Variations on Gender

I have heard many Christians respond to the whole “issue” of transgender people with this piece of advice:  “we need to teach our children to love their own gender.”  I believe that Christians say this to address their own fears, biases and judgements towards anything they simply don’t understand or don't want to understand.  What this advice fails to realize is that there are babies born with more than one gender.  Do we then teach them to love both of their genders? 

The kind of judgment most Christians show towards someone in the LGBT community is based on ignorance.  They don’t realize that gender, as the medical community might define it, or one’s sense of gender is based on many factors.  In Understanding Human Sexuality by Janet Shibley Hyde and John D. Delamater, there are 8 variables of gender which include:

1)     Chromosomal gender:  XX in females and XY in males

2)     Gonadal gender:  Ovaries in females and testes in males

3)     a. Prenatal hormonal gender: Testosterone and MIS in the male but not the female before birth

b. Prenatal and neonatal brain differentiation:  Testosterone present for masculization, absent for feminization

4)     Internal organs:  Fallopian tubes, uterus, and upper vagina in females; prostate, vas, and seminal vesicles in males.

5)     External genital appearance:  Clitoris, inner and outer lips, and vaginal opening in females; penis and scrotum in males.

6)     Pubertal hormonal gender:  At puberty, estrogen and progesterone in females; testosterone in males.

7)     Assigned gender:  The announcement at birth, “It’s a girl” or “It’s a boy,” based on the appearance of the external genitals; the gender the parents and the rest of society believe the child to be; the gender in which the child is reared.

8)     Gender identity:  The person’s private, internal sense of maleness or female.

In most cases, all 8 variables are in agreement, but there are many factors during the course of prenatal sexual development that can cause any of the variables to be misaligned with the others.  When there are contradictions among any of the first 6 variables, which are purely biological, a person is said to have an intersex condition.  The gender of an intersex person can then be biologically ambiguous.  There are a number of syndromes that can lead to an intersex condition or gender ambiguity.  Here are just a few:

1)     Congenital Adrenal Hyperplasia (CAH):  With this condition, a genetic female develops ovaries normally as a fetus, but later in the course of prenatal development, the adrenal gland begin to function abnormally (related to recessive genes) and produces an excess amount of androgens.  Therefore, prenatal sexual differentiation does not follow the typical female course and as a result, the external genitals are partly or completely male in appearance.  The labia are partly or totally fused so there is no vaginal opening and the clitoris is enlarged to the size of a small penis or even a full-sized one.  At birth, these genetic females may be identified as males.  (Meyer-Bahlburg et al., 2004, 2006)

2)     Androgen-Insensitivity Syndrome (AIS):  In this syndrome, a genetic male produces normal levels of testosterone but because the body tissues are insensitive to the testosterone, prenatal development is feminized.  Therefore, the individual may be born with more of an external appearance of a female with a small vagina though no uterus and undescended testes. 

3)     Micropenis:  a condition in which a genetic male is born with a very small penis.  The medical standard is that an infant’s penis is 2.5 cm or more.  This condition, of course, can affect sexual satisfaction in life, more so if the infant’s parents’ chose to raise the infant as a female following surgery, according to one study (Wisniewski et al., 2001). 

4)     Genetic-endocrine problems that can lead to genetic males appearing female at birth such as 5-alpha reductase deficiency syndrome.  These infants will have a vaginal pouch instead of scrotum at birth and a clitoris-sized penis.  At, puberty, however, the biological process kicks in and these “girls” now have penises.  This phenomenon has been studied in the Dominican Republic where these individuals are called Guevodoces (“penis at 12”) by the people in their culture.  In this culture, therefore, there are three genders and not just two.  This syndrome can also be found among the Sambia of New Guinea who also have a three-gender culture.

5)     Any kind of hermaphrodite condition where people are both with both male and female parts. 

6)     Klinefelter's Syndrome:  a genetic condition where a male has an extra X chromosome.   Symptoms include low testosterone, breast development, reduced strength and possible confusion about gender identification.  Eddie Redmayne does an excellent job of portraying what might have possibly been the first trans woman, born a male with Klinefelter's Syndrome, to ever have sex reassignment surgery in the movie The Danish Girl. 

Among the more than 200 Native languages spoken in Native America, at least 2/3 have a term that refers to a third gender beyond male and female.  Natives prefer the term "two-spirit" to label this third gender.  A two-spirit may be different from a "manly hearted woman" who may be more aggressive and independent than the typical Native woman or a "warrior woman" who may participate in traditional male gender roles in addition to traditional female roles in the Native culture.  However, a male could be married to a two-spirit male and, from a Native point of view, the marriage would not be considered homosexual because the two are of different genders.  

I’m hoping one day, the Western World and Christians in particular will not be so close-minded when it comes to sex and gender.  I recently heard of a local church who decided to accept the LGBT community into their congregation.  As a result, they lost most of their original congregation and had to shut down.  What a shame!  Any house of worship that is exclusive like that, isn’t based on the love Jesus had for everyone, regardless of what issues they are dealing with or struggling with.  But Christians continue to turn a judgmental eye to any issues or discussions involving sex or gender.  I’ll be praying that this will change one day…