“Hidden in Plain Sight: Intersex, the Bible and Social Assent”
Intersex people live among us, but as a society we often don’t acknowledge their existence, because we assume maleness and femaleness are wholly or almost universal. Early corrective surgery for intersex has added to intersex people’s “hiddenness”. Intersex might also be claimed to be present-but-hidden in biblical texts, such as those which refer to eunuchs, or other people whose presence disrupts assumptions about the “normal”, “typical”, “natural”, and “divinely-ordained”. This might be of particular importance given claims by many conservatives that the Bible endorses only typical, heterosexual and cisgender configurations of sex, gender and sexuality. Queer, feminist and other postmodern critics have suggested that the Bible is odder on sex and gender than that. However, drawing on interviews with intersex Christians in Britain, I suggest that intersex people, whether or not they identify as having a religious faith, might not want to do the queer work of social “disruption” themselves – they may want to pass, or live quiet lives. In this way they might be “hidden in plain sight” even as their existence is disruptive of assumed religious and social norms of sex, gender and sexuality.
Susannah Cornwall is postdoctoral research associate at the Lincoln Theological Institute, Department of Religions and Theology, University of Manchester, where she leads the Intersex, Identity, Disability: Issues for Public Policy, Healthcare and the Church project. She is the author of Sex and Uncertainty in the Body of Christ: Intersex Conditions and Christian Theology (Equinox, 2010), Controversies in Queer Theology (SCM Press, 2011), and Theology and Sexuality (SCM Press, 2013). Her other academic interests include feminist theologies, postcolonial theologies, and contextual Bible study.