A Question I Was Asked:

'Where Do You Stand on Intersex Christians?'

The full e mail:
'I note that you have made some very interesting comments on homosexuality; my question is: where do you stand on hermaphrodite and intersex Christian believers?'

My Reply:

My! I was a little surprised by this question, but, okay, you have asked me, so let me consider it.

In the comments which I will now make I will touch on the subject of sexual organs but I will try to be as discrete and tasteful as I can, but I want to give a full answer to this question (however, if any individual reader is easily upset by frank references to the human sexual organs, this might be the place to stop reading).

Both intersexism and hermaphroditism are medical conditions; the more extreme condition is human hermaphroditism in which people normally have both male and female sexual organs - I mean, the whole lot! ['Aphrodite' was considered to have both male and female sex organs - source: Scholiast, 'Ilid,' II, 280]. In fact, I am reliably informed that virtually nobody has a set of organs of both sexes since that is physically impossible! What one finds is unusual variations: A young woman suddenly starts to develop a penis where there had (apparently) been a clitoris, or a young man reaches puberty and his penis suddenly diminishes and he develops female-like breats. Again, this is a medical condition, people obviously did not choose to be this way. Every single Christian should exercise compassion towards such people. I suppose the decision is usually made, where they are small children, to take away certain parts of their anatomy and to raise them either as boys or girls (that is, where the genital ambiguity is clear when they are small children, and sometimes that is not so). My understanding is that this is often a huge mistake and some such people (who had such procedures performed when small) later even committed suicide. I am told that it is now recognised that such children should be left as they are until reaching maturity so they can make their own informed choices. That sounds very wise.

The big problem here, of course, is social; people always want to say that a particular child is either a boy or a girl - this is why surgery was usually applied to such children in the past. Many years ago I knew a nursing tutor, she told me that thousands of babies of unsure sexuality are born every year but a decision is quickly made to identify them either as 'boys' or 'girls,' often due to pressure from the new parents. Think about it: When somebody has a baby, isn't the first thing we all ask, "Did your wife have a boy or a girl?" Ever heard a new parent say, "Well, we are not sure yet"? But, in fact, this is what sometimes should be said.

We all know, of course, that all men have a more female side to their nature and all women also have a more masculine side, that is long recognised, nothing new about that, but intersexism is different because - in certain people - both male and female dispositions are roughly the same. I am told that many such people could live happily as either a man or a woman. The arrangement of their reproductive organs also varies. Many many years ago I noticed a very pretty young woman but was privately informed that she had no womb but did have a penis. She was not raised as a male because that part of her anatomy had, at first, appeared to be a clitoris. Yet she looked so pretty and feminine that she was surely raised in the correct way, though, of course, she would never bear children. In other cases, a 'boy' is born who has a very inadequate penis and is otherwise strongly feminine but since he has that particular organ he will be raised as a boy; but sometimes mistakes are made and, around puberty, the 'boy' starts developing breasts (this is exactly what happened to a 'lad' who was in my school year). Many people who have these issues later undergo sexual identity crises sometimes leading to them deciding to have genital rearrangement operations and are then, of course, probably going to be considered as 'transexuals' (although surely somewhat unfairly in their case; a true transexual is a person of one specific sex who changes to the other sex).

According to a research which I did, true hermaphrodites amount to far less than 1% of the population, but intersex people are far more numerous, but still probably less than 2%. I also heard about one intersex individual who was raised as a boy, but from the age of about 35 lived the rest of his/her life as a woman. Since this person was truly 'intersex,' and hormone-wise 'half-way,' who of us can say that he/she did wrong? None of us!

So the question I am asked is what happens when such people become Christians. I am not sure that I understand why the question even arises; these people have a medical condition and one they would not have chosen, at that. We don't ask: 'What happens if a cancer sufferer becomes a Christian,' or, 'what happens if a sufferer from chronic diabetes becomes a Christian.' Those matters are physical - not spiritual. The Holy Spirit of God is not hampered by such things. Let us just recall that many eunuchs became Christians in the first era of the Church. These people - whether voluntary or involuntary - had gone under the knife to have their sexuality changed - it did not hinder many of them from coming to Christ! This is one way which we may perceive how the New Covenant is, in some ways, drastically different to the Old Covenant (under which, let us remember, those who were emasculated were barred from the temple precincts).

I must say that I would like to see far more compassion coming from my fellow evangelical Christians in this area. These people never chose to be the way they are! Yet we tend to very quickly write them off. I have no doubt that many people who later consider themselves as 'homosexual,' or, 'bisexual' are, in reality, intersexual. Problem is: that first word has become a well-known 'buzz expression' under which 'umbrella,' if you will, people may arrange themselves. 'Intersexism' never became a popular buzz word.

I have only answered this question after carefully considering the medical advice of a Christian doctor, apart from recalling the comments of a vastly experienced nursing tutor whom I once knew. I hope that my frank use of terms does not offend anybody.
Robin A. Brace, January, 2009.