The Least, First

Monte Asbury's blog

Posts Tagged ‘Sexual identity

Gender identification: not as simple as it seems

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BERLIN - AUGUST 16:  (L-R) Tetiana Petlyuk of ...

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Perhaps you’ve heard of the world-class South African runner Caster Semenva (on the right in photo).  Last week, she won the gold medal in the women’s 800 meters at the world championship games in Berlin.   And then, someone—no one’s saying who—challenged her victory on the basis of gender.  In other words, “She’s not a woman, he’s a man.”

Now to we non-scientists, this seems like a simple question.  Turns out it’s difficult (not to mention humiliating for an 18 year old girl).  From the New York Times:

It requires a physical medical evaluation, and includes reports from a gynecologist, an endocrinologist, a psychologist, an internal medicine specialist and an expert on gender. The effort, coordinated by Dr. Harold Adams, a South African on the I.A.A.F. medical panel, is being conducted at hospitals in Berlin and South Africa.

Why all the fuss?  Either she is or she isn’t, right? Read on:

clipped from www.nytimes.com
To be fair, the biology of sex is a lot more complicated than the average fan believes [...] f the person has XY chromosomes, you declare him a man. If XX, she’s a woman. Right?
Wrong. A little biology: On the Y chromosome, a gene called SRY usually makes a fetus grow as a male. It turns out, though, that SRY can show up on an X, turning an XX fetus essentially male. And if the SRY gene does not work on the Y, the fetus develops essentially female.[...] Even an XY fetus with a functioning SRY can essentially develop female [...]
In the case of Androgen Insensitivity Syndrome [...] the genitals and the rest of the external body look female-typical, except that these women lack body hair [...]
Moreover, a person can look male-typical on the outside but be female-typical on the inside, or vice versa [...]
Matthew, a 19-year-old who was born looking obviously male, was raised a boy, and had a girlfriend and a male-typical life. Then he found out [...] that he had ovaries and a uterus [...] he had XX chromosomes [...] his body developed[...] male-typical [...]
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In the end, it’s a judgment call.

Which brings to mind the subject of sexual orientation (though, far as I know, it’s not a question Semenva has raised). Many of my good friends are convinced that gay men and lesbian women should remain celibate, for (they say) homosexual sex is “un-natural.”

But if an individual has both male and female characteristics, with which gender, my friends,  is he or she to be prohibited from marriage? What is natural?

Even more, what dozens of unknown psychological aspects of sexual identity and behavior might this combined physical identity bring about?  What aspects of it might never appear physically but influence sexual preference?

So I wonder.  How can we, who understand all this so very little, legitimately insist upon legal or theological control over the sexual destiny of people who are personally—perhaps even unknowingly—involved in these mysteries?  If scientists can’t conclusively say whether an athlete should race as a male or a female, how could we amateur theologians possibly know enough to judge who should be attracted to whom?

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