Society's Rigidity vs. Nature's Resolve: Biology, Assumptions & Nondiscrimination Ordinances in Montana

The nondiscrimination ordinances currently being debated (2014) in Billings and Bozeman bring up issues of fairness, safety, and how we understand sex and gender as altogether separate items. Indeed, what we learned in sex education class was cursory at best, and at worst, plain wrong.

We co-founded a nonprofit based in Missoula called The Interface Project. We feature stories of people born with intersex traits – or variations of sex anatomy – under the banner No Body Is Shameful®. We work with individuals born with such variations (ourselves included) to present portraits of resilience, visibility, and authentic lived experience with a specific focus on dignity and self-determination: values we know Montanans hold dear.

An estimated one in 2,000 babies is born with a difference of sex development: a reproductive or sexual anatomy and/or chromosome pattern that doesn’t seem to fit typical definitions of male or female. In 1993, The Sciences published “The Five Sexes: Why Male and Female Are Not Enough” by noted biologist, Anne Fausto-Sterling. This article was one of the first to debunk the myth of “vagina = female, penis = male” and concludes that bodies (especially genitals) have always varied widely in appearance and function.

What is widely known, but rarely discussed is:

  • There are as many ways to express one’s gender as there are people in the world,
  • bodies do not fit neatly into the two molds we learned about as children, and
  • our genitals, chromosomes, and hormones often have nothing to do with how we express our gender, live our life, or choose our partner. 

As Judith Butler recently stated: "My sense is that we may not need the language of innateness or genetics to understand that we are all ethically bound to recognize another person’s declared or enacted sense of sex and/or gender. We do not have to agree upon the 'origins' of that sense of self to agree that it is ethically obligatory to support and recognize sexed and gendered modes of being that are crucial to a person’s well-being."

... or as another decorated biologist put it: “Nature loves variety. Unfortunately, society hates it.” Differently bodied people and differently gendered people will require protection and thoughtful consideration as long as society's rigidity continues to clash with nature’s resolve.

We encourage the City Councils of Billings and Bozeman to pass fully inclusive nondiscrimination ordinances.


- Jim Ambrose serves as curator for The Interface Project.