We get some intriguing inquiries here at BahaiTeachings.org, including one from a reader last week: Can trans people be Baha’is?

Here’s the actual question we received: “Hello. I am transgender and have been looking into the Baha’i religion for several months now—almost a year. I know that there is gender equality, but how do Baha’i people see transgender people like me? I don’t want to be part of a religious group who hates me for existing… (If that makes sense.)”

As I thought about how to answer that question, it reminded me of the cousin of a lifelong friend. Born when I was a teenager, the baby I’ll refer to as Bob (not his real name) had what were then euphemistically called “birth defects.” Later I learned that he had been born genetically ambiguous, with genitals from both genders. At the time, physicians gave him a label we now think of as a slur: “hermaphrodite.”

At birth, Bob’s parents were faced with a tough, flip-a-coin choice: doctors said they had to decide, immediately, which gender they wanted their child to be. The parents agonized over the choice, finally decided, and the doctors surgically gave him the physical characteristics of a boy within a few months after his birth.

diverse-handsBut as he grew up, despite the large doses of male hormones his physicians prescribed, he didn’t feel, act or identify as a boy at all. Even as a child, he thought of himself as female; and his parents blamed themselves for making the wrong choice. Bob’s teenage years, as you might imagine, were really difficult. Finally, as an adult, Bob became Bobbi, after undergoing four years of counseling and a difficult surgical reassignment to the gender where she had always felt she belonged.

The more modern word for Bobbi’s medical condition at birth, intersex, means having a body that doesn’t fit the typical definitions for male or female. Intersexed people often have genetic variations that depart from the typical XY chromosome that usually defines a male, or the typical XX chromosome that usually defines a female. Many variations exist, and researchers have estimated that 1.7% of all human births will have intersex variations, many not immediately obvious at birth.

Science has just begun to understand intersexed people, and human rights law is still struggling to catch up with the science. The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights now defines intersex this way:

Intersex people are born with sex characteristics (including genitals, gonads and chromosome patterns) that do not fit typical binary notions of male or female bodies.

Intersex is an umbrella term used to describe a wide range of natural bodily variations. In some cases, intersex traits are visible at birth while in others, they are not apparent until puberty. Some chromosomal intersex variations may not be physically apparent at all. – United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, October 24, 2016.

I learned something because of Bobbi’s hard path through this physical existence. Transgender people—especially those who undergo surgical gender reassignment as adults—felt as if they were imprisoned in the wrong gender role their entire lives. In the bad old days, before science began to properly recognize and develop the capacity to medically intervene to help intersexed people, self-hatred, self-abuse and suicide were common. Today, luckily, some of the attitudes toward transgendered people are changing.

But back to the original question: How do Baha’is see transgender people? First of all, Baha’is view all people with a universal vision of love and acceptance:

Inasmuch as God is loving, why should we be unjust and unkind? As God manifests loyalty and mercy, why should we show forth enmity and hatred? Surely the divine policy is more perfect than human plan and theory; for no matter how wise and sagacious man may become, he can never attain a policy that is superior to the policy of God. Therefore, we must emulate the attitude of God, love all people, be just and kind to every human creature. – Abdu’l-Baha, The Promulgation of Universal Peace, p. 174.

In terms of our reader’s specific question, though, the global, democratically-elected Baha’i administrative body—the Universal House of Justice—determined long ago that transgender/transsexual gender reassignment should be a private decision entirely left up to the individual and medical experts:

The House of Justice has not found any text in the Baha’i writings which deals explicitly with the subjects of transsexuality or surgical operations carried out to change sex or to establish a single sex. It has decided that changes of sex or attempts to change sex should, at the present time, be considered medical questions on which advice and guidance should be sought from experts in that field. – August 1983.

Because Baha’is firmly believe in the basic principle of the agreement of science and religion; and because this gentle guidance from the Universal House of Justice advises Baha’is to treat transgender issues as purely medical questions; and also because Bobbi ultimately became a Baha’i who her community accepted and loved; I think it’s safe to say that no one in the Baha’i community, dear reader, will “hate you for existing.” Baha’is aren’t perfect—all people are prone to prejudices and preconceived notions—but Abdu’l-Baha set the true Baha’i standard when he said:

Just as God loves all and is kind to all, so must we really love and be kind to everybody. We must consider none bad, none worthy of detestation, no one as an enemy. We must love all; nay, we must consider everyone as related to us …. – The Promulgation of Universal Peace, p. 267.

The opinions and views expressed in this article are those of the author only and do not necessarily reflect the opinion of BahaiTeachings.org or any institution of the Baha’i Faith.

