19 May 2008

In the Image of God, Male and Female

by Jenny Howard
May 18, 2008
Trinity Sunday

“God created human beings in his own image;
in the image of God he created them;
male and female he created them.”
--Genesis 1:27 (Revised English Bible)

This is one verse out of the first Creation story in the Bible. I picked it out from all the lectionary passages for today because it’s the one that keeps bothering me.

What I’m going to say will make more sense if you know a little about who I am. The two important facts here are: 1) I’ve been called by God to proclaim the good news of God’s grace, God’s love, and God’s justice to all people; and 2) I’m transsexual. The first means what it sounds like: I’m going to be a minister when I grow up, God (and the church) willing. I’m starting seminary this fall. The second fact means that my life is complicated. Everyday life is complicated, and pursuing ordination gets especially complicated.

I’ve thought about gender a lot more than most people I know. Certainly prayed about it a lot more, too. Everything from, “Please make me a girl,” to “Please make me normal,” to “I hate you for doing this to me, God!” But it all comes back to Genesis 1:27. “Male and female he created them.” Why? What was the point, or what is the point?

Of course, I’m bringing this up because, if there weren’t genders, I wouldn’t have had to spend my whole life trying to figure out which one I am. And you can’t tell me that’s how all of life is created. Bacteria and viruses aren’t gendered, and they certainly obey the command to be fruitful and multiply (says the woman with the lingering chest cold). Why can’t people just split in two when it’s time, like bacteria?

Yeah, yeah. Simplifying humans’ lives wasn’t one of God’s objectives when God created Creation. But this is God we’re talking about. Couldn’t God see that, millions of years later, there would be people who loved God and wanted nothing more than to live their lives to carry out God’s will… but that these people would be bitterly opposed by a lot of other people who also loved God? If God could foresee that, why not just avoid the whole problem, and not create gendered humans in the first place? No gender, no transgender. No gender, no same-gender-loving couples. For that matter, no gender, no gender oppression.

I don’t have a dramatic call story. Just, in the last few years, now that I’ve finally pretty much resolved my gender identity, I began to hear a persistent little voice, “Jenny. Jenny. I have work for you to do.” It was so little at first that I can’t even say exactly when it started. I just ignored it at first. But it didn’t go away. “Jenny! Listen! I have work for you to do.” I tried arguing God out of it, for one very obvious good reason: “Look, God, what are thinking? I’m transsexual. There’s no way. Go find someone who people will accept as being called by you.” When that didn’t work, I tried being rude and rebellious; as they say in the south, I sassed God, “Go away! You’re being ridiculous! Leave me alone!”

For some reason, God ignored my demands and kept calling me. Nor did God make any move to undo my little transsexuality problem. I finally gave in. I mean, not only was I unlikely to win an argument with God, chances are that I was on the wrong side of the argument. Fine. Called and trans. I still asked, “Why, God? What’s the point of calling a trans person?”

I think by now you get the idea why that verse of Genesis bothers me. “Male and female he created them” has been the source of a lot of my troubles. And maybe the source of the troubles of a lot of the folks reading this.
But still. But still, there has to be an answer to why God did it this way. You can say it’s God’s will, and God’s will is inscrutable. And you’d be kind of right. But that’s not a really satisfactory explanation to me. The answer, I think, lies in the middle of the verse: “In the image of God, he created them male and female.” Aha! God worked with what he knew! God’s image is male and female, and God knew that! It makes sense, if you think of a human-like God: when you’re creating something brand new for the first time, work with what you know.

But it also makes sense if God is, for you, more mystical, ineffable. In this understanding, which is closer to my own, the Creation simply is. “Should”, and “could”, and “might”, and “would” aren’t meaningful words. God is as God is; and so what God made is as it is. In more concrete language, “God’s will” is not an expression of what should be; it is an expression of the way things are made to be. God’s will then, is another way to say “what is.” Not “what is” in the sense of how things appear to be; rather, “what is” in the truest, most foundational sense. Our tasks, then, are to discern what truly is; then to align ourselves with we have found, with what is, i.e. with God’s will.

Where does all this leave me with Genesis 1:27? It leaves me knowing that our gendered reality is God’s will. Male and female, in God’s image. It just is, in the same way that God just is. And it leaves me to not only accept, but to celebrate and even worship all the God-given complexity that our gendered reality leads to, whether heteronormative, or transsexual, or gay, or lesbian, or…
Thanks be to God.


Anonymous said...


Good for you! I am a transsexual woman and I also have struggled with my relationship with God.

I have not been called as you have been, but I could no more turn away from God any more than I could turn off my transsexual brain.

