German officials have announced that they will offer a “third gender” option on birth certificates for children born with an indeterminate gender. This option will allow new parents to leave the gender section blank, giving them the opportunity to decide at a later time whether their child will eventually identify as male, female, or neither male nor female. No other country in Europe offers the third gender option, which will become available in Germany in November. Sweden and Napal both offer third gender options on their birth certificates.
The new law is winning praise from psychologists and other medical professionals. Dr. Jack Drescher, a psychologist and expert in gender identification, says:
…(it) sounds like a good thing. Some people have life-endangering conditions that require surgery, but most kids do not. You can make a gender assignment without surgery and then see how identity develops. The science of knowing how a child will develop any gender identity is not very accurate…. Nobody can answer the questions about why this happens. It’s like the mystery of why people are gay.
Children who are born with an indeterminate gender are very rare; about 1 out of 2,000 babies born falls into this category. It is important to make the distinction between these intersex children and people who are not intersex, but transgendered. Intersex children are born with biologically ambiguous genitals and other features while transgendered, non-intersex people have normal sex organs but feel as though they are trapped in the wrong body. Inevitably it seems as though discussions of intersex children lead into conversation about gay rights or transgendered issues, but other than all of these issues being ones about which progress must be made, they are unrelated.
In 2011 the European Commission filed a report, which said, in part:
[Intersex people] are differ[ent] from trans [sexual or gender] people as their status is not gender related but instead relates to their biological makeup (genetic, hormonal and physical features) which is neither exclusively male nor exclusively female, but is typical of both at once or not clearly defined as either. These features can manifest themselves in secondary sexual characteristics such as muscle mass, hair distribution, breasts and stature; primary sexual characteristics such as reproductive organs and genitalia; and/or in chromosomal structures and hormones.
Some critics of the law saw they are worried that parents will feel they have to make a decision about their baby’s gender shortly after the child is born, and that it is best to wait until the person can decide how they identify. Anne Tamar Mattis, who runs a legal advocacy group for intersex people, says she is not sure she supports the law. “Adults should be able to make their own decisions about legal gender. The German law is about assigning it at birth. That is not a battle young children should have to take up at this point. When they are grown, they can make decisions about their own bodies,” she said.
Still other people involved in the intersex community say it’s a big step forward in acceptance. Germany joins a small handful of other countries in offering a third gender option. Time will tell how successful the law will be in promoting the health and wellbeing of intersex people.
By: Rebecca Savastio