Testimony of a happily married intersex eunuch (Lianne Simon’s story)

ls4[This guest post comes from Lianne Simon, a woman who was born with sexual ambiguity and raised as a boy until she was 18. She has offered to answer any questions you have in a follow-up post. I trust that you will be respectful and appropriate.]

I’m a Christian, a housewife, and an author. I also have a condition that resulted in sexual ambiguity.

Intersex is an umbrella term for a number of different medical conditions that result in some variation of sex development away from typical male or female. Rather than load you down with technical details, I thought I’d give you a few examples.

Let’s say you have a sixteen-year-old daughter. Her sexual development’s been normal, except for two minor issues—she hasn’t gotten her period yet and she doesn’t have any pubic hair. So you send her to a specialist and he discovers she has Complete Androgen Insensitivity Syndrome. She’s got XY chromosomes, but because of a mutation on her X chromosome, her body doesn’t know what to do with male hormones. She has a vagina and a clitoris, but in her abdomen are testes instead of ovaries and uterus.

Let’s say you have a newborn. At first glance, he looks like a boy, but the doctors say they need to run some tests to be sure. It turns out your child has Congenital Adrenal Hyperplasia, the most common cause of ambiguous genitals in XX babies. It’s a medical emergency and a lifelong issue. She’ll need to take steroids to survive. Any injury or medical procedure can turn into a crisis. The doctors pressure you to feminize the child’s genitals, but they just got through telling you how dangerous surgery is for these kids. Her genitals are only a cosmetic issue, and surgery can damage sexual function.

Now, the same hormones that made her phallus so large affected her brain. She doesn’t doubt her gender, but she’s a tomboy and has typically masculine interests throughout her life. Including an attraction to other girls.

Let’s say you have a newborn with ambiguous genitals who has one testis and one streak ovary. The condition is called Mixed Gonadal Dysgenesis. The doctors tell you the best thing to do is feminize the child’s genitals and raise her as a girl. They’re the experts, so you give in. They remove the child’s gonads, cut off the oversized clitoris, and use a skin graft to create a vaginal canal.

At three or four, your child starts insisting he’s a boy. Most kids who are born with at least one good testis and who aren’t immune to testosterone are boys. And you let the doctors castrate him and cut off his genitals because they were too small or not shaped right.

The doctors told you to never let your daughter find out what they did to her. And they said that you must never doubt her gender. All your child knows is that there’s something so shameful about his body that you can’t even talk to him about it.

portrait2I have a genetic variation similar to Mixed Gonadal Dysgenesis, but with symmetric development. Both of my gonads contained a mix of testicular tissue and ovarian stroma. The old medical term for that was hermaphrodite, but it doesn’t mean that I had both types of genitals. There’s really only one bit of tissue that becomes a penis or a clitoris or something in between.

XY/XO also affected my heart, kidneys, adrenal glands, and thyroid. It changed the shape of my face. I have visuo-motor and spatio-temporal deficits that keep me from learning to dance or play most sports. I was cross-eyed, and I’m still dyslexic.

I was so tiny and frail as a child that my parents thought I might not survive. All I knew was that I was the smallest of my peer group and had a cute pixie face. Like most girls I knew, I liked to dress up and play house. Helping Mom in the kitchen was my favorite thing.

jamieAt eight I was the same size as my five-year-old sister, so I borrowed her clothes sometimes. We went to church every Sunday, but it was in vacation Bible school that I learned about Jesus. I didn’t understand much of the Gospel, but I wanted to love God, be a good girl, and obey my parents.

jamie13bdWhen I was a preteen my health improved. Fifth grade was the first time one of my classmates was smaller than me. I had my first serious crush on a boy that year, and my father decided it was about time I started acting like a boy.

My older brother was tall, and strong, and handsome. If I was good and tried really hard then maybe God would make me a real boy. Since I wasn’t a boy, I must have some deep-seated moral fault. Perhaps it was my dream of being a wife and a mother.

At seventeen, I was withdrawn, seriously depressed, and still not very good at being a boy. I had lost the top of my singing range, but had no other signs of puberty. I was feminine enough that not even my best friend believed me when I told her I wasn’t gay.

That year, a Christian boy loved me enough to befriend me, share the Gospel, answer my objections, and by his example, lead me to Christ. As a new believer, I assumed I could become the boy that everybody seemed to expect. Instead, the mask that allowed me to function socially crumbled. I had to face the world myself.

I thought things would be better if I got away from my parents, so at eighteen, I went from a sheltered home to a boys dorm. The boys made it obvious that I wasn’t like them. And one proved he could do whatever he wanted to me. Death stalked me in those days. The Lord showed me that if I didn’t cling to Him I’d die from my own recklessness.

passportLiving meant putting my gender issues to rest before they killed me. Up until then, my mother, a nurse, had handled my medical care, but I went to see a doctor about my condition. He said testosterone and anabolic steroids would give me a male puberty—muscle mass, broad shoulders, facial hair, a deep voice, body hair, and a raging sex drive. By the time he was finished with my body, I would look like a boy. But I liked my body the way it was—at least most of it, and after living with boys in the dorm, I wanted nothing to do with becoming like them.

