In November 2017, in a landmark ruling, Germany’s constitutional court ruled that the third gender needs to be legally acknowledged. According to the Court’s decision, lawmakers need to make it possible for citizens to select ‘’third gender’’ in birth certificates. If this is indeed enacted as a law, Germany will be the first EU country to officially recognize inter-sexuality.
Up to this point no such option legally existed and those born with ambiguous anatomic features were recorded as either male or female, according to the parents’ or supervising doctors’ discretion. According to medical workers in Germany nearly 2% of all babies are born with both male and female reproductive or sexual anatomies but usually undergo gender-deterministic surgery at some point in their infancy. Today this type of surgery is severely disputed by NGOs claiming it forcing a gender upon individuals who are in no position to make that determination for themselves.
Still, in 2013 Germany introduced the ability to leave the gender field in one’s birth certificate unfilled, thus allowing individuals to select their own when they are old enough to do so. This introduces the idea of an undetermined gender. Throughout the years the country’s legal history is ripe with legal cases filed by individuals who demand the right to not have an official gender but up to now the Courts stayed mum.
A precedent was set in the EU in 2015 when a 64-yeard-old French man demanded that his birth certificate’s gender field is updated from male to neutral as he didn’t feel neither a man, nor a woman. The French court ruled in the plantiff’s favor, though explicitly stating that their decision only concerned the individual in question and wasn’t to be taken as a precedent. Supportive NGOs still hoped the decision would lead to a change in legislature at the European level, until it was overturned by the court of appeals.
For the record, experts say that intersexuality differs from transsexuality. From a biological standpoint, intersexuality now replaces the outdated and somewhat derogatory term hermaphroditism. Mental health workers often witness cases of children born with mixed organs, who face gender doubts and struggles as they come of age.
On the other hand, trans-sexuality is the psychological dissatisfaction with one’s own gender. This, too, comes with its own set of societal stigma, interpersonal struggles and isolation.
The New York Human Rights Commission published a list of 31 recognized genders, aimed at particularly the business world. With it, they also set fines for corporations who choose to not heed their employee’s sexual identities. The directive has led to certain NYC offices letting employees choose which bathroom to use based on which gender they identify with on any particular day.
Why does this matter to anyone whose gender is identical in private and in public? Quite plainly put, it involves documentation, insurance and legal concerns that won’t go away simply because a large number of the aging population wishes them to. Transsexuality and intersexuality are issues of 21st century society, which may be easy to push aside for a while but which we need to tackle eventually.
Although divisive, the Istanbul Convention is the most recent European-wide attempt to address the issue. Recently, it has created more questions than those it vouched to solve, nevertheless. Beyond the issue of personal approval and agreement stands the issue of recognition of a modern phenomenon.