Thursday, January 26, 2017

Queer, Mormon, and Transhuman: Part II

(Artist: Michelle Thompson)

After publishing my post Queer, Mormon, and Transhuman, I received some criticism. Most of the criticisms of my character were clich├ęd projections built upon inaccurate assumptions. However, I’d like to clarify some of the more controversial subject matter. Deconstructing the gender binary is not an “agenda of the alt-left,” it’s a matter of biology. Men and women are not the only genders that “naturally” exist.

I’d like to make two points in this post:

1.  A third biological sex naturally exists in our human species.

2. Accepting the intersex population isn’t a matter of progressivism, conservatism, or even philosophy. It’s about recognizing the natural biological variances that exist within the tangible world in which we live.

In my previous post I stated, “The gender spectrum is filled with eight billion uniquely different genders diverse in biology, identity, embodiment, performance, expression, and fluidity.”

Sometimes when people consider the gender binary as a social construct, they often ignore the biological realties of the natural world. Many aspects of gender may indeed be the figments of our imaginations perpetuated by socially constructed ideas imposed on each rising generation. However, I’d like to focus our attention first on the biology of sex that produces natural variances within a small portion of the human population: the intersex population.

There are biological anatomies and chromosomes that categorize a person’s biological sex, not just ideological or social performances. Females have XX chromosomes while males have XY chromosomes. However, a third gender exists quite naturally without any technological, social, or philosophical intervention. Roughly 1 in 1,000 births are of XXY chromosomes (Klinefelter syndrome). These individuals are intersex and are not chromosomally classified as male or female even though their genitalia may or may not present indicators of their chromosomal variance. This portion of the intersex population is not solely male or female, chromosomally speaking.

A slightly larger portion of the intersex community is born with physiological variances like ambiguous genitalia, although medical experts vary on the definition of what constitutes a person as intersex. If we include ambiguous genitalia and chromosomal abnormalities roughly 1.7% of the world population is intersex. Keep in mind less than two percent of the world’s population consists of redheads. Arguably, depending on how you define intersex, the intersex population is comparable to the redhead population. To deny the existence of a third gender within the “natural” world is to deny the existence of a small, but real portion of the human population. According to the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, intersex people “do not fit the typical definitions for male or female bodies.”

An intersex individual may choose to conform to socially constructed standards of the gender binary, but chromosomally or physiologically speaking the gender binary would be an inaccurate or incomplete categorical frame.

Some may wonder, so what? Why does this matter? It’s a matter of human rights and morphological freedom. Intersex is a non-binary gender that is sorely underrepresented in gender-related conversations and human rights discussions. Intersex infants are naturally born, yet hormonally and surgically altered to conform to socially accepted “norms” to perpetuate the gender binary. These non-consensual, “normalizing,” aesthetical interventions have little to no firm evidence that treatment offers medical benefits other than perpetuation of social gender constructs.

Morphological freedom includes the right to accept or reject one’s own anatomy according to their volition. It’s about respecting agency, consent, and personhood. Social conceptions of the gender binary, misogyny, and misconceptions of biological sex produce undue stress and potentially oppressive procedures on the intersex population.

Taking gender biology even further, one could also argue extreme hormonal abnormalities could constitute a gender variance that is non-binary. For example, women who contain high levels of testosterone may experience deepening of the voice, increased muscle mass, enlarged clitoris, or frontal balding, similar to men. Their hormonal variance can play a significant role in how they experience gender.

High concentrations of androgens (male steroid hormones) have been associated to infertility in women, particularly polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS). Another interesting aspect of the study conducted by researchers from the London Women’s Clinic found that lesbians are twice as likely to have an imbalance of sex hormones. "Our research neither suggests nor indicates that polycystic ovaries-PCOS causes lesbianism, only that polycystic ovaries-PCOS is more prevalent in lesbian women. We do, however, hypothesise that hyperandrogenism - which is associated with PCOS - may be one of the factors contributing to the sexual orientation of women."

This could be the beginning of linking biological sex variances with sexual orientation and/or fertility. This is one reason it’s important to understand biological sex, independent of gender performance, before making conclusions about sexual orientation. We are a product of our anatomies and a better understanding of our biology could lead us to better understand sexual orientation.

