First the Vatican, then the PCA

Lianne wrote a letter to her PCA pastor after the denomination deliberated over signing the Nashville Statement, another Anti-LGBT document which skates over intersex people’s experiences. A few weeks ago it was the Congregation for Catholic Education with its statement. This weekend, the PCA.

We at Intersex and Faith have our work cut out for us. Please consider becoming a regular donor to Intersex and Faith to make it possible for us to free up time to respond to these religious leaders and to complete our curriculum for churches to help church leaders listen to the stories of intersex people of faith, some like Lianne, from their own denominations.

#NashvilleStatement #PCAGA

Rob,

Last night, the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in America passed Overture 4, by which they endorsed the Nashville Statement, a document written by the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood.

Article VI of the Nashville Statement says that those born with a “physical disorder of sex development” (i.e. intersex),

“should embrace their biological sex insofar as it may be known.”

Article V states, in part,

“We deny that physical anomalies or psychological conditions nullify the God-appointed link between biological sex and self-conception as male or female.”

If self-conception (i.e. gender identity) can play no role, then how does one determine which sex an intersex person is to embrace?

Dr. Denny Burk, the president of CBMW, and one of the primary authors of the Nashville Statement, reduces sex to the presence or absence of a Y chromosome,

An infant with Complete Androgen Insensitivity Syndrome is born with female external genitalia and has testes in her abdomen, which, if left in place, will give her a feminizing puberty. She could live her entire life without knowing she has XY chromosomes. How is it Biblical to consider her male rather than a barren woman?

Medical studies suggest that the most reliable way of determining the gender of an intersex child is to wait until they’re old enough to speak and then ask them. Historically, the Church expected intersex people, when old enough, to choose either male or female. That’s what I did. My body’s intersex. I have Mixed Gonadal Dysgenesis. I was born with a mix of ovarian and testicular tissue. But some of my cells have a Y chromosome, so Dr. Burk, CBMW, the Nashville Statement—and perhaps now the PCA—would consider me male.

I’ve met hundreds of people with differences of sex development. Understand this—your Nashville Statement drives intersex people away from the Gospel. Historically, doctors have castrated us, surgically assigned us a sex, given us hormones, told us lies, kept secrets from us, and caused us to live in shame—all in the name of your precious binary vision of sex. When you say that we should embrace our sex insofar as it may be known, what we hear is that you approve of the things being done to us to coerce our bodies and our genders.

The PCA General Assembly also passed Overture 42, which establishes a study committee on sexuality. The PCA could clarify their stand on intersex and distance themselves from the approach taken by CBMW. It is rare, however, for Christians who issue pronouncements regarding intersex to actually listen to us before they speak.

If you discover that the reason your teenage daughter hasn’t gotten her period yet is that she has testes in her abdomen rather than ovaries and uterus, will your church insist that she’s really male? Often, the most serious issue for parents isn’t having a child whose sex is ambiguous; it’s maintaining a relationship with a church that doesn’t understand the issues they face.

Intersex and Faith’s mission is to help communities of faith minister to those born with a body outside the male-female binary. Our documentary, Stories of Intersex and Faith addresses how some people reconcile their faith with having a body that’s not entirely male or female. Our small-group curriculum is in beta test.

What if the doctors aren’t sure whether your newborn is male or female? Then contact us. We’ll help you find other parents of similar faith who also have an intersex child.

Rather than suggesting that an intersex child’s sex or gender be coerced based on the presence or absence of a Y chromosome, why not join us in helping those with a difference of sex development to thrive within the PCA?

I’m female in the eyes of God’s law. I hope to remain in good standing with Faith Presbyterian and the PCA.

Thank you,

Lianne Simon

Recent Catholic Statement endangers Intersex Children

Intersex kids who have been subjected to medicalization without their consent often grow up with unnecessary surgeries, secrecy, shame, and life-long trauma. That’s why it’s so troubling to see official Catholic teaching recommending the medical interventions in Male and Female He Created Them: Towards a Path of Dialogue on the Question of Gender Theory in Education released June 10, 2019.

