Education about the intersex population is sorely lacking in our society. This is primarily due to ignorance, fear, and the perpetual 1950’s mentality that “there are just some things we don’t talk about”. But scientific and medical research is slowly pulling the veil back on a minority group that has been closeted for far too long.
Why is it so taboo? What is it about American gender roles that place such clear-cut boundaries between the sexes? The first question we ask new parents: “is it a boy or girl”? What happens when a newborn’s genitals is neither male nor female? What happens when it’s both? We don’t like to face those questions. We need to know whether to paint the nursery blue or pink. We need to know whether to buy Barbie or G.I. Joe. We need absolutes. But could it be that gender is not as black and white as we once thought?
Science is now proving that intersex conditions are way more vast and varied than we previously knew. This also means that the sex of a person cannot always be determined by the appearance of their genitals. For instance, a person can be born appearing to be completely female, but have XY (male) chromosomes. A person can be born appearing completely male, yet have female reproductive organs on the inside. Some people are even born with cells of both male and female origin, having some cells that are entirely XX, and some cells that are entirely XY.
Sadly, in decades past, the medical community often used secrecy when dealing with intersex cases. There are numerous occurrences when the medical staff “chose” the gender of an intersexed baby by performing surgery without even telling the parents. In instances where the parents were informed, they were urged to make a gender decision immediately so that they could take their new baby home without people asking too many questions. Many parents chose this, because they thought it would protect their child from ridicule and pain. But imagine the confusion and damage that can surface later on as a result of this secrecy.
Unfortunately, the response of many people concerning intersexed individuals goes something like this: “Well, it’s sad for those who are born that way. It’s obviously not natural or what God intended… it’s just a sign that we don’t live in a perfect world. But God will take care of them, because after all… they’re people too. It’s just a good thing that these cases aren’t very common.” Then, said person returns to their life as normal, not giving it much else thought.
But just how common is intersex? Get this: Giving birth to an intersexed baby is just as likely as giving birth to twins. Want to see the stats for yourself? Here is the official information from the Intersex Society of North America. Take some time to peruse their website; it’s informative and comprehensive.
I also highly recommend that you watch the documentary Me, My Sex, and I. It’s one of the most compelling films I’ve seen regarding intersexed individuals, their families, and their experiences. Click here to watch the documentary.
So what do we glean from this information? If intersex conditions are so common, what does that say about God’s creation? Might I suggest that intersex is simply a variation of normal? I believe these gray areas between absolute black and absolute white are important… and they are beautiful. We know that there are references to eunuchs in the Bible. We also know that Jesus said some were born that way, and some were made that way by men (Matthew 19:12). Yet, we never really spend much time on those passages. What did it mean to be a eunuch? Is it comparable to what we know today as intersex? If gender itself is that fluid, then does it support the notion that sexual orientation is as well?I’m interested to hear your thoughts.