Thursday, August 25, 2016

On Name Changes and the Bible -- Transfriendly, Indeed!

Last week, I had the total joy today of participating in a name change ceremony today! Here are some of the remarks that I made about name changing and the Bible. (Have taken out the personal comments for this post).  Longer reflections are forthcoming.

My name is Rev. Katy Valentine, and I am both a pastor and a New Testament scholar. It’s my pleasure to be here today offering a blessing to --- on their name change and celebrating living into their full identity as given by God. I am here as a Christian witness with a big heart for ecumenical and interfaith gatherings.
Name changes are as old as the Bible itself. The power to give a name belongs first to people; God charges the first earthling with the privilege of naming all the animals. Genesis 2:19 says that “and whatever the earthling called each living creature, that was its name.” It is only later when the two humans have left the Garden of Eden that God gives them names. When humans beings realize that they are called to live into their own names and identities, we are co-creating with God as our divine creator. Just as God created and gave humans the power to name all the creatures on the earth, so God gives us the opportunity to call ourselves by our names.
Throughout the Bible there are about 39 name changes, double name or nicknames. After the first two humans go from being nameless to having names, there is Abram and Sarai. Abram means “exalted father” and Abraham means “father of many.” Name meanings don’t have to change; Sarai and Sarah have the same root and mean approximately the same thing – noblewoman or princess. The grandson of Abraham and Sarah, Jacob, wrestles with God and God changes his name to Israel. Jacob means “holder of the heel” but after he wrestles with God, ending in a stalemate, his name becomes Israel, meaning “to prevail over God.”
The list goes continues. Naomi says, “Call me Mara” when she and Ruth return to Israel because she feels bitter about her fortune. In the New Testament, Jesus calls his disciples. Jesus says to Simon in the Gospel of John: “He brought Simon to Jesus, who looked at him and said, ‘You are Simon son of John. You are to be called Cephas’ (which is translated Peter)” (John 1:42) -- 3 names in 1 individual. Saul famously becomes Paul on the road to Damascus, and it has been common practice for Christians to take on a new name when they take religious vows.
The shorthand version is this: when something big happens to a person, they are entitled to a new name that goes along with their new identity. Maybe the most important person in the New Testament to undergo a name change is actually the main character. The man who we know as “Jesus” was most likely not called Jesus very often in his lifetime. Jesus is the Greek version of the Aramaic/Jewish name “Yeshua” or in English “Joshua” – when Jesus becomes known outside of Palestinian Jews through the writings of Paul and Gospel writers, he is transformed into Jesus to be known by Greek speakers across the world.
(Personal Comments about new name were here. Redacted for the public!).
The Christian story is that God is never, ever done. God calls us to live fully into who we are and who we are called to be. God is always creating; we are always creating. I offer you the blessing of one who is creating your own future and claiming your present. May God richly bless you at this moment and always.

Monday, June 13, 2016

Online Bible Study -- it's Time

Hello Readers.

It's been a while.  This semester got me snowed under.  But now grades are turned in, Bible Studies written, CD made, Ordination Service commenced, and life is settling down.

Then Orlando happened.

I'm at a loss for words, like everyone.  I woke up on Sunday morning, saw the news, and switched into shock and disbelief.  I was ordained just one week prior --- it was time to put on that mantle and take care of my congregation.  Got to church, rearranged the service so that we could pause and pray for Orlando.  Not everyone had heard the news, so I broke it to the congregation and gave them time to absorb.  Right when I said the terrible news, a baby cried --- a huge blessing to be reminded of that fierce, little life.  We prayed with the beatitudes.  We revisited the prayers again at our usual prayer time.  I asked them -- pleaded almost -- to give me some news worth of celebration.  They did.  We mourned some more.

It's been a few days.  This horrific tragedy is not getting any easier -- the news and emerging details, faces, names, real people -- they're making it harder.  The cell phones heart is breaking.

This comes right on the heels of the sermon that my lead pastor and I gave two weeks ago on why I am a passionate transgender ally.  It's a calling -- believe me, I am unlikely but called.  Here is the sermon.

So now I am planning an online Bible study that explores queer, gender non conforming and transgender identities.  This might be a mixture of "live" calls and self-paced postings -- details will emerge soon.  Your interest and participation are appreciated.  This will not be an "expert giving you information" but more of a "guide leading to group conversation and insights" approach.  I believe that this type of activity fosters community, knowledge and ultimately empowerment.