21 Comments

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  • Tara Abhasakun
    Apr 24, 2017
    Thank you for this article. It's true, there are no specific writings about transsexuality. Where we really need to change is with same-sex marriage (more specifically, same-sex which is also same-gender).
  • Cathy Gillis
    Apr 21, 2017
    The "bad old days" are unfortunately still very much current. It is refreshing to see the love and acceptance growing, but nevertheless there are still so many roadblocks for trans people. Homelessness; poverty; abuse; violence; and murder. Entrenched prejudice and discrimination, with few states protecting the civil rights of their transgender residents. There is much work to be done! Trans women of color experience the worst violence.
    I work and pray for humanity to really start loving one another in all our beautiful diversity.
    Thanks again for this topic!
  • Cathy Gillis
    Apr 21, 2017
    Timely topic. As a parent to a transgender child my understanding of gender identity has had to grow. It's worth noting that many transgender (not transgenderED, please!) people are not intersex; since the bulk of your post dealt with a story about an intersex person, some readers may assume that only intersex people are transgender. Gender identity isn't a binary (only "one" or the "other"). There is a whole spectrum of gender, and the more informed and understanding people are, the better society will be. Transitioning can include socially transitioning (name, gender marker, gender ...presentation); and medically transitioning (cross-hormone therapy, surgical correction).
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  • Leontine Wallace
    Apr 16, 2017
    Thank you so much for this article! It is a great read and answers a question that is relevant to the times. One suggestion I have is to consider the portion which states, "In the bad old days..." Recent evidence shows that transgendered individuals struggle with high rates of suicide attempts and self-harm.
    In the study below 30% had attempted suicide and 42% engaged in self-harm.
    I don't know what the statistics were before in the "old days" you are referring to, so maybe there has been improvement. Hopefully, Baha'i ideals can further diminish the population that feels ...compelled to attempt suicide and engage in self-harm due to social torment.
    https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2016/08/160831110833.htm
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    • Sam Aria
      Apr 17, 2017
      *trans
    • Sam Aria
      Apr 17, 2017
      I hope that your comment was just poorly written. Of course the trains poulation suffers greatly from social stigma and self doubt. They suffer from people wanting to 'reduce their population.' However, the answer is to love and celebrate the trans community and the entire LGBTQA community for the gifts and diversity we all bring in our uniqueness.
  • Alice Thaggard
    Apr 16, 2017
    You are correct. Mankind is a work in progress. We all come into this world & grow up with different prospectives on life's issues. Good & Bad. The teachings of the Baha'i Faith are all good & pure. When one recognizes the truth of Baha'u'llah & the Baha'i teachings it does not mean we suddenly become perfect. These are principles we each must try each day to strive for because we know that it will make us better people & the world a more humane place. We must be patient with others & ourselves. Support the positive efforts in individuals ...& then you will see change and become the change. You are loved!
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  • Fabiola de La Fuente
    Apr 16, 2017
    I love me faith, I'm Bahá'í, I'm transgender from Chile 💞
    • Sam Aria
      Apr 17, 2017
      Yaaaaaas!
  • Reginald Newkirk
    Apr 15, 2017
    Excellent response to the question. I also recall the following written on behalf of Shoghi Effendi: I would only venture to state very briefly and as adequately as present circumstances permit the principal factors that must be taken into consideration before deciding whether a person may be regarded a true believer or not. Full recognition of the station of the Forerunner, the Author, and the True Exemplar of the Bahá'í Cause, as set forth in 'Abdu'l-Bahá's Testament; unreserved acceptance of, and submission to, whatsoever has been revealed by Their Pen; loyal and steadfast adherence to every clause of our Beloved's ...sacred Will; that must be fairly, discreetly, and thoughtfully ascertained before reaching such a vital decision.
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    • Apr 21, 2017
      Mr. Newkirk your response as sharp and concise as i would have expected it to be from a man of such eminence
  • Alexander Zoltai
    Apr 15, 2017
    This artilce is to me---even though all your articles are great---Remarkable; and, I hope you can find ways to spread it widely!
  • William A. Burden
    Apr 15, 2017
    Of course, keeping in mind that the current policy restricts membership of that body to men for reasons which will become manifest in the future. This fact tends to bother a great many individuals who maintain that this flies in the face of gender equality. As a long standing Baha'i man, I would be totally on-board with a policy that restricted membership to all females as I trust that those members have been selected for their spiritual purity and exemplary service to humanity, regardless of gender. I also trust that this policy will change at the appropriate time in the ...near future when both gender wings of the bird of humanity are able to fly the bird straight to it's intended spiritual destination.
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  • Robert Smythe
    Apr 15, 2017
    Yes. I wrote to the House and asked that question, and the answer was that once the transition was completed, and legally recognized, all the rights and prerogatives associated with the transitioned-to sex would apply. I don't remember the exact words off-hand.