Defining the "Sex" in Same-Sex Anything
Wednesday, May 16, 2012Tweet
Recently I watched a fantastic presentation that the Gay Christian Network did for Pepperdine University.
The first night, the GCN executive director (Justin Lee) and another guy from GCN named Ron talked about the issues on which they agree -- namely, that sexual orientation is not a choice and that Christians are called to love and welcome LGBTQ individuals in their churches.
The second night, they went in-depth in Scripture to discuss their disagreements, which revolve around whether those with same-sex attraction should be celibate or have God's blessing to be in a relationship with someone of the same sex. You can watch the videos here: Part 1 and Part 2.
There are a handful of Bible passages that are generally talked about as referencing sexual behavior between members of the same sex, and I've heard the meaning, context, translations, etc. of these debated many times. But Justin's argument was completely new to me, and it made me realize that there is a very large aspect of the "homosexuality debate" that is generally ignored altogether.
Before we can talk about whether "same-sex behavior" is sinful, we have to define biological sex. And then we have to define sexual behavior.
It's a lot easier to condemn same-sex attraction/behavior/whatever if you pretend like there are only two sexes: male and female. Then every possible couple would be composed of one of three combinations: a man and a woman, two men, or two women.
You are probably aware of individuals who are transgender, meaning they are designated as one sex at birth based on their genitalia, and their brain is wired to be another sex. There are also people who identify as genderqueer, which generally means they don't feel they are clearly male or female. Regardless of emerging brain science that backs up people's "feelings" of gender, this is not where I want to focus, because those who are hell-bent on condemning same-sex relationships are often the same ones insisting that people need to live in congruence with their biological sex no matter what.
But is biological sex that easily determined for everyone?
Let's get more specific: If you want to define me as female because of my body (and not because I psychologically identify as female), then what makes me female -- my vagina, my ovaries, or my chromosomes?
Is it my ovaries? An individual with complete androgen insensitivity syndrome is almost always designated as female at birth due to having a vagina. This is true even when the individual has a Y chromosome and testes. The individual develops female breasts but does not menstruate.
Is it my two X chromosomes? Not everyone has two sex chromosomes. Some have one, and some have three or four. This About.com article describes the different names given to these chromosome abnormalities, and they "helpfully" categorize the individuals in each situation as "male" or "female," depending (from what I can gather) on their genitalia.
Is it my vagina/vulva? If you aren't familiar with how the genitals develop in utero, I suggest this animation from the The Hospital for Sick Children that explains the various steps needed to develop typically male or female genitalia. You'll notice that there are quite a lot of steps that have to happen in order for full development into the traditional male and female reproductive systems. As you can imagine, this process doesn't always go as expected. The Intersex Society of North America has a long list of intersex conditions as well as those that aren't exactly intersex but aren't typical genital development either. Some individuals are born with genitalia that appears to include both traditional male and female genitalia, and some have genitalia that doesn't resemble either one.
The point is, anyone who wants to be in the business of dictating with whom another person is "allowed" to be romantically involved cannot simple ignore those individuals who don't fit our standard ideas of biological sex.
The simplistic -- I would say wrong -- answer is to insist that, just to be safe, anyone not presenting a standard biological sex should remain celibate. You're talking about real people's lives here! What about someone who identifies as female and seems to everyone to be biologically female, marries a man, and then discovers she has testes? Should she divorce her husband? Should her husband be immediately made to be celibate for the rest of his life so he can stay faithfully married to her? Who are you or I to make that decision?
So, to borrow an example from the Pepperdine talk, those who would condemn same-sex relationships say that if John and Sam have a loving, committed, selfless, God-centered relationship, and Sam is short for Samantha, God blesses the relationship, and if Sam is short for Samuel, God condemns the relationship. This, however, is predicated on the assumption that there are only two black-and-white boxes into which Sam can fall: male or female. But we know that's not the case.
I would ask, then, how male does Sam have to be before the relationship becomes "sinful"?
If you're looking solely to Scripture for your answer, you're not going to find it there.
Instead, what you find is a pattern: Lustful, selfish relationships are pretty much always described negatively; loving, committed, God-centered relationships are pretty much always described positively.
I'll leave it up to you to draw your own conclusions from that. You already know what my conclusions are.
Up next: Defining "sexual behavior" and How should we talk about God's gender?
EDIT: I had this post ready to go up, and then John Green decided to post a video making essentially the same argument and then some. Watch it: