"Are you saying that God made a mistake?" This is a common question many trans* and nonbinary people are faced with--either directly in candid conversation or, more usually, in larger cultural, political, and religious conversations about them, but rarely with them. Either way, the answer is the same: "No."
Since I am a cisgender female, it would be inappropriate for me to speak for trans* and nonbinary people. So I ask you to consider the words of transgender theologian and author, Austen Hartke, when he writes, “I believe God made all of me—gender identity included—and intended for me to be a transgender person who sees the world through a different lens. I don’t think God made a mistake. I think God made me transgender on purpose.” While I cannot speak for trans* and nonbinary people as a cisgender female, as a pastor, I do have something to say about Austen's theological assertion: I agree with it.
Throughout creation we see examples of species that were created to change form. For example, caterpillars change into butterflies. Tadpoles change into frogs. Moths, flies, ants, wasps, and beetles--all change forms, and how they are created--as larvae--look nothing like their adult forms. We see this in plants as well. According to Garden Drum magazine, "It’s not an unknown phenomenon for trees to change sex – some conifers do it and ash trees are notorious for switching. The plant’s hormones are altered by environmental factors, or perhaps age. Botanists at the University of Tuscia in Viterbo, Italy have recorded instances of female yew trees changing to male, and noted that female yew trees are more prone to suffer stress."
All of these examples are not an indication of God's mistakes. They are, I think, a testimony to God's consistency throughout creation. Across species, God's creation has always included those created to change--and not just in small ways, but in BIG, beautiful ways. Certainly such beauty and intention would include we human beings.
I know, I know what you're probably thinking: "But doesn't the Bible say that "God created male and female?" Tune in next week when we tackle this question as our "Trans* is the Word" series continues.
Rev. Melissa Sternhagen
Rev. Melissa Sternhagen was called as the pastor of St. Paul Congregational UCC in June of 2020. Prior to her call to St. Paul, Pr. Melissa worked as a hospice chaplain in the Ames, IA area, following pastorates at rural churches in Central Iowa and Southern Illinois. Pr. Melissa is a second-career pastor with a background in agribusiness and production & supply operations. She received her M.Div. from Eden Theological Seminary in St. Louis, MO, and holds a MA Ed. in Adult Education and Training, and a BA in Organizational Communications.