Intersex Issues

Inserting the Intersex “I” into GLBT Issues

By Matthew Goodell

In an article entitled What’s Wrong With Being Gay? Homosexual Behavior Verses The Bible, Ann Lamont echoes the familiar “God made Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve” trope to drive home her point that homosexuals defiantly betray the plan of God. Lamont’s article is one of thousands of like articles which use an interpretation of a religious text to illuminate God’s intentions to the rest of the world. This assumed understanding of God’s will is where much of the argument against homosexual rights stems; according to the opposition, the choices, actions, and lifestyle of homosexuals are deviant perversions of God’s will, or “sins.” This assumption cannot be overstated in this exploration of Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender, and Intersex (GLBTI) rights; if it is believed to be true that God made man (Adam) and woman (Eve), what is to made of the intersex population? The issue of intersexuality complicates much of the argument in opposition to GLBTI rights. To be able to establish this, some background information and definitions of intersex issues are necessary.

The commonly known term for “intersex” is hermaphroditism, but this term, applied to the human species, is a misnomer. True human hermaphroditism is not biologically possible. True hermaphrodites are found mostly in invertebrates, such as snails, where either partner can interchangeably reproduce as the “female” or the “male”(ISNA). The Intersex Society of North America (ISNA) defines intersexuality as “a group of medical conditions that involve ‘congenital anomaly of the reproductive and sexual system.’” Intersex individuals are those who are not, in the physiological sense, entirely (or accurately) defined by either label of “man” or “woman.” Dozens of different intersex conditions exist and their occurrence is frequent: it is estimated that one in every 2,000 births in the United States (approximately five per day) manifest visual anomalies in the reproductive tissue which leads to diagnosis and treatment (Koyama). Many intersex births are rushed to the operating table in an effort to “normalize” the anomalies of their reproductive systems. Some are deemed “successful” and the assigned gender identity of the child is assumed by the child through their entire life. On the other hand, many surgeries, and the implied gender identities, do not work for the individual; well intending parents and doctors make gender choices for new born babies with intersex conditions which feel unnatural as the individual grows up. The exigency of the issue of intersexuality exists in its widespread manifestation and its widespread cultural stigmatization. Many parents of new born children with intersex conditions feel social pressure to have their children’s genitals “normalized” despite severe physical and emotional health risks associated with surgery. The story of Dana, a Fort Collins intersex woman, will further illustrate this.

Dana was born intersex. Her doctors and parents decided that she was male and performed a cosmetic normalization surgery to help her fit into that role. Even after the surgery her intersexuality was undeniable; the surgery left her with physical scars and the secrecy of her parents on the issue left her with emotional scars. The assigned male gender identity never felt to Dana to fully encapsulate what she felt inside. After battling for many years, even into her adulthood, to live as a man, Dana felt that in order to be true to who she was, she must acknowledge the feminine side of her. Dana offered this perspective on being intersex: “I consider myself a Christian. I believe I was made in God’s image… So, where does that leave me? Because there’s no discussion of people like me in the Bible. I see it as God saying, This is the way I want this person to be. And doctors come in and try to play God, and improve on God, and it just doesn’t happen, they end up just screwing everything up.” Dana has now been living as a woman for seventeen years and proudly aligns with the label of “intersex.” Her negative experience with cosmetic normalization surgery has left her with a conviction that she needs to openly tell her story in the hopes that maybe she can stop “one surgery or two surgeries… So that someone could have a better life. I won’t say, ‘normal life’ because I don’t think anyone ever has a normal life” (Interview). Dana’s intersex experience is far from an anomaly.

The number of annual intersex births, applied globally, bites hard into excessively simplistic arguments against GLBTI rights, such as “Its just not natural,” or “God made Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve.” When the prevalence of intersexuality is addressed, one thing those who oppose GLBTI rights will be forced to concede is: if it is true that God made Adam and Eve, He also saw fit to make a whole range of in between.

The notion that only a heterosexual relationship is permissible and state recognizable does not hold up when one takes into account the intersex population. (The very notion of the existence of an “opposite-sex” is also called into question when intersexuality is acknowledged!). These people where, by the definition of theists who oppose GLBTI rights, created by God; how can those with intersex fit into the box of   a heterosexual relationship when they are not simply “male” or “female”? Did God make a mistake in creating the intersexed? Or does the mistake lie in the heteronormative assumption that only a relationship between a male and female is permissible?

These questions, and many more, need to be placed on the shoulders of the opponents of GLBTI rights. If God created the intersexed, but commands that only a “man” and “woman” can form a sexual relationship, then did God damn those with intersex from birth to never experience a sexual relationship? Is any sexual experience they have a sin in God’s eyes (remember they are not what normality considers “man” or “woman”)? Is it not possibly permissible for the intersex community to figure out what gender identity seems to suit them? Is it not possibly permissible for them to experiment romantically with partners of both sexes or gender identities in order to figure out what feels right to them? Is it only permissible for the intersex community to get married if their assigned gender and sex matches what their body and sexual orientation develop as into adulthood? Is there even such a thing as the “opposite-sex”? If nothing else, the issue of intersexuality helps illustrate that it is not an easy task to label “man” and “woman.” The lines are not clear-cut in terms of biological categories of sex; there aren’t, when intersex is taken into account, just two sexes.

If God can see fit to make a large group of people (the intersex community) who undeniably, fundamentally, biologically cannot fit into society’s box of heteronormativity in terms of their biological classification of sex, could it also be possible that God saw fit to make a large group of people who cannot fit into society’s box of heteronormativity in terms of their sexual orientation (the GLBT community)? The large number of annual intersexual births compounds the idea of God creating one hundred percent men and women who are one hundred percent heterosexual.

As more and more of the intersex community come forward and, like Dana, speak candidly about who they are, more and more people will be able to incorporate the complexities of intersexuality into their opinions of normality, and this can provide a solid foundation to question whether or not their views of GLBTI rights have been spot on, or not. Or, a slightly more modest proposal perhaps: at the very least we won’t have to hear the “God made Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve” argument anymore.

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