Gender and Charity III: What Gender?

In my first post, I discussed gender stereotypes and argued that gender should be considered primarily in one’s exercise of charity, rather than one’s ability to fulfill stereotypes. In my second post, I discussed the origins of gender and implications for the view that gender originates in the body, rather than the soul. In this post, I will discuss the determination of gender.

If gender arises and exists at the level of the body, rather than the soul, there remains the question of how to determine gender: neurological structures, genitalia, chromosomes? Often, “conservatives” will place gender with genitalia. But chromosomes exist in every part of the body and would suggest a more reliable and comprehensive gender determination. So what do we do when an individual has, for example, male genitalia but xx (female) chromosomes?

Rather than a simple chromosomal or genital understanding of gender, I’d like to suggest an integrative understanding of gender. “Male” or “female” does not consist of any single embodied condition, but of an integration of embodied difference: chromosomal, genital, neurological, and also including many other embodied conditions which may elude us now in the mystery of the human person. For most people, all or most of these conditions match one gender, and this makes for a simpler integration and understanding of one’s body and person as male or female.

However, some people do not have such an easy time. For some, gender may not be an easy determination or an easy integration, as some parts of the body may indicate one gender, while other parts indicate the other. For such people, the experience of gender may be more complex or conflicting. In the past I have suggested that what some may experience as “transgenderism” may possibly be a manifestation of such a complex experience, even if the science of today may not be able to demonstrate it (though I don’t claim the necessary knowledge or experience to make this claim with much authority). For such persons, compassion is certainly, and great leniency may be, warranted as they understand and live out their lives as gendered.

To be sure, such complex experiences of gender, where integration does not come clearly, easily, or simply, may be the results of a “fallen” world, a world saturated by imperfection. But such conditions shouldn’t be understood as indicative of a “lesser” humanity or even necessarily a “lesser” experience of gender. The Christian tradition speaks of “happy faults,” of imperfect conditions leading to a world “more perfect” than it would have been without them.

While such persons may find their condition resulting from a fallen world, they should also aspire in the knowledge that imperfection can lead to unimagined perfection. Only the least can become the greatest. Christians should be accustomed to such paradox. It’s in our blood.


More in this series:

3 thoughts on “Gender and Charity III: What Gender?

  1. Thanks for this, Chris. I see the genderbread person graphic often at work. Where would you draw the line between understanding that some people have different experiences and teaching kids that gender has nothing to do with genitalia? I have several coworkers who categorically deny the existence of a male/female binary that is based on nature, and it’s frustrating.

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