The intersex community gets upset when the public confuses intersex with transgender and believing their non-binary bodies must given them a non-binary gender identity as well. Their anger is well deserved; most intersex people identify fully as either male or female. I do not want to imply otherwise. Nevertheless, and I'm not skilled with being politically correct, the movement by both the intersex community and gender defenders paint transgender and intersex as too exclusive and unrelated phenomena injures transgender advocacy and is just not true. There are obvious examples of people clearly intersex who self-identify as transgender (such as Josef Kirchner and Raven Kaldera) which we all agree on, but I am not including those cases. I believe the entire categories of intersex and transgender are, in fact, two different sides of the same circumstance, that circumstance being the breaking of the sex and gender binary. Thus this two part series on the relationship between intersex and transgender. In the first article, I explore whether we (traditional) transgender people can accurately call ourselves intersex. In the second article, I explore whether traditional intersex people can be considered transgender.
First, what exactly do we mean by "intersex?" I will use in what I think is the universal general meaning. In our heads we have a Platonic form of full female body and of full male body. An intersex person is anyone who does not have every aspect of either body but has some of one and some of the other. This, however, is not the universal technical meaning. The Intersex Society of North America specifies intersex as more specific, pertaining to the three Gs of anatomy, gonads, genitals, and genes. They also specify intersex as inborn, either at conception or in the first couple months of development. The medical community concurs. Let me make myself clear: I believe and acknowledge transgender people have the standard three Gs matching either all female or all male. My monologue here mainly concerns semantics and our philosophy of the body and medicine with little practical medical science. What exactly is the difference between my "body" understanding and their "anatomical" understanding? The brain.
There is a little science. Let's get it over with. There is a way that transgenderism (at least some forms of transgenderism) could come to fit the traditional definition of intersex. This has yet to be proven of course, but have not been dis-proven. So far very little evidence has been brought either for or against. It's a subject very difficult to investigate. It requires a lot of money and would require pre-natal study. Since only about 1 in a 1,000 people are trans and gender identity can't be found in utero, it would mean studying tens of thousands of fetuses at random or require a way around this obstacle. And because the transgender movement is so small, most expensive research is going into curing diseases, as it should. Until we get conclusive evidence for or against, we're dealing with speculation.
The first and more popular trojan horse concerns the effect of sex hormones on the brain in utero. Even for cisgender, non-intersex people this is an area we know little about. We do know the brain structure in females is different than men; you can view the physical, though subtle, differences. This difference comes in part from the presence of sex hormones in utero where the brain responds by forming differently. This is casually referred to as the "hormonal wash." We also know the brain changes over the course of our lives depending on how we use it. It is likely than sex differences are also caused by thinking and feeling like males or females. A study was performed comparing the brain structure of transexuals to cisgender people. They found that the transexuals' brains resembled the brans of their identified sex, rather than their assigned sex. Whether this resemblance is caused in utero or in adulthood is debated. Leach believes the difference grows from behavior. Most trans advocates believe the difference is inborn. Even if this proves to be true, however, and transexuality has a biological origin, it's unclear whether it would be considered intersex by either intersex or medical communties. Of the many brain disorders, some are put under the realm of psychology and some under anatomy.
How could we know if it's inborn? There are several, but genes are the easiest to study. In 2008, two different genetic causes have found some support, one for MtFs and the other for FtMs. (Non-transexual transgender people not included.) They went as far to say, "these genes are common in transexuals but not in cisgender people." Contrary to junk science, genetic cause is not easy to find or to verify when you suspect it. The studies are going through peer review where scientists will respond. If either of the gene theories are fully accepted, transgenderism, or at least transexuality, could be re-categorized as an intersex condition. Until they are, they only show that being trans might be intersex. I can do better.
This issue is actually much less to do with gender per se as it is with our concept of mind versus body. Our culture splits the human being into two, different parts: body and mind. The fact that we have the word "brain" referring to our anatomy and the word "mind" referring to our invisible, untouchable sense of self is demonstration enough of our dichotomy. This is a mark of our particular culture. Many other cultures are like ours; many are not. I don't want to get into it; so much has been written already. Dichotomist cultures like ours are called "dualist" (not to be confused with many other kinds of dualism) and cultures or individuals that believe the mind and brain as the same thing are called "wholistic."
