Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Skidmarks on the Road: Part II

Yesterday, I posted the first part of my response to Mary Kochan’s “Where the Rubber Meets the Road: Part I” that was published over at Catholic Exchange.

In a nutshell, in my first chapter, I took Mary’s foundational points – that sacred scripture is only properly interpreted by the Magisterium of the Roman Catholic Church, and that the doctrines of the Church have an “incarnational aspect” – in whuch the doctrine is incarnated (becomes alive) by an act. Mary used several examples: rituals, sacraments, vows, prayers and acts of penance.

Rather than addressing the treatment of transsexual people directly, I chose to take a completely different social and moral controversy – abortion and the point at which a human being becomes a person – to illustrate how the Magisterium of the Roman Catholic Church has failed in its interpretations of sacred scripture. The span of personhood on the continuum of human life is scripturally associated with the time between “birth and breath” and “breathing one’s last.” Our breath is the breath of God. This scriptural doctrine is “incarnated” by the sacrament of Baptism. I pointed out how the Magisterium’s current teachings about abortion have changed over the centuries, and that the Church has failed to properly interpret sacred scripture.

The structure of Roman Catholic doctrine is like a house built on loose sand, in the face of an incoming hurricane’s storm surge. By claiming to have all the Truth, the establishment of just one falsehood makes the whole structure subject to question.

With that foundational point firmly in place, let’s turn to more of Mary’s essay, and let's also turn to the issue of transsexual people.

Mary turns to an e-mail message she received from a transsexual woman, which refers to a 2009 article in Catholic Exchange by Dale O’Leary, and Mary’s many comments on that article. We are going to have to look further into the source materials, but for now, let’s turn to this.

At first Mary thinks that the letter might be a prank, but decides to respond to it as if it is genuine.

Mary writes:

“Let me begin with something that is biologically and medically true. The sex of
all infants at birth and of all persons later in life is not unambiguous. There
are conditions — deformities of genitalia, genetic anomalies, intrauterine
interference with normal development, etc. — that can make what is usually a
straightforward identification of someone as male or female problematic. While
these are blessedly rare, they are real medical conditions and the persons
afflicted with them deserve and should have access to medical care that performs
two critical functions: 1. Determining to the best of scientific accuracy what
the sex of the person really is 2. Providing the person with the medical and/or
surgical and/or psychological intervention to promote physically, emotionally,
and socially healthy adaptation to that sex. Where an error has been made
in documentation, due to the person having been misidentified at birth as one
sex while actually being the other, simple justice demands that the records
should be corrected.”

Immediately, Mary falls into the trap imposed by the sex and gender binary.

Dr. Milton Diamond of the University of Hawaii has said it best:

“Nature loves diversity, but society hates it.”

The binary of sex is not a biological reality, but is rather a social construct imposed on the diversity of reality. While it is true that the large majority of human beings will fall unambiguously into one or the other binary sexes (male or female), there is a small minority that does not fit into the social construct hat society imposes on this reality.

Rather than seeing these variations as natural differences, Mary, and many other cissexual people, will see anyone who is different as abnormal. And while the term “abnormal” in and of itself in this situation simply means “not like the 99% who fit into the societal expectation of sex assignment,” the term carries with it an enormous negative baggage. Of course, Mary jumps into this with both feet, gleefully pathologizing people who are different.

That isn’t to say that there aren’t some circumstances that don’t require immediate life-saving medical and/or surgical treatment – but surgeons who operate on newborns with ambiguous genitalia often stray too far from life-saving treatment into genital mutilation for the purpose of defining which of the two societally-expected boxes – and often enough, since it is “easier to dig a hole than erect a pole,” the surgeons will tend to make more of these infants into someone more easily assigned as “female.”

Society has strong expectations from the sex and gender binary. The very first thing anyone asks when a baby is born, is, “is it a boy or a girl?” The assignment of the blue or pink blanket in the maternity ward nursery is perhaps a societal “incarnational aspect” of this binary doctrine.

