A Review of Ellen K. Feder. “Making Sense of Intersex: Changing Ethical Perspectives in Biomedicine.” Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2014. $28.00. -- By: Matthew Arbo

Journal: Journal for Biblical Manhood and Womanhood
Volume: JBMW 20:1 (Spring 2015)
Article: A Review of Ellen K. Feder. “Making Sense of Intersex: Changing Ethical Perspectives in Biomedicine.” Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2014. $28.00.
Author: Matthew Arbo


A Review of Ellen K. Feder. “Making Sense of Intersex: Changing Ethical Perspectives in Biomedicine.” Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2014. $28.00.

Matthew Arbo

Assistant Professor of Biblical and Theological Studies
Oklahoma Baptist University
Shawnee, Oklahoma

Suppose a male competitor in the upcoming summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro perceived himself as female and wished to qualify for the women’s decathlon rather than the men’s. Virtually everything about this individual’s physical appearance is masculine, save the complicating fact that this individual sees himself as female. Observers might feel this strategy would give the competitor obvious athletic advantages over other women in the field. In fact, even if the International Olympic Committee allowed such gender re-qualification, it is likely that the international community would remain deeply skeptical, if not vehemently opposed to the idea. Although fictitious, it is not outside the realm of possibility to see a transgender competitor participating with official approval in another gender’s Olympic event at some point in the near future.

Consider now a different, more complex case. At a new community book group, you are introduced to an earnest young man during coffee break named David. You notice from day one that David is a judicious reader. His comments to the group are circumspect and, on the whole, illuminating. You and David naturally befriend one another, meeting for lunch from time to time, sitting beside one another at book group; you even invite him along to church. With terrifying vulnerability, David confides in you one day that he was born intersex. And in admitting this to you he sees in your face that you haven’t the faintest idea what he’s talking about, though you sense intuitively that his admission will change the nature of your relationship fundamentally. He doesn’t blame you for your surprise—no one he tells has really ever heard of the condition. He then tells you his difficult condition once went by another name—“hermaphroditism”—if that helps.

According to the Intersex Society of North America, “intersex” applies to “a variety of conditions in which a person is born with a reproductive or sexual anatomy that doesn’t seem to fit the typical

definitions of female or male.”1 That is the broad definition. More specifically, it refers to individuals born with both male and female reproductive organs, or individuals with “ambiguous” sexual anatomy. These sexual abnormalities can also appear to a lesser or greater degree; in other words, an intersex person can be ...

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