So, once I watched this video on YouTube by the rather smart and fast-talking John Green regarding marriage and religion. He brought up a point that had been sticking with me that, admittedly, I had not thought about before watching his video and ever since I’ve been thinking about it.
He brought up the fact that if you’re going to define marriage in such a closed, small way as between “one man and one woman,” there are going to be people who can’t fall into that definition. Not that their sexual orientation makes it so that they would not be able to follow their heart and fit into that definition, but that the people themselves could not fit into a “man” or “woman” category and therefore are not served by this definition.
I am talking of people who are intersex. People with an intersex condition are those who are not 100% physically male or female by society’s definition of “Penis = male, Vagina = female.” They may have ambiguous genitalia or parts of both. Or they may appear “normal” at birth, but when secondary sexual attributes (hair, breasts, etc) come into play, they do not match the genitalia of the person. These are but a few examples and there are plenty of more well-informed people to tell you more about this topic. I only have a bare-bones knowledge of these conditions. What I DO know, however, is that this is not something that anyone can try to say is a “choice” like they do for trans* people or those who fall outside of the “heterosexual” orientation. This is something that, without a doubt, a person is born with.
The Wikipedia page linked in the previous paragraph states that these conditions affect 0.1% to 0.2% of live births according to the Intersex Society of North America while Fausto-Sterling’s definition would place the number at 1.7%. The Intersex Society of North America breaks down the prevalence on this page.
Anyway, based on this information, I found myself wondering what the people who cling to the “one man and one woman” definition would say about the place of intersex people in marriages. ”One man one woman” excludes such people in using such binary language and I wondered how they would see intersex people in their definition. I asked on Facebook (where about 1/3 of my friends are Christian and most of them are for “one man one woman” marriage) about their views. I also asked why they would think that and, if there was scripture or an official statement by a religious official that they could tell me as their basis for the belief to please tell me. I said it was for curiosity and I wasn’t going to challenge their beliefs - I just wanted to know where these people would fit into their definition.
I waited about two weeks with no reply whatsoever from those friends. I had replies from my friends who were for marriage equality, also wondering what the opinions would be, but never any replies from those whom I had asked.
So I wrote again, directing people to that post. This was in the midst of the Chick-Fil-A debacle, so I thought for SURE people would be wanting to talk about their views since they were so chatty about them in regards to whether or not to buy fried chicken.
Two people replied at that point.
The first was my neighbor back in the states. However, I don’t think she read the question as her reply was simply her stating why she believed in “one man one woman” without addressing intersex at all. I asked her to read the post again because I thought she missed my question, but she never replied again on that.
The second person didn’t have a reply about the question, but about the condition. She asked first if it was really such a high rate because she had many friends with conditions that were less prevalent, but she had never known an intersex person. Then she asked if there was a reason this would happen because of poor diet or exercise (which, to me, was like blaming the person for their condition).
So, the avoidance of the question bugged me. I’m thinking of emailing some priests, pastors, ministers, etc to see if I can get their input.
But what really stuck with me with the reply of my friend was her not really believing in intersex conditions because she “didn’t know anyone who had it.” As though this is something that would just be advertised.
Most societies are VERY unkind to those who do not follow the strict, binary division of male and female. In your actions, your dress, your language, your career or hobby choices, etc, you are judged by how well you conform to your “role.” Deviants are punished in various ways.
Look how we treat the LGBT community! Sure, there are many people who are tolerant these days, but there is STILL SO MUCH out there that threatens this community in various ways.
So do you think someone who has an intersex condition is just going to ADVERTISE that to everyone? You know what happens when someone is “different.” They like to “test” you and poke and prod and they feel like it’s their place. Look at someone who is obviously pregnant and see how many people feel they can give unsolicited advice to the mother or feel like they’re entitled to touch the mother’s stomach without invitation or permission. Tell someone you’re deaf and they start asking you about cochlear implants or if you can read the lips of someone across the room from you. Tell someone you’re blind in one eye and they want you to cover your good eye and make stupid faces at you to test to see if you can see them or not. Or, worse, they try to poke your eye. Tell someone you’re bisexual and they want to know the difference between getting with a man or getting with a woman and they want all the details of your sexual life.
Anytime you let someone know you’re “different,” they feel like that’s permission to treat you like a test subject. Your privacy, your space, your body is not your own anymore. So what would happen if you told someone your penis wasn’t exactly a penis? They’re gonna ask questions about that shit! They’re gonna demand to see it! And they’ll tell their friends and family and then THEY will want to see it and after they’ve had their fill, they’ll treat you like a freak. You’ll be no better than someone on display at the circus. Hello, bearded lady!!!
So, no, you probably WON’T know if someone you know is intersex unless there’s a reason to. Not only do they have situations like what I described above to deal with, but many are taught shame about themselves. And some don’t even KNOW about their condition. The ISNA has a good introduction to this concept on their page about why don’t many people know about intersex conditions.
If you find it hard to believe that a doctor or a parent would keep such a thing from a patient, know that they keep even less stigmatized conditions a secret from patients. PEOPLE ARE AFRAID TO BE ANYTHING BUT NORMAL and they don’t want society to see their children as “not normal” either because it stigmatizes the child and shines a bad light on the parents. Take my father, for example. His parents realized he had amblyopia (a kind of lazy eye, but rather than “wandering eye,” it is the type where you are blind in one eye, either partially or fully, because your brain and eye do not develop the communication necessary to process the information) when he was young. A way to treat amblyopia is to patch the good eye and force the child’s bad eye to develop.
My father remembers as a child that he was patched at home, but he was never told why. The patch was never on outside of the house or when they had guests. It was also not supervised by doctors. Because of this half-assed treatment, he never got better and he never even knew anything was wrong with him.
Fast forward to me in second grade, already past the age (in 1990/1991) when starting patching is effective, getting diagnosed with the same condition. This condition is hereditary and, had my dad known what it was he had, he would’ve had all his children tested for it when they were babies and it was treatable.
Because of the shame and stigma his parents (which, btw, his dad was Irish-Catholic and his mother was Amish-turned-Catholic) had of having a “different child,” my dad didn’t know about his own condition until he was in his 30s and his child was diagnosed with it.
And that was JUST AN EYE CONDITION. Nothing compared to the oh-so-sacred genitalia.
I don’t know why, but the fact that someone would think that we would KNOW who all the intersex people around us were grated at me. Yes, it would be great if we lived in a time where people could be open about their differences and not judged. But these are still scary times for many people and that is why those who are “different” become invisible.
(Note - if I have gotten anything wrong about intersexuality in this post, including any terminology, please let me know through an ask, reply, or reblog. I am not intersex and I do not claim to have a wealth of knowledge about the subject.)