Stop me if you’ve heard this one:
- At birth, you are identified as a male. Your birth certificate is recorded accordingly.
- After three weeks, a closer examination of your genitals prompts you to be identified as a female. Your birth certificate is consequently changed.
- In actuality, you possess both sets of genitals and mixed reproductive organs.
- As an infant, genital surgery might have been performed on you. In infants, this always means that any male-looking body parts are fashioned to look female, regardless of your genetics or how you might come to identify.
- In your teen years, you are told that you cannot make your own hormones. You are placed on hormone replacement therapy appropriate to a female.
- You will eventually have your genetics mapped. Your genes identify you as male.
- In adulthood, your father confesses that doctors had suggested they remake your genitals, providing you with a penis, so that your genitals match your male chromosomes.
- You were brought up as a female, have a feminine name, and your sense of yourself is female, so you go on to identify this way, and will want female pronouns used for you.
- Ultimately, you are not a female. But you are not a male. You are both. You are intersex.
This is no joke. It describes a real person. And as 2016 was coming to a close, this real person was recently given the first intersex birth certificate issued in the USA. The news arrived on December 29.
The intersex birth certificate belongs to one Sara Kelly Keenan. The nine bullet points describe her life. Keenan recognizes that not all intersex people will desire to be classified as such. “But,” she concludes, “for those who do, the option must exist.”
Since Sara Keenan is intersex, and she identifies as such, how could anyone have the authority to designate her as male or female? Who would choose? How would they choose?
Would her name seal the deal? Her preference for female pronouns? That she appears more female than male?
Would her genetics determine her birth certificate’s fate and the sex designation on her drivers license?
Which bathroom would you recommend she use? Would you want a law which would demand where she goes? Would you rather she use her own common sense to decide, and that her decision would not only work best for her but for those she might bump into in the restroom?
Sara Keenan could be an excellent example for us, if we only would let her. Taking her physical nature, then mixing in the path of her life, provides a wonderful way for any person to ask him- or herself, “If this were my life, would I not want some say in it?”
For me, “intersex” is the no-brainer designation for Sara’s birth certificate and drivers license. Does it jostle our simple M and F system and cause countless computer programs and forms to have to be updated? Yup, easy turns messy. Get used to it; life is messy.
I confess that I have some envy for Sara. Though I’ve not had my genes mapped, I am confident they would show me to be male. That I fathered five children sure points to it. Yet, I have this confounding condition which, from my study, and going on hormone replacement therapy and what I have experienced, informs me that I, too, am intersex.
Am I intersex to a lesser degree than Sara. Yes. If I had a small yet cancerous tumor, it would still be cancer and demand proper treatment. If I had a slight leg fracture, it would need to be addressed so that I might be at full strength.
But, I am told by my detractors—especially my former brother pastors in the Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod (LCMS)—because my genes are male, I am male, and that is that. Yet, Sara has male genes. Doesn’t that make her male? Shouldn’t she be identifying as a he?
Ah, these pastors might say, but she has the mixed genitals which prove she is intersex, so she may decide for herself what works best for her. And that is exactly what the LCMS’s Commission on Theology and Church Relations decided, as you may find here beginning at the bottom of page seven:
In other words, if I can see something it is real, but if I cannot see it then it is not real. Is that how Christians operate?
Is that how Lutherans operate with their doctrine of forgiveness as pronounced by the pastor in the stead of Christ? Is that how they operate with their doctrine of Baptism and the conveyance of the Holy Spirit and all of His gifts of eternal life when water is sprinkled upon a person in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit? Is that how they operate with their doctrine of the Lord’s Supper and the giving of Jesus Christ’s actual body in, with, and under the bread and His blood in, with, and under the wine when His testament is spoken over these items?
Since they can see and touch the reality of these spiritual gifts, that’s what makes them real?
It’s called faith. It’s called trusting the Word of God and that, when He promises these things, in the name of Christ and for His sake they come to pass. Real forgiveness. Genuine eternal life. Actual salvation. All of them attached to the words and water and wafers and wine of the Means of Grace, even when you can’t see forgiveness, eternal life, and salvation with your eye.
While physical science does not operate on faith, but on seeing and testing and answering questions and arriving at verifiable proofs, might there not be a dash of faith allowed by Christians in listening to those who suffer from gender dysphoria, that they are not suffering a mental illness or a temptation to sin, and who are gathering an ever-increasing amount of evidence to indeed show that their condition is in the same family as that of the visibly-intersex folks—that, ultimately, no matter the level of intersex, it’s still intersex—that it’s real, and that it really needs to be addressed?
And, no, not by a pastor’s telling his member, “You have to repent your desire to be the opposite sex. It arises from your sinful nature. Male and female God created us.”
So, pastor, if I have a really, really, really bad intersex condition, like Sara, I can physically and socially treat it, but if it is just a small intersex condition—and who gets to decide how small is small—then I have to just suck it up and behave myself?
Do you really know enough about these matters to stand in the seat of judgment over them?
I am thankful for Sara Keenan, that she petitioned for her correct birth certificate and also allowed for her story to be made public. She puts a real face on the struggle that thousands of us have.
Regardless of one’s situation in life—family, work, religion, and the like—this is a fight to be respected.
And doesn’t everyone long to be respected?