The doctor thought anorexia and depression were my two most pressing issues. Estrogen would help me gain weight and get rid of the hormonal cause of my depression. And he was sure that people would accept me as a girl. Especially with breast development.

When I returned home, my mother said it was the first time in my life she knew I’d be all right. With my legal status changed to female, my social issues disappeared. No one but my doctors even had to know.

years

So I settled in to a new town and a new job, and told not even my closest friends about my condition or my past. I knew I was a girl, but I sometimes struggled with my right to be one.

In 1999, I finally met someone else with an intersex condition. She was just a normal lady. Perhaps I wasn’t a freak after all.

Unaware of my condition, my church had for years been praying that God would send me someone. When I was urged to contact a Christian matchmaker, I reluctantly agreed. Several months later, he introduced me to the man who would become my husband. Every time I shared something personal, he reacted positively. So I dumped my entire past on him in an e-mail. He cried. Shortly thereafter we got engaged. The week after that we met in person for the first time. Two months later we were married.

It was my husband who encouraged me to get involved with intersex support group work, and to write. He’s the one my dear Lord has given me to lead me closer to Christ.

ls3Very few Scripture verses deal directly with intersex. Matthew 19:12 suggests that eunuch was an umbrella term that included those of us “which were so born from their mother’s womb.” Acts 8:26-39, the conversion and baptism of the Ethiopian eunuch, indicates that nothing special (beyond faith in Christ) is required of us to be baptized. And Isaiah 56:4-6 promises eunuchs who are faithful to the Covenant a place and a name better than sons and daughters.

Look around you. Do you see a place in the church for eunuchs? By God’s grace I live as a woman. Jesus Christ paid for me with his blood. If I asked to join your church, would we debate which sex God intended me to be, or would you give glory to God for the work of Grace He’s accomplished in my life?

[If you have any questions for Lianne, please share them in the comments. Thank you so much Lianne for sharing your story!!!]

18 thoughts on “Testimony of a happily married intersex eunuch (Lianne Simon’s story)

  1. Thank you for being courageous and generous in sharing your story. God is and will use you to be a messenger of hope to many, of that I am sure. You may still be dyslexic but your ability to articulate a profound message is perfect! Love, hope and opportunities are the three words that come to my mind for you. May you experience an abundance of each.

  2. Thank you so much for you openness and honesty. It is amazing to me that you are able to be so after what you have been through. I will go to church with you anytime, anywhere, because Jesus surely lives in your heart. Maranatha!

  3. What a hard start to life you had but look at you now happy with your body and your life and full of grace with our Lord.!!!

  4. Thank you so much for sharing this information, and your story– I’m so happy it has a happy ending with you finding your husband!🙂 Do want to point out an inaccuracy for your readers though. You say, “…Congenital Adrenal Hyperplasia, the most common cause of ambiguous genitals in XX babies. It’s a medical emergency and a lifelong issue. She’ll need to take steroids to survive.” This is sometimes but not always true, as the Mayo Clinic notes (but does not elaborate on like the Medline link I’m including below ). There are two types of Congental Adrenal Hyperplasia — one commonly known as “salt-wasting syndrome”, which is indeed life-threatening, and one which is not a medical emergency and does not require medication. http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/000411.htm
    Best wishes and thanks again for a great piece!

    • Hida,

      Thank you so much for pointing out that my three simplified examples of intersex cases fail to convey an adequate understanding of even those types of sex development variations. (And I know you already know the rest of this comment.)

      Yes. The severity of cases labeled CAH varies, as does the amount of brain masculinization. And sexual orientation certainly isn’t a given.

      Androgen Insensitivity has partial forms. Some individuals with AIS have relatives with AIS. Some don’t.

      XY/XO mosaicism (Of which Mixed Gonadal Dysgenesis is only one form) varies enough that monozygotic (identical) twins can turn out to be different sexes.

      It’s also not unusual for someone to have a difference of sex development for which the doctors fail to nail down a diagnosis. (Whether they should all be treated as medical conditions is another question.)

      Yes. There is much, much more variety than my three examples might lead one to believe.

      LS.

  5. Wow, what an awesome story! It could have gone in an opposite direction but because of people who shared Jesus to her, God is glorified in her life!

  6. Lianne and haverstdays2013, if you came to my church, you would be welcomed with opened arms and loved unconditionally. I am so sad for the pain you both have experienced, but deeply thankful that you are sharing your stories. By sharing your stories, you grow and become stronger and become an inspiration to those in similar situations that have not the strength yet to get where you are. May God bless you both and change the hearts of those that have harmed you.

