Sometimes called transcestors (trans ancestors) by some, there are many gender variant people in the Judaeo-Christian Scriptures. That might still seem surprising to some, such is the strength of ideological binary thinking today. Such trancestors are both an encouragement to many of us but certainly not a knock-down argument for acceptance. Speaking as a historian for example, it would be anachronistic to identify such people as modern day transgender people. Indeed their existence is not required for affirmation of transgender and gender nonconforming people today. For, even if there were no commonalities at all, other scriptural and theological imperatives (not least those of biblical healing, justice and compassion), together with modern knowledge would be more than sufficient. Yet such figures can speak powerfully to us in new ways (especially when the stories come alive afresh in dramatic ways, as in the work of Peterson Toscano - see below).
Here are some examples...
Adam - reading literally, the creation of Adam and Eve in Genesis 2 is certainly an extraordinary tale which it is extremely difficult to fit into modern binary ideology. As a mythic or symbolic tale however it is a fascinating example both of ancient understandings of creation and the cosmos and also of the inextricable unity of humanity in its diversity. The earth creature which comes into being may take curious forms and parts of this humanity may even transition from male to female, yet it is all good and holy where God's purpose is at play..
Deborah, and Jael (and others) - each of these strong female figures play roles which are typically associated with males and which indeed show up male failings, subverting gender: thereby being feminist and transgender, and generally wonderfully human, inspirations?
Joseph, son of Jacob - the word for Joseph's coat which so upset his brothers is only found elsewhere translated as a 'princess dress', which has led some to wonder whether Joseph's rejection by his brothers was based on a gender expression which broke their acceptable bounds. Does this also explain Jacob's particular love for Joseph - the special care by a father ( a 'smooth man' in appearance) who himself had been accused of spending too much time in the (women's) camp? - and the way in which Joseph (like an ancient eunuch) was able to rise and be given special responsibility among the Egyptian leaders and their households?
Eunuchs - many different eunuchs are mentioned in the Judaeo-Christian scriptures, and they would have held different roles and identities, some of which would have been the result of unwanted castration, yet which were clearly highly valued (cf notably, for example, in the book of Esther). The promise to the eunuchs in Isaiah chapter 56 that they are not only acceptable to God but will gain a greater reward than the children of Israel is indeed one of the most powerful expressions of the 'radical love' of God revealed in the Bible and a great comfort to many transgender people today. - have a look below at the story of Ebed-Melech (the Ethiopian eunuch who helped save the prophet Jeremiah)
Jesus - before anyone becomes over-excited, I am certainly not suggesting Jesus was transgender in our modern sense (!), but his behaviour was remarkable in his ease with both women and men, and especially his love of the outcast. His teaching about eunuchs. like that about the nature of true family (not to do with nature or blood but faith in God and spirit), also points us to a non/pan-gendered ethic and renews the promise of God given through Isaiah (a particularly important inspiration for Jesus). As the Christ (anointed bearer of God), he was also quickly identified by the early Church as the perfect embodiment of divine humanity *incorporating all gender) and transcending all gender.
Water Carrier - one of the fascinating and overlooked details of the last days of Jesus before his crucifixion was his command to his disciples to seek out a man carrying a water jug who would take them to the place for what would be 'the last supper'. Such a man would indeed have been unusual in that day - carrying water was a woman's job.
The Ethiopian Eunuch baptised by Philip - an outsider on several scores, not simply his gender, the eunuch's coming to Christ, acceptance by the apostolic community, and place in the narrative of the Acts of the Apostles are striking and radical features which we typically underrate: see further, my own reflection on this passage:Philip, the eunuch and radical inclusion - an overlooked conversion?
Peterson Toscano and Transfigurations: transgressing gender in the Bible
The work of Peterson Toscano (playwright, biblical scholar, and activist) has opened up such scripture stories in wonderful ways, using comedy and drama to open up biblical questions and issues such as climate change. As he says: 'I was shocked to discover that some of the most important people in some of the most important stories were gender nonconforming'. Some of this is now available on DVD