The Center for Lesbian and Gay Studies (CLGS) at Pacific School of Religion has been working on transgender concerns since the early Transgender Religious Leaders Summits (circa 2006). The Latinx Roundtable, Jewish Roundtable, African-American Roundtable, Asian and Pacific Islander Roundtable, and Transgender Roundtable have provided leadership for a variety of events and resources. Justin Tanis and Jakob Hero have provided some of the most prominent transgender leadership, including around these resources.
They have produced two booklets titled Transformative Inclusion—one with Christian perspectives (2017) and one with Jewish perspectives (2019). Each guide is 24 pages long, uses mostly the same pictures, and follows the same outline. They each provide an accessible introduction to issues to be aware of in developing transgender inclusion at the congregational level, though I was surprised to see the word “transgenderism” used prominently.
I had lunch with Vicky while I was in the Bay area, really just hoping to catch up and maybe squeeze a Foreword out of her. As she disclosed in that Foreword, she stepped back from her religious vocation when she became a judge. So, I was pleasantly surprised that she was also willing and able to write a chapter for the book. While there is a passing mention of her role as a judge, the article focuses on Jacob’s wrestling (and her own).
The Reverend Victoria S. Kolakowski received her M.Div. from the Pacific School of Religion in 1998. She was the first person to have a transgender positive article published in an academic religious journal in 1997. She was ordained in the Metropolitan Community Church as the first person to start and complete the ordination process as an openly transgender person. She served as clergy at several churches, and on the board of the California Council of Churches. She retired from ministry when she became a judge in Alameda County, California, in 2011.
Join us in celebrating the #SacredOtherWise! Claim your own story during March 2020! Possible hashtags include:
#TransAndSacred #IntersexAndSacred #NonBinaryAndSacred #TwoSpiritAndSacred or your own version of #SacredOtherWise
These are also great hashtags to add when you are talking about #TransgenderDayOfVisibility / #TDOV!! March 31, 2020 is our official launch day!
We are also using #ClaimYourStory and #ClaimingOurStories to encourage celebration of our stories of faith and resistance.
I want to talk about the hypocrisy of biblical literalism today, but, first, I want to get you caught up on the story of Joseph of Genesis. Peterson Toscano brought us one of the biggest breakthroughs in transgender biblical interpretation (ever) through his work on Transfigurations: Transgressing Gender in the Bible. If you already know about Joseph and his “princess dress,” then you can skip the next paragraph.
In Transfigurations, Peterson tells the story of Joseph (Genesis) through the eyes of his uncle, the uber-masculine Esau. While the live production has been retired, you can get it on DVD or streaming on Amazon. The excerpt about Joseph is even available as a YouTube video in support of the DVD.
To the best of my knowledge, this interpretation was first offered by Theodore W Jennings Jr in his 2005 book, Jacob’s Wound: Homoerotic Narrative in the Literature of Ancient Israel, but Peterson traveled the country (and the world) making this Good News known.
To my mind, the bottom line is that the most literal reading of Joseph’s coat is that it was a “princess dress.” The phrase is ketonet passim. In 2 Samuel 13:18, it literally says, a ketonet passim “was the kind of garment the virgin daughters of the king wore.” We don’t need queer theory or historical-critical exegesis. This is just plain and simple use of the Bible to interpret the Bible. This is a literal reading of the text.
Still, in online discussions of my work and Peterson’s work, I have repeatedly heard folk argue that this interpretation is not “credible.” Granted, there are other viable interpretations. It may have been a unisex royal cloak or an ornate garment with long sleeves, as scholars have long proposed. However, that less specific interpretation is not what 2 Samuel says. 2 Samuel 13:18 literally says that this cloak was a princess dress. It is a rare example of scripture specifically providing a definition. It is simple and straight forward.
Now often when we see masculine language in scripture, we take liberties to shift toward “brothers and sisters” or the people–to make the reading more gender inclusive. Masculine language has often served as a default and this is a legitimate shift from a masculine to a “unisex” reading.
Many languages have gender built into the language in this way. For instance in Spanish, hijos can mean “sons” or it can mean “children.” While the masculine reading is “literal,” it is an question of context and interpretation to decide when that masculine word indicates “sons” and when that masculine word means “children.” Hebrew operates similarly.
However, it really doesn’t work the other way! In Spanish, hijas always means daughters (never children of diverse genders). In Hebrew, feminine nouns are not used as generic, un-gendered words for people. In this text, it specifically says a ketonet passim is for the virgin daughters of a king. Virgin and daughter are both feminine words.
But they are not just feminine words. They are feminine words that really mean something in terms of gender, in terms of the power, significance, and care that are passed along to the children of royalty (in a variety of cultures). Virgin daughters would be available for a political marriage to a prince in another country as a way to secure an alliance. This availability was important and would often be made visible through clothing and jewelry, just a like a ring on a particular finger represents marriage in Western cultures.
There is plenty more to this text and to Joseph’s story, but the Bible literally says that the garment Jacob made for Joseph was a princess dress.
Still, people resist. There is a similar dynamic around eunuchs, where trans-antagonistic trolls (Christian or not) admonish transgender people to read Deuteronomy literally yet refuse to take the affirming words about eunuchs from Jesus in Matthew seriously. These are some of the most obvious examples, but the tendency is widespread.
For all the moaning about “biblical literalism,” anti-transgender forces pick and choose what passages to take literally and what passages to ignore as much as anyone does. Remember that “Because I Said So” is not a reasonable argument for a particular biblical interpretation. If someone is not willing to be consistent in their reading of the Bible, then there is good reason to suspect their motives.
Obviously, we have all been conditioned to read the Bible in “traditional” ways. That is, in accordance with the ways we were taught to read it by others. Just remember that those “traditions” also include white supremacy, anti-Semitism, and gender oppression. They are perspectives shaped by human readers who themselves had an “agenda” — even if it was simply an agenda to make Bible characters look more like the cisgender, heterosexual, men that they were most familiar with.
Thank you to Will O’Brien and Lydia Wylie-Kellerman for suggesting that I write for the Radical Discipleship blog! This is a blog connected to many of the communities that were also connected to The Witness magazine as well as The Other Side magazine. In other words, (primarily) Christian folk who care about the Bible and justice. This is in some ways a circling back for me, since I worked at The Other Side magazine for nearly 10 years and the folk at The Witness were colleagues and friends.
Trans-Gendered: Theology, Ministry, and Communities of Faith by Justin Tanis is one of the two most influential books in transgender theology (the other being Omnigender). First published by Pilgrim Press in 2003, this book was originally Tanis’s D.Min dissertation. It was out of print for a time and was republished as Trans-Gender: Theology, Ministry, and Communities of Faith in 2018, now by Justin Sabia-Tanis under the umbrella of Wipf and Stock. Continue reading “Trans-Gendered: Theology, Ministry, and Communities of Faith, 2003 and 2018”→