The Beginning of Gender

A reflection by Lindsey

I’ve been trying to sort through my own questions about faith, sexuality, and gender for nearly two decades. It hasn’t been a smooth or glamorous journey. Along the way, I’ve been amazed by the number of Christians I’ve met who respond to my questions with various short answers to shut down conversation. I’ve lost track of people who have told me things like “There’s no such thing as a gay Christian” or “The opposite of homosexuality isn’t heterosexuality; it’s holiness.” Like any other culturally contentious conversation, the talking points have shifted over time. Tracking the conversations over the past several months, I’ve observed a Back-to-Genesis approach where conservative Christians say things like, “The scriptural view of human sexuality is that God formed man and woman in His image (Gen 1:27-28) and these two were to become one flesh (Gen 2:23-24).” The quote can fit into a single tweet if one takes out Scriptural citations. I’ve started to see a greater reliance on this particular argument as conservative Christians have started to grapple with questions about transgender people. My goal in writing this post is to provide food for thought that moves respectful conversation forward.

One benefit to looking towards Genesis 1 and 2 is that these chapters describe our relationship with God before sin entered the world. They contain the beginning of our collective story as being God’s beloved creation. We share our status as creation with plants, animals, the stars and moon in the sky, oceans, and the earth itself. It’s important to remember that Genesis 1 and 2 discuss only the beginning; if we want to discuss the ending of our collective story, we’re left to puzzle through many of the obscure pointers found in Revelation or the various teasers scattered throughout the New Testament. The Gospel of John opens by echoing Genesis 1 to establish Christ’s presence and work at creation. We gain new insights into creation when we consider Genesis 1 and 2 as the beginning of our redemption where Christ is the author and perfector of the rest of the story.

Genesis 1 and 2 tell us about the beginning of gender. In Genesis 1, we read humans are created in the image of God as male and female. Genesis 2 provides more context by describing the creation of Adam and Eve. The Genesis account of creation centers on two people, Adam and Eve, to whom God had said, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.” As much as I do not wish to quibble with the text, it seems abundantly clear to me that two people could never fulfill this call by themselves. These commands are given to all of humanity where we all do our best to conform ourselves to God’s likeness as we do the difficult work set before us. Our God is a triune God and is therefore fundamentally relational and communal. If we are created in God’s image and likeness, then we are fundamentally relational and communal as well. One reason why the world was so good at creation is that no relationships were broken. Adam and Eve had a one-flesh relationship because Eve’s flesh was formed directly from Adam’s. Vulnerability existed without shame; Genesis 2 ends with “the man and his wife were both naked and were not ashamed.”

Our lived experience of what God intended for us changed radically in Genesis 3. As wrongdoing entered into the world, so too did fear, shame, blame, and bloodshed. Relationships between creation, Eve, Adam, and God changed drastically. The relationship between man and woman was not the same: “I will surely multiply your pain in childbearing; in pain you shall bring forth children. Your desire shall be for your husband, and he shall rule over you.”

These observations matter when we consider what Christ said when quoting these parts of Genesis. In Matthew 19, Jesus says to the Pharisees,

“Have you not read that he who created them from the beginning made them male and female, and said, ‘Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’? So they are no longer two but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate.”

When his disciples ask more questions to try to understand, Jesus says,

“Not everyone can receive this saying, but only those to whom it is given. For there are eunuchs who have been so from birth, and there are eunuchs who have been made eunuchs by men, and there are eunuchs who have made themselves eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom of heaven. Let the one who is able to receive this receive it.”

It’s worth noting that Jesus is responding to a question about divorce. Jesus quotes Genesis when asked about people who are already married. Christ, who knows God’s creative intent, pulls from Genesis when discussing male and female while going beyond the creation narrative to discuss eunuchs. I believe any person commenting on sex and gender would do well to consider how eunuchs make valuable contributions to the human experience, even as we should acknowledge how eunuchs are not generally discussed in the Scripture. It’s worth mentioning that eunuchs are important figures in the books of Daniel and Acts.

When I think about the beginning of gender, I find it helpful to think about other facets of creation. Creation began as God said, “Let there be light.”  On the first day, God divided the light from darkness to create Day and Night. However, night does not lack light. On the fourth day, God created the sun and the moon. Day, night, light, and dark blend together. There is a seamlessness as all of time comes together. On the second day, God divided the waters to create dry land. But the land does not lack water. Not only does rain fall to nourish the plants that grow on the land, but also water collects to forms lakes and rivers. We also know water gathers under the land, making it possible for many people to access freshwater. Without the small proportion of water that is freshwater, life as we know it couldn’t exist. The water cycle gives people a way to conceptualize what is happening as water moves throughout the earth. Every photon and every water molecule serves as a marker for God’s amazing activity during creation.

