“Everyone has the right to recognition everywhere as a person before the law. Persons of diverse sexual orientations and gender identities shall enjoy legal capacity in all aspects of life. Each person’s self-defined sexual orientation and gender identity is integral to their personality and is one of the most basic aspects of self-determination, dignity and freedom. No one shall be forced to undergo medical procedures, including sex reassignment surgery, sterilisation or hormonal therapy, as a requirement for legal recognition of their gender identity. No status, such as marriage or parenthood, may be invoked as such to prevent the legal recognition of a person’s gender identity. No one shall be subjected to pressure to conceal, suppress or deny their sexual orientation or gender identity.” (Principle 3, Yogyakarta Principles)
Numerous groups and individuals have defended the gender binary on the alleged absolute grounds of biology, tradition or religion (e.g. The American Society for the Defense of Tradition, Family and Property – an organisation of lay Catholic Americans). On gender and sexuality, at least, Catholics, charismatics, evangelicals and biblical fundamentalists, not to mention Muslims, as strange bedfellows are ironically united. But are these grounds so easily or well defined? Biology offers plenty of scope for multiple and hermaphroditic genders; Native American tradition and other cultures allowed for 3-6 genders or more, such as: male, female, feminine man, masculine woman, gender-fluid and two-spirited.
As for religion, well God in Isaiah 56:4-5 affirms third gender folk as a distinct group apart yet especially loved and named from sons and daughters (male and female).
“For thus saith the Lord to the eunuchs/circumcised, Those who keep my Sabbaths, and decide for that in which I take pleasure, and take fast hold of my covenant; I give to them in my house and within my walls a memorial (yadh) and a name (shem) good/better than sons and daughters: I give them an everlasting name, that shall not be cut off.”
Nice wordplay on eunuchs/cut off! The eunuchs cannot parent children and thus prolong their name nor are they regarded as sons or daughters, being inbetween, but instead of healing, as God offers to the blind, deaf, lame, lepers God gives them a name, nature and status, as shem can mean, as “good” as that of sons or daughters, creating a third category on an equal footing, called “better” to make the point. They are also given a “hand”, not a helping one, perhaps, but yadh can euphemistically mean phallus power or strength, portion or perhaps inheritance. After all, the bad verse division hides verse 3’s ending “Nor let the eunuch say, ‘Here I am, a dry tree.'”, a phrase indicative of barrenness.
Similarly, Jesus when referring to eunuchs cites three possible origins including “born this way”, “made” or “lifestyle choice” (Matt 19:12). Contemporary first century Jewish rabbis recognised at least 4 genders in the time of Jesus accepting hermaphrodite tumtums and infertile intersex and/or barren women. The Jewish Midrash Rabbah Genesis 8.1 speaks of Adam being created androgyne, bi-gendered, hermaphrodite and then being “cut in two” much like Plato in his Symposion (190 B) when he speaks of three generations: the masculine, the feminine, and the androgynous, and of the latter being split at Creation.
The Bible in Genesis 1 does not say that we are created “male *or* female” but “male *and* female”, “in the image of God”. This makes God male and female, but s/he/they are one entity – in three “persons” if you are Christian rather than Jewish or Muslim. Although “persons” is a problematic later Greek development than earlier Christian thought of God in three modes or manifestations: Father, Son and Spirit. Whilst the Spirit-Creator is mostly seen as female and the Father-Creator as male, nonetheless they are described metaphorically as a mother with nursing breasts as well as other female analogies (Deuteronomy 32:18; Isaiah 42:14, 49:15, 66:13; Hosea 11:3-4; Psalm 123:2-3, 131:2; Matthew 23:37; Luke 13:34, 15:8-10), leaving only Jesus as the XY male – but can we be sure of even that? If Jesus was the incarnation of God, then he too could be male and female, a fully intersexed Messiah), so that Jesus can truly stand for everyman, as in every man and woman, fully human.
The Hebrew word for “and” has a wide range of meaning, it also has the word “either/or” but does not use that here. The same word “and” is used of the animals to be taken aboard the Ark, “male and female” separate breeding pairs. Yet some animals can breed without being in a pair, some can have up to 7 gender variations within a species. Are these animals making a “deviant lifestyle” choice or were they not only born that way, but created that way and part of the “male and female” God envisaged?
It is not about distinction, separation and categorisation but creative variety. Day and night, light and dark are not polarised binaries, but a fifty shades of greyscale, with dawn, daybreak, diluculum, sunrise, morning, coffeetime, midday, teatime, dusk, crepuscule, evening, twilight and everything in between. Gender is similar.
Nobody seriously disputes anymore the ethics of slavery, the Christian equality mantra of Galatians 3:28 stating that “there is neither slave nor free…”, but it continues “…neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus”. So why are we debating gay, trans, women bishops etc still? Just as God is male and female and yet still one, so are we both individually and as humanity. We are male and female and every shade in between, however gender is counted: 2 genders, 3 genders, 23 genders and none.
Simplistic literalist black and white, male and female theology creates summary judgements of human conditions outside of the binary, neat Sunday school scenarios. Real life is complex, beautiful and individual, and Jesus’ radical solution: Love transcends all these complexities.
The Australian HR Commission report suggested that “people are protected from discrimination without reference to:
- a binary construct of gender which only protects individuals who identify and present consistently as either male or female
- a binary construct of sex characteristics which fails to protect intersex individuals