Created and Formed
SCM member Sebastian discusses identity in relation to gender and creation.
There’s a picture on my fridge that I both love and hate looking at every time I go to my kitchen. It’s a drawing done for me by a member of my then church on the occasion of my confirmation, featuring a rainbow and the latter part of Isaiah 43:1 –
Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine.
It is perfectly lovely in itself, and I’m very attached to it. However, there’s just one problem - the name on it isn’t actually mine. I am a transgender man, and the picture uses my birth name. This, together with the references to Creation narratives which are often used to exclude and shame trans people in churches and Christian communities means it creates some mixed emotions for me.
Transgender Christians are frequently the targets of Bible commentary that associates being called by name with permanence of identity, and that being trans and ‘becoming’ a man or woman or non-binary person and choosing a new name is somehow a rejection of who God has created them to be. However, Isaiah 43 in itself refutes this in my view, and as a trans person who realised their gender relatively late, I want to put forward the argument that it’s our formation and vocation that matters as much as our creation, and that this frequently involves fluidity and change - including of gender or perceived gender.
The first part of Isaiah 43:1 - the part that isn’t on the picture on my fridge - says this:
But now thus says the [God] who created you, O Jacob, he who formed you, O Israel.
Notice the two names used for the nation of Israel, Jacob and Israel. This is a reference to Genesis 32:28, where Jacob is given the new name of Israel after wrestling with God and refusing to let go until God blesses him. This is an astonishing event - God could have given Jacob any number of material blessings, and yet the blessing God gives is a new name, a new identity. Israel means ‘to strive with God’ or ‘to struggle with God’ - representing not only Israel’s present after physically wrestling with God, but also Israel’s future struggles both as a person and as a nation. Sometimes our names can be a challenge, and a new identity can take a while to fit. But I firmly believe that the struggle of this creative process is something God-given, rather than something to be feared. Working out our gender vocations as transgender children of God does often feel like a struggle with God, with other Christians, with ourselves. But God calls us out by the name and the identity that God has given us; this may not be the same as the ones our parents chose for us, that society has imposed on us, or even the ones we might have chosen alone. I’m a man called Sebastian; who is God calling you to be?
This interview was first published in issue 157 of Movement magazine in January 2018. You can read the rest of the issue on Identity here.Tags: Celebrating Diversity