In this document the authors insist that there are only two sexes, derived from Adam and Eve, and deny the difference between biological sex and gender identity. Transgender people, activists, and allies are rightfully outraged, but most of the press has failed to notice the document’s impact on intersex people—those born with physical markers of biological sex that don’t fit medical definitions of male and female.

 The document acknowledges the existence of sex variations, but denies intersex people agency over their bodies and identities by insisting that doctors somehow “establish” the sex of an intersex child as male or female.

In the past, medical interventions have included the removal of gonads (castration) and long-term hormonal treatments, often resulting in trauma and chronic health problems. The UN considers non-consensual intersex surgery a violation of human rights.

For decades, intersex activists have encouraged parents to delay irreversible medical treatments until the child has a sense of their own gender. In spite of their having a mix of male and female physical characteristics, a majority of intersex people end up identifying as male or female. But it should be their choice rather than “established” by medical science.

The Church should look to the words of Jesus in Matthew 19 where Jesus quotes from Genesis one and two, but also affirms the existence of “eunuchs from birth,” one of the categories created by ancient Rabbis for those who didn’t fit into the male-female pattern. Saint Augustine wrote of “androgynes and hermaphrodites” in City of God (16.8).These texts show that Catholic tradition has historically acknowledged those born outside of the male-female binary.

Intersex activists from around the globe have responded in a Joint Statement asking the Congregation on Catholic Education to reconsider its views in light of the lived experiences of intersex people, particularly Intersex Catholics, Intersex Christians.

We hope you will join us in adding your name to Joint Statement before June 24 and by speaking to Church leaders in your community. The signed Statement will be sent to the Vatican on June 25, 2019.

Our documentary Stories of Intersex and Faith shares the experiences of intersex Christians from various traditions, including the Roman Catholic tradition, as well as Conservative Judaism. If you would like to bring our documentary to your community, congregation, religious leadership, university, etc., please contact us. We would gladly share it with any Catholic clergy willing to take the time to listen to these important stories.

Our curriculum, Fearfully and Wonderfully Made, walks Bible Study Groups and Sunday School classes not only though the stories of intersex people of faith but also the Scriptural passages and resources in history that can help inform more compassionate and careful discussions in your own faith community.

Year End Report of Intersex and Faith activities in 2018

Thank you to all of our donors for partnering with us to Advocate With, Educate Others, and Support Intersex people as we work to help faith communities welcome those outside the male/female binary.

2018 End of Year Report

 Intersex and Faith, a 501(c)(3) was incorporated a little less than two years ago. Our mission is to help communities of faith make room for those born outside the male-female binary. We hope to do that through advocacy, education, and support.

 In 2018, we were blessed with two major grants. Our first ones. Astrea Lesbian Foundation for Justice awarded us with $5000 to spend on general operations. The BTS Center awarded Megan $20,000 to spend on developing educational curricula.

 Generous private contributors continue to support our efforts. We understand how sacrificial some giving is. Small gifts are just as important as large ones.

 Advocacy

 In July, Lianne attended the Revoice Conference in St. Louis, Missouri. Although the event wasn’t specifically about intersex, we saw it as a way to build relationships with conservative Christians. The pastor of the PCA host church was happy to speak with Lianne about intersex.

 As the denominational reaction to the Revoice Conference grew, it looked like the PCA might come up with an official position not only on the Revoice Conference but on sex and gender. Lianne contacted several leaders within the Nashville Presbytery of the PCA, offering to provide information on intersex.

 In November, the Calvary Presbytery of the PCA asked the General Assembly to state its agreement with the Nashville Statement. Lianne contacted various leaders, pointing out the positions of Dr. Denny Burk, the President of the Council for Biblical Manhood and Womanhood, and one of the architects of the Nashville Statement.

