A reflection by Pacific School of Religion Master of Divinity student, Micah Melody Taberner
“So out of the ground the Lord God formed every animal of the field and every bird of the air and brought them to the man to see what he would call them, and whatever the man called every living creature, that was its name.” – Genesis 2:19, NRSVUE
About a year after I started my journey toward LGBTQ+ affirming theology, I began deeply wrestling with how my own transgender identity intersected with my faith. One afternoon as I set up in my favorite coffee shop for a time of prayer and devotionals, I found myself drawn to the story of Jacob wrestling with God in Genesis 32. After Jacob wrestles with God, refusing to let go until he is blessed, God responds, “Your name will no longer be Jacob, but Israel, because you have struggled with God and with humans and have overcome.” I found myself in awe that God renamed Israel as a mark of his new identity and ongoing wrestling, and I silently prayed a simple prayer: “God, if you had a new name for me, what would it be?” It was not that I particularly expected a response; it was a childlike prayer from a deep, unexpressed place in my soul. To my surprise, I heard a reply. “You are my Song; you are my Melody.” For the next two years, countless people in my non-affirming, Charismatic church—people to whom I had never told this story—prayed this name over me or prophesied something like, “God is giving you a new Melody to sing.” When it came time to pick a new name, I chose to include Melody in recognition of my wrestling partnership with God in becoming the woman I am today.
Naming is a creative act. In Genesis 32, God renames Israel, redefining his identity from “supplanter” to “wrestles with God.” In this moment of transformation, a new identity and name are created. However, this name change does not happen without Israel’s participation. Through persistent wrestling, Israel becomes a co-creator of his new identity. Likewise, in Genesis 2, God partners with Adam, inviting him directly into the process of Creation by giving him the agency to name the animals. Naming and meaning-making through language are significant for humans. They are how we shape, understand, define, redefine, and relate to ourselves and the world around us. That humans are involved in Creation through the power of naming speaks of God’s desire to involve us in shaping our world.
The act of naming ourselves is a common experience for many trans and gender-expansive people. Regardless of the name chosen, picking a name empowers trans people to self-define and claim agency. For myself and many trans and gender-expansive people I have spoken to, settling into our names has been a moment of immense joy and affirmation. There is nothing like hearing someone call you by your name for the first time—your true name that honors and recognizes the innermost parts of yourself and your journey into selfhood. It is a profoundly joyful and liberating experience.
One of the greatest gifts for many transgender and gender-expansive people is gender euphoria. Gender euphoria is a term common in online trans communities referring to the feelings of joy, congruence, and wholeness individuals experience when they are seen for who they truly are. It arrives when individuals take steps to align their bodies and gender expression with their gender identity—a creative process often called transition. Whether it be changing their name and pronouns as mentioned above, changing which clothes they wear, starting hormone replacement therapy (HRT), or having gender-affirming surgeries, through transition, trans people move toward increased joy and life.
Like Adam, transgender and gender-expansive people are created in the image of a Creator and are invited to participate in the ongoing act of Creation. We are given agency to name, shape, and bring about the flourishing of ourselves and our world. Of the creative call on transgender people, Justin Sabia-Tanis writes:
“We are called to be artisans of our own lives and bodies. We should take responsibility for our own continued creation, both the development of our inner selves and our outer bodies. As trans people, we should take seriously the task of creating for ourselves the lives to which we feel called and compelled. … When we see this process as sacred, we can claim our places as artists cooperating with God in creating the developing, changing person that we are and that we are becoming.”
Regardless of which steps we take to care for our gender, transition is an act of co-creation in partnership with the Divine.
In the lead-up to the 2024 US election, we are seeing unprecedented attempts to restrict the God-given, creative agency of the trans community. At the time of writing, the ACLU is tracking 491 anti-LGBTQ+ bills across the United States. The vast majority of these bills target transgender people—especially trans youth. Rather than seek the flourishing of trans people, these bills criminalize our existence by restricting access to safe bathrooms, greatly limiting access to gender-affirming medical care, and weakening nondiscrimination laws. Some of the worst even threaten to remove trans children from their parents if they are provided with life-saving, gender-affirming care. These bills are a violation of basic human rights and an affront to God. To limit access to self-expression and gender-affirming care, whether through legislation, harassment, or spiritual dissuasion, is to restrict the creative agency of trans individuals and to mar the creative spark of the Imago Dei inherent in all humanity.
A Transgender Christian Ethic of Liberation recognizes the agency of all individuals to co-create their bodies and the world toward greater flourishing and abundant life. To truly see joyful, abundant life, we must give space for individuals or communities to self-determine what they need to flourish. It is not merely enough to do to others what you would want to be done to yourself. We must ask and listen to others how they need to be treated. We must restore individuals’ agency over their own bodies. Simply because one cannot imagine needing puberty blockers, hormones, or gender-affirming surgery for oneself does not mean it is not healing and life-saving for others who need it.
To give trans and gender-expansive individuals full agency over their own lives, a radical shift in the dynamics of power must take place. We must completely restructure who has the authority to determine what constitutes ethical decision-making by returning that power to the communities directly affected by those decisions. In a community where trans and gender-expansive people have agency over their own lives, all must have agency over their own lives for the full flourishing of the human family.
Micah Melody Taberner (she/her) is the Community Care Coordinator for Transmission Ministry Collective—an online community dedicated to the spiritual care and leadership potential of transgender and gender-expansive Christians. She is currently pursuing a Master of Divinity at Pacific School of Religion. As a transgender, bi-racial Latina follower of Jesus, her greatest passion is helping individuals and communities explore the intersection of their own identities and faith. In all her work, she loves using art, music, and storytelling to build relationships and stir cross-cultural dialogue.
Pacific School of Religion
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Religion News Service or Religion News Foundation.