Linda Herzer in her book, The Bible and the Transgender Experience, tells a story about a person who was going through some inner struggles with depression. Wanting to find some comfort, the person turned to one of the places I go in those situations, the Bible.
“The Good Book fell open to Matthew 27:5, ‘He [Judas] went out and hanged himself.’ Not finding that particularly encouraging, the person decided to try again. So, they put their finger down on another random page and read, ‘Go and do likewise” (Luke 10:37). Surprised, they tried a third time, opening the Good Book to John 13:27, ‘What you are about to do, do quickly.’”
Context is everything.
The Focus Verse
The Ancient Story
At first glance, it seems as if our focus verse sticks out like a sore thumb in the chapter containing it.
4 You shall not see your neighbor’s donkey or ox fallen on the road and ignore it; you shall help to lift it up.
5 A woman shall not wear a man’s apparel, nor shall a man put on a woman’s garment; for whoever does such things is abhorrent to the Lord your God.
6 If you come on a bird’s nest, in any tree or on the ground, with fledglings or eggs, with the mother sitting on the fledglings or on the eggs, you shall not take the mother with the young. 7 Let the mother go, taking only the young for yourself, in order that it may go well with you and you may live long.
8 When you build a new house, you shall make a parapet for your roof; otherwise you might have bloodguilt on your house, if anyone should fall from it.
9 You shall not sow your vineyard with a second kind of seed, or the whole yield will have to be forfeited, both the crop that you have sown and the yield of the vineyard itself.
10 You shall not plow with an ox and a donkey yoked together.
11 You shall not wear clothes made of wool and linen woven together.
12 You shall make tassels on the four corners of the cloak with which you cover yourself.
13 Suppose a man marries a woman, but after going in to her, he dislikes her 14 and makes up charges against her, slandering her by saying, “I married this woman; but when I lay with her, I did not find evidence of her virginity.” 15 The father of the young woman and her mother shall then submit the evidence of the young woman’s virginity to the elders of the city at the gate. 16 The father of the young woman shall say to the elders: “I gave my daughter in marriage to this man but he dislikes her; 17 now he has made up charges against her, saying, ‘I did not find evidence of your daughter’s virginity.’ But here is the evidence of my daughter’s virginity.” Then they shall spread out the cloth before the elders of the town. 18 The elders of that town shall take the man and punish him; 19 they shall fine him one hundred shekels of silver (which they shall give to the young woman’s father) because he has slandered a virgin of Israel. She shall remain his wife; he shall not be permitted to divorce her as long as he lives.
20 If, however, this charge is true, that evidence of the young woman’s virginity was not found, 21 then they shall bring the young woman out to the entrance of her father’s house and the men of her town shall stone her to death, because she committed a disgraceful act in Israel by prostituting herself in her father’s house. So you shall purge the evil from your midst.
22 If a man is caught lying with the wife of another man, both of them shall die, the man who lay with the woman as well as the woman. So you shall purge the evil from Israel.
23 If there is a young woman, a virgin already engaged to be married, and a man meets her in the town and lies with her, 24 you shall bring both of them to the gate of that town and stone them to death, the young woman because she did not cry for help in the town and the man because he violated his neighbor’s wife. So you shall purge the evil from your midst.
25 But if the man meets the engaged woman in the open country, and the man seizes her and lies with her, then only the man who lay with her shall die. 26 You shall do nothing to the young woman; the young woman has not committed an offense punishable by death, because this case is like that of someone who attacks and murders a neighbor. 27 Since he found her in the open country, the engaged woman may have cried for help, but there was no one to rescue her.
28 If a man meets a virgin who is not engaged, and seizes her and lies with her, and they are caught in the act, 29 the man who lay with her shall give fifty shekels of silver to the young woman’s father, and she shall become his wife. Because he violated her he shall not be permitted to divorce her as long as he lives.30 A man shall not marry his father’s wife, thereby violating his father’s rights.
Setting the Stage for the Ancient Story
Deuteronomy 22:5 comes in the midst of rules for helping others. When a neighbor’s livestock goes wandering down the road, we are to help them fetch the animal. When we see a nest on the ground with eggs or young birds, we are to help get the nest back into the tree.
This sounds like common sense to us. Generally, it simply sounds like being good neighbors.
And then there’s this verse about wearing someone else’s clothes.
How the Story Got Twisted
Some would say that this verse is a clear prohibition against cross-dressing. But let’s look at it carefully.
If we decide that the verse should fit here, then how is it a verse about helping our neighbors with anything?
Let me offer this perspective…. You can bet that there was at least one person in the neighborhood … way back then … who kept dressing up in different-gender clothing in order to deceive people. At the market, the shopkeeper didn’t know who he was dealing with and, when asked, could only give a wrong description of the patron.
Dressing up as someone different didn’t allow a neighbor to really get to know another neighbor. It was deceptive in a way that was detrimental to the whole community. Deceiving a neighbor was, obviously, harmful to that neighbor.
That being said, there are a number of times in the Hebrew Testament that people disguised themselves, and God blessed them for doing so.
- We’ve already mentioned Jacob’s disguise that was used to obtain Esau’s birthright. God obviously blessed Jacob and his descendants.
- Tamar disguised herself as a prostitute in order to get around an old Levite custom. See Genesis 38.
- King Saul tried to disguise himself when he wanted to consult a fortune teller. See 1 Samuel 28.
Plus several other examples. Everything turned out well in most of those instances.
We are NOT talking about the harmless, costumed frolicking that occurs in our Community on Halloween and shows playful creativity and dramatic flair. We might not even be talking about the contestants on RuPaul’s Drag Race. We ARE talking about the willful act of deceiving another person for personal gain or profit. That is what the biblical stories tell us that God detests.
Deuteronomy 22:5 is completely surrounded by instructions about keeping us from damaging our relationships with our neighbors. When Moses came down from the mountain to find the Israelites worshiping the golden calf in Exodus 32 – some of whom were disguising themselves and cross-dressing, we know how much God … through Moses … detested them, too.
Nitpicking the Hebrew Words
There is another wrinkle in understanding this passage.
Setting the Stage for Our Story
It certainly is possible that when a member of our Community cross-dresses, that the person is trying to deceive others about who they really are. They might be trying to rob us or do other kinds of real harm to us.
But that’s not how those who would use this verse to abuse our Transgender people are using it. They seem to think that Transgender people are trying to deceive them or God.
In fact, what our Transgender community is trying to do is the exact opposite. They are trying to dress authentically according to their understanding of how God created them. They are often trying to rectify a lifetime of living in disguise.
So, the real purpose of Deuteronomy 22:5 is to tell us to be authentic – to come out of whatever closet we are in. To quit trying to deceive others about who we are or about whom we love. To overcome years of undeserved guilt and from toxic shame.
Who are you afraid to “come out” to and why?
What might happen to you if you don’t come out to them?
How is your reluctance to come out damaging your relationship with them?
While there ARE legitimate reasons a person can choose to stay closeted that cannot be denied, many of us have found that the benefits of being authentic far outweigh the costs.
Yet, this is a personal decision that only you can make. And we will respect your decision.
1 Theresa Scott, “My Thoughts on Transsexualism and Christian Theology,” Theresa’s Place-E.