#Intersex: The real issue behind not having a third sex marker

On Wednesday, Germany’s highest court ruled for a legislation that will legally recognise a third sex. What does the new legislation mean for intersex people, what issues are we fighting and will the UK follow suit?

The constitutional court Karlsruhe decided that, by the end of 2018, legislators must pass a new regulation to open gender markers for all and to offer a third gender option in birth registers for babies who are born intersex, which means their bodily characteristics do not match strict medical definitions of male or female.

The ruling is the result of an appeal brought by an intersex person, registered as female, whose chromosome test confirmed ‘she’ was neither sex, the BBC reports. By many activist-groups the decision is seen as the ultimate step – after it had already become legal to choose an option ‘x’ for an intersex child on the birth certificate in Germany in 2013.


What exactly does the new legislation mean for intersex kids?

The Voice of London spoke to Holly Greenberry, from IntersexUK, who explains: “We think Germany got their 2013 legislation wrong. IntersexUK does not agree that assigning ‘x’ sex markers is right for infants which show an intersex variation at birth. Currently, German Doctors still have the right to state whether a person is intersex or not, which is problematic for an intersex person who is, for example, marked as ‘m’ when they are in fact ‘f’.”

This will be changed by the 2018 legislation, which will give every person the right to alter their ID birth record. How exactly this will be done is unknown at this stage.

So, “it’s about a poorly legislated law being utilised usefully not just for those born after November 2013, but for those intersex youths and adults that may wish for an ‘x’ or an open sex marker.”

“(The new legislation) does not mean that intersex children should be assigned a third sex, which they currently are, if they are born after November 2013,” Greenberry adds.


The activist group Dritte Option (which translates to ‘Third Option’) tweeted: “I think we made history yesterday and I think we will only be able to fully comprehend that in a few years.” Source: Twitter


In the UK, it is not allowed to tick an ‘x’ box. In fact, in England and Wales parents have 42 days to decide whether their child is legally a boy or a girl, even if it is born with sex characteristics that visibly variate from the ‘norm’ (such as ambiguous genitalia.) In Scotland, it is only 21 days before a parent must assign one of the two sexes to their child.


 What is the real issue behind not having a third sex marker? 

The issue behind allocating one sex to an intersex child is that, in the UK, many of these children still undergo surgery soon after birth in an effort to ‘normalise’ them, despite the fact that these interventions are often not emergency-driven, irreversible and can severely impede fertility, according to Amnesty International.

“We should not confuse intersex issues with gender identity issues. Intersex issues are fundamental human rights issues.” As part of intersexUK, Holly Greenberry’s focus is to preserve the right to bodily integrity, self-autonomy and appropriate healthcare.

Only last year, an NGO report on ‘the United Kingdom on the Convention of the Rights of the Child (CRC)’ was filed by activist organisations addressing questions regarding intersex genital mutilations. However, the UK government denied all allegations.

According to their website, StopIGM.org is currently demanding the prohibition of forced genital surgeries on children and adolescents with Variations of Sex Anatomy, alongside other UK activist organisations such as IntersexUK and The UK Intersex Association. “UK laws are long outdated,” Greenberry comments.


Intersex flag, created by Organisation Intersex International Australia in July 2013. Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons


A third (‘diverse’) sex marker will give a child and its parents the option to wait and see which, if any, of the two binary genders it wants to identify with and whether or not it wants to undergo surgery.

On top of that, it shows intersex people that it is not uncommon not to fit in one of two binary categories. An estimate of between 0.5% and 1.7% of the global population is born with intersex traits, according to the United Nations.

So, let us use Germany’s development to discuss the importance of fundamental rights of intersex children to be protected. As Katarina Barley, the German minister for families, told the New Daily: A third gender option was long “overdue.”


Find out more about IntersexUK on Facebook and Twitter.


Words: Lotta Behrens | Subbing: Silvia Tadiello

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