Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Meditation on Turning Thirty

The mist is slipping over the mountains like silk this morning. When I awake to see it and I know I am thirty years old today.

Laying in bed, I listen to an elk call, a bugle that sounded at first like the ice cream truck. What is the ice cream man doing at 6am patrolling this forested neighborhood?

Then, I remember where I am, Thorp Mountain, nestled in Grouse Creek Park, Steamboat Springs, Colorado. The sound is the elk attracting its mate for the season. If you've never heard an elk call during their mating season (rut) listen here.The time of new life comes in the fall for the elk. (Picture at right is taken from our property in the Spring, but it gives you an accurate feel of the quiet stillness of the aspen forest)

I lay on my back for about 30 minutes and pray about the new life in me. “Jesus, let me feel the baby move this morning.” I’m at 16 weeks; I've heard the heart beat; I've passed the anxiety of wondering if the baby will survive. I feel the miracle of growth every time I look at my swelling tummy, the amazement that the little one (a little bigger than an avocado now) is still alive and well.

The quickening is supposed to begin around this time, but most new moms don’t feel the baby until the 18 or even the 20th week. Still, I wanted to try to feel the little fledgling in my Fincher tummy.

I lay there for a long time, feeling nothing, feeling discouraged and a little anxious. Then, I noticed a prickling feeling, sort of like a tiny baby was tap-dancing with cotton slippers on my belly.

At first I thought it was my heart beat, but then I slowly moved my fingers up to my neck to check my heart and it’s steady thump-thump was not the same as the tap dancer.

I held my breath to feel it again and there it was, like the baby was doing a light waltz across my stomach, so imperceptible. But clear enough that I now know what to feel for.

No wonder I’ve been waking up each morning at 6am, this is the baby’s doing. Dance time.

I’m enormously gratified that our baby likes to dance.

Thankful for this early morning birthday present, I climbed down the ladder to let the puppies out for breakfast. I heard four more elk bugle calls. Lucy ate all but the bottom most layer of her food and I have a letter from Grandma Taylor and a package from Mom upstairs waiting for me to celebrate my birthday--little jewels of surprise. But I want to savor them, so I eat a slow breakfast and work on my email.

Dale is still asleep and I'm glad I haven't woken him.

Last night he danced with me and sang an ode to my 29 years.He sang about the last decade. How we’ve lived in 4 different houses, graduated from two different schools, started a non-profit, wrote books, acquired five pets, traveled, got pregnant.

The thirties will be a decade of raising a child.What a difference and yet, I hope some things stay the same. I love my life.

In thankfulness for this morning and for my life so far, for the life within me in this child, around me in my husband, the three Ladies, Sprout the faithful mouser, I want to share a poem I read this morning. It expresses this morning's joy.

"For Your Birthday"
by John O'Donohue from To Bless the Space Between Us

Blessed by the mind that dreamed the day
The blueprint of your life
Would begin to glow on earth,
Illuminating all the faces and voices
That would arrive to invite
Your soul to growth.

Praise be your father and mother
Who loved you before you were,
And trusted to call you here
With no idea who you would be.

Blessed be those who have loved you
Into becoming who you were meant to be,
Blessed be those you have crossed your life
With dark gifts of hurt and loss
That have helped to school your mind
In the art of disappointment.

When desolation surrounded you,
Blessed be those who looked for you
And found you, their kind hands
Urgent to open a blue window
In the gray wall formed around you.

Blessed be the gifts you never notice
Your health, eyes to behold the world,
Thoughts to countenance the unknown,
Memory to harvest vanished days,
Your heart to feel the world's waves,
Your breath to breathe the nourishment
Of distance made intimate by earth.

On this echoing--day of your birth,
May you open the gift of solitude
In order to receive your soul;
Enter the generosity of silence
To hear your hidden heart;
Know the serenity of stillness
To be enfolded anew
By the miracle of your being.
p. 51-52.

Selah

God knit me, he knits this child, he hold us all together.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Caster Semenya- Let Me Be a Woman

I've noticed the unhelpful, speculative chatter about Caster Semenya, enough that I wanted to share a few thoughts I've written elsewhere (Ruby Slippers) and give followers of Jesus a moment to pause. Especially in light of confusing posts such as "Do all Hermaphrodites Automatically God to Hell?"

The short version of Ms. Semenya's story: her running talents have pushed her to the forefront of competition as recently as last month in the World Athletic Championship where this South African track star, finished a full eight seconds ahead of her competition in the 800 meter, a race I trained for in high school. It's a doozy, the hardest long sprint I've every done. Interestingly, her speed is not unheard of in women. Ms. Semenya's time, 1 minute 55.45 seconds is several seconds behind the current world record, held by Czechoslovakian, Jarmila Kratochvilova, 1 minutes 53.28. I don't believe Kratochvilova enduring the same kind of treatment that Semenya faces.

The International Association of Athletics Federation (IAAF), responding to accusations that Ms. Semenya looks masculine and is way too fast to be a woman, required the 18 year old to undergo testing (a gynecologist, an endocrinologist, a psychologist, an internal medicine specialist and an expert on gender issues) to determine her sexuality. The testing indicates that Ms. Semenya has normal female genitals, but internally has testes, and no womb or ovaries. She looks female on the outside, but produces more testosterone on the inside. The situation is not as unheard of as you might think. People with ambiguous genitalia make up a real, living, breathing percentage of our population, about 1 in every 2000 births in the United States. Read more specific statistics.

