Sunday, November 10, 2013

Germany's "Indeterminate" sex category

There has been a lot of media attention paid to the fact that Germany has recently allowed for a third option on their birth certificates: Male, Female, and Indeterminate. One of the best articles I've read can be found here, as it offers a fairly balanced view of the changes.

Historically, babies born with atypical sex organs undergo "normalizing" surgery within the first few days after birth, so that the parents may check off either M or F on the birth registration. According to some stats I've found (which... I'll be honest... it's internet research, so take it with a grain of salt), approximately 1.5% of the population is born with "atypical" sex organs. Germany's move to creating a third option allows parents to take time and NOT force their baby to undergo normalizing surgery and potential hormone treatment in order to force their baby into one of the two recognized categories. By the way, if you're one of those parents who is morally outraged by the traditional practice of circumcision, you really ought to educate yourself on this one too... if a baby's penis is "too small" doctors will surgically remove it entirely, and construct a vagina instead. If a baby has both sex organs, often the penis and testicles will be surgically removed. Sometimes, parents aren't even aware of this until after the fact.

What I find incredible is that even with this seemingly progressive step of recognizing that not all babies are born with distinct male or female genitalia (or sometimes both), it is still creating life-altering repercussions based on genitalia. What's between your legs is trumpeted to the entire world as the defining characteristic of what makes you YOU. The intention for German babies is that now parents can wait until the child is old enough to make the selection for themselves and a new "X" category is planned for German passports to allow these people to decide to stay as "indeterminate."

One of the criticisms of this is that it  doesn't go far enough to protect these individuals. It forces them to be "out" as "atypical" and yet there are no additional non-discrimination laws for intersex individuals. It also doesn't  prevent the "normalizing" surgeries, which was the intent of the change in the first place. Imagine you have just had a baby. You've spent 9 months wondering the age old question: Boy or Girl? And the doctor announces "I don't know." How would you feel? While "normalizing" surgery isn't required in order to register within the allotted time as either M or F anymore, doctors may still be recommending it, and you may see it as the "safer" option to prevent your child from growing up with the stigma of being "other." We all want what's best for our  children, and that includes knowing they are accepted and included by their peers. Will new parents be fully aware of their options?

But my biggest question is; why are we still selecting this at birth based on genitalia in the first place? If Germany is willing to let babies with atypical sex organs grow up as neutral, why not take it one step further and allow all babies the option? Extend the same courtesy to all people instead of allowing this "othering" to continue for intersex folks. If nobody was assigned a gender at birth, but instead was allowed to grow up and announce it for themselves, imagine what kind of society it would be. There would be no need for normalizing surgeries, or for additional legislation to protect children who have been declared as "indeterminate." Children could be raised without the socially constructed gender stereotypes thrust on them by a doctor's announcement after looking between their legs.

Now THAT'S the type of world I'd like to live in.

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