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In my last column of December I wrote that the January 2017 special issue of National Geographic would be totally devoted to the issue of gender around the world. I have received my copy, so I have spent hours marking up the 152 pages that have explored the science of homosexuality and its effect on social systems in civilized and not-so-civilized areas of the world. I think this effort is the most important document published in at least 100 years because it will influence how humans think about gender identity around the world. There is no doubt that we have between 360 million and 720 million humans out of our population of 7.2 billion who differ slightly to greatly from our definitions of “boys” and “girls.” Susan Goldberg, editor of National Geographic, wrote the magazine is covering the gender issue because “scientists are uncovering new complexities in the biological understanding of sex. Many of us learned in high school biology that sex chromosomes determine a baby’s sex, full stop: XX means it’s a girl; XY means it’s a boy. But on occasion XX and XY don’t tell the whole story.” It’s important that every thinking person on the planet, whether a member of a religion or a member of the “nones” (no organized religion), read this issue so we can recognize that evolving genders are a significant part of our social systems and are equal to everyone else.
In order to emphasize the complexity of gender identity, the magazine assembled 15 individuals and took a portrait picture representing a broad spectrum of genders, each representing a separate gender. Gee, they all look like human beings in the picture! There are presently about 60 gender identities, but among the 15 pictured I will identify just a few because of space limitations: transboy, nonbinary, straight female, transgender female, queer, intersex nonbinary, transgender male, heterosexual male, nonbinary genderqueer, cisgender, agender, gender fluid, gender nonconforming, and black trans. A definition of sexual orientation used by the magazine is in order at this point: “A person’s feelings of attraction toward other people. A person may be attracted to people of the same sex, of the opposite sex, of both sexes, or without reference to sex or gender. Some people do not experience sexual attraction and may identify as asexual. Sexual orientation is about attraction to other people (external), while gender identity is a deep-seated sense of self (internal).”
The Marvelous, Bewildering World of How We Get To Be Boys and Girls---and Many Others
First, a few gender facts to bedazzle Roman Catholic bishops, Protestant evangelical ministers, and Assembly of God pastors. Yes, we all know some kind of human life begins at conception, but our embryos are not in human hatcheries as in Huxley’s “Brave New World,” so we have to wait until embryos are six weeks old before they start developing into boys and girls. At six weeks all of us are still girls. Rather primitive organs called proto-gonads may be hit by an SRY gene on the Y chromosome at six weeks which turns them into testes. The testes then secrete testosterone (that devilish stuff!) and other male hormones called androgens which then develop a prostrate, scrotum, and penis. By that magic we eventually have a boy. At six weeks, without the SRY gene, the proto-gonads become ovaries that secrete estrogen, and then the fetus eventually becomes a magic female complete with uterus, vagina, and clitoris. But many things can still go awry. The SRY gene may be dysfunctional and fail to develop male private parts—so the baby at birth may be recognized as a girl. It could also show up on an XX embryo and screw things up so the XX girl may be identified as a boy at birth because she didn’t grow girl private parts. Got that? A fetus may have other problems if XX or XY cells don’t respond adequately, ending up with a syndrome called androgen insensitivity syndrome (CAIS). The proto-gonads may become testes but the male genitals don’t develop—so here you end up with a baby that looks female with a clitoris and vagina but will grow up thinking he’s a female.
The Gender Spectrum: From Intersex to an Overdose of Sexuality
Let’s examine the case of 35-year-old Georgiann Davis who was born with this syndrome--but never knew about it until she was 20 she while reviewing her medical records. Doctors identified her condition when she was 13 when they discovered undescended testes. Doctors removed the testes in an operation when she was 17. Her parents agreed with the doctors not to tell her, so they made up a story about how her imaginary ovaries were precancerous and had to be removed! She was actually intersex because “she” did not have any reproductive anatomy! Davis, now a sociologist at the University of Nevada, has written a book about her condition called “Contesting Intersex: The Dubious Diagnosis.” She writes: “Was having an intersex trait that horrible? I remember thinking I must be a real freak if even my parents hadn’t been able to tell me the truth.” Evidently even the doctors who removed her testes in 1998 thought intersex had to be a horrible condition.
Many curious things about sexuality appear around the world. As an example, there’s a group of children in the Dominican Republic who have an enzyme deficiency which fails to convert the hormone DHT which then converts a tubercle structure into a penis. These babies are born with a clitoris and female genitalia. But at puberty these girls get a surge of testosterone when around 12 and develop male genitals and later mature into men. So here we have children who are raised as girls but later turn into men. Isn’t the science of gender getting interesting?
Three-Year-Old Boy to Mother: “Something Went Wrong In Your Tummy”
The Ackerman Institute of New York City runs the Gender and Family Project which examines gender identity and offers programs to parents for children up to 13 years old who wish to be a different gender. The program counselors accept children who are “persistent, consistent, and insistent” about wanting to be a different gender. Some children as young as two recognize they are “different.” A Seattle writer writes about his three-year-old boy who kept insisting he was a girl. The boy told his mother something had gone wrong in her tummy. He asked her to put him back inside for a “do-over!” The father told his boy: “You can continue to be a boy and play with all the Barbies you want and wear whatever you like, dresses, skirts, and all the sparkles money can buy.” The boy replied: “No! Absolutely not! I’m a girl!”
After another completely miserable year for the boy, the parents allowed him to choose a girl’s name, to start using female pronouns, and to attend pre-school as a girl. At age six the transgender, according to her parents, “loved being a girl probably more than any girl you’ve ever met.” Eric Vilain, an expert in a wide variety of gender identities, has two very important sentences in the NG magazine all parties should memorize: “I am trying to advocate for a wide variety of gender expressions, which can go from boys or men having long hair, loving dance and opera, wearing dresses if they want to, loving men, none of them which is ‘making them girls’—or from girls shaving their heads, being pierced, wearing pants, loving physics, loving women, none of which is ‘making them boys.’” Vilain adds: “Young men and women within the gender spectrum are faced with decisions that will affect their health and happiness for the next 50 years.”
A child in the 21st Century born somewhere within the gender spectrum of at least 60 different “identities” continues to be harassed and ridiculed by Christian religions that still promote a gender spectrum of two--both cisgenders. The other 58 are classified as “intrinsically evil” and under the power of devils, demons, dark angels, witches—or whatever. Actually there are many countries and societies in the world that recognize a third gender. The third gender category usually includes anatomical males who may behave in a feminine manner and attitude but are sexually attracted to other men. We also have some countries where the third gender has anatomical females who live in a masculine manner. The burrnesha who live in Albania and the fa’afatama of Samoa have all the female parts but live as men in their societies. Third genders in Asia (hijira), Nigeria (yan daudu), Mexico (muxe), Samoa (fa’afafine), Thailand (kathoey), Tonga (fakaleiti), and even the good old USA has third genders in Hawaii (mahu). Native American tribes also have third genders who often become shamans and religious leaders within tribes.
The World’s Newest Major Religion: “NONE”
While the cathedrals of Europe are now almost empty, some being listed on the real estate market, while America’s largest faith group is now “nones” or “no affiliation,” the influence of religion across the world is waning at warp speed. The “nones” in America are now at 25% of the population, Catholics have slipped to 21%, and white evangelicals are struggling to stay at 16%. Millennials lead the “nones” by a big margin, foretelling the future of religions.
We still have knuckle-dragging Neanderthals in positions of power who refuse to recognize a science- based gender spectrum. Vice-President-Elect Mike Pence as governor of Indiana is one of the most extreme opponents of gay, lesbian, transgender and the other 57 categories in the present gender spectrum. He signed a bill to jail same-sex couples applying for a marriage license, was opposed to the repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” and tried to divert funds from HIV treatment programs to a gay conversion therapy program which had been proven to be very harmful to gays. He also is a strong supporter of North Carolina’s “bathroom” law which forces transgenders to use the bathroom based on their sex listed on their birth certificate. Would a loving God state that a three-year-old boy who is persistent, consistent, and persistent that he is actually a girl label that child as being “intrinsically evil?”
The times are changing. It’s amusing about the enormous kerfuffle surrounding the North Carolina bathroom law (with other states trying to pass it!) to know that the good ladies and gentlemen of Second Century, B.C. Rome used the public latrines side by side, as many as 80 at a time, while sitting on marble toilets-- and socialized while relieving themselves. They also wiped with a communal sponge tied on a stick.
I see the Fargo Catholic Diocese under Bishop John Folda is joining a suit of other Catholic units suing Obamacare because the law requires them to “act contrary to our faith.” We all know why. But the reality is Catholic women get abortions at the same rate as other women and that over 90% of them use various contraceptives in their family planning. With 60 million Catholics in the U.S., we also know that there are probably from three to six million gay Catholics. Are they all “intrinsically evil?”