Monday, February 20, 2012

Male and Female God Made (Most of) Them: Part 1

Raised as a boy, Georgie, Lady Colin Campbell wrote a memoir about being intersex.
***Caution: Links with an asterisk* may contain graphic images***

There are some things that the Church, in my experience, does a really bad job talking about. However, there is one topic I have NEVER heard addressed by a pastor, Bible teacher, or any other representative of the Church: intersex* individuals. (Intersex people have previously been referred to as hermaphrodites. I choose not to use this word since it is largely considered derogatory and has been replaced by the term intersex.) 

This silence is, in my opinion, terribly sad. 

That being said, this silence is understandable, not meaning that I agree with it, but I understand why the topic is difficult to talk about. It is beyond comprehension for those of us who believe in strict male-female roles, which many people in the Church do. It is even a difficult topic for those of us who break male-female roles, but are still clearly male or female biologically. Some people are simply not aware that intersex people exist; hearing of them is akin to someone suggesting that unicorns are real.

Sadly, in place of the silence about intersex individuals, I have often heard a blatant falsehood from the mouths of Christians: "People are either male or female. That's it! God said, "Male and female I created them." What's so difficult about that?"

The reality is that anywhere from 1/1000 to 1/60 people (depending on the measure*) are intersex, meaning that they are not fully male nor fully female. And guess what? Not only do some intersex individuals show up in the Bible, but Jesus even speaks of them himself in Matthew 19:11-12:
11 Jesus replied, “Not everyone can accept this word, but only those to whom it has been given. 12 For there are eunuchs who were born that way, and there are eunuchs who have been made eunuchs by others—and there are those who choose to live like eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom of heaven. The one who can accept this should accept it."
Here, the eunuchs made so at the hands of others or themselves were probably males who had been castrated. But "eunuchs who were born that way" is clearly a reference to those who were intersex to some degree. 

After speaking of divorce and remarriage, the Gospel writer of Matthew includes these few lines that appear in no other Gospel account. What they mean is up for debate. 

Some say these lines are completely metaphorical, but I find that interpretation unsatisfactory. People who are born intersex have been members of human existence since the days of creation myths (lines 75-78). Why would Jesus not have actually been talking about them? I find no good reason to jump to metaphorical interpretations right away. Of course, everything Jesus said probably holds infinite levels of revelation for us, but we needn't gloss over the most obvious ones.

To me, these verses offer tremendous validation to the presence of intersex people, not only in the world, but within the Church. Jesus 1) recognized the existence of those who are biologically ambiguous and 2) failed to condemn them. It is even arguable that Jesus was advocating for them.

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