Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Changing Times

I can't believe this one came up.  More so, I can't believe I'm writing about it.  Not that I find it offensive or anything, but just that it seems so unusual I'm not sure a lot of us can relate to it.  It is interesting, though, and well worth the thought of the implications.

And, as I've said before, I'm not afraid to tackle the tough questions.

There is a very good friend of mine who asked me about the Faith, and specifically asked a couple of very interesting questions.  I must admit, despite my twisted approach to the Writings, and bizarre manner of seeing odd connections, I never thought of this one.

These questions should go to the Universal House of Justice, but I'm just too embarrassed to write them.  I'm not sure why, but I am.

I should probably tell you a bit about my friend, and how we met.  I've known him for more than 10 years, ever since she first walked into my booth at a fair (back when I was still a jeweler / artist).  She loved my work, and we hit it off really well.  A few years ago, I saw him again at the library, and we reconnected.  My son really liked him, and we rode in the glass elevator for about an hour, talking, sharing jokes, and getting re-acquainted.  A few conversations and lunches later, the following questions came up.

They are real.  I can't dispute them, or pass them off as a joke.  They are serious, and I take them as such.

You see, in case you thought the above was a series of typos, they weren't.  It was all accurate.  She was transgendered a few years back, just before we reconnected.  Now this does not make a difference to me, for his character hasn't changed.  He is still very kind, considerate, compassionate, intelligent, courteous, and so on and so forth.  This is someone I am proud to have as a friend, and dearly wish we could connect more often.  I love the time we spend together, just as I do with any good friend.

Here is the question that came up: If he declared, how would this effect marriage?

I have to start by pointing out that he is not a Baha'i, and therefore not bound by Baha'i Law.  I have written about this before, in relation to gay marriages, and repeat it here for emphasis.  Only Baha'is are bound by Baha'i Law, and we do not impose our rules upon others.

But what if he declares his faith?

As you know, within the Baha'i Law, gay marriages are not permitted.  Would he be considered a man, able to legally marry a woman?  Or would the transgender operation (sex-change for those of you who do not know the lingo) not be considered in this picture?  Would he still be considered a woman?

If the latter, if he is considered a woman, then he would be expected to marry a man.  This would give the appearance of a gay marriage to virtually everyone who saw them.  There is quite a bit in the Writings about the importance of appearances, so this would seem to be an issue.

But what if he is considered a man?  Then he could marry a woman, with no questions asked.

Now here is the kicker: if he is considered a man, then would he be eligible for election to the Supreme Institution?

OK.  Don't laugh.  This is serious.  And I think it really is a question that should be addressed to the Supreme Institution for guidance (but I'll tell you, I'm not ready to write that letter just yet).

Let's make this a hypothetical case, although it is not far from the reality.  Suppose someone underwent transgender surgery before becoming Baha'i.  What happens when they declare?  You see, the crux of this issue is that they were never disobedient to Baha'i Law, as they were not bound by it at the time of the surgery.  But suppose he declares, is he considered a man or a woman?

This truly does effect their ability to marry within the Baha'i context, and let us presume they wish to be obedient.

And if he is considered a man, how far does that extend?  Would he be considered a man in terms of eligibility for election to the Universal House of Justice?  Suppose that they were phenomenally gifted and spiritual, and this really did become a question.

Where is the line drawn?

Well, this is yet another time when I am very glad that I do not serve on that august body, for I have no idea which way they would decide.

But I promised that I would ask the question, so I have.  I can't find anything in the Writings that addresses this particular type of situation, although I am certain that they would not be expected to undergo surgery again, back to their original gender.  Nor can I imagine any rights being removed, as that would just be silly.

And so, as there is nothing in the Writings that directly addresses this situation, it is to the Universal House of Justice that we must turn for guidance.

Who knows, maybe I can still convince him to write them, for I'm not sure that I'm ready to try and write such a letter yet.


  1. The closest parallel would the application of the laws regarding polygamy. A woman who already has two husbands isn't told to give one up when she becomes a Baha'i, but nor is she allowed to add to the collection or to replace one of them if it leaves her polyandrous.

  2. I have wondered such things myself, and I really have no idea whatsoever how the situation would be dealt with.

    The only thing I can think of that is even slightly related is homosexual marriage. If a homosexual couple is legally married, they are not allowed to declare as Baha'is, since the Baha'i Faith will not encourage them to get a divorce, and the very act of becoming Baha'is would create an unsolvable situation. It isn't the same at all, and I can't give you a source for that, only what NSA members have conveyed to me as their knowledge from the House.

    I don't think it is neccesarily neccesary to write to the House. You can always write to your National Assembly and ask them if they know of any relevant sources, have any guidance, or have encountered such a situation. They may then advise you to write to the House, but they may not.

    Thanks for sharing this, and not hiding from a tough question.

    God Bless,

  3. I encourage you to write this letter, particularly if this friend is interested in officially joining the Baha'i community.

    As you can probably imagine the UHJ has dealt with all manner of questions over the years and undoubtedly subjects such as this will need clarification as science/technology/culture develop.

    I believe I've heard of a similar situation discussed, although in all likelihood these delicate matters would be handled case by case.

    All the best to you and your friend.

  4. As a Bahá’í and as a 35 year post-operative male to female individual, I found your blog fascinating. It is my opinion that the answer your friend, or any other similarly situated individual, seeks is clearly within the Sacred Writings and within themselves.

    The issue is not what the Writings say; that is clear. The issue is whether the individual is male of female.

    The Writings tell us that sexual relations are only condoned within marriage, and marriage is only sanctioned between two persons of opposite gender: one male and one female. Therefore, the question becomes: How do you define male and female?

    My answer to that comes from my understanding of what some medical professionals have called the “transsexual phenomenon” and my personal experience. I would define male as an individual who psychologically considers they are a man, with all its connotations, and who has male genitalia, similarly a female believes they are a women and has female genitalia.

    When I was a candidate for gender reassignment surgery (not transgender operation or sex-change) “the best medical assistance” available required extensive psychological and emotional testing and living and working as a woman for at least one year. This did not mean living in an accepting GLBT community. It meant living and working in “normal” society as a woman and being accepted as a woman. The only exception (in my case) was my Bahá’í community. Because I was seeking and following medical assistance, the community (with one exception) accepted me and what I was going through — including my reelection to the Local Assembly.

    Today, however, one merely puts down X number of dollars, goes to the Far East as Dick, and comes back as Jane. I do not believe that this is the recourse to the best medical assistance the Universal House of Justice suggested.

    If one who is born male, but is psychologically is a woman and has gender reassignment surgery to align their physical body with their mind, then they are female — a woman — no longer “transgender”, but female gender. Therefore, to have intimate relations with another woman is, by definition, homosexual. I am not saying that a person cannot legitimately go through reassignment and then prefer to have intimate relations with a person of the same gender as their reassigned gender. I am saying that if they do, it is homosexuality. Homosexuality and same-sex marriage, regardless of when the marriage was solemnized, are clearly discussed in the writings.

    As for serving on the Universal House of Justice: I am a woman and Bahá’u’llah said that only men can serve on that Institution. Whether like what Bahá’u’llah said is irrelevant. I accept Bahá’u’llah as the Manifestation of God for today, therefore, I will serve the House of Justice, but I will not serve on the House of Justice.

  5. It seems clear from what I have read above plus, more expansively, elsewhere on the internet about the Bahai faith and homosexuality that I am excluded from the option of becoming a Bahai. This is because as a post-operative transgendered woman I am in a live-in civil partnership (the equivalent of a legal marriage, which was also endorsed in a Blessing - United Reform church service and ceremony - as a lifelong lesbian marriage) with a woman as a lesbian. I find this very unfair and no better than what I would come up against in Christian or Islamic or Jewish fundamentalism. It is also a shame, I feel, because I find much to admire in the attitudes and beliefs of the Bahai faith, including its emphasis on no prejudice or discrimination. Well, as judged by my situation and that of countless other gay people the Bahai faith simply does not appear to live up to such principles. Why can't gay (and transgendered) people be left alone and in peace. Why does so much of the world make such a big deal about such things! This is not right.

  6. Denise- I have friends who are transgender and was wondering how to teach them the Faith. I am glad that you were reelected on the LSA. I was wondering if you could email me at or at my blog in the following section- Larrthóir Na Fírinne. I think this is an interesting question and I am glad the author of the blog brought it up. Thanks- john

  7. Message for Denise:
    Dear Friend.
    Could you please email to me?
    I do need to consult you on this important issue.
    Thank you so much!!!

  8. Some time after first reading this, I wrote to the Universal House of Justice, asking about the status of transexuality. I'm not going to post the whole letter, but I can say that much of the content of it is also contained here:
    They explicitly say marraige is acceptable post transition. Also "the [Bahai] institutions recognize the change when it has been “officially registered”" This, and comments in the letter I recieved, imply to me that a FTM transexual person could serve on the Universal House of Justice, once their transition was legally recognized and the physical changes complete.

    1. Wow! Thank you so much, Anonymous. This letter from the Universal House of Justice is absolutely golden. If there is any way that you could forward the letter to me, I would deeply appreciate it. My address, which is open to all, is

      Thanks so much for this link. I'm certain that I will write more on this subject now.

    2. I would also like to read the letter from UHJ in its entirety. I have a MTF transgendered friend who is very interested in the Faith, and I would like to have as much actual official guidance available to her when the issue comes up (and I know it will).

    3. I forgot my email address

    4. Hi Shoshana and Mead
      I don't feel comfortable passing on a letter written to me by the House to the interwebs right now (because I don't know if there's any policy about it), but here is a more official source than the yahoo answer I linked to:

  9. I entered the Baha'i Faith in March 1958. I am now 80. Long ago I was diagnosed and treated for Gender Dysphoria and transitioned from male to female and my legal status became female. A lost my marriage, however. The Baha'is treated me poorly to the point I resigned. My resignation was never acknowledged, but the Baha'is shunned me thereafter. I still follow Baha'u'llah's teachings. Probably the community conflated transgender with deviant sexuality - as most do. It is a congenital condition.

    1. Hello Gayle. Thank you so much for sharing your story here. Stories such as yours are so important for all of us. Too many times we, whether Baha'i or not, forget basic human decency. Baha'u'llah often said that the greatest tests to the Baha'is would be the Baha'is themselves. I think this is just one more example of it.

      For what it is worth, I am glad to consider you as a friend and would never think to shun you. We all have our own path in life, and whether you are considered a Baha'i or not is truly only between you and God.

      With love and prayers,