Let's love.  This is my way of contributing to putting more love out there in the world.

Monday, February 29, 2016

Genesis 1:27 "Male and Female he Created Them"

Hello Readers, good to be with you again!  Things are moving along in the TransFriendlyBible world, and I am thrilled.  Just in case you are new to this blog, you may want to check out the "About This Project" page.  I'd love to hear from you, especially if you identify as trans/gender creative.

Now onto another biblical passage that is fun to view in light of Trans* identity: Genesis 1:27.  This is the verse from the NRSV translation of the Bible:

So God created humankind in his image,
   in the image of God he created them;
   male and female he created them.

This verse occurs at the end of the first creation story, usually on the very first page of your Bible.  It's also read a lot at weddings -- like, a lot.  Nothing wrong with this, of course, but it's time to see it in a different way.

The ancient rabbis often identified this verse, along with verses about adam in Genesis 2, as an androgynous person -- one with both male and female characteristics.  The story gets more complicated, of course, but this is a delightful foray into the world of a Trans Friendly creation story.  The original human being was, perhaps, male and female -- at once.  A fun way to think about this story, yes?

I'm keeping this short today -- more on this passage soon.

In the meantime, how do you see yourself in this beautiful creation story?  

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

South Dakota is making the rounds today for legislating what is tantamount to a hate law.  Yes, that's what I said.  It is.  This article covers it pretty well.

If you're new to this blog, let me briefly introduce what I talk about her: gender identity (especially transgender identity) and the Bible.  I'm a trans* ally, and I believe that the Bible has friendly and supportive places for transgender individuals.  I'm also a New Testament scholar (PhD from the Graduate Theological Union).  

This law, if the South Dakota governor does not veto it, has the capacity to cause physical and emotional harm to children and youth in schools.  It tells children and youth that they do not know their own gender well enough to decide where to go to the bathroom, reinforcing labels on them that they are working hard enough against.

In terms of the Bible, this seems to all for the most basic of them all:

‘In everything do to others as you would have them do to you; for this is the law and the prophets. (Matthew 7:12).

If you have advocacy resources for this particular topic, would you please post them below?

Monday, February 8, 2016


Armando Alemdar Ara, 2004, oil on linen. No title.
Shared here under the Creative Commons
Attribution ShareAlike 3.0 License.
Hello, again.  This is post #4, and so far this blog has addressed the whys and whats of reading the Bible from a transgender perspective, including a little post about gender switching in the ancient world.  It's high time we look at the Bible itself.  Here we go!

The Transfiguration of Jesus is a pivotal story in the New Testament.  It appears in 3 Gospels (Matthew, Mark and Luke).  For the sake of simplicity, let's look mostly at Mark 9:1-11. Jesus takes his three besties up the mountain.  Jesus transforms in front of them -- his clothes become gleaming white, and Elijah and Moses appear with him.  The three besties disciples are terrified (typical of them in this Gospel).

We commonly call this story "The Transfiguration."  OK, even in English this is kind of juicy, right?  The Trans-figuration? It's just asking that we interpret this as trans friendly!  The Greek word for what happens to Jesus in Mark is actually metamorphoo (μεταμορφόω for those of you who like Greek) -- or in English, "metamorphosed."  In other words, whatever happens to Jesus on the mountain is a physical, corporeal experience.  It's also spiritual.  

Is what happened to Jesus on the mountain related to gender?  Actually, that's not what I'm suggesting (though I'm not excluding it)!  But a common interpretation of this passage is that the disciples witness a glimpse of the resurrected body of Jesus.  When we read this story using a Trans* lens, perhaps we can see that the changes that occur to Jesus as similar to many transgender persons. When we live into our gender identity -- including corporeal/physical changes --  we also catch glimpses of our gloriously resurrected bodies.  Gender identity, including our inward and outward bodies, is part of the spiritual journey.  

Plus, it's very cool that Jesus has the confirmation of his elders in his own metamorphosis -- Elijah and Moses are supporting him.  This lends itself to the possibility that elders and family (not necessarily biological) support transgender individuals in their transitions today. 

There's a lot more in this story, but I'll save it for a later post.  In the meantime, I'd love to know your thoughts.  Do you see yourself in the story of the Transfiguration -- or Metamorphosis -- of Jesus?

