Male & Female He Created Them: A Deeper Look At Genesis

The relationship between the Book of Genesis and the phenomena of intersexed and transsexed people. 

Adam_Eve

“So God created humankind in his image,
in the image of God he created them;
male and female he created them.” – Genesis 1:27

“Male and female he created them, and he blessed them and named them “Humankind” when they were created.” – Genesis 5:2

From the beginning of Divine Revelation, at the very birth of humankind, God separates humanity into male and female. This fact is central to all Christian anthropology. It is taken as charting the biological and metaphysical reality of humankind. There are few scripture verses more central to the Catholic worldview. The mystery – nay, the romance – of Man and Woman, Adam and Eve, is at the center of all things. In the New Testament, Christ is the New Adam and the Virgin Mary is the New Eve. This is central to the earliest Christian understanding of Christ as Savior.

How then do we interpret transgenderism? If God made humanity male and female, doesn’t that invalidate the transgender condition?

My belief is it does not.

As a Catholic I believe Holy Scripture must be read in light of reason. According to both Thomas Aquinas and Augustine, Scripture must be interpreted in a way that makes sense in the context of the rest of Scripture as well as with our knowledge of the natural world. For example, interpreting Joshua 10 to mean that the Sun revolves around the Earth is not a good interpretation since our knowledge of the world tells us that the Earth revolves around the Sun.

As a Christian, I believe God made humanity “male and female.” Whatever they are as realities, male and female are the two straightforward categories that God creates at the center of the divine drama. This is an undeniable fact as long as we take Scripture seriously. However, this reality might not be as straightforward as it seems, and it might not exclude other realities from existing.

Learning From the Natural World

Since we must interpret Scripture in a way that doesn’t contradict facts of the known world, we must look to what science has discovered about sex and gender to understand how to interpret these passages.

As I detail here, sex and gender are biologically and psychologically complex realities. The following phenomena should be taken into account when interpreting Genesis 1-5:

  1. Genetic intersexed: There exist people with genetically ambiguous sexes. Alongside the common xx and xy genotypes, there are also x0, xxy, and xx/xy mixed.
  2. Bodily intersexed: There exist people with physically ambiguous sexes. Alongside the common male penis and female vagina morphologies, there are males (xy) who develop physically as females, females (xx) who develop masculinely, and persons of both genetic makeup who develop as both male and female or a combination of the two.
  3. Intersex prevalenceBoth the above are what are called “intersexed conditions.” Intersexed people were originally thought to be extremely rare, but recent science and surveys have shed new light on the subject.
    • Genetically intersexed people are 1/1000
    • Bodily intersexed people are 1/100
    • Those receiving corrective surgery are 1-2/1000
      These statistics show that intersexed conditions are almost commonplace compared to what was once believed.
  4. Mentally IntersexedPart of the sex differentiation process is the masculinization of the brain in males. If the brain is not sufficiently masculinized, the person’s brain-sex will be female. Sometimes xx brains become masculinized and their brain-sex becomes male. Right now the best hypothesis for the cause of transsexualism is that it comes from an insufficient masculinization of a male brain or an over-masculinization of a female brain. If this is true, then transgenderism is a third type of intersexed condition: “mentally intersexed.”
  5. Hormonal Disorders: Even if all things go well in utero, many hormonal disorders exist in which a person does not produce the hormones expected given his/her biological sex, during childhood or adolescence. Thus, the chemical reality most associated with masculinity and femininity – sex hormones – is not always reliable.
  6. Gender Identity: Gender identity seems to be hard-wired. Males who have been raised as girls retain a male gender identity even though they are socialized as females, as demonstrated by the sad case of David Reimer. Even intersexed people whose physical sex is more or less up for grabs almost always have a strong internal gender identity – man or woman. Even if a person’s male/female reality cannot be determined by their body, their minds usually hold the answer.

These facts all demonstrate the complexity of sex and gender by showing the various ways in which development can be atypical from a straightforward male or female makeup.

