Have you ever seen the Saturday Night Live sketch with the androgenous Pat? Was Pat male or female? We'll never know. As it turns out, answering the question can be a lot more difficult than having the person drop their pants (although that will usually suffice).
The question comes up in sports like track and field where men and women compete separately because of the significant difference in performane potential between the sexes. Occassionally men are caught cheating by entering women's events in "drag" so when a woman comes along with broad shoulders, narrow waist, heavy muscles, and a deep voice and proceeds to blow away everyone in elite competitions, the questions inevitably arise. Is "she" a he, or is she just incredibly juiced like the East German women used to be? Or is something else going on?
The problem surfaced during this year's IAAF Track and Field World Championships when suspicion fell on Caster Semenya when she dominated the women's 800m final. Her win fell under a cloud of suspicion and protest and I wondered why a quick trip to the showers didn't solve the problem.
The short answer is because that wouldn't necessarily answer the question.
The IAAF did genetic testing for a while for gender. They checked for a gene that only exists on the Y (male) chromosome. Amazingly (to me) there were 8 of the 3000 females tested in the 1996 Atlanta olympics that tested positive as being genetically male. They had a Y chromosome. So doesn't that make them male? If so, then why were they allowed to compete?
This excellent blog post at "The Science of Sport" gives a great explanation. A condition called androgen insensitivity syndrome (AIS) can cause a male embryo to develop testes and not ovaries or a uterus, but to not develop the rest of the physical traits of a male. The external genetalia may be ambiguous and the physical appearance doesn't match the genetic sex. Other conditions can result in ambiguous genetalia and intersex conditions where the person is neither male nor female.
So, the result may be very interesting and counterintuitive (to me at least). Caster may indeed be genetically male, have internal testes, no uterus or ovaries, but be allowed to keep her world championship and continue to compete as a female. And, the controversy may actually save her life because internal testes need to be removed because they can quickly become cancerous and in her case are not needed.
Of course, Mormons have this all figured out as witnessed by this excerpt from The Family: A Proclamation to the World:
All human beings—male and female—are created in the image of God. Each is a beloved spirit son or daughter of heavenly parents, and, as such, each has a divine nature and destiny. Gender is an essential characteristic of individual premortal, mortal, and eternal identity and purpose.
So there you have it. The Lord's prophets have declared that male/female is an intrinsic, eternal, essential characteristic. So, I wonder if they would ordain Caster to the priesthood even though she, her family, and friends all believe she is a woman. Does her genetic identity trump? It's great that the Mormons have a prophet to sort out and address such issues. Perhaps she can get a patriarchal blessing to not only declare her lineage, but also her gender? Or perhaps in a Mormon family she would be forced to be male although she has no penis and feels like a woman. Perhaps it's her burden to be an eternal male destined to pass mortality feeling like a female.
Or perhaps even on topics so apparently easy to deal with, such as gender and sexuality, the world is much stranger and more complicated than we ever imagined.
I'm not holding my breath for the church to come out with anything reasonable on this because it doesn't fit neatly into their black/white world and would to easily transition to other questions of sexuality for which they aren't known for being terribly understanding or reasonable.
Nope, God has made it all so simple to understand.