- German passports will be able to have ‘X’ in gender field rather than ‘M’ or ‘F’
- It comes after study called for better protection of rights of intersex people
- Figures show at least 150 intersex babies are born in Germany each year
- But advocates are concerned over how ‘outed’ children will fare at school
Germany has become the first European country to recognise ‘indeterminate sex’ by allowing babies born with characteristics of both sexes to be registered as neither male nor female.
The new regulation, which takes effect from today, stems from a study by the German Ethics Council into intersexuality that concluded that the rights of intersex individuals against irreversible medical interventions should be better protected.
German passports, which currently bear an ‘M’ for male or ‘F’ for female, will soon be allowed to have an ‘X’ in the gender field, according to a spokesman for the interior ministry.
‘If a child cannot be designated male or female, then they should be entered on the birth register without such a status,’ the new law states.
According to 2007 government figures, at least 150 intersex babies are born in Germany each year and 8,000 – 10,000 people have ‘serious variations’ from physical gender-defining characteristics.
‘This will be the first time that the law acknowledges that there are human beings who are neither male nor female, or are both – people who do not fit into the traditional legal categories,’ University of Bremen law professor Konstanze Plett told AFP.
Support groups say the number of intersex individuals is far higher than government estimates, and point out the difficulties and subtleties of defining intersexuality physically or hormonally.
Creating a third gender would complicate German laws on marriages and partnerships, which operate on a binary male-female opposition, although the Ethics Council would examine the implications for intersex individuals, he added.
‘This is an interesting move but it doesn’t go far enough,’ said Silvan Agius, policy director at the Brussels-based rights group Equality for lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans and intersex people in Europe (ILGA).
‘Unnecessary surgeries will likely continue in Germany with devastating consequences… we live in a world where having a baby classified as ‘other’ is still considered undesirable.’
A more immediate concern for intersex advocates, he said, is how children ‘outed’ at birth will fare in a world that operates largely on a gender binary.’
Schools have toilets for boys and toilets for girls. Where will the intermediate child go?’ added Mr Agius. ‘There are separate sports activities for boys and for girls, and so many other things like this,’ Agius said.
‘The law doesn’t change that. It does not immediately create a space for intersex people to be themselves.’
– Silvan Agius, policy director at Equality
Experts estimate the population of intersex people at one in 1,500 to 2,000 births. But advocates say the number is much larger partly due to difficulties in defining intersexuality physically or hormonally.
The new law has already raised the profile of this small population, which could prompt increased awareness, but, some fear, could also trigger discrimination.
‘It is an absolute must that parents, teachers and doctors be educated about the lives of intersex people,’ said Lucie Veith, head of an intersex support group in Germany.
‘The government must take measures to ensure that no children are discriminated against because of this new law.’
A 2012 report from the Ethics Council quoted the case of an individual born in 1965 with no clear gender-defining genitalia but with testicles in their abdomen and male chromosomes.
At the age of 2.5 months the individual was castrated without parental consent, a move which doctors later called a mistake.
‘I’m not a man, nor a woman … I remain a patchwork, made from doctors, injured and scarred. I have to reinvent myself if I want to continue to live,’ the individual said.
Australia has allowed citizens to note their gender on a passport as ‘X’ since 2011.