The Old Testament demonstrates a wholistic culture. There is intense identification with the physical. The holy Torah contains specifications about bodily functions like defecating and ejaculating because the body is just as important as any part of the person. In fact, the body was the person. Wholists sometimes use the saying, "My soul does not have a body. My soul is a body." Notice how Israel lugged Jacob's bones all the way from Egypt to the Promise Land. This is because those bones were Jacob. Or notice that in Hebrew, there is only one word for both death and the grave, "sheol," because there is no difference in their beliefs. Or the single word for life and breathing, "ruach." Your moving lungs are your life. The idea of a soul separate from body would not enter their minds until much later when the Old Testament was basically completed.
Our own culture's dualism is mostly inherited from the Greeks and by the time we started studying the mind, we had already accepted it was different from the rest of the body. This is partly practical. You just can't study the brain the way you can study any other part of the body. For one, the brain will talk to you so you have a radically different way of gaining information than the rest of the body. Second, the brain is physically far more complex than the rest of the body. We can see brain cells just fine, but the way they interact with each other is more mysterious and complex than, say, blood pumping or nutrients digesting. Thus we have two fields: biology and psychology.
But when you study psychology at all, you quickly realize the split between the physical and mental isn't impassible. The brain is an organ, just like any other. We are not puppets will our mind manipulating our body from outside although I think many people believe the soul is exactly that. They believe there is a separation between everything we think and feel and everything visible and touchable. That separation is supernatural and is beyond explanation. ("Beyond explanation" is equivalent with "I don't know and don't care.") But psychology shows this is just is not true. You can touch the mind. Drive a railroad spike through your brain and you'll see. Every action of the mind we've traced back to the brain. Many brain disorders are expressions of problems in the brain. Alzheimer's and Down's are very mental and very phsyical. It is my contention that every aspect of the mind will eventually be understood physically as well. Or it could be understood if we possessed enough intelligence and work hours. I believe this for two reasons, one historical and one theological.
We have a long history of believing things transcend the physical and have their true roots somewhere spiritual or something non-physical. Disease in general is one. Not long ago we believed all mental illness was equivalent to demon possession and that physical intervention, like any drug, could not address the spiritual issue. A good friend of mine who is gay had church members want to excorsize the demon of homosexuality from him. Mainstream organizations, even the heterosexist organizations, have moved to non-spiritual understandings. (I do not disbelieve in demon possession, but not in this way.) Other aspects like gravity, smell, music, and the movement of heavenly bodies all once seemed beyond Nature. (Which is exactly why they received the name heavenly bodies.) Einstein discovered that even Time itself is another aspect of Nature. Given we have come so far, and there is nothing categorically different mental attributes like gender from everything else, there is no scientific reason to think anything about our world is not an expression of the physical.
Those words sound atheist but are not. Historically we described our world as increasingly animated by the physical and less by the spiritual. That makes some Christians uncomfortable to which I say, Get used to it or go back to believing Apollo makes the sun go round. Reality doesn't care about making us comfortable. Reality does seem to care a lot about being beautiful which should tell us something about God's priorities. Given that God has created our Universe, how did God create it? It could be, as the Ancients believed, completely intermangling the physical and spiritual where God is Nature. While we find some leaning of that in the Bible, it reflects the common pantheism of the day, not the doctrine of the Prophets. On the opposite end is the deist belief where God creates Nature, winds her up, and disappears. In between those extremes is an alternative where God has created a fully self-sustaining Nature but also intervenes in human affairs where the supernatural happens, but it is the exception and not the rule. To believe in the supernatural at all requires that a natural exists to be affected. But is Nature necessarily self-sustaining? Couldn't some things like souls be supernatural while others are automatic? Certainly. But that is out of character for the Christian God. God wants relationship, but God does not desire co-dependent relationship. That's true for humans and I cannot imagine why God's relationship with the rest of Creation would differ. God desires Creation to be mature and independent and choosing relationship, not crippled and being forced into relationship by circumstance. God is not so desperate or insecure to create a Universe that requires the supernatural just to feel loved. Like the creation of any good parent, artist, or builder, the Universe stands on its own two feet. And body/souls, by inevitable extension, are self-sustaining as well.
