Intersex and the Nashville Statement
By Lianne Simon
The recently published Nashville Statement represents the beliefs of a coalition of conservative evangelical leaders regarding same-sex marriage, gender identity, and even intersex.
Although their position regarding intersex may seem innocuous enough, I want to take a closer look at its implications.
I’m a Christian housewife. My husband and I are long-standing members of conservative Presbyterian churches. We’re familiar with quite a few of the signatories of the Nashville Statement and acknowledge them to be learned Christian men.
I’m intersex. My body’s not entirely female or male. I was raised for a time as a boy. In 1974, after prayerful consideration, and with the consent of my doctors and mother, I switched to living as a girl.
The Nashville Statement repeatedly stresses a male-female sex binary and the connection between what they call biological sex and one’s self-conception as male or female (what most of us would call gender identity).
Although intersex is not directly mentioned, Article VI says:
“WE AFFIRM that those born with a physical disorder of sex development are created in the image of God and have dignity and worth equal to all other image-bearers. They are acknowledged by our Lord Jesus in his words about ‘eunuchs who were born that way from their mother’s womb.’ With all others they are welcome as faithful followers of Jesus Christ and should embrace their biological sex insofar as it may be known.
WE DENY that ambiguities related to a person’s biological sex render one incapable of living a fruitful life in joyful obedience to Christ.”
Intersex is, to the signatories, a disorder. Note that Merriam-Webster defines a disorder as a physical or mental condition that is not normal or healthy. By specifying ‘physical disorder of sex development,’ the Statement effectively eliminates any mental differences resulting from intersex, including gender identity.
How should one interpret the last line of the affirmation? How does an intersex Christian embrace their biological sex insofar as it may be known?
I struggled for a long time to embrace my intersex condition as God’s particular providence in my life rather than constantly longing to be entirely female or male. By God’s grace, I’m reasonably content with my body now. Embrace my status as a Matthew 19:12 from-my-mother’s-womb eunuch? You bet. But is that what the crafters of the Nashville Statement meant?
With their emphasis on the male-female binary, it’s more reasonable to assume that they don’t consider intersex a sex category. They seem to think that an intersex person is still either male or female, but the disorder of sex development has obscured or confused their true sex. It is that so-called true sex (i.e. male or female) that the signatories want an intersex person to embrace.
Medical studies of intersex suggest that the most reliable way of determining the gender of an intersex child is to wait until they’re old enough to speak and then ask them. But with the signatories’ refusal to recognize the biological roots of gender identity (i.e. self-conception), I must assume that the sex they wish that child to embrace would be based on some subset of their physical attributes—a reduction of the diversity of the child’s biology to fit a male-female binary.
Should we look to chromosomes for the “true sex”?
We’ve often heard that boys are XY, and girls are XX—it’s as simple as that. The reality, though, can be a lot more complicated. My chromosomes are mixed—some of my cells have a Y chromosome; others don’t.
If you consider a woman with the complete form of Androgen Insensitivity Syndrome—someone who has XY chromosomes as well as internal testes, but typical external female genitalia—the Bible would consider her a barren woman rather than a man. So the Bible doesn’t seem to care about XY or XX.
Should we look to gonads for the “true sex”?
Most boys have testes and most girls have ovaries. I had a mix of tissue types. So I guess that doesn’t help much. And, again, the Bible would consider our lady with Complete Androgen Insensitivity Syndrome and internal testes to be a woman.
Should we look to genitals for the “true sex”?
Quite a few people will say it’s all between the legs. And one could argue that the Bible agrees. But Deuteronomy 23:1 tells us that if a male cuts off his penis and testes, he’s no longer male in the eyes of the law, but a eunuch. Let me repeat that in another way—he just changed his legal sex category surgically. And in Matthew 19:12, Jesus says that some people who do that do so for the sake of the Kingdom. He also goes on to say that a lot of people just won’t understand the changing your legal sex thing.
Did I have a penis? Suffice it to say that I wasn’t capable of vaginal intercourse without surgery—as a man or a woman. I’ve had that surgery. So I’m pretty much female-typical down there now.
What then is the sex I should embrace? And who should decide?
So why did I switch from living as a boy to living as a girl? Did I one day decide to rebel against God’s clear plan? No. I prayed about it. A lot. Did I have a desperate need to be a girl? Um. No. At times being a girl sucks. Like when a man won’t listen to me because I’m a woman.
So why did my gender matter so much? Because I was close enough to death to smell the lilies at my funeral. My life revolved around my inability to function socially as a boy to the satisfaction of those around me.
I wanted a life. I wanted peace. I wanted to live for Jesus rather than die by my own foolishness. I wanted to honor God with the hand he’d dealt me.
I liked my feminine body. And—most of all—I wanted people to leave me alone.
My doctor said that with my face and demeanor I wouldn’t have any trouble being accepted as a girl. He was right. The bullying stopped.
For more than 40 years I’ve been able to focus on things other than my gender, to be a productive member of society—or as Article VI of the Nashville Statement says, to “live a fruitful life in joyful obedience to Christ.”
Who then should decide the “true sex”? Based on which sex markers?
The assumption of a true binary sex in the Nashville Statement ignores the complexity of human biology, the variety of the experiences of intersex people, and the damage done to intersex people by a medical establishment that enforces a binary sex on them.
I’m grateful that the Nashville Statement says that we who are intersex are “created in the image of God and have dignity and worth equal to all other image-bearers.” But I’m troubled that this affirmation appears to require us to give up our bodily integrity and embrace some doctor’s guess at what sex God meant us to be.
Understand this—your Nashville Statement drives intersex people away from the Gospel. Historically, doctors have castrated us, surgically assigned us a sex, given us hormones, told us lies, kept secrets from us, and caused us to live in shame. All in the name of your precious binary vision of sex.
It’s time you stood up for us rather than telling us to embrace what’s being done to us.
Lianne Simon is the author of essays and novels about what it means to live as an intersex person. An Oriented to Love alum, she is partnering with theologian Megan K. DeFranza on an important documentary about intersex and faith.