People see gender differently

The diversity of the sexes

In Germany, the third gender can now also be chosen in various ways. | Photo (detail): © Adobe / Stockwerk-Fotodesign

Since the beginning of 2019, a third gender has been available in the German personal register:diverse. This option is intended to take the burden off parents of children who are born without a clearly defined gender, from deciding how they should live. And it should show that normality can look different.

Whether in the gym changing room, in public toilets or in the sauna - many everyday situations require a decision between the separate rooms for women and men. Most of them don't even think about it. But this seemingly simple choice causes some painful embarrassment.

There are people whose gender cannot be clearly classified as male or female. Intersexuality, i.e. intersexuality, can occur in numerous variations: It happens, for example, that a person has both testicles and ovarian tissue and produces male and female hormones. Likewise, the chromosomes that determine the sex in the combination XX for women or XY for men can be laid out differently in the genetic data set. And it happens that receptors do not react to released sex hormones or that genital organs are not fully developed despite hereditary predisposition.

Exact figures on how many people in Germany are intersex are not available. Estimates by self-help associations, which the federal government also use, assume around 160,000 people. A law that has been in force since January 2019 gives them a new option for specifying gender in the personal register. In addition to female or male and the option not to provide any information, there is now a box with the worddiverse. Why is it necessary?

No more blank spaces in the birth certificate

Since 1981, the so-called Transsexual Act has allowed the gender assignment entered in the person register to be changed in Germany. Since 2013, there has also been the option of not specifying gender at all in the birth certificate. But in autumn 2017 the Federal Constitutional Court ruled: The binary gender selection discriminates against people who cannot be assigned to any of the genders and violates general personal rights. The judges did not consider leaving the information blank to be an equivalent solution. An additional, positive option is needed. At the end of 2018, the Bundestag decided to introduce the option to choosediversein the birth register. According to the text of the law, this option is aimed at "people who, because of a variant of their gender development, cannot be clearly assigned to either the male or female gender". This does not only apply to newborns, intersex adults can also have their gender and first name changed afterwards. A medical certificate must be available for this, in special cases an affidavit is sufficient.

The new law is also aimed at parents. When a baby is born with intersex traits, parents must make choices that can have far-reaching consequences for the child. In the 1970s, the doctrine established itself in medicine that so-called gender-assigning operations were already useful in childhood: the cosmetic modulation of clearly identifiable sex organs would protect intersex children from shame and humiliation. Gender-assigning procedures include the plastic construction of an artificial vulva, the amputation of the clitoris or the removal of the gonads, i.e. the organs that produce the sex hormones. In the 2000s, a rethink began, which went hand in hand with the awareness that sexuality does not depend on the genitals alone. In 2007 the German Society for Pediatric and Adolescent Medicine distanced itself from the practice of gender-assigning operations and since 2012 the German Ethics Council has also advised restraint. The United Nations Committee against Torture is even calling for a complete ban on cosmetic genital surgery on children. Because: As a rule, intersex children are healthy.

Can Surgery Make a Healthy Child Happier?

Associations and self-help groups for intersex people who underwent genital plastic surgery in childhood rate the interventions as highly traumatic. In some cases, after the operation, those affected are incapable of childbearing and they can hardly live out their sexuality. The associations demand that the decision for a specific gender or an operation be left to the victims themselves. Nevertheless, some doctors still recommend these operations: The number of operations - in 2016, more than 2,000 children under the age of ten were operated on by genital plastic surgery in Germany - has remained relatively constant.
Malta is the only country in Europe where gender reassignment surgery on children is a criminal offense. But the new German legislation is also comparatively progressive: Worldwide it is only possible in a few countries - in addition to Australia, New Zealand and Argentina also in India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Nepal - to indicate a third option in the birth register. Legislation is just the beginning: The fact that there is an additional, legally recognized gender will raise further legal questions - from rules for sports teams to the quota for women.

What matters is gender recognitiondiversemeans: The law is the bureaucratic attempt to create awareness of the diversity of gender. It should make it clear: Different is also normal.

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