Back in September, we received a note from a person who indicated our messaging could be more inclusive; because “not all people with vulvas are women.” I was initially confused by this statement, but it led me to seek a deeper understanding of the world beyond the binary, beyond the simplicity of either/or thinking on gender. Not long after, I had a chance to spend a few hours with the members of a transgender social club in Sacramento. They were kind enough to invite me into a process of inquiry, and this ongoing exploration is blowing my mind.
One of my new acquaintances, Diana, told her story. She waited until retirement to transition, and it has been very difficult for her daughters to understand. Diana also took the time to educate me on some of the current scientific thinking on gender. She told me about “intersex” babies (i.e., babies born with combinations of male and female parts); about male and female brain chemistry; and about the fetal development of gender identity, and what happens to people for whom these things are not congruent. Other women in the group (including a former marine demolitionist, and a general contractor) told their stories as well, and I felt very tender and humble on hearing them. After our meeting I began researching, combing through online studies and science journals.
First of all, my science knowledge is clearly outdated. The first myth to fall? Chromosomes and gender. In my high school biology class, I was taught that girls have XX chromosomes, boys have XY chromosomes, and that’s that.
Well, that’s not that, after all.
In 2018, a new study was published that undercuts this linear story. (Stay with me here, dear reader! It’s just one paragraph of genetic science.) In order for a fetus to become a boy, a special gene on the Y chromosome has to activate. It’s called the SRY gene. SRY gets triggered by another gene, called SOX9. But guess what? Without this SOX9 trigger, even in fetuses with XY (boy) chromosomes, testes will not develop; these “male” babies even develop ovaries. And if high levels of SOX9 enhancers are present, even XX (girl) babies develop testes.
Please note: This is only ONE set of possible biological conditions that can make a baby neither one gender nor the other, but intersex: a third gender. While 0.3% of the population is born with ambiguous genitalia, a much larger portion has internal or chromosomal ambiguities. But chromosomes are not the only force at play; we also need to consider the impact of hormones on brain development and identity in utero. Whether the brain of a baby is structured more as a male or female is determined by in utero hormones — which also play a big part in gender identity. In other words, whether a person identifies as male or female might simply not match the parts they have, even if those parts are completely and unambiguously one gender or the other. On top of all of this, hormone disruption in utero, from medication to plastic toxins, can also affect the sex development of a baby. There are many reasons why a person's sex and gender identity might not match.
But for me, the biggest takeaway from this research has little to do with the science. It has much more to do with loving and respecting and believing people, and creating a collective culture that leads with trusting others' experiences. People who talk about being incongruent in their bodies are not making things up. If they say “I have a vulva and feel like a man,”—even to the point of taking hormones or having bottom surgery to make their bodies match their identity—this is their reality. People who say they are born a man and feel like a woman: same same. It is not a psychological disorder; it is a person’s underlying truth. Truth is not dysfunction. What can, however, make people crazy is the shame, secrecy, lack of acceptance, and bullying that accompany the social ostracization of people for not fitting a standardized mold.
The emerging science might help me understand why people make the claims they do—but I shouldn’t have to understand “why.” I should simply trust my fellow humans when they tell me about their personal experience, and love them where they are. Who am I to judge? I do know this: if you or anyone you know feels that your genitalia or sexual identity are somehow unusual or “off,” in any way—that you are somehow not whole and complete the way you are—know that you are not alone. There are thousands of other people—maybe hundreds of thousands or millions—experiencing the same situation as you. If you are a woman whose sexual organs match her identity (that is to say, you have woman parts and feel like a woman) know that it’s not that way for everyone with a vulva.
While we use “women” in our messaging, we strive to always listen and learn. We take a stand for all the people straddling the middle places: the intersex, the androgynous, the transgender, the bisexual, whomever. We are all part of this creation. Everyone is a gift. We can move from a sense of “basic human respect” to wonder—wonder at the variety present in our world. Our role is not to question the validity of what is present in creation. It’s to love each other, and all of life.
Wishing you the most joy in your own embodiment,
#intersex #transgender #Love #Inclusion #Aworldthatworksforeveryone
Learn more about intersex, please visit the Intersex Society of North America (ISNA).
Learn more about gender, identity and sexual preference.
Learn more about transgender issues specifically see TransEquality.
If you want to learn more about mercy, compassion, humility and acceptance of all people, just inquire within. Our deepest hearts already know.