Exegetical Concerns

In addition to these scientific facts, the following scriptural concerns should be considered:

  1. God transcends gender: There is a relationship between mankind being made in God’s image and mankind being made male and female. Both male and female together comprise the image of God. A person who is somewhere between male and female must also be in the image of God, but in a special way, containing in himself/herself not only spiritually but physically reflections of both God’s masculinity and femininity.
  2. The phrasingScripture says God made humankind male and female, not male or female. There is an important difference between those two conjunctions. AND does not logically exclude other alternatives as OR does.
  3. The literary formGenesis is not a scientific text. It is a story – the story of our Creation. In the context of the rest of Scripture, it is the beginning chapter in the love story between God and humanity. Male and female represent the great romantic reality (the yin and yang) of the universe, but not necessarily the full diversity of humankind. They are the rule, but they do not speak for the exceptions.
  4. Scriptural wholenessSince Scripture must be read as a whole, Genesis must be read in the context of the following verses:
    • For there are eunuchs who have been so from birth, and there are eunuchs who have been made eunuchs by others, and there are eunuchs who have made themselves eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom of heaven. Let anyone accept this who can.” – Matt 19:12
    • “There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.” – Galatians 3:28
    • “For thus says the Lord:
      To the eunuchs who keep my sabbaths, who choose the things that please me
      and hold fast my covenant,
      I will give, in my house and within my walls,
      a monument and a name
      better than sons and daughters;
      I will give them an everlasting name
      that shall not be cut off.” – Isaiah 56:4-5
  5. The historical limitationsThe story of creation in Genesis contains names of the major categories known to the Jews: earth and water, plants and animals, birds, fishes and beasts of the earth, etc. It doesn’t include things that were unknown to the Hebrews like bacteria. That doesn’t mean bacteria doesn’t exist or isn’t created by God.

Conclusion:

What does all this mean? It simply means that Genesis does not exclude the existence of complicated sex-gender identities and realities. It is possible that transgender people are legitimate in their “variance” from the male-female dichotomy.

Maybe the realities of man and woman as revealed in Genesis are more spiritual than physical. Ideally a person’s body perfectly reflects their inner spiritual reality, but maybe the priority of “male” and “female” goes to the person’s spiritual reality. After all, the soul has priority over the body (Matt 10:28).

Maybe transsexed and intersexed conditions are a result of the Fall. As already stated, ideally a person’s physical and spiritual realities will perfectly conform to each other. However, we know that because of the Fall humanity is physically frail. The spiritual reality of a Baptized person is glorious beyond imagining, but their physical reality is the same as everyone else’s. So maybe transsexed and intersexed people have bodies that are misplaced by the effects of sin. (Rom 8:18-25; 1 John 3:2)

On the other hand, maybe transsexed and interssexed people are made special by God in order to reflect a certain facet of His being. Maybe such people reflect the complexity of the Divine (Job 11;7; Isaiah 55:8), rather than the unity (John 17:22) expressed in straightforwardly male or female persons.

The celebration of the centrality of male-female to God’s plan is an affirmation of male and female, not a de-affirmation of gender variance. The celebration of one thing does not mean the exclusion of another – this is a very Catholic idea. The Catholic reality is always and/also, not either/or.

Also, even gender variant people participate in the male-female mystery, albeit in a different manner. They aren’t outside the male-female mystery; they’re inside it in a unique way.

Lastly – and perhaps most importantly – the realities of male and female are not necessarily clear. It may be that a person who superficially seems to be a participant in the mystery of maleness is actually intended by God to be a participant in the mystery of femaleness. Even if all people are either male or female, what determines that distinction might not be mere body shape.

All this is merely food for thought. Suffice to say that there is no clear Scriptural reason – as far as I can tell – for invalidating the transgendered condition.

12 thoughts on “Male & Female He Created Them: A Deeper Look At Genesis

  1. First I want to say I’m glad I came across this. (An image from your blog was credited in a HuffPost article that I found on Upworthy, for the record.) Second I want to say thank you, because I’m Catholic and gender-odd and the only thing I can find on the USCCB website with the search term “transgender” is someone’s argument about editing the employment guarantee to remove the phrase “or anything protected by law” because some states protect sexual orientation, gender identity and/or gender expression. Nothing for “agender.” …Not altogether heartening for someone who’s identifying more and more with the Necker cube.

