Religious views on transgender people

Religious views on transgender people

There are a variety of religious views on transgender people. These range from condemning all gender-variant behaviour, to honoring transgender people as religious leaders. Views with a single religion can vary considerably.

Transgender people are uncommon enough, and frequently have low enough cultural status, that they are rarely discussed in religious texts. The historical terms used in these texts often lack clear parallels in the modern world, or even clear definitions. Distinctions between transsexuality, intersexuality, eunuchs, cross-dressing, homosexuality, and other forms of gender variance tend to be blurry when they exist at all.

Many religious practitioners in modern times have visceral negative reactions to transgendered people and presume, when faced with the issue, that it must be against their religion's doctrines. This assumption is not always correct, and doctrines tend to be more complex than a straightforward rejection. Some religions do condemn gender-variant behaviour of at least some types. Others see profound gender issues or ambiguity as a tragedy rather than a moral failure.

Some societies have special positions for transgender people; these are often based in religion.

Abrahamic religions

Abrahamic religions have creation stories in which God creates people, "male and female".bibleref|Genesis|1:27] [cite quran|75|39|style=ref] This is sometimes interpreted as a divine mandate against gender variance.Fact|date=August 2008 The Torah contains specific prohibitions on cross-dressingbibleref|Deuteronomy|22:5] and damaged genitals [bibleref|Deuteronomy|23:1] . Modern Jews and Christians have debated the meaning and relevance of these prohibitions.Fact|date=August 2008


The Tanakh (the "Old Testament" in Christianity) has early passages that are negative on the transgender identities but later passages are positive. Deuteronomy has passages against cross-dressers [bibleref|Deuteronomy|22:5] and those with damaged genitals [bibleref|Deuteronomy|23:1] . The term "saris", generally translated to English as "eunuch" or "chamberlain",Strong's Concordance, #5631] appears 45 times in the Tanakh. It frequently refers to a trusted but gender variant person who was delegated authority by a powerful person.cite web|url=|title=The forty-five occurrences of "saris" in the Old Testament] It is unclear whether most were in fact castrated. In Isaiah 56 God promises eunuchs who keep the sabbath and holds fast to his covenant that he will build an especially good monument in heaven for them, to make up for their childlessness. [bibleref|Isaiah|56]

Orthodox Judaism is opposed to transsexuality and transgender identitiesFact|date=September 2008. They assert that sex/gender is an innate and eternal category and cite verses in Genesis about Adam and Eve and the creation of maleness and femalenessFact|date=September 2008. If an orthodox trans man argued that it would in fact be sinful to wear "female" clothes that were inconsistent with his gender identity the general response would be to point to this conception of permanent, unalterable, body-based sex/gender. Simple readings like these can be argued to be more direct and honest, or they may be seen as "too" simplistic given that gender variant identities are generally far from the mind when normally reading Genesis and there are other passages that refer to these identities directly.

Conservative Judaism has mixed views on transgender people. In 2003, the CJLS approved a rabbinic ruling that concluded that sex reassignment surgery (SRS) is permissible as a treatment of gender dysphoria, and that a transgender person's sex status under Jewish law is changed by SRS. [cite web|url=|title=Status of Transsexuals] There have not yet been any openly transgender rabbis or rabbinical students affiliated with Conservative Judaism.

Reform Judaism has recently expressed positive views on transgender people. The Commission on Social Action passed a resolution in 2003 urging inclusion and acceptance for transgender people. [cite web|title=Support for the Inclusion and Acceptance of the Transgender and Bisexual Communities|url=] That same year, the first transgender (female-to-male) student was admitted to rabinnical school at Hebrew Union College. [cite news|title=Testing The Borders Of Inclusivity|url=|author=Debra Nussbaum Cohen||date=2003-03-14] David Saperstein of the Religious Action Center has called for a trans-inclusive Employment Non-Discrimination Act. [cite web|title=Reform Jewish Leader Calls on House to Pass Transgender Inclusive Non-Discrimination Act|url=]

Several non-denominational Jewish groups provide resources for transgender people. published an LGBTQ Resource Guide in 2007. [cite web|title=LGBTQ Resource Guide Released|url=] Jewish Mosaic has published interpretations of Jewish texts that affirm transgender identities. [cite web|title=TransTexts: Exploring Gender in Jewish Sacred Texts|url=]


The New Testament is more ambiguous about gender-variant identities than the Old Testament is. Eunuchs (Greek "eunochos", similar to Hebrew "saris") are indicated as acceptable candidates for evangelism and baptism, as demonstrated in a story about the conversion of an Ethiopian eunuch. [bibleref|Acts|8|27-39] At one point, while answering questions about marriage and divorce, Jesus says that "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 sake of the kingdom of heaven." [bibleref|Matthew|19|12] It has been suggested, and disputed, that the first class of "eunuchs" were actually homosexual or transgender people. [cite web|url=|title=Thesis: Eunuchs are Gay Men] [cite web|url=|title=What are Eunuchs?|author=Tony Warren]

In Paul's First Letter to the Corinthians, he includes "malakoi" and "arsenokoites" among people who will not "inherit the kingdom of God". These two words, sometimes translated as "male prostitutes", "effeminate homosexuals", or "homosexual offenders", could have referred to homosexuality or gender variance, or only to specific contexts such as prostitution. [cite web|url=|title=Would it surprise you to learn that malakoi was NEVER used as a universal reference to homosexuality?]

