What About Biology?

You’ve probably heard all of the arguments: There are two biological genders, two sexes for the purpose of reproduction. You’re either XX or XY – there aren’t any other options. So how can someone be anything other than male or female? How could they be born one sex but claim another one later?

To answer these questions, we first have to define some terms, using the Our Whole Lives sexuality education curriculum:

  • BIOLOGICAL SEX: The physical sex characteristics – genitals, reproductive organs, hormones, and chromosomes – a person is born with. Roughly 98 percent of people are born male (XY) or female (XX), but around 1.7 percent of people are born intersex (for example, XXY), meaning they have a combination of male and female sex characteristics. That’s about the same number of people who are born with red hair.
  • GENDER IDENTITY: A person’s internal sense of their gender. The majority of people have a gender identity that matches their biological sex, but for some people, these two things are very different. Think of gender identity as who your brain tells you you are. Cisgender people are those for whom biological sex and gender are the same. Transgender people are those for whom they are different.
  • GENDER EXPRESSION: The way a person reveals or expresses their gender identity through clothing, voice, behaviors, hobbies, mannerisms, etc. Ironically, many of the ways we express gender have nothing at all to do with gender. Clothes, colors, hairstyles – they are all neutral until a culture decides to assign them a gender. Still, these external expressions of gender are one of the primary ways our brains put people into gender categories. 
  • SEXUAL ORIENTATION; A person’s romantic, emotional, and sexual attractions to others. This is unrelated to biological sex and gender. Anyone can be heterosexual, homosexual, bisexual, pansexual, asexual, etc. 

From “Welcoming and Affirming: A Guide to Supporting and Working with LGBTQ+ Christian Youth” by Leigh Finke – Broadleaf Books

Implied hierarchy

Let’s take the binary of white/nonwhite – you know, as a totally random example.

Whether you’re ready to admit it yet or not, there’s a hierarchy built in there. Everything about whiteness is perceived as better than nonwhiteness according to our hot little socialized norms. White is equal to “good guys,” to “purity,” to “closer to the divine.” Nonwhite – regardless of the shade and its implications – is considered less than, Stained. Impure. Definitely not good. At least, not as good as white. 

From “Good White Racist? Confronting Your Role in Racial Injustice” by Kerry Connelly – Westminster John Knox Press

To Tell the Truth

                                      

My mother, Vivian Baxter, warned me often not to believe that people really want the truth when they ask, “How are you?” She said that question was asked around the world in thousands of languages and most people knew that it is simply a conversation starter. No one really expects to be answered, or even wants to know “Well my knees feel like they are broken, and my back hurts so bad I could fall down and cry.” A response like that would be a conversation stopped. It would end before it could begin. So, we all say, “Fine, thank you, and you?”

I believe in that way we learn to give and receive social lies. We look at friends who have lost dangerous amounts of weight or who have added ungainly pounds and say, “You’re looking good.” Everybody knows the statement is a blatant lie but, we all swallow the untruth in part to keep the peace in part because we do not wish to deal with the truth. I wish we could stop the little lies. I don’t mean that one has to be brutally frank. I don’t believe that we should be brutal about anything, however, it is wonderfully liberating to be honest. One does not have to tell all that one knows, but we should be careful what we do say is the truth.

Let us bravely say to our young woman, “That raggedy hairstyle may be trendy, but it is also unattractive. It is not doing anything for you.” And let us say to our young men, “Your shirttail hanging out from under your jacket does not make you look cool, it just makes you look unkempt and uncared for.” Some Hollywood fashion police decided recently that appearing in wrinkled clothes with half-shaven faces was sexy because it made men look as if they had just arisen. The fashionistas were both right and wrong. The disheveled look does make the person appear to have just gotten out of bed, but they are also wrong because that look is not sexy, it is just tacky.

The nose, nipple, and tongue rings are the possession of the very young who are experimenting. While I don’t like them, they don’t bother me much because I know that most of the youth will grow older and will join the social sets in which they work and live. The rings will be discarded and the young people will pray that the holes heal over so that they will not have to explain to their own teenagers why the holes were put there in the first place.

