Everywhere you look, Christians seem to be taking a stand against transgender people.
A funeral director in Michigan recently won a court fight by claiming his Christian beliefs would not allow him to employ a transgender person. When Target said it would allow its customers to use the bathroom that matches their gender identity, protesters shouted and walked through some of the retailer’s stores holding up Bibles. When parents published a Washington Post essay about their happy transgender 5-year-old recently, a reader wrote, “As a Christian this deeply disturbs me!”
What’s behind this animus toward transgender people in the Christian community? As I see it, it’s not the Bible.
There is not a single verse in scripture that discusses transgender identities. Yet these Christians have decided that trans identities are sinful, mostly through their lack of understanding of what being trans means.
Let’s look at that Michigan funeral home case as an example. According to the federal judge’s decision, the funeral director believed “the Bible teaches that it is wrong for a biological male to deny his sex by dressing as a woman.” The transgender woman’s gender identity created a “substantial burden” on the funeral director practicing his own religion.
When the funeral director says his beliefs come from the Bible, he seems to be referring to Deuteronomy 22:5, which says, “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.”
That verse talks about cross-dressing. It is clear that the funeral director does not understand what it is to be transgender. Being trans is not cross-dressing. It is embodying a gender that does not align with the one that was given at birth.
To use this verse to condemn transgender identities requires ignorance of transgender identities and laziness in interpretation.
In the absence of any verses in scripture that actually address transgender identities, many Christians who claim to have religious objections against trans identities point to creation: God created Adam and Eve, male and female. But again, this requires a certain laziness in interpretation and is not consistent with the way that Christians interpret the rest of the Genesis account.
Genesis 1:27 says: “So God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.” It’s this interpretation of “and” between male and female that creates a foundation for understanding gender to be binary. But the “and” isn’t meant to be binary.
Genesis 1:1 says: “God created the heavens and the earth.” In reading this verse, Christians interpret that God created not just the sky and the ground but everything in between. The “and” encompasses a spectrum by pointing to the two ends of the spectrum. Similarly, scripture says God is the “alpha and omega,” the first and last letters of the Greek alphabet. That’s not meant to say God is just those two letters. God is the entire alphabet, from alpha to omega and everything in between. As Alan Hooker and others have noted, Christians acknowledge throughout scripture that “and” represents a spectrum, not a binary.
An anti-trans understanding of the Genesis story also lacks context. Gender and sex are different things. They don’t always align, and neither is binary. The biological reality of intersex individuals is a testament to that. The biological and psychological reality of transgender and intersex individuals needs to be the context in which Christians read scripture.
After losing the marriage equality fight, the religious right has turned to fighting against LGBT civil rights in the court system, in the form of religious freedom lawsuits. In consequence, religious freedom has become synonymous with anti-LGBT beliefs, instead of advocacy of religious minorities to practice their beliefs without government interference.
This erosion of the concept of religious freedom is particularly concerning when individuals claim religious freedom to discriminate against LGBT people, while lacking even a strong theological backing. Religious freedom must defend true belief – not bias or hatred that’s found nowhere in our holy texts.
Eliel Cruz, a bisexual Christian writer, is the executive director of Faith in America.
This post has been updated.