Male, Female or “Intersex”?

I should get used to the fact that con­tem­po­rary soci­ety loves to blur bound­aries. Most recently, I’ve been think­ing about how a basic dis­tinc­tion like male and female is increas­ingly chal­lenged. For instance, with the Olympics around the cor­ner, def­i­n­i­tions of men and women are debated. The NYTimes writes:

Although the ver­i­fi­ca­tion test has changed to adapt to new sci­en­tific under­stand­ings about gen­der — ath­letes are now eval­u­ated by an endocri­nol­o­gist, gyne­col­o­gist, a geneti­cist and a psy­chol­o­gist — crit­ics say the test is based on the false idea that someone’s sex is a cut-and-dried issue.

It’s very dif­fi­cult to define what is a man and what is a woman at this point,” said Chris­tine McGinn, a plas­tic sur­geon who spe­cial­izes in trans­gen­der medicine.

I’m not in a posi­tion to debate all the intri­ca­cies of the genet­ics of sex and such. I appre­ci­ate the com­plex­ity. But I do think that the “inter­sex” excep­tions should not rule the day and encour­age us to blur the lines between men and women. One of the basic ideas of cre­ation in is that God is mak­ing order out of chaos by mak­ing dis­tinc­tions between things: light and dark, sky and water, water and land, land and plant, plant and ani­mal, ani­mal and human, human male and human female. If God makes dis­tinc­tions in cre­ation, we should uphold these dis­tinc­tions as good.

1:1 In the begin­ning, God cre­ated the heav­ens and the earth. The earth was with­out form and void, and dark­ness was over the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God was hov­er­ing over the face of the waters.

And God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light. And God saw that the light was good. And God sep­a­rated the light from the dark­ness. God called the light Day, and the dark­ness he called Night. And there was evening and there was morn­ing, the first day.

And God said, “Let there be an expanse in the midst of the waters, and let it sep­a­rate the waters from the waters.” And God made the expanse and sep­a­rated the waters that were under the expanse from the waters that were above the expanse. And it was so. And God called the expanse Heaven. And there was evening and there was morn­ing, the sec­ond day.

And God said, “Let the waters under the heav­ens be gath­ered together into one place, and let the dry land appear.” And it was so. 10 God called the dry land Earth, and the waters that were gath­ered together he called Seas. And God saw that it was good.

11 And God said, “Let the earth sprout veg­e­ta­tion, plants yield­ing seed, and fruit trees bear­ing fruit in which is their seed, each accord­ing to its kind, on the earth.” And it was so. 12 The earth brought forth veg­e­ta­tion, plants yield­ing seed accord­ing to their own kinds, and trees bear­ing fruit in which is their seed, each accord­ing to its kind. And God saw that it was good. 13 And there was evening and there was morn­ing, the third day.

14 And God said, “Let there be lights in the expanse of the heav­ens to sep­a­rate the day from the night. And let them be for signs and for sea­sons, and for days and years, 15 and let them be lights in the expanse of the heav­ens to give light upon the earth.” And it was so. 16 And God made the two great lights — the greater light to rule the day and the lesser light to rule the night — and the stars. 17 And God set them in the expanse of the heav­ens to give light on the earth, 18 to rule over the day and over the night, and to sep­a­rate the light from the dark­ness. And God saw that it was good. 19 And there was evening and there was morn­ing, the fourth day.

20 And God said, “Let the waters swarm with swarms of liv­ing crea­tures, and let birds fly above the earth across the expanse of the heav­ens.” 21 So God cre­ated the great sea crea­tures and every liv­ing crea­ture that moves, with which the waters swarm, accord­ing to their kinds, and every winged bird accord­ing to its kind. And God saw that it was good. 22 And God blessed them, say­ing, “Be fruit­ful and mul­ti­ply and fill the waters in the seas, and let birds mul­ti­ply on the earth.” 23 And there was evening and there was morn­ing, the fifth day.

24 And God said, “Let the earth bring forth liv­ing crea­tures accord­ing to their kinds — live­stock and creep­ing things and beasts of the earth accord­ing to their kinds.” And it was so. 25 And God made the beasts of the earth accord­ing to their kinds and the live­stock accord­ing to their kinds, and every­thing that creeps on the ground accord­ing to its kind. And God saw that it was good.

