Omnigender: A Trans-religious Approach, 2001 and 2007

Virginia Mollenkott’s Omnigender: A Trans-religious Approach was the first book on transgender spirituality/theology by a mainstream press. Pilgrim Press (associated with the United Church of Christ) published Omnigender in May 2001.

The Other Side‘s May/June 2001 cluster of articles on transgender concerns was published almost simultaneously. Vanessa Sheridan’s Crossing Over was published a few months later in October 2001 by Pilgrim Press.

Previous relevant books included two self-published books by Vanessa Sheridan (The Cross and the Crossdresser and Cross Purposes) and the Fall 1996 issue of Open Hands. However, none of the earlier publications was widely available to the general public.

Omnigender went on to win the 2002 Lambda Literary Award in the Transgender/Bisexual category. A revised and expanded version was released in November 2007.

I cite Omnigender in several different chapters of OtherWise Christian (chapter 6, 9, 17, 22, 24). In particular, I learned about the Edward Kessel article, “A Proposed Biological Interpretation of the Virgin Birth” (Journal of American Scientific Affiliation, 1983) in Omnigender.

Dr. Mollenkott’s Omnigender is an important bridge between lesbian and gay Christian organizing in the 20th century and what has become of transgender organizing in the 21st century, even if only by the timing of its release.

In addition to being the first widely available book on the topic, Dr. Mollenkott already had a long and well-respected history as a lesbian-feminist Christian author (13 books total), beginning with the classic Is the Homosexual My Neighbor? first published with Letha Scanzoni in 1978. The field of transgender studies was still relatively obscure in 2001 and Dr. Mollenkott lending her credibility to the topic was an important turn.

Meanwhile, Omnigender‘s publication by Pilgrim Press made information about this topic much more widely available in Christian communities, in an age where internet research was less effective (without well worn paths through Google, Facebook, and other social media that would come later) and few transgender religious leaders were widely known.

The revised and updated 2007 version catches up with subsequent developments. Yet the publication of Omnigender (first edition) remains a highly impactful moment in the “transgender spring.”

Dr. Mollenkott is explicit in her effort to move beyond the binary lesbian-feminist approach that she had navigated in all of her previous books. Her effort to think more deeply about the nature of gender includes introductory treatments drawing on the work of Kate Borstein and Gianna Israel. She also does a survey of gender traditions in other cultures.

Dr. Mollenkott’s proposed omnigendered society seeks to build solidarity between a diverse range of modern identities and experiences including intersex, transsexual, crossdresser, gay, lesbian, bisexual, and “otherwise,” (pp. 40-41, first edition) which she collectively calls “transpeople” (similar to Nancy Wilson in Our Tribe, 1995). The strength of Omnigender is also its weakness—working to connect the dots between so many diverse identities, traditions, and understandings.

Reading back from a future movement moment may bring a variety of critiques of her efforts in light of a future where sexuality and gender are treated separately. In recommending Omnigender, I would advise the reader to remember that this was a ground-breaking book published in an age before the internet made basic information about transgender and intersex experiences accessible–and at a time when so-called LGBT Christian organizations and authors had almost entirely overlooked this topic.

Dr. Mollenkott’s legendary Biblical expertise is deployed in chapters 4 and 5 dealing with Christian and Jewish traditions. She explores the Genesis creation narratives, Deuteronomy 22:5 (cross-dressing), Deuteronomy 23:1 (crushed testicles), and traditions around eunuchs, as well as some of the complexities of mysticism and gender in Christian tradition.

MORE RESOURCES: Transgender and the (Christian) Bible

ALSO Transgender Christian (auto)Biographies

ALSO Transgender Christian Oral Histories

Compiled by Mx. Chris Paige in November 2018, reading from the galleys/uncorrected proofs of the first edition (2001). Updated June and July 2019.

Note: This blog is intended to be an on-going work in progress. Please contact us if you have corrections or are able to contribute further context or reflections.

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