What is Intersex, and What Does the Bible Say about It?

We see the acronym LGBTIQA, and we might not even know what every letter stands for. To have conversations with people who self-identify in any of the represented categories, we need some basic language for communication:

 The acronym LGBTIQA stands for:

1) “L” – lesbian

2) “G” – gay

3) “B” – bisexual

4) “T” – transgender

5) “I” – intersex

6) “Q” – queer/questioning

7) “A” – asexual people and allies

(Notice “homosexual” is not on the list—many consider that word “Christianese.”)

Recently, I have had conversations with Christian leaders who’ve told me, “I don’t even know what intersex is.” I also hear people quoting Genesis’s beautiful words, “Male and female created he them; and blessed them, and called their name Adam, in the day when they were created” (Gen. 5:2) as a prelude to insisting that the Bible teaches there is no spectrum, that everyone fits neatly into one of two binary categories—male or female. But notice the “when” in the Genesis statement: “in the day when they were created.” In the Garden.

A lot has changed since the sixth day of creation. And for millennia some people have had physical characteristics of both sexes. These conditions may include chromosomal disorders, atypical genitalia, atypical reproductive organs, and/or over- or underproduction of sex-related hormones. Some people are born with XXY chromosomal mixes. Indeed, there are around 100 different intersex conditions. General revelation tells us this. But special revelation—Scripture—also bears this out in the post-Garden world. Consider Jesus’s statement that “some were born eunuchs” (Matt. 19:12). We need to stop saying every human is clearly either one or the other, male or female, because Jesus is the Truth, and to say so is not to tell the truth.

We used to refer to such people as “hermaphrodites.” But this term is considered both pejorative and incorrect. Also in the past, intersex conditions were classified according to inner reproductive organs, as follows:

1) “true hermaphroditism”—having both ovary/ies and testicle/s or gonads that are partially testicles and partially ovaries regardless of genitalia

2) “male pseudohermaphroditism”—having only testicles and atypical or female-looking genitalia

3) “female pseudohermaphroditism”—having only ovaries and atypical or male-looking genitalia

Seeing “intersex” as falling into one of these classifications is considered outdated now, as the label includes many more variations.

Many intersex people actually do consider themselves to fit primarily into the binary male or female category. But some consider themselves both; others consider themselves neither. Some classify themselves as gay, while others insist they are absolutely not gay and mourn the fact that others categorize them with such labels.

In the past, parents who had children with ambiguous genitalia were told to pretend: “Choose one and raise your child as the chosen sex.” And parents were also counseled to authorize surgeries to make their children’s bodies outwardly conform to binary definitions. But sadly, many intersex people who had such surgeries have grown up feeling their parents chose wrongly. Many intersex people feel their autonomy was violated by such actions. And often intersex people feel that the option “chosen” for them does not match the sex or the spectrum of male/female they are. So, they may transition to another sex, passing through a similar process as that of transsexuals.

As I’ve said before, our Lord himself insisted that sometimes bodies differentiate from what we might describe as the norm. And remember that story about the Ethiopian eunuch? Upon reading Isaiah 53, he discovered that the prophesy about Messiah said He was not one who would reproduce. King of kings, Lord of lords, Eunuch of eunuchs!

After Philip told this eunuch the whole story about Christ, the eunuch wanted to be baptized on the spot. Know what’s interesting about him? The author of Scripture only once refers to him as the “man” (Acts 8:26–40); the rest of the time he avoids pronouns. Instead, three times where you or I might otherwise insert “the man” or “the woman,” Luke inserts “the eunuch.”

Sadly, Christians have a lot of ignorance on this topic, and we need some humility. For better self-education, I suggest two sources of info.

First, watch this film: Intersexion.

Second, read Megan K. DeFranza’s book, Sex Difference in Christian Theology: Male, Female, and Intersex in the Image of God (Eerdmans). You may not agree with every word she writes—I don’t. But after reading DeFranza’s work, you will have a much better knowledge of the issue. You’ll also come away with pastoral insights for how to help humans made in God’s image who have lived in secrecy and under condemnation from people quoting the Bible for far too long.

Join the discussion One Comment

  • Emme says:

    Thank you for they way you teach this. So much are things I don’t know and don’t know how to even ask. I never even thought about the scriptural point of the eunuch.

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