Some Reflections on Why Transgenderism is a Gift of the Holy Spirit

Originally appeared in Transgender Tapestry #097, Spring 2002.

by Shirley Boughton

What makes us transgendered? Why are we transgendered? Is it a blessing or a curse? These are questions I have struggled with for a lifetime. The answers seem somehow critical to my very survival as well as my ability to accept myself as a transgendered person. My personality drives me to dig deeply into who I am and why.

The question for many of us who are transgendered is whether our transgender nature is a result of a mistake of nature (akin to a club foot) which should be fixed, or whether we have been deliberately designed by the divine creator for a special spiritual purpose. Do we need to seek medical assistance to conform our bodies to match our brain patterns so we can better fit into a two-gender society, or do we represent a third gender with a specific role to play? Do we shape our bodies and our forms of dress to fit gender stereotypes, or do we do these things to achieve harmony with our soul? I have now come to believe my transgenderism was hard-wired before I was born, and that the divine architect intended this for a reason.
A relatively small number of us have begun to address the spiritual implications inherent in the existence of transgendered individuals. I believe our individual spirituality is deeply connected to and flows from our biologic reality and is shaped by the particular culture into which we are born. Scripture tells us, ?Truly you have formed my inmost being; you knit me in my mother?s womb. I give you thanks that I am fearfully, wonderfully made; wonderful are your works.? [Psalms 139:13-14] Or, drawing from the Book of the Prophet Isaiah, ?The Lord called me from birth, from my mother?s womb he gave me my name.? [Isaiah 49:1] As a transgendered person, I am a child of God and I am wonderfully made.

A Native American Perspective

Holly Boswell has been one of the leaders in exploring transgender spirituality. She and her partner, Zantui Rose, sponsor spiritual retreats for transgendered persons at their retreat center in the mountains near Asheville, N.C. Holly?s paper ?The Spirit of Transgender? can be accessed through a link on the Kindred Spirits website . One of Holly?s references is an anthropological study by Will Roscoe entitled The Zuni Man-Woman, which describes the role of transgendered persons amongst the Zuni people, a native North American tribe.

Since there is no recognition of a legitimate transgender role in the society in which we live, it is instructive to look to other cultures and other times for clues to our spiritual identity. Roscoe?s book focuses on the life of a transgendered Zuni from the late 19th Century. We?wha was a biologic male and a recognized and respected member of his tribe who lived, worked and dressed as a Zuni woman from early childhood until death near the age of 50.

Zuni society is a matriarchy in which men and women have distinct roles based upon mutuality and respect for all aspects of creation. They strive to live in the middle place, between extremes of any kind, including those of gender, which is the most fundamental rift that divides human from human. Their origin myths and religion have this balance as a central tenet, and one of their most prominent gods is transgendered. The role of this god was to contribute a corrective influence upon the ruptures of social specialization. All Zunis were to strive for a balance between their feminine and masculine selves, but the transgendered persons among them served as concrete examples by freely moving in both male and female social worlds. They helped both men and women reach a greater understanding of each other and themselves. The Zunis attributed transgendered individuals with multidimensional personalities that express important aspects of an archetype of wholeness. The transgender identity, once crystallized, was as strong as that of male or female identity, entailing a complete constellation of skills, attitudes and behaviors. In short, the Zuni transgendered functioned as a third gender, neither male nor female but, encompassing aspects of both.

A View of the Transgender Personality

Karl Jung described the transgender personality type, which he categorized as a form of homosexuality, as having

... a great capacity for friendship, which often creates ties of astonishing tenderness between men and may even rescue friendship between the sexes from the limbo of the impossible. He may have good taste and an aesthetic sense which are fostered by the presence of a feminine streak. Then he may be supremely gifted as a teacher because of almost feminine insight and tact. He is likely to have a feeling for history, and to be conservative in the best sense and cherish the values of the past. Often he is endowed with a wealth of religious feelings, which help bring the ecclesia spiritualis into reality; and a spiritual receptivity which makes him responsive to revelation.

This descriptor seems to fit many in the transgender community. What has Western civilization lost by crushing its transgender spirits? Our society not only wastes individual potential by viewing its transgendered as deviants to be criminalized and stigmatized, but loses potential guides to bring both men and women from the extremes of gender separation to an intermediate position. Without the transgender spirit, can we ever achieve mutuality and wholeness in our society?

Is Transgender Spirituality Compatible with Western Christianity? With the Teachings of Jesus?

