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Cross-gender casting

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Given the instruction in Deuteronomy 22:5, how do you feel we can reconcile the practice of cross gender casting? Can we? I have directed several shows and have never thought much about having the girls in the ensemble wear a suit so I can have matching pairs for the dance numbers. I have also had actors (usually girls) play minor roles of the opposite sex simply because I was short on male options. Only recently have I been challenged on this practice and I'm not sure what the best response would be. Does anyone have a good Biblical perspective on this long-standing theatrical practice?

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I may not be the best person to ask, but the fact that you have only recently been challenged on this suggests to me that it's not something that particularly bothers you or the performers -- so that suggests to me someone external to the community/cast is trying to rope you into an issue. 

Do you (or your community) adhere to every Old Testament law? or just some? It would seem to me that any sincere answer to someone who asked this as a sincere challenge would have to be contextualized within a broader theology of what one's overall relationship was to the Old Testament ( https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Christian_views_on_the_Old_Covenant )

As someone who did a lot of drama in high-school (but not as an adult), I think theater helps us become more empathetic and hence moral, since I think empathy is the foundation of most New Testament theology. But that's just one man's opinion....

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I have seen this verse used recently, though not in relation to theater, and want to be prepared for potential criticism on this front. Your point is a good one. Since I have already heard this applied to the current issues on transgender and/or cross dressing, I am more curious how we define theater as a unique situation that doesn't apply in this case. Based on some other conversations I have had since posting this, I do believe that the context of the verse is very important. In the theater, we are not attempting to deceive anyone regarding the gender of the actor in question. They are 'playing' a role and therefore not applicable in this situation. It's not an ironclad argument, but since the Bible does not specifically address this practice for the stage, it may be the best one available. Thank you for taking the time to respond.

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Jerry that makes some sense. If the people questioning you are sincere (it sounds like you think they are) than I might personally also try to reframe the practice --

For example: well, this allows us to include more girls in the ensemble, and research shows that theater helps build self-esteem and confidence, so I think it is important to let as many young women reap these benefits as possible. (Or conversely, to help men become more empathetic and in touch with their feelings.)


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  • 2 weeks later...

I presumed the original query was a springboard from the most recent wave of transphobia generated by the conservative/evangelical outrage machine, and the comment on the 13th pretty much confirms it.  I was going to refrain from commenting, but the recent back-and-forth in my subculture between Richard Dawkins and the American Humanist Association on transphobia has me thinking about it more.

No matter one's belief system or lack thereof, I think one's worldview whether Christian or secular humanist should favor defense of the marginalized over proof texts.  (Matthew 25, the Gospel of Luke, and the entire ministry of Jesus, anyone?)  And given that trans individuals disproportionately suffer violence (including murder) compared to the general population, they certainly qualify as marginalized.  There is a tendency in Western culture (and arguably, especially among Christians) to contend that trans people are fake or inauthentic.  Any time we argue that a group is less human than other groups - in a century following the Holocaust - this should give us immense pause.  I would think, too, as American churches are hemorrhaging members, those churches might want to ask why.  I have no doubt that the way in which so many evangelicals blindly followed Donald Trump, who famously declared that humans south of our border are 'animals,' has much to do with this.  In a more connected world where atheism and secular humanism are less stigmatized, Christianity simply looks a whole lot less appealing these days.  (The largest religious group in my state of Washington is the 'nones.')

All this to say, I think it behooves everyone to inform themselves about transhood and the social/biological reality of gender dysphoria, and to challenge their unconscious transphobia.  I'm lucky enough to have one or two trans friends, and as a physician I've treated numerous trans individuals - both of these things have deepened my empathy for their existence and expanded my hate for the stigma they endure.

Anyway, here's a column I wrote this morning that points to five recent empathy-generating documentaries on transhood: https://www.patheos.com/blogs/secularcinephile/2021/04/dont-be-a-dawkins-five-films-towards-being-a-better-trans-ally/

Edited by Andrew

To be an artist is never to avert one's eyes.
- Akira Kurosawa


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