November 7, 2013
They are sometimes referred to as “intersex” people — individuals with chromosomes, genitalia or even just characteristics that resemble both the male and female sex — and for the first time ever, they now have their own gender category on birth certificates in Europe. According to BBC News, Germany has officially become the first nation in the world to allow parents to register their newborn babies as genderless, or “indeterminate sex,” when it is determined that they bear both male and female attributes.
Traditionally, parents who birthed children with intersex characteristics had to immediately decide their child’s sex at the hospital, a high-pressure situation with potentially catastrophic ramifications. Depending upon which sex the parents chose, doctors had the option to immediately begin hormone therapy and even surgery to help the children develop more towards the parents’ chosen sex, which as you might imagine is not always an easy or obvious decision.
In one example case cited by reports, an intersex child born with ambiguous genitalia underwent modifying surgery after being born, only to later lose all sense of his defined sexuality. Now as a grown adult, this individual recently told reporters, “I am neither a man nor a woman. I will remain the patchwork created by doctors, bruised and scarred.”
Such gut-wrenching emotional damage and heartache can be avoided, say intersex advocates, if parents are allowed to simply register their intersex babies in a completely separate category from just the male and female classifications. The logic behind this maintains that parents will be less pressured to try to modify their intersex children physically, thus allowing them to develop on their own into whatever sex their bodies ultimately choose.
“Babies are still being operated on routinely,” says Sarah Graham, an intersex woman and counselor who advocates around the world for more recognition of intersex people. “Often these operations are not necessary for the child’s development. Sometimes they take away fertility and sexual responsiveness.”
Intersex babies in Germany will still face invasive surgeries and medical treatments, says some
While the new classification, according to Graham, is a step forward for intersex people living in Germany, which represent about 1 out of every 2,000 people, intersex advocacy groups like IGLA-Europe believe it still does not go far enough. IGLA-Europe campaigner Silvan Agius, for instance, told reporters recently that the new law still leaves room for surgeries and other harmful medical procedures that could permanently harm intersex individuals.
“While on the one hand it has provided a lot of visibility about intersex issues… it does not address the surgeries and the medicalization of intersex people and that’s not good,” Agius is quoted as saying. “That has to change.”
On the other hand, some intersex advocates say the new classification will only further harm intersex individuals by making them more confused about their sex later on in life. If parents of intersex babies thought they had it hard before having to pick a gender for their children, imagine what they may face having to raise a child permanently classified with no definable sex whatsoever.
“For many parents it’s still a problem to have a child who can’t be determined as male or female at birth,” says Simon Zobel, international advisor for the Federation of Intersex People in Germany, as quoted by DW.DE. “They are terrorized by the idea. Imagine living with a registration as undetermined?”
Another issue of concern is how intersex individuals will be treated by the state with respect to marriage and partnership laws. Existing law in Germany currently defines marriage as a union between one man and one woman, while a civil partnership designates a union between two people of the same sex. How intersex couples, who have no definable sex, end up being classified remains to be seen.
Sources for this article include:
This article was posted: Thursday, November 7, 2013 at 5:21 am