It is always a problem for people who are not “something” to write about that “something”. I am not a transgender person and so I write about this with trepidation. However, I am not writing to explain what it means to be trans. I have no business doing that. But I can enter the conversation as someone with an education in theology and biology. It seems to me that cisgender people need to do some thinking about biology and theology. That’s what I am doing here. Mainly writing for other cisgender folks who may be quick to dismiss or discredit someone who is different citing theological or biological reasons.
As I lurk around on the edges of evangelicalism, (Why I do that is a whole new post) I see an increasing interest in what gets called “transgenderism”. Focus on the Family, and Christianity Today, to name two places are worried about “transgenderism” and about adherence to the biblical view of manhood and womanhood.
Often people go back to Genesis claiming to find clarity there- God created two sexes, male and female. Therefore being trans, or being gay are not part of God’s plan. ( I know I have oversimplified, but this is the argument in a nutshell)
But really, how many ways can we get the story of Adam and Eve wrong? Actually that’s not the question. The question is how many ways can we misuse and even abuse the story of Adam and Eve? The answer, is seems, is endlessly.
(As an aside, using the Bible to deny someone their personhood and their lived experience is also a significant problem.)
The short version of the logic is this, “…he [God] created them , male and female he created them.” (Genesis 1:27) Yes, the Bible says this. The question is why?
It is important to read this partial verse in context. So go ahead and read Genesis one. At the very least read verse 27 in its entirety.
“So God created humankind in his image, in the image of God he created them, male and female he created them.”
The emphasis isn’t on maleness and femaleness as much as it is on being created by God, in God’s image. Stating “male and female” is to emphasize that everyone is created in God’s image. In other words, not just men.
This is an important point. In the ancient world, kings/pharaohs/rulers were understood to be standing for god. They ruled on god’s behalf, with god’s support. Rulers were image bearers. (read more about that here).
After verse 27, humans are given stewardship over the earth. Humans, not only men. This is not a text about God creating only two genders. This is a text that takes on the ancient norms of male domination.
Genesis 1-3 are not about how the world came to be. They are not about the physical, material creation. That is not what the text is concerned about. As modern people, shaped by the times we live in, we may be concerned about how the world was physically created. But the authors and original audience of the text isn’t. Science as we think about it didn’t exist in the ancient world. Genesis 1-3 are concerned about who God is. And who humanity is. And what our relationship to each other is.
Israel lived as a very odd people in the ancient world. They were monotheists in a world of polytheists. They had no kings (for a very long time) in a world filled with kings. The Genesis stories urged Israel to understand ( and act accordingly) that all people are all equal before God.
In the ancient world, to generalize, the gods created the world for themselves. They created people as slaves for themselves. The sacrifices in the temples were to feed the gods so the gods didn’t have to be bothered getting their own food.
Genesis presents a very different view of who God is and why God creates. Genesis wasn’t written to argue for a cisgender heterosexual humanity. That is a modern worry layered onto the text. The text is about the relationship between God and all of humanity. A relationship build on valuing all humans.
This use of “male and female” is similar to Paul’s use of “body, mind, and soul” language. Paul isn’t trying to argue that people are made up of distinct parts- a soul, a body, a mind. Paul is saying all of us, every part of us belongs to God. “Male and Female” is language not to divide us into gendered persons. “Male and female” is inclusive language. All of us – not just some of us (meaning male) are created in God’s image. Defining gender expression and identity was not the point of Genesis 1. These verses in Genesis 1 are about the value of every human- and I believe that includes our transgender siblings.