(Trigger warning: Explicit discussion of genitalia, hate speech, and sacred language.)
Our feet are still dusty from the Jerusalem Road. The palms that waved excitedly only hours ago now lay limply on the ground. We look around to see what is waiting. An upper room. A denial. A handing over. Our beloved Jesus will become a thing, an Other, an object of ridicule and abuse. We’ll see him nailed to a tree; we’ll journey to the tomb. Dank. Dark. Lonely. All of it awaits. And we who follow in the Jesus Way tread upon well-trodden ground.
But this year let us make it different. This year, let us see Holy Week as an opportunity to see the ways in which history is repeating itself. It is significant that this week features International Transgender Day of Visibility. Do we see the trans* persons in our midst? Do we see their struggles? Do we hear how our liturgical language can alienate them, can push them outside of the Beloved Community?
This past weekend I had the honor of both presenting a paper and moderating a panel at the University of Cincinnati’s TRANS Writ Large Conference. I gave a talk based upon a piece I published through mlp.org titled “Why Trans* Rights Should Matter to the Church”. The audience was comprised largely of graduate students and faculty members, each with an expressed interest in advancing Queer Theory within their respective disciplines. I was the only person at the conference coming from a religious perspective, and while I am used to speaking to strangers on matters of religion, I was somewhat nervous. Christians have done so much damage to the LGBTQ community, I made the conscious decision not to wear my clericals; my crucifix rested against my skin but under the cover of my shirt, tie, and waistcoat. The only sign of my over religiosity were the visible tattoos of a large Celtic cross on my right arm and two massive Jesus fish on my left. I knew that in order to help produce a sage(er) space, I needed to be aware of how important it is acknowledge privilege–gender, racial, religious–and to minimize triggers.
I began my explication of Genesis 1 and 2, pointing out the salient differences: Genesis 1 features male and female being made simultaneously by Elohim, a God that is both singular and plural, male and female. I argued that the creation of male and female is not definitive in that there is only male and female; rather, that these represent poles in between which gender can be expressed. (To be sure, this is not a perfect explanation of gender fluidity, but my desire is to provide a responsible reading of the text that will allow Christians, pastors, and church communities of developing a Biblically coherent approach to trans* inclusion.) I continued by explaining that Genesis 2, which most often is grist for the “Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve” mill contains an interesting detail: the female is made from the rib of the male; in other words, the female comes forth from the male. (In truth, the term adam means “human being,” but in our cultural readings of the mythopoetic, “human being” has become synonymous with genetically sexed and gendered “male.”) Regardless, the myth sets forth a powerful notion: the “male” is contained in the female. If we movedto the story of the Virgin Birth, which features Mary, the theotokus, “God-bearer,” giving birth to a male Jesus without the touch of a man, we see a reversal of Genesis 2; in this myth, the male comes forth from the female. This, to me, seems a powerful statement: male and female exist within each other, actualizing themselves in different ways, but as equally part of God’s divine plan.
In my last article, linked above, I emphasized Galatians 3:26-28, which sets forth the idea that we are one in Christ Jesus. I still stand by this exegesis, but at the conference I took it a step further. I asked what is lost or gained if we begin to think about Jesus Christ with a vagina. I know that this is shocking; some may say sacrilegious. But in this #holyweekofresistance let us in the Church be resistant readers. What difference would it make if we pictured Jesus with an alternate set of genitalia? Would his work in the world and on the cross be less perfect? His sacrifice any less profound or significant? If we picture Jesus with a vagina, will we begin a more serious and deliberate conversation about how gender and sex assignment are not the same? Might we have an attempt to learn more about the differences between intersex and transgender persons? Might we be more honest about what makes us uncomfortable? Might we understand that some women have testes, and they are born that way? That some men have vaginas, and they are born that way? Might we understand the violence and oppression that has been perpetrated in the name of science against intersex and trans* persons? And that much of this has resulted from limited readings of Scripture to label such persons as “Other”?
For many Christians such as myself, one of the most significant things about Jesus is that he models for us how to live perfectly as one created in God’s image. Sadly, within the Church, that perfection has been less about actions and more about specific details: being a Caucasian, cis-male. To be sure, as a white male I have no shame about my race, gender, or sex. I understand that historically, Jesus most likely did not look completely like me. He was not Caucasian. He was a cis-male (at least, we culturally assume that he was); but is that important? Do we limit the work of God and Jesus if we make their identities inextricably tied to a specific race, sex, or gender assignment? Further, if we hold onto the idea that Jesus was the result of God implanting Jesus into Mary, at least on the level of the mythopoetic, we return to this notion that the male and female are contained within one another. I firmly believe that both gender and sex identity exist on a spectrum, and that this is supported through a reading of Scripture.
Let us do resistant readings of the texts this week. Let us resist so that we may include. Let us go against the grain because it will allow us to see the kin-dom of God as radically shocking and revolutionarily inviting to those on the periphery. As we gather at the cross, as we await the resurrection, may we put to death the ideas that postulate the “other.” Let us push ourselves to the thin places, to the areas in which we are uncomfortable. In so doing, we will see those who have been left out. We will see the faces, like I did, of students who came up to me with tears in their eyes. Persons created in God’s image who said, I wish there were more Christians like you. Or, Can I come to your church? I see the hope and excitement in them as signs of failure in us within the Body of Christ. Why have we, in the name of Jesus, helped advance feelings of alienation and self-disgust in trans* and intersex persons? Why have we settled into the idea that God is male, God is white, God is cisgender, God is heterosexual? We gain so much, at least in my mind, when we push away the boundaries, when we see God in the eyes of trans* and intersex persons. We who are not need to hear, just as much as do they, that we all are created in God’s image and declared very good. Any claim that we are not requires a resistant reading.