I believe we must find a way to achieve gender balance in our society based upon our own traditions and adapt a spirituality that is appropriate to our time and place in the world. We who are transgendered, who occupy a middle position by nature of our biology, are called to help guide this process. We do not necessarily need to reject Christianity. I do have a real problem, though, accepting the Western patriarchal society and religious hierarchies that have been established using the Judeo-Christian tradition as their legitimizing basis. Jesus warned explicitly against the establishment of a hierarchical church and even washed the feet of his own disciples as an example to them of how they must lead by serving. Was Jesus perhaps transgendered?

The early Christians were egalitarian and inclusive of both men and women in leadership roles. It was only when Christianity became the state religion of the Roman Empire that it adopted the male-dominated hierarchical form and subsequently ran roughshod over all other cultures and forms of worship. My own ethnic roots are predominately Celtic, and this deeply informs my spiritual sensibilities. The Celtic Christian Church, too, was democratic and inclusive in the years immediately following Patrick?s conversion of Ireland in the Fifth Century A.D. Patrick adapted the teachings of Jesus to fit the spirituality and mythology of the Celtic peoples, which emphasized a fundamental connectedness with the Earth, the universe, and all living things. As a result, the Celts enthusiastically embraced Christianity and, inspired by the Holy Spirit, zealously carried the Gospel message back into Europe following the collapse of the Roman Empire. This Celtic enthusiasm gradually died out after the Celtic Church came under the heel of the Roman Catholic hierarchy in the Seventh Century A.D.

I cannot view God as being strictly a male figure. The word ?father? in historical context means the one who begets ... the one who creates. Until the 19th Century, when the ovum was discovered, the prevailing understanding was that a man?s sperm contained everything needed for human life. A woman was considered to be little more than a piece of fertile ground into which a man?s seed could be planted. We now know the ovum contains half of the genetic material needed for human formation, and the environment within a woman?s womb strongly influences the development of the embryo. In this sense, a woman is more involved in the creative process than a man. From the biblical story of creation in the Book of Genesis, God creates the earth, the sky, the oceans, all plant life, fish, birds and animals before he creates human beings from the union of God?s spirit with the clay of the earth (Genesis 2:7). God created humankind in the divine image ... both male and female (Genesis 1:27). So God as Creator is both father and mother. God is both male and female. God is fully androgynous. It is also interesting to note that much of our genetic code is shared by the other life forms on this planet. This fact underscores our fundamental connectedness with the earth and the need to develop a consistent ethic of life?i.e., a respect and reverence for all life in all its stages from conception to the grave and beyond. This earth-connectedness parallels the core concepts held by the so-called primitive spiritual worldviews that include traditions like Wicca, Taoism, shamanism, and many Native American cultures. It is the key to understanding Celtic spirituality. It is also a fundamental part of Jesus? teaching and life example.

The central message of Jesus? ministry is to love God as the universal creator, to love God as manifested in others, and to love God as contained within ourselves. In a very real sense our souls?our spirits?are extensions of God, and as such we are intimately connected to all aspects of God?s created universe. Each human person is a unique and gifted creation of God, and each contains the Spirit of God. Therefore, all persons, since they contain the Spirit of God, should be treated with reverence and respect. We are meant to be as we have been created. There is an infinite variety in God?s garden; there are no weeds. Each of us has the potential to add value to the community into which we have been born. We have been created by God to cooperate with Her/Him in finishing the work of creation here on Earth. Each of us is a child of God, and each of us will ultimately return to God as heirs of :the promise.

I believe that we as transgendered persons can be considered to be special gifts of the Holy Spirit to the people of God. Because we are different and don?t fit within normally accepted societal gender categories, because we are rejected by the leaders of most organized religions, simply to survive we are forced to look deeper into the meaning of life than the average person. Our rejection by mainstream religions causes many of us to question the basic tenets of these religions in order to determine what fits and what does not. This in turn can result in a higher level of spiritual consciousness for transgendered persons. The average churchgoing person rarely challenges the doctrines and dogmas of the faith or culture into which he or she has been born. Because our very survival depends on it, we who are different must question all these things. As survivors of this painful process, we are perhaps better able to tap into the true nature of God and the intended relationship of humanity with God. If accepted by the main body of the church, we can act as leaven to raise the spiritual consciousness of all humanity. Unfortunately, most churchmen and others who enjoy positions of power within society don?t embrace criticism or any other form that questions or challenges their authority. Our mere existence as transgendered persons is perceived as a threat to the existing order. We are subject to ridicule, hostility and sometimes outright persecution. Most hope we will simply disappear. Many of us do disappear through suicide or attempts to force-fit ourselves into established gender stereotypes. I myself attempted for many years to excise my feminine side, to stuff myself into the male mold dictated by my genitalia. My soul rebelled by acting out in ways that nearly destroyed me. I have suffered the ravages of HIV/AIDS (I am now a 19-year survivor), have been arrested and publicly humiliated, have been cast aside by ?friends? and my faith community, and have been driven out of my chosen profession. My soul has finally caught my full attention, and no longer choose to abandon it. Indeed, I cannot, or I will surely die.