Modern Christian denominations vary in their views. The Unitarian Universalist Association was the first denomination to accept transgender people as full members with eligibility to become clergy, and the first to open an Office of Bisexual, Gay, Lesbian, and Transgender Concerns. [ [ Office of Bisexual, Gay, Lesbian, and Transgender Concerns] ] [cite web|url=|title=THE UNITARIAN UNIVERSALIST ASSOCIATION AND HOMOSEXUALITY] The United Church of Christ General Synod called for full inclusion of transgender persons in 2003.cite web|url=|title=ONA: It's About Transgender Inclusion, Too!] In 2008, the United Methodist Church Judicial Council ruled that transgender pastor Drew Phoenix could keep his position. [cite web|url=|title=Methodists Vote to Keep Transgender Pastor] At the UMC General Conference the same year, several petitions that would have forbidden transgender clergy and added anti-transgender language to the Book of Discipline were rejected.Fact|date=August 2008


In Islam, the term mukhannathun is used to describe gender-variant people, usually male-to-female transsexuals. Neither this term nor the equivalent for "eunuch" occurs in the Qur'an, but the term does appear in the Hadith, the sayings of Muhammad, which have a secondary status to the central text. Moreover, within Islam, there is a tradition on the elaboration and refinement of extended religious doctrines through scholarship. This doctrine contains a suprisingly trans-positive passage by the scholar and hadith collector An-Nawawi: "A mukhannath is the one ("male") who carries in his movements, in his appearance and in his language the characteristics of a woman. There are two types; the first is the one in whom these characteristics are innate, he did not put them on by himself, and therein is no guilt, no blame and no shame, as long as he does not perform any (illicit) act or exploit it for money (prostitution etc.). The second type acts like a woman out of immoral purposes and he is the sinner and blameworthy."

The status of mukhannathun in Islam has been partially based on their inability to have penetrative sex with women, whether by inclination or due to anatomic interventions. They were allowed into harems but ejected if they displayed sexual interest in women. [cite web|url=|title=Muslim Means Queer] In some historical periods (when sanctions against gender variance were on the rise) castration was required, but some mukhannathun reacted positively rather than negatively.cite book
authorlink=Joan Roughgarden
title=Evolution's Rainbow: Diversity, Gender, and Sexuality in Nature and People
publisher=University of California Press


The The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints includes in its canon the Old and New Testaments as well as the Book of Mormon. The leadership of the LDS Church has the power to make pronouncements that carry the weight of God's voice in a manner reminiscent of the doctrine of Papal Infallibility except that new prophecy can change old doctrine [] [] .

On September 23, 1995 the President of the church, Gordon B. Hinckley stated in such a proclamation mostly aimed at gay marriage that "All human beings—male and female—are created in the image of God. Each is a beloved spirit son or daughter of heavenly parents, and, as such, each has a divine nature and destiny. Gender is an essential characteristic of individual premortal, mortal, and eternal identity and purpose." This doesn't directly address the issue where someone agrees that their gender is eternal and unchanging but that it's based on their soul and does not match their body (indeed that that is "why" they need to change their body) but the same proclamation also noted "We further declare that God has commanded that the sacred powers of procreation are to be employed only between man and woman, lawfully wedded as husband and wife" which focuses on procreative ability rather than gender identity as central to the Mormon notion of gender. [,4945,161-1-11-1,00.html]

As a practical matter, the Mormon church will deny access to their temples to visibly gender variant people (though determined on a case by case basis as with all people) and will excommunicate any person who undergoes sexual reassignment surgery. [cite web|url=|title=YouTube video] It has been suggested that these doctrines and practices grew out of the inherently partiarchal conception of Priesthood as being given only to men. The prospect of someone becoming visibly male to gain access to Priesthood is a bit tricky, and if a visibly male person who has already acquired Prisethood indicates that they plan to transition it would (in light of the 1995 proclamation) require "as a matter of taking their gender identity as truly eternal" that their Priesthood be stripped from them due to having been given in error - which is a very tricky issue indeed. [cite web|url=|title=YouTube video]


Dharmic religions


The traditional religion of the Indian subcontinent, Hinduism, has long standing, historically robust identity for gender variance that functions as a kind of caste. The general term is Hijira but different regions with completely different langauges have other terms for roughly homologous cases with details that vary, for example another caste that works the same way is Arvani. These castes typically have very very low status and it is considered a tragedy for a child to end up this way. In some parts of India these castes have special legal status whereby their members are the only people in the population who may legally engage in prosititution - and they are, in some senses, expected to earn their living this way.

