Deconstructing the Gender Binary: How Religion and Society Dismiss the Intersexed
By Guest Author: Amanda Brown
Religion, especially the Abrahamic religions, has pervaded western society for centuries. Majority of religions have prescriptions for what is expected of its followers in regards to gender and sex life. With so many barriers for so many people the beliefs of the followers has found its way into the mainstream thought of American society. Intersexed individuals have been demonized by the religious for not adhering to their strict prescriptions of what they believe to be their god’s will for a happy, normal productive life. Throughout this paper I will outline how and why religion has shaped American society’s view of what is acceptable and unacceptable for an individual’s sex life and gender role.
Religion has woven its code of morality and ethical conduct into the everyday life of the American citizens. Many believe that without some sort of religious code or set rules this world would go “the way of the dogs”. Everyone would just start suddenly stealing, murdering one another, buildings would be on fire, and there would be chaos in the streets. But, I know that scenario is absolutely ridiculous. Society wouldn’t just fall apart at the seams. Morals do not come from a book written over 2000 years ago (Christian), or longer for Judaism and shorter for Islam. Morals, ethics, and character come from life experience. Christians, Jews, and Muslims didn’t just realize that stealing was wrong after reading a book, they were taught this from their parents, and so on. This moral character is in each one of us regardless of our gender or religious background. We know not to steal because it’s wrong, and will hurt other people; same for murder, cheating, and all of the other “sins”. We do not need a religion to tell us what is right or wrong. Societies have existed without religion and have still flourished.
Abrahamic religions tell its followers to adhere to strict gender roles and prescriptions when it comes to how they are to live in society. Women must be submissive to men, take care of the children, take care of the home, and to not assert themselves into politics or “men’s decisions”. Men must protect their wives and children, make enough money to support their families and church, be strong and tough, to “stand-firm” in their beliefs and be willing to fight for them. As children, you are raised to believe masturbation is a sin and must refrain from partaking in lustful acts and to not give into sinful desires. Any of these acts or desires could range from pre-marital sex to simple French kissing before marriage depending on the religion. Being an intersexed individual makes all of these rules even harder to achieve.
American society has adhered too many of these religious prescriptions when it comes to how it has handled the medicalization of sex and the treatment of intersexed individuals. Since two-thirds of this country claim to be Christian, according to the latest census, it is no wonder that these insane values have been pushed upon the rest of the people living here. These views do no coincide with the scientific knowledge of sex, sexuality, and intersexed individuals. Intersexed people are born with a part of both male and female genitalia in varying forms. No two intersexed individuals look the same. Some of them have a large clitoris’s, other micro-penis’; some with testes, and others with ovaries; some showing half female labia with a descended testicle and others displaying complete male or female genitalia while the internal structure isn’t there. Until recently, intersexed individuals have been treated like mutated fetuses that just need to be “fixed” in order to fit into society. Instead of doctors agreeing with evolution and the diversity of life, the medical establishment decided to “fix” these individuals so they could fit in to American ideal. John Money was one of the first doctors to publicize his research on “fixing” intersexed individuals. He was praised for his revolutionary surgeries that had been conducted by other practitioners for years but he was the first to make a case study public of how this child was perfectly assimilated into society as a female after removing and reshaping the clitoris or micro-penis of the child. What John Money didn’t do was look into the after effects of what harm he had actually caused this child. This child “Bruce/Brenda” was psychologically scarred and physically destroyed because of John Money’s so-called life saving surgeries. Intersexed children have recently, come out of the closets, screaming at the medical establishment for their non-functioning genitalia and psychological distress that the surgeries and inability to “fit” into society has caused them.
Many intersexed individuals claim that they never felt really male or female depending on what sex was prescribed to them. That there was always this sense of knowing something was wrong with them. Majority are lied to as children and told that some other medical problem is hurting them and that they must undergo some sort of surgical procedure but are never told the real reasons why. Psychological scarring happens to the intersexed individual. This occurs because they are lied to about the reasons for the surgery in the first place and then are told to be one gender or the other. This is the fault of the religious establishment insisting that everyone adhere to the male-female reproductive system. They do this in spite of the fact that these individuals couldn’t reproduce after these surgeries in the first place. Every person should be given this option to adhere to the social norm prescription or to go their own way, especially in the US where we are supposed to give voice to the minority (but, it obviously doesn’t happen that way). This practice of lying has been found to be extremely damaging to the child.