My Spiritual Path

I choose now to fully honor who I am. This will not be an easy path, but my options are limited. Based upon available testing, reflection on my own history as compared to other transgendered persons, intense psychotherapy, and prayer, I believe I am fairly well out on the transsexual end of the transgender continuum. Many who are like me have chosen to live out their lives as more completely female, some opting for sex reassignment surgery and intense hormone replacement therapy, some not. My conclusion is that for me it is not really possible to ever become fully female. Even with SRS and intense HRT, I would never have the internal parts to be a complete woman. My bone structure and other physical features would make it difficult for me to pass well in public as a woman. I am in a loving and fully committed relationship with my wife of 25 years, and I have a family, a male history, and a community life I would find difficult to abandon. These practical considerations aside, I question the spiritual basis for wanting to shift from one rigid gender box to another. I believe I was born as a T person to be in a middle position between the gender extremes. As in the Zuni culture, I want to be able to move freely between the anima and the animus. I want to be able to fully embrace both the male and the female aspects of my soul. It is not yet clear to me how to go about this in our culture. Good models are difficult to find. I have chosen to make minimal physical adjustments, to limit the feminization of my body. I have begun laser treatments to remove the hair on my chin and upper lips. I am also taking estrogen at about one-half the dosage normal for someone who is fully transitioning. The concept here is to flood the receptors in the brain with the estrogen for which they have thirsted since puberty.

I have already noticed improvement in my mood and emotional balance. At last I have been able to stop antidepressant therapy without deepening existing depression. I choose to wear more brightly colored and decorative clothing most of the time, but limit full crossdressing to appropriate occasions. My wife and I have participated on transgendered panels for university classes in both the Northwest and South Florida. I openly declare myself as transgendered person in public forums when it makes sense to do so.

Will I be able to sustain this level of ?transition? forever? Who knows? For now it seems to be enough.

As a transgendered Celtic Christian soul, I feel I am called to challenge, as best I can, the current dogmas and doctrines of the Roman Catholic Church and the Western patriarchal culture into which I have been born. I feel I am called by the Holy Spirit to openly challenge the teachings and attitudes that serve to enslave both men and women in rigid gender boxes, that prevent most human persons from fully embracing both the male and the female aspects of their souls, that prevent most from becoming whole in the true image and likeness of an androgynous God. I believe this can be done best through education and one-on-one discussions with people who are willing to open their minds. As Jesus said to his disciples: ?Do not give what is holy to dogs or toss pearls before swine. They will trample them under foot, at best, and perhaps tear you to shreds.? [Matthew 7:6]

In my view, it is important that some of us be willing to put a face on transgenderism by openly embracing our reality as transgendered persons. From the Gospel of Matthew: ?The gift you have received, give as a gift.? [Matthew 10:7-8]

If we are open about who we are, then, based upon the model of Jesus? life, we can expect persecution. Quoting from Matthew?s version of the Beatitudes: ?Blest are those persecuted for holiness? sake; the reign of God is theirs. Blest are you when they insult you and persecute you and utter every kind of slander against you because of me. Be glad and rejoice, for your reward in heaven is great; they persecuted the prophets before you in the very same way.?

If we accept the teachings of Jesus and the model of his life, we must also be willing to be patient and to avoid direct confrontation with our enemies in spite of this persecution. ?But I say to you, love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you ...? [Matthew 5:44]. After all, our enemies, too, contain the Spirit of God. We have a right as children of God to exist on this planet ... but so do they. They shall know we are Christians by our love! We can afford to be generous because ultimately we know that we bear God?s truth.

I offer these conclusions, not as a manifesto for all transgendered persons, but merely as my attempt to find meaning and purpose for my own life.