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Spirituality

Can Transgender People Be Baha’is?

David Langness | Apr 14, 2017

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David Langness | Apr 14, 2017

The views expressed in our content reflect individual perspectives and do not represent the official views of the Baha'i Faith.

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.

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Comments

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  • Shiela Boston
    Aug 12, 2020
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    The Baha'i faith makes it VERY clear that it does not make its decisions on lifestyles based on ever changing social preferences or values. There is NO science proving one is "born in the wrong body". Some people are born with the hermaphrodite condition, but this is visible and verifiable and can be treated. A human is not like the animal who are driven simply by instinct in sexual matters. Humans, however, LEARN sexual behaviors. We are born with the instinct to mate and procreate, however HOW we do that depends greatly on environment. This is why ...the Baha'i faith is very firm about teaching children the precepts of the faith. Those believing they are born in the wrong body need spiritual and mental help, not bodily disfigurement.
    Read more...
    • David Haslip
      Apr 1, 2022
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      This position is wrong, and propagation of this false idea leads to harm of and discrimination towards transgender individuals. Look up "Research on the Transgender Brain" or similar phrases to learn about this topic. Gender dysphoria is a real condition and treatment with hormone replacement therapy and/or surgeries is proven to improve quality of life among transgender individuals.
  • Arien Reed
    May 4, 2020
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    Thank you for this article! I have been a devout Bahá’í for eight years and recently realized I was trans and that I needed to transition. My transition has been blessed every step of the way and my only fear was whether it was okay to be transgender according to our faith and whether my marriage was still valid. I’ve been reading the sacred texts (though I can still feel some pieces going over my head) I myself have yet to find anything that states God loves us LGBTQ+ people and our marriages any less than heterosexual, cisgender people and ...their marriages. I can’t imagine a way in which God does not love us all equally, and I would never want to. This article affirmed these feelings and dispelled my fears. Thank you!
    Read more...
  • Michelle Hilton
    Jul 23, 2019
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    No not if the person was already a Baha'i. Bahaullah has clearly defined marriage between a man and a woman.
    • David Haslip
      Apr 1, 2022
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      This is not true. For the most recent guidance see: look up "Extracts from Letters Written on Behalf of the Universal House of Justice on Transsexuality" but the fact is that this question was asked and answered back in 1983 and it was determined to be between the individual and their doctors: You can look up "Transsexuality" on bahai-library.
    • Glenn Boyer
      Nov 25, 2019
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      "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. "If gays/trans have defined roles in their marriage to help each. If god is unfolding it is time to ...moves forward in Holy Love celebrate fully gay and transgender marriage. Awaiting for a response/counsel. The world needs to do what is Lovingly right not what is and was popular even if we are prosecuted.
      Read more...
  • Gayle Potter
    Mar 9, 2019
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    I was diagnosed as Intersex 22 years ago and kicked out of the faith after sex re-assignment surgery. I was a practicing Registered Nurse then and my medical team were marvelous! I am now in my 86th year and am still a spiritual Baha'i - as the song says "No, no no, they can't take that away from me." - Skydancer, Western Australia
    • David Haslip
      Apr 1, 2022
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      Guidance from the Universal House of Justice in 1983 stated that these were medical questions to be decided between individuals and their doctors. If you were kicked out for this reason it was obviously an injustice and you would be right to approach the Local or National Assembly near you to help clear up this issue. You would certainly be welcome in the Baha'i community, as all people are.
  • Patricia Wilcox
    Feb 2, 2019
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    David, I love your article which combines succinct advice from authoritative institutions with loving warmth.
  • Sara Clarke-Habibi
    Jul 18, 2017
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    Thank you for this piece. It seems to me that, in response to the question of whether transgender people can be Baha'i, we must reflect on who Baha'u'llah's Revelation is for. The answer, of course, is for the whole world and every soul that recognizes Baha'u'llah's station as Manifestation of God is already a Baha'i. This understanding must be firm in the mind of the transgender believer and in the mind of other Baha'is with regards to the transgender believer. Our spiritual duties to then work on embodying the divine principles of unity in diversity, consultation, lack of prejudice, mutual ...support, equality, justice, etc. then flow from this basis.
    Read more...
    • Sara Clarke-Habibi
      Jul 18, 2017
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      No doubts should be allowed to alter what must follow from all Baha'is including the transgender believer: our spiritual duty to work on embodying the divine principles of unity in diversity, consultation, equality, justice, removal of prejudice, giving of mutual support, genuine friendship and collaboration on the path of the Cause of God. This is our daily work and the depth of our commitment to it is tested in many ways, not least by issues of gender, throughout our entire life course as individuals and as historically-situated communities.
    • Sara Clarke-Habibi
      Jul 18, 2017
      -
      No doubts should be allowed to alter what must follow from all Baha'is including the transgender believer: our spiritual duty to work on embodying the divine principles of unity in diversity, consultation, equality, justice, removal of prejudice, giving of mutual support, genuine friendship and collaboration on the path of the Cause of God. This is our daily work and the depth of our commitment to it is tested in many ways, not least by issues of gender, throughout our entire life course as individuals and as historically-situated communities.
  • Bud Derek-Shane
    Jul 7, 2017
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    Would Baha'i administration allow gay martiage?
    • Michelle Hilton
      Jul 23, 2019
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      No
    • Dorian Odusanya
      Apr 11, 2018
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      The answer to this is, based on the Holy Writings and the guidance given by the infallible Universal House of Justice, almost emphatically so; no.
  • Tara Abhasakun
    Apr 24, 2017
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    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).
    • Patricia Wilcox
      Feb 2, 2019
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      I think same sex marriage is quite different from intersex variations. It has been, and I suspect, always will be rejected by God.
  • Cathy Gillis
    Apr 21, 2017
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    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!
    • Anna Resendiz
      Jul 6, 2017
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      Yes, I have heard some one say we should not bring up the topic. That concerned me so it has lightened my heart to see this topic out and light shining upon it. We love everyone. We all have tests in this world. I hope Bahais can mature and learn to sincerely care and love everyone as the Master advises us. Sometimes I wonder if some want to appear like we are perfect yet it is our struggles and diversity that truly unites us!
  • Cathy Gillis
    Apr 21, 2017
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    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).
    Read more...
    • Trav Williams
      Aug 5, 2022
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      Cathy, I read David's response to your post and wonder if perhaps you are both right. If gender is of two types, could it be that one person can possess elements of each, just like an intersex person can have characteristics of both sexes? In other words, maybe there are two genders, but they can both exist in degrees, within one person.
    • David Haslip
      Apr 1, 2022
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      This comment is several years old, but in case others see it, 'there is a whole spectrum of gender' is where current opinion diverges from the guidance of the House of Justice. See 'Extracts from Letters Written on Behalf of the Universal House of Justice on Transsexuality': "While there are many complexities surrounding the biological issues pertaining to sex and the social issues pertaining to gender, the Bahá’í writings affirm the generally held perspective that there are two sexes, male and female. This, of course, is not in conformity with some recent social theories that divide gender into multiple types." ...This guidance does not say anything specifically about what people should or should not do.
      Read more...
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