What is intersexuality and how should Christians respond?
As homosexual and “transgender” rights activists continue to do everything in their power to radically deconstruct the traditional and biblical understanding of sexuality, gender and marriage across all arenas of culture, they routinely confuse the debate by raising the issue of intersexuality.
Perhaps you’ve never even heard the terms intersex, intersexual and intersexuality.
Or maybe you have but think they are just more technical terms for the old-fashioned word “hermaphrodite.” (1) In any case, intersexuality differs from “transgenderism” in significant ways.
Specifically, whereas the term “transgender” is an umbrella term used to describe those whose feelings and perceptions of their gender do not align with their biological sex, intersex individuals have a congenital condition in which their sexual anatomy and/or reproductive organs don’t appear to correspond to typical definitions of male or female. Often this results in varying degrees of indeterminate or ambiguous genitalia. Sometimes these anomalies are apparent at birth; in other cases, the intersex condition doesn’t become apparent until puberty or even later in life, if at all. This condition can be biological and/or chromosomal in origin. Sometimes surgery is used to adjust the external appearance.
Many cases of intersexuality have their origin in utero and involve varying degrees of what is called Androgen Insensitivity Syndrome (AIS). This insensitivity to androgen – a male sex hormone – can interfere in the normal development of the sex organs and result in ambiguous genitalia as described above.
Whatever the cause, the fact is that intersex individuals – by virtue of a condition that often impacts the primary human physical characteristics associated with gender and sexuality – often walk confusing, challenging and lonely journeys through life.
So when we consider a condition like intersexuality, does this mean that “transgender” activists are correct when they argue that the traditional understanding of gender as “binary” – or two-fold, male and female – is outdated and should be discarded in favor of the “more enlightened” view that gender is “fluid” and virtually unlimited in its possible variance?
From a biblical perspective, the answer is “no.” Despite the fact that a tiny fraction of the population faces life with an intersex condition, Scripture teaches that humans are made in God’s image as male and female, and that there’s a complementarity of the sexes that uniquely brings forth new life and – mysteriously – reflects who God is (Gen. 1:27). Clearly, gender and sexuality matter to God.
Yet, we humans live in a fallen state – and in a fallen world – which impacts us spiritually, emotionally, mentally and even physically. Indeed, there are a number of genetic, biological and congenital conditions that manifest themselves in ways that preclude certain activities and plague our physical existence. But we know that God is good and He intends to show Himself strong in our weaknesses. Moreover, His mercies are new every morning (Lam. 3:23) and He promises us the ongoing and sufficient grace we need (2 Cor. 12:9) in order to walk in ways that bring Him glory and more fully reveal Himself to a broken and dying world.
So how should we, as Christians, minister to those among us who deal with the unique and often traumatic circumstances associated with intersexuality? Some intersex individuals will marry, and some may never discover their underlying condition. But Jesus’ own words, as recorded in Matthew 19, should serve as our guide for those who cannot or don’t marry due to intersex issues.
Recall that in this passage Jesus is discussing eunuchs who were “born” that way, “made that way” by men, or have “renounced marriage because of the kingdom of heaven.” While the context of this statement by Jesus is clearly centered on the questions of divorce, marriage, and God’s created intent for human sexual expression, it’s comforting to note that Jesus frames both the beginning and end of his comments here with an acknowledgment that not all can accept this word – indicating deep compassion on His part with those who find themselves in circumstances whereby they are unable to enter into the “one-flesh union” of marriage, whether by design, mutilation or personal decision. Moreover, Jesus indicates that this calling is given to only a few – implying that abundant grace is afforded to those who, for whatever reason, are to bear what Paul refers to as the gift of singleness (1 Cor. 7).
From these passages we see that Christians are called to understand that God readily seeks to strengthen and encourage those who find themselves unable to marry and participate in genderedness and sexual expression as ordained in the created order. Practically speaking, this means that we – as the Hands and Feet of Christ – are called to help intersexuals carry this “heavy yoke” and steward their assigned gender in a manner that glorifies God and, to the degree possible, reflects His created intent for human sexuality and gender.
Beyond this, a biblical ethic toward intersexuals no doubt calls on Christians to reach out in compassion and love to those who experience life with this condition. And we should continually lift them in prayer to the Lord – humbly admitting that we don’t have all the answers, nor are we able to fully understand this issue through God’s plan and His eyes. However, we can undoubtedly say that God intimately knows and loves every person made in His image with a deep and abiding love – reflecting the fact that all are of inestimable value and worth. Regardless of what disorder or ailment any of us might have, we are each “fearfully and wonderfully made” (Psalm 139) and have unending value in the sight of God (see Zephaniah 3:17; John 3:16).
Caleb Price is a research analyst for CitizenLink, an affiliate of Focus on the Family.
This article was originally published on 22 May 2008.
(1) Technically, the term hermaphrodite, with its origins in Greek mythology, speaks to someone who is half-male and half-female. In this strict sense, a hermaphrodite is not synonymous with someone who is intersexual.