A good pastor or public theologian must be ‘anthropologically curious’. Being curious about people ought to be a natural gift of any minister. And there are two main skills that go with being ‘anthropologically curious’: 1) Being able to ask good questions and 2) listening without prejudice. Unless danger is sensed, people will most often tell you the truth: either The Truth (which is rare), their understanding of the truth (which is most common), or their truth (which they believe to be true even if it’s clearly false, even then, they’re telling you something true about themselves). So listening without prejudice allows us to hear truth. In the end, we are called to seek truth with the promise that truth sets us free.
In trying to be well-informed about LGBTQIA+ people I have been exploring the letters. What does the T mean? What does the A mean? This is when I came across an explanation of “I” by an intersex person named Pidgeon that shown a whole new light on the matter for me. Check out Part 1 here and make sure you finish Pidgeon’s 4-part testimony.
My history of understanding LGBTQIA+ people is unpleasant…a process of allowing truth to weed out falsehoods within me. Some of those falsehoods have been both violent and mysterious.
I once had a heated discussion with a friend in college about whether homosexuals were also pedophiles. Twenty-plus years later, I now know that is a devastating conclusion to draw. While that was an ideologically violent belief, it was also mysterious. I don’t remember anyone actually teaching me that. And looking back, I still don’t know how I drew that conclusion. I know it was based on fear as well as ignorance, but then again, I was never actually in danger. My background in Family Systems Theory makes me curious: what was it in the atmosphere I was in that led me to that conclusion?
Luckily only a few years later I was around gay-affirming Christians for the first time. It was eye-opening. A lot of my unrealized prejudices were exposed. This community of gay-affirming Christians showed me the errors of my ways. They helped me see the Bible better, they taught me physiology that I didn’t understand, and they demonstrated that their ‘love of the other’ was a key expression of their Christian faith. Through dialogue, association and example, I began to change.
Pidgeon helps me further. I didn’t know what intersex meant. I still can’t very well tell you the definition except to say, “Go ask Pidgeon.” (Notably, as my mission theology has evolved, allowing people to speak for themselves has become a base principle for ministry. Lo and behold, I learned something!) One fact that stood out to me was the percentage of intersex people (up to 1.7% of the human population) being like that of the number of redheads. I have a lot of redheads in my family tree!
I also understood, due to Pidgeon’s story, that when intersex people go to fill out a governmental form and see “Gender: Male/Female” neither of these two categories adequately apply. I then thought ‘How bewildering it must have been for Pidgeon’s parents to face this conundrum when applying for daycare or kindergarten or pee-wee soccer or scouts.’ Then I listened to part 2 of Pidgeon’s story and how the non-conformity of their child led to a lot of drastic, fear-based measures, trying to correct things about Pidgeon that weren’t even problems. Merely they existed outside of mainstream societal gender categories. I encourage you to listen to part 2, but be forewarned if your triggered by stories of genital mutilation.
The larger lesson for me from Pidgeon is that our convenient categories for people are imperfect. I’ve always thought these categories exist largely for matters of convenience: we use them to think that we know everything about everyone. But humanity, like the rest of creation, is fluid, more complex than we give God credit for. Pidgeon helps me understand the social nature of our gender norms. Pidgeon also helps me understand the lengths people will go to to protect those societal understandings.
Pidgeon also helps me spiritually. The notion of the image of God is foundational to my theology. Humans are created in the image of God. More specifically biblically Genesis says:
So God created humankind in his image,Genesis 1:27 (NRSV)
in the image of God he created them;
male and female, he created them.”
How do I understand the imago dei in people that are a little of both male and female? Is the Bible wrong? Does God’s image only exist in humans that are completely male or female? In most cases, I put the concern on the limitations of language. Clearly Pidgeon is part of the human family. And the things they suffered were due not to their anatomical features, but to people’s fear of them, to other’s inability to see the fluidity of humanity and the faultiness of our conventional understandings. Had the medical community around Pidgeon been able to understand them, they would not have suffered needless surgeries to correct things that weren’t problems. As it is, Pidgeon’s story places them in a category of outcast people. The story of Jesus is one of regularly bringing into the family of God people that had been pushed away. Whether due to illness, race, status or circumstance, Jesus’ saving maneuvers begin with recognizing the imago dei in the outcast. Jesus’ healing, forgiving and including grace is then shared with people he recognizes as siblings…co-children of God. On what basis would Pidgeon be excluded from this Way of Jesus? As it is Pidgeon was created in the image of God just like you and me. It is society that must humble itself and recognize the limitations of our understanding and work to open the blessings of creation to all of God’s children.
Learning about intersex has opened my mind to realities of nature I wasn’t previously aware of. It helps me understand the other letters in the sense that I better get that our binary way of thinking is flawed. Creation is diverse and the notion that we all can and must fit into one of two categories is absurd. I just never had cause to think about it. I’m glad that the church and the world around me has given me that cause to think that I needed.