The idea that male and female are two distinct and separate genders, into one or other of which everybody is supposed to fit, is a very modern, patriarchal model that, although now widely spread through the world, has no basis or grounding in history, or in biological nor spiritual fact. It is high time we decolonised gender and sexuality from the crippling notions imposed on both in the names of both religion and science in recent centuries.
I will leave the biology to others, here are some observations on the spiritual nature of humanity:
Christians sometimes justify their transphobia by utilising the verse in the first chapter of the book of Genesis that says,
“God created Adam in His image, in the image of God He created him; male and female God created them”.
Yet while this is interpreted today to mean men and women are separate genders, the ancient Jewish sages taught something quite different. They knew that this was a declaration that humans are androgynous in their core nature, that male and female are expressions of the soul, and rather than a clear line between the two there existed a spectrum of possibilities of genderfluid combinations. In fact at least one ancient Greek translation of Genesis reads “male and female created He him” not “them” (gnosis.org)
Ancient Hebrew teachings gave consideration to those who fell outside the gender polarity – teachings handed down through oral tradition but eventually being written down in the third century. The androgynos was someone with both male and female characteristics, the tumtum, one whose biology is unclear, the aylonit, who identified as female at birth, but at puberty, develops male characteristics, and the saris, who appears as male at birth, but later takes on more typically female biology. Rabbinical text the Bikkurim starts a discussion thus
“An androgynous, who presents both male and female physical traits, is in some ways like men and in some ways like women. In some ways, they are like both men and women, and in other ways, like neither men nor women.” (Bikkurim 4:1)
The Old Testament prophet Isaiah said:
“To the eunuchs who keep my Sabbaths,
who choose what pleases me
and hold fast to my covenant—
to them I will give within my temple and its walls
a memorial and a name
better than sons and daughters;
I will give them an everlasting name
that will endure forever.” (Isaiah 56:12)
Jesus was schooled in the rabbinical tradition and he too let us know that he understood the spiritual power of transsexuality. Discussing eunuchs in the Gospel of Matthew he tells us,
“For there are eunuchs who were born that way, others were made that way by men, and still others live like eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 19:12). Aware of the potential controversy perhaps, he went on to say “The one who can accept (also translated as ‘receive’) this should accept it.”
Ancient mythologies from the Middle East and Europe, like those from other parts of the world, contain many tales of gender transformation, and for millennia people who themselves embodied gender fluidity were regarded as having special powers. For this reason trans people often took up holy roles in the community. In the story of Ishtar, the form of the Goddess worshiped for at least 10000 years in the Mesopotamian empires, transgender priest/esses, the kurgurru and galatur, were created especially to be her servants. Similarly, Goddess Cybele, whose worship was centred in Anatolia in modern Turkey but went on to spread around the Mediterranean and as far as Britain once the Romans adopted her as their Magna Mater, Great Goddess, was served by the transgender Gallae priest/esses. Their flamboyant, loud, sexual and sometimes bloody ways were much hated by the early Christians. Augustine recognised the Gallae as “the sons of the earth. The Earth is their mother” but called them also “castrated perverts….. madmen…. foully unmanned and corrupted.”
Inscribed pottery shards from the Middle Kingdom of Egypt (2000–1800 BCE), found near ancient Thebes, list three human genders: tai (male), sḫt (“sekhet”) and hmt (female). (Sethe, Kurt, (1926), Die Aechtung feindlicher Fürsten, Völker und Dinge auf altägyptischen Tongefäßscherben des mittleren Reiche, quoted on Wikipedia)
From ancient languages we can tell that a gender was viewed as fluid, as a spectrum: Latin had the word virago, for a masculine woman and mollis for a feminine man (this word stuck around for a long time, eg the Molly Houses of 18th century London. Other ancient Greek/Roman words for effeminate males included cinaedus (originally the word for an exotic dancer from Asia Minor), baptai (effeminate and licentious, originally the baptai were gender-variant, homo-erotically inclined priests of the Goddess Kotys, who originated in Phrygia, Turkey, and crossed into Greece 7th century BCE), and effeminatus.