Hindu philosophy has the concept of a third sex or third gender ("tritiya-prakriti" - literally, "third nature"). This category includes a wide range of people with mixed male and female natures such as transgenders, homosexuals, transsexuals, bisexuals, the intersexed, and so on. [Pattanaik, Devdutt. "The Man Who Was a Woman and Other Queer Tales from Hindu Lore" (p. 10). Binghamton, NY: Harrington Park Press, 2002.] Such persons were not considered fully male or female in traditional Hinduism, being a combination of both. They are mentioned as third sex by nature (birth) [Buhler,G., trans. "The Laws of Manu" (3.49). Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass, 2001.] and were not expected to behave like ordinary men and women. They often kept their own societies or town quarters, performed specific occupations (such as masseurs, hairdressers, flower-sellers, domestic servants, etc.) and were generally attributed a semi-divine status. Their participation in religious ceremonies, especially as crossdressing dancers and devotees of certain temple gods/goddesses, is considered inauspicious in traditional Hinduism. Some Hindus believe that third-sex people have special powers allowing them to bless or curse others. However, these beliefs are not upheld in all divisions of Hinduism. In Hinduism, the universal creation is honored as unlimitedly diverse and the recognition of a third sex is simply one more aspect of this understanding. [Wilhelm, Amara Das. "Tritiya-Prakriti: People of the Third Sex" (p. 6). Philadelphia: Xlibris Corporation, 2003.]


Buddhism lacks the "thou shalt not" feel of Abrahamic religions and mostly focuses on understanding the nature of suffering so as to avoid it. It has no central canon but it has deep and wide scholarly tradition.

In Thai Buddhism being katoey (an umbrella term that roughly maps to a range of identities from MtF transsexuality to male homosexuality) is seen as being part of one's karma if it should be the case for a person. The response is one of "pity" rather than "blame". Katoey are generally seen as not likely to form lasting relationships with men and the lay explanation of their karma is that they are working out debts from adulterous behavior in past lives. In the past they disrupted marriages, and now they are doomed to never marry. [cite web|url=|title=14 Questions]

In Thailand, katoey were not allowed to legally become female or marry, until 2007 (following the 2006 Thai coup d'état) when the laws were changed and post-op katoey were allowed to change their legal gender. In practice, prior to this, katoey could and somewhat frequently did marry Europeans and leave Thailand.

In Theravada Buddhism monks take vows of celibacy, and self control over sexual impulses is idealized as part of the path to Nirvanna. In the 1980s, in response to growing awareness of the AIDS crisis, some Buddhist writers drew on Buddhist teachings to argue that homosexual behavior was unnnatural and unethical and demonstrated a lack of self control. However, other buddhist scholars have argued that karmic debt only accumulates around heterosexual immorality when patriarchal notions of male owndership of female sexuality are disrupted (for example, pre-marital sex is "theft of virginity" by a man from the woman's father). According to this view, the difficulties and pain of gender variant lives are part of how this debt is "paid off" in subsequent lives and as such it incurs no "additional" karmic debt. [cite web|url=|title=Male Homosexuality and Transgenderism in the Thai Buddhist Tradition]



Chinese religions

China has a number of native belief systems with content that organizes their culture. These belief systems have metaphysical or supernatural content in some cases, but also advice on practical things like how to live and how to rule an empire. Taoism is rather mystical and short on concrete opinions but Confucianism shares some of its deep assumptions while laying out a rather detailed arrangement for an ideal society.

Eunuchs, male-bodied people castrated for royal services, existed in China from 1700 BC until 1924 AD. [ [] ] This social role had a long history, with a continuous community, and a highly public role. Before being castrated a Chinese eunuch would be asked if he "would ever regret being castrated" and if the answer was "no" then surgery would take place. It's an open question as to who would answer this way and why. The historical status of Chinese eunuchs was a curious mixture of extreme weakness and great power. The allure of power and influence were sometimes offered as excuses for the decision to become a eunuch. It has been speculated that Chinese monarchs trusted their eunuchs because the inability to have children left them with no motivation to seek power or riches. [cite web|url=|title=Hidden Power: The Palace Eunuchs of Imperial China|author=Mary M. Anderson] It is not clear to what extent eunuchs were transgender or otherwise gender-variant, but the history of eunuchs in Chinese culture is important to its views on transgender people.


One issue that Confucianism is quite clear on is the importance of filial piety with an accompanying tradition of ancestor worship. People are supposed to respect and obey their parents, get married, and have children who extend their family lines. Gender variant people who are physically capable of living up to this standard would be generally encouraged to enter a marital relationship, have children, and do something discrete (for example have homosexual partners) on the side, if absolutely necessary. Transsexuality is obviously not consistent with this scheme. [cite web|url=|title=Policies and Perceptions of Sexual Minority Groups in Asia & Europe]



Neopagan religion

ee also

* Religion and homosexuality


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