When Did Jesus Mention Transgender, Intersex, and Asexual Folks?

When Did Jesus Mention Transgender, Intersex, and Asexual Folks? June 19, 2023

When did Jesus mention transgender, intersex, and asexual folks? Let’s see what he had to say about eunuchs, the closest analog to today’s trans, intersex, and Ace community.

When Did Jesus Mention Transgender, Intersex, and Asexual Folks? Sacred heart Jesus in front of rainbow
“jesus in a rainbow” by pineapple palace is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0.

 

When Did Jesus Mention Transgender, Intersex, and Asexual Folks?

What did Jesus think about transgender, intersex, and asexual people? The closest analog in Jesus’ tie were eunuchs. In his article, “God Made them Male and Female…and Eunuch: Why the Biblical Case for Binary Gender Isn’t So…Biblical,” Tony Keddie discusses Jesus’ take on eunuchs:

Matthew’s Jesus does…recognize nonbinary gender in the grand finale of his teaching on divorce in a verse that conservatives routinely omit. After learning of his strict position on divorce, Jesus’s disciples ask him, “Is it better not to marry?” (Matt 19:10). Jesus answers, “For there are eunuchs who were born that way from their mother’s womb, and there are eunuchs who have been made eunuchs by others, and there are eunuchs who had made themselves eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom of heaven. Let anyone accept this who can” (19:12).

 

Three Kinds of Eunuchs

Here, Jesus recognizes three groups of people who do not procreate. First, he points out the intersex folks with congenital sex characteristics that are either both male and female, or neither male nor female. These are “eunuchs” who are born that way. He also acknowledges those trans folks who underwent the closest thing ancient people had to gender reassignment surgery or have had celibacy imposed on them by others. And he observes those asexual people who choose not to engage in sex. For Jesus, these three kinds of eunuchs fall outside the heteronormative sexuality and gender binary. He mentions them, with no condemnation of these individuals whatsoever. He simply took them as a matter of fact.

 

Why Become a Eunuch?

In ancient times, there were many reasons a person might be considered a eunuch. Some of these were consensual, while others were not. Let’s look at the three reasons Jesus observed:

Content advisory: This article deals with issues of genital mutilation, sexual abuse, and slavery. If these are sensitive issues for you, please use caution when reading this article.

 

1. Those Who Are Born Eunuchs

First, Jesus said there are those who are born eunuchs. Because their bodies were considered neither male nor female, eunuchs were seen as a separate gender identity. But not all eunuchs were castrati. Besides castration, people were considered eunuchs if they were born with intersex characteristics. It is estimated that approximately one percent of the world’s population possesses either external or internal intersex characteristics. This may involve the appearance of the genitalia. Or, these attributes may be invisible to the naked eye, often undiscovered until puberty. These unseen elements can be chromosomal, hormonal, or may involve the internal reproductive system. In biblical times, intersex people were considered eunuchs, as well. Just as the Church needs to learn to include transgender people as Philip did, the Church also needs to embrace intersex individuals.

 

2. Those Who Are Made Eunuchs

Second, Jesus recognized the tragedy of those who were made eunuchs by others. This could be voluntary or involuntary. Castration (orchiectomy) was the closest thing ancient people had to gender reassignment surgery. Yet, a person didn’t need surgery to be considered a eunuch. This was a matter of gender identity, not physiology. The same is true for transgender people today. If you are cisgender and heterosexual and not part of the LGBTQIA+ community, please don’t make the mistake of thinking that a person is trans only if they’ve had surgery. Being transgender is a matter of gender identity, and not determined by surgery. It was true then, and it’s true today.

  • Castrati and Purity Culture

Kings who had harems needed palace guards who could be trusted not to mess around with the ladies. The best way to ensure this, they believed, was to castrate anyone who served this function. It wasn’t just kings who had their servants castrated—any wealthy man who wanted to keep his wife and daughters “pure” might have their male-bodied servants castrated for this reason. This is one way that ancient purity culture did great physical damage to people’s bodies.

