This Bible passage is helping Christians better understand trans and nonbinary genders.

“In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.”

As a kid, I would read these first words in my children’s Bible over and over again. I liked the first story in my Bible because it had some of the best illustrations. On one page was a friendly orange sun, and on the opposite page, a shining yellow moon and twinkling stars. Next came an ocean with big waves, across from a page depicting mountains and forests.

Even in a children’s Bible, the distinctions God made when creating the universe were obvious. Each bit of the world was broken into pairs and opposites.


For a kid who liked order and organization, the story of creation in Genesis 1 was just about perfect. There was a place for everything, and everything was in its place.

This kind of structure in scripture was something I appreciated up until my teen years. Then I began to see life sometimes falling outside of black-and-white categories.

I learned that the world isn’t separated distinctly into land or sea. There are also marshes, estuaries, and coral reefs.

Personally, I began to figure out more about my own sense of gender identity, and I wondered if all people were really divided into male and female, as Genesis 1 seemed to say they were.

Because the ancient Israelites separated their world into binaries (take a look at the kashrut laws that govern acceptable and unacceptable foods, for instance), it’s not surprising that Genesis 1:27 breaks humans into two groups as well: male and female.

But I’ve also concluded that this verse does not discredit other sexes or genders, any more than the verse about the separation of day from night rejects the existence of dawn and dusk, or the separation of land from sea rejects the existence of marshes and estuaries.

For as long as there have been humans, there have been people who fall outside of the male/female binary.

A creation story from the Mesopotamian society in Sumer has references from 1600 BCE to humans who are created with sex organs that are not immediately identifiable as female or male.

The Mishnah and the Talmud, the Jewish compilations of law put together between 200 CE and 500 CE, include examples of individuals who don’t fit into male or female categories, including those whose sex is indeterminable, those who have characteristics of more than one sex, and those whose characteristics change over time.

In Greek and Roman times, people born with indeterminate or ambiguous sex characteristics were called hermaphrodites (now a pejorative term), after a Greek god who exhibited both male and female traits.

This tells us that even the descendants of the people who recorded Genesis 1 did not assume that the gender or sex categories seen therein were all-encompassing.

Today, people with a combination of different sex characteristics identify themselves as intersex, and they make up between .018% and 1.7% of the world’s population.

Not all people are born male or female.

If we try to enforce that binary, we put ourselves in the position of claiming to know better than God and better than the individuals themselves.

Indeed, as theologian and specialist on intersex issues Megan DeFranza puts it, “The simplistic binary [sex] model is no longer sufficient. It is dishonest to the diversity of persons created in the image of God.”

When we attempt to box God’s creation by looking to Genesis 1:27 and expecting every person on earth to fall into line, we’re asking the text the wrong question.

If Genesis 1 was meant to describe the world as it is, the biblical authors would have needed a scroll hundreds of feet long. Thank goodness we don’t have to slog through verse after verse that reads like a biology textbook on taxonomy, naming creature after creature from the elephant down to the paramecium.

Just as we wouldn’t expect astronomers to cram things like comets and black holes into the categories of sun or moon, we shouldn’t expect all humans to fit into the categories of male and female.

This expansion in our understanding of the world also opens the door to a new reverence for God’s creation.

In acknowledging when we’ve misunderstood something about the world and changing our theories and behavior in response, we’re admitting our humanity and humbling ourselves before the Creator.

In the same way, when we recognize that our language doesn’t accurately represent what is, we create new words to illustrate those concepts.

This essay is excerpted from “Transforming: The Bible and the Lives of Transgender Christians.” © 2018 Austen Hartke. Used with permission of the author.

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Judy Vaughan has spent most of her life helping other women, first as the director of House of Ruth, a safe haven for homeless families in East Los Angeles, and later as the Project Coordinator for Women for Guatemala, a solidarity organization committed to raising awareness about human rights abuses.

But in 1996, she decided to take things a step further. A house became available in the mid-Wilshire area of Los Angeles and she was offered the opportunity to use it to help other women and children. So, in partnership with a group of 13 people who she knew from her years of activism, she decided to make it a transitional residence program for homeless women and their children. They called the program Alexandria House.

"I had learned from House of Ruth that families who are homeless are often isolated from the surrounding community," Judy says. "So we decided that as part of our mission, we would also be a neighborhood center and offer a number of resources and programs, including an after-school program and ESL classes."

She also decided that, unlike many other shelters in Los Angeles, she would accept mothers with their teenage boys.

"There are very few in Los Angeles [that do] due to what are considered liability issues," Judy explains. "Given the fact that there are (conservatively) 56,000 homeless people and only about 11,000 shelter beds on any one night, agencies can be selective on who they take."

Their Board of Directors had already determined that they should take families that would have difficulties finding a place. Some of these challenges include families with more than two children, immigrant families without legal documents, moms who are pregnant with other small children, families with a member who has a disability [and] families with service dogs.

"Being separated from your son or sons, especially in the early teen years, just adds to the stress that moms who are unhoused are already experiencing," Judy says.

"We were determined to offer women with teenage boys another choice."

Courtesy of Judy Vaughan

Alexandria House also doesn't kick boys out when they turn 18. For example, Judy says they currently have a mom with two daughters (21 and 2) and a son who just turned 18. The family had struggled to find a shelter that would take them all together, and once they found Alexandria House, they worried the boy would be kicked out on his 18th birthday. But, says Judy, "we were not going to ask him to leave because of his age."

