Intersex complicates the gender binary

“One man, one woman” is the mantra of those who want to prevent same-sex couples from marrying. This mantra is rooted in, among other things, Genesis 1:27.

So God created mankind in his own image,
    in the image of God he created them;
    male and female he created them.

My intent here isn’t to tackle the political debate over marriage. Instead, I want to challenge the interpretation of Genesis 1:27 as a prescription for how we should view the sexes.

There are lots of great resources available about Genesis as a piece of literature and how reading Genesis as ancient literature should inform our interpretation of it (see here, for example). Scholars exponentially more qualified than me are worth reading if you’re interested.

As I said in my previous post, I want to offer up examples from the real world, the kinds of examples that challenged me with new information I couldn’t fit into my existing worldview, and thus forced me to make changes.

Meet Sara Kelly Kennan, who was just issued the United States’ first known intersex birth certificate.

Keenan was born intersex, with male genes, female genitalia and mixed internal reproductive organs.

If we read Genesis 1:27 as a prescription about sex, gender, and thus, marriage, how can we make sense of such a human person?

Back then, intersex people were called “hermaphrodites,” and doctors typically recommended surgery to make them conform to one of two genders.

This is one way, but this hardly seems fair. Obviously, the infant has no say in the matter and is not able to consent. And what if the doctors guess “wrong,” and the child eventually identifies with the “other” sex?

And what about sexuality? In traditional understandings of Christian sexuality, is there any option for a person like Sara? Couldn’t one argue that all sexual activity for a person like Sara is both simultaneously heterosexual and homosexual? And wouldn’t the absurdity of such an argument illustrate that a binary understanding of sex and gender simply isn’t sufficient to explain human experience?

What do you think? Have you considered if and how intersex persons fit (or don’t fit) with you understanding of the sexes and gender?

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