It’s astonishing how most Christians fail to recognize Jesus of Nazareth’s transgendered disposition. Not only does it repeatedly reveal itself in the Gospels, it can be plainly – yes, plainly – seen in thousands of paintings, murals, stained-glass windows, storybook illustrations, and other artifacts across the vast body of Christian iconography. Numerous scriptural accounts of Jesus’s interactions with both women and men reveal that his gendered identity was far from fixed.
In fact, it worked in tandem with a liberatory mission that employed a kind of feminist politics. No doubt some of you reading this blog will automatically reject the notion of a transgendered Jesus underlying a Feminist Christ. To you I say this: She that hath ears to hear, let her hear!
Jesus’s Deviations from the Rigid Gender Norms of His Day
I’ll let the famous paintings of Christ speak for themselves. But before turning to the Bible, I need to define my terms. I use transgendered as it is currently defined on the sacred site where all go for enlightenment: Wikipedia. Transgender, the article begins, “is a general term applied to a variety of individuals, behaviors, and groups involving tendencies to diverge from the normative gender roles.”
With this definition in mind, let me be clear that I am not associating the transgendered disposition of the kind exemplified by Christ with sexual orientation. I am not saying that he was gay, bisexual, or straight. Nor am I saying that he was a cross-dresser or a transvestite. What I am saying is that the Gospels repeatedly illustrate Jesus’s numerous “tendencies to diverge from the normative gender roles.” His intimate communion with women on behalf of God against the corrupt institutions of man reveals just how entwined his transgendered disposition was with his ministry.
The Radical Act of Washing His Disciples’ Dirty Feet
Although some recent movies have tried to represent Jesus in hypermasculine terms as a “real man,” the fact remains that nowhere in the Holy Gospels does Jesus show an abiding concern with preserving his masculinity. In fact, he often assumes feminine roles and engages in activities associated in the minds of men with women.
Let’s look at one of Jesus’s most radical actions: getting down on his knees to wash the feet of his disciples. Official interpreters of the Bible have long claimed this act, which astonished everyone present, was a lesson by Jesus in humility. But we need to look at the event in the same context that Jesus’s disciples did. Only three days earlier had Mary, the sister of Lazarus, washed Jesus’s feet with an expensive ointment. The spectacle didn’t go over well with Judas, who reproached Mary for wasting money that could have been given to the poor. In defense of Mary, Jesus admonished Judas in front of the rest of the disciples.
This wasn’t the first time that Jesus jumped to the defense of a woman who washed his feet. Days earlier, while dining with a pious pharisee, a “woman of low repute,” a prostitute, bathed Jesus’s feet in oil and wiped them with her hair. As the pharisee and his pious attendants watched in disbelief, Jesus, a rabbi, broke a moral code by having physical contact with a “contagious” sinner to whom he actually spoke. “Your sins are forgiven,” he told her, immediately drawing the ire of nearby officials who questioned what kind of “man” would dare to forgive a woman’s sins!
So at the Last Supper, when Jesus got down on the floor and took to washing the feet of his disciples, he was assuming a role previously enacted in their presence by a woman. He assumed what in their eyes was a feminized posture, one that discomfited Simon Peter (the macho disciple who later would cut off the ear of one of Jesus’s arresting officers) that he questioned, perhaps in a joking fashion, why Jesus didn’t wash his hands and head as well?
Weeping with Women
Although movies often depict Jesus as either an ascetic sage or tempestuous teacher of Scripture with a serious streak, a close reading of the Bible reveals that he was an emotionally sensitive man — one who, as the saying goes, “was in touch with his feminine side.”
We glimpse this side of Jesus when he is called to the home of Mary and Martha, the sisters of Lazarus, whose sorrow after the death of their brother, whom Jesus loved, emotionally wrenches him. “Deeply moved in his spirit and greatly troubled,” Jesus weeps with the women, who keep telling him “if you had been here, our brother would not have died!”
Even though Jesus knows he will soon raise Lazarus out of death and restore harmony to the family, he is so emotionally bonded to Mary and Martha that he can’t hold himself back. The conventional role of the male in such situations is to “be strong” and comfort the crying ladies, but Jesus by nature (“deeply moved in his spirit”) has no such inclination.
Unphased by the Foul Touch of A Menstruating Female
In one poignant story, a woman who has been menstruating for 12 years elbowed her way through a thick crowd, desperate to touch a man whom she clearly didn’t consider a “man” since Jewish law absolutely prohibited contact between menstruating women and any man. The Torah (the Old Testament) is clear on this point:
When a woman has a discharge of blood for many days at a time other than her monthly period or has a discharge that continues beyond her period, she will be unclean as long as she has the discharge, just as in the days of her period. 26. Any bed she lies on while her discharge continues will be unclean, as is her bed during her monthly period, and anything she sits on will be unclean, as during her period. 27 .Whoever touches them will be unclean; he must wash his clothes and bathe with water, and he will be unclean till evening.
Jesus, widely known for his healing powers, was on his way to raise yet another person from the dead–this time a young woman, the daughter of the Synagogue leader Jarius–when the desperate woman threw herself to the ground and touched the hem of the Messiah’s garment. Immediately Jesus felt his healing power go out of him. He stopped walking and swung around, asking to know who touched him. Crowd members denied doing it, and his disciples decided it could have been anyone. But then a curious feeling overcame the suffering woman and Jesus himself: both felt that the woman’s menstrual flow had stanched and she had been healed. She fell to her knees and apologized for breaking the law by touching him, but this was of course no concern for Jesus. “Your faith has healed you,” he told her. “Go now in peace.” It was a moment of intense bonding between the two individuals–one of whom was a woman who was man enough to break the taboo and the other was a man who was woman enough to let her break it.
Transgendered Christ = Feminist Jesus?
From raising a young girl from the dead to preventing a woman accused of adultery from being stoned, from healing a crippled woman on the Sabbath (a crime) to approaching a Samaritan woman for a drink of water (a taboo), from healing Mary Magdalene — the first person he revealed himself to after his resurrection — to entrusting the care of his own mother Mary to his disciple John, virtually all of Jesus’s most meaningful actions in the Gospels involved women.
So extraordinary was his bond with women that some have associated him with feminism. Marilyn Adamson’s short article at EveryStudent.com nicely situates Jesus as a feminist. A very strong case for reading Jesus as a feminist was made by Leonard Swigler, whose 1971 article published in Catholic World, “Jesus Was A Feminist,” later became a book by the same title.
But Jesus did more than advocate for women. He frequently embodied a female social role that subverted the strict gender demarcations set down by the religion and culture he died trying to reform. Just as his brutalized body — punctured, penetrated, and strung up naked for all to see — is inscribed with the same savagery unleashed upon women over the centuries, so too is his resurrection a symbol of the triumph that will ultimately be born from their perseverance.
In flesh, Jesus was the Son of Man, but, in spirit, the Daughter of Mary. His transgendered disposition demonstrates that the power of God transcends the simple dichotomies upon which man’s false claims of superiority are based.