(Spoilers for Astra: Lost in Space! You have been warned!)
As a long-time fan of the Astra manga, I’ve enjoyed watching the reactions of viewers who are unfamiliar with the story. Early on this season, a number of viewers expressed confusion over whether Luca was male or female. Context seemed to settle question in favor of “male”, for a while. Then episode 6, “Secret”, dropped.
Luca is intersex. He (as he prefers to be called) has both male and female physical traits.
Intersex people and conditions do exist. Unfortunately, they are often misunderstood. Frequently, “intersex” is used as a synonym for “transgender”, but this is a mistake. Whereas transgender persons feel at odds with the biological sex they were born with, intersex persons are born with ambiguous sexual characteristics. (I say “born”, though the ambiguities may not become evident until later in life.)
There are a variety of intersex conditions, which may contribute to the confusion since they bear little relation to each other. Instead of having XX or XY chromosomes, an intersex person may have cells with either. Or they may have XY chromosomes with androgen-insensitivity, and so have male genes while their body develops as a female’s. Or they may appear to be of one sex until puberty, and then do not change as expected. Or they have both male and female genitalia. And so on.
If this sounds rare, it is, but not as much as you might think: An estimate puts the number of intersex people in the US above the number of redheads. One notable intersex individual who was in the news not long ago is South African gold medalist Caster Semenya. Semenya appeared female from birth, but has XY chromosomes, resulting in hyperandrogenism, or higher levels of androgens closer to those which would typically be associated with men. There has been a long debate over whether Semenya should be allowed to compete in women’s events, a discussion not helped by some commentators mistaking her as a transgender individual.
Clearly this is a topic too long to exhaust in a single blog post, so I’ll cut to the chase: How should Christians who are not intersex engage people who are? There are obviously a number of theological and moral questions that arise for us with respect to intersexuality, such as reconciling it with the Bible or working out what marriage means for intersex Christians. My sense is that these are important, but not as urgent as the need to love intersex people and welcome them into our churches and communities. Our Lord commands us to love our neighbor; he does not make that love contingent on first understanding our neighbor’s sexual circumstances.
What this means on a practical level: Understand that intersex individuals are human beings, made in the image of God just like the rest of us, and treat them accordingly. This may seem obvious, but intersex people have frequently been forced to have invasive surgeries, or pressured to take debilitating drugs, to try to make their appearance less ambiguous; they’ve been coerced into unwanted exposure before classes of medical students; and they’ve been cut off from friends, family, and churches after opening up about themselves. Sally Gross, a one-time intersex convert to Catholicism, ultimately blamed the isolation she experienced for her eventual departure from the church.
Which brings us back to Luca. Astra portrays his sense of loneliness, and how he deals with it, quite realistically. Adopted as a son to be the heir of a political dynasty, he lost his place to a younger son once it became known he was intersex. And he lost his father’s affection at the same time. When Ulgar threatens to kill Luca as revenge on Luca’s dad, Luca breaks down and says in effect that he wouldn’t mind dying if it meant his father would weep for him.
Yet there is also a sense of hope: Despite his wounds, Luca has found a way to be himself and to open himself to connecting with others. And he’s found others open to connecting with him. He once was lost, but now is found…
(For more information, I encourage you to check out the website of “Intersex and Faith“. I have no connection to this group other than that I spoke once with one of its founders.)
Astra: Lost in Space is streaming on Funimation.