Let’s tell the truth to the people. When people ask, “How are you,” have the nerve sometimes to answer truthfully. You must know, however, that people will start avoiding you because they too have knees that pain them and heads which hurt and they don’t want to know about yours. But think of it this way, if people avoid you, you will have more time to meditate and do fine research on a cure for whatever truly afflicts you.        

From “Letter to My Daughter” by Maya Angelou

We need to examine three things

If we’re not intentional, we can all be in danger of becoming palace people. It’s easy to isolate and insulate ourselves. We do it without even trying. We listen to just one news source. We read the same paper every day. We hang out with the same people. We stay busy all day, every day. We schedule our children and ourselves until we’re exhausted and blue in the face. We take the freeway so that we can go around the neighborhoods we would rather not enter. We drive, rather than walk. We choose entertainment that makes us feel comfortable. Our social media becomes an echo chamber of our own beliefs, opinions, and fears. We eat food that is familiar and walk on streets that others deemed safe. We surround ourselves with people and things and comforts that further enforce who we already are and how we already think. It’s truly the easiest way to live. But is it the best way?

Insulating ourselves and living in isolation leads to ignorance. We don’t know what we don’t know! Isolation and insulation are what make it possible for someone to go about their day, living on their cul-de-sac, not realizing that there is someone sleeping on the street just two blocks down. It is what makes it possible for Americans to throw away 40 percent of our food while others in the world are starving to death. Isolation and insulation are what enable us to buy a new pair of shoes or pick up some Christmas decorations without realizing that it was likely slave labor that brought them into existence.

In order to counteract this cycle of isolation, insulation, and ignorance, we need to examine three things: our position, our privilege, and our power.

From “Becoming Brave: Finding The Courage To Pursue Racial Justice Now” by Brenda Salter McNeil – Brazos Press

We are products of our culture, not separate from it

I recently gave a talk to a group of about two hundred employees. There were no more than five people of color in their organization, and of these five, only two were African American. Over and over, I emphasized the importance of white people having racial humility and of not exempting ourselves from the unavoidable dynamics of racism. As soon as I was done speaking, a line of white people formed – ostensibly to ask me questions – but more typically to reiterate the same opinions on race they held when they had entered the room. The first in line was a white man who explained that he was Italian American and that Italians were once considered black and discriminated against, so didn’t I think that white people experience racism too? That he could be in that overwhelmingly white room of coworkers and exempt himself from an examination of his whiteness because Italians were once discriminated against is an all-too-common example of individualism. A more fruitful form of engagement (because it expands rather than protects his current worldview) would have been to consider how Italian Americans were able to become white and how that assimilation has shaped his experience in the present as a white man. His claims did not illustrate that he was different from other white people when it comes to race. I can predict that many readers will make similar claims of exception precisely because we are products of our culture, not separate from it. 

From “White Fragility: What It’s So Hard For White People To Talk About Racism” by Robin DiAngelo – Beacon Press

We must hold divisions and contradictions with compassion

I discovered a book that helped me understand how heartbreak and depression – two of the most isolating and disabling experiences I know – can expand one’s sense of connectedness and evoke the heart’s capacity to employ tension in the service of life. Lincoln’s Melancholy, by Joshua Shenk, is a probling examination of our sixteenth president’s journey with depression. What was then called “melancholy” first appeared in Lincoln’s twenties, when neighbors occasionally took him in for fear he might take his own life. Lincoln struggles with this affliction until the day he died, a dark thread laced through a life driven by the conviction that he was born to render some sort of public service. 

Lincoln’s need to preserve his life by embracing and integrating his own darkness and light made him uniquely qualified to help America preserve the Union. Because he knew dark and light intimately – knew them as inseparable elements of everything human – he refused to split North and South into “good guys” and “bad guys,” a split that might have taken us closer to to the national version of suicide. 

Instead, in his second inaugural address, delivered on March 4, 1865, a month before the end of the Civil War, Lincoln appealed for “malice toward none” and “charity for all,” animated by what one writer calls an “awe-inspiring sense of love for all” who bore the brunt of the battle. In his appeal to a deeply divided America, Lincoln points to an essential fact of our life together: if we are to survive and thrive, we must hold its divisions and contradictions with compassion, lest we lose our democracy.

From “Healing the Heart of Democracy: The Courage to Create a Politics Worthy of the Human Spirit” by Parker Palmer