As an historian I know how important is to nurture life-giving memory and uncover what lies buried in our received narratives and assumed traditions. This is not to pretend that history was something it was not. Most of Christian history has certainly been dominated by patriarchal forces and values which marginalised women and diverse peoples. It is however about seeking the fuller, more complex, truth, albeit often hidden in the margins where it is not erased.
There are also as many different trans experiences as there are trans people. So it is tricky to highlight particular ones, except as a starter and to encourage other stories to be lived and heard. What is vital however is that the best of our lived experiences are honoured as truly holy and as divine gifts to us, and to others. May something of what is shared here enlarge all our spirits and enhance our common capacities for the joyful transformation of our selves and world. For what we now name as transgender has a long history of connection with people of many times and places...
gender variant people in many cultures
Especially in Western societies, the lives of sexual and gender minorities have often been cloaked in invisibility where they have not been under attack. Yet most cultures have recognised the reality of sexual and gender variance and many have provided social space and sometimes dedicated roles for gender variant people. Among the best known have been ancient eunuchs, Indian hijras, Balkan sworn virgins, Thai kathoeys, and Lakota winkte. Not all of these sit easily of course with some traditional Christian traditions but, at the very least, they remind us to look more deeply and to engage more compassionately and creatively with gender expression in our own day and cultures. In Australia for example we might greet far more positively our Indigenous transgender people - such as the Sistersgirls or Yimpininni of the Tiwi Islands and elsewhere - and affirm the gender nonconforming traditions of the Pacific and other neighbouring peoples.
gender variance in Christian history
Apart from scriptural examples, throughout religious history, despite strong constraints, there have been gender variant people. Here a few examples from the Christian tradition:
Cross dressing saints in the early Church - partly for reasons of exclusion and/or oppression as women, there were a significant number of early female saints (some of whom found their place in both Orthodox and Roman Catholic calendars) who lived as males.
Joan of Arc - a female who acted as a man and has been revered both in many religious circles and among feminists (as well as on the Catholic Right!). The source of her gender crossing has been disputed among historians but she is a potent example of historical diversity and of human ambiguity.
As Adrian Thatcher argues, the two gender binary theory (and resulting ideologies of complementarity) are late additions to the history and Christian story.
some further pointers
Among those who have traced something of such gender diversity in religious history are: Virginia Ramey Mollenkott in her book Omnigender: A Trans-Religious Approach
Check out the LGBT Religious Archives Network here
The Shower of Stoles is also a wonderful LGBTI+ ecumenical project, showing how much the Church already owes to trans and other LGBTI+ people at every level, remembering and helping to redeem the hurts of history