Friday, August 23, 2013

Case of Bradley/Chelsea Manning: "Male and Female He Created Them" All Over Again

Genesis 1:27

In a comment here yesterday, Rachel points out that there's a certain synchronicity about the fact that we just recently discussed the fact of intersex on this blog, and now along comes the story of Bradley/Chelsea Manning, with Bradley's statement that, psychologically and in terms of self-understanding, he has always been Chelsea. As my posting on intersex noted, "The idea that the neat, binary arrangement of . . . everything . . . into complementary genders is perhaps the most important thing the Christian tradition has to say to the world has become a mantra of contemporary right-wing Christians, including many Catholics. "

I also pointed out that many contemporary Christians have made a kind of idol out of the notion of male-female complementarity and the notion that God has neatly divided human beings into two absolute genders, and is intently interested in seeing that no one questions or crosses gender lines. The description of biological gender on which these right-wing Christians rely is also a prescription: it's a prescription for staying in one's place, for permitting males to remain on top and females on bottom.

As God has arranged things.

Also prescient in light of the Manning announcement: Candace Chellew-Hodge's posting a few days ago at Religion Dispatches about transgender folks as the religious right's new target. Chellew-Hodge writes,

One of the most frustrating, and often infuriating things about religious conservatives is their stubborn penchant for dividing the world into either/or categories. People are either straight or gay, white or black, male or female, religious or atheist. And of course if you're on the right side of the dichotomy, you're on the right side of God. Anyone else is at best inferior and at worst, a sinner damned to hell.

And then she notes,

The fact is, we are not all born into that male/female dichotomy. Science is continuing to discover that differences in the brain can account for why someone feels like they are "trapped in the body of the wrong sex."  Spanish researchers have found differences in the white matter of the brain between transgender people and those who are not. Patricia Churchland, in her new book Touching a Nerve, takes the reader on a short tour of neurological differences that can occur during fetal development. She points to differences found, at autopsy, in the subcortical area of the thalamus called the "bed nucleus of the stria terminalis," or BNST, which is usually twice as large in males as in females. For female-to-male transgender people who have been studied, "the BNST looks like that of a typical male," she writes.

Scientific findings that, as Chellew-Hodge notes, pose a tremendous problem for conservative Christians when "male and female (and the supremacy of the male part) is the dichotomy that underpins the entire conservative Christian worldview" . . . . As with what I posted yesterday about the continued lying of the religious right in the U.S. about plan B and Ella as abortifacients, perhaps the only way many conservative Christians can deal with scientific findings and scientific realities that don't fit into their neat binary scheme of things is to pretend that science is wrong.

The Catholic church tried that with Galileo, after all, even though classic Catholic theology has long insisted that we have to pay attention to truth that comes to us from both revelation and reason, since God is the author of all truth. The price of the denial of truth that comes to us from sources other than divine revelation was very high in the case of Galileo, just as it's proving high all over again when right-wing Christians pretend that climate change is not occurring, or that inoculation against communicable diseases is the work of the devil, or that God made the world presto in 7 days 4,000 years ago. Or that God made everyone absolutely male or absolutely female, and you and I had better stay in the places these folks intend to assign us, or else.

P.S. Note that the Genesis verse on which the male-female complementarity folks hinge everything implies that God is intersexed, since God creates human beings male and female in the image of God.

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