Pliny (1st century CE) wrote that “there are even those who are born of both sexes, whom we call hermaphrodites, at one time androgyni“
For one thousand years in Europe Christian teachings gradually reduced and removed all memory of ancient knowledge about the spiritual power of both homosexuality and transsexuality. The idea that both these naturally occurring features of the human soul were ‘against nature’ took hold. But when European Christians set out to explore the world they found that in most cultures same sex relationships were not considered taboo, and that cross-dressing, gender-bending shamans served as spiritual functionaries in tribal peoples on every continent.
The Native American tribes often recognised 3,4 or 5 genders, and each had their own special words for the gendervariant, magical servants of the spirit.
Examples include, for male bodied Two-Spirits, winkte (Lakota tribe), lhamana (Zuni ), nádleehí (Navajo), boté (Crow), . There were words for female bodied two spirit shamans including hwame (Mohave), hetaneman (Cheyenne) and tayagigux (Aleut). Terms used for both male and female two spirits included t‘übás (Northern Paiute), and tangowaip (western Shoshone). Some of these terms can be translated as “manwoman” but there are other meanings too – Nádleehí, for example, literally means “one who is changing.”
The Europeans called the gender-bending shamans berdache, a French word for a passive homosexual, and this word stuck for centuries until the Native Americans themselves chose to replace it with the term ‘Two-Spirit’, which is a suitable translation for the many words the tribes used to use, it referring to the presence of both male and female spirit in one person.
In Zapotece communities of Mexico a third gender is recognised, called the Muxe. In a 1551 letter sent from Brazil Father Pero Correia wrote about women who “carry weapons like men and marry other women. Being called ‘women’ was perceived as a major insult.” The Amazon was given that name by Europeans because of women like these, who reminded them of legends of ancient European warrior women.
Crossing into the Pacific Ocean, in Polynesian and Hawaiian societies the Mahu were men who lived as women and served the community as healers, caretakers and teachers of the hula dance traditions.
African cultures also saw gender in a holistic rather than binary way:
“mudoko dako” were effeminate males among the Langi of northern Uganda, they were treated as women and could marry men.
“gor-digen” were men-women of Senegal
“chibados” a third gender in south western Africa: Portuguese Jesuit Joao dos Santos wrote in 1625 that the chibados were “attyred like women, and behave themselves womanly, ashamed to be called men; are also married to men, and esteeme that unnaturale damnation an honor.”
“skesana” and “iqgenge” – Zulu terms for trans-gender people
“mumemke” and “shoga” – Swahili terms for trans-gender
“tsecats” were a third gender class of dancers and ceremonial magicians in Madagascar.
“…among the Dagara people [of Burkino Faso], gender has very little to do with anatomy. It is purely energetic. In that context, a male who is physically male can vibrate female energy, and vice versa. That is where the real gender is. Anatomic differences are simply there to determine who contributes what for the continuity of the tribe. It does not mean, necessarily, that there is a kind of line that divides people on that basis.” Dagara Teacher Malidoma Some quoted from http://www.menweb.org/somegay.htm
In Asia trans or third-gender people appear in many cultures. The Hijra of India today are a surviving remnant of what was once a proud tradition of spiritual community. They have survived the attacks of Muslims and Christians to be a living link to the queer shamanic servants of the ancient world. The Kathoey of Thailand have a long, rich history too, but not one universally recognised by Buddhism, which in this respect can act like the Abrahamic religions, viewing homosexuality and transsexuality as lower vibrational. Buddhism is after all also a patriarchal system, but Hinduism has long recognised a third gender and its sacred nature. It is referred to in the Vedas, in the Kama Sutra and in ancient medical, legal and astrological texts. The Supreme God Shiva is considered to be transgender in their Ardhinashvara aspect, which brings us back to where we started.
GOD IS TRANSGENDER
THE SOUL IS TRANSGENDER
ULTIMATELY WE ARE ALL TRANSGENDER
BUT SOME SOULS ARE HERE TO EMBODY THAT NATURE DIRECTLY
AND RECLAIM ITS SACRED PURPOSE, POWER AND PRESENCE
CHANGING THE STORY OF QUEER, TRANS AND GAY