    Which segues to my next point– given the above (and some other articles I’ve found on here), what might be said about being agender? It’s not quite being ‘a eunuch from birth’ because the word ‘eunuch’ connotes a removal or neutering (active absence) rather than a simple absence– not a void where something is supposed to be (despite my worries) but an identity in itself. It’s the identity I’ve come to accept because while I accept my femaleness, the physicality of how I was created, neither the expectations and identity of femininity nor the identity of masculinity really make sense to me– I understand that others have strong personal identities as one or the other but I prefer just being identified as myself. And on top of it, I work for my local Diocese with a highly conservative bishop in charge and live with my parents at present, so I can’t well express myself in a fashion that makes me feel comfortable, and while my parish has a reputation for being the most liberal in the Diocese, for the very reason that my family’s so active in the Church, I’m paranoid about going to Reconciliation lest Father tell me what your parents and grandfather told you and then he’ll somehow let my mom know while she’s acting as sacristan for him or tell Dad at the men’s group meeting and–

    You get the picture from the run-on sentence. Crippling anxiety is kind of my life right now. Having some kind of Scriptural or theological references to check, some place to start to help me feel like I’m not spiritually stunted or somehow astray might be nice. I don’t yet have the funds to start a Master’s in theology.

    • Sorry for the double-post– it was Everyday Feminism, not HuffPost, and I found the article after clicking away from one I found on Upworthy.

    • Nel,
      I’m so glad you find my site helpful in some way. Being agender is even harder for the Church to grasp than being transgender in a binary way, I think, because it calls the gender binary into question even more. I’ve encountered more and more people who would identify as “agender” or “gender-queer” through this blog, and at first it even challenged my own ideas of how to reconcile the transgender experience in all its variety with Catholicism. But as you can see from my post about how sometimes I’m just sick of gender, deep down past all the theory is a common experience that all people in the trans* umbrella have of not being able to grasp these bizzare gender expectations that take who we are as PERSONS and squash them down into a tiny box.

      As far as theology of agender goes, you might want to consider Paul’s earth-shattering saying that “There is no longer Jew nor Greek, nor male nor female.” Many people try to water down this verse as being purely figurative, but it was a very extreme thing for Paul to say in the culture he was living in. At the very least it is absolutely clear that gender matters half as much as how we conform to CHRIST and laying down our lives for others as he did. The emphasis of any spiritual direction shouldn’t be how to fit yourself into a norm, but how to love God and man.

      Similarly, it seems that a core message of Christianity is that God loves each and every person AS A PERSON. Just as being Christian transcends evolutionary instinct and self-preservation because we are more than animals (we are images of God), so also being a Christian transcends gender norms because we are not MERELY gendered beings, but also vehicles of God’s love in the world, which is a mission of such importance that it must trump all social expectations.

      I hope that was helpful. I’m going to write a post some time in the future about St. Augustine, St. Thomas Aquinas, and their theology of heaven that you might find useful. Until then, God bless!

    • I have read Theology of the Body, and John Paul II’s revolutionary sermons on sexuality actually open the door even more for a better understanding of transgender people. According to Theology of the Body, being a man or woman is something *essential* to our nature – it’s not just a physical characteristic like skin color, but a spiritual one that touches not only on our animal/reproductive reality but also our heavenly one. John Paul II seems to want to say that sexuality and gender are RELATIONAL; that is, they have to do with who we are as subjects in relation to other subjects. Gender isn’t just a set of physical characteristics; it’s more importantly an aspect of WHO WE ARE as PERSONS.

      There are several articles by Rev. Albert S. Moraczewski OP, the founder of the National Catholic Bioethics Center, where he asks philosophically what makes a person a man or woman. He concludes that what we normally think of as determining a person’s gender, like sex chromosomes, genitals, or hormones, are all accidental. Since science has shown that transgender people have brains that resemble the gender they feel like, he posits that it’s possible for transsexuals to be justified in their identity claims. (see Ethics and Medics, Vol. 9 #9).