 

  • Castration to Pacify

In biblical times, another reason people assigned males at birth might undergo castration was to keep a servant docile. In the Roman Empire, enslaved people made up around one-third of the population. Imagine how difficult it must be to keep so many people in line! At the time of Simeon’s story, Spartacus’ rebellion was only one hundred years ago. It was a recent memory. Grandpa could have heard his own grandpa tell stories of the slave revolt. If turning a young bull into a steer could make him more docile, then castrating a boy to prevent his puberty would make him more docile, too. This was useful for suppressing testosterone-fueled defiance.

 

  • Castration as Punishment

Sometimes, men who committed illegal same-sex acts got punished by castration. In addition, rapists may have been castrated as punishment. Of course, this failed to consider that the largest sexual organ a person has is their brain. There’s still a lot that you can do to sexually abuse someone, even if you’re a castrato.

 

  • Castration for Control

From the perspective of their owners, enslaved people were property, bred just like livestock. Animal breeders know that you don’t need an equal number of males and females. In fact, this wouldn’t even be desirable for good breeding. You use the males with the most desirable genetics as studs, while castrating many of the rest. This prevents poor genetics from reproducing. It also prevents the formation of marriages and family units among enslaved people, making them easier to buy and sell as human property.

 

  • Ancient Pederasty

Greco-Roman society normalized pederasty and pedophilia. Aristocratic men had “kept boys” for their sexual pleasure, and also for mentor-mentee relationships. It was never permissible for two men of equal social status to engage in same-sex love. Pederasty was for unequal relationships. As such, eunuchs fit into the pederastic paradigm. According to Rhiannon M. Rowlands’  “Eunuchs and Sex: Beyond Sexual Dichotomy in the Roman World,”

The literary evidence shows that authors in the Roman Empire considered eunuchs to be sexual individuals. Young eunuchs are conceptually assimilated with young boys and as such are presented as a fitting object of desire in a pederastic relationship. Indeed, part of the rationale for the castration of slaves was to artificially extend the length of time their appearance would retain the adolescent look that was considered particularly sexually attractive.

So, ancients castrated people assigned male at birth for several reasons: to protect wives and daughters, to keep enslaved people docile, to punish sexually abusive men, for breeding purposes, and for pederasty. Besides this, some people actually chose to undergo the surgery for their own reasons. But not all eunuchs were castrati, as we shall see next.

 

3. Those Who Make Themselves Eunuchs

Third, Jesus acknowledged those who made themselves eunuchs “for the sake of the kingdom.” Some interpret this to mean that they choose to be celibate for the sake of purity. Certainly, there are some who do just that. Yet, purity culture has shown itself to be detrimental to people’s physical and mental health. The recent documentary “Shiny, Happy, People has exposed the Quiverfull Movement and the abuse when the Church demands that believers “go forth and multiply.” Consider further abuses brought on by purity culture of past ages—chastity devices, witch hunts, and more. Surely, Jesus was not referring to these things, or to forced chastity at the hands of puritanical power structures. What, then, could he mean?

Perhaps Jesus was talking about those truly asexual people who choose to remain unmarried, unattached, and sexually inactive because they legitimately have no sex or romance drive. They have metaphorically made themselves eunuchs “for the sake of the kingdom,” or for the sake of their own integrity. These people make themselves “eunuchs for the kingdom” by opting out of the world’s binary sexuality and gender system. And Jesus honors this, for those who can accept it.

Historically, the Church has done a poor job of affirming asexual people. Sure, it has imposed vows of chastity on people like priests and nuns. It expects chastity from those who are not yet married. And it has demanded chastity from lesbian and gay people. (I address this in my article, “Hey, Church! Stop Denying People Romance!) But the Church has done a poor job of recognizing the validity of those who choose celibacy because they are, in fact, asexual. It’s time that the Church learned to embrace those who are asexual in their orientation. We must affirm voluntary asexuality as equally legitimate.

 

Eunuchs Represent Trans, Intersex, and Asexual Folks

Much has been said about the Bible’s position on gay relationships. But I’ve seen truly little about the Bible’s take on transgender, intersex, and asexual people. Yet, by understanding the history of eunuchs in the Bible we can get a clear picture. Because Jesus mentioned them in passing, we can see that he neither felt nor expressed judgment against them. This gives good cause for the Church to include them and stop discriminating against them.

 

Please check out my next article, “The Ethiopian Eunuch and Transgender, Intersex, & Asexual Folks.” This article will be published on June 22.

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