Doctors have begun to see that giving intersexed children knowledge about what is going on with their bodies (rather than blatantly lying to them) could be more beneficial than just forcing them into a defined gender role. Most have shown severe psychological trauma from this forced identity. Every child should be allowed to make the decision whether or not they want to “fit in” to a society that wouldn’t want them or to make society accept them for who they are. And, who they are is a natural human being with partial genitalia from both sexes of our forced gender binary system. Everything in nature is on a sliding scale: size, intelligence, hair color, height, emotions, sexual attraction, and thousands of other characteristics. They don’t fit easily in Box “A” or Box “B”. Now we know genitals are also on a sliding scale and vary greatly thanks to nature.
So why continue the status quo? On pages 132 and 133 Fausto-Sterling wrote,
“Those who defend current approaches to the management of intersexuality can, at best, offer a weak case for continuing the status quo. Many patients are scarred—both psychologically and physically—by a process heavy on surgical prowess and light on explanation, psychological support, and full disclosure. We stand now at a fork in the road. To the right we can walk toward reaffirmation of the naturalness of the number 2 and continue to develop new medical technology, including gene “therapy” and new prenatal interventions to ensure the birth of only two sexes. To the left, we can hike up the hill of natural and cultural variability. Traditionally, in European and American culture we have defined two genders, each with a range of permissible behaviors; but things have begun to change. There are househusbands and women fighter pilots. There are feminine lesbians and gay men both buff and butch. Male to female and female to male transsexuals render the sex/gender divide virtually unintelligible.”
Americans continue the status quo because this is what their religion tells them to do. God wouldn’t want to have an imperfect child that doesn’t fit into the binary system he prescribed. The problem with this thought is that if God made this child in “his image” then wouldn’t their natural state of being be what is preferred? Rather, they are rejected as a genetically mutated offspring that should not survive in our advanced civilized society. Are the intersexed a mistake by God? If American society adheres to the religious prescriptions of the gender binary (which it does) then the intersexed must be a mistake and must be fixed. But, evolution and the diversity that is life on this planet tells us a different story. Every plant, animal, insect, and microorganism has evolved to be what it is today. All walks of life occur on this sliding scale and as humans on this sliding scale we must accept the differences that will occur. Gender roles, sexuality, and sexual acts are under attack in the religious and medical establishment. Instead of each person deciding for themselves what “fits” best for them our society listens to their religious moral authority. This moral authority only enforces guilt, sadness, and feelings of non-acceptance for any form of difference. Living in this type of society is harmful to ones psychological and physical well being.
Acceptance of what is natural and unique is the course of action that should be taken. Adhering to millennia year old books that no longer pertain to what is known about the world isn’t going to advance our society or further our understanding of life on this planet. If we do not start to allow for these obvious genetic differences to not only live but to thrive we will be depriving ourselves of the diversity we need in order to survive in an ever changing world. Intersexed individuals do not need to be separated, fixed, or made to feel unaccepted in a society that claims to be the “land of the free”. Intersexed individuals should be loved, accepted, and nurtured.
A place should be made for them in our society. A person should be able to check “I” for intersexed like India has done. Acknowledging the diversity and giving them acceptance will not break down the moral fabric of a society. All it shows is the strength of the moral fibers of that fabric. The society that accepts every human for who they are and what they are has the moral high-ground. Not the society who constantly forces people into perfect little boxes that they can never escape from. Our world is always changing and people must change with it. Religion continuing to have authority over natural measures will end once the religious wake up and realize that their God never intended them to fix the mutated but to accept them as human beings and a natural part of evolution and this diverse world.
A species has never become extinct for being too diverse. Yet, we fear our own diversity. We appreciate variety in so many things. But, we don’t want to accept more than two genders. We relish in our desire for evidence and rational thought. However, religious thought and teachings of the bible have been blessed by an impenetrable wall of shame for doubt. Questioning the decrees of the divine and the moral interpretations of them by “his” imperfect prophets, priests, pastors, and rabbis has become an age old “sin” and is therefore avoided at any cost. This taboo must be broken and replaced with a shared appreciation for science and nature. Modern thought should be upheld over tradition. Religion offers us two gender roles with little variety. Secular Humanism offers us a beautiful array of millions of different sexes on the spectrum that is humanity. You may like your world painted in only black and white, but I know I prefer mine with a lot more color.
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