When we are talking about the mystery of humanity, every person shows us something of the image of God. We can speak of Adam and Eve as prototypes of a sort for male and female, but these two people do not have a monopoly on the category. It would also be difficult to figure out the fullness of God’s intention for us as people simply by looking at the beginning of our collective story. We must consider the mystery of humanity through the words of Christ. Could it be that Christ knew that there would be people who blended male and female such that some would be eunuchs? Do we have space in our theological imagination to see seamlessness as human beings created in the image and likeness of God?

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13 thoughts on “The Beginning of Gender

  1. Thank you. I’ve been flirting with the idea that transgender, absent intersex genitalia, isn’t a real category. I’m not sure this will stop my wrestling with it, and since figuring it out isn’t my number 1 priority, I’m not sure I’ll be back for any prolonged conversation. But when I saw you were broaching the subject, I just had to see what you had to say. You didn’t disappoint.

    • Thanks for dropping by. I think there are myriad questions about how every human reflects the image of God in unique ways. Relative to the questions of eunuchs, I see benefit in starting with ambiguous genitalia as it’s easily observed. However, we also know that a number of intersex conditions are chromosomal and/or hormonal. Additionally, I have many questions about how male and female manifest in marriage and wonder what latitude exists for celibate people to make sense of their gender. We’ll see how the muse strikes. -Lindsey

  2. WOW! This is incredible! I find your analysis of Genesis 1 INCREDIBLE and powerful. I am constantly amazed at the broad theological and social insights that you bring by examining gender at close quarters.

    Thank you.

    • Thank you for your kind words. I think having reasoned conversations about sexuality and gender matters, and I’m trying to do my part in supporting gracious discourse. Hope to see you again in the comments! -Lindsey

  3. I certainly wish there was more discussion on trans* issues within the Church. I struggle with my gender identity and, while a Protestant, was living “out” as trans. Once I found Orthodoxy, though, I submitted to the Church’s (far too limited!) teachings on it and am living and presenting as the girl I was born as. While I accept the teaching that, like my sexuality, it is something God calls me to struggle against, I wish we had more Church Fathers and modern scholars writing on it. The extra support would be a blessing.

    • Hi Jay, thanks for stopping by. Trying to find one’s way through complex life circumstances can be entirely difficult. I’d be curious to hear more about your experience and hope to see you again in the comments. -Lindsey

  4. Hey there. I’m super interested in this topic. If I may make a recommendation, this book has been extremely thought-provoking:
    http://www.amazon.com/Woman-Salvation-World-Paul-Evdokimov/dp/0881418722
    I haven’t finished the book. However, when you mention “the beginning” of gender, I am reminded of Evdokimov’s project. In the beginning, man and woman were unified in the body of Adam, and from an eschatological perspective, the beginning prefigures the end: humanity undivided, in communion with God. I think this is why St. Paul can say that in Christ there is no gender or nationality, that is to say, a being with Christ finds being in Christ, and not in the form of one’s body, or the circumstances of one’s birth. (: Interested to hear more of your thoughts!

    • Hello! Thanks for stopping by. I will have to take a look at the book.

      I’ve seen it argued by others (most notably Metropolitan Anthony Bloom) that emphasizing Christ as the new Adam focuses on Adam before his rib was removed. The meaning and substance of gender is a newer area of theological thought. It’s incredibly important in our current time and place, and I think we would do well to remember the importance of our common humanity.

      -Lindsey

        • Hi Josiah,

          Metropolitan Anthony gave a series of 6 talks on man and woman where I find the 2nd talk to be particularly thought-provoking. These talks can be accessed on Metropolitan Anthony’s archive. Please accept my apologies in advance regarding the formatting of the text on the archive itself.

          Best,
          Lindsey

  5. What do we know of “eunuchs” at the time of Jesus? He refers to some as those who have been “made eunuchs by men,” presumably by castration. He says that some are so from birth. The suggestion that the category includes “people who blended male and female” seems like special pleading. Saint Paul speaks of men who act effeminately (“soft”) in a entirely negative way. There is no affirmation anywhere of sexual expression that is not simply that of male and female.

    • Hi Chris,

      Thinking about what was known about sex and gender at the time of Jesus brings us to a limited point. At that time, there was a focus on reproductive phenotype because that was the nature of the information available. Even at the level of reproductive phenotype, there are people who blend male and female. As I said in my original comment to Roger, we’ve also discovered that a number of intersex conditions are chromosomal and/or hormonal.

      It’s also worth pointing out that I wrote this reflection as a celibate person. And again, as I said in my comment to Roger, I have many questions about how male and female manifest in marriage and wonder what latitude exists for celibate people to make sense of their gender.

      Best,
      Lindsey

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