A VIRTUAL LISTENING TOUR: A mother’s tearful plea for her intersex child

This is the second voice to speak in Orthodoxy in Dialogue’s Fifty Years after Stonewall: A Virtual Listening Tour. We urge our readers to forward the articles in this series to their diocesan bishops and parish priests. We beg our hierarchy and clergy to listen, attentively, reflectively, and prayerfully.
We ensure complete anonymity if you wish to contribute to this series between now and the end of June.


Thank you for your website and work. 

I wanted to share my thoughts. This probably isn’t the type of submission you are looking for, but this is something I’ve wanted to share for a long time and I simply felt moved to write to you after seeing your post about Stonewall. I’m not a professional writer. I’m certainly no theologian. I’m not even much of a deep thinker. I’m a mother who loves my intersex child. I’m Orthodox but struggling to remain in a Church that excludes LGBTQI+ people.  

My child did not go through puberty like other children. When it became clear that my child was not just a “late bloomer” we sought medical advice. Many tests and scans later we discovered that my child has an intersex condition. She has XY chromosomes. Her gonads are part ovary and part testes—ovotestes. She has internal structures that are the size, shape, and position of fallopian tubes but consist of the tissue that forms vas deferens. She has a uterus, and her external genitalia have a typically female appearance. Her body does not produce eggs or sperm. Her body does not make either estrogen or testosterone. Without medical hormone therapy she would have a perpetual pre-pubertal physical appearance. 

After her diagnosis our family was fortunate to discover the beautiful and welcoming intersex community. Approximately 1 in 200 children is born with an intersex condition. Like my daughter, many of those are unknown until puberty fails to commence. Others are diagnosed in adulthood when couples undergo infertility evaluations. About 1 in 2000 babies is born with intersex genitalia. In those cases the external genitalia are uniquely intersex and cannot be categorized as either female or male.  

Through our friendships and education within the intersex community we discovered that my daughter’s condition is relatively uncomplicated. We have friends who have intersex mosaicism in which some of their cells contain XX chromosomes and other cells have XY chromosomes—forming their bodies in unique and beautiful ways that cannot be classified as female or male. The child of a dear friend has XY chromosomes, one gonad that functions as a testes by producing testoserone and a second gonad that functions as an ovary by producing estrogen, a uterus, and a penis. Many friends have Complete Androgen Insensitivity Syndrome, in which people have XY chromosomes and internal testes. These people do not have a uterus, but they do develop breasts and have external genitalia that are female in appearance, with labia and a clitoris and a small vaginal canal. Many other friends have Partial Androgen Insensitivity Syndrome, which creates intersex genitalia and completely unique internal sex organs, hormonal production, and response to those hormones. Millions of people around the world are uniquely intersex.   

Intersex people are proof that we are not only created male and female. Parents of intersex children learn very quickly that gender assignments in infancy are provisional. If your child has XY chromosomes, one ovary, one testes, a uterus, and intersex genitalia, what is your child’s gender? Who will your child fall in love with? A parent cannot know. A doctor cannot know. A priest cannot know. We must wait for the child to tell us.

I don’t believe that God allows only intersex people the right to tell us their gender identity and sexual orientation. God doesn’t say that only intersex people are unique enough to have that right. We are all unique enough to have that right.

My intersex daughter knows that she cannot be honest about her condition with our priest. She hides her intersex identity.  She once attended a youth group meeting at our parish. The youth were having an “Ask the Priest” question-and-answer session in which our priest was responding to questions about living as Orthodox youth in our modern world. Inevitably questions about gay marriage and transgender arose. My daughter, being very educated about the lives of intersex people, shared the information that XX and XY chromosomes do not dictate gender, that the physical structures of our bodies do not dictate our gender. She shared that there are women who have XY chromosomes, men with XX chromosomes, people who only have a single X chromosome and some who have XXY, XYY, or mosaic chromosomes which create intersex bodies. The priest responded that these conditions are so tragic that death is preferable than life as an intersex or transgender person.  

That was the moment when my heart broke and I knew we would never feel safe in the Orthodox Church again. My daughter still wants to remain in the Orthodox Church, despite the fact that we could not ask for prayers when she had a surgery related to her intersex condition. We still attend occasionally, but I am ready to give up. It’s just too painful. I love the Church, but it tells me that my daughter and our intersex friends would be better off dead than to live honestly and flourish in their beautiful intersex bodies created by God.

Intersex people are not the exception to the rule in terms of believing and honoring a person’s identity and sexual orientation. Every person is unique and beautiful. Every person should be loved and supported as they discover their gender identity and their sexual orientation. Intersex people have so much to teach the Church, if only the Church would listen. 

Thanks for listening to my comments. It’s so painful to write about this. I’m crying as  I end this email. I want to stay in the Church, but I just don’t know how. My daughter is not better off dead. My friends are not better off dead. 

This might not be the type of letter you were looking for. As I said, I’m not really into theology or profound thoughts. But I appreciate the opportunity to share these feelings.

For obvious reasons, I don’t want to share my name or our parish.  

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