In response some were quick to use the inaccurate label of "hermaphrodite," which refers to pepole who have fully functioning genitals of both sexes. Since, Ms. Semenya has already endured the testing to determine her gender and exposure to the prying eyes of the public I feel it's necessary to speak up about her situation here, as carefully and charitably as I can.

First, let's get our terms more accurate. A person born with reproductive or sexual anatomy that do not fit clearly into typical male or female categories is an intersex person, not a hermaphrodite. For more read the front page at the Intersex Society of North America. One common and tragic characteristic among intersex people is their inability to have children. Sometimes they do not know why, some intersex people live and die without ever knowing they have anything ambiguous about their sexual identity. I find this fascinating and helpful in understanding Ms. Semenya.

In Ruby Slippers, I make a big deal about the main characteristic that joins all women together--the female body. Femininity isn't based in our high heels or acrylic nails, but it is owning a female body. And all women know that to own and glory in the body they've been given is hardly an easy task--I don't care how beautiful, athletic or svelte you are--it's tough. We don't believe Psalm 139, not entirely.

Ms. Semenya has the additional task of owning a body that has male genitalia inside. Can you imagine the task?

And yet, she's doing it, rather boldly and with much more pizzazz than most teenage girls.

In a recent appearance on the cover of the South African magazine, You, Ms. Semenya wears make-up, a dark dress, jewelry, and yes, that's fingernail polish. All marks of femininity today in our culture. The fact that she wears culturally chosen symbols of femininity does not turn her into a woman, but it does mean something significant to us, she has chosen to identify herself as female. It means she wants her body bedecked in feminine marks. And this takes courage and ownership, especially in light of what the world knows about her internal organs.

Ms. Semenya has reached the age where she believes she knows her gender identity. Intersex children are often forced to endure genital amputation to clarify their sexuality before leaving the hospital. The reason? Most parents aren't happy about bringing home a baby who isn't clearly male or female. Intersex people today advocate parents to protect their child from the emotional and physical scarring of reconstructive surgery in infancy and recommend parents raise each baby individually, either with a sex chosen or not. However, at adolescence, most intersex children develop and see themselves as either boys or girls. The case in As Nature Made Him: The Boy Who Was Raised as a Girl gives a helpful story of what happens when medical intervention botches up a human's gender.

And Ms. Semenya is not an exception in knowing her sexual identity. At 18, she shares that she has been raised as a female and seems to want to be treated as a female, an understandable request given that her body, sans surgery, looks like a woman's. I'm not very sympathetic to the charges that her muscles are so masculine given how many swimmers, runners, soccer players I've seen whose bodies seem just as muscular as Ms. Semenya's.

Whether the IAAF or even doctors completely agree with her, Ms. Semenya as an intersex person, has chosen her gender identity. Surely that should give us pause before we start referring to her as "he/she" or "hermaphrodite."

I've read blogs that claim that the Bible has nothing to say about intersex people. Perhaps this is because we're looking for the wrong words. It's true the Bible never mentions intersex or people with ambiguous genitals. But, then, the Bible never mentions the "Trinity", "Providence" or people who want to practice monogomous same sex relationship. However, we still believe the Bible has something to add to these discussions.

As I've written elsewhere,

There is an important, but often ignored question about the intersex person (a person born with ambiguous genitals), or more derogatorily called hermaphrodite, person. Intersex people are often permanently damaged because doctors and parents force a sex on them at infancy, even though most will gravitate toward one gender by adolescence. So how should we respond to those intersex persons whose genitals remain perpetually ambiguous? I would say Christians ought to be the first to validate them as full human souls with all their capacities intact, though with marks of the fallen world on their bodies. Perhaps this is what Christ meant when he said in Matthew, “For there are eunuchs who were born that way from their mother’s womb” (19:12). (Ruby Slippers, p 92, ft 30).

The fact that Ms. Semenya cannot bear a child is a mark of living in this fallen world. It will be something she will have to grieve as she grows into her adult years. But it is not something I would have wished her to discover in the limelight.

However, in light of competition and attacks on her right to the gold medal, perhaps the real problem is the athletic community. Perhaps we've insisted on certain lines (male/female) in order to enjoy the thrill of watching a foot race. I can foresee problems arising on both sides. Let's say intersexed people can choose how they want to be identified for the sake of racing. What would prevent intersex men from choosing to compete as women? I suppose their honesty alone? Culturally fluctuating standards or gender? If they appear on the cover of a glamor magazine?

Regardless the problem looms larger and larger. But what about Ms. Semenya? As my husband says, "We've hyped up organized sports so much that they automatically give a person recognition, honor, fame that we don't think to question them as an institution. Instead of questioning the athletic organizations, we're much more interested in questioning this woman."

The IAAF will not be meeting and releasing its results until late November. Regardless of what they decide, I'm convinced that Jesus would want us asking the human question first, the athletic one second. Whether she can compete, keep the medal are significant questions, especially given the meaning we imbue into such events. However, I want first to recognize Ms. Semenya as a woman who wants to be known as a female person who is fully human. She has made it clear that she wants us to see her as a human God made. In her interview she says, "I am who I am and I am proud of myself. God made me the way I am and I accept myself.”(picture: Ms. Semenya with her grandmother)

I, for one, am happy to oblige.