Yet, when we look at sacred scripture, we see in Genesis 1:27 that:

So God created humans in God’s own image, God created them in the image of God;
male and female God created them.

In nearly all translations of this verse, the conjunction “and” is used – showing us that the image of God is “male *and* female” - and not "male *or* female."

In another essay in this blog, I have mentioned Rabbi Mark Sameth’s writings on the tetragrammaton, revealing that a secret name of God is found by reading the YHWH backward, and it comes out as the Hebrew words for HE/SHE. If we relate this back to Genesis 1:27, it makes it clear that if we are created in God’s image, we are not male *or* female, we are male *and* female.

Scripture is fairly clear on this, but as much as it may inform a Christian’s faith, scripture isn’t science. While the story is an allegory, the underlying truth is undeniable. Looking at other traditions:

In every yin there is a small bit of yang, and in every yang a small bit of yin.

In Plato’s Symposium, we get a very similar yet broader story from Aristophanes, who uses a rather interesting allegory to explain the diversity of sexual orientation.

Biological diversity exists.

In 1995 and 2000, scientists examining the human brain were able to determine that the central strata of the basal stria terminalis in brains of transsexual people resemble the brains of cissexual people who are assigned to the “opposite” sex. Recent studies have shown genetic propensities for the development of transsexualism, a “long androgen receptor” gene for those who are trans women, and a gene that efficiently processes androgens for trans men. These may not be the sole causes, as transsexuality and other intersex conditions involve developmental differences from the standard binary paths. Whether these are based on changes in the blueprint (the genes) or whether they are caused or encouraged by intrauterine hormonal levels at different times during gestation, is not yet fully known.

Mary writes, in reference to her correspondent:

“. . . the writer identifies as a person who has gone from being male –
revealing no ambiguity, genetically or anatomically — to being female. ”

And this is pretty much the way MAry's correspondent tells her narrative.

Many transsexual people have narratives that are based on the binary underlying assumptions that society has foisted on us from the time we were given the wrong color blanket when we were born. We can’t blame the obstetrician, our parents, or others, for believing that we “belonged” to this wrong assignment, because the standard for making the determination works more than 99% of the time.

Considering the fact that the newborn’s brain and coordination are not developed well enough to enable the doctor to ask, and the baby to answer, how the baby identifies, it’s not until a transsexual person is somewhere around four years old that the situation may surface. (And this is complicated further by the fact that there are also children exhibiting similar behavior patterns who don’t turn out to be trans at all, they turn out to be orientationally different – the result of society training small children to be heterosexual. When a little boy, not yet aware of his sexual orientation, is absolutely sure that he wants to marry another boy when he grows up, he may, given the lack of information and appropriate role models, assume that he “should have been a girl.” From what I have read, this may be the case with the majority of children who present with gender differences at an early age. But even if trans kids are actually In the minority, we are still different.)

At around this time, the trans child may be insistent about her or his identity, or may learn to cope by hiding their identity and attempting to assimilate. For trans kids who take the hide and assimilate road,, the experience is often one that involves a great deal of inner turmoil. Puberty will often bring the inner conflict between societal expectations and inner reality back into a sharper focus.

At this point, coping strategies may change.

Some, often those trans kids oriented to what would be the opposite of their identified sex, are likely to transition earlier. Others, often those trans kids who are oriented toward those who would be the opposite of their incorrect assigned sex, will go through a further “hide and assimilate” route. This is how strong the societal expectation of heterosexuality is. It’s also an explanation or the bimodal emergence of transition – a much more accurate interpretation of the experience than that imposed on us by cissexual outside observers (examples: Blanchard and Bailey), and even some trans people (Anne Lawrence, as an example, an adherent of the “autogynephilia” pathology).

If we take into account the evidence for biological diversity in the human species, rather than pathologizing transsexual and other intersex people who do not fit squarely within the confines of the “male *or* female” binary construct created by society, it is better to acknowledge merely that we are not-male, not-female, but other, and that our initial assignment was incorrect, rather than forcing us into the assignment that does not match our brrain development.