After all, if an intersex person is biologically both male and female and are attracted to males they are both heterosexual and homosexual, but not bisexual. However, if an intersex person is only attracted to other intersex individuals that, too, could mean they are homosexual. Or does homosexuality only apply when two intersex people choose the same gender performance independent of their biological sex? As you can see the limitations of our language and understanding of biology pose certain complexities concerning gender and sexuality.

From a Mormon perspective, it’s imperative to the health and well-being of our siblings that we make space in our language, theology, and dialogue for those that aren’t of the gender binary. Fortunately, there is room in Mormon theology for not only better treatment of cis women, but also the non-binary population and various sexual orientations.

I am not “a ‘NOM’ and ‘cultural Mormon’ for whom the church is a blob of silly putty upon which can be imprinted.” I am a Latter-day Saint who embraces Mormon theology and doctrine authentically and radically.  I was taught “Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.” I was taught that Jesus said, “…lovest thou me? Feed my sheep.” I was taught in continuing revelation as part of an ongoing restoration. Are you sleeping through the restoration? I was also taught, “We believe in continuing revelation, not continuous revelation. We are often left to work out problems without the dictation or specific direction of the Spirit. That is part of the experience we must have in mortality.”

In essence, I was taught if we love God and Jesus we should show our love through our works towards our siblings. Although I was taught God reveals more light and knowledge, we are also responsible for working out discrepancies amongst ourselves as part of our growth, progression, and development.

Some may claim broadening our understanding of gender beyond male and female is part of the “leftist gay agenda” void of conservative values, but in actuality it’s about realizing the already existing biological variances within the natural world in which we live.

*Note to my intersex readers: My perceptions and opinions are based upon academic research only, as I have no experience as an intersex person. If you think I have inaccurately represented the intersex community, feel free to contact me. I’m happy to learn more about your unique experiences.

*This post is a personal commentary of my own desires and objectives, and I am speaking as an individual and not as a spokesperson for the many non-profits and advocacy groups that I lead and/or affiliate with.

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Edge of the Cliff

(Artist: Artur Pokusin)

I stood on the edge of the cliff.
Salty sea air bushed across my skin.
My lover by my side.
His wings spread wide with confidence,
then he jumped.

I watched and smiled in delight,
light reflected off his wings,
as he pursued his heart’s desire.
He was happy, 
so I was happy.

The man dressed in white, 
came to the cliff to clip my wings.
He was kind and soft-spoken.
He called himself, Protector.
My wings needed taming.

I didn't mind. 
He was gentle, 
and my wings were just as fair as my lover’s,
perhaps even more fair.
Maybe that's why they needed taming.

Much later, my lover flew,
I stood still, watching from the cliff's edge. 
I smiled in his shadow.
He made such lovely shadows.
Large shadows.

The man dressed in white, 
came to clip my wings again.
My lovely wings needed taming.
They were to be admired, adored,
not used.

I didn't mind, I had other work to do.
My sons needed rearing.
They grew until they flew.
They were happy,
so I was happy.

Much later,
my sons flew with my lover.
Their wings spread wide with confidence. 
I stood on the cliff’s edge lonely, but joyful,
observing their freedom.

The man dressed in white, 
came to clip my wings again.
My abdomen was swollen with my daughter.
Even if he hadn't clipped my wings,
could I even fly?

Much later,
my lover flew with our young daughter.
It was beauty beyond my imagination.
She was happy,
so I was happy.

The man dressed in white, 
came to clip my wings again.
I asked him, “Why must you clip my wings?”
He replied, "You know why.
It has always been so."

The man in white called for my daughter.
She couldn’t hear him.
Her wings were so young and fragile.
How could she possibly need taming?
She could barely fly.

The man in white called for her again,
but she was too engrossed in freedom to notice.
He would not clip her wings.
I told the man in white to leave,
and never return.

Much later,
my lover flew with our children.
My wings were lovely, but frail.
Perhaps tamed beyond use,
could I even fly?

I stood on the edge of the cliff.
Salty sea air bushed across my skin.
With the sun setting in the distance, 
my wings spread wide with confidence,