  7. I haven’t known Lianne long, but in that time I have come to know her as a very strong, deeply caring, Christian woman. I too am a Christian, saved by God’s grace 17 years ago, and I too am intersexed. I suffer from Partial AIS, and I too was raised as a boy. My genitalia, was male but just barely, so tiny to be of no use I was raised as a boy regardless. However, because my brain formed with this condition as female in the womb, even at an early age, long before school age, I knew I was a female. Here is a link to my blog that describes my journey written only 8 weeks after my diagnosis.
    http://harvestdaysblog.wordpress.com/2013/05/19/my-life-with-ais-androgen-insensitivity-syndrome/
    I lived a life of church bigotry and strong handed tactics, all aimed at breaking me once I set my gender correct 10 years ago. At first I was open and attacked horribly, so in time I learned to live in secrecy telling no one of my extreme life of loneliness and isolation in my past that I lived as a male. I learned to lie and hide the truth, perpetuating the shame I felt for being different. I didn’t know I had AIS until this spring, when I met with my endocrinologist and she confirmed it.
    Last year I was the victim of extreme violence against me from two churches in my area. Four hour Interrogations were common and so in the end was the fear they had. It all culminated by the discovery of a large conspiracy spanning both churches that finally came to light. Friends who entered my life were actually spies and those near me who were true friends found out about the conspiracy and deception and brought it to light. (It was confirmed that all the pastors were involved) I left this second church but came to know that these churches had contacted every church in the region about me warning them about me and spreading gossip and rumors. My present pastor, informed me of this fact in discussions I have had with him regarding my condition since the spring. He and his wife and the elders were told about me prior to my even coming to his church.
    Subsequent to my discovery that I was born with a birth defect and that my gender correction was a natural and a correct result of my condition, I contacted them all regarding this truth but sadly, it has changed nothing for them. They have ignored me and for some, well, I have been accused of not being saved at all. This is hard for me because I did life with these Christians for over a year, to suddenly be attacked, once in public in a Walmart was so sad to have to suffer through.
    What bothers me the most is that they accuse me of sexual misconduct as a way to justify themselves. I am A-sexual and have never lusted after anyone. I have no sex drive at all. I have no interest in anyone and never have. Being told that I was a sex pervert and I made a lifestyle choice by changing my gender for sexual reasons is absolutely absurd. Yet I turn to Romans 12:14 for the way I know God is asking me to walk in this time of bringing myself to forgive them for what they did to me. “Bless those who persecute you. Don’t curse them; pray that God will bless them.” I am at present, still working with a Christian counselor to be able to one day truly forgive them. I want to, but I’m not there yet.
    I also turn to John 9 verses 1-3 to also describe yet another birth defect referenced in scripture. In speaking about the blind man Jesus said, “He was made this way so God’s glory could be seen through him.” Well, so was I.
    I too am a writer and I too am being called by God to be public about my condition as Lianne is and teach my fellow Christians that this is a birth defect, not a lifestyle choice and to help God teach some who need it about God’s love and understanding. Statistically, 1 in 1500-2000 (a conservative estimate) have genitalia that is so indeterminate as male or female at birth that specialists needs to be called.
    This is a very common issue, unfortunately, so is the shame and stigmatism and hard hearts of many Christians when confronted with this.

    • That’s so horrendous to hear. What an obsession on the part of those pastors! It says a whole lot about where people are really coming from. Thanks for sharing the link to your story also.

      • Matthew 19:11-12a ““Not everyone can accept this statement,” Jesus said. “Only those whom God helps. Some are born as eunuchs.” I have seen this walked out. Most Christians in my life have a love and understanding and yet others want to stone me. I surmise that those who have his love for me – God has helped them understand. Spiritually I don’t hold those responsible for what they have done. We are all on one side and the enemy is on the other. However, emotionally, I have a ways to go. How can I teach about love and understanding if I have none for those who have attacked me? Narrow road walking is not easy, just required.

        • “We are all on one side and the enemy is on the other.” Amen! What a profound statement after what you have been through.

          • It’s God in me, it’s not me at all!

            It’s not about me that I was made like this.

            The narrow minded try to make it about me and fail to understand that it is about God and our walk with him and our hearts! It is about modeling ourselves after Christ, and honoring God not judging others. This is not about others and their twigs in their eyes, but about the log in my eye that I will NEVER dislodge. If I manage to scape a bit of bark off that log in my eye before I die I will be so thankful! MY battle is not to look at others, but to look at my life and my walk and model my heart and life after him who saved me. If we all did that, the enemy would truly be stymied. Love and understanding starts with a choice to focus on our sin and not on others at all.

            As of last night I have had to leave my present church. The pastor and his wife have finally shown me their lack of commitment to me. It’s not over with them but at this moment, I am without a church. I cannot go elsewhere, but I have had to step out until God can help them as per Matthew 19:11 Yet, God is near, and by his grace, he will lead me. “The Lord is my sheppard, I have all that I need” ps 23:1

          • I pray that God will bring healing and a community where you can contribute the gifts and fruit which He created you to contribute.

  8. If you came to my church I think I’d just say wow, thank you for sharing! That was really informative, I knew nothing about this subject apart from knowing that for some, sexuality and gender is not clear cut at all. Sometimes in church, and in other places, ignorance leads to fear and confusion and can lead to a lack of inclusion as the dominant thinking locks out anything ‘other’. I think story assists connection and breaks down barriers, it takes courage and wisdom, thank you, thank you for sharing.

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