Although the Nashville Statement isn’t clear regarding intersex, Dr. Burk reduces sex to the presence or absence of a Y chromosome. Consequently, he would consider a woman with the complete form of Androgen Insensitivity Syndrome to be male in spite of being born with a vagina and having a spontaneous feminizing puberty.

 In 2018, Lianne contacted more than 100 members of the leadership of the PCA, encouraging them to consider the reality of intersex before making public statements regarding sex and gender.

 Education

 In the Spring of 2018, Megan—with the help of Paul Van Ness of Van Ness Creative—finished our documentary, Stories of Intersex and Faith. She and Paul have been entering the film in various festivals.

 Megan continues with the work of developing curricula for use in a small group setting. To refine the materials, she has been making presentations at church groups.

 Support

 In July, Lianne attended the AIS-DSD Conference and presented a workshop. After several emails, she finally met face-to-face with a Christian missionary who is also intersex. They talked about possible cooperation on future activities.

 Megan and Lianne both responded to quite a few individuals who contacted them via the website. If you have questions or concerns, write to us!

 We continue to build our network so that—in the near future—we may more effectively provide support for intersex adults and the parents of intersex children.

Applying to Film Festivals!

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Dear friends and supporters,

We are humbled and delighted to announce that we have begun submitting our Stories of Intersex and Faith to film festivals which is the best way for us to get the attention needed to secure a distribution contract for a wide audience.

We could not have done this without you!

On Thursday, Oct. 25, on the eve of Intersex Awareness Day (USA), we held a private screening for some of our local donors, supporters, and participants (interviewees and b-roll actors) at CinemaSalem, Salem, MA. We were humbled by their enthusiastic responses to the film, some of which you can read on our new website dedicated solely to the documentary:

www.storiesofintersexandfaith.com

Dr. Timothy Johnson, Medical Editor ABC News Credit: AP

Dr. Timothy Johnson, Medical Editor ABC News
Credit: AP

Dr. Timothy Johnson, MD, MPH, retired Medical Editor with ABC News and author of "Finding God in the Questions" says:

“Stories of Intersex and Faith" does an amazing job of both educating about a confusing medical condition and illuminating the religious questions surrounding this phenomenon. My brain was wonderfully engaged and my spirit was deeply moved. I regard this as a ground breaking effort long overdue.

There are still many ways you can help:

DONATE: We still have many production costs hanging over our heads and new costs to enter film festivals and get the word out.

VOLUNTEER: If we get into a festival in your city we will need volunteers to spread the word so people with come view the film. Subscribe here and on our social channels to stay in the loop.

SOCIAL MEDIA: Share our new trailer on the new website. Like our Documentary FaceBook page. Follow us on Twitter @intersexfaith. Subscribe for updates.

BE PATIENT: The only downside to film festivals is that it means we cannot book public screenings during our festival year (or we disqualify ourselves for these important venues). However, private screenings at conferences and booked events are sometimes possible so contact us for details.

Thank you for partnering with us to create a world where every child is welcome. Period.

Documentary Progress

Thanks to the help of the donations of friends like you we are nearing the end of production of Stories of Intersex and Faith!

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In March Paul and Megan flew to Phoenix at the invitation of Phoenix Children's Hospital to join them at their local support group meeting and 10 year anniversary celebration of the opening of their clinic. We can't wait to share their story with you about how positive change is beginning.

Since then we have been editing, shooting b-roll to replace stock footage with our own video, and sharing drafts with experts and novices to refine the message. THE GOOD NEWS: We are getting encouraging feedback. 

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Intersex activist, Tiger Devore PhD, says: 

"What a beautiful, inspiring, moving piece you have created here.  I think it’s incredibly important that communities of faith be brought into advocacy for stopping early childhood surgeries on intersex people, and this documentary is a great tool to effect that awareness."  

We also recently partnered with Joel Markus of m, inc., an incredibly talented graphic designer who is bringing our documentary to the next level and helping us finish the work so that we can submit it for film festivals to get the word out to the wider public.

