Outing the Bible 

The new queer theologians don't need your approval.

Page 6 of 8

As the author of Transgendered: Theology, Ministry, and Communities of Faith, Tanis now stands at the forefront of a small but growing community of transgender people who are entering the ministry. The Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley is home to several such seminarians. There is also a UCC congregation in San Francisco that has not only a large number of transgenderists, but even its own transgender choir. And if conservative members of the Episcopal Church couldn't abide the ordination as a bishop of Gene Robinson, a white man in a long-term relationship, one can only imagine their response to transgender candidates for the priesthood. "They'll have a little stroke and fall over and die," was how Johnson imagined it.

Although Tanis lives in Los Angeles, he often speaks in the Bay Area. Like many queer Christian thinkers, he has little patience for justifying his place in the church. But, then, transgender folk have a few more hurdles to clear than the typical queer Christian, if indeed such a person exists.

First off, there's this whole business of being somewhere between male and female. Genesis doesn't leave much wiggle room: God created Adam and Eve, right?

"God actually didn't originally create Adam and Eve," Tanis argued. "God created one being that became two beings, so you could argue that God's original plan was for one gender, and we messed it up."

In his book, Tanis writes that the original Hebrew meaning of Adam is the genderless earth creature. "It wasn't intended to mean a biological male," Tanis said. "Adam is too lonely to live on his/her/its own and required God to make another being to keep Adam company. So the root of our genderedness arises in our need for companionship. But that's not the same as saying God only intended for there to be two genders."

And if one reads the Bible closely, Tanis argues, Christians should be the first to embrace people who are neither male nor female, but exist somewhere else along the gender continuum. Consider the eunuchs, whom many transgenderists look to as their biblical forerunners. Without working genitals, eunuchs were certainly not men, but they weren't women either.

"There are eunuchs who have been so from birth, and there are eunuchs who have been made eunuchs by others, and there are eunuchs who have made themselves eunuchs for the kingdom of heaven," Jesus said in the Gospel according to Matthew. "Let anyone accept this who can."

As with queers who view their own coming-out as a religious experience, Tanis' transition from female to male served only to reinforce his own faith. "Perhaps God created me as trans because I was spiritually intended to grow up as a girl child and experience what that means and then experience life as a man," he said. "What if that is my spiritual path? Jesus' level of acceptance models for us how we might deal with people who have gender differences."

But the idea of transgenderists in the church meets resistance even within the small community of queer theologians. With gay rights activists stressing the emerging evidence that suggests a fixed biological basis for sexual orientation, the idea of people sliding up and down the gender scale seems to contradict that very idea.

"There's a lot about it that really does short-circuit my brain and scramble my thinking," Johnson admitted when asked about the subject. "I think that it's a good thing. It keeps us on our toes. But I do have a hard time wrapping my head around some of this stuff."

Even within the transgender religious community, there are those who don't believe transgenderists belong in the church. One of them is Gabriel Hermelin, who came to Starr King, the Unitarian Universalist seminary within the Graduate Theological Union. Hermelin entered the seminary to grapple with Christian faith. Eighteen months later, Hermelin is now a self-professed "nontheist."

"It doesn't matter to me whether ... there's proof that the eunuch of yesterday is the transsexual, or transgender of today," Hermelin said during an interview in the school's wood-lined cafeteria. "I think that we'll find whatever we want to find. Each marginalized group tries to bolster or justify their position using the same thing that's used against them."

Hermelin was born female and looks like a woman today. She wears her brown hair short, and dresses casually in leather sandals, shorts, and flannel shirts. But it's her eyes that one remembers. Clear blue, the irises ringed by golden flecks, they bear all the intensity of a mystic. Hermelin has never undergone surgery and has no plans to; nonetheless she considers herself transgender, somewhere outside traditional distinctions of male and female.


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