Book Reviews · LGBTQ

Review: Transforming by Austen Hartke

Transforming: The Bible & the Lives of Transgender Christians is more than a book about the intersection of transgender identity and the Bible. It’s a conversation about faith and a God-created identity and the ways that affirmation or rejection of these factors in transgender people labels them as other or accepted by the Christian Church.

Image Source: Austen Hartke

Written in two parts, the first section of Transforming: The Bible & the Lives of Transgender Christians introduces the reader to what it means to be a transgender person. It also lays out views of the Christian Church and mainstream culture (in 2018 when Hartke wrote the book) towards LGBTQ+ people.

“One-quarter of the people who were raised in religious families, but have left their tradition, admit that negative treatment or teachings about LGBTQ+ people was a factor in their decision to leave” (p.10).

In the second section of the book, Hartke shares stories of transgender people who speak about their experience of being transgender in relation to different passages in the Bible. In one particularly moving chapter, a non-binary person identified as “M” speaks to how they connect with the image of God. They bring up the theologian John Wesley’s approach, which says, “it’s all about how we orient ourselves toward each other and toward creation” (p.57). Hartke goes on to say, “The thing is we can’t be in right relationship to each other if we can’t see each other. We can’t be fully present in any relationship if we’re walling off part of ourselves of hiding beneath a mask” (p.57).

If you are a person of faith who has been wondering how to reconcile what you believe while also supporting a transgender person, this is a must-read book.

Hartke doesn’t lay out a bunch of questions and answers and point the reader to a tidy package tied up in a pretty ribbon. Instead, he presents a multitude of scenarios for the reader’s consideration. Then, lets them draw their own conclusions.

In sharing his personal experience, and the experiences of others, Hartke makes it possible for the reader to identify with places of similarity and areas where growth can occur. He models how a person does not have to choose between their faith and their gender identity. Nor should a faith community require them to do so.

“Because I had what I believed was a strong relationship with God, and because my gender identity was just a fact, my question was not, ‘Do I have to choose between my gender identity and my faith?’ Instead, I found myself asking, ‘Is it possible to fully embrace both parts of my identity and still be welcomed into Christian community?’” (p.89).

At 176 pages and 12 chapters, Transforming: The Bible & the Lives of Transgender Christians is an easy read. It contains a Trans-Affirming Toolbox at the end. This lists ways to support transgender people in your community if you are an ally. Or yourself if you are a transgender person.

Austen Hartke started as a YouTuber at AustenLionHeart, where he posts about gender identity, faith, and how these things work together. He began with a series called Transgender and Christian, moved on to Bible Study Live, and has gone on to create the Transmission Ministry Collective. Transforming: The Bible & The Lives of Transgender Christians is his first book.

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