Professor Peter Hegerty from the department of Psychology at Surry University spoke about intersex people.
A pdf of the slides for this talk can be downloaded here.
Prof Hegerty’s talk was preceded by a talk from intersex activist Sara Gillingham describing her experiences of being born intersex and some of the ways that this had impacted her life.
In the Bible, when Adam is first described, the Hebrew can be understood in more than one way. It is unclear if Adam is male or both male and female. Intersex may have been present from the Creation.
Prof Hegerty is involved with the SENS project, looking at how people make sense of sex development that deviates from a binary.
When children are born with genitalia that does not fit many people’s binary expectations, they are often subjected to medical or even surgical intervention. It is necessary to distinguish between interventions that are medically necessary and ones that are carried out for cosmetic purposes, such as hypospadias, (where the urethra has not grown through the entire length of the penis).
The occurrence of intersex bodies is a naturally occurring phenomena. However, the attitudes of clinicians affects decisions that are made about any interventions. Presentation of information can also affect attitudes, depending on whether the information is presented medically or socially. One thing is clear, that there should be more psychological help available for those with intersex in the family.
Dr James Barrett’s talk was preceded by a talk from Revd Dr Tina Beardsley who is a member of the co-ordinating group for the Church of England’s Living in Love and Faith project. A pdf of her talk can be downloaded here.
Dr James Barrett, lead clinician at a Gender Identity Clinic, titled his talk on trans people as ‘A Boring Talk’. A pdf of the slides for this talk can be downloaded here
Dr Barrett stressed that he worked with Adult trans people and not children.
He talked about the myth of detransitioning. It does happen, but is statistically tiny. In a study at the Nottingham Gender Identity Clinic between May 2016 and May 2017 a randomised study of 303 patients showed one patient detransitioning. They subsequently retransitioned successfully.
A longer study over 15 years showed that the rate of detransition was 1%. Of this 1%, 4 out of 5 retransitioned successfully. Of those who detransitioned and did not retransition, only 20% expressed regret. This is a similar rate for those who regret laser eye surgery. [Note – this gives on overall detransition rate of 0.2% and a regret rate of 0.04%]. The cause of detransitioning was almost always due to unsupportive family situations. He joked that some people would benefit from a ‘familyectomy’ – removal of their family.
In respect of children, there is an increasing number of referrals from those in middle adolescence. However, pre-pubertal referrals are not showing the same increase.
Dr Barrett addressed the issue of counselling. He is often told by activists that people should be offered counselling. However, the purpose of counselling is unclear. Counselling to reduce immediate distress is different from counselling to ‘cure’. Attempts to cure are not effective and can be harmful.
In the Question and Answer session, Dr Barrett made some further points of note. Only about a third of trans men have phalloplasty, which surgically creates a penis. Much of the research done of transitioning focuses on surgery, because it is easier to study. Social transitioning is harder to measure and therefore has been studied less. There is less information from research on FTM trans people and their transitions. The rates of FTM and MTF are about the same now but in the past there were more MTF, however it is possible that the numbers from the past understate the true numbers of FTM because they found it easier to pass. Prof King noted that among the very young, below age 14, there were more FTM.
The final speaker of the day was Professor Robert Song, professor of theological ethics at Durham University.
I would like to recommend Prof Song’s book Covenant and Calling, which covers the material from his talk in more depth. It is available to buy here.
A pdf of the slides for this talk can be downloaded here.
Science cannot dictate our ethics. Science can tell us about the causes of homosexuality or transgenderism and how different cultures have treated gender and sexual minorities. It cannot tell you how to deal with different bathrooms or how to respond to blessing or ordaining those in sexually active relationships or whether a surgical response to intersex is ever right.
What does ‘natural ‘mean? In relation to sexuality and gender a mainstream, traditional answer is that natural is the sexual binary of male and female and heterosexual sex and marriage. So, what is unnatural is anything which crosses the boundaries of these, including those who don’t fit into the sexual binary, either in terms of gender identity or in terms of non-standard genitalia and those whose sexual desire and behaviour doesn’t fit into heterosexual sex/marriage.
Those who are deemed to be unnatural are those statistical outliers, the socially unacceptable and those who do not fit the binary male and female ordering towards reproduction.
Those who don’t fit in with the dominant social norms suffer the psychological effects of shame and rejection as social norms are enforced.
We can see this in the Old Testament purity laws that did not allow any mixing of different kinds. For example, lepers were unclean because of their patchy skin.
In the New Testament, there is a different focus, those who were unclean and excluded are now counted as clean. Excluded groups, like the gentiles, are now included. In the story of the Good Shepherd, the shepherd leaves the 99 sheep and goes looking for the one, he does not stay with the 99, but seeks the one that is not there. LGBT people are more than 1% and the holiness of a God of Love means that everyone of us is loved and has a place and they are exactly the people that the Good Shepherd will search for.
The purity ethic is still active in the church, making belonging conditional. Those who are seen to be most sinful are made to feel most excluded. Science cannot address people’s attitudes, but it can address the basis of those attitudes. Science can show that sexual orientation is not chosen and cannot be changed.
Appealing to inclusion is not enough. We need to address the way that the male and female binary is orientated towards reproduction. What happens to procreation in Christ? Procreation is no longer essential for our identity in Christ. We share in the blood of Christ and Christians reproduce through baptism. Marriage, for the purpose of reproduction is fundamentally reconfigured in Christ. So, if reproduction is no longer an essential part of marriage, then it is reasonable to ask why marriage has to be heterosexual and even if gender matters at all? What might matter in marriage is a commitment to faithfulness, permanence and fruitfulness.