Gender for Intersexuals

Mormonism is a unique religion in it’s belief about gender.  The Proclamation on the Family states that “Gender is an essential characteristic of individual premortal, mortal, and eternal identity and purpose.”  But what happens when gender isn’t so clear cut?

MSNBC has an interesting article about Intersexuals: people in which the “exact gender of the child cannot be determined”.  The story says that

“It is estimated that in Germany alone approximately 80,000 people are intersexual, so-called hermaphrodites, who have physical features – such as chromosomes, hormones, gonads and outer sexual organs – which cannot be unambiguously attributed to just one gender.”

Huh?  I have a hard time believing that the number is that high.  Regardless, the story of one individual is startling.  The child was born with ambiguous genitalia.  Raised as a boy because the midwife “supposedly mistook her enlarged clitoris for a penis.”

it was later diagnosed that her indeterminate external genitalia were the result of a rare genetic disorder of the adrenal gland, the so-called congenital adrenal hyperplasia, or CAH.

“My childhood and teenage development was often agonizing because I did not really know what was wrong with me and where I belonged,” Voelling said in a recent interview with NBC News.

If you thought the story was strange already, it gets worse.

After being admitted to a local hospital for an appendix surgery, doctors diagnosed that their patient had mixed male-female genitals and an atrophied reproductive system.

But, when the young adult landed on the operating table, the surgeon found a full set of female reproductive organs, including an intact womb and ovaries.

Without consent from the patient, the organs were removed.

“I never received a truthful explanation of my condition and after the operation I felt a lot of physical and emotional pain for many years,”  Voelling said.

“Some 95 percent of all intersexuals systematically undergo genital surgery and other interventions without medical informed consent and without clear scientific proof,” said Lucie Veith, the head ofIntersexuelle Menschen eV in Hamburg, a group that represents hermaphrodites in Germany.

Gratification after legal battle
Only a couple of years later, Voelling also started receiving the regular administration of testosterone, or steroid male hormones.

“For 27 years, I was more or less exposed to severe doping,” Voelling said.

“At age 47, when I felt more like a woman than a man anyway, I said enough is enough,”

In 2008, Voelling decided to take her case to court and sued the doctor that had removed her female reproduction organs over unlawful intervention.

In its verdict, the court ordered the surgeon to pay 100,000 euro, (approximately $133,000)  in compensation for performing an operation converting a hermaphrodite into a man without consent.

“I felt very relieved and it was really more of a moral reparation than anything else, but it unfortunately did not have consequences for the legal rights of intersexuals,” said Voelling.  She officially changed her gender from male to female, as well as her name from Thomas to Christiane, in a long bureaucratic process that same year.

How does the Proclamation fit in this situation?

10 comments on “Gender for Intersexuals

  1. The rate of that sort of genetic issue is about 1 in 20,000 or so.

    If you have 2 million people, you will have about a hundred with some issue. 20 million, about a thousand. To get to 80 times that number Germany must either have mutagenic properties or be a significant importer.

    On the other hand, a thousand people or more is not a small number.

  2. I don’t know. In the case noticed here, the person had undeveloped but definite female internal organs. True gonadal intersex is the only case where internal organs cannot accurately determine whether the person is male or female because he/she may have one ovary and one testis.
    This is something that I think is best left to the leaders and the Lord as far as church policy is concerned.


  3. It raises some interesting questions: What is gender? How many genders are there? Does God make mistakes? Is gender necessary related to the body we’re in? If not maybe gays have a very good point. If so what gender are these people? What chastity rules are they to follow? Can they hold hands and kiss or not? If so with whom? It gets soooo complicated when we seek to exclude! How many drops of black blood is okay? Regardless of the frequency of occurrence something doesn’t seem to add up here when we compare it to what we’re being told God want’s us to believe.

  4. This is one of those stories that leaves me scratching my head. I don’t know what to make of it. If this person had grown up as a Mormon boy, and then was discovered to have female organs following appendix surgery…what would the church do?

  5. I know of a case where this actually happened to a church member. The guy was happily married and had fathered a number of children. But in his mid thirties he started to have problems.

    Genetically he was a female. He ended up becoming female. I think the situation turned out for the best because he had an understanding stake president and wife. I remember hearing that it came down to the dna test. because his Dna was female it was accepted when he became a female.

  6. This issue raises interesting questions, as noted above. At the very least, I would think we should not get too cocky or dogmatic about gender and gender-related issues until the time comes when we receive greater understanding.

  7. “Genetically he was a female.” — how did he father children? Just curious, since he would have been xx.

  8. […] to Mormonism, everyone should have one gender and stick to it. Ruthie Renfro demonstrates LDS gender-appropriate […]

  9. The Proclamation on the Family was written primarily to provide a solid doctrinal statement to oppose same-sex marriage, both politically and in church instruction. So all that information about gender was probably put in there to answer the misconception that homosexuality is some kind of gender confusion. Even as late at a decade after the proclamation was issued the term “gender confusion” was still used to refer to homosexuality in official church discourse. I suppose the thinking was that if gender was declared to be eternal, then gay people should be affirmed as their correct gender and therefore be content to not be gay. Or something.

    But an interesting thing developed out of that new emphasis on eternal gender. LDS church members who are transgender found in the Proclamation a doctrinal paradigm into which they could find meaning for their situation. The understanding is that if gender is eternal, then the transgender individual is simply an eternally gendered spirit incorrectly housed (temporarily) in the wrong physical body.

    If we hold that pre-mortal spirits are gendered, either male or female, then we must assume that intersex people have bodies with incorrectly developed sexual organs and hormones. And if we accept that premise, then we must also assume that LDS doctrine permits the possibility of transgender people.

  10. […] is related to genitalia, but sometimes that can be a bit confusing. I talked previously about Intersex individuals, and TLC has a show (also available on Netflix) called Strange Sex.  The show features what you […]

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