Crossdressing and Christianity

Source: “Some Thoughts on Crossdressing and Christianity” by Joanna Lynn Cole

In this little treatise, I intend to discuss some of the dynamics involved in the historically antagonistic relationship between crossdressers and certain elements of the Christian communities. I am dealing here strictly with the practice of crossdressing, and do not intend to address issues of sexual orientation or transsexualism. Nor do I intend to address the issue from the perspective of other religious traditions – my background is Judeo-Christian, and that is what I know.

A caveat: I am not a minister, nor a theologian, nor a Biblical scholar. My viewpoint is that of a crossdresser who also calls herself a Christian, who struggled for years to accept herself, largely because of the condemnation of the practice of crossdressing by many conservative Christian churches, sects, and organizations, some of which I was involved in at various points in my life.

Some of the strongest opposition to crossdressing males comes from these conservative Christian groups: Fundamentalists, Evangelicals, Charismatics, and all their variations. Note how frequently on talk shows that deal with the subject, a preacher of one flavor or another will be invited to give a countering viewpoint; i.e., that men who do this sort of thing are evil, depraved, and condemned to hell.

One would suspect from such vociferous opposition that the Bible is just full of condemnations of crossdressing, and that men dressing as women were a major problem in Biblical times. Far from it – out of the thousands upon thousands of verses in the Bible, only ONE even addresses the subject!

The verse so often quoted by Bible vigilantes is Deuteronomy 22:5, which reads “A woman must not wear men’s clothing, nor a man wear women’s clothing, for the Lord your God detests anyone who does this.” (All Biblical quotes, unless otherwise indicated, are from the New International Version.)

Okay, that’s a pretty straightforward statement – no room for compromise or interpretation here… it’s very clear-cut. The issue at hand is not what any particular verse in the Bible says or does not say, it’s a matter of Biblical inspiration and/or authority.

Most of the individuals who will heap condemnation on the heads of crossdressers are Biblical Fundamentalists. Their view of the Bible is that it is a work directly inspired by God, the words literally dictated by God to the writers. For these people, the Bible is THE final authoritative answer – if it’s in there, it must be true, because God doesn’t lie. The culture or era from which a particular verse of the Bible sprang, and its context within that culture, within that particular book, and within the Bible as a whole are totally irrelevant to a Fundamentalist. If it’s in the Bible, it’s the Word of God, the law, the final answer. Period. Case closed.

Those of us who think with our brains and not with our emotions know otherwise. There is much in the Bible that is inspired, profound, and beautiful. There is also much that is obviously a product of human prejudice, intolerance, and manipulation. And to believe that every word in the Bible is literal truth takes a big leap of faith, for many things in the Bible are contradictory.

The Bible was not dictated verbatim to those who wrote it. It is the end product of a couple of millenniums worth of writing, copying, editing, interpreting, and compiling. In many cases, decisions about the final choice and arrangement of books in the Bible, or which of the varying texts of those books would be used, were due as much to political reasons and the desire to maintain power and control as to any question of inspiration (see Footnote #1).

The men who wrote these words and later compiled them were exactly that: MEN. Human beings. Inspired? At times, perhaps. But also fallible; capable of error, misunderstanding, and even at times deliberate falsification or manipulation. They were people trying to explain their personal and corporate experiences of God in a way that others could understand – an attempt to place what were in many cases very real, valid, and transforming religious experiences into human words and concepts.

The verse cited above from the book of Deuteronomy occurs in the midst of a very long presentation of laws and regulations for the people of Israel that were supposedly handed down from God through his servant Moses. The Hebrew people had developed the concept that they were somehow the “Chosen People,” that Yahweh their God had called them apart from the rest of humanity and chosen to deal only with them while ignoring or actively opposing all other nations and cultures. (The God of the Old Testament is quite the warmonger.)

Some of these laws are familiar to anyone who has had contact with the more conservative branches of Judaism – the rules against eating certain animals, the keeping of the Sabbath, regulations governing religious observances, etc. Some of these laws seem curious or strange to modern ears – others are downright barbaric.

For example: did you know it was considered sinful to wear garments made of two kinds of fabric mixed together? (Leviticus 19:19, Deuteronomy 22:11) I guess any of those clothes in your closet made of a blend of fabrics will just have to go – you are in dire danger of incurring God’s wrath if you wear them.

Deuteronomy 22:8 mandates that any new house must have a parapet around the edges of the roof. I don’t see too many parapets on blueprints for new homes around here, so I guess we’re an extremely sinful people.

Those are just a couple of the more “curious” laws. As for barbarism, how about Deuteronomy 21:18-21, which says that a stubborn or rebellious son should be turned over to the elders, whereupon “all the men of his town shall stone him to death.” Boy, talk about “tough love!”

Or let’s look at Deuteronomy 22:13-21, which gives a man the right to have his new bride stoned to death if he discovers on their wedding bed that she is not a virgin. (It doesn’t say exactly how he is to do this, but we can make assumptions. I guess if a woman broke her hymen doing gymnastics, she’s in big trouble on her wedding night…)

Notice in the above passage that there is absolutely NO law dealing with a woman discovering that her HUSBAND is not a virgin. The old “double standard” has always been rampant. And it is precisely that sort of patriarchal bullshit that led to a law such as that stated in Deuteronomy 22:5.

Face it, in Biblical times women were chattel, domestic slaves, baby machines. They had no rights, human or legal. They were subject to the whims and moods of their husbands and were to totally submit to them in all things. Men had absolute power over women, and would do anything they possibly could to maintain that power.

For a MAN to put on the clothing of a WOMAN, and thus identify himself with what was considered almost a sub-human creature… well, that simply wasn’t DONE. Such a man would be considered a big affront and threat to the male-dominated society of the time.

Nowadays, although we still have far to go, women are being given the equal respect and opportunities that they deserve as co-members of the human race, as beings equally “made in the image of God.” And I am proud to express the feminine side of my personality. When I dress as a woman, I do not mock women nor weaken my manhood; rather, I honor women and am a stronger person for emulating them.

Now, let’s go back to those modern-day Fundamentalists. Recall that they are incapable of, or unwilling to, consider the culture and context of any portion of the Bible – it’s ALL the Word of God, period. They will say that it matters not that there is only one lonely, isolated verse that addresses the matter of crossdressing – it’s the Word of the Lord, regardless. But what we thinking, rational human beings have to understand is that Biblical Fundamentalists can be VERY SELECTIVE and hypocritical about which verses they choose to quote and preach.

These people say that Deuteronomy 22:5 condemns the practice of crossdressing. Fair enough. What about all the other laws and precepts in that very book, even in that very chapter? Do these people keep a kosher household? Do they observe the Sabbath? Do they routinely put to death their rebellious sons and unfaithful women? Do they even go so far as to commit the heinous sins of wearing clothing of mixed fabrics, or living in a house with no parapet around the roof?

You see, Fundamentalists don’t believe the Bible except to whatever extent they can manipulate it to prove their point. If you start to quote other scriptures back at them, and try to engage them in a rational discussion, their eyes will glaze over and they will begin to rationalize, obfuscate, lead you down a theological maze, or parrot verses and sayings that they have memorized. They will not see any other viewpoint. You cannot argue with a Fundamentalist – it is a lost cause. They are best ignored (see Footnote #2).

What can it honestly matter to God what a person wears on his or her body? If there’s one theme that runs throughout the Bible, it’s that God judges men and women by the content of their hearts, not by externals. Whether I wear male or female attire, I am still the same person underneath.

And cultural determinations of what is “male” and “female” clothing changes. There are garments worn by males in Biblical times that many men today wouldn’t be caught dead wearing. (Ever notice how EFFEMINATE Jesus looks in a lot of those really tacky paintings?) It wasn’t long ago in this very country that for a woman to wear pants was scandalous – nowadays, a woman wearing pants, even male pants, is not considered to be “crossdressing” by most of society.

If there was ever a concise enunciation of what TRUE spirituality is all about (“spirituality” being that which mankind had before it invented “religion”), it is what Jesus says in Matthew 22:39: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ ALL THE LAW AND THE PROPHETS HANG ON THESE TWO COMMANDMENTS.” (Capitals mine).

That’s what it all boils down to: love God, love your neighbor. To do these two things covers all the bases; beyond these concepts lie unnecessary details and complications. Any more detailed theology is the result of man’s ongoing attempt to “clarify” or “explain” what is, in reality, very simple.

If anything, I have grown closer to my God through accepting and celebrating the feminine nature within. He knows my heart, and it matters not to Him whether it lurks behind a T-shirt or a cocktail dress. Expressing myself as Joanna is making me a better, more loving, more caring person – better equipped to both love my God and my neighbor. And that, my friends, is what it’s all about.

Footnote #1

As an aside, I might mention that there is a verse in the “Gospel of Thomas” – a work rejected by the authorities who assembled the New Testament canon – that reads, “…when you make the male and the female one and the same, so that the male not be male nor the female female… then you will enter [the Kingdom.]” These are purported to be words of Jesus, and such a saying would give a lot of support to the idea of Transgenderism being not just merely “not perverse,” but even something that would bring one closer to God. Because this gospel was written by adherents to Gnosticism, which was considered to be heretical by the rapidly institutionalizing Church, it was not included in the New Testament.

Footnote #2

For those who may, like me, have struggled because of their dealings with fundamentalist Christianity, or find themselves somewhat disturbed by the rantings of members of such groups, I strongly recommend the book “Rescuing the Bible From Fundamentalism” by John Shelby Spong, the Bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Newark. It is a passionate call for modern-day people to discard, without guilt, the discredited notion of the Bible as being “inerrant” while reinterpreting the scriptures to be more relevant to our modern society.

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