Things used to be so simple. Fifty years ago, grandmothers asserted that girls were made of “sugar and spice, and everything nice,” while little boys were made of “snips and snails and puppy dog tails.” But what happens when a child is born with a mixture of sugar and spice as well as snails and puppy dog’s tails? A recent media explosion (such as a feature on “60 Minutes”) has shined the light on what is commonly being referred to as “intersexed” people—a term used to describe a set of medical conditions that features congenital anomaly of the reproductive and sexual system. That is, intersexed people are born with sex chromosomes, external genitalia, or internal reproductive system traits that are not considered “standard” for either a male or female. Sadly, the condition exists in reality, and the victims unfortunately find themselves in both a physiological and political battle. Besides any visible abnormalities, these individuals often are sterile, lacking either a complete female or male reproductive system. Additionally, certain individuals in the homosexual community appeal to intersexed people, saying, “We are like them. We were born this way.” But scientific evidence shows that intersexed people are vastly different from homosexuals.
While the term “intersexed” is not found in most current medical dictionaries, hermaphroditism is. This word—used prior to the “politically correct” era—is defined as the presence in one individual of both ovarian and testicular tissue. Current estimates indicate that 1 in 2,000-3,000 persons are born with what has been termed “non-standard gender.” Of these, only small percentages are classified as true hermaphrodites. These children, frequently sterile, are born to unsuspecting parents whose dreams often are demolished as the reality of the situation sets in. Many times in these cases, a gender-identity team from a hospital is employed to further determine the actual sex of the child. Adolescents with abnormal sexual differentiation present a unique challenge to healthcare providers as they are forced to ask: should the child be surgically altered to be a male or a female? In the past, such a decision often was made immediately after birth, and any necessary surgery was performed for cosmetic reasons, the result being that the function of the genitals was compromised. Today, clinicians are rethinking such protocols.
Men and women share 22 pairs of chromosomes; only one set is different (there are two X chromosomes in women, and an X and a Y in men). People with true hermaphroditism—an extremely rare condition—usually have chromatin-positive nuclei [containing the X chromosome, or Barr body—BH], and 80% of them have a 46-XX chromosome constitution (Moore and Persuad, 1993, p. 292). As such, they generally are reared as females.
In 1999, a team of scientists in Melbourne, Australia, discovered that certain genetically male children are born with female sex organs. The researchers observed that genetically male children who were born without a gene known as DMRT1, failed to form testes (Smith, et al., p. 602). This particular gene is located on chromosome 9, which means that both men and women possess copies of it. But researchers discovered that the gene is regulated differently in men and women. They found that the gene was expressed in high levels in the developing testes, yet in low levels in the ovaries. They believe that females born with testes may have an extra copy of the DMRT1 gene. This information provides compelling evidence that the intersexed condition results from mutated genes.
Today, children should not be surgically assigned a sex until clinicians know for sure what their gender is. As we are now learning, early surgical intervention may not always be what is best for the child. Parents (and other adults involved in the counseling process) should encourage intersexed individuals to undergo genetic testing to determine what sexual chromosomes and internal organs are present.
In the beginning, God created humans male and female (Genesis 1:27). Today, however, we know that individuals are born who possess both male and female reproductive tissues. As Christians, we must tear down the veil of shame and secrecy, and deal with issues such as these that societal conditions have placed squarely on our doorstep. Intersexed people are people with souls—as well as people who may one day want to marry and rear children. As each day brings new ethical dilemmas, we must strive to look at them within the scope of God’s inspired Word. And that Word—not human opinion—must remain the criterion against which new developments are measured. We must not forget that scientific evidence documents that these abnormalities are a result of humanity’s mutated gene pool. Through the years, sex-determining genes have mutated as the result of people’s exposure to harmful chemicals like DDT, asbestos, thalidomide, etc. Christians must be compassionate toward intersexed people, but at the same time must not fall prey to the false idea that intersexuality proves that homosexuals are simply “born that way.”
Moore, Keith L, and T.V.N. Persaud (1993), The Developing Human: Clinically Oriented Embryology (Philadelphia, PA: W.B. Saunders).
Smith, Craig , Peter McClive, et al. (1999), “Conservation of a Sex-Determining Gene,” Nature, 402:601-602, December 9.
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