People and Parts and Chromosomes

[This post originated several months ago when I got up on my soapbox on Facebook. It seemed to resonate with people, led to a radio talk-show appearance, a local newspaper article, and eventually to this blog. It keeps reappearing, so I decided to repost it here.]

June 2, 2015

For the beloved Mama Bears, raising your LGBTQ children with tenderness and ferocity, this is for you.

For Tomm Zorn who committed suicide last week, and all the courageous transgender folks out there trying to find your path, this is for you.

For my many Christian friends who are struggling to understand while remaining true to your faith, this is for you.

For those angry and inconvenienced by the media attention, who prefer posts of what you had for dinner over the plight of children killing themselves, this is not for you.

When faced with the choice between passionate speech and wise silence, I’ve never had the sense to keep my mouth shut. Which explains why I’m dumb enough to make a “Caitlyn Jenner Post.” Here are a few points I would like to share from a recent Grand Rounds presentation that I gave at Children’s Hospital at Erlanger, followed by some general opinions.

Our sexuality is a lot more than the “parts” that show on the outside. It is made up of our chromosomes, our brain sexuality, our internal parts, and our outside parts. The chromosomes direct the formation of our inside parts (ovaries and testes) and sexual differentiation of the brain. The brain and internal sex organs make neurotransmitters and hormones that impact each other as well as forming the outside parts. Most of the time those things match — outside parts, inside parts, brain sexuality and chromosomes. Those four things combined together establish, likely before birth, our sexual orientation (who we are attracted to) and our gender identity (whether we believe we are a girl or boy).

Here’s the rub. The external parts form very early in fetal development (the first trimester) but sexual differentiation of the brain much later (second and third trimester). Hormone surges can and do occur throughout the pregnancy… so a fetus can TOTALLY be born with a female brain but male outside parts. Or with a male gender identity but female attractions and mannerisms. There’s a tremendous amount of science available, and over the next weeks and months I will begin sharing what I know.

In ancient history, all that mattered were the outside parts. But now that we know all that we know about what’s going on inside our brains… now that we know about chromosomes and hormones… now that we know that people can honest-to-God be born with parts and brains and genders and attractions that don’t match… could we maybe just stop long enough to think about that?

If I woke up tomorrow with guy parts, that would seriously mess me up. Or if someone told me I had to figure out how to be attracted to women in order to be “normal”… well, it just wouldn’t happen.

And you guys out there… what if you woke up tomorrow with big old boobs and no dude parts? Or what if you straight guys had to figure out how to be attracted to one of your “bros” and how to not be attracted to women in order to be considered normal?

I’m not trying to be offensive, I’m just saying… THINK ABOUT IT. That would be really difficult. And lonely. And scary. We might hide from the world… or act out… or do crazy things to try to draw attention away from that part of us. Or we might get depressed, or start drinking, or doing drugs. Or kill ourselves.

We know that men who are paralyzed, women who have mastectomies, or people who suffer a mutilating injury are still a man or woman — even if their “sex parts” are absent or dysfunctional. Why? Because the sexuality of our brain and the chemicals it produces and the hormones raging through our bodies (given that I’m a menopausal woman, the term “raging” is quite appropriate) are more important than the outside parts. That’s just the truth.

And as a Christian, that doesn’t threaten my God OR my Bible. He absolutely created us male and female… but what that means is a heck of a lot more complicated than checking the parts below the waist. What makes us male and female is infinitely, gloriously, divinely, beautifully complicated. It’s the reason that after 24 years of marriage, Mike and I sometimes communicate like we are the same person, and other times like we come from different planets. We aren’t “typical” — not by a long shot. I love pro football, took a charge from him on the blacktop basketball court on our first date, cry at least twice a week and think out loud. He loves to cook, is a librarian, thinks about things for, like, 2 months before he speaks them out loud, and loves his alone time.

Sexuality is complicated. Human beings are complicated. That’s because we were created by a God that is way bigger than we can ever begin to imagine. If He had required the perfect design and the perfect people, Genesis would’ve been a very short story. But guess what? Us humans screwing up His design of the garden, of our humanity, of our relationships, and of the whole world was NOT a deal-breaker for Him. Instead, He continued to love us and pursue us and demonstrate compassion. He even made CLOTHES for Adam and Eve to help them with their embarrassment in the garden!! Who does that??

The point is, we don’t always know nearly as much as we think we do. We can misinterpret science, and we can misinterpret the Bible, and we can misinterpret each other’s intentions. And we can really mess each other up in screaming about how messed up everyone else is. But really, we are all pretty messed up… and we are also all pretty cool. Every one of us are walking around bearing the fingerprints of God.

So I think it’s up to you and to me how we respond to things we don’t understand. We can respond with anger and fear and ridicule, or we can respond with compassion and respect and a genuine desire to learn and understand. Our choice of response reveals our character and faith, and history will judge how well we did…

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