“Transforming: The Bible and the Lives of Transgender Christians” by Austen Hartke— Shedding Light on Gender

Hartke, Austen. “Transforming: The Bible and the Lives of Transgender Christians”, Westminster John Knox Press , 2018.

Shedding Light on Gender

Amos Lassen

For those of you who do not yet realize it, transgender issues have become the next civil rights frontier. Yet many people, including LGBTQ allies still do not have an understanding of gender identity and the transgender experience. Austen Hartke here brings us a biblically based, educational, and affirming resources that further explain gender issues.

“Transforming: The Bible and the Lives of Transgender Christians” is certainly a book I would never have thought I would see even a year ago. It takes us into the transgender community that has been so underrepresented and misunderstood community and without a doubt, about faith and about the future of Christianity. Author Hartke introduces transgender issues, language and stories of both biblical characters and real-life narratives from transgender Christians living today. In this way we can easier see and be part of a more inclusive Christianity with the confidence and tools to change both the church and the world. Now most of you know that I am an observant Jew so why would a book of this kind be important to me? The answer to that is relatively simple. The Hebrew Bible is the backbone of almost all active religions today and I am curious to see how both the Hebrew Bible and the Christian Bible can work together to give us more understanding about what we do not know. Incidentally, Joy Ladin is in the process of finishing her transgender look at Hebrew scripture and I believe that her book will be as important to Christians as Hartke’s book is important to Jews. We must remember that holy writings do not stand alone.

Hartke is a white, bisexual, committed Christian transgender man who happens to be a committed Christian yet he admits that when entering an unfamiliar church, he feels a bit nervous. The reason for this is very clear in that many churches in America are less than welcoming to the 1.4 million transgender adults in their midst. We surely cannot forget that of that large number of people , 41 percent will have attempted suicide. This is surely one of the reasons that a supportive faith community is so important. Hartke shares his own search for a place like this and also gives us how pothers have dealt with finding their places.

There is so much more discussed here as well. Hartke writes definitions of gender identities and how our gender identities are partially constructed by society and what may be biological. He finds answers to some very difficult questions in the Bible, sometimes surprising ones and one of the ways that he does this is to equate today’s transgender people with eunuchs who were the gender-nonconforming people of the ancient world. This is something I never thought of and I plan to read a great deal more about. I always have had the impression that becoming a eunuch was imposed on someone and did not arise out of the discomfort one feels with his birth gender (but that is also a hot question). Hartke then goes into something I know very little about but plan to learn more and that is the corporeal nature of Jesus and he is able to find a discussion or theology here.

Above all else, it seems to me, at least, is the way to find a community that is welcoming and accepting keeping in mind that tolerance is no longer enough. Aside from the text that is filled with information, the book also has an appendix of further reading and resources.

Let me say this—the road to finding that community is not an easy one. I know because I have walked it before and more than once. Having been raised in a strict Orthodox household, I lived in fear of discovery until I finally forced myself to come out and deal with the consequences. With my family it was not so bad but with Judaism it meant that I would have t leave the Orthodox community that I had grown up in and loved deeply but where I could not be accepted for who I am. For many years I was a secular Jew and felt like I did not belong anywhere. Then I found Reform Judaism that invited me in and where I now make my home. But it is interesting that modern Orthodox Judaism has begun to accept us and I suspect it will not be that long before we are universally accepted, at least, to a degree.

Austen Hartke has given us a powerful and deeply moving read here in his book that cries out to be read. Here is the terminology, the sociological studies, and biblical and theological perspectives that transgender Christians have to deal with along with personal stories from the real world. Hartke explores trans identity through the lens of Scripture and through real life and he brings it to us so that we can better share in the understanding. The trans person is no longer going to be the forgotten child.

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