John 20: 19-20: When it was evening on the that day, the first day of the week, and the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord.
John 20:24-29 But Thomas (who was called the Twin), one of the twelve, was not with them when Jesus came. So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord.” But he said to them, “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe.” A week later the disciples were again in the house, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were shut, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe.” Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!” Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.”
Thomas. Poor Thomas. You have one bad day, one bad moment and you are saddled with a nickname that lasts for centuries. Doubting Thomas.
It’s an interesting passage, though. First we have the scene with the disciples minus Thomas. They are locked in a room and Jesus appears among them. It seems that they were worried about the religious leaders finding them (although the passage is kind of harsh with its language of them being afraid of “the Jews” of which they were also a part. One wonders if the writers of this passage had something against the Jewish religious establishment and needed to get a dig in.) We have no idea where Thomas is and it seems odd that he wouldn’t be with the rest of the group. Jesus comes into the room and shows him his hands and his side and then the disciples rejoice. I think it’s important to note that the passage is very clear in the order of things; Jesus does his show and tell and THEN they rejoice.
Jesus leaves and Thomas comes back. Everyone tells him about what they’ve seen but Thomas is unsure. Thomas says that unless he sees the marks and touches Jesus he won’t believe. A week later they’re still in the room and Jesus appears again; this time with Thomas present. Jesus offers his hands and side to Thomas and Thomas, even without putting his hand in Jesus’ side, believes and worships him. Then there comes the gentle rebuke from Jesus asking if Thomas only believes because he has seen and offering a blessing to those who believe without seeing.
Growing up this passage was brought out to affirm the faith of modern Christians. We are the blessed who believe because we have not seen. It’s interesting to me, though, that the rest of the disciples didn’t believe until after they had seen and yet Thomas is the one who gets called out for it. We have to wonder what else was going on that Thomas is the only one to get the rebuke. In addition I had always read Jesus’ rebuke as quite firm and annoyed, but in re-reading the text it seems pretty gentle. Jesus is simply raising the question of what it takes to get people to believe. And he offers a blessing on those who take someone’s word at face value.
When I was first transitioning this is one of the passages that resonated with me the most and continues to be meaningful. When I first told people that I was transitioning, or that I had transitioned the first questions were, without fail, about surgery. Have you had surgery yet? Are you going to have surgery? And they usually were referring to genital surgery. Invasive questions, asked loudly and in public. I began to be resentful of people and their inability to just take me at my word.
What is it that makes me a man? Is it having a penis? Is it carrying myself in a certain way? Is it all about my body? I wonder if people want me to drop my pants so they can see what I look like. If they need to see the scars on my chest. If they need to invade my privacy in order to believe that I am who I say I am. That I am resurrected.
Sometimes these questions make me angry and annoyed. I don’t want to have to tell you these things. I don’t want you thinking about my naked body or asking me about how I am intimate with people. It’s insulting.
And then I remember Jesus’ gentle rebuke and I wonder if I can be gentle as well. Is there a way for me to answer people’s questions, trusting that they are coming from a good and well-intentioned place while also rebuking them gently for their lack of tact? Can I teach them what it means to be trans without violating my own privacy? Can I be as gentle with them as Jesus was with Thomas?
I want to be a resource for people to understand what it means to be transgender. And most of the time I realize that the questions are coming from a really genuine place of wanting to know and wanting to understand. I want to honor the person asking the questions. However, there is a part of me that doesn’t want to have to show you my scars, not because I am ashamed of them, but because they are private. And because my gender isn’t about what surgeries I’ve had or about the scars I carry. At the same time I realize that my scars are one of the things that make me visibly male.
So most of the time I answer peoples’ questions while blessing those who believe without having to see. And I pray for the day when people will take all trans folks at their word.
post-script: A friend pointed out to me that in medieval depictions of Jesus and Thomas Jesus’ side wound looks very much like an FTM chest surgery scar. I find this to be fascinating on many levels. Included with this post is a photo of Jesus and Thomas and also of my chest post-surgery.