So, essentially, Mary’s correspondent is not properly “male-to-female” (MTF or M2F), not having really been fully biologically male in the first place, but is rather “transsexual-to-female” (T2F) or a “woman born transsexual (“WBT”). The identification as MTF in the correspondent’s narrative is based on an acceptance of the initial societal parameters of the binary.

In her letter to Mary, her correspondent wrote:

“When we married, I wanted desperately to believe her love would cure me, and so
I didn’t tell her.”

Such a narrative is often told by trans women who adopted the “hide and assimilate” strategy. It pretty much echoes my own experience with my ex, over thirty years ago. And we had five priests concelebrating our nuptial mass.

Still, the biological fact is that transsexual people are biologically different. We do not ever belong in the sex assignment we were given at birth. Our genital tract may have developed along one of the standard blueprint paths, but our brains, or at least a critical part of them, developed along the other standard path. We are, perhaps, made more in God’s image and likeness than cissexual people. In some cultures, there has been a recognition of these differences, and trans people have been shamans, priests and priestesses, and spiritual leaders, precisely because as we were made by God we have aspects that are both male and female.

Yet, once the Roman Empire became Christianized, western society engaged in a pogrom against the various Greco-roman mystery religions and their eunuch (who in most cases would be seen as trans in modern eyes) priest(esse)s. Much like the victorious Muslims erected a mosque on the site of the Temple of Jerusalem, and on the site of the Temple of the birthplace of Rama in India, the Christian Church erected the Vatican on the site of the Phrygianum of Cybele, Magna Mater, a mystery religion that was served by gallae, who were eunuch priestesses. Augustine of Hippo was an ardent foe of the Cybele-worshippers and their gallae priestesses.

Augustine is also responsible for the Manichean influence on Christian theology. This is clearly evidenced by Mary’s “basic point to get out of the way” at the outset:

“where the rubber meets the road we all have a blowout. We all sin and fall
short of the glory of God. We are all wretches saved by His amazing grace. When
I think about my own besetting sins, I am sickened. That I go to confession with
the same stupid black marks on my own soul week after week, is just pitiful. I
must be boring Jesus to death with my petty selfishness. Actually I am not
just boring Jesus to death; I am really putting the nails in His sacred hands
and feet. We all are. We are such a mess — everyone of us.”

I feel sorry for Mary and her guilty self-flagellation, whether it is literal or merely figurative. (If Mary is involved with Opus Dei, it might well be literal, but we’ll assume the best and hope not.) But this attitude of wretched sinfulness is a mark of the Manichean influence on the development of Christianity. Indeed, there is evidence that Augustine’s Manichean background contributed to his thinking and thus further influenced the development of Christian theology. The Augustinian teachings with regard to sin, and particularly Original Sin, are based in Manichean teachings.

Augustine was also a rather despicable person, particularly in the manner in which he engineered the decision that his rival Pelagius and his teachings, which rejected Original Sin, were heretical.

It looks like it’s time to wrap up this essay. So, we’ve pretty much gotten to the end of Mary’s Rubber Meets the Road: Part I, and in our next essay we’ll start to tackle her Part II.

In this essay, we’ve pointed out that Mary’s view of biology isn’t accurate. She thinks transsexual and other intersex people should be pathologized solely because we don’t fit into the standard societal binary of sex, or rather, because she believes we should be shoe-horned into that binary in accordance with societal expectations, rather than recognizing the diversity of nature.

Before I end this essay chapter, I have one more thought. Even though we are made by God as different and diverse, transsexual and intersex people do live in a society that expects us to fit into the mold of being male or female. Otherness is societally unacceptable. So many of us seek to fit into the binary as best as we can – which includes hormonal and surgical treatment to make things so that we fit better into the sex assignment that fits us best. The acknowledgment that we do not belong to our initial assignment also comes with the understanding that we do not fully belong in the other assignment, either, except by way of reasonable accommodation. If society cannot recognize the diversity of reality and insists on the imposition of social constructs of binary sex, a humane society would do well to be accommodative to the tiny fraction of people who do not fit the constraints of the construct.

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