But we still need your help! At present, we do not have the funds to complete the project much less begin marketing and submitting application fees to film festivals. Without support, these important stories will not reach the audiences that so desperately need to hear them.

Please continue talking about our project with your friends and networks and directing them to watch our trailer to see for themselves what Stories of Intersex and Faith is all about and why it is so urgent we share these stories with the wider public.

Intersex Awareness Day 2017

As Dr. Suegee Tamar-Mattis says in this short video: "Educating everyone is the most important thing you can do."

Help us spread the word by sharing this video with those you know. 

If you want to introduce Christians to intersex you may want to share with them this podcast interview in which Megan DeFranza talks with Dr. Peter Enns and Jarad Byas at "The Bible for Normal People." 

Thanks for helping us make the world, and our faith communities, safer and welcoming to all.

 

Barren Women and the Nashville Statement

Intersex & Faith, Inc. recently completed a survey of more than 100 of the signatories of the Nashville Statement, asking for clarification of Article 6, especially the call for intersex people to, "embrace their biological sex insofar as it may be known."

Historically, doctors have castrated us, surgically assigned us a sex, given us hormones, told us lies, kept secrets from us, and caused us to live in shame—all in the name of their binary vision of sex. So it was easy for some of us to conclude that Article 6 called on us to embrace the evil being done to us.

None of the signatories who responded agreed with that reading. None appeared to be in favor of childhood genital surgeries. In fact, Dr. Denny Burk, one of the architects of the Nashville Statement, opposes them.

Regarding the treatment of intersex cases, we received a variety of replies. Most either said they didn't have enough experience with intersex, or that individual cases merited deeper consideration than a set of rules would allow.

The largest group, however, referred us to the writings of Dr. Burk who appears to reduce the diversity of biological sex to the presence or absence of a Y chromosome.

We included a short questionnaire with our survey. It's available online here. The first question deals with Complete Androgen Insensitivity Syndrome:

"Your sixteen-year-old daughter Connie’s a godly young woman. She’s healthy but never got her period. A specialist says that she has Complete Androgen Insensitivity Syndrome. Although externally she’s a typical female, she has XY chromosomes, and testes in her abdomen rather than ovaries and uterus."

Dr. Denny Burk, on his website (about halfway down the page in the comment section) addresses AIS:

"With AIS, there is an XY chromosomal make-up and the internal organs are still male. It is the external reproductive features that are malformed. This is a tragic, difficult condition, and those who experience it are in need of our compassion, love, and understanding. But that doesn't preclude us from helping them see that they are essentially male in spite of ambiguities in external features."

In his book, What is the Meaning of Sex?, on page 81, Dr. Burk appears to suggest that anyone born with a vagina but with XY chromosomes should be considered male.

"Try to determine as soon as possible the chromosomal makeup of the child. If there is a Y chromosome present, that would strongly militate against raising the child as a female, regardless of the apperance of the genitals or other secondary sex characteristics."

This is certainly different than the commonly-accepted Biblical view or the historical view of the Church regarding how to determine a person's sex. We believe that biblical authors would have identified a woman with CAIS as female, as a barren woman.

Barren women are usually infertile for biological reasons. Often, that is an intersex condition such as Complete Androgen Insensitivity Syndrome. It is only recently that the technology became available to determine karyotype (i.e. XX or XY).

A woman with Swyer Syndrome would have a functional vagina and uterus, but no gonads (or penis). Using IVF and a donor egg, some have carried a baby to term. Yet it appears that Dr. Burk--and some of the signatories of the Nashville Statement--would still consider her male because she has a Y chromosome. Again, the Bible would consider her female--a barren woman.

With the continuing debate over the ethics of transgender treatment, I'm astounded that any conservative Christians would take the position that someone born with a vagina and no penis is male, regardless of their genetics.

If you're a Christian and you or your child is intersex, please contact Intersex & Faith and/or liannesimon@yahoo.com.

