Rob offered an interesting reply to my article on intersexuality. I’ve included his comments below and then offered my own reply. So first, here’s Rob:
I’ve seen several cases in comboxes where liberals try to conflate the two issues of intersexuality (which is a medical condition) and homosexuality (which is not). Just because a conservative disagrees with someone of a more liberal persuasion who mentions “intersexual” in their post, people should not assume that the conservative is illegitimately trying to deny this issue to hold onto an oversimplified worldview. The liberal may be illegitimately trying to conflate the two issues (ie. along the lines of “sexuality can be ambiguous. Look at the intersexuality for example. Therefore you can’t condemn homosexuality …”, etc.)
Also, looking at the link, except for mosaicism, it’s still not clear that sex is not a binary issue in other cases. Is there a Y chromosome present? The organs in question, do they produce eggs or sperm? That would still seem to be a binary issue.
The fact that the external appearance might be malformed, leading doctors to mistakenly assign the wrong gender to the baby is not the same as saying the baby has indeterminate gender. In Gaza strip, there have been many cases of babies born with genetalia that appear female, and are raised female, yet are genetically male. At puberty, the organs descend and normal secondary sex characteristics (such as facial hair) assert themselves. I can’t see how that’s anything other than misdiagnosis.
Let me make several observations in reply and then pose a real world situation.
First, while I did warn about the stultifying effect that “religious conservatives” can have on difficult cases like this, and I accept Rob’s tit-for-tat caution regarding how liberals often reason, nonetheless I would advise a general caution about simply reducing complex theological or ethical issues to a battle between “conservatives” and “liberals”. That kind of binary opposition is far too reductionistic for a complex issue that admits not only black and white but multiple shades of grey.
Second, in his response Rob immediately associates intersexuality with homosexuality. As he explains, he does so based on his observation of the way he has seen people argue in the past. While I take that point, this provides a good illustration for why many Christians would be fearful even to broach an issue like intersexuality, because the mere raising of the issue can immediately be construed as part of a much broader “liberal” agenda. To be sure, I’m not saying Rob made this association, but I have often seen people look behind honest (and difficult) questions for a hidden agenda. So it is no surprise that many Christians steer clear of these issues for fear of others questioning their motives.
Third, Rob states that intersexuality “is a medical condition” but homosexuality “is not”. My response here is two-fold. First, intersexuality is clearly not merely a medical condition. It is also a social identity and an emerging community. Second, it is not at all obvious that homosexuality isn’t rooted in or precipitated by biological/physiological factors.
Fourth, one cannot simply assume that gender is determined by one’s chromosomes. It may be, but one has to argue for that point. A couple years ago I wrote an article titled “The impossible problem of transgender children.” I have since spoken with two Christian psychiatrists both of whom in principle support transgender surgery for children. Is it open to a Christian to believe that in this fallen world some people may end up with the wrong kind of body, i.e. that a true male may end up in a female’s body (and vice versa)? As best I can guess, the most likely way to oppose this claim would be through a particular appeal to natural law. But it seems to me that we must at least be open to the empirical evidence which would support the value of transgender surgery.
Finally, let’s conclude with a real world scenario. Imagine that you’re a pastor and a couple — Tim and Jan — come to you asking if you will marry them. You’ve known Tim and Jan for years, they’re both members in the church, and you’ve always thought they make a great couple. “Sure!” you immediately reply. Then Jan says, “Pastor, there’s one thing you need to know. I was born with ambiguous genitalia and while my birth certificate lists me as female, I consider myself intersexual. But Tim accepts me for who I am. Is that okay with you?”
Would you still perform the marriage? Certainly? Definitely not? And why? And if you’re in the “maybe, I’m not sure yet” camp, what additional information would Jan have to provide about her genome or genitalia (or…?) before you would be able to answer either way?