Bless you for your struggle. And becoming an image of hope that others can look up to. So many, myself included, think that they were unworthy because of their condition. It was only after I accepted my true nature that I felt *closer* to God. I stopped denying who I was and accepted myself as a woman. A woman who is loved by God. I feel that love now, every minute of every day.

I could never come to a complete understanding of Genesis 1:27 as it applied to me. So I simply accept that I am a child of God and go from there.

Best of luck in your pursuit! You will be in my prayers.

Thank you!


Missy said...

Dear Jenny,

Anonymous replied so well that I can only echo her comments.

Genesis 1:27 has also bothered me. However, I am concerned over what it doesn't say or rather what it leaves out.

If the Divine only created humans as "male and females", who created intersexed folks? That is to say, who created what is know in the medical community as "true hermaphrodites" (those born with the physical attributes of both male and female) and "pseudo-hermaphrodites" (those with the physical attributes of one sex and the chromosomesal attribute of the other) and all the various intersex people with various chromosomal makeups?

In many earlier cultures, those born to the first category were often abandoned in the wilderness. This included the Hebrews (Judaism). Other cultures and religions accepted them as gifted by the Divine.

I've heard some really wild explanation. One Southern Baptist minister went so far as to posit the idea that satan was responsible for the creation of intersexed people. A ridiculous position given that the Bible states satan as incapable of creating anything physical, being restricted to illusion and temptation.

In the end I reached the conclusion that we are children of the Divine, no matter how we are born (intersexed, non-intersexed, hetero-normative or gay or bisexual). The Divine's creation is diverse and wonderful. However, it is mankind that divides it into categories and human vanity that seeks to place one or another as better or higher that others. It is a part of mankind that seeks to divide and thus ignore the diversity of the Divine's reality in an attempt to control others and
place themselves above those they deem less than equal.

In either Matthew or Mark (I forget which and am too lazy at the moment to check) Jesus commented that there are two commandments. He said that the greatest of these is that we love God with our whole bodies, minds and spirits. He said that the second is liken to the first in that we love our neighbors as we love God. (I'm paraphrasing rather than quoting.) That is all we can do. Once that is realized, everything else is inconsequential.
Or rather everything falls into place under those two commandments.

Also, Paul in either Galatians or Ephesians wrote that all the old law and proscriptions in the Old Testament were null and void through the birth, life, sacrifice on the cross and ressurection and assumption of the Christ.

Best of luck and may the hand of the Divine always guide you.


genevieve said...

When I embraced my transness, all the tension and confusion disappeared. God loves me as His child. Thank you for your story, Jenny. I am a happy and content transgender and crossdresser.


Chloe said...

Interesting way to look at the Creation account! Allow me to introduce myself before I induce a little more theory into the Creation of man and woman.

My name is Chloë. I was raised in a Southern Baptist family, and I accepted Christ as my personal Lord and Savior when I was 13. I am also transexual, and have been transitioning for over a year now on HRT and undergoing the RLT. I've uttered the exact same "transexual prayer" countless times: God, please make me normal. God, please make me a girl. Why won't you answer my prayers, God? So on and so forth.

On to my point:

"Male AND female created He THEM"

In Hebrew:

"Zachar UNeqivah bara OTAM"

What is important to note is that God did not create Adam and Eve until AFTER He created MANKIND (ha'adam). So when God created MANKIND (ha'adam), as it says: He created THEM male AND female.

And in the following chapter, God puts Adam in a deep sleep, and removes one of Adam's SIDES (not ribs) to create woman. I believe the word "rib" was mistranslated from the Hebrew word "t'selot" because every other place in the Old Testament which uses the word "t'selot" refers to a SIDE, not a RIB. So, logically...

What if God created MANKIND originally as a creature which was both male AND female, just as the Bible says, and later separated man into two different SIDES? What if MANKIND was originally created as a true intersexed individual? That would most certainly make a lot of sense in terms of God removing Adam's SIDE, instead of such an unimportant body part, like an extra rib, don't you think?

IMHO, it makes men and women appear to be equally created in God's image. Just my two cents, and not to be taken as truth, but it certainly clears things up quite a bit. ;-)

Great blog, Jenny!

God bless,

Anonymous said...

I am happy to see Christains in the GLBT community moving forward in this conversation. I, as a white male that is ordained clergy long for the day when more voices are welcomed at the table and listened to as true believers. I love Jenny for her courage and her willingness to follow Jesus even theough the church is so afaird of this issue. D. Bonhoeffer claimed that we must listen with the ears of God befroe we can speak the word of God. The church should be doing some holy listening wehn it comes to racism, sexism and homophobia, jenny thank you for you voice, may god grant the church ears to hear,ron