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Are Transgender People in the Bible?

Transgender Flag
This blog is mostly about the ancient world and the Bible in light of trans* identities (and gender identities in general).  

The question I get the most about this research: "Are there transgender people in the Bible?"  The answer is "No."  And "Maybe."  Perhaps "Yes"?

Why is this question so hard to answer?  Mostly because ancient people had really different ideas about what sex and gender were than we do today.  For instance, ancient Greeks and Romans thought that male bodies were hard, warm and dry.  They thought that women's bodies were soft, cold and moist.  If a male body became cold and moist, then clearly that male was effeminate, or worse, a foreigner.  We just don't hold to these same values today (hopefully not, anyway).  So gender characteristics were used to identify a wide range of identities beyond gender (like ethnic origin).  Interesting, but we don't think about bodies and gender quite in the same way today.

I'm sure that some people in the ancient world DID feel that their internal gender did not match their outward appearance and gender assignment.  But they didn't talk about it that way, so it's hard to know.  In fact, in general not a lot of characters from the ancient world talk about how they feel, so we have to take our cues with a little grain of salt.

So back to the original question: Are there transgender people in the Bible?"  Let me transform the question.  "Did some people challenge gender norms in the Bible?" or "Does the Bible show that God loves lots of gender expressions?" or "Hey, can we see some gender-bending in the Bible?"  The answers to these questions are absolutely "Yes," "Yes," and "Yes."   

That's what this blog is all about, y'all.  

Friday, January 29, 2016

Gender Switching in the Ancient World

Thank you to everyone who responded to this page -- comments are very welcome anytime!  A safe, confidential email is  Email anytime.

Let's talk about gender switching in the ancient world.

Part of my research project (you can read about it here) is to investigate portraits of gender in the ancient world.  As you can imagine, a lot of work has been done in this area.  A LOT.  Curiously, even when people do switch genders, which happens periodically in ancient texts, it is almost always interpreted through the modern lens of feminism.  This has yielded some very cool insights.  But so far very few people have looked at these ancient gender switching as examples that might parallel transgender experiences today.

So, I'm not saying that these examples show transgender persons in the ancient world, because we think about sex and gender very differently than ancient Greeks, Romans and Hebrews.  But still interesting, yes?

Here's one example.  The Roman poet Ovid (43 BC - AD 17/18) wrote about Iphis, which was a gender neutral name.  Iphis' father was grumpy and declared that if his wife had a daughter, she'd be killed.  Of course, stories like this always end with --you guessed it -- a daughter being born.  Iphis' clever mother gave her this handy gender-neutral name and raised her as a boy.  The father, apparently not into changing diapers, never noticed.  Iphis was raised as a boy.  (I'm switching pronouns to he/him now). When it was time for Iphis to marry Ianthe, Iphis becomes worried about the wedding night and that he won't be able to perform penetrative sex.  (OK, penetrative sex is a big deal.  More on that ancient obsession later).  

He's concerned because he loves Ianthe so much and doesn't want too many surprises on the wedding night.  Iphis' mother is worried too and prays to Isis to help fix this situation.  Isis, being a nice international goddess at the time, intervenes and changes Iphis anatomically from female to male, confirming the gender identity that Iphis had lived with for his entire life (at least, that's my interpretation).  Below is a quote of the changes that occurred to Iphis:

“Iphis walked beside her as she went, but with a longer stride than was her wont. Her face seemed of a darker hue, her strength seemed greater, her very features sharper, and her locks, all unadorned, were shorter than before. She seemed more vigorous than was her girlish wont. In fact, you who but lately were a girl are now a boy!” 

(Ovid, Metamorphoses 9.786-791, Miller translation, Loeb Classical Library). 

Very cool story, yes?  Obviously there's a lot more that we could say, but I'll save that for another day.  The big point here is that gender, gender identity and anatomy do have some flexibility, including in the ancient world.  

Picart - Isis TelethusaThis handy picture is "Isis' cortege appears to Telethusa." Engraving by Bernard Picart et al. for Ovid's Metamorphoses Book IX, 669-701.  OK, so the picture is really of Isis appearing to Iphis' mother, Telethusa, but still pretty cool.  It is part of the public domain and you can find out more at Wikimedia Commons (