. 1996. P. 70.

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