Is it possible some of the Bible’s well- and not-so-well-known characters were “gender non-conforming?” TheBlaze asked two different people and got two very different answers.
To one man, many of the holy book’s figures are within themselves representative of some sort of gender spectrum. To another, though, that’s pure hogwash.
Performer and self-styled scholar Peterson Toscano, a Quaker who came out as gay in the late 1990s after spending “17 years and over $30,000 on three continents” attempting to rid himself of his “same-sex orientation,” just released a new film called “Transfigurations,” a movie version of a drama he wrote a few years ago.
In the nearly two-hour-long piece, a one-person performance depicting several male and female Bible characters in untraditional ways, Toscano reaches the far-from-conventional conclusion that many of the Bible’s stories — particularly in the Old Testament — espouse gender fluidity.
In an interview with TheBlaze, Toscano said he made that deduction based on “a close reading of the text.”
“I use very traditional methods of interpretations so that the average evangelical could hear what I say and say, ‘Yeah, that’s actually in the text. I see what you’re saying,’” he said.
But according to Andrew Walker, author of the forthcoming book “God and the Transgender Debate” and director of policy studies for the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, those who teach LGBT-affirming theology lack a basic respect for the Bible.
“[When] you dig deeper into their own assumptions about the authority of the Bible, you’ll find that these individuals have a very low view of the status and nature of the Bible,” he told TheBlaze.
Toscano, though, has stood by his beliefs for several years, and he explained some of his reasoning during a performance-based lecture at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tenn., in 2013, using well-known biblical stories to bolster his conclusions.
During the talk, he explained to students that the Old Testament character Deborah, the only female judge presented in the entire Bible, acted in unconventional ways. After all, she was simultaneously a prophet, judge, and warrior, which led Toscano to conclude she was “gendered differently” from the traditional women of her day.
Toscano also invoked the Old Testament story of Esau and Jacob, the twin sons of Abraham’s son, Isaac. According to the Genesis account, Esau grew up to become “a skillful hunter” and “a man of the open country,” while Jacob “was content to stay at home among the tents” — a characteristic that, according to Toscano, made Jacob more feminine.
The “Transfigurations” writer also told the story of Joseph, Jacob’s favorite son, who was sold into Egyptian slavery by his jealous brothers after his father gave him the famous coat of many colors. Because of God’s favor, according to the biblical story, Joseph rose through the ranks to become second in command in Egypt.
Rather than reject and condemn his brothers, though, Joseph chose to pour favor on them when he encountered his siblings years later when they were in need of food during a famine.
“When he has the opportunity to crush his brothers when they come to him, he doesn’t. He acts — in a way — in an unmanly way,” Toscano told TheBlaze. “He kind of responds in a new way to teach them a lesson, to forgive them. He becomes like the matriarch of the family, bringing them all together and in so doing, he saved them all in the end.”
But couldn’t it be, though, that these characters were just, as Walker asserted, “out of sync” with their culture but still unequivocally male and female?
“Just because someone may not always live or have an experience that meets the accustomed gender expectations of that time or era … does not create a pattern of ‘gender non-conformity,’” the ERLC ethicist said.
Ultimately, much of Toscano’s argument seemed to hinge on the eunuchs, Old Testament characters about whom not much is known. According to Matthew 19:12, Jesus described eunuchs, who were believed to have been castrated or born with deformities, as those who have been so from birth, who were made so by men, and those who chose to be “for the sake of the kingdom of heaven.”
While Toscano was careful to say he doesn’t believe eunuchs were necessarily gay or transgender, he feels they are representative of a sexual spectrum. During his Vanderbilt lecture, he described them as a “gender variant.”
“A eunuch in that world was not really a man or a woman — they were considered a third gender,” Toscano explained. “They were normally castrated before puberty, so they had high voices, they didn’t have beards, they couldn’t have families, they couldn’t have children, so they were sexual and gender minorities.”
But according to Walker, such a conclusion is — in a word — “absurd.”
“His interpretation is nothing but shear, unbridled radicalism and it’s simply brazen because he’s taking an interpretation of the text that scholars have not found to be the case as far as ‘gender non-conformity,’” Walker told TheBlaze.
Walker argued that Toscano is assigning a 21st century understanding of “gender” to Old Testament times.
For example, a man can espouse gender traits believed today to be feminine (like crossing his legs or enjoying shopping) and still be unequivocally male. Likewise, a woman can display stereotypically masculine behavior (such as being competitive or not often expressing emotion) and still be wholly female.
“By male, masculine standards in society today, I have several hobbies and several mannerisms that some people would consider effeminate,” Walker said. “But I consider myself biblically a man because I live a life in line with the picture of biblical manhood.”
And that manhood, according to Walker, goes much deeper than anatomy — it’s hormonal, chromosomal, and even spiritual. And regarding Toscano’s claim that eunuchs were some sort of hybrid between male and female, Walker said, “A physical or anatomical abnormality or ambiguity does not grant that that person is genderless.”
“Not to be crude,” he continued, “but just because someone lacks a penis doesn’t mean they cease to be a man.”
What does all this mean today?
Clearly, these two men are on very different pages. In fact, it’s hard to see how they are even in the same book.
Toscano said he was motivated to write “Transfigurations” because of tensions within the LGBT community. Prior to coming out as gay, he said he was “under the misconception that the LGBT community was wildly accepting of everybody.”
“As a gay guy who cares about justice,” he explained, “I was concerned about how we were treating each other, and so, in part, that’s why I wrote the piece.”
When he speaks with Christians, Toscano said he often asks: “If someone who looked like [a eunuch] showed up at your church on Sunday, would they go home rejoicing?”
But to Walker, the issue goes much deeper than acceptance. He said today’s society is facing an “anthropological crisis” that is calling into question the moral fabric that outlines the answers to so many of life’s questions on issues such as abortion, racism, and prejudice.
“We’re actually at the absolute foundation of the anthropological crisis because the assumption that men and women are objectively distinct categories — that’s now suspect in broader culture,” he said. “So all these other questions about race, abortion, sexuality — these all flow downstream from this larger question of, ‘What does it mean to be either a man or a woman?’”
And if society can’t reach a universal understanding of the essence of man and woman, Walker warned, “we’re undercutting the very essence of human nature.”
“Left to ourselves and our own devices, we’ll create endless pathways of self-destruction,” he said. “And, ultimately, the attempt by progressives to affirm anything as normative and good is inconsistent and unstable and ultimately leads to human unhappiness.”