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

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