#92

January 19, 2009

Dating Advice for Hermaphrodites

Dr. Craig,

My question concerns those in the intersexed community. I myself am not this way, but I have read about those born with both male and female reproductive organs. To get to the point, what is the moral thing to do for a hermaphrodite? Must they remain single? If they decide to engage in a relationship, how will they determine which sex to date? Would it be wrong to date both?

I am well aware of what the bible has to say about engaging in homosexual activity, but would it be considered moral for someone who has both reproductive organs to choose which gender to date? Does a hermaphrodite know their true sexual identity? Can biological science determine it?

I hope you can provide a Christian perspective on this matter because this question has troubled me for quite some time.

Thank you,

Daniel

Yours is an intriguing question, Daniel, about which I unfortunately know nothing. So I've asked one of our Reasonable Faith volunteers who has done some thinking in this area to address your question. I think you'll find his response below to be both interesting and illuminating.

Wm LC


Your questions are good and important ones, Daniel, and unfortunately the Christian community at large tends to avoid questions like these. Let me preface my comments by saying that I'm not an expert in this matter; nonetheless, I'll do my best to think clearly about the issues. I'll take your questions one at a time (I've re-worded some).

1. What is the moral thing to do for a hermaphrodite, remain single, or date; and if to date, whom?

It is perhaps best to start by making the distinction between gender and sex. Some think that one's sex determines one's gender, while others think gender is completely "socially constructed," so that differences between the male sex and the female sex are nothing different than one's sexual organs. It is important to realize that no one could ever prove that all gender is socially constructed. (At most what could be established is that some gender characteristics manifest themselves differently or not at all in certain communities or cultures.) I don't think taking a stand either way matters much to answering your question. (My own view is that not all gender is socially constructed, thus at least some gender is determined by sex).

Either there is a fact of the matter as to which sex a person is, or there isn't. Fortunately, there is good reason to think that a sex is determined genetically. Hermaphrodites suffer, as you are aware, a birth defect of having at least both sex organs partially developed. For the record: it's an extremely rare medical condition, and it is important to know that they are distinct from transgender folk—who usually suffer from hormonal imbalances or psychological problems (or both) causing gender confusion. I believe the proper treatment for them is psychiatric help (to normalize the hormonal levels) and therapy. Transgender people should also use medical science (DNA testing) to help identify their true gender.

So far then: sex is determined genetically. If it is, then a person is either a male or a female, and in either case, a homosexual relationship is morally prohibited. This implies that hermaphrodites cannot choose to date both sexes; they must date the person who has the opposite sex as them. Medical procedures could aid in restoring persons to their appropriate sex. If, indeed, they have a unique sex (i.e., are either male or female and not both), then dating becomes, as for non-hermaphrodite persons, morally permissible.

2. Can they choose which gender to date?

No. (See above)

3. Do they know their true sexual identity?

I do not know the answer to this question, but my previous answers don't depend upon having an answer. It is important (again) to make the distinction between transgender persons and hermaphrodite persons. Hermaphrodite persons suffer a biological defect, which, strictly speaking, implies nothing about gender confusion (although they might also be gender confused). Transgender persons suffer gender confusion because of psychological and/or hormonal reasons.

Some conclude that if someone is born with only a male sex organ but is strongly confused about his gender (or strongly thinks he is female) then he might really be female. The logical form of this reasoning, however, is completely fallacious. How one feels about one's gender doesn't determine gender. To give a crude example: If I wake up feeling like I can fly, am I a bird? No. Someone might object to this example because "being a bird" is determined physically, but on their view gender isn't. We could change the example, then: If I wake up feeling like the President of the U.S., am I he? Of course not; and it's important to this example that the property of being the President of the U.S. is a socially constructed property—e.g., it's not that some but not others are born with the attribute/property of "being a future President of the U.S."—that's crazy. So feeling doesn't determine gender.

4. Can biological science determine their true sexual identity?

In most cases, I think so. Extreme forms of hermaphroditism, where even the chromosomal identity is unclear is either extremely rare or hasn't occurred in humans, since (to my knowledge) there is no known "true hermaphrodite" human.

I hope this helps some.

Best,

S.