        • There’s a difference between finding factual physiological sex differences in the brain, and how some people interpret those differences. It really shouldn’t come as much of a surprise that if females have female-reproductive equipment and males have male-reproductive equipment, that the brain would be wired to use that equipment – like software designed for specific hardware. I don’t think that’s a particularly controversial claim (or it shouldn’t be). So far the studies do seem to suggest that such is the case for transsexuals.

          Where this becomes a problem is when people start interpreting “male brain” and “female brain” as meaning a “super masculine brain” and “super feminine brain.” Some people would look at the studies that have been done and erroneously conclude that I’m female because my brain is “feminine” – like a ditzy cheerleader brain. That’s a very sexist reading of the data, and if I had a feminine brain, it wouldn’t make me a woman, just a feminine male.

          However, that’s not what the brain theory really says if you go by the straightforward data. The FACT is I was born with male-typical genitals. The FACT is that I’ve experienced persistent, crippling gender dysphoria and sex dysmorphia, wherein I experience myself as something analogous to an intersex female. The FACT is that studies on people like me have found what appears to be a biological correlate in the brain.

          Transsexuality is a real predicament we find regularly (however rarely) in God’s Creation. Genesis has to be read in light of the real sex predicament of people who for one reason or another don’t fit biologically into a sex binary. Ignoring those predicaments because Genesis doesn’t talk about them doesn’t make them untrue any more than saying bacteria don’t exist because they aren’t mentioned in Genesis.

          I don’t know what you mean by “social science theorizing doesn’t make facts untrue” – whether you’re coming from a conservative Christian or feminist perspective – but I agree. The brain theory in it’s current neoliberal social science manifestation is both anti-Christian and anti-feminist. However, the brain theory as a set of scientific, physiological studies is not hokum.

  2. Pingback: Natural Law and the Catholic Church | Late Nite Philosophy

  3. Hi Anna Magdalena,

    Thanks very much for this post. It contains some interesting thoughts. I’m currently navigating this terrain myself to get informed and in preparation for the time when I might become friends with a gender dysphoric brother or sister. I’m an evangelical Protestant seeking to love others and know God’s truth as revealed in Scripture.

    I also found your link to Mark Yarhouse’s talk at Calvin College incredibly informative and enlightening. I shall definitely be buying his book this June.

    All the best,

    Oli

  4. I enjoyed reading your articles. I will continue to peruse them. I have not been particularly troubled by dogma of the Church or religion in general. My daughter goes to Catholic school though and we are Catholic. I am not “out” as transgender but some have noticed physical changes and have begun to question. I don’t want to go public with it as I am still exploring the correct path for me through therapy. That, and my wife would like to keep it private. I am just worried how this all affects my child because of the bigotry or intolerance of the church. That’s why I wanted to read up on the Church’s teachings so I will know what they come at me with. I am trying to prepare because I have already gotten wind of some who will not let their child come to our home anymore. I present to them as an effeminate man currently and am not on hormones. There is no easy way. I am literally in “no mans land” at the moment. I am not trying to confront anyone or challenge their beliefs. My gender expression is what it is at this point in my journey. I could go “back in the closet” and be completely male but that would make me depressed. I don’t want to hide what is going on with me, but I also feel like I have to. I am not ready to announce to everyone I am transgender and neither is my family. Parents see something odd and start making an issue out of nothing. I am not responsible for educating their ignorant bigoted stance and yet my daughter will suffer because of me. I have VIRTUS training, volunteer, and have never had any problems with anyone as far as my behavior.

    I feel like I do not have that luxury of freedom to explore gender on my terms without having to explain it to others. I could offer up all kinds of bible verses and explanations and I still feel it wouldn’t be good enough.
    Bottom line is that if I am not hurting myself or anyone else, then what’s the problem? I don’t have time for debate club and it just ends up going around in circles anyway. My study says this and that….your study says something different. Pope sais this….Pope said that. No minds changed. All I want is for my family and me to be ok with it.

    • I’m also struggling with how my family – in my case, my younger siblings – will be affected by my transition, and how my Catholic community will respond to me. It’s not an easy thing. My only suggestion is to take it slow and pray a lot, both for clarity and strength. I don’t think transitioning is selfish, but you definitely want to strategize so that your child gets hurt as little as possible.

      I’m glad you like my blog. Stay in touch! We have safety in numbers 🙂

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