Friday, March 10, 2006


One argument I've generally shied away from in the debate over homosexuality is the question of intersexed individuals - people born with both male and female sex organs, as well as those who appear to be one gender but don't fit that gender in terms of their genetic makeup. I've always thought it a relatively weak case to make, since the intersexed make up an extremely small percentage of the population and homosexuals (with very rare exceptions) have the same XX or XY chromosomes as their heterosexual counterparts.

Last year, however, I read a blog piece (which is no longer online, unfortunately) that pointed out some very pertinent questions that the existence of intersexed individuals raise regarding Christian assumptions about gender.

The basic conservative case goes something like this: Genesis teaches us that God created us "male and female," and other biblical passages related to marriage teach that each of us was designed for a heterosexual relationship with a member of the opposite gender. To further reinforce the assertion that homosexuality is something artificially imposed on us during childhood (if it's not in fact a conscious choice), one might turn to Psalm 139:13-16 ("For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother's womb" and so on) as proof that, since God was intimately involved in designing each one of us, he clearly would have made each of us heterosexual.

Without even touching on the mounting evidence that homosexuality is at least partially attributable to genetic influences, that still raises the question: what about the intersexed? If God specifically designated our gender and intended for every individual to conform to specific gender roles, how do we explain the existence of even one intersexed person?

And if intersexed individuals do in fact have a specific gender that God assigned to them, what do we do if the doctor excises the wrong set of sex organs? What if God intended for Jill to be a man, but she's now a woman because Dr. Jones decided it would be easier to snip off her male parts? Would her church stand behind her if she pursued a 'lesbian' relationship or decided to undergo gender reassignment surgery? And all of that doesn't really even begin to touch on the issue of transsexualism, which is yet another bundle of complicated questions.

Is it possible that God isn't as intimately involved in the details of our birth as we assume? The alternative seems to be that he has a direct hand in the existence of genetic anomalies, and I'm not convinced that many Christians are willing to seriously face up to the ramifications of such an idea.

If we, then, acknowledge that the world is a far more complicated place than our tidy categories allow for, what does that do to our efforts to reduce all of life to simple either-or propositions? For my part, it makes me suspicious of anyone on either side of the debate who thinks that such questions have simple, pat answers. I'm far less impressed by a person's skill at throwing proof texts in other people's faces than I am by their ability to display humility and compassion (which is to say I'm impressed far less often than I'd like to be).

If God really intended for life to be simple, it would be.

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