I say all this to demonstrate that the mental/spiritual is inseparable from the physical and the mind from body. Then also, gender is an expression of the body just like everything else. Somewhere in my own brain some neurons are shooting electric charges forming my conscious thought right now that my body is both male and female. I don't know why they're shooting that way or the exact pathway that moves from brain cells to thoughts, but both exist. They exist in harmony, just like every thought anyone has ever had. Those neural pulses that tell me I am male are, everyone agrees, are male. Here is what is fantastic, and what only a genderqueer person can tell you: the other feelings that tell me I am female are exactly the same. I cannot tell them apart My only logical conclusion is to be consistent and say those neural pulses are female. I can look at my genitals (as if I could verify that way) but the
neurons keep firing and the feelings remain exactly the same. Those neural pulses come from my brain cells which are part of my physical body. You can me those feelings are delusional or errors and that's fine. But the fact is they exist. And if those pulses are female, then their brain cells (individually or collectively through emergence) are female and because my brain is part of my body, part of my body is female. This isn't wishful thinking, just the inevitable conclusion when you take someone who identifies as different than their phenotypical sex and then apply wholistic philosophy. If my feelings are female, and my feelings are physical, then there is a physical connection between the physical and female.
Granted, I can only argue that a very small part of me is female. My brain is only five pounds compared to 140 pounds of my remaining body which are all male. Though I could and do argue that much of the rest of my body is female too because I have estrogen pumping everywhere, just like every male, and female nipples and a raphe, a scar of my former female state. The human species is an intersex species. Nevertheless, I am physically predominantly male. But the sex/gender binary isn't happy with mostly male, only with fully and exclusively male. Intersex and transgender both find their definition by defying the sex and gender binary. In the binary system, sex and gender go hand in hand and therefore any violations of the binary go hand in hand. (Note, we don't necessarily need to do that. We could evolve our gender
into categories ignoring the binary.) We are not just allies, we fight two different fronts of the same battle.
Intersex advocates have a hard enough time getting their message out and practices changed without people like me pushing limits and wanting to rework the entire system. I respect and encourage their work to reduce the stigma are intersex and push for intersex rights like total transparency of doctors and giving power of consensual surgery to children, not parents or doctors.I don't want to jeopardize their work one bit. Viewing intersex rights and reform as a gateway movement to transgender ideas too would threaten intersex work. For that reason I don't want the viewing of transgender people as intersex to become mainstream lest that potential become reality. This topic is something I only bring up around transgender people or cisgender people already familiar with transgenderism.
In 2007 I read about Klinefelter's syndrome in depth, an intersex condition where appears male except that their chromosomes are XXY or XXXY instead of the standard XY. Literally male and female as containing both genetic pairs. I was struck that a number of visible characteristics fit me: tall, slender, learning disability, atypical testicular development, and infertility. Every male's testicles form inside the body where the ovaries are and descend into the scrotum before birth but mine did not descend properly like some intersex cases; when I was four I had surgery to correct them. The atypical testicles, I thought, could also have something to do with my asexual sex drive. I told this to my doctor and he arranged a karyotype test. I was extremely anxious and excited about possibly being traditionally intersex. I didn't care about thinking of myself differently; I only cared about my gender, not my sex. But I knew that if I was intersex I'd have an easier time convincing others, especially family, that God doesn't control your genes let alone write your fate inside them. Or if God does, then God's will is that I have a genderqueer gender. It was for my relationship with others that I hoped to be intersex. The test came back negative for Klinefelter's to my great disappointment. My ethics would now forever be challenged. My doctor told me I could get tested for a mosaicism form of Klinefelter's, but insurance would not cover the test this time. The only real symptom that bring them to cover it would be infertility and I'm a virgin. It's expensive, inaccurate, and the odds are against me so I declined.
I could tell people I might be intersex which is true. For that matter, anyone might have mosaicism. Some cases of intersex aren't found except through autopsies. I briefly considered telling people I'm intersex without explanation; I think that would communicate more truth than only saying I'm trans. I don't do either just because they feel deceptive.
When people can't understand something about the mind, I think they just get scared. Even leppers were never accused of demon possession. It continues now with mental illnesses and transgenderism. There is stigmatization around intersex people, but it's far less. You also get better health insurance and no people accusing you of sneaking into bathrooms. I think people are scared because they feel incapable of understanding. When people can't understand they feel vulnerable; they have no way to protect themselves or even know what they're up against. And nothing scares you more than a vulnerable mind. People love anatomy because they understand it, see it, and touch it. As much as I want to change people's beliefs, scaring them is counterproductive. Comparing transgenderism with intersexuality is safer. It will force gender defenders to face wholism and unify not just their understanding of gender, but the whole world. I don't find it personally helpful or hurtful to think of myself as intersex, but many trans people do. And more power to them.
Continue: Intersex Is Transgender