by Mx. Chris Paige
OtherWise Engaged Publishing, 2019
Paperback, 367 pages
Reviewed by Virginia Mollenkott, Ph.D., M.Div.
Chris Paige, author of OtherWise Christian, began exploring gender identity in the late 1990s, when they were working as the publisher of a distinguished journal called The Other Side. Now, in 2019, Chris serves as Operations Director for the organization they founded, Transfaith™/Interfaith Working Group, a national trans-led nonprofit focusing on issues pertaining to gender-affirming faith and spirituality and publisher of the Transfaith Online website. Chris is a respected leader of “trans siblings, intersex cousins . . . non-binary and gender-non-conforming kindred, and . . . all who resist the reductive ideas about gender that so many have been taught in the Western world” (p. xvii).
As a person who is “male and female. Neither, Both,” Chris is an OtherWise person who prefers “they” and “them” for personal pronouns, and “Mx.” rather than “Ms.,” “Mrs.,” or “Mr.”
Meanwhile, as Chris’s much older friend and book reviewer, I also understand myself to be both male and female, with a female body dressed androgynously and a strong connection to both female and male concerns. When people call me “sir,” I do not correct them; “he” or “she” feels equally okay for pronouns referring to me. This is my way of resisting the binary obsessions of our culture, just as Chris has their own way. I wonder how the English language will settle down, satisfied with pronouns that confuse singular with plural or depart entirely from standard grammar, as do those who prefer ze and zem for their pronouns of choice. Any attempt to liberate society from its binary assumptions seems to me worth some initial discomfort.
Chris has written an effective guidebook for transgender people of faith because the style is both scholarly, accessible, and respectfully penetrating in its biblical interpretation. For instance, there are seven chapters concerning biblical eunuchs and how they were understood by early Christian churches. The Bible’s more than 50 mentions of eunuchs—children and adults lacking a procreative function—give a surprising amount of attention to people called by Nancy Wilson “our gay, lesbians, [transgender], and bisexual antecedents.” Above all, in Matthew 19:29 and Luke 17:21, Jesus’s remarks transform eunuchs into “a new mode of Christian perfection” (p. 86).
There is a lot to like in OtherWise Christian, like Chris’s enthusiasm about the way biblical interpretation will be enriched as people learn to read through liberated lenses. I like the emphasis on wisdom, which suggests the healing wisdom that ancient native people saw in their two-spirit leaders. I like that Chris interacts with many sources, emphasizing the importance of publication dates so that ground-breaking scholars are not mocked for using early terms that more recently have shifted meaning: for instance, we no longer say transgendered, but earlier that usage was perfectly acceptable.
I like that Chris defines Christianity as fully interactive with other religious traditions; my own term for this universality is transreligious. Specifically, I like Chris’s respect for Judaism and Jewish scholars, honoring the multivocal nature of Jewish interpretation, which often sees many layers of meaning in a given phrase.
I like Chris’s overall theme that we are made in the image of a “gender-binary busting God” who began by creating an OtherWise earth creature and later divided that creature into male and female, both of them in their creator’s image. Therefore, OtherWise people are closer to the image of a male and female God than even the most cisgender masculine man or feminine female. And in this way, gender binary-busting undermines all patriarchal hierarchies.
Best of all, I like Chris’s emphasis on growth across and beyond humanly constructed boundaries. As Chris says on page 133, “Sometimes we don’t even understand ourselves or our experience until we have had [the] experience of being really seen and understood by a loved one.” Chris Paige gives all their readers an opportunity to be seen, understood, and loved. What could be more worthwhile?