“Nonprocreative Males,” Eunuch Scholars, and the OtherWise Christian series

Since OtherWise Christian 3: What Shall Prevent Me? has an open call for reflections on the well known story in Acts 8, I’ve realized that it may save me some time if I publicly clarify some background material that may be relevant for authors.

To be blunt, if you are talking from your lived experience, it won’t matter so much what scholarship you have standing behind you. But if you want to press a scholarly point, it is important that you be close to up to date on recent developments asserted by this editor.

1 – OtherWise Christian 3 will be the third book in the OtherWise Christian series. While reading the first two books is not essential to being considered for the third, being remotely familiar with the foundations of the series can be useful in building relationship with the editor.

2 – Be trans-competent. If you are still writing about eunuchs using phrases like “genital mutilation” without some mitigating disclaimers, then I recommend that you do some cultural competency work around transgender experience before you submit your work for this series. Likewise, ad hominem attacks on OtherWise-gendered figures in Christian tradition (e.g. Origen) should include some disclaimers or other processing of historic assaults to put them in context. In other words, this editor does not want to have to sort through your icky feelings (or that of past scholars) showing through about somebody else’s junk.

3 – Scholars should be scholarly. Submissions to OtherWise Christian 3 do not need to be scholarly! However, if you want to be scholarly–particularly in talking about eunuchs in the ancient world–then I strongly recommend that you read my first book. Even if you go a different direction (which might be exciting!), you will need to be able to make your case in the context of the OtherWise Christian series (see point #1).

4 – Move the conversation forward. Submissions to OtherWise Christian 3 do not need to be scholarly! However, my first book, OtherWise Christian: A Guidebook for Transgender Liberation, covers 25-years of transgender-affirming biblical scholarship. Seven out of 25 of those chapters focus specifically on eunuchs. They also come up elsewhere, such as chapters on Deuteronomy and Joseph. I especially drew on Sean Burke’s and Megan Defranza‘s published work, which is quite accessible even to independent scholars. If you want to focus on eunuch scholarship, then it is important to do something to advance the conversation beyond my first book. (you do not have to focus on eunuch scholarship)

5 – Sean Burke’s Queering the Ethiopian Eunuch: Strategies of Ambiguity in Acts is of particular importance in thinking about scholarly claims about the eunuch-ness of the traveler in Acts 8. Again, OtherWise Christian 3 submissions do not need to be scholarly! Still, if you don’t want to read my book or don’t like my bias, then you should still check out Burke’s $5 ebook before you present scholarly claims. At minimum, my blog entry about it is available for free.

6 – Megan DeFranza’s Sex Difference in Christian Theology: Male, Female, and Intersex in the Image of God is also quite important in terms of taking the experiences of people with intersex variations seriously. The most obvious and literal interpretation of Jesus’ “eunuchs from birth” (Matthew 19:12) is people born with ambiguous genitalia (some but not all intersex variations). If you don’t want to read my book or don’t like my bias, then you should at least look into DeFranza’s before making claims about what Jesus meant. At minimum, my blog entry about it is available for free.

7 – For all these reasons and more, defining eunuchs simplistically as “nonprocreative males” is a step backward, not forward. Yes, there is a reasonably long tradition of (cisgender, endosex) gay men and lesbians claiming eunuchs in that way. See chapter 12 of my first book for details! There is an even longer Western tradition of translating eunuch as “unmarried” or “celibate.” However, if that is as far as you have gotten in thinking about modern equivalencies then you really need to catch up on all the listening to transgender and intersex people that has been happening over the last 20 years.

So now, you may be wondering: Am I just entirely ruling out “nonprocreative males” from OtherWise Christian 3?

No–not at all! I am quite open to considering contributions that build on the idea that eunuchs included (but were not limited to) “nonprocreative” un/men. You may have a wonderful queer or OtherWise or asexual reading of the story in Acts 8–and I would love to see or hear it!

What I am saying is that your approach to eunuch scholarship needs to go beyond observations already made by John McNeill, L. William Countryman, Nancy Wilson, and others in popular 20th century books. In OtherWise Christian: A Guidebook to Transgender Liberation, I’ve compiled much of what you need to know about how things have shifted through 21st century eunuch scholarship! You have to be able to reflect that shift in some thoughtful way (though only if you want to go in a particularly scholarly direction).

Meanwhile, eunuchs and transgender people and people with intersex variations are more than our genitalia. If you need help with that, try OtherWise Christian 2: Stories of Resistance to get a sense of the humanizing tone I may be looking for.

Seriously. If you think you might have a scholarly point to make about eunuchs, please be in touch.

Still, I will be even more excited to hear about how the story in Acts 8 impacts you personally. The scholarship is important background, but, by and large, it is background not foreground.

Compiled by Mx Chris Paige on August 29, 2020.

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