Gender identity and the scapegoat mechanism

YOUNG OLIVIA ASKED, “How did the Temple people know to keep the Ethiopian out? Did they check everyone?!” Our telling of the story from Acts 8:26-40 on Sunday was followed by an impromptu conversation about the usual physiological effects of male sex hormones. This led to a further clarification: Kids, your dad’s vasectomy does not make him a eunuch!

But it made me wonder. Deuteronomy 23:1 reads, “No one who has been emasculated by crushing or cutting may enter the assembly of the Lord.” By extension (well, perhaps not), we might conclude that a vasectomy makes someone unclean by Mosaic law and unacceptable to God. And yet, while there are nuts on the internet who claim this, for the most part the churches are clear: we do not live under law, but under grace. In Christ, the law no longer applies; and so, for example, both vasectomies and eating pork are considered okay.

Two thousand years ago, Philip got this. And so, when the Ethiopian eunuch asked him, “What is to prevent me from being baptised?” Philip had no hesitation; he baptised the man on the spot. Yet here we are today, with many people who identify as Christian deeply disturbed by the idea of diverse gender identities, so much so that they marginalise and even instigate violence against such people. So let’s pause for a religious reality check.

Rachel Mann, a priest in the Church of England, is trans; and in her post on Transgender Day of Remembrance she reminds us that hundreds of trans people are murdered, attacked, vilified and assaulted every year, simply for being who they are. Why does this happen?

One answer is provided by the French literary theorist, Rene Girard. He argues that societies are driven by envy, and this envy leads to violence. However, in order that this violence does not tear society apart, it is regularly directed towards an innocent victim, who is publicly identified as a threat to our national security, way of life, religious values, morality, children, wealth, social order, or something else.

With the marginalisation, expulsion, even murder, of the victim, society experiences a temporary catharsis, and this catharsis generates a sense of social cohesion. As the high priest Caiaphas says to the council, “It is better for you to have one man die for the people than to have the whole nation destroyed…” (John 11:50). Sadly, trans people are often victims of such scapegoating: used to establish false dichotomies of ‘us’ and ‘them’, ‘normal’ and ‘not normal’, ‘like’ and ‘other’, and thereby used to shore up existing structures of power and control.

The church should have something to say about this. Our Scriptures are full of stories in which the innocence of the victim is made clear, thereby revealing and neutralising the system of violence. In a world in which trans people are often made victims, then, those who identify as Christian should stand alongside our trans siblings in solidarity and love. For if Philip saw fit to baptise the Ethiopian eunuch, then gender diversity is simply not an issue for us. Instead, our issue is the scapegoating mechanism, and the way it leads societies to exclude, victimise and even destroy the vulnerable. Taking such an approach might, of course, lead to our own scapegoating; but that’s the price we pay for following Jesus.

Of course, trans people are not the only scapegoats in Australia today. I’ll leave it to you to think about who else is regularly and publicly vilified, victimised and marginalised, and how you, or we, can stand alongside these beloved children of God.

Peace,
Alison

PS: In his podcast The Bible Pirate, Matt Valler has an interesting take on Genesis 4-5. He argues that Cain is the scapegoat of the gods, and Eve is embodied in the Earth; and this raises interesting questions about constructions of masculinity. You can listen here.

PPS: The image shows the trans flag designed by Monica Helms. The pink and blue represent the colours usually assigned to male and female babies; the white represents those with a neutral or non-binary gender identity, or who are intersex or transitioning. You can read more here.

PPPS: In case you feel like a spot of scapegoating after this email, let me be clear: these opinions are mine and are not held by everyone in the congregation. Direct your judgement at me. Or, better, as a follower of Jesus you could choose to be like him, and withhold your judgement, and eat with this sinner.

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