What would John Wesley say about Bruce Jenner’s professed transition, by hormones and surgery, to become a woman, appearing scantily clad, on the cover of Vanity Fair?
Sex change surgery would be an unknown topic to Wesley in his era except in the form of emasculating boys into eunuchs, which some eastern cultures still practiced, and which Wesley almost certainly abhorred.
But Wesley was certainly aware of cross dressing, which Deuteronomy 22:5 precludes:
“A woman must not wear men’s clothing, nor a man wear women’s clothing, for the Lord your God detests anyone who does this.”
Cross dressing was perhaps most identified in Wesley’s time with the decadent rich, like the infamous colonial governor of New York, the Earl of Clarendon, who reputedly strutted about Albany in a dress, telling colonists he dressed like a queen so as to represent their Queen.
With maybe such behavior in mind, Wesley commented on Deuteronomy 22:5 in his Explanatory Notes on the Whole Bible:
Shall not wear – Namely, ordinarily or unnecessarily, for in some cases this may be lawful, as to make an escape for one’s life. Now this is forbidden, both for decency sake, that men might not confound those sexes which God hath distinguished, that all appearance of evil might be avoided, such change of garments carrying a manifest sign of effeminacy in the man, of arrogance in the woman, of lightness and petulancy in both; and also to cut off all suspicions and occasions of evil, which this practice opens a wide door to.
“Lightness and petulancy,” meaning unserious and peevish, certainly describes the popular culture of our current time. Wesley had more to say about modesty in dress and deportment that pertains to our era, its celebrity culture, and its preoccupation with desperate self promotion through flamboyant appearances. He urged selecting apparel that was “grave, not gay, airy, showy; not in the point of the fashion.” And be warned against an array of costly vanities:
Wear no gold . . . no pearls or precious stones; use no curling of hair, or costly apparel, how grave soever. I advise those who are able to receive this saying, Buy no velvets, no silks, no fine linen, no superfluities, no mere ornaments, though ever so much in fashion. Wear nothing, though you have it already, which is of a glaring colour, or which is any kind gay, glistening, or showy; nothing made in the very height of fashion, nothing apt to attract the eyes of by-standers.
Showy appearances feed vanity and egotistical self-aggrandizement, Wesley observed, and route resources away from good works towards the selfish and superficial. What would he say of sex change operations, cosmetic surgeries and decades of hormone treatments costing into the hundreds of thousands of dollars in pursuit of fuller self-actualization?
Wesley counseled against standing out dramatically through flashy garb: “Let an Englishman dress like an Englishman, not like a Turk or a Tartar. Let an English woman dress like other English women, not like a French woman, or a German.” And he urged, in decisions of appearance and cost: “Be clothed with glory and immortality,” and “regard those ornaments only that will accompany us into immortality.”
Imploring listeners to “feed the hungry, clothe the naked, relieve the sick, the prisoner, the stranger,” Wesley promised: “Then shall God clothe thee with glory and honor in the presence of men and angels; and ‘thou shalt shine as the brightness of the firmament,’ yea, ‘as the stars forever and ever.'”