Male and Female God Created Them
By Sally Gross
it a boy or is it a girl?” This is probably the first question
asked about all newly-born babies. The answer which is expected is either
“It’s a boy” or “It’s a girl”.
seems natural to assume that each baby is either a boy or a girl. In
about one in 2000 births, however, this assumption comes unstuck. These
babies are what is best called intersexed, though sometimes called “hermaphrodites”.
They are born with bodies which, in some significant way, are in-between,
not clearly male or female. The genitals of these babies are usually
bodies are generally no danger at all to the physical health of the
baby. Since the mid-1950s, though, such births have been treated as
a medical emergency. Doctors tend to cut such bodies into conformity,
as early as possible. Most bodies are “reshaped” as female
because, as one surgeon put it, “It’s easier to dig a hole
than to build a pole”.
experience of many intersexed activists show that such surgery frequently
leads to both physical problems and psychological anguish later on.
Parents are often not told the truth or the whole truth, as are people
who are intersexed.. Imposing what is generally cosmetic surgery denies
the children the chance to make choices about their own bodies. Later
in life, they often have to battle with the medical establishment to
uncover the truth about their own bodies.
a result, intersexed children often grow up with a sense that there
is something shameful about their bodies. They are often unaware that
anyone else in the world is like them, have a sense of dark secrets
in their childhood, and may well even fear that they are physical monsters.
branch of medicine which studies intersexed people, among others, does
label intersexed people and some others as monsters. It is called “teratology”,
from the Greek term for monsters. Intended or not, this is major discrimination,
a kind of apartheid, and should have no place in our new South Africa.
Christian fundamentalists also have negative attitudes towards intersexuality.
They see it as something which is in conflict with God’s plan
for humanity, as a mark of sin.
people often quote Genesis 1:27-28, “So God created humankind
(Adam) in his image, in the image of God he created him, male and female
he created them.” Many argue that those who are intersexed are
therefore not in the image of God..
is an odd way to use these verses. The Jewish Rabbis, through whom scripture
was passed on to the world, understood them very differently. Adam,
they taught, was created intersexed, not just male or female but both.
This is the image of God in which humankind was created. It was only
later that God divided Adam into male and female. Intersexed babies
are no less created in God’s image than other babies. Those who
reject intersexed bodies as monstrous, shameful or sinful reject the
very image and likeness of God in which all were created.
is a small but significant and growing movement of intersexed activists.
It recognises that in societies like ours at present, babies need to
be raised consistently either as boys or as girls until they are able
to make choices for themselves. “Best guesses” do need to
be made. Even the best-intentioned guess, however, can turn out to be
the wrong one in the longer run. Space for free and informed choices
need to be left open to intersexed children. It must not be removed
by cosmetic surgery. Surgery which is genuinely needed to preserve life
or health is of-course a completely different matter.
new South African Constitution and Bill of Rights sets itself against
Apartheid of all kinds. It seeks to teach our people to cherish its
diversity as a “Rainbow Nation”. This surely holds true
of the different ways bodies are from birth. As the birth of intersexed
babies shows, we are a “Rainbow Species”. It is part of
the process of transformation in the new South Africa that intersexed
babies, children and adults should be cherished, treated with dignity,
protected from discrimination, and enabled to flourish.
Intersex Society of South Africa (ISOSA) can be contacted by post at:
Suite No. 171
Private Bag X18
or by email at: isosa AT engender.org.za
Intersex Society of North America (ISNA) can be contacted by post at:
PO Box 3070
Ann Arbor, MI 48106-3070
United States of America
or by email at : info AT isna.org
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