Homelessness is a big issue in Los Angeles. "[It] is considered the homeless capital of the United States," Judy says. "The numbers have not changed significantly since 1984 when I was working at the House of Ruth." The COVID-19 pandemic has only compounded the problem. According to Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority (LAHSA), over 66,000 people in the greater Los Angeles area were experiencing homelessness in 2020, representing a rise of 12.7% compared with the year before.

Each woman who comes to Alexandria House has her own unique story, but some common reasons for ending up homeless include fleeing from a domestic violence or human trafficking situation, aging out of foster care and having no place to go, being priced out of an apartment, losing a job, or experiencing a family emergency with no 'cushion' to pay the rent.

"Homelessness is not a definition; it is a situation that a person finds themselves in, and in fact, it can happen to almost anyone. There are many practices and policies that make it almost impossible to break out of poverty and move out of homelessness."

And that's why Alexandria House exists: to help them move out of it. How long that takes depends on the woman, but according to Judy, families stay an average of 10 months. During that time, the women meet with support staff to identify needs and goals and put a plan of action in place.

A number of services are provided, including free childcare, programs and mentoring for school-age children, free mental health counseling, financial literacy classes and a savings program. They have also started Step Up Sisterhood LA, an entrepreneurial program to support women's dreams of starting their own businesses. "We serve as a support system for as long as a family would like," Judy says, even after they have moved on.

And so far, the program is a resounding success.

92 percent of the 200 families who stayed at Alexandria House have found financial stability and permanent housing — not becoming homeless again.

Since founding Alexandria House 25 years ago, Judy has never lost sight of her mission to join with others and create a vision of a more just society and community. That is why she is one of Tory Burch's Empowered Women this year — and the donation she receives as a nominee will go to Alexandria House and will help grow the new Start-up Sisterhood LA program.

"Alexandria House is such an important part of my life," says Judy. "It has been amazing to watch the children grow up and the moms recreate their lives for themselves and for their families. I have witnessed resiliency, courage, and heroic acts of generosity."

Researchers at Harvard University have studied the connection between spanking and kids' brain development for the first time, and their findings echo what studies have indicated for years: Spanking isn't good for children.

Comments on this article will no doubt be filled with people who a) say they were spanked and "turned out fine" or b) say that the reason kids are [fill in the blank with some societal ill] these days are because they aren't spanked. However, a growing body of research points to spanking creating more problems than it solves.

"We know that children whose families use corporal punishment are more likely to develop anxiety, depression, behavior problems, and other mental health problems, but many people don't think about spanking as a form of violence," said Katie A. McLaughlin, director of the Stress & Development Lab in the Department of Psychology, and the senior researcher on the study which was published Friday in the journal Child Development. "In this study, we wanted to examine whether there was an impact of spanking at a neurobiological level, in terms of how the brain is developing."

You can read the entire study here, but the gist is that kids' brain activity was measured using an MRI machine as they reacted to photos of actors displaying "fearful" and "neutral" faces. What researchers found was that kids who had been spanked had similar brain neural responses to fearful faces as kids who had been abused.

"There were no regions of the brain where activation to fearful relative to neutral faces differed between children who were abused and children who were spanked," the authors wrote in a statement.

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Images courtesy of John Scully, Walden University, Ingrid Scully
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Since March of 2020, over 29 million Americans have been diagnosed with COVID-19, according to the CDC. Over 540,000 have died in the United States as this unprecedented pandemic has swept the globe. And yet, by the end of 2020, it looked like science was winning: vaccines had been developed.

In celebration of the power of science we spoke to three people: an individual, a medical provider, and a vaccine scientist about how vaccines have impacted them throughout their lives. Here are their answers:

John Scully, 79, resident of Florida

Photo courtesy of John Scully

When John Scully was born, America was in the midst of an epidemic: tens of thousands of children in the United States were falling ill with paralytic poliomyelitis — otherwise known as polio, a disease that attacks the central nervous system and often leaves its victims partially or fully paralyzed.

"As kids, we were all afraid of getting polio," he says, "because if you got polio, you could end up in the dreaded iron lung and we were all terrified of those." Iron lungs were respirators that enclosed most of a person's body; people with severe cases often would end up in these respirators as they fought for their lives.

John remembers going to see matinee showings of cowboy movies on Saturdays and, before the movie, shorts would run. "Usually they showed the news," he says, "but I just remember seeing this one clip warning us about polio and it just showed all these kids in iron lungs." If kids survived the iron lung, they'd often come back to school on crutches, in leg braces, or in wheelchairs.

"We all tried to be really careful in the summer — or, as we called it back then, 'polio season,''" John says. This was because every year around Memorial Day, major outbreaks would begin to emerge and they'd spike sometime around August. People weren't really sure how the disease spread at the time, but many believed it traveled through the water. There was no cure — and every child was susceptible to getting sick with it.

"We couldn't swim in hot weather," he remembers, "and the municipal outdoor pool would close down in August."

Then, in 1954 clinical trials began for Dr. Jonas Salk's vaccine against polio and within a year, his vaccine was announced safe. "I got that vaccine at school," John says. Within two years, U.S. polio cases had dropped 85-95 percent — even before a second vaccine was developed by Dr. Albert Sabin in the 1960s. "I remember how much better things got after the vaccines came out. They changed everything," John says.

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