So you just had a baby. Is it a boy or a girl? That is the question you’ll most likely hear first. Not, weight, length or health. Most of us are fairly certain which of the two sexes we are. It’s right on our birth certificates. Then it shows up on our school records, drivers licenses and passports. Those two boxes appear on every document, application and identification card we obtain. So go ahead and check the box. Are you Male or are you Female? Are you sure? Of course. But how sure are we, or anyone who views them, whether the information is correct. Furthermore, what are the criteria which determine the right answer? Whoever assists in the birth, be it a physician, midwife or other trained practitioner, usually glances at the genitals and makes the determination. If there is any doubt because of some ambiguity, a pronouncement is made that the newborn cannot be immediately identified as male or female and further steps are taken. Without going over the entire history of “ambiguous genitalia” and the resultant methods used to make a definitive determination so that the child’s sex is clearly either male or female, let me just say that in the haste to give a positive answer one way or the other, major mistakes have been made. The biggest mistake is that the establishment feels such a strong need to have that answer. As soon as possible! Or else, what? Mayhem, pandemonium, and obfuscation. Why is society so adamant about making that very clear distinction between the “two” available choices? Well, for one thing, we want certainty. Especially in matters as important as this. Well, important to some. What if we didn’t have just two options? What if we didn’t have any! The end of the world as we know it. It would put an end to the debate over same sex marriage (or marriage equality, or marriage desecration or whatever opposing factors call it). Maybe if John Lennon wrote his infamous song, Imagine, today, he would have included a line about sex classification.
Well, after many years of searching for clinical terms and politically correct references to and for “ambiguous genitalia” two nations have tried to offer a solution. Germany just recently followed Australia’s lead by proposing a “third sex.” They call it Blank. Yes, parents may now choose the box on the birth certificate which is neither M nor F. Although it’s just a temporary measure, because later on in the child’s life, and not that much later, they must choose one of the first two. M for male, F for female. By the time their son or daughter (again, here is a definite sex category) is registered for school a choice will probably need to be made. Unlike Australia, which I hear allows changes on other government documents, German citizens must pick M or F by school age and stick with it! How, I wonder, will they choose? How would you? Would you ask your child for input? These, and many other questions have been prompted by the new legislation scheduled to take effect November 01, 2013. According to an article in the German publication Der Spiegel, “Germany is the first country in Europe to introduce this option — Munich-based newspaper Süddeutsche Zeitung is referring to the change as a “legal revolution”. It remains unclear, however, how the change will affect gender assignment in other personal documents, such as passports, which still require people to choose between two categories — “F” for female and “M” for male. German family law publication FamRZ has called for the introduction of a third category, designated by the letter “X”.” Friedrick Heine, August 2013
Now, those who wonder how a child knows his or her sex or gender, it is quite clear by most accounts that he or she will probably know by the time the child is able to give you an answer. Probably even before that… and if you think that your influence during those first years of life will have an impact, read about the famous John Money case. Or go to the website ISNA.com (Intersex Society of North America) where you can see plain-language information about the broad term “intersex” which covers the many variations within the population. Also, in a beautifully written article by Mairi MacDonald which was first published in 2001, long before these legislations were officially proposed, the author makes very clear that laws alone will not solve the problem. My favorite quote from the piece, which was revised in 2009, puts the issue in perspective. “The fact that there is a substantial minority of people who do not fit either of the “normal” gender stereotypes is incontrovertible evidence that those stereotypes are, at best, unsound. Trying to safeguard the stereotypes by creating a “third sex” stereotype category to catch all those who do not fit the existing two will not resolve the dilemma any more than the third racial category, “coloured”, was able to save racial apartheid in South Africa.” Mairi MacDonald, March 2001 (re-edited and updated © 2009)
Not to say that laws governing this and a myriad of other personal and civil rights don’t help or don’t need to radically be brought into focus, it’s just that attitudes must first be re-aligned. Good quality information and sensible discussion have to be undertaken in order for people to understand the differences between what’s real and what is myth. For instance, the condition, or rather existence of what is commonly known as intersex (just like transgender, there is no “intersexed so drop the ed please) is not so rare as to be insignificant. Even if it is rare, which it’s not (estimates say that 1-200 births per year exhibit some form of non-standard genitalia), it is significant for the individual. Most of the science thus far has been focused on research to find ways to address the physical or “medical” aspect of intersex. Conformity, as usual, is the primary goal. Differences are what make us special and unique; they are also what make society uneasy. We seem to need labels and categories, fixes and fabrications. Instead, maybe we could just embrace the difference and applaud it. So, three cheers for Germany and for Australia, but hallelujah for the Utopic vision of non-discrimination of any variation. Imagine there’s no box that needs checking, it’s easy if we try.