Florida, Massachusetts, and Arizona

It's a busy summer for us at Intersex and Faith!

Megan and Paul flew to Florida to interview intersex activist, Anunnaki Ray and his family. We are continually amazed by the courage, kindness, and generosity of our interviewees. While in town, we were also able to interview members of Anunnaki's faith congregation, a skeptic turned supporter whom he met on opposing sides of a Human Rights Ordinance debate, and Dr. Judi Herring whose TED talk "Gender Bound" introduces her advocacy for intersex people and reform of medical protocols. We can't wait to share their stories with you!

On June 29th, Megan and Paul hosted a fundraiser in Salem, MA, to launch our IndieGoGo campaign. It was amazing to see around 100 people coming out to CinemaSalem to learn about our project. The encouraging feedback we received (and continue receiving) gives us hope and courage to keep doing what we are doing.

Megan, Lianne, and Paul are heading to Phoenix, AZ, July 13-16 to lead two workshops at the AISDSD Annual Conference (AISDSD = Androgen Insensitivity Syndrome and Differences of Sex Development). In one session we'll be sharing excerpts from the documentary-in-progress discussion how faith relates to intersex experiences. In the second we are leading a workshop entitled "Finding Your Voice" with Cecelia MacDonald (whose TED talk you can watch here).

We'll be making other trips this summer to try and finish all of our shooting so that we can begin the editing process and continue to apply for grants and approach major donors to bring this project to YOU as soon as humanly possible. Thanks for your support!

Baltimore, Boston, and Colorado Springs

We have been busy the last few months getting the momentum rolling on the documentary. 

On December 1, Paul Van Ness of Cinema Salem hosted a fundraiser and screening of our new trailer. (Watch it HERE if you miss it!) Friends and colleagues turned out to support and donate. Thank you to our many supporters. Here are some of the things we have been able to do because you gave:

In December we flew Marissa up from Baltimore to Boston to film for a few days. Marissa was born at Brigham and Women's Hospital and had several early surgeries (as an infant and toddler) at Boston Children's Hospital. She shares her story of the trauma of follow-up doctor visits and how her life was turned around after she connected with other intersex people through AIS-DSD (Androgen Insensitivity Syndrome - Differences of Sex Development Support Group) and InterAct. Raised a conservative Christian, she is trying to find her way back to church and wonders what churches will welcome her as an intersex woman.

In January we interviewed the Executive Director of InterAct, Kimberly Zieslemann, who shared how her own medical records had been hidden from her as a child and teen. Kimberly and her colleagues work to protect the rights of intersex people in the hopes that non-medically necessary surgeries will one day only be performed on those old enough to consent.

Over the Martin Luther King, Jr. holiday, we flew to Colorado to film interviews with Megan, an intersex teen, along with her parents, pastor and youth pastor. Megan shares about finding out about her differences of sex development as a teenager and how it is shaping her faith and their family. While there, we were generously housed by a relative of one of our supporters so we could keep our costs down in the process.

We are working on paring down hours of footage to a 20 minute video for a conference Megan is helping to host at Boston University Feb. 24-26. Follow this link for more information about the conference. Friday's screening will be open to the public and free of charge.

To all of our donors:  THANK YOU for putting us on the path to educating the wider public about intersex people, their presence in our faith communities, and their need for legal protections and welcome among us.  

We still need help in our fundraising efforts, so please share about our work and connect us to those you think would support this project.

To make sure you don't miss our updates, join our mailing list HERE.

Thanks friends,

Megan DeFranza

 

Megan DeFranza with Marissa at Boston Logan Airport

Megan DeFranza with Marissa at Boston Logan Airport

Paul Van Ness filming Megan's interview with Megan

Paul Van Ness filming Megan's interview with Megan

Hanging out with Megan's family in Colorado Springs

Hanging out with Megan's family in Colorado Springs

Paul capturing Colorado landscape

Paul capturing Colorado landscape