Mollenkott & Tanis

It makes sense to talk about Virginia Ramey Mollenkott’s Omnigendered and Justin Tanis’s Trans-Gendered together. They are both largely theologically inflected books written about biblical and communal resources for trans people in Christianity. They were published two years apart (2001 and 2003) by the same press (Pilgrim Press in Cleveland).

While they discuss theology and liturgy and communal issues – as well as introducing trans issues to a Christian audience roughly 20 years ago when such issues were not as public as they are now – I would like to focus on their biblical materials.

Mollenkott – though a Bible scholar – spends fairly little time on the Bible and more on how the gender binary does a disservice not only to gender variant people, but also cis people, limiting their expression. She calls for an omnigendered, gender-fluid society.

Mollenkott discusses the following biblical passages or themes in connection with biblical passages:

  1. The “texts of terror” for trans and gender non-conforming people: Genesis 1-2 (88-95), the biblical prohibition against cross-dressing (Deut. 22:5; 95-97); is Deut. 23:1 a prohibition against genital surgery? (118-122).
  2. Positive possibilities: were Abraham and Sarah intersex before God intervened (and brings up Ruth & Naomi as well as David & Jonathan as homoerotic relationships; see 100-103). Jesus as chromosomally female and phenotypically male (105-107); positive portrayal of eunuchs & same-sex couples in NT (108-110) and some generically potentially trans positive imagery in NT (110-114; also perhaps 118-122).

Unfortunately, Genesis 1-2 is often thrown into the faces of those who are not cishet. Mollenkott does a good job here of showing how shallow some of these critiques are and other possibilities. The positive examples of an intersex Abraham & Sarah or the chromosomally female/phenotypically male Jesus are a bit more of a stretch. Of course, eunuchs become an important discussion of gender variant people – and Jesus recognized at least three kinds of “eunuchs” – those from birth, those made eunuchs by others, and those who become eunuchs (voluntarily?) for the sake of the kingdom of heaven!

Justin Tanis, who is a trans man, published his book just two years later, and is in part in conversation with Mollenkott. Tanis’s book is ministerially and liturgically focused, but he also includes extensive discussion of biblical materials. He focuses on the following in canonical order (Protestant Canon):

  1. Genesis 1:26-28a (Humans made male & female in the image of God)
  2. Gen. 2:4b-9, 18-24 (creation of the first humans – with an emphasis on the purpose of creation of a companion to stave off loneliness)
  3. Deut. 22:5 (prohibition against cross-dressing)
  4. Deut. 23:1 (prohibition against crushed testicles or those who have their penis removed to enter the assembly)
  5. Is. 56:1-5 (a passage that includes eunuchs in the community)
  6. Matt. 19:11-12 (those who are born eunuchs, are made eunuchs by others, who become eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom)
  7. Acts 8:25-39 (Philip the Ethiopian eunuch as the first convert – inclusion of gender variant people right at the beginning of the Christian movement).
  8. Gal. 3:28 (no male and female – all are one in Christ)

Galatians 3:28 has become an important passage for feminist, queer, and now trans readings of the Bible. It could be read to erase gender roles or even gender altogether.

Both books spend a great deal of time on the “texts of terror” (Genesis 1-2; Deut. 22-23), placing them into context and trying to recover them. There is also a great deal of focus on the gender variant category of the ancient world – eunuchs – who can be excluded (Deut. 23:1) or included (Is. 56:1-5; Matt. 19:11-12; Acts 8:25-39).

I think the image of god materials are important to review and consider the range of interpretations – including ancient ones that assumed the original human was both male and female at the same time that into dialogue with and transphilic usages of the concept.

I also think, though, we need to think beyond the “eunuch” figure for trans-positive images and passages that can resonate for a transgender life.

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