When Gov. Kevin Stitt learned that his Oklahoma State Department of Health had settled a lawsuit by establishing a process for people to amend their birth certificates to show nonbinary sex designation, he released a flawed statement: “I believe that people are created by God to be male or female. Period. There is no such thing as non-binary sex.”
Oklahoma State Sen. Micheal Bergstrom (R-Adair) was bolder and just as factually incorrect: “When babies are born, they are either born male or female based on their chromosomes and genitals.”
Unfortunately, neither of these men are scientists, experts, doctors or intersex individuals themselves. They seem to think everything is a conversation about identity, and they have “the facts” on their side. Despite their ignorance of “the facts,” however, they cannot rewrite established medical science or anyone’s biology to fit their religious beliefs.
Intersex people neither new, nor rare
I hate to argue with governors or their gods, but there is more than just “male or female.” Intersex people exist. They are not a new or rare thing.
The stigmatizing and misleading term “hermaphrodite” has been used for ages to describe intersex people born with both male and female genitalia. An estimated one in 100 people are born with intersex traits. That means roughly 750 million people globally have biology not medically defined by traditional perceptions of male and female. While accurate records and scientific data are limited, research by Anne Fausto-Sterling suggests as many as 1.7 percent of the world’s population is intersex. By comparison, only 0.3 percent of people are identical twins. (I wonder if the governor thinks identical twins are a threat to Oklahoma’s values or our way of life?)
In his press release announcing a bill to prohibit nonbinary designation on birth certificates, Bergstrom defined sex as being based on babies’ genitalia and chromosomes. Perhaps the English teacher from northeast Oklahoma would like to learn that the Intersex Society of North America estimates one in 1,000 babies are born with XXY chromosomes (Klinefelter Syndrome) and that one in 1,750 have other variations of chromosomal abnormalities (X0,XXX,XXYY).
These people, and people with “typical” XX or XY chromosomes, can sometimes have varying genitalia, internal sex organs, and secondary sex characteristics such as breast development and facial hair growth. People can be born with both ovarian and testicular tissues. People can be born with XX chromosomes and male genitalia, and vice versa. People are born with all different bodies, chromosomes and genitalia. Intersex people are not rogue activists because of their bodies.
The difference between sex and gender differences
Just like these variations in sex, variation also exists in gender identity. Many so-called conservative politicians — who often say they want the government out of their lives — seem to have a hard time conceptualizing the difference between sex identity and gender identity. They seem angered by the notion and afraid to learn about the topics.
Sex and gender are not the same thing. Not all intersex people identify as nonbinary. Intersex people, or people with intersex conditions, can identify as all types of genders — including male and female. Most identify with the gender they were assigned at birth, regardless of whether it reflects their “true” sex. Sometimes people live their whole lives assuming their sex on their birth certificate is correct until they try to get pregnant or conceive children.
Nonbinary people are just the newest, most publicized, easiest target for conservative politicians to rile up their fundamentalist bases ahead of an election cycle. I would like to assure people who do not yet understand intersex conditions or nonbinary identities, neither is contagious. Neither is a threat to your way of life or something from which you need to be protected. The fear associated with transgender, nonbinary, intersex and gender-nonconforming people is responsible for much more harm than this small population’s very existence. LGBTQ+ people are still not protected from hate crimes under state law. Ignorance and discomfort of intersex traits lead to thousands of intersex babies and children undergoing invasive, unnecessary and irreversible genital surgeries that can have lifelong affects.
More education, awareness and understanding can greatly impact people’s wellbeing and save people’s lives. I hope the governor, the senator and others take the time to learn the established medical science in regard to this topic.