intersex

All posts tagged intersex

Intersex steps forward and backwards, and the LGTBI debate

Published June 25, 2013 by Katy J Went
Four subsequently discovered to be XY developing nation athletes but raised and appeared to be women from birth, had their internal ‘male’ testes removed and cosmetic surgery to conform to the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) requirements after the London 2012 Olympics because they had shown abnormally high levels of testosterone.
 
Although the exact intersex condition has not been revealed 1-in-4500 or more may be affected by this occurrence. As many as 1-in-100 may have some kind of medical intersex condition. Alternative allosome combinations can be XYY, XXY, XXX, XXXX, XXXXX or XXYY, among other possibilities. I know people who discovered they were XXY in their 30s only when seeking IVF after unaided fertility was not possible. I’ve similar friends and contacts with variants such as XXXXY. Human diversity is endless so why are we stuck with a legal pseudobiological binary? Perhaps athletes should have golfer’s handicaps based on height and hormone/muscle levels and all genders could then compete together. Boxing already divides based upon weight and horseracing equalises rider mass with weights.
 

Professor Charles Sultan, head of hormonology at Montpelier University Hospital said: “These women are born with female genital organs… but they assume male characteristics at puberty with considerable muscular development, a man‘s frame and a testosterone level similar to that of a man. They have the chromosome Y synonymous with masculinity. They can have 25% more muscular mass than their competitors.” (www.ibtimes.co.uk/articles/482141/20130623/transgender-castrated-gender-reassignment-olympic-athletes.htm)

 
Professor Sultan’s statement is respectful on gender, still regarding these women as women but with some male/masculine/’similar to … a man’ characteristics, not even accepting the XY chromosome as detracting from their inherent female identity and nurture.
 
Meanwhile, some good news, intersex has for the first time been used in an international agreement in EU foreign policy:
 

“The acronym LGBTI describes a diverse group of persons who do not conform to conventional or traditional notions of male and female gender roles. LGBTI people are also sometimes referred to as ‘sexual, gender and bodily minorities’.”
“…The term intersex covers bodily variations in regard to culturally established standards of maleness and femaleness, including variations at the level of chromosomes, gonads and genitals.” (www.ilga-europe.org/home/news/for_media/media_releases/protection_of_lgbti_human_rights_officially_part_of_eu_foreign_policy)

The Foreign Affairs Council of the European Union adopted the Guidelines To Promote and Protect the Enjoyment of All Human Rights by Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Intersex (LGBTI) Persons, a legally binding document instructing EU institutions and Member States how to progress LGBTI  human rights when dealing with third countries and at international levels. Actions combating discriminatory laws and policies, LGBTI-phobic violence, and the promotion of equality and non-discrimination, are prioritised.
 
I have been active in getting the ‘I’ added to all LGBT groups I work with, the reluctance has not been from any public bodies, but rather the LGB elements, not wanting to “dilute” or “confuse” others! This is the same old argument that raged when Gay rights added first Lesbian, then Bisexual and most recently and reluctantly Trans rights. Gay politics has often been reticent to be seen to add the “weird” (and wonderful, IMHO) to their respectable middle class conformism after the early years of more outlandish and outrageous and generally just “out” activism. One group didn’t see the need to add the ‘I’ to any documents suggesting that those in the know knew LGBT included it, and those that didn’t need only be told it once and that the core acronym should remain unchanged, as if it had never changed before! 

I’ve written elsewhere about various groups suggesting a move towards MSGI (Minority Sexual & Gender Identities) or GSD (Gender & Sexual Diversity)/SGD (Sex and/or Gender Diverse) acronyms. LGBT could indeed be seen to be “diluted” by further additions to the alphabet soup of LGGGBTTTIQQQ2SSCHHHHAAAAFOOPPPPNUU (by my last enumeration) letters, but no minority wants to be the bottom of the pile, the mere asterisk in LGBT*. I don’t have a perfect solution but I resent the resistance to the very debate. Personally, I often use LGB/TIQ to indicate the split between sexuality and gender diversity, for the two groups are not always in agreement. Here I use Queer in the modern alternative sense of non-conformist, Queergender which could be seen to embrace genderfluidity, as well as Androgyne, Neutrois and Ungendered identities and expressions.

Australia seems to be the nation to watch on intersex rights. For a decade or more it has had sex/gender non-specific birth certificates and passports. Now it is passing an intersex-inclusive Sex Discrimination Amendment bill. Some half-dozen nations support M/F/X passports including Australia and New Zealand. 
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Twilight, Fifty Shades, Male and Female in Bible, Law, Science and Society

Published May 29, 2013 by Katy J Went
The happiest place to be, Australia, has declared “23 genders” deserving of recognition and protection. Yet the UN Commission on the Status of Women and the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court continue to assert just 2 “traditional” genders and reject the Yogyakarta Principles.

“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
Away with binary and biblical constructs, I say, let gender and Genesis be organic!

Same Sex, is it Equal Marriage?

