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They: A Biblical Tale of Secret Genders by Janet Mason

Tamar leads us through their world with intelligence and humour, bringing the old tales to life and making them accessible to the contemporary reader.


In “They” Janet Mason takes the tale of Tamar from the Old Testament and spits her tale into that of twins, Tamar and Tabitha. In Genesis ch38 twice widowed Tamar posed as a prostitute to have sex with her father-in-law, Judah, and is then sentenced to be burned at the stake when her pregnancy becomes obvious. When he finds that he was the unwitting father Judah rescinds her death sentence; she gives birth to twins and Jesus is her direct descendant.

“They” opens with Tabitha pregnant and needing to con Judah into thinking they are his to avoid the death penalty for having slept with a shepherd. Tamar is happily barren and definitely interested in the opposite sex, although her foray into lesbianism is severely hampered by the presence of her pet camel, Aziz; although in fact, he isn’t a camel as Tamar keeps reminding everyone because he only has one hump.

This is a tale of gender fluidity, intersex twins, complex family relationships, and delightful banter between the sisters who live, with Aziz (the dromedary), in a tent at about the same period as Joseph was wearing his technicolour coat. Whether you have read the bible, went to Sunday school or seen the films, the stories in the old testament come alive in a slightly mad mix of allegory and symbolism. Mason merges together tales from the ancient Hebrew Bible with modern concepts which speak to the world today, exploring gender and sexuality in a fun story that brings out the humanity of the characters we may never have identified with from the stuffy language of the Torah.

Tamar leads us through their world with intelligence and humour, bringing the old tales to life and making them accessible to the contemporary reader; infusing them with a modern subtext to give them relevance in today's world. Unconventional families, shattered typecasts, twisted myths and all presented with a tongue in cheek subtlety and wit. Mason has managed to take a complex and rather alien historical setting, merge it with up to the minute social mores and produce an amusing read.

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