When Realities Collide

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“She might have the physical attributes of a woman but Jennifer Pagonis was in fact born intersex, meaning she is genetically male and has the reproductive organs to match.”[1] This was the opening sentence in a Daily Mail article titled “‘I Exist in the Gray.’” Pagonis was born with a rare genetic condition called Androgen Insensitivity Syndrome. The article explains, “Androgen insensitivity syndrome (AIS) is when a person who is genetically male (who has one X and one Y chromosome) is resistant to male hormones (called androgens). As a result, the person has some or all of the physical traits of a woman, but the genetic makeup of a man.”[2] The Intersex Society of North America further explains:

In an individual with complete AIS and karyotype 46 XY, testes develop during gestation. The fetal testes produce mullerian inhibiting hormone (MIH) and testosterone. As in typical male fetuses, the MIH causes the fetal mullerian ducts to regress, so the fetus lacks uterus, fallopian tubes, and cervix plus upper part of vagina. However, because cells fail to respond to testosterone, the genitals differentiate in the female, rather than the male pattern … The newborn AIS infant has genitals of normal female appearance, undescended or partially descended testes, and usually a short vagina with no cervix. Occasionally the vagina is nearly absent.[3]

The reality of intersex people is commonly presented as evidence refuting a gender binary and a universal definition of biological sex. According to an article titled “It’s Time for People to Stop Using the Social Construct of ‘Biological Sex’ to Defend Their Transmisogyny:”

Since “biological sex” is actually a social construct, those who say that it is not often have to argue about what it entails. Some say it’s based on chromosomes (of which there are many non-XX/XY combinations, as well as diversity among people with XY chromosomes), others say it’s genitals or gonads (either at birth or at the moment you’re talking about), others say it’s hormone levels (which vary widely and can be manipulated), still others say it’s secondary sex characteristics like the appearance of breasts, body hair and muscle mass (which vary even more). Some say that it’s a combination of all of them. Now, this creates a huge problem, as sex organs, secondary sex characteristics and hormone levels aren’t anywhere close to being universal to all men or women, males or females. … While it is true that gender and sex are different things, and that gender is indeed a social construct, sex isn’t the Ultimate Biological Reality that transphobes make it out to be.[4]

The implication of such arguments is that intersex people represent a third gender that is neither male, nor female. However, as in the argument cited above, this line of reasoning is usually extrapolated to refute any objective and universal classification for biological sex, thus affording the possibility of a vast array of sexes. The assumption is that because intersex conditions are exceptions to the normal classifications of male and female, these people cannot be male or female. But such a conclusion overstates the data.

This article comes from Transitioning: A Biblical Understanding of Transgenderism.

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Timothy Zebell

As a former missionary to Asia for twelve years and the author of several books, Timothy is passionate about helping people understand the relevancy of God's Word in today's world. His goals are to help Christians discern truth from error, empower Christians to speak into cultural matters with relevancy, and to help Christians capitalize on the opportunities that these matters provide for sharing the truth about God and His gospel message.
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1. Whitelocks, Sadie. “‘I Exist in the Gray’: 29-Year Old Who Looks Like a Woman but Has Male Genitalia Speaks out about Rare Intersex Condition.” News. Daily Mail, April 17, 2015, 11:44 a.m., EST. Last updated April 29, 2015, 7:50 p.m., EST. Accessed May 31, 2016. http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-3043767/I-exist-gray-29-year-old-looks-like-woman-male-genitalia-speaks-rare-intersex-condition.html.

2. Whitelocks.

3. Intersex Society of North America. “Androgen Insensitivity Syndrome (AIS).” n.d. Accessed May 31, 2016. http://www.isna.org/faq/conditions/ais.

4. Mey. “It’s Time for People to Stop Using the Social Construct of ‘Biological Sex’ to Defend Their Transmisogyny.” Autostraddle Blog, June 5, 2014, 4:26 p.m., PDT. Accessed May 25, 2016. http://www.autostraddle.com/its-time-for-people-to-stop-using-the-social-construct-of-biological-sex-to-defend-their-transmisogyny-240284.


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