DOMA, FMA, the Olympics, and Me

A funny thing happened in 1968 when the International Olympic Committee began testing athletes' chromosomes to prevent men from unfairly infiltrating women's events. The funny thing was, they found out that not all men are XY and not all women are XX. What did this mean? We now know that XXY, XXYY, and XXXY and other arrangements of the sex chromosomes naturally exist in people we classify as intersex. About 1 out of 1,000 babies are born with non-standard sex chromosomes, according to statistics from The Intersex Society of North America (ISNA).

That brings me to the proposed Federal Marriage Amendment (FMA), which would amend the Constitution of the United States of America to define marriage as a union between "a man and a woman;" and the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), which already does the same thing with regard to federal benefits and the application of the Full Faith and Credit Clause of the Constitution. My question is this: How do we determine who is a man and who is a woman if we cannot depend on our chromosomes, as the International Olympic committee discovered?

"Wait a minute," you might say, "quit confusing the issue with chromosomes. Just let me see a person naked and I'll tell you if he or she is a he or a she!" No so fast, bucko. It turns out that the intersex classification also includes babies born with anomalous genitalia and reproductive structures, including genitalia which are sexually ambiguous. (Most such babies are surgically "assigned" to one sex or the other as infants. Tragically, many develop an opposite true gender identity as they mature into teenagers.) So if you start inspecting people naked to determine their gender, you will see some surprising things. The International Olympic Committee tried this approach, too, before they developed chromosome testing.

And what about me? If you were to see me—even naked—you would swear I was female. Indeed, I'm often told I am a very feminine, attractive woman, I blush to say. My driver's license, passport, and birth certificate identify me as female. Yet in 2000 the Texas Supreme Court ruled in Littleton v. Prange that a woman just like me was legally a man and therefore her marriage to a man was invalid. Why? Because many years earlier someone had written "male" on her birth certificate, just as someone wrote "male" on mine 48 years ago. You see, Christie Lee Littleton and I are transsexual woman—we needed to undergo what is commonly known as a "sex change" to bring our physical bodies into congruence with the gender we know ourselves to be in our hearts and in our minds.

How will DOMA and the FMA treat me, Christie Lee Littleton, and 40,000 other transsexual American women and men? Are we the gender we appear to be, or the gender that someone wrote on our birth certificates when we were born? If the latter, will you bless my union if I marry a woman—both of us in beautiful white wedding gowns?

The truth is that DOMA and the FMA are attempts to turn back the clock to a time when we thought gender was simple and it was clear who was a man and who was a woman. But science and society have progressed; we now have a more sophisticated understanding of gender. The arguments against same-sex unions are really part of the same thing. They harken back to a naïve belief that men and women are heterosexual or else there is something wrong with them. But our understanding of human sexuality is more sophisticated than that now, too. We know that the diversity of normal human sexuality is much broader than simple heterosexuality. Our laws must embrace our diversity of gender and sexual expression, even as we embrace diversity of race, creed, color, and religion, and equality of the sexes. In diversity lies our nation's strength.

There is no turning back the clock, no unringing the gong. The International Olympic Committee no longer does chromosome testing; it is even rewriting its rules to allow participation of transsexual competitors. Likewise, we must embrace a gender neutral definition of marriage like the one assemblyman Mark Leno is introducing in the California legislature defining marriage as a "personal relation arising out of a civil contract between two people." It is right; it is fair; and it treats all Americans citizens as equal under the law, regardless of gender identity, gender expression, or sexual orientation.

—Lannie Rose, 2/2004

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