26 Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our like­ness. And let them have domin­ion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heav­ens and over the live­stock and over all the earth and over every creep­ing thing that creeps on the earth.”

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

28 And God blessed them. And God said to them, “Be fruit­ful and mul­ti­ply and fill the earth and sub­due it and have domin­ion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heav­ens and over every liv­ing thing that moves on the earth.” 29 And God said, “Behold, I have given you every plant yield­ing seed that is on the face of all the earth, and every tree with seed in its fruit. You shall have them for food. 30 And to every beast of the earth and to every bird of the heav­ens and to every­thing that creeps on the earth, every­thing that has the breath of life, I have given every green plant for food.” And it was so. 31 And God saw every­thing that he had made, and behold, it was very good. And there was evening and there was morn­ing, the sixth day.

Comments (5)

  1. mike wrote::

    I hear you. I not only like the com­plex­ity but enjoy it! Blur­ring bound­aries in art cre­ates a ten­sion or irony that attracts me. But that same art prob­a­bly cre­ates pres­sure on insti­tu­tions to remove those bound­aries. That is not my intention.

    I have respect and value for dis­tinc­tions. They are there for a rea­son and com­plex­ity shouldn’t auto­mat­i­cally dele­git­i­maze bound­aries. Soci­ety is dam­aged in a world with­out def­i­n­i­tions. Per­haps art would suf­fer as well?

    I like “Twelfth Night” but want to keep males and females defined in the Olympics!

    Wednesday, August 6, 2008 at 12:23 pm #
  2. Sophia Siedlberg wrote::

    Not sure I agree with you. Gen­e­sis 1:27 being an “Elo­himist” nar­ra­tive implies both male and female were made from the sin­gu­lar image of G-d.

    Be glad that G-d made you as you are and not inter­sexed. I sus­pect that were you born inter­sexed, you would have a very dif­fer­ent per­spec­tive, on how oth­ers treat you “Oh they should not be allowed to blur the sacred two sexes” (yes that is called Idol­a­try, there is only one G-d not two)

    You may also come to under­stand G-d in a dif­fer­ent light

    shalom

    Sophie

    Friday, August 8, 2008 at 6:19 am #
  3. rlew wrote::

    Thanks for tak­ing the time to write, Sophie. I cer­tainly agree that both males and females are made in the image of God. Believe it or not, I’d also affirm that inter­sexed indi­vid­u­als are made in the image of God – full of the dig­nity, moral­ity, ratio­nal­ity, spir­i­tu­al­ity, and capac­ity for rela­tion­ships that God intended.

    At the same time, I still uphold the dis­tinc­tions that God makes in cre­ation. Land is sep­a­rate from water and that is the way it must be for life to exist as God intended. Of course, there is the place where the water meets the land – the beach. It’s a beau­ti­ful place to be for sure, but not what all the earth should aspire to be.

    Friday, August 8, 2008 at 7:35 pm #
  4. Nick wrote::

    I’m inter­sex and I’m com­fort­able with it. I was born inter­sex because of a extra gene in body.

    Saturday, August 9, 2008 at 11:32 am #
  5. Sophia Siedlberg wrote::

    Hello rlew

    Thanks for your thought­ful reply. I think what is both­er­ing me about this debate is the way some have taken all this as a license to attack inter­sex peo­ple using bib­li­cal nar­ra­tives. (I am not say­ing you do this :)

    I agree with you that the sep­a­ra­tion of male and female is a fun­da­men­tal bib­li­cal prin­ci­ple. Your descrip­tion of a beach is a won­der­ful anal­ogy of the con­cept behind the name El Shad­dai. It is a part of what G-d cre­ated and for a rea­son. G-d will always be above cre­ation and G-d has left such places and ideas to remind us all of that. It is impos­si­ble for the entire world to be like a beach, but with­out beaches the world would seem wrong some­how. I am com­fort­able with the fact that I am inter­sexed because I know that G-d has a rea­son for it.

    I do love the anal­ogy you used as well.

    thanks

    shalom :)

    Sophie

    Saturday, August 9, 2008 at 3:32 pm #