Published February 6, 2013 by Katy J Went

As the UK passes the 2nd reading of the bill for Same Sex (but not fully equal) Marriage with a strong majority in Parliament but a minority of Tories, the very party introducing it, I’m left pondering what has marriage got to do with church or state, gender or sexuality? LibDem councillor and trans activist Sarah Brown has ably pointed out the areas of inequality that will still persist for trans, intersex and non-binary people, the eunuchs and tumtums of the biblical period. http://www.sarahlizzy.com/blog/?p=139

The new Archbishop minces words by saying that he is against the language of exclusion but also against equal marriage. What an oxymoronic thing to say, can anyone in a modern society contrive a sentence that puts together the two words against and equal? Don’t they realise how that sounds, “I am against…equal”! He says we need to create safe spaces for the gays within the church, safe but not the same space, not marriage. And what about trans marriages? What if a male bishop transitioned to female, would s/he have to resign their post because the church hasn’t yet caught up with gender equality? Have they suddenly lost their ability, their theological knowledge, their anointing because of a gender change?
The references that some MPs made to church, faith, bible, natural order, biological complementarity, purpose of having children etc, made me boil. So childless marriages aren’t as legitimate, so the infertile and childless by choice are now second class marrieds. Modern marriage is still defined by semi-ancient edicts, those of men, bishops, state and society. It has often been revised, changing laws about age in 1763 (12 years and older was legal then, probably not far off the age of the mother of Jesus!) and again in 1949 to protect under 16s. A century ago, married women could not own property independently. An institution in the past designed to control and manage inheritance and family, it was about male ownership, heirs and owning women (not just one) as property, slaves. The vows were “take, obey, yield….”. Biblically they could marry 4 women (just as muslims and mormons maintained) so long as you did not marry a woman AND her mother, you could be married off by your father without choice as the daughter or even as the son to your brother’s widow if childless, you could be forgiven sleeping with a betrothed slave for the price of a ram, could divorce a woman for pretty much anything yet she could not divorce a man at all.
Marriage is not between a man and a wife but between a person and other person(s). Marriage is about state-religious control, a socio-religious construct; relationship, on the other hand, is about love, care, companionship, equality, understanding, romance, respect etc. I am with the eponymous misogynist St Paul in Galatians on this “there is neither male nor female, slave nor free in Christ”, so a Christian marriage is not about gender or owner/headship if it is “in Christ”.
Furthermore, I think God affirmed other forms of marriage in Genesis by choosing as father of faith, Abraham, the husband of two wives; Jacob (who became Israel) as father of 12 tribes including Judah and husband of four wives. Not to mention Adam and Eve being the closest possible blood relations, Cain, Abel and Seth marrying their sisters, Shem, Ham and Japheth’s children marrying each other. Then there was Onan/Levirate obligatory sister-in-law marriage, spoils of war marriages. Don’t forget the fact that if we are quoting the Bible to define marriage than only virginal marriages (of the woman, the man need not be a virgin!) are valid according to Deuteronomy 22.
The fear that ‘gay’ marriage would lead to poly marriage or bestiality is ludicrous scaremongering. 50 countries support polyamorous marriage only 1 of those also supports gay marriage, so there is a greater connection between heterosexual marriage and likelihood to allow polyamory!
Another fear that the quadruple lock to prevent religious institutions being taken to court for not allowing same sex marriage, has not been borne out by evidence in Holland the first country to allow it 12 years ago (http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-21321731), even in Denmark where churches are now obliged to offer it, no minister can be required to perform it, and much like an anti-abortion doctor can pass on the responsibility to another willing minister – if one exists.
The argument from Adam and Eve, as opposed to Steve, as when Jesus commented on divorce, that before the Fall, it was just man and woman, negates the fact that that then legitimises sibling marriage. There is even a Genetic Sexual Attraction Forum for sibling love.
Arguing that marriage without possibility of procreation, is ‘naturally impossible’ and therefore unnatural between same sex couples, forgets that the same is true of infertile couples, many intersex persons etc. Citing the Bible on this is dubious at best, as God is able to intervene in these situations and make it happen or allows a man to sleep with another woman to get a child (surrogacy, often used by gay men).
Jesus was a biological impossibility, sex between a probably 12yo virgin and a unigendered bodyless divinity! Marriage is used throughout scripture as a metaphor for God’s relationship with Israel, divorced and remarried indeed on more than one occasion, yet that was not about natural procreation but just love, the gender identity or sexuality of Israel or God are not necessary to realise it is about love and commitment. Love is normal, that comes even before procreative possibilities or impossibilities. God is love, therefore, S/He would sanction expressions and commitments of that love between two or perhaps more loving persons.
In St. Catherine’s monastery on Mount Sinai, there is an icon which shows two robed Christian saints getting married. Their ‘pronubus’ (official witness, or “best man”) is Jesus Christ. The happy couple are 4th Century Christian martyrs, Saint Serge and Saint Bacchus – both men.
Yale historian John Richard Boswell discovered this early Christian history and wrote about it nearly 20 years ago in “Same Sex Unions In Pre-Modern Europe“ (1994). In ancient church liturgical documents, he found the existence of an “Office of Same Sex Union” (10th and 11th century Greek) and the “Order for Uniting Two Men” (11th and 12th century Slavonic).
So let’s not claim that marriage has always been between a man and a woman, for it sometimes been between a man and more than one woman, or between a man and a man, or between a God and a nation or a virgin, in the eyes of some Marian extremism.
A final word on prejudice and bigotry, name-calling never achieved change. Bigotry comes from a millennium old use of “by God” and a mockery of the Norman French, it later came to mean religious hypocrisy and prejudice. Gordon Allport in his classic book The Nature of Prejudice (1954) treats the subject well and distinguishes between prejudgements and prejudice, those that meet emotional resistance during challenge and those that can be explored rationally, “If a person is capable of rectifying his erroneous judgments in the light of new evidence he is not prejudiced”. I once opposed homosexuality and more as an evangelical Christian, it was both ongoing theological and historical study, matched with meeting sincere spiritual people of alternative sexualities, and coming out as trans and queer myself, that led me to reconsider and lose my prejudice. So activists, give the prejudging religious a chance to lose their prejudices via debate, argument and encounter, without abuse. Just as with the recent Suzanne Moore/trans activists/Julie Burchill spat which escalated out of control through invective rather than engagement, debate and mutual learning needs some degree of respect to get anywhere. Blessed are the peacemakers, which does not have to mean compromise, but just the manner of engagement, it is far more likely to win friends and influence people than all out war.