This post was originally published on the Reconciling Ministries Network blog in September 2017. The RMN blog has since been reorganized and the original post is no longer available.
The other day, I was talking to my father, who is a Presbyterian minister. As often happens, we started talking about theology. (Occupational hazard of being a pastor’s kid.) I brought up a different way to read the story of Joseph and the coat of many colors in Genesis 37. We no longer know the precise meaning of the Hebrew phrase usually translated “coat of many colors,” but the only other time it’s used is in 2 Samuel 13:18. In that verse, the phrase is further described with the explanation, “for maiden princesses were customarily dressed in such garments.” In other words, what we know about the garment is that it is most commonly used as a princess dress.
Which opens the possibility that Joseph could have been, instead of an arrogant little twerp spoiled by his father, a transgender kid just trying to survive in the family.
My father listened to this interpretation. We talked about it for a few minutes. And then he said: “I think it’s important to keep the story focused on its central message: that God loves and protects Israel even through hardship.”
What I said was, “Yeah, Dad, okay.”
What I felt was a twinge of loss at having my story pulled away from me. Now, with a few days to reflect on that feeling, here’s what I wish I had said.
You, Dad, are a straight cisgender man. (And a white man, too, which is important in the modern American church’s narrative.) There are literally countless examples of people in the Bible you can relate to: from Adam to Abraham, Peter to Paul, Job to Jesus. You are married to a straight cisgender woman, who herself has quite a few examples of people in the Bible like her: Sarah, Priscilla, several Abigails.
Queer folks don’t have that luxury.
I grew up seeing only images of straight cis people in God’s story. Eventually, I learned to find the possibility of LGB characters hiding in the text. David and Jonathan, Mary and Martha. They’re in the shadows, masked by circumspect language and un-affirming translations, but they are there.
If Joseph wore a princess dress, then for the first time, I see someone in our holy Scripture who is like me. Someone who bends — or even breaks — the expectations of gender. I can read the story of my faith tradition and see in it the radical possibility that God loves even me. Because God has done it before. God loved and protected Joseph, a gender-non-conforming kid, even through hardship.
In a world where I live in fear of physical violence for who God created me to be, that extra piece of the story is something I can cling to. To be honest, I don’t need to know for sure if that item of clothing was a princess dress or a colorful jacket. I just need the possibility that, amongst all of the heroes and heroines of our faith, is a trans kid showing off her new clothes.
A person like me, loved by God, an integral part of the story of God’s chosen people.
And that is a possibility so radical it brings me to tears.