There are many places one could start a trans approach to biblical materials. Based upon what I’m seeing in various online support groups, Twitter, and the like, “In the Image of God” (Gen. 1:27) seems popular – and is indeed important.
But I think I would like to develop my trans touch to the biblical materials by beginning where the Bible begins (whether Jewish, Catholic, Protestant, or Orthodox), with the Spirit hovering over the waters. The liquid, fluid, mercurial, and ultimately flaming spirit resonates so strongly with me. I grew up Pentecostal. I can readily dispense with many doctrines I grew up with, but I could not “grieve the spirit.” While the Pentecostals I grew up with may not understand this on an intellectual level – but maybe on a visceral level – I find in the spirit a reflection of my own self as a trans woman. The spirit blows wherever she wants to (John 3:8).
When I came out to my parents – it was a Thursday in late January of 2022 – my father – a former Pentecostal minister and – told me that I could not feel the [Holy] Spirit if I was suppressing my own spirit. That my Pentecostal father could support his child transitioning to become a woman by citing the movement of the spirit and the clear blockage I have felt by staying in the closet was such a profound moment for me. I wonder: was it the spirit who whispered in my ear all those years: “you’re really a girl.” I rejected this calling for so long, but, like Jonah, finally found peace when I accepted myself: “I’m a woman!” (for being trans as a calling, see Tanis, Transgendered; for the Jonah metaphor for trans life, see Ladin, Soul of a Stranger).
The spirit is elemental: the word translated as “spirit” also means “wind” and “breath”; she is associated with water; he is cloud; they can also be an animal (dove); she is fire! As you can see, I do not believe so much that the spirit transcends gender, but fluidly glides between genders, or, once we try to encapsulate the spirit in any way (including gender), the spirit eludes our grasp, as does wind, fire, and water.
“Toward that end, key biblical images for the active presence of the Spirit are an important resource. Powerful natural forces like blowing wind, flowing water, and blazing fire expand the notion of divine presence beyond analogy with a human person. None of these forces has a definite, stable shape. They can surround and pervade other things without losing their own character; their presence is known by the changes they bring about.”Elizabeth Johnson, Ask the Beasts, 134.
After this introductory post, I want to begin with two moments in the bible, and then spiral out from there. While most Pentecostals look to Acts 2 and 1 Corinthians 12 & 14 for their inspiration, I prefer John 3 and Genesis 1. But let